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Fallen's Blog: A Dune RTS Game - Timely Or Not?

By FallenXE - 3rd December 2017 - 16:45 PM

With news of former Command & Conquer developer Greg Black returning back to Electronic Arts from Blizzard, and news that Legendary Entertainment have secured the Film and TV rights to the Dune franchise as well as secured Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve to helm the new Dune movie, RTS, C&C and Dune fans alike have been buzzing as to whether this could possibly lead to a future Dune game to be in production.

In this edition of Fallen's Blog, I give my thoughts if the Dune franchise should be the stepping stone for EA's renewed effort in the RTS genre, since nearly 7 years ago with the disappointment that was Tiberian Twilight. As always, if you have any thoughts, comments or questions regarding this blog do feel free to write them out below or go ahead and shoot me a message and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

All opinions stated in this blog are of that of mine alone and does not reflect the opinion or policies of GameReplays.Org.


Past Dune Games






As we know, there have been 3 Dune RTS games that have been released in the past and they were all developed by Westwood Studios back in the 90's all the way to 2001. They are Dune II, Dune 2000 and Emperor: Battle For Dune

The main similarities of all the games can be summed up in the following points:

  • All three games featured House Atriedes, House Harkonnen and House Ordos. Fans of Dune would know the first two as being the Houses that are led in the books by Duke Leto Atreides and Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

    The third house however, House Ordos, are actually picked-up from the Non-Canon Dune Encyclopedia written by Dr. Willis E. McNelly. Frank Herbert's novels on Dune as well as those subsequently written by his son, Brian Herbert, and author Kevin J. Anderson, do not however, make any reference to House Ordos.

  • None of the three games actually follow the plot of the books. Instead, the premise of each game is that either the Emperor or the Spacing Guild issue an open challenge by which the three houses; Harkonnen, Atreides and Ordos, conducts a War of Assassins on Arrakis to determine who controls the output and profit from Spice.


After the dissolution of Westwood Studios, it was unsure to which developer the video game licenses for the Dune franchise passed to. However, prior to its bankruptcy, Cryo Interactive made an action-adventure game based on the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel Mini-Series.

No doubt that Westwood had managed to effectively pioneer the RTS genre with Dune II and then followed it up with the C&C series but for one reason or another, the Dune series never gained a wide-enough following as compared to the former. Not long after, EA would make another foray into the movie IP realm by making another RTS series based on the Lord of the Rings franchise.


Pros and Cons in Going With Dune



Let's take a look at the negative factors first if they decide to go with Dune.

  • First-up, if EA decides to go with Dune as part of Legendary's reboot of the franchise, this means that the studio executives will have certain corporate expectations of how the game should be like. This would be on top of EA's already existing pressure on their IPs to financially perform well in the long run.

    Thus there could possibly be a clash between Legendary's decision for a game that would be safe with fans and not attract any public outcry versus EA's current trend of trying to make their games be long-term investments for both themselves and their players, and not always in a positive manner.

  • Next-up, we have to talk if Legendary even secured a video games deal with the Herbert estate when they clinched the rights to make Movies and TV shows using the Dune IP. If Legendary did not secure a deal with the Estate, then it is possible that EA or any other games developer could negotiate a separate deal with the Estate but this could lead to the possibility of any future Dune game not being in line with Legendary's creative vision.

    Alternatively, if Legendary had secured such a deal, then this could mean they would be free to offer out to any developer, including EA, the rights to make games out of the series. As evident by the deal between EA and Disney/Lucasfilm, this could potentially be in the tens or hundreds of millions.

    Thus, EA would have to decide from their standpoint if games based on the Dune IP would allow them to reap an expected amount of profit that is proportionate or more than the amount that they paid for the licensing rights as well including the development budget for such games.


Now let's take a look at the positives of EA developing a Dune RTS:
  • EA will be free to once again develop an RTS game series free from the blemished legacy of the C&C franchise (though that was largely their own doing). They would already have a fixed template to follow, based on the Dune games of old, as well as the prior C&C games and as long as the boat is not rocked to much and logical and pragmatic innovations are introduced, there should not be a problem for a Dune RTS game to endear itself to the fans of EA's RTS games.

  • The fact that prior Dune games did not follow the plot set out in the books also mean that there is a chance EA does not need to follow the outline of any potential movie series launched based on the Dune series. In fact, if EA were bold enough, they could actually make a bid for the video game development and publishing rights to the Dune franchise independent on whether anyone else was making any Movies or TV series based on the Dune Series.

  • This next point will be a bit technical. Assuming that EA does want to make an RTS game out of Dune's canon, then one of the potential arcs they could explore would be the "Butlerian Jihad" that occurred 10,000 years prior to the setting of Dune. The war occurred between the enslaved humans who were rebelling against the suppressive rule of the AIs Omnius and Erasmus as well as that of the Titans. Though I cannot see how Spice would be of importance back then, I am sure the developers would be able to find a way around it.


Bottom Line



Being a reader of the Dune series myself and a fan of history and the social sciences, I can understand why it is one of the most acclaimed Sci-Fi series to have ever been written as well as one of the most best-selling ones. However, it is undeniable that Dune is rooted in hard-science, and that makes its appeal lesser and differently as compared to Star Wars or Star Trek for example.

The first book itself contains layers within layers of meaning, from ecological engineering to Middle Eastern societies to the mashing between Islam and Buddhism, Dune is not something that readers will be able to understand and be attracted to after a first read. The most easiest level of understanding would be that of a feudal power struggle and even that takes time to comprehend.

That said, EA should tone down their expectation of the possible commercial success off of any Dune games to that of their Command & Conquer series instead of their Star Wars products. Admittedly however, it would be hard for EA from a financial standpoint to moderate their expectations for how much profitability their Dune games should make for them if they are required to pay a hefty sum for the licensing fee, which worries me.


Alternatives



As it stands there are two other IPs that EA has had experience making RTS games for; Command & Conquer and Lord of the Rings. The LOTR video game licensing rights are now currently with Monolith Productions which have been acquired by Warner Brothers so it has almost become an in-house game development studio for the LOTR IP, and any other IP that WB have under their wing.

That said, Monolith's experience stems mainly in their field of First-Person Shooters and Role-Playing Games and thus EA could possibly negotiate RTS game rights over the LOTR franchise. That said, with the recent $250 million sale of TV rights to Amazon of the franchise, EA would surely have to pay a decently high amount to gain any form of rights.

Then there is Command & Conquer.

EA does not have to pay any form of licensing rights or fees for it as it is their own IP. But admittedly one thing about the C&C games that can be assumed to have taken up a considerable amount of their budget is the live-action casting. From as far back as Tiberian Sun with James Earle Jones and Michael Biehn, to Tiberium Wars with Battlestar Galactica alumnus Tricia Helfer and Grace Park and Lost alumnus Josh Holloway, the Command & Conquer series has had its fair share of Hollywood heavyweights that give some extra shine to the series.

It can also be argued however, that asking the gaming developer to make CGI cutscenes like Starcraft would also be equally, if not more, expensive as an alternative. One possible compromise for both fans of C&C's trademark live-action cutscenes and that of the executives at EA would be to have live-action cutscenes but with a cast of unknowns acting instead of Hollywood royalty. Joe Kucan is a definite must of course, if it is a game set in the Tiberian Universe.

Developing a C&C game however, would mean that EA would have to ensure that this time they get it right once and for all and to not delve into any commercial innovation a la the possible micro-transactions for Generals and Campaigns for "Generals 2" or to modify the RTS genre too much until it does not resemble the foundations of what made the series so popular and successful in the first place, a la Tiberian Twilight.


Conclusion



Honestly, I think that if the Dune movie does go through, EA would find it hard having to bid for the licensing rights to make the RTS games for the series and having to follow the creative requirements of both Legendary and the Herbert Estate. Already, the recent issue of Disney having to apply pressure on EA to temporarily remove the micro-transactions from Battlefront II has already shown to the public that contrary to public belief, EA is not above from being pressured to demands, especially if said demands are coming from Disney.

At the end of the day however, it really does not matter if EA decides to go make a Dune RTS game or a C&C RTS game. What matters is how EA goes with the development of the game. Again I reference Battlefront II for the umpteenth time, but it goes to show how even a AAA-quality game with a strong brand recognition (Star Wars) and with a stellar media and ad blitz coupled with the game including what gamers wanted and lacked from the first (single-player campaign, proper Starfighter Assault, more heroes etc.) can easily be ruined and dragged down due to the inclusion of features that would cause a negative backlash.

As always, do give me your comments and feedback on this blog entry and drop me a PM if you have any questions in mind and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Till next time!


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