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Why Is There No MMORPG for Frank Herbert's Dune?

Updated on May 12, 2016

The massively multiplayer online role-playing genre is arguably one of the most popular genres of video games on the market today, with millions of people around the world playing them and video game companies pushing out new ones on an almost daily basis. Nearly every setting has been covered in some form as well, ranging from ancient times to futuristic fantasy worlds, and everything in between.

Because of the popularity of this genre, several media franchises have lent their universes and characters to these games. Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, DC and Marvel Comics, and the Matrix are just some of the movie, book, and comic franchises to see at least some adaptation into an MMORPG. There is one series of novels, spanning several planets and several thousand years time, that has yet to see such an adaptation, and I feel it has one of the richest, most expansive universes for such a game.

So why hasn't there been an MMORPG for one of the most influential, most famous novel series of all time, the Dune series by Frank Herbert?

Here are some of the reasons why I feel that the Dune universe would make for a fantastic setting for an MMORPG.

Settings and Factions

Being a series of novels that deal with, in part, warring between planets, there are a number of different locales that an MMORPG based on Dune could take advantage of. Four of the most prominent planets to be featured is Kaitain, Caladan, Giedi Prime, and Arrakis.

Kaitain from David Lynch's Dune (1984)
Kaitain from David Lynch's Dune (1984)
Caladan from David Lynch's Dune (1984)
Caladan from David Lynch's Dune (1984)
Giedi Prime from David Lynch's Dune (1984)
Giedi Prime from David Lynch's Dune (1984)
Arrakis from David Lynch's Dune (1984)
Arrakis from David Lynch's Dune (1984)
  • Kaitain - The planet Kaitain is the central and most recent seat of the Corrino Padishah Empire, the ruling party of the known universe, after the former seat of the Empire, Salusa Secundus, was ravaged by nuclear weapons known as atomics. Kaitain is described as a near paradise setting, with a consistently warm climate, no clouds in the sky, beautiful architecture, lush gardens, and buildings that "kiss the sky".
  • Caladan - The ancestral home planet of House Atreides, one of the most significant factions in the Dune universe. Caladan is described as an ocean planet, with the majority of the surface covered in water and the weather almost constantly storm-ridden. With this climate, most habitable land is either heavily forested or covered in swamps. The economy of the planet is based predominantly on fishing and the export of the mutated "pundi rice".
  • Giedi Prime - The ancestral home of House Harkonnen, the sworn enemy of the Atreides and one of the overall antagonists of the series. Giedi Prime is a stark contrast to Kaitain, being a ravaged environment almost completely void of plant or animal life. Because of this, almost all food and water is imported from other planets, and its own primary export is minerals.
  • Arrakis - A desert planet and the center stage for the majority of events in the entire Dune universe. It is the only known source of a special spice known as melange, the most valuable substance in the known universe. Melange is capable of extending life and enables space flight, and because of this, it makes Arrakis one of the most important and most sought after planets in the universe.

With a number of different planets like this, it would allow there to be multiple places for players to start out, and it would in turn potentially determine their alignments with others. For example, players originating from Caladan, and thus aligning themselves with the Atreides, would have considerable hostility towards anyone originating from Giedi Prime due to their connection to the Harkonnen. Players from Kaitain and Arrakis though would not have any specific opposition to those two factions or to each other, allowing for a sense of neutrality between them should they wish it.

A number of the more popular MMORPGs today use some form of a faction based system, with different groups vying for control of an area or a resource, and given the existing factions in the Dune universe and a clearly defined resource everyone would want, I think that such a system in an MMO based around Dune would work perfectly.

Classes and Organizations

In most, if not all, massively multiplayer online role-playing games nowadays, playable characters belong to some sort of class or job that defines their capabilities and roles. When you ever hear of someone referring to their Paladin or their Cleric, they are referring to the class of those particular characters. In the Dune universe, there are a number of organizations that could be considered analogous to a series of classes, with the following just being a handful.

Bene Gesserit - The Bene Gesserit is a matriarchal religious and political power that often uses subversive actions towards their goals. Through mental and physical training over the centuries, this organization has attained abilities that some would consider magic, such as precognition, truthsaying capacity, and the ability to recall the memories of all previous female members of their bloodline.

They also have the ability to render any poisons introduced into their body inert and have near perfect control of their body, being able to move and contort in ways that would otherwise be considered impossible, and deliver physical blows with considerable force behind them.

There are two noted "powers" created by the Bene Gesserit employing their perfect body and mind control.

  • The Voice - The Voice is the name given to the Bene Gesserit technique of modulating their voices in order to force someone into their control. A sister would issue a command or suggestion while speaking with the Voice, and the target would uncontrollably perform the action issued. While it is possible through training to resist the effects of the voice, even Reverend Mothers, the highest standing members of the Bene Gesserit, can be influenced if the issuer is powerful enough.

  • The Weirding Way - Because of the near perfect body movement they possess, the Bene Gesserit created a form of martial arts when in unarmed combat. This form of combat requires that the user know the action that they're wanting to perform has already happened at that moment in time, because a trained practitioner's body will move to correspond to the action as the person is thinking it. This allows for near instantaneous movement, and thus the ability to evade an attack or reach an opponent's vulnerable areas without difficulty.

Given that the Bene Gesserit is an almost purely matriarchal organization, it would come down to being a situation of female characters being the only ones available to actually align themselves with them. A Bene Gesserit character, in an MMO setting, could potentially be a close-quarters combat expert (in the style of the Monk class for most other MMOs) that could repel or temporarily take control of an opponent through the use of the Voice. Poison based attacks would have no effect on them, and in dealing with non-playable characters (NPCs), they'd be able to detect any kind of lies or deceptions.

Mentat - Ten thousand years prior to the events of the first Dune novel, a war, known as the Butlerian Jihad, raged that resulted in the total destruction and abolishment of sentient machines. To combat this loss of "thinking" machines for organizing information and processing, the Mentat discipline was created. A Mentat is a human trained from a very young age to serve as a human computer with tremendous processing power and reasoning. Unlike a computer, they are not driven by pure logic, rather they take into account more human elements such as intuition and assumptions, which helps make them far more effective.

A Mentat is capable of further augmenting their processing abilities using Sapho Juice, a liquid extracted from roots found on the planet Ecaz. This juice, able to triple a Mentat's abilities, is extremely addictive, and leaves their lips stained red upon repeated use.

In an MMORPG setting, a Mentat player would likely be a tactician role, analyzing teammates, terrain, and opponents to determine a best course of action to win. Should something happen, such as one of their teammates falling in battle, a Mentat would be able to quickly determine what measures the group needs to take in order to counteract that change and continue on with their intended goal. In this way, they would be the lynch pin to any group, since victory over any significant enemy would be far more difficult without a Mentat's strategies than it would be with one.

Technology and Weaponry

A good MMORPG is almost always going to have various weapons, armor, and various other equipment that allows them to face the challenges of that world. Depending on the setting of the game, the equipment might be contemporary weapons such as swords and plate mail, or it might be laser guns and cybernetic enhancements, but armor and equipment are undeniably one of the most important aspects of improving your character.

Fortunately, there are a number of unique weapons and equipment in the Dune universe that could make a reliable transition into a game setting, such as:

Holtzman Shield - A personal force field that form fits around the user. It is capable of deflecting high speed projectiles and other attacks, but attacks and projectiles below a certain velocity who can penetrate them.

Lasgun - A lasgun is essentially a laser gun. This weapon is not often used once Holtzman shields began to pop up, since combinations of lasgun fire and Holtzman shields can have detrimental effects, ranging from death to the the lasgun user and the shield wearer, to a chain reaction more powerful than an explosion from an atomic.

Paul Atreides wielding his crysknife.
Paul Atreides wielding his crysknife.

Crysknife - A sacred knife of the nomadic people of Arrakis, the Fremen, the crysknife is fashioned from a tooth of the giant sandworms of Arrakis. Crysknife come in two forms: unfixed, which must remain near within the electromagnetic field of the human body in order to remain intact, and fixed, which are chemically treated to allow them to remain intact regardless. It is Fremen custom that a crysknife must draw blood after it is unsheathed before it can be returned to its sheath.

Stillsuit - A special suit used by the Fremen in order to maintain bodily moisture when in the desert. It recycles moisture from breathing, perspiration, urine, and waste in the body to such a degree that a properly maintained stillsuit will allow for no more than a thimble's worth of moisture to be lost in a day.

The shields could be employed as defensive tools when in a combat situation, but would be limited in terms of duration and would be dangerous to use in fights involving lasguns or on Arrakis, where the vibrations can draw the aggression of sandworms. A lasgun would be good for long-distance battles, but would again be limited in battles with Holtzman shields.

Crysknives would be great for close quarters situations, but if for any reason you were to lose an untreated crysknife, it would disintegrate quickly, so you'd need to take care of it. Likewise, a quest could easily be implemented that requires you to locate (or potentially even take down) a sandworm in order to obtain a tooth to be used in the construction of one.

A stillsuit would be essential for anyone that tries to venture away from the special facilities in Arrakis, since health or stamina could steadily deplete if trying to venture across the desert unprotected.

Final Thoughts

Frank Herbert created an expansive, intricate universe through his series of novels, with a rich mythos that seems perfect to add onto and build a massively multiplayer online role-playing game on. Though I do feel that the market for the genre as a whole has become saturated, time and again it's been shown that a game with a unique twist or a recognizable name can stand out from the crowd.

With Dune being such a significant work of the science fiction genre, it has garnered the fan base that I think would make an MMORPG based on it a huge success. In the right hands and with the care and attention that it deserves, I have no doubt that a massively multiplayer online role-playing game of Dune would be able to stand up there alongside the likes of World of Warcraft and Everquest as one of the best games of that genre.

Do you think that a Dune MMORPG would work great if done properly?

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    • profile image


      23 months ago

      Harkonnen: drug dealer

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This is exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm looking for people who share my love of Dune, trying to get something started. With more than a few brilliant minds, it can be done.


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