My letter to Paul Atreides about DUNE video games

Paul, we need to talk. You’re handsome, you’re strong, you’re brave. But for those who want to be free, even perfection is a burden. Whatever your mother and Denis Villeneuve prepared for you, it wasn’t the only way. There were other possible routes.

We’re psychically enhanced too, you know. We remember what you became in the hands of David Lynch. We remember the despair he felt when he realized he couldn’t live up to his film. Up to your standards, Paul. We also know what you could have become, oh son of Jodorowsky. We like to dream of you as psychedelic and surreal, messianic before the intangible. Ah, you would have turned the galaxy upside down.

Le Dune de Jodorowsky

But you always choose the obscure path that blurs dreams into works of art. Weren’t your books better? In all the ambiguity of a page and its verses, there you knew how to ride sand worms without details. We didn’t really know how you rode, we didn’t really know how you fought. But we also didn’t know how ripped you were with spice. We didn’t know you were so strong, so handsome. We could hate you a little, in your little genocidal tendencies.

Paul Chalamet Atreides Muaddib Mahdi Lissan Thimothée Al Gaib

But now you’re too perfect. I, too, want to follow you in your crusade for the throne. Villeneuve has transported you in his little retro aesthetic, he who so loves to aim for the dune. They’re in all his films, so why should he deprive himself of desert? Everything he shows has a texture. The image has a grain, as they say. A grain of sand, in the fluid-free mechanics. Of madness, too. Yours, surely. What a film!

You can be happy, Paul. You’ve broken through, like a Kwisatz Haderach into the hearts of your enemies. You’ll be emperor. You’ll even have your own game. Dune Awakening, it’s called. They released trailers for it when the second film came out. Ah, it’s a blast! An MMO, a survival game, developed by Funcom, a veteran Finnish studio. A game-world, with Arrakis as co-star on a planet with two moons. It’s an open world, with fine sand on top and big worms underneath. It’s the Dune of our dreams, we’re told in the communications surrounding the game. They tell us we’ve always wanted to move to Arrakis, that it’ll be super immersive, and I’m inclined to believe them. It looks beautiful, complete, perfect. Like the movies. Like you, Paul. The game’s slogan is “From books to film to game”. There’s even the incredible cinematographer of the films, Greig Fraser, who comes along to chat in the trailers. Dune gradually takes on your face, Paul Chalamet Atreide. On the Steam page, in the middle of the game images, they’ve put a close-up of a figurine of you.

Dune Awakening has all the makings of an incredible game. Who hasn’t dreamed of crafting spice rails while tracking down Harkonnens? But your game reminds me a little of the already forgotten Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Released at the end of last year, it too had everything to be incredible, except inventiveness. It was beautiful as anything, full of pretty landscapes, bluish creatures and big guns. Do all licensed games have to look the same? I’m not sure. But I trust you. I know you’ll turn Arrakis into a lush paradise. Lisan al Gaib! In the meantime, your game is full of ideas. He says it will also be a game of political survival, in which you’ll have to work your way up through intrigue. He promises plenty of ways to tattoo, explode and zap each other. Everything you’d expect from a big licensed game. A beautiful game, an almost perfect game.

No word yet on when Dune Awakening will be released. Until then, you’ll be waiting with us for this Dune adaptation as if it were the first. In fact, I had to tell you about it. In fact, there’s already a Dune game. Dune: Spice Wars is a strategy game released at the end of 2023, developed by Shiro Games, a studio based in Bordeaux. I’ve been a big fan of theirs for a while now. They released Northgard, and it’s been a while since I’ve had so much fun with an RTS. It had been a while since the formula had been so renewed and simplified. Gone are the long-winded Internet tutorials, the buttons on every key on the keyboard and mouse. No more messy interfaces. Northgard is my cozy, almost wholesome RTS. And then you asked them for a game in your honor, a game at least as complex as your destiny, that would tell a little of the story of Villeneuve’s first film. It has to be said that Arrakis is the ideal setting for a game of strategy.

Dune: Spice Wars

They did. You’ve got your game, Paul. It’s wonderfully complex, with curves to track the stock market, spies among the Fremen, assassins sent to the Harkonnens, nuclear warheads kept warm. Dune: Spice Wars takes a few liberties with the novels. All the houses are vying for control of Arrakis. Now there are five of them fighting. They’ve released a DLC for your movie. Who controls Dune, controls the spice. Control the spice, control the empire. So you have to harvest the spice, build your conglomerate in the middle of the desert, negotiate with the fremen or the smugglers. It’s good, it’s beautiful. For a strategy game, there’s a care for territory that’s quite rare in the genre. You can see the planet in all its relief and storms. Its aridity makes water the most essential resource. The dunes of this Dune are drawn with a care that makes Arrakis little more than a playground.

Dune: Spice Wars RTS et 4X

Dune: Spice Wars is a good strategy game. It blends the RTS and 4X legacies of Starcraft and Civilization with the small innovations of Northgard. The result is disconcerting for veterans of the genre, but so refreshing that we’re happy to forgive its minor imperfections. Paul, you can be proud of this game. Personally, I’m still a little sad to find so little of the simplicity of Northgard. It’s funny that what we’ve retained from Dune are the political intrigues, the battle for the throne. This whole universe that cries out its warning against colonialism, that tells of the weight of power on those it governs, all that remains is a formidable amusement park to be constantly renewed. Hey, Paul, weren’t you better off when people could doubt you a little?

Long ago, in the time immemorial of the 1990s, other Dune games had seen the light of day. At a time when game adaptations of fictional universes were always, or almost always, mediocre, these Dune games had been truly extraordinary. It was they who had invented this arrakian uchrony, in which noble houses fight for control of the planet. In these games from a time before Timothée Chalamet was even born, units were controlled with the mouse for the first time. For the first time, resources are harvested to produce buildings. In short, it’s the first time we’ve discovered the RTS as we know it today. Every time we play strategy games, there’s a bit of Dune in their DNA. The Warcraft, Starcraft, Age of genealogy starts with Dune. With you, Paul. Ironically, the obsession of all these games with expansionism and the exploitation of resources at all costs came from the very universe that best criticized land grabbing, imperialism and the excess of power.

For Dune was not destined to become a space opera. The intimate adjustments of a young tyrant faced with the reluctant rise of his powers, as well as the fanaticism of the people he manipulates, were not necessarily an invitation to turn it into a euphoric spectacle. But the spice must be harvested, and the license wrung out. Then the attractions will continue to flourish, each time more ambitious and marvellous. Paul, you’ll continue to turn our heads like a breath of spice. You’ll be beautiful everywhere, and never challenged. Mahdi! A prophet in spite of yourself, perhaps, but a prophet all the same, heralding happy films and radiant games. Too bad for me, it’s been a long time since I dreamed of yet another hegemonic cross-media universe. I’ll still have the pleasure of seeing you again, and the regret of no longer imagining you.

<3 Paul cute Thimothée Atreide Chalamet

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