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October 2022

Dune: Spice Wars

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Funcom
Developer: Shiro Games
Release Date: 2022

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'Dune: Spice Wars' Developer Interview With Art Director Jeremy Vitry

by Rainier on April 13, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Dune: Spice Wars is a real-time strategy game with 4X elements based on Frank Herbert’s groundbreaking novel Dune.

Spice is the most valuable resource in the universe. The spice extends life, it expands consciousness and makes interstellar travel possible. Create your own story and play as one of several factions, including House Atreides and House Harkonnen, and compete for power over Dune and the spice.

Scan the landscape for wormsign or risk losing your troops and spice harvesters to titanic sandworms who will burst through the sand dunes to swallow and devour them whole. Best your opponents through political intrigue, crush them in combat, and undermine them with your network of illusive spies.

Dune: Spice Wars features asymmetrical gameplay, will have several playable factions, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as multiple ways to achieve your ultimate goal – control of the spice on Arrakis. You can deploy agents to sabotage, assassinate and spy on your opponents, use political means to influence the Landsraad and pass beneficial resolutions, amass incredible wealth and simply overwhelm the other houses through economic and technological supremacy, or you can opt for open war.

Dune: Spice Wars is based more on the original novel than on the movie, but since we’re both drawing on the same intellectual property, there will be some similarities.

What was the first official art that you worked on for the project?

The very first piece of art we made for the project was a large scale view of arrakis along with a fake ingame mockup in order to set up the mood. It has obviously changed quite a lot since then, but we tried to keep that stylized look throughout the whole Production.

What were some of your main inspirations when developing the Art Style for Spice Wars?

Our first idea was to make something that didn't look like any of the previous Dune games but one that maintained Shiro Games' touch and to make things more stylized than the usual 4X games. We also decided to add a hint of "Art-Deco" feel to the overall designs, mostly for the User Interface but also slightly incorporated on the characters and props, that way it would make our game stand out a bit more in terms of Art Direction (because that's not something you see everywhere).

Was there any inspiration from the older movies or games?

We tried to keep some distance from the previous Dune material out there because we really wanted to have our own take on it and express our own style. Plus, obviously having the opportunity to work within this world on Herbert's legacy is a once in a lifetime chance to express ourselves and make our own mark within this universe as a video game developer.

Was there ever a point where the game or characters looked distinctly different from their final design?

Well the game most definitely changed a lot since the early stages of development due to our iteration process and all the trial and error we had to go through in order to find something that actually looks like what we had in mind when we started.

Oddly, the characters didn't change that much during development -apart from some small tweaks here and there- because we knew from the start that we would have a lot of them to make and changing a character too much can have huge implications down the line (in terms of textures, rigging, animation etc..)

With Dune being such a well known and beloved universe, did you face any challenges in developing a unique style for the game?

Actually yes, it was really hard to not take into account all of the incredibly cool stuff that was already out there on the internet, and yet we had to make something unique, different and as great as possible! Another huge part of that challenge was the fact that everyone already has their own vision of what Dune-related things would look like, so the pressure of making something not too crazy and still appealing to the players that fit into this universe was definitely a tough one!

What other challenges did you face while working on the game’s art?

Being consistent on the art direction is really a difficult task and that's the case everytime we start working on a new project because we gather a lot of references at first, then we have to sort everything and make a decision on what we should aim for, but as the development goes, our vision becomes clearer, more precise and some of the early work can become more and more irrelevant over time so we had to be extra careful with that particular aspect of the game. On top of that, we also had to make each faction look unique and this took a little while to achieve.

Another obvious challenge for us was the environment: Arrakis is basically a desert planet and we didn't want the player to spend countless hours looking mostly at sand dunes, so our first goal was to explore different kinds of desert biomes and see how much variety we could bring in order to make the map less boring, less uniform. Added to the fact that the world has to be procedurally generated in order to look different every time, it becomes an even more complex task.

The scale of the world wasn't easy to get right at first, we didn't like the more realistic version of having tiny units and bigger cities & villages, and on the other hand, we didn't want the more cartoon-y exaggeration of having way bigger units and smaller buildings so we tried to find a middle ground that ended up working for everyone in the team!

Lastly, Dune Spice Wars is the first game in which we have animated and detailed characters in the front of the screen (the faction leaders), so that required a much larger amount of work than we were used to in order to reach the level of quality we wanted.

What major differences did you experience between working on an original IP vs working on a well known license such as Dune?

The main difference is obviously that we had to stick to the existing material and that meant cutting a lot of ideas that we had in the first place and be more careful about what we wanted to show and how we would show it.

Working on an original IP means that we can basically make our own decisions every step of the way and that is something we can't have if the project is a licensed one.

That being said, it was really cool to work with these constraints because it made us come out of our comfort zone, for the better!

Were there any underlying themes or motifs you were hoping to convey with your art?

We really wanted to make the game enjoyable for a wide range of players by making it a bit more colorful and vibrant than people would expect from a 4X/RTS game based on DUNE. That is something we tried to convey with our previous games as well, and we wanted to keep that kind of appeal.

We think the addition of the "Art-Deco" theme was a great idea in order to bring finer details and subtlety to the overall look of the game, to make it more refined and elegant. It is also our way of saying "the game looks accessible, but there's more to it behind the curtain".

We also tried to put a hint of the "cold-war propaganda poster" feel to some of the illustrations, especially on the political aspects of the game.

What has been your favorite part of your experience working on the project?

Well, the fact that we actually got to work on the "DUNE" universe was really exciting and already a huge deal for all of us here!

Having the chance to bring our own ideas and design to such a Sci-Fi masterpiece certainly was the most fun part of this experience, for myself at least.

Key Features:

  • Frank Herbert’s Dune: Experience the unique Dune universe – one of the most influential sci-fi settings ever created. Play as iconic characters, such Duke Leto Atreides, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and more, and guide your faction to victory. Watch for the constant threat of the massive sandworms, who dominate the dangerous landscape of Dune.
  • Forge your own path: Choose between subterfuge, political influence, economic supremacy, or open warfare toprevail and gain control over the most important planet in the universe! Use secretive agents to sabotage the plans of your opponents. Vote on political resolutions in the Landsraad to further your strategy.
  • 4X in real-time: Explore Dune with ornithopters to discover resources, villages, and points of interest. Expand with your troops to take control of more and more regions. Exploit the resources through buildings and spice harvesters to dominate the economy. Exterminate your enemies with a strong military but beware as outright aggression can have high political repercussions.
  • Growing throughout Early Access: The game will be updated and expanded during Early Access based on your feedback. More features and content, improved balance and new game modes will be added in the Early Access period, based on the crucial input of the community.

Dune: Spice Wars is the first game based on the Dune IP to be published by Funcom and is not to be confused with the open-world survival game the studio is developing. Dune: Spice Wars is created by the same team that released critically acclaimed RTS Northgard in 2017, using their expertise in creating strategy games to bring the Dune universe to life.

Dune: Spice Wars will be released into early access on PC (Steam) in early 2022.

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