Dune 2000

Developer: Westwood Studios (now defunct)

Genre: RTS (real-time strategy)

Release date: September 1998

Fully Win-XP compatible

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Remember this?

and this?

Back in 1992, this game redefined real-time strategy games and the way games are played. ‘Dune II’ was introduced to me by my late buddy, Nick Tan. You could say he made me forget Sega Megadrive games for a while (or rather, console games) – PC games weren’t that hot in the early 90s until breakthrough titles like ‘Doom’ came along and smacked the 16-bit video game console manufacturers on its butt.

So Nick came to my place in 1996 after the PMR exams and Dune II soon (by that time, was already 4 years old) became the morning agenda, noon hobby and night-time secret rendez-vous with the then new Pentium 166 machine. Ok, it didn’t help that after PMR exams, school term was suddenly cut short by 2 months and there was so much holiday until the exam results were out that some indulgence won’t hurt. But what made Dune II special was this – three Houses battling it out on a sand planet called ‘Dune’, each with its own special units, characteristics, attitude towards the war and more. You’d need to harvest the orange things from the sand, the Spice Melange and with it, you get money to be able to build more units and structures to form a base of operations.

Sure, the graphics weren’t anything to shout about – Siege Tanks are nothing more than a box with something resembling a turret sticking off its centre; Rocket Tanks looked like they have bug-eyes; most buildings are just plain icons of what they really are – but most of the final touches add some refinement to the game: dead infantry get sandswept in the sand-dunes as time passes; vehicles burn when destroyed, the screen shakes when the dreaded ‘Death Hand’ missile knocked out several buildings and more.

Technology tree also played a part in enticing gamers to stay focused on the game – each mission promises new stuff for the player to build. There wasn’t much to work with at the earlier missions but with each successive scenario, you’d be pleasantly surprised to be able to build your first combat tank and think that it was so much better than the somewhat useless light vehicles like the quad or trike. Then, as the Atreides or Harkonnen, you get to assemble rocket tanks which had so much striking power and range that enemy structures folded like dominoes. Soon, you’d build the House of IX and get your House specialty – the Sonic Tank (Atreides), Devastator (Harkonnen) and the Deviator (Ordos). Before long, you reach the final levels and be awarded the ultimate prize – the House palace which grants you special powers (ok, not for the Ordos which gets the lame Saboteur that somehow has the annoying tendency to only destroy enemy walls). The excitement builds up well enough. In truth, the additions per mission weren’t much, but you’d be amazed for sure. For example, Sonic Tanks can’t destroy another Sonic Tank, allowing you to lay down a ‘siege wall’ army of only this type of unit and wear down enemy defences with impunity.

Besides, the vile Emperor Frederick of Dune turns up from time to time, and you’d wonder what the strange pink army that you have never seen before is doing at the doorstep of your base. You can also order units from the Starport, allowing you to somewhat bypass the unit build limit (which sucks, by the way) and ensure that Ordos can import rocket tanks for their own inscrutable purposes. The fearsome Dune Worm (Shai-Hulud) eats infantry units and vehicles whole and where rock is the only ‘sure defence against these creatures’. Some areas contain ‘spice blooms’ – large mounds of spice melange that appears on the map which can outright kill any units that runs into it – but explodes to spew much-appreciated spice into the area. Conserve these spice blooms well in the final mission, so resist the temptation to fire upon these mounds early- reason being that the AI is too dumb to shoot on it, and all enemy harvesters are bound to nick every speck of orange sand visible on the map much to your chagrin, so save some spice for that last military tactic of yours before all viable spice is picked clean.

This classic game ensured that night-time was day and vice versa. That was when I discovered that 3 a.m. wasn’t that late after all. Time, is just a number after all – when you were 15 that is.

In 1998, Westwood Studios decided to remake the classic Dune II into a Windows-based game. The transition was somewhat welcome, as many features were made possible – bandboxing units to form massive armies; hotkeys to recall armies; better graphics and sound as well as a more user-friendly interface which made Dune II rather sedate in comparison.

But the game wasn’t that warmly received. The Dune II universe was a somewhat dour place to be – colourless and bland. What’s there with sand, more sand, spice melange, some grey rock, some more rock, cliffs and small mountains passable only to infantry?

Yes, you still have the essential same units – trikes, quads, Sonic Tanks, Devastators etc. but they are all just too insignificant. In a nutshell, they were underpowered and seldom played

For a start, all three Houses are still represented:-

(a) Atreides

Mentat: Noree Moneo (John Rhys-Davies). Brash, loud and places his Duke on the pedestal.

The Atreides came form the lush planet of Caladan – where the people work hard for a living and desired peace. Their loyalty to their Duke is unquestioned. The Atreides in all the Dune video games produced by Westwood are stereotyped to be the noble ones – advocating fairplay, negotiation and diplomacy as a tactic to gain some share of the spice. Naturally, they were loathed at by the other 2 Houses for this very reason. Apparently, the Atreides have allied with the local Fremen guerillas in their conquest of the planet Dune. Whether guilty of deception or conducting military action based on spurious claims, Atreides in Dune 2000 was by no means the weaker force – by contrast, they rank 2nd (of 3, which is probably not saying much) in terms of firepower and military strength. The Sonic Tank is the Atreides’ special unit, firing a sonic wave blast in a straight line at its target. Its damage is rather considerable but the range of fire isn’t as great as it was in Dune II. See if you can pick out the Sonic Tank from the picture below.

Overall, the Atreides are somewhat balanced in their military strength. The local Fremen units may be called upon from the Palace, if built. These guerillas are free and somewhat useful for scouting and infiltration.

(b) Harkonnen

Mentat: Hayt de Vries (Robert Carin) – sarcastic, sardonic and brutal, he is a Ghola, born from Tleilaxu flesh vats (i.e. from the flesh of a dead corpse).

We are told that the Harkonnen hail from the dark, industrial planet of Giedi Prime. They are ruthless to both friend and foe and are known to be cruel and violent in their military conquest of Dune. In Dune 2000, heart plugs are for the Baron’s covenience of loosing the blood of a doomed soldier – a FMV shows a Fremen warrior in Harkonnen captivity with a ‘soon to be-loose’ heart plug and final moments before becoming the Baron’s dinner:

So, the Harkonnen are the most powerful House on Dune – they have the best weapons – the Death Hand missile and the Devastator. Funny though, I used to recall the Dune II Death Hand missile with dread – more so if you were playing House Ordos or Atreides at their respective final missions as you would be bracing yourself against the Emperor’s missile as well as the Harkonnen’s from time to time. In ‘Dune 2000’, I thought that the Death Hand is just an annoyance rather than something to fear. Sure, most structures would still be destroyed in the finger of missiles but it doesn’t have the same fear factor involved. Ditto for the Devastator Tank which I think is nothing more than an upsized tank cannons with slow firing rate and nothing else. They still retain the self-destruct ability which was used by Ordos AI to their advantage using the Deviator units. Overall, the Harkonnen hit the hardest but they have the slowest units on Dune. Not that speed is that much of an advantage. You can see the infamous wall of missile turrets as base defence. Nothing can get through these – just place Siege Tanks one block away for anti-infantry purposes. Note that the turrets look like clowns or something like that.

(c) Ordos

Mentat: Edric O – mysterious and direct to the point. As a proper Mentat should be.

House Ordos originated from a ice-covered planet and nothing much else is known about them. The Ordos descended from wealthy cartels who are secretive and astute. Their wealth meant that the Ordos buys what it wants as opposed to building what they want. For this purpose, the Starport facility is very useful to them in the game, providing the resource to import Missile Tanks and other weaponry. We are informed in the Dune 2000 manual that the previous Mentat Ammon was executed for charges of embezzlement but as always, little else is made public.

The Ordos are presumed to be weak – but I think that in the Dune 2000 game, they are always able to assemble frighteningly large armies to wage protracted battles with you as the player. Plus, they have the irritating Deviator unit which fires nerve gas to swith allegiance of the target to the Ordos’ cause, albeit temporarily. Still, if used with some skill, the Ordos is capable of inflicting severe losses to their foes. Ordos military units are quick but weak in firepower – they have the Raider trikes and their combat tanks are the fastest in the game.

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When Dune 2000 was released in 1998, I was eagerly anticipating it to come to local stores. When I first played it, the first impression wasn’t that good. For one – the gameplay was not that attractive and for the other – the entire concept of gameplay was rather bland.

Using the rock-paper-scissors concept, Westwood has decided to divide the game into two tangible unit types – one that employs weapons with anti-infantry (soft targets) hitting power and the other with anti-armor units. So, you’d get the C&C: Red Alert style of gameplay – that rockets are poor against infantry but best against tanks and other vehicles and vice versa.

So, you’d get quads that have difficulty killing infantry whereas the lesser Trike chews them up and spits it out with ease. Heavy troopers used to be able to kill other infantry with unfair odds but it turns out that rockets can’t hurt other infantry. Missile tanks are also finding it very difficult to engage infantry units as their own missiles typically splash off them. Squads of troopers could mow down tanks with ease and the same troops are not able to take down other rifle units. Doesn’t make sense.

In Dune 2000, you’ll now get a vastly different Siege Tank. Instead of arguably the best tank in Dune II (I never though of Devastator Tank as a good unit) with excellent armor and firepower, you get a aluminium can unit with a siege gun (think artillery in the C&C: Series). These can destroy enemy walls, turrets and infantry but comes off worse with other armored units.

The hardest thing to accept is the degrading of certain units – missile (or rocket) tanks are so weak, expensive and useless that I’d rather prefer to just amass combat tanks for the primary assault on enemy bases. The Dune II rocket tank was something to fear of – great range of fire and awesome firepower in two neat rockets. Most importantly, the Dune II rocket tank can, most of the time, take down missile turrets from far. The Dune 2000 rocket unit could outrange the missile turrets, but I think that the AI get the benefit of the doubt more than the player. Like I’ve also said above, the Death Hand is nothing more than a pain in the neck (what happened to ‘one strike and half the base gone’ like it was in Dune II?). Heck, even the Ornithopter units are bomber units that just cause irritation in your tactics. They do considerable amount of damage but just approximately over one area/structure. That’s not good – so my conclusion is that Dune 2000 is just too safe and sedate for my liking. Fremen units are now controllable by the player instead of letting the AI decide their targets. This may seem good, but their Dune 2000 cousins are now rather weak unless in obscene amounts and supported by armored units. If not – several Siege Tanks would reduce them to Fremen graveyard.

Not all is bad about Dune 2000 though  – the FMV cutscenes and the acting is good. The storyline, while largely forgettable is at least better than the Dune II version. FYI, Dune II has almost not tangible plot – other than the Mentat continually asking that you take out this base and take out that House from the area for no particular reason whatsoever. What I meant is – there is no significance in taking out that particular outpost, if you don’t tell me what’s so great about that. Dune 2000 allows some storyline to develop – the Harkonnen has to defend a Radar Outpost in a secluded area divided by mountains and they have to capture an Atreides contruction yard later on. Dune 2000 at least has some variety.

The best mission of all should be the one where you are playing as Ordos and should expect massive reinforcements from the Starport. Until then, survive. If you do survive the 10 minutes or so of game time, you’d receive so much troops via the Starport facility that you can just rush units to enemy bases with reckless abandon. Further, there are missions where you need to support the Mercenary faction in their attacks. Failure to do so would result in them turning hostile.

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General strategies:-

(i) Always build two refineries whenever you start a mission. One harvester working alone brings in far too little cash to make a difference. Always buy your Carryalls to facilitate the spice-harvesting operations- they come at cheaper prices and somewhat faster rate than building one yourself via the High-Tech Factory. I typically have three refineries and six harvesters churning out cash with 6 Carryalls for servicing each of them.

(ii) Place rocket turrets at ‘mouths’ of your bases. Ideally lay down a wall of them as money permits and back them from behind with two or three Siege Tanks against the pesky rocket troopers. At earlier levels, you would have no choice but to construct normal gun turrets but they are quite efficient as well.

(iii) Attacking enemy harvesters would often bring the whole available enemy force streaming at the offender. Use this to your advantage! If you want, bring out one Trike (or whatever fast-moving unit you so choose) and attack the enemy harvester. When you see activity scrambling in the enemy’s base, retreat the sole unit back to the safety of your base (provided of course that your base is insulated with sufficient rocket turrets and other base defences) and watch the enemy army get wiped out one by one at your doorstep, simply because they were only interested in hunting down the culprit who started it all.

(iv) When attacking enemy bases after succesfully carrying out (iii), do not pause to dismantle enemy rocket turrets at the entrance of their base. They’d chew up a considerable amount of your forces (assuming that your initial punitive army is around 30 combat tanks with some rocket tanks and Siege Tank units). Instead, drive right through to the centre of the enemy base and take out (in no particular order) their construction yard, heavy weapon factory and Starport facility. With these gone, the enemy cannot produce armored units and must rely on the lighter Trikes and infantry. Of course, it goes without saying that if you have so much units left after destroying the above, then you might as well decimate the whole base!

(Drive right thru and don’t stop and fight – just take out enough base guards as is necessary for clear passage)

(v) Sonic Tanks in Dune 2000 suck and can inflict damage on each other. I generally use them against infantry but little else. The Devastator is quite formidable in large numbers (20 or so) and can be relied upon to destroy a medium-sized enemy base, assuming that their core army is already taken out of commission.

(vi) You do not need to build all the building foundations as shown in the side panel. For instance, you can build a standard 2×2 concrete slab for a power plant and barracks. Just remember to place the upper-half of the building on the solid 2×2 foundation because units only appear at the bottom part. This principle applies to all other buildings except the repair pad and Starport which requires the full building foundation to be laid down first. This way you can save valuable time. Of course, it’s better to place building foundations first before building the actual structure. Ill-placed structures deteriorate very quickly and it can be quite a chore to repair them from time to time. Always lay down foundations for base turrets, power plants and unit-producing factories. I don’t think the radar and silos are that important but it’s your call.

(vi) Scout out areas using the typical Dune II style – send out the cheapest unit (infantry) to all four corners of the map.

(vii) Always place a Siege Tank within the compound of your Construction Yard – enemy engineers love to target unguarded ones and you never know when might pop up.

(viii) Try not to build massive amounts of infantry units, despite its cheap price – one shot from a Siege Tank would leave half the platoon in tatters. Always focus on armored units for both attack and defence. Infantry units do not have a healer unit, so why bother to waste time and money building them?

(ix) Ornithopters have the annoying tendency to target your heavy factory. Since the heavy factory has two empty slots at the top of the structure grid:

xox

ooo

ooo

(where x is empty space and o is built-up area)

you may place two rocket turrets at the places marked ‘x’. No hopters can survive their first run.

(x) To train the Emperor’s elite Sardaukar units, you’d have no choice but to capture his Palace in the final mission for all Houses. But I’m partial to armored units and view the Sardaukar as nothing more than an interesting addition to the army.

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