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How Funcom brought Dune’s Arrakis to life from the legendary books

Dune: Awakening is the next major game set in Frank Herbert’s acclaimed sci-fi universe. Developer Funcom was meticulous in bringing Arrakis to life in a new open-world survival MMO.

Like Arrakis in the books, the game’s landscape presents a huge, persistent, and deadly world to explore. Other players will also make life difficult in the fight for physical and political survival.

Level Infinite caught up with Funcom’s chief creative officer and creative director, Joel Bylos, to learn more about Dune’s first open-world survival game and what the developers aim to bring to the landmark sci-fi series.

Harnessing desert power from the books

The Dune franchise takes place in a far future where civilization has changed to a feudal interstellar society. Computers are banned, yet sophisticated space travel is possible.

That contrast between humanity reduced to bare tools, yet against a futuristic opulence creates Dune’s unique flavor compared with other genre favorites. This was a key element that the developers wanted to explore in Dune: Awakening and its approach to building an open-world Arrakis.

“When we started work on the game, we made a set of creative design principles to follow—we wanted our designs to fit Dune, and not make Dune fit our designs,” said Bylos.

The creative team scoured the books draw up details, such as finding out how do plants are harvested on Arrakis. “We’re a survival game, and we need to show how that works in the game with harvesting mechanics,” he said. “There’s one small paragraph we found in the book that explains how that works, like they would jury rig a suspensive field on a cyclic object that sucks dew off the top of flower fields right at the bloom at dawn.”

This focus on the minutiae of the universe is essential to keep the landscape interesting and varied

“We’re the first to bring the player right to the surface of the planet and let them play around on Arrakis,” said Bylos.

So the studio is challenged to make sure that while the player can feel Arrakis’ vastness, they have sufficient detail to stay invested and interested in the world.

“We’ve spent a lot of time working on the different biomes, the deep deserts, and designing the Vaults hidden around the planet,” he said.

While Dune: Awakening blends many ideas and visuals from the recent Denis Villeneuve films and Frank Herbert’s original novels, the developers at Funcom have been busy building their unique vision of Dune. The game is set in a separate timeline to the films and source material. This gives the developers room to bring their own version of Dune to life.

“At the heart of this project, there are a lot of people out there who want to live in the universe that Frank Herbert created, and they want to live in the visual world of the films they see from Villeneuve,” he continued.

“We need to close the gap between those two possibilities and create a game world where people can live out the fantasies they’ve taken from Dune. It’s a huge legacy, and it feels overwhelming at times, but we hope we can deliver something for everybody.”

Dune: Awakening is currently in development, and is planned for release on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S.

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