I have a degree in modern history from Pembroke College, Oxford. History - mainly military and art history - continues to be a hobby and I have given several lectures on the history of computer games. This is a transcript of a speech I gave on the history of computer games at the Game Developers Conference Europe in the summer of 2001.

History of Computer Games

Published in 1992 by Virgin and developed by Westwood Studios.

Full disclosure: IG developed Dune 2000 and Emperor: Battle for Dune for Westwood, so I am probably biased.

It is often credited with starting the RTS genre and I think it did in practice; but some credit has to go to Chris Crawford’s work, Stonk on the Spectrum and Herzog Zwei on the Sega Megadrive; which all contained some genre elements.

This is what Brett Sperry said about the conception of Dune II:

“The challenge was that strategy games would be out-of-control fun if the real-time aspect of Eye of the Beholder could be combined with resource management and a dynamic, flat interface. Just one mode of play and no additional screens. But how? Long before I decided to experiment with actually building this new game in a Dune setting, I kept toying with the answer.”

Like Empire, it used a limited number of simple rules which could be combined into complex strategies but It’s telling that the design started with an aesthetic and UI consideration.

It is clearly influenced by the WIMP interface that was beginning to appear on Macs and Windows at the very end of the eighties. It used a scrolling window, mouse select, and buttons but NOT selection marquees. Other innovations included:

  • It was real time
  • Pictures of units not symbols
  • Visual feedback, like bullets, craters, wheel tracks and so on
  • Enemy AI to allow solo play (I think this is often overlooked because later C&C became so MP focused)
  • An invention tree

It seems to me that almost all of these developments are based on making the game more accessible.

From Empire and its descendents, today we have the whole family of turn-based strategy games, like Civilisation, and all the realtime strategy games; which brings us right up to date. The latest (and best, at least in my opinion) is Emperor: Battle for Dune which came out a few months ago.

I suspect that Dune II is still under copyright but there seem to be lots of working copies on the net. I found one here. Obviously, you should only download the game if you already have a legitimate copy. Alternatively, go out and buy the very wonderful Emperor and get an up to date Dune experience.