Dune: Awakening devs had to get permission from the Herberts to change a tiny piece of Dune lore so players wouldn’t nuke each other constantly

In Dune: Awakening, Funcom’s upcoming survival MMO set on the harsh desert planet of Arrakis, you’ll be able to build your own home, ally yourself with one of the Great Houses, flee from enormous sandworms and fight other players with both ranged weapons and up-close melee combat. But you will not be allowed to shoot one of Dune’s laser weapons at a player with an active personal shield, a gameplay constraint that will make a lot of sense when you read this description from the Dune wiki

“Shields were produced by a Holtzman generator, the field deriving from Phase One of the suspensor-nullification effect. Shields can be calibrated to permit the passage of matter below given speeds… However, if a lasgun beam hit a Holtzman field, it would result in sub-atomic fusion and a nuclear explosion. The center of this blast was determined by random chance; sometimes it would originate within the shield, sometimes within the laser weapon, sometimes both.”

This actually comes into play in a scene in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two, when a unit of Harkonnen soldiers refrain from turning on their shields for fear of being wiped out in one big blast. In a game, though, you can probably imagine how dozens of players firing lasers at each other and setting off near-constant nuclear blasts would be… difficult, from a combat balancing perspective. 

But Dune: Awakening creative director Joel Bylos is also deeply committed to the Dune lore—letting players blast away with their lasguns loosey goosey just wasn’t going to be an option. That left one option: getting permission from the Herbert loremasters to carve out an in-universe exception.

“In our story there’s an incident with a lasgun and a shield that occurred and from that point on, all CHOAM imported lasguns to the planet now have a safety built in so they cannot target a shield. So if you aim a lasgun at a shield in our game, it just turns the lasgun off automatically,” he said.

(Image credit: Funcom)

Last year Bylos told us that Dune: Awakening is set in an “alternate” timeline from the original Frank Herbert novels, where something has happened to change the course of history. We know Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides, is still alive in this alternate history of Dune, for example. Now we also know that the trading guild that controls imports and exports across the galaxy in this alternate reality thought that soldiers nuking one another with lasguns all the time was probably a bad idea.

“That’s basically something we had to do for gameplay, because we can’t have nuclear explosions—I mean, we could have nuclear explosions going off all the time, but it wouldn’t be very fun for everybody except the person who caused it,” Bylos said. “We discussed this, we went through it with our partners at Legendary and the Herberts as well, and got their sign-off so we could do it this way. We had this prototype which was kind of like Ghostbusters where they cross the stream and everything gets unstable, the lasgun starts to shake and the two players explode in nuclear explosions, but it just felt a little tacky unfortunately. So you can’t do the lasgun + shield, but it’s explained in the lore why you can’t.”

Another Dune element that Awakening won’t have is Fremen sandwalking, at least at launch; the team at Funcom is still trying to figure out how to implement the feature without it looking ridiculous.

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