Developer Update 1 – Art of Arrakis
Welcome to our first development update for Dune: Awakening. Ever since we first revealed pre-alpha gameplay footage in our Teaser Trailer at The Game Awards last year, we’ve been eager to start sharing our progress as the team works hard to bring Arrakis to life.
Going forward, the purpose of these updates is to include you all in our process and give you a glimpse of our destination: the most immersive Dune experience ever.
Please note that in order to create these articles, we must share work in progress. This means that everything is subject to change by the time Dune: Awakening is released.
For our first developer update, Richard Cawte, Tech Art Director at Funcom, will talk about how we’ve been building the environment of Arrakis.
Hello everyone, Rich here. I’m super excited to show you all what we’ve been doing with the environments for Dune: Awakening. To start off, I’d like to talk a bit about what sources we’re drawing on to achieve our vision of Arrakis. I’ll then get into the size of the world, our principles for staying true to Dune from an art perspective, and the tools we’re using to achieve it. Finally, we’ll explore some of the diversity of Arrakis through landmarks, points of interest, and player-built structures.
On the shoulders of giants
Dune is a universe so rich that we’re spoilt for sources of inspiration. Our main source is the books, principally the ones written by Frank Herbert. Having said that, we draw from everything, including the most recent movie by Villeneuve, and even various real-life locations like the Oregon Dunes, the southern deserts of the USA, Wadi Rum, the Acacus Mountains, Tassili n’Ajjer, Ennedi, and even planet Mars.
The movie is of course a strong visual reference for many iconic aspects of the universe, like the Ornithopter or the sandworm. The game requires us to go further yet and adopt a more global view of the planet. For example, the Dune in the movie shows no natural vegetation whatsoever, which is not the case for our Dune. This is where the books become a stronger and essential influence, giving us so much variety and detail through its descriptions and map.
A notable theme from the movie that we’ve adopted is the brutalist architecture and large open spaces, which we feel suits the Dune universe so well. However, we’ve had to balance the large, open spaces with making a game space that is fun to traverse and play in.
A vast, brutal world
From the get-go we knew that the world had to be really huge. Dune is a universe that thrives on its epic sense of scale. The deserts of Arrakis seem endless, its storms like mythical tidal waves that rise into the sky to blot out the sun and destroy all in its path. The sandworms are mind-bogglingly huge, large enough to devour massive man-made vehicles. And in the midst of all this, you stand. A mere speck, yet you stand, and survive.
In Dune: Awakening, we seek to deliver the awe that lies in the contrast between you and the vastness of a vicious planet.
Erosion and a sense of age are essential to understanding Dune, and therefore also to building it. The sun itself bleaches and burns. Vehicles overheat and break down, requiring constant maintenance. If you look closely enough, you’ll find stories in the stone, whether it’s a wall beaten by storms, or ancient human glyphs.
It’s apparent in both nature and human architecture. Although severe and massive, there’s often a softness to the imposing shapes of Arrakis’ larger edifices, as the edges are sanded down by wind and time. Everything you see in Dune: Awakening is a product of its environment. Arrakis reshapes everything and everyone.
In order to stay true to the epic scale of Arrakis, and the sheer amount of terrain required for that, we needed an element of procedural generation. While the layout and design of the terrain is handcrafted, we wanted certain time consuming, manual, and repetitive tasks to go through procedural automation.
In short, we define the layout of the map, keeping gameplay, worldbuilding, and narrative in mind. Then, Houdini, our procedural generation tool, builds over it, adding erosion, cliffs, and debris. From this, we can go in and do targeted edits on the result from any point in the process without overwriting anything.
A varied world
With such vast spaces, the natural question becomes: how do we make it varied and exciting to explore? We want you to feel like you’re actually traversing the planet of Arrakis, a natural environment, not crossing artificial borders from one area to another. Deserts are so much more than rolling dunes, both in real life and on Arrakis. Once you start to explore, you’ll discover countless mysteries to unveil.
To understand the diversity of Arrakis, we should explain how Frank Herbert built it. There are in fact many landmarks which break up the environment. For example, a major portion of Arrakis population lives in the Graben. The Graben is a huge geological ditch where the land has sunk due to movements in the underlying crustal layers.
Already, this creates spectacular images: a colossal sunken landmass, like a giants’ foot has pressed it into the planet; the sheer cliffs that cradle it, caves and human structures burrowed in. Thanks to these cliffs, the Graben is somewhat sheltered from the more violent winds and storms of the open desert, allowing villages to subsist there.
Other landmarks loom on the horizon, providing identifiable locations to strive for and look forward to exploring. As with everything on Arrakis, each has a history.
In the middle of the Minor Erg, the rock formation known as the Hand of Khidr rises from the sand to claw the sky. This circle of stone spires has served as a natural refuge going as far back as the first Zensunni Wanderers, and was later used by the Missionaria Protectiva, who planted seeds of Fremen beliefs for future manipulation.
Presently, the area has experienced a power vacuum, attracting a band of slavers seeking to profit from the instability in the region. From a high vantage point, the Hand of Khidr is but one of many landmarks you’ll see.
Strewn across the deserts you’ll also find various human-made points of interest, such as shipwrecks and ecology labs. We’re ensuring a good mix of both hidden surprises and standout landmarks to create memorable moments of discovery and keep exploration natural and exciting.
A player-marked world
With sandworms roaming the open deserts, the only safe haven for players to build on and not have to worry about getting swallowed up are scattered rock outcroppings. There are caves and gorges to explore, curious rock formations, and vegetation which clings to survival in the shadows.
Players are an essential part of the texture that makes up the environment. You will come across hundreds of individual players as they explore the world and claim their place in it, building their base in any way they want from a huge range of architectural styles. As such, your buildings have the potential to affect the look of the environment quite a bit, using our advanced and highly customizable building system, which is a topic we’ll explore in depth at another time.
We hope this has given you a much better overview of our approach to creating the environments in Dune: Awakening. The entire team is thrilled to have you join us on this journey through our development. We’re eager to hear what you enjoyed most about this broad look at our approach to building the legendary planet of Arrakis.
Be sure to let us know which locations you'd most like to visit! We’re working on our next development update, so keep an eye on our social channels for more news. In the meantime, join the chat with other sleepers bound for Arrakis on our Discord server, and add Dune: Awakening to your wishlist on Steam!
Until next time, Sleepers.