Company: Atari
Model #:
Year: 1984
Based on the 1984 Sci-Fi movie


Based off the 1984 movie, Dune was to be an action/adventure game along the same lines the classic 2600 game Adventure.  Dune was originally started by veteran programmers Bruce Poehlman and Gary Stark before they began working on the 5200 game "The Last Starfighter" (which also went unreleased).  Unfortunately Gary and Bruce had only gone through the brainstorming process when work was stopped.  However it appears that another programmer may have been assigned to pick up and continue work on Dune.  Unfortunately only preliminary coding had been started before Jack Tramiel shut down 2600 game development and fired most of the staff.



For those not familiar with the books or the movie, I'll try and sum up the main plot.  The year is 10191.  The whole universe depends on a spice called "Melange" which gives the user power and long life.  Unfortunately the only place on which the spice is found is an arid desert planet called Arrakis (also called Dune).  There is a war going on between two royal houses (Atreides and Harkonnen) for control of the planet which is secretly being orchestrated by the Emperor of the universe.  However the planet Dune is not simply home to giant sand worms as most think, but rather is inhabited by a group of people known as the Fremen.  The Fremen believe that the young son of Duke Lito (Paul Atreides) is their Messiah who will lead them in a holy war against the Harkonnen empire.  Got all that?



Dune was to be an action/adventure game similar to the classic 2600 Adventure.  The player plays the part of Paul Atreides, who ironically is represented by a square (probably due to the same technical limitations as Adventure).  The player must help Paul navigate through Arrakis while dealing with the planets.  Along the way Paul can pick tools to help him in his quest to defeat the evil Baron Harkonnen and free Arrakis.  Now while all of this sounds about right for a game based on Dune, here's where things start to get really weird...


Instead of taking place in a large open desert (which one might expect in a game based on Dune), the game appears to take place in a strange multi-colored maze.  This is due to the fact that the code which defined the room structure wasn't completed.  To get the prototype working, a simple maze was constructed for each room.  In the final game it is thought that the rooms would have had simple barriers and objects similar to Adventure or the SwordQuest series.  Also unfinished were many of the character graphics, instead an evil looking smiley face was used as a placeholder.  Everything from the sand worms to the Baron himself is represented by evil looking smiley faces (perhaps the Baron is related to Evil Otto?).  These placeholder graphics and lack of room structure show just how early this game was in the development process


As mentioned earlier, Paul can find tools that are hidden in various rooms of the maze.  Only seven of the twelve tools have their proper graphics, the other tools are represented by an empty square (a placeholder graphic).  Unfortunately most of the tools don't seem to do anything as the code that makes them function hasn't been implemented (with the exception of the Thumper and Ornithopter).  For the most part Paul can only pick up and drop the tools he encounters.


Used to open doors
Displays a map of the maze
Used to kill enemies
Used to call the sand worms.  When activated, the sand worms will hover over the Thumper instead of chasing you.  Lasts for approx. 10 seconds.
Increases Paul's spice count
Destroys all enemies in a room.  Does not appear to be functional.

Cloak of Invisibility (Cibus Hood)

Turns Paul invisible to enemies
Increases Paul's speed and allows him to move over obstacles.
Used to light up darkened areas
Shield Ring
Used to protect Paul from enemies
Used to shoot enemies from a distance
Princess Chani
Unknown.  May help Paul deal with the Freman.


Paul also has to deal with various other characters during the course of the game.  While many of these characters are Paul's mortal enemies, some are also unlikely allies.  Interestingly, only the Baron's Guards have their graphics finished.  All other characters are represented by a smiley face.

Baron's Guards
These guys are the only enemy in the game to have their graphics finished.  The Baron's guards only appear on one screen.
Baron Harkonnen
Head of House Harkonnen, he killed Paul's father (Duke Lito).  
Sand Worms
Large worms who live under the desert sands.
Guard Dogs
The Baron's personal attack dogs
Deadly assassin weapon.  The Hunter/Seeker is a tiny dart shaped machine used to kill enemies from afar.

Rightful inhabitants of Arrakis.  Paul's fate is to lead the Freman to victory

Shop Keeper
Most likely sells Paul tools or spice
Steals tools from the rooms and deposits them elsewhere.



At the bottom of the screen there are two gauges, the blue one represents Paul's water level, while the red one represents Paul's spice level.  The water gauge starts at 100% and slowly depletes during the course of the game, when it reaches zero Paul dies (however this isn't implemented yet).  The only way to increase Paul's water level is to find one of the "Water Rooms" and touch the walls (Water Rooms look just like the rest of the maze).  The first Water Room is four rooms to the right of where you begin the game, and the other water rooms can be found two screens up or down from the first.  The Spice gauge starts at zero, and can be increased by collecting spice jars.  Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be any way to use the spice.


While much of the game remains to be completed, there is a surprising amount of functionality hinted at in the game code. Unfortunately after much experimentation, it is determined that most of these features were not far enough along to be implemented:

- There was to be a nice title screen
- In-game music was planned
- Five game variations were planned


While it may be very incomplete, Dune shows alot of promise.  Had it been completed, Dune's complex adventure game style would have been a welcome addition to the 2600 library (perhaps washing out the taste of the craptacular SwordQuest series).  Unfortunately the collapsing video game market and the Tramiel take over killed off any hope that Dune would be finished.  Still this prototype is unique look into what Atari had in store for gamers, if only had things turned out differently.


Version Cart Text Description
7/10/84   Very early demo


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