If you’re looking for a straight adaptation of Frank Herbert’s original book, there’re the games by Cryo from the 1990s and 2000s. But the games by Westwood Studios are somewhat unique: Dune II, Dune 2000 and Emperor: Battle for Dune are very different to the novel. There’s no Paul Atreides/Muad’Dib. True, the player takes on a somewhat messianic role in Dune 2000, as prophesised by the Bene Gesserit sister, Lady Elara Moray Trieu. However, she hedges her bets by saying that in only one possible future does the player become the ruler of Dune. So lose the game and the prophecy does not come to pass. And even then ...
There is some confusion about whether this is an alternate timeline to the book, or if it’s set at some other point in the Dune chronology. One clue is in the FMVs. Here, the costumes and other designs echo those of David Lynch’s 1984 film. The issue here is that there are fundamental differences between the film and the games. Firstly, both are set in 10191, with this date stated in both game manuals and on the official website. That would seem to settle the argument in favour of different chronologies. However, I came across a discussion on Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange that said the games are set two hundred years before the film. After some digging, I found the relevant interview with Chris Longpre, the producer for Emperor: Battle for Dune at Westwood Studios: “The game takes place roughly 200 years before the original movie, “Dune,” and just after Dune II. Although all of our characters, scenes and story lines stay true to the Dune universe, we’ve tried very hard to make Emperor its own game that can be enjoyed not only by fans of Dune, but to newcomers as well.” He was not credited in Dune II or Dune 2000, so the intended timeline may have been different for those games. On the balance of things, I’d say that this concludes that issue: the dates in the manual and website are wrong.
Let’s have a look at some other differences between the film and the games. Instead of Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV setting up a trap for House Atreides on Arrakis, Dune II specifically says that it is Emperor Frederick IV who sets the three major Houses against each other. This name change is repeated in the game manuals as well. However, as a side note, the endings for Emperor: Battle for Dune revert to the name given in the novel.
The winning side in the conflict on Arrakis is supposed to be rewarded by managing and profiting from the production of the invaluable Spice. Of course, like his counterpart in the book, the emperor betrays all three Houses by sending in his own troops to destroy them during the fighting.
In two of the endings of Dune 2000, both he and Elara are killed by either Atreides or Harkonnen forces. However, in the House Ordos campaign, Elara kills the ruler with a poisoned needle (the gom jabber seen in the opening scenes of the book) and seemingly escapes just before a suicide bomber destroys the palace. In the manual for the sequel, Lady Elara is still alive, which indicates that the House Ordos campaign is the canon version. With chaos threatening peace in the empire, the three main Houses once again fight it out on Dune for the opportunity to choose the next emperor.
In Emperor: Battle for Dune, both the Ordos and Harkonnen FMVs start with the arrival of a new commander/strategist to replace the old one who had failed. But what about House Ordos? If their ending in Dune 2000 is canon, didn’t they win? As noted above, although the emperor is dead, no one House controls the Spice. So they have to fight in a War of Assassins to defeat their rivals and install their own candidate on the throne. It looks like Elara’s prophecy does not come true, and the canon ending of Emperor: Battle for Dune is even less unclear.
In the House Ordos campaign for Emperor: Battle for Dune, they manufacture a clone of Frederick IV and aim to install him back on the throne if they win. In the other two endings, the leader of either House Atreides or House Harkonnen is crowned emperor. So no real clues there.
In the final mission, all three factions must battle the genetically-engineered Emperor Worm. Said worm has been created by the House Tleilaxu and the Space Guild, with support from Lady Elara. The Bene Gesserit sister is heard in the closing cutscenes, so she probably survives the destruction of the worm and its associated engineering facility at the end of the game.
There seems to be details of a proposed sequel to Emperor: Battle for Dune, entitled Emperor: Alliances. This document states that the worm is indeed dead, but House Tleilaxu has put in motion other plots to overthrow the Imperium and achieve total rule throughout the galaxy. No egos there at all. All three Houses are attacked by assassins, but each faction survives intact. Eventually, the Imperial forces turn the tide against the Tleilaxu. Among the combatants is Roma Atani, the Ordos mentat from Emperor: Battle for Dune. The new emperor is also the most successful strategist from the War of Assassins. This means that either the Atreides or Harkonnen the endings from that game could be canon, while the House Ordos ghola of Frederick IV pops up near the end of the game. No mention is made of Lady Elara in the text, and another Bene Gesserit sister is seen in her place.
So we get a series of events set in the same timeline as the Lynch film, occurring some two hundred years before. With some decent FMVs and a cast of good actors including Musetta Vander and Michael Dorn, the Westwood games present intriguing prequels to the 1984 Dune movie.