Dune: Spice Wars, a new strategy game in the world of the famous Dune franchise, will be released in early access in a few days. The artistic director explains the work of adapting the game.
the 4X strategy game by Shiro Games is one of two adaptations planned by Funcom in the Dune universe. Stalled on April 26, 2022, the PC game Dune: Spice Wars has already unveiled quite a few images on its four factions at war for the conquest of Spice, the rarest resource in the universe.
At the head of the game’s design, we find Jérémy Vitry, artistic director of Shiro and former designer at Ubisoft. Main inspirations, exploration of character design and adaptation, the Bordelais explains the project in an interview that we share with you here.
What was the first official artwork you worked on for this project?
The very first artwork we did for this project was a large overview of Arrakis with a fake mockup of the game to show the general feel. This has of course changed a lot in the meantime, but we have tried to maintain this stylized look throughout production.
What were your main inspirations during the development of the Art Style for Spice Wars?
Our first idea was to create something that didn’t look like the previous Dune games at all but rather something that retained the Shiro Games touch and therefore do things more stylized than the usual 4X games. We also decided to add a little ‘Art-Deco’ print to the overall designs, mainly for the UI but also slightly incorporated into the characters and props, to make our game stand out a bit more in terms of Art Direction, because that’s not something you see everywhere.
Do you have any inspirations from old movies or games?
We tried to keep our distance from previous Dune materials because we really wanted to have our own vision and express our own style. Of course, having the opportunity to work within this universe stemming from Franck Herbert’s heritage is a unique chance in the world to be able to express oneself and leave one’s mark in this universe as a video game developer.
Was there a time when the game or the characters looked distinctly different from their final appearance?
The game has certainly changed a lot since the early stages of development due to our iteration process and all the trial and error we had to do in order to come up with something that truly resembles what we had in mind when we first start.
Strangely, the characters didn’t really change during development, except for some tweaks here and there, because we knew from the start that we were going to have to do a lot and changing a character a little too much can have big consequences on the sequel. (in terms of textures, rigging, animation, etc…).
With Dune being such a well-known and beloved universe, did you face any difficulties in developing a unique style for the game?
Yes, to be honest, it was very difficult not to take into consideration all the very cool things that already existed on the internet, and yet we had to create something unique, as different and excellent as possible! Another aspect of this challenge was that everyone already has their own vision of what Dune-related stuff looks like, so the pressure to create something not too extravagant while still appealing to players that fits into this universe was truly difficult to manage!
What other changes did you have to make while working on the game artwork?
Regularity on the art direction is a very difficult task and it is the case every time we start working on a new project because we gather many references at the start and then we sort it all out and make a decision on this that we should aim for. However, the more development progresses, the more our vision becomes clearer, more precise and some of the early work may become less and less relevant over time. So we had to be very careful with this particular aspect of the game. On top of that, we also had to make each faction look unique, which took some time.
Another obvious challenge for us was the environment: Arrakis is essentially a desert planet and we didn’t want the player to spend countless hours staring at sand dunes. So our first goal was to explore different types of desert biomes and see what kind of variety we could bring in to make the map less boring, less uniform. In addition to the fact that the world must be procedurally generated in order to be different each time, this becomes an even more complex task.
The scale of the world wasn’t easy to achieve at first, we didn’t really like the more realistic version of small units and bigger towns & villages. On the other hand, we didn’t want cartoonish overkill with much larger units and smaller buildings, so we tried to find a happy medium that ended up working for everyone on the team!
Finally, Dune Spice Wars is the first game in which we have animated and detailed characters in front of the screen (the leading factions), so this required a greater amount of work than we were used to in order to achieve the level of quality we wanted.
What are the main differences between working on an IP and working on a well-known license like Dune?
The main difference of course is that we had to stick with existing material, which meant that we had to cut out a lot of the ideas we had at the start and be more careful about what we wanted to show and how we we did.
Working on an original IP means we can actually make our own decisions at every step and that’s something we can’t have if the project is licensed. That being said, it was very cool to work within these constraints as it took us out of our comfort zone, for the better!
Were there any underlying themes or motifs that you hoped to convey with your art?
We really wanted to make the game enjoyable for a wide variety of players by making it more colorful and vibrant than people might expect from a Dune based 4X/RTS game. It’s something we tried to convey with our previous games as well, and we wanted to keep that kind of appeal.
We think adding the “Art-Deco” theme was a great idea to bring more detail and subtlety to the overall look of the game, to make it look more refined and elegant. It’s also our way of saying, “the game looks accessible, but there’s more behind the curtain.”
We also tried to leave a touch of “poster cold war propaganda” sentiment to some of the artwork, particularly on the political aspects of the game.
What was your favorite part of this experience working on the project?
The fact that we were able to work on the universe of “DUNE” was very exciting and already a major event for all of us here!
Having the chance to contribute our own ideas and designs to such a sci-fi masterpiece is definitely the most fun part of this experience, for me anyway.