Game Designer Journal – Design challenges when working with the epic IP

No, we weren’t at the private screening of Dune. We knew the book by heart, we knew every bit of the story, but the movie itself we watched as all of you – when it hit theatres.

Today I discuss the experience of designing the game tied in with the Hollywood blockbuster.

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“The book has been available in bookstores since 1965. What spoilers?!”

This is the question I heard in the previous year the most. The common reaction when I discuss the strict policy we had about revealing the story presented in Dune: House Secrets. We could not tell about the plot of the movie, and therefore we should be cautiously introducing the plot and concept of the story in Dune: House Secrets.

“The book has been available in bookstores since 1965. What spoilers?!” you say.

“I know,” I reply.

I am myself a bookworm and know the whole series of books, and yet, I understand and sympathize with this difficult restriction we work with. Dune is a fantastic novel. Dune has more than 600 pages. Most of you never read it and never will. Most of you will know Dune only from the movie. Being very vocal when I promote Dune: House Secrets about the events on Arrakis may ruin your experience when you finally decide to watch this epic movie.

I am not happy with the limitations I have. I wish I could tell you more and more about Dune: House Secrets timeline, how it fits in the book timeline, how it uses events described in the book and how it engages players with the new intrigues on Arrakis.

Working with blockbuster releases must come with some limitations. To know more about the Dune: House Secrets fascinating story, you must play it.

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“You read the book. You know the story. What’s the problem with writing your plot?”

The problem is that the book has 600 pages. It’s hard to translate it into the movie. I don’t know which fragments of the novel will be sacrificed and removed in the movie. I don’t know if some of the characters will have less screen time than they had page time. I am building a story based on the book that will be sold to the people who watch the movie.

We all remember the surprise of the fans of Glorfindel when they saw in the Lord of the Rings movie that suddenly it is Arwen who saves Frodo.

When writing the story in Dune: House Secrets, we hoped the movie was as close to the original material as possible. The plot in our story is based heavily on the events and some characters portrayed in the book. Any changes Denis Villeneuve introduces might throw our story off the track.

And although the movie is a magnificent adaptation and is everything fans could ask for, still some small details, some tiny cuts that were made here and there, slightly touched our plot. It was inevitable.

I can easily divide players into three groups. The first group – those who never read Dune or saw the movie. They will enjoy our game as a fun science fiction story about rebels fighting the evil oppressor.

The other group is those of fans who saw the movie – you enjoy the plot, recognize some characters, feel the theme and atmosphere of the story, enjoy the visuals and world-building that brings them to the Dune they know and love.

And then the third group, those who read the book, know all about Paul, Leto, Thufir Hawat, Bene Gesserit, their motivations, and goals. This third group can see all the layers and subtle motives hidden in the game.

Designing a game like that, set in the existing universe, is a new type of challenge, a challenge to create a product that speaks to all groups of fans. Seeing the praise in social media the game gets for the story, I think we achieved almost the impossible. I couldn’t be more proud.

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“It looks pretty much like in the movie!”

The whole art direction of the game was a unique experience for the entire team involved in the game’s production. In Dune: House Secrets, the artwork played a significant role – it had to transport players on Arrakis, on the planet they saw in all its glory in IMAX.

The team behind visuals had access to a dedicated bible file and the style guide – a collection of guides and concept art pieces created for the Dune. Soaking with style, our illustrators began the work to bring the experience from cinema onto cards and into your living room, where you play with your friends.

Some of the illustrations were rejected, some sent for correction, most got immediately green-lighted. Week by week, piece by piece, Dune: House Secrets was part of this epic cinematography, and the locations created for the game looked as they were part of the film set.

The experience we had when we saw the movie for the first time in IMAX was priceless. The architecture, the technology (film book, ornithopters, shield), clothes, all of that felt so familiar to the team who worked on Dune: House Secrets for the past months.

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Working on a big IP brings a significant number of new challenges and, at the same time, many great experiences. It’s a year of hard work and many exciting lessons. It’s a process that will give a topic for many more interesting articles. It’s the adventure that let my team bring a great story-driven experience for all of you, who love to experience a good story. Thank you.

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Welcome to PORTAL GAMES

We are bookworms. Movie maniacs. Story addicts. We grew up reading Tolkien, Howard, Herbert, Dick, Lem… We were watching Willow, Blade Runner, Never Ending Story, Robin Hood…

And yet, we don’t write books… we don’t make movies. We don’t make those things, because we make games. We make games that tell stories.

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