Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
2001’s Battle For Dune was the first time I remember being consciously nostalgic about games.
I was a big PC gamer in the early-to-mid 90s, but took something of a sabbatical in the last years of the decade, as life + no money got in the way (some cause and effect there, yes). Somehow I wound up working on a computing and games magazine in 2001, and very quickly had to learn PC games again. Just a couple of months in, Emperor: Battle For Dune code landed on my desk, and, in an instant, I reverted back from someone who liked PC games and into someone who adored them.
Not because of Emperor itself, you understand. It was a bit of a clunker, and killed its developer Westwood’s long-running real-time strategy hot streak (albeit already harmed by its 1998 predecessor Dune 2000). With the exception of an expansion pack for Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, Westwood never made another RTS before owners EA tragically closed the studio down in 2003 – although the ill-juged FPS-RTS mash-up C&C Renegade was the smoking gun there.
But it was a new Dune game, and Westwood’s first Dune game, 1992’s Dune II, was the first game I had ever really, truly, absolutely loved. Listless remake Dune 2000 was released during my PC gaming dark ages, and so Emperor was my first shot at returning to a universe and a style I’d so adored. There I was, 21, thinking a game sequel was a way to commune my childhood. It seemed so novel then. I look at the sea of remakes and sequels we get now, and I feel so numb.
I’m curious to play Emperor again now, to see how it really feels now I am no longer quite so vulnerable to calculated nostalgia. I’m sure it gave it some free passes because it had familiar vehicles and Sandworms, but I’m also sure I kicked it harder than it deserved because it wasn’t exactly the same. I imagine that, if I did play it, what I would feel most strongly is that we don’t really get RTSes like that any more. Oh look, here comes the nostalgia again.