Dune: Awakening won’t feature sandworm-riding at launch — and no penis-sliders either

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Sandworms play a major part in Dune: Awakening, the big survival MMO coming some time soon from Funcom, the developers behind Conan: Exiles — but the game won’t feature the novel’s famous sandworm-riding come launch. And, presumably much more importantly for Conan fans, there’ll be no penis sliders either.

There will be sand-walking, though, and there’s no ruling out of sandworm-riding down the line. We spoke with Dune: Awakening’s creative director Joel Bylos at some length in our preview, and he explained the decision like this:

«We actually looked into it. It’s just a very strong technical cost, and also a very — it needs a purpose. And we haven’t got what the movie has, which is like, ‘Go through the southern sandstorms, get to the southern part [of Arrakis]’. So yeah, we don’t have that yet.»

Cover image for YouTube videoDune Awakening Survive Arrakis Trailer 4K

Here’s a Dune: Awakening trailer.

It’s worth contextualising that a bit. Dune: Awakening will have sandworms, for one, with them acting as a major mechanic in the game’s cycle of venturing out into the deep desert, gathering spice and returning to a safe haven behind the shield wall. Different worms of different sizes will appear in different areas — the deeper desert has the larger, ring-mouthed worms for instance, with smaller and more traditionally-jawed ones in other areas.

It will also only have two factions at launch — the Harkonnens and the Atreides — and given its lack of central focus on religion, with the sandworm-riding Fremen described as «the core of the religion» by Bylos, that makes more sense. You also very much won’t be playing as a real messianic, «chosen one» figure, Bylos explained, which also adds up — but he didn’t totally rule sandworm-riding out. Along with him stressing the worm-riding not being available «at launch», he also mentioned «there’s a third faction that I’d like to get in,» but similarly, «that probably won’t come ’til post-launch.»

In the meantime, sandworms will still play a significant part, and also impact respawning mechanics in the game, as Bylos explained when discussing approachability with us. Dune: Awakening will differ from the somewhat brutal, player-on-player violence of Conan: Exile. «You don’t lose a lot of items unless you get eaten by a Sandworm. If you get eaten by a Sandworm, then you wake up naked — but if another person kills you, you drop, like, some resources and maybe some bullets that you’re carrying. We’re quite cognisant of trying to make it approachable to players.»

«Tonally, it’s different from Conan in that I think Conan has a certain level of sexuality to it. There’s a level of like, very raw humanity to it. Dune is much more philosophical, it’s science fiction, right? So really, it’s a lot more abstracted.»

Bylos continued, jokingly, to explain the team’s own philosophy when approaching Conan. «I had a rule when we made Conan, I used to make the joke ‘what would Jesus do?’ — what would Conan do? I used to tell the team, any time you come up with anything in the game, think about how Conan would solve it. If there’s a lever to pull to open a door, that’s not Conan — he punches the door and it breaks, right?»

«What is the Dune version of this? How do you approach this in Dune? It’s tonally quite different… for example in Conan, you know, smacking down stones and trees, in Dune it’s like, you analyse the rock, it shows you the seam of the rock where the most optimal break-points are, and then you kind of laser along that line to break the rock.»

Naturally, that genuinely considered approach to design spills over to the sillier side of things, including Conan’s famous penis slider (infamously covered up for the US Xbox version thanks to a «more restrictive» ESRB rating.) As Bylos jokingly put it to Eurogamer, «I don’t think Warner Bros. and Legendary would have approved a penis slider for this game. In Conan it’s a bit different; we have the IP.»

As for the sand-walking, the strange arrhythmic mode of on-foot travel people have to use to get across the desert of Arrakis without accidentally summoning a sandworm, Bylos joked about some ideas that didn’t quite make it. «We have done a test of it that we pulled out — I’d like to bring in another version. We always joke around that we should do the Guitar Hero thing, but you have to miss every note,» he laughed, «so it should be like: here’s the arrow keys, make sure you don’t press them, right?»

But as for the sillier parts of Conan, or the more unusual parts of Dune, from it’s typical relationships to the more, erm, family-friendly that its later books gained some attention for, that’s a no. «No — well, I mean, we can allude to incest, and we can talk about these things, but — I dunno… there’s not a tonne of nudity, not really. I’m just thinking, is there any nudity at all? I don’t think so. A lot of sandworm jokes though…»

For more detail, albeit sadly fewer sandworm jokes, do give our big Dune: Awakening preview and interview a look.

This preview and interview is based on a press trip — Funcom covered travel and accomodation.

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