I learned a lot writing Calling the Makers, the story of how the games based on Frank Herbert’s Dune came to be. But one thing I didn’t expect to learn was the existence of a whole game I’d never heard of: ‘Ornithopter Assault’ for the Nintendo GameBoy Advance (GBA).
The GBA doesn’t seem like a likely platform for a Dune videogame. Most of them are released for PC, maybe the bigger consoles. But portable consoles aren’t known for their power, and even though the GameBoy Advance (GBA) had around the same power as a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), I was still surprised to find out that a Dune game had been developed for it.
‘Ornithopter Assault’ was a combat flight simulator in which players took the role of Duncan Idaho, an Atreides fighter pilot charged with protecting spice harvesters from Harkonnen attacks. ‘Ornithopter Assault’ was commissioned by Cryo Interactive as part of its attempt to develop multiple Dune games alongside Frank Herbert’s Dune and ‘Dune Generations’.
The company charged with creating ‘Ornithopter Assault’ was Soft Brigade, a new development company based in Hungary. I spoke to Peter Wodzinsky, who was not only owner and managing director of Soft Brigade, but was also project manager and programmer for ‘Ornithopter Assault’.
What was your first experience with Dune?
To be honest we haven’t been fans of the Dune universe. The first experience was the development of this game.
How did Soft Brigade get involved in making a Dune game with Cryo Interactive?
I’d just sold my shares in the company that developed Codename: Panzers and I wanted to make a smaller scale development. That’s how we chose the GBA platform. With a small team (3 coders, 2 artists, one producer) we started to make technology demos. One of them was a Voxel engine with animated sprites.
A producer at Cryo realized that our tech demo is like a Dune setting where you can fly an Ornithopter. That’s how it started.
What were the inspirations for ‘Ornithopter Assault’?
Sadly, just the visual representation of our tech demo.
‘Ornithopter Assault’ is unlike any other Dune game made. How did the team go about adapting the Dune story into a flight combat simulator?
As I remember our producer presented the story to us. He might have used a story writer. As we were a tech company, it was a team effort.
How did you adapt the Dune universe to your game if you weren’t fans? You mentioned your producer brought the story to you? Was this someone from Cryo?
Yes, we had a producer at Cryo. He was responsible for the story and adapting the Dune universe too. Sorry but I don’t remember clearly how the game was designed. I was responsible for other territories in the company (BizDev, managing the company…)
We don’t know anything about the development of this game. How did it go? Was it a smooth process? Were there any problems?
It was easy. After having the technology we just implemented the story and scripted the missions. Only the LOT check and getting the approval was challenging since we were new to the platform.
What’s a LOT check?
It is a process where NOA and NOE (Nintendo of America, Europe) approves the project. They check everything that a project has to comply with.
What were the best parts of the process?
The testing and balancing of the missions.
Of course, ‘Ornithopter Assault’ was never released. What happened? How did it feel to see your game cancelled at the last minute?
It is a sad story. Cryo went bankrupt. They cancelled all their projects and never paid the second half of the development costs. Not even the liquidator was able to compensate us.
As Cryo had the Dune rights we weren’t allowed to sell the complete project to a different publisher.
The same year due to 9/11 our Canadian partner cancelled all overseas businesses, so we lost our partners and closed down the studio.
So were any games from Soft Brigade ever released?
ROMs have found their way onto the Internet. How do you feel that people have found a way to play the game?
I’m very happy! Financially it wasn’t a rewarding venture, but if the game makes some enjoyable moments or at least a smile for the fans, our work wasn’t in vain.
The story of ‘Ornithopter Assault’ is just one of many found within the pages of Calling the Makers. It’s filled with exclusive interviews with the people who created beloved games based on Frank Herbert’s Dune, including:
- Future Pastimes’s Dune boardgame
- Cyro Interactive’s Dune
- Westwood Studios’ Dune II, Dune 2000, and Emperor: Battle for Dune
- Last Unicorn Games’ The Eye of the Storm CCG and the Chronicles of the Imperium RPG
- Widescreen Games’ Frank Herbert’s Dune
- Cryo Network’s ‘Dune Generations’