House Ordos and House Ecaz. Two factions invented for video games by the developer. Ostensibly similar, but not at all the same.
When Dune News Net asked me to write a review of Dune: Spice Wars, I leapt at the chance. Ever since I picked up my first copy of GamesMaster, I’ve wanted to play a video game and write a review of it for someone else. So that’s an item ticked off the bucket list!
But having played and written about Dune II, I couldn’t help noticing some significant differences between the factions created by the two developers.
One works. And one does not.
Place your Ordos
When I was researching the making of Dune II for Calling the Makers, one of the things I was most interested in was the genesis of House Ordos. Turns out the story was less grand than I had expected!
Brett just liked the way ‘insidious Ordos’ sounded.Louis Castle
Brett was Brett Sperry, who had formed Westwood Studios with Louis Castle in 1985. After five years of producing a variety of games, they were offered the licence to make a Dune game by Martin Alper of Virgin Games, and had leapt at the chance to develop their first Real-Time Strategy game.
During my interviews with Louis and Brett, he revealed that his primary motivation was making a good (and the first) Real-Time Strategy game. And while the Dune narrative leant itself easily to two factions, Atreides and Harkonnen, Louis felt the game needed a third choice.
With only two sides it becomes more likely that there is a well-understood counter to each unit for more predictable “best” build patterns. Having to switch your economy and tactics to adapt to different types of play can be more fun, even if it is also harder to balance overall.Louis Castle
Unlike the makers of the Dune board game, the team didn’t want to elevate smaller factions like the Fremen or Bene Gesserit to this third seat. So they decided to create his own, turning to The Dune Encyclopedia for inspiration.
Marc [Cram, assistant producer] found a footnote about Ordos as a voting house in the Dune Landsraad, but no other details. Perfect! A cool-sounding House name and no other details – so we could do whatever we wanted!Brett Sperry
What they wanted was a faction unlike the brutal Harkonnen or the noble Atreides. So they created the sneaky Ordos.
Thus was history made.
To begin with, House Ordos didn’t stand out visually. It wasn’t until the game’s sequels, Dune 2000 and Emperor: Battle for Dune, that Westwood began to extrapolate Ordos’ relationship with Ix to create something with a more mechanical feel.
Regardless, Ordos felt immediately different. Which is more than can be said for House Ecaz.
Given my experience with Dune II, I wasn’t at all surprised to see a new noble House amongst the playable factions in Dune: Spice Wars. But I was surprised at how empty it was.
Lead Game Designer Sylvain Legay discussed the genesis of House Ecaz in a Reddit AMA.
Like the Westwood team, Shiro Games chose not to include factions like the Bene Gesserit or the Spacing Guild.
[They] are two fantastic powers in the dune universe. But it does not really make sense for them to have boots on the ground on Arrakis…Sylvain Legay
(It doesn’t make sense for Corrino to be on Arrakis either, but never mind.)
What the Shiro Games team had done, though, is make the Fremen a playable faction, alongside a Smugglers faction too. But, while House Ordos came about from a desire to help balance the game, it seems House Ecaz came from a desire to create.
With all due respect to Brian, we allow ourselves a lot more creative freedom with his work (the fact that we can still ask him for his approval helps). After working on very known factions for a long time, it was really fun for us to do something a bit more niche.Sylvain Legay
House Ecaz, unlike Ordos, is drawn from the books. Well, from some books. Ecaz gets a handful of mentions in Frank Herbert’s Dune, nearly all of them in the appendices. It wasn’t until Brian Herbert started
milking the cow publishing his own books that House Ecaz was fleshed out.
Cards on the table: I don’t like the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson books. I don’t think they’re very well written, and they seem intent on stretching every crumb of lore into another book. So that does make me a touch biased in my opinions on House Ecaz.
But here’s the rub: Ordos were created for balance. Ecaz was created for creation.
And it shows.
One is not like the other
Before Ordos, the two factions in Dune II were Atreides and Harkonnen. The Westwood team were concerned that having just two factions would limit the game and make it too easy to figure out the “best build”, making every player play the same way.
So they introduced a third faction, with a unique playstyle, to make the game better. And boil that faction down to its core essence and you get “sneaky”.
House Ecaz, on the other hand, wasn’t needed for balance. It was added because the developers wanted to add a new faction. Which is great. Who doesn’t love new factions? But boil Ecaz down and there isn’t anything left in the pan.
I touched on this in my review, but the Ecazi are space Brits who like gardens and art. That’s it. It doesn’t translate into much in the game other than some British accents and turning villages into garden resorts for a small buff.
But take away those accents and the gardens and it’s hard to notice you’re playing as a different faction. Because a British accent is a pretty lazy way of trying to give a faction some character.
(Not to mention the fact that letting Ecaz plant gardens on Arrakis doesn’t seem very fitting with the lore: if anyone should be making Dune green, it should be the Fremen.)
Dune: Spice Wars isn’t a bad game. At all. I really enjoy playing it, which is why I gave it four stars. But the differences between Houses Ordos and Ecaz are both interesting and instructive.
Creation with purpose feels solid. Each aspect of the creation organically flows from that purpose, creating a single, cohesive whole. Reduce the creation to its core and you have a solid identity in the middle.
Creation for the sake of it feels hollow. The audience can see the joins because bits were added on. Take them off and there’s nothing left because the creation was built from a collection of cool ideas, not a single identity.
That said, let’s not climb on any high horses here. While I don’t like House Ecaz, there are plenty of purposeless jalopies that I can’t help but love. There will be plenty who love Ecaz in the same way.
But it’s interesting to see how many people have asked if this new game will include House Ordos. I wonder if people will be asking the same questions about House Ecaz in 30 years.
And if you want to know more about the creation of House Ordos, Dune II, or any of the other classic Dune games, take a look at Calling the Makers!