Video Game: Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri aka: Alpha Centauri
Say goodbye to your free time for the next six months.
"Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden. He drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
In 2060 A.D., the Earth was one hell of an awful place to live, torn apart by war and sunken into disgrace by poverty and ecological damage.In a last attempt to save Humanity from extinction, the United Nations ordered the construction of a massive spaceship, the UNS Unity. The mission: stash as many people as possible within the spaceship, deep freeze them to sleep, get the hell off of the Earth towards Alpha Centauri, the closest star from the Sun, form a settlement on Chiron, a planet orbiting the star that seems to have most of the necessary conditions to sustain sentient life, and leave the planet of their birth to fester and decay like a parasite fleeing a corpse.But Finagle's Law says everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and this mission was not the exception. The deep freeze system malfunctioned and the colonists found themselves living on rations meant for colonization in spaces around the ship not meant for living quarters. An explosion on board causes massive damage to the ship's thrusters, creating an escalating crisis among the ship's leaders. As a result, the Unity's captain is murdered, and the crew is now split into 7 different factions, each one commandeering a colony pod and launching for the surface of Chiron (known in the game as "Planet", and yes, that's a proper noun). Each faction has a different ideology and their own plans to achieve prosperity in the new world. These factions include:
A little tweaking would also reveal a secret faction:
the self-inserted Firaxians, which may or may not be two factions since either Sid Meier or Brian Reynolds can lead.
Upon their arrival, however, everybody finds, to their horror, that Planet is not nearly the safe haven they had hoped for. The atmosphere is far too light on oxygen and heavy on nitrogen, forcing anybody exiting sealed colonies to wear oxygen masks, and that's the least of their concerns. The local "flora", known as Xenofungus, covers much of the surface and prevents settlement or even easy transport where it occurs. Worse yet, the Xenofungus acts as a home to "Mind Worms", which randomly boil out of the fungus and attack human settlements by psychically stunning their victims with fear, burrowing inside their brains, and placing their ravenous larvae inside, causing the hapless victims to die a Horrible death, with a capital H. And there is no terrain safe from them since they also come in aquatic and flying variations. Trying to hide far away won't save you either, as the Xenofungus can vomit out spore towers, essentialy biological artillery that can attack even submerged colonies. If they try to remove the Xenofungus for any reason, they face massive fungal towers with giant tendrils that can tear apart tanks. And even the rest of Planet's biosphere is dangerous to humanity; where it doesn't immediately attack humans on sight, the differences in biology are enough that they act as poisons if ingested by humans and vice versa.But the real twist begins when Deirdre Skye discovers that Planet's native life might be friendlier if treated nicely, and starts considering the idea that the entire Xenofungal network might well be a gigantic brain. And it seems like every 100 million years or so, Planet's native life achieves a state of growth large enough to turn the entire Planet into a gigantic sentient being, with a consciousness and a mind of its own; but this causes an explosive outgrowth that ends up killing most of Planet's life, just before Planet's "mind" reaches a "development threshold" that allows for survival, thus having to repeat the same cycle from scratch. And it seems like Humanity's arrival is accelerating the cycle. Will Humanity face final extinction? Can the cycle be broken? What will happen if the cycle is broken?Created by the masterminds Bryan Reynolds and Sid Meier under the auspices of Firaxis, and released in 1999, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (abbreviated as SMAC, the expansion is SMAX) is a turn-based strategy game that, while rather popular, didn't managed to reach the soaring popularity of the Civilization series. However, that doesn't mean the game is worse. Far from that. According to the Wikipedia entry about the game, even though development was rather hindered by Reynolds and Meier's departure from Microprose to found Firaxis, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri was awarded by the US edition of PC Gamer a score of 98% (the first and one of only three games to have ever done so), and was also granted a long list of Game of the Year prizes. A trilogy of novels based on the game was even written! Admittedly, this doesn't sound too impressive by modern standards, but in 1998 it was basically unheard of.As the Spiritual Successor of the Civilization series, Alpha Centauri features incredibly complex and profound gameplay, with a myriad of options and variables that can leave an unskilled player dazed with too much information, although a Civilization player can pick up the game and get started right away. Like the Civilization games, in Alpha Centauri you start with a single city, and your job is to create more Colony Pods to expand your colony with new cities, carefully nurture the ones you already have so they can reach a high population and become productive and profitable, research new technologies to unlock new units and options, and if you want to (though it's not necessary), wage war on everyone else. As is common in the series, there are four ways to win the game: Conquest (just Kill 'em All), Economic (gather enough Energy — the game's Global Currency — to buy everyone else's bases), Political (get elected as Supreme Leader by the Planetary Council), and Technological (clear the entire Tech Tree and Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, or, if you're an alien, summon your ultra-advanced fleet to blow the rest of Planet away). Also familiar: your civilization is pestered by Planet's native life, similar to the barbarian tribes in the Civilization games. About the only real flaw in the game, if flaw it could be called, was that the expansion kept the seven-faction limit (players could either choose their opponents or randomize them), as opposed to expanding it to cover all fourteen.However, the biggest merit of the game to many came from the way it portrays The Future. The vast majority of it (basically, everything that doesn't involve mental powers, and sometimes even those) is justified by Hard Science, most of the scientific concepts are linked to our nowadays science from 2009 friggin' 1998, and the few ones that aren't have already been explored and predicted by theoretical scientists and writers. Combined with the near total absence of nonsensical Technobabble and the clever use of quotes from game characters and real literary works, this setting actually manages to suck you inside and take seriously the struggle for Humanity's own future, only to let you go once you look outside your window and see the first gleam of the morning sun shining through.The game is relatively old, and hard to find in most retail stores nowadays, although British re-packaging firm Mastertronic (Formerly known as "Sold-out software") is selling new copies of the original game with expansion pack for some $11/£4.88, likely in honour of the game's 10th anniversary), but it's worth searching out for any fan of hard, complex strategy and simulation games. It is now available on GOG.com for $5.99 (now, finally, including the expansion for free). Alternatively, you can buy Civilization IV and download Planetfall, a fan-made Civilization IV mod which takes Alpha Centauri's setting (leaders, quotes, and technologies included, with entirely reworked graphics) and mixes it with Civ IV's gameplay improvements.If you came here looking for the actual star Alpha Centauri, and not the Sid Meier video game, look here.
Aerith and Bob: Some of the later quotes come from people whose names come across as bizarre. Possibly justified due to changes in culture and the fading away of Earth's ethnicities.
Affably Evil/Faux Affably Evil: Faction leaders can vary between the two but usually lean to the former, sometimes making war declarations to the effect of "nothing personal my dear <player name>, but Planet simply isn't big enough for the both of us". If they declare war on you due to your social engineering running contrary to their beliefs, they will say so and make it sound like for them it's a case of I Did What I Had to Do, wiping you out to prevent what they see as detrimental societal values from spreading beyond your faction.
After the End: Sometime between the Unity's departure and the start of the game, Earth is devastated. It is recolonized at the end though.
Alien Sky: Alpha Centauri is a trinary system, with two large suns and a third smaller and more distant one. Planet's atmosphere is a bright yellow, claimed to offset life-threatening greenhouse gases generated by being too close to Alpha Centauri A.
All There in the Manual: The on-disc manual has an appendix that goes into quite a bit of detail about the nature of Planet and its denizens. Also, there are three novels set in the universe, and one short story "prequel" that is available online. The GURPS tabletop roleplaying game setting book has tons and tons of story information and details that they left out of the main on-disc manual and novels and short stories.
Alternate Calendar: Played with. The colonist factions use the "Mission Year" calendar, which is presumably synchronized with Planet. On the other hand, it carries over the year count from the AD/CE system instead of dating from the Unity's arrival, possibly as a reminder of their origins on Earth.
Archaeological Arms Race: Mysterious monoliths, artifacts and other leftovers from the creators of Planet are scattered around the terrain and can boost scientific research of the colonist group who finds them first. Meanwhile, the alien factions have to slowly rediscover technology lost when their ships crashed on the surface.
Armor Is Useless: Psychic combat completely ignores conventional attack and defense ratings and is based on morale and specialized equipment. It's how Planet's native life remains a threat even into the late game (unlike Civilization's barbarians), because often your high-tech elite units are just as vulnerable to psychic attack as the ones you started with.
Artificial Gravity: The implication of Graviton Theory and Applied Gravitonics. Graviton Theory allows Graviton Struts—which evidently make your units faster—and Gravships, which based on appearance and description seem to be like airships, except that anti-gravity is used instead of lifting gas (ducted fans—those circular protrusions on either side—being used for the actual propulsion).
As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Averted. The accents of the voice actors in the original game are completely genuine, and names of characters were changed after feedback from native speakers.
As the Good Book Says: Several tech, facility, and Secret Project quotes are from the Bible. Also, the quote in the opening video.
Assimilation Plot: The Ascent to Transcendence, which involves one faction uplifting the Planetmind to a higher level of sapience and assimilating their minds into it to ascend to something beyond a mere human existence.
You can make a submarine that functions as an aircraft carrier. If you load it with Nuclear Missiles then it becomes a ballistic missile sub, although it's still useless.
The Planet Busters (nuclear missiles) completely destroy everything within an area about 4x4 squares with an awesome graphic: not just units but cities as well, even leaving a crater which may fill with ocean if the explosion takes place at low enough altitude. This means that if you use them on your opponents there'll be nothing left to actually conquer, meaning that there's no profit to be made from such a war. They also make all the other factions declare war on you, meaning that you can only use them safely if you're already a significant global power, in which case any edge they might have given you in combat is probably unnecessary as your conventional forces will likely be strong enough to capture anything you want. This was probably intentional. Along with that, even if you are a superpower, the other factions aren't the only problems you'll have to deal with — Planet itself will get royally pissed and swamp the instigator with indigenous life forms.
The Economic Victory. By the time you have enough of a lead to begin the buyout, you can usually either crush your enemies militarily, or they're willing to let you become Supreme Leader. Plus, only the Morganites can viably pull it off.
The Spartan Federation. An entire faction based around the idea that only the most Badass deserve to thrive in the new world.
Units start tough and mindworms just feed them experience points. By the mid-game, the majority of their units will have "hardened" rank or better. Also the only faction that can Zerg Rush without being crippled by slowed development, as well as start fights with multiple factions in the early game and survive. If the Believers attack them early in the game, the AI controlling the Spartans goes berserk and will often take a large chunk of their territory, wiping them out early. It's rare, but satisfying to watch.
Bad Moon Rising: Every time Hercules / Alpha Centauri B reaches perihelion, that means 20 years (turns) of increased wildlife attacks.
Base on Wheels: Colony Pods are big rolling life support systems for a thousand workers that unfold into colony cities when they get to their destination.
Belief Makes You Stupid: The fundie tendencies of The Lord's Believers prevent them from accumulating research points during the first ten turn-years. Compound that with their natural 20% penalty to research speed, and you get a faction that needs to run Fundamentalist social engineering to catch up using slightly cheaper Probe Teams — and woe betide the Believing player in a game where the most advanced faction has the Hunter-Seeker Algorithm!
Berserk Button: All of the factions have a Berserk Button which increases their hostility and can provoke them to declaring Vendetta - namely, picking a government, economic model, value or future society that isn't their own agenda (or the no-modifiers starting model):
The Peacekeepers and the Data Angels: Using any government except Democracy. Justifications: "You're violating human rights"/"It's an insult to freedom!"
The Gaians and the Planet Cult: Using any economic system except Green. Justifications: "Your insensitivity to the environment is troubling."/"Your insensitivity to the environment is sacrilege!" (the Cult gets more irritated/militant about it than the Gaians, who are less bloody-minded).
The Spartans and the Pirates: Using any value except Power. Justification: "Wealth/knowledge is very suspicious to us, you're obviously up to no good."
The Believers: Using any government except Fundamentalist. Justifications: "You're disobeying the will of God!"
The University: Using any value except Knowledge. Justifications: "I find your pursuit of wealth/power irrational and stifling to science."
The Hive: Using any government except Police State. Justifications: "Running a state according to religious principles is stupid." (contra Fundamentalist) and "You really expect the people to maintain an ordered society?" (contra Democracy)
Morgan Industries: Using any economic system except Free Market. Justification: "You are stifling the market with your socialist policies!"
The Cybernetic Consciousness: Using any future society except Cybernetic (duh). Justification: "Anything else would be irrational."
The Free Drones: Using any future society except Eudaimonic. Justification: "Your Blue Sky Solutions will not improve living conditions!" (this works against everyone, especially Green economics—with which the Drones have a problem—and Cybernetic and Thought Control Future Societies—which are respectively research-oriented and...well...shall we say too perfect, for certain values of "perfect").
Both Progenitor factions: Using any economic system except Planned. Justification: "You should follow our economic model."
In addition, Progenitor factions hate each other very much, so a peace treaty with one will be a Berserk Button for the other.
Even then, leaders might overlook any of these for pragmatic reasons like global politics, a faction you both hate more than you hate each other, good trade relations, one faction's insignificance to the other (either by being far away or by being very small and weak), technology-sharing, and so on. Thus you can have a game where, for instance, the Peacekeepers and the Hive have a long-lasting Treaty of Friendship and never fight even though they share a border, or where the Morganites and Gaians have a Pact. The only real exception is the hard-coded fight between the two Progenitor factions: They will never let it up.
Firing a Planet Buster will cause every faction to declare Vendetta on you, regardless of your relationships between them. Plus, you will be expelled from the Planetary Council, and there is no way to negotiate peace once the other factions declare war.
Big Brother Is Watching: The Self-Aware Colony's cinematic depicts a city that is capable of punishing criminals by restructuring itself at a detail level. Also, anytime you or the computer run an oppressive faction. The Encyclopedia Entry for "Mind Control" Future Soceity directly mentions Big Brother.
Bizarre Alien Senses: The Progenitors can sense and manipulate a variety of fields, including electromagnetism. They communicate through "altering," too. While humans generate patterns of sounds, progenitors alter existing background noise and it's how they alter those sounds that determines meaning.
Book Ends: The game's very first shot, in the intro, and very last shot, at the end of the Ascent to Transcendence, are of the same nebula.
Brain Uploading: Uploading minds to a new host body is implied to be the result of the Clinical Immortality project; definitely also part of the Ascent to Transcendence.
Bug War: Mindworms, Xenofungus Towers, and Spore launchers are hostile and incredibly dangerous, requiring military action against them whenever they appear in your faction's territory, though the second are immobile.
The Captain: The never-seen Captain Garland, who, true to the trope, was the only man who could have held his highly diverse crew together. He was mysteriously assassinated shortly before Planetfall, resulting in his subordinates splitting the crew into the seven factions.
There's also the leader of the Spartan Federation, Colonel Corazon Santiago.
Christianity is Catholic: Averted. The Lord's Believers are for the most part derived from Protestants, though their colonies bear aesthetics reminiscent of Roman Catholicism.
City on the Water: Aquatic bases. The Nautilus Pirates start with one instead of a land base.
Commie Land: While the Hive borrows and incorporates quite a bit of Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist principles, the Free Drones try to take the Communist ideal of a classless society to its logical conclusion.
Commie Nazis: The Hive meanwhile is essentially an unholy blend of Western authoritarianism, Eastern philosophy, and Communism at its more brutal.
Corporate Warfare: Aside from his actions on Planet, Nwabudike Morgan got his start by hiring mercenaries to take over diamond mines back in Namibia. His other earthly ventures included "funding mercenary forces, U.N. escorts... and creating Morgan SafeHaven Hotel Fortress chain 'for the discriminating executive'."
Crapsack World: Earth had turned into this in the backstory and no matter how well you do, Planet will go this way as well as she starts to ramp up the mind worm population to deal with the human infestation. Also, most of the factions can be pretty shitty places to live in depending on your social position.
Crutch Character: Not a character, but in gameplay, monoliths as resource spaces fit the description. They give 2 of each resource without any terraforming, which is spectacular in the early game, but later on, when hybrid forests and thermal boreholes become widely used, you'll really wish you could remove them.
Their other purpose is to give an instant promotion for any military unit that visits it and can be used to isntantly heal units as well. In early wars this can make a world of difference.
Crystal Spires and Togas: Some environmental projects, such as The Telepathic Matrix, are run by what looks like mages in shiny, luminous temples.
Used Future: Other structures, however, look dirty, dilapidated, and run by thousands of underpaid workers. The movie for The Self-Aware Colony comes to mind.
It also depends on the faction in question. Gaians in particular gravitate towards said Crystal Spires while the others cover various other sci-fi tropes.
Cutscene: After finishing Secret Project, cutscene is played. Some of them are barely animated, some are CGI and others are edited fromBaraka. It gives really eerie feeling how unrelated film fits into themes of the game and those cutscenes can easily count as Nightmare Fuel.
Deadpan Snarker: Zakharov is the planet's most brilliant geek, so it makes sense that he'll occasionally make an offhand snarky comment.
Death World: Deirdre makes it very clear that "juicy ripe grenade fruits may look appealing, but a mouthful of highly toxic organonitrates will certainly change your mind in a hurry".
Organonitrates also tend to be explosive, so the "grenade fruit" might well be aptly named.
The Xenofungus and Mind Worms cross this with Everything Is Trying to Kill You, since the planetary Hive Mind recognizes any sort of independant thought as a threat (I.E. the human colonies), and it's up to the Mind Worms to kill the source of any such anomaly.
Defiant to the End: Subverted and then played straight. As you begin to crush a rival beneath your feet, they will ask for a truce. Continue and they'll ask for a truce and try to bribe you with credits or research. Finally, when it's certain they'll lose, they say that they confess their defeat is inevitable and throw themselves at your mercy, offering an alliance and all remaining energy credits and tech if you spare them. Refusal at this point means it's to the death, they will not negotiate with you further and will refuse contact from you, calling "very well, we shall fight to the last man!"
Disk One Nuke: "The Weather Paradigm" secret project is most notable, though many of the early secret projects qualify.
For Zakharov, "The Virtual World". The Virtual World makes every Network Node in the player's faction double as a Hologram Theater, quelling drones and providing Psyche — it so happens that one of the perks of the University is that every base gets a free Network Node upon construction. Zakharov's problems with extra drones just got solved for the next century or so.
Door Closes Ending: Defeat another faction by force, and you get to see the defeated faction leader levitating in a sphere of Electric Torture. Bloodcurdling scream. Blast door with the defeated faction's logo slamming shut, closing off the victim from view mid-scream.
Downer Beginning: The intro shows the UNS Unity launching amidst mounting global chaos. And it's all but stated that civilization blew up back on Earth by the time the colonists made Planetfall.
Dysfunction Junction: The expanded universe prologue suggest that the Unity planners took no account of the personalities of the ship's leaders before launching.
Earth That Was: "You are the children of a dead planet, earthdeidre and this death we do not comprehend. We shall take you in, but may we ask this question—will we too catch the planetdeath disease?" -Voice of the Planet
Egopolis: A lot of the leaders will name at least one of their settlements after themselves if enough are constructed, Yang and Morgan more so than most.
Emperor Scientist: Zakharov may be a researcher, but all of the original seven faction leaders are scientists in their own way. Deidre and Lal are more humanistic but also heavily into the science, Yang's a brilliant social engineer, Morgan's a visionary financial genius, Santiago has a keen insight into military science, and Miriam is a social psychologist who does know a thing or two about the hard sciences, as her quote on plasma steel armor indicates. The seven faction leaders in the expansion also have shades of it. But since they are added in the expansion, you can only assume it based on the 3-4 quotes each of them received.
Energy Economy: The Global Currency is energy credits, with energy gathered from solar collectors, tidal generators, and thermal boreholes. Nwabudike said it best when he said:
"In former times the energy monopoly was called 'The Power Company'; we intend to give this name an entirely new meaning."
Everything Is Trying to Kill You: The Mind Worms are Planet's natural defenses against alien threats, and they specifically target sources of independant thought that is not linked to the planetary Hive Mind. If you start mucking up the environment very badly, Planet will let loose bigger hordes of Mind Worms and, in extreme cases, their flying counterparts, the Locusts of Chiron.
Expanded Universe: Not a very large one, consisting of three novels (Centauri Dawn, Dragon Sun and Twilight of the Mind), a graphic novel (Power of the Mindworms) and two free short stories (Journey to Centauri chronicling the story of the U.N.S. Unity in the Alpha Centauri system, and Centauri: Arrival introducing the new faction in Alien Crossfire).
It is worth noting that the novelizations are loosely based on the three scenarios included with the game. Then again, it is not that difficult to imagine that factions with opposing ideologies are going to have problems getting together (e.g. hippies and warmongers, tree-huggers and ultra-capitalists, religious fanatics and crazy scientists).
In addition, GURPS released a sourcebook for Alpha Centauri. In addition to stats, it provides alot of background detail on the factions that isn't in the game.
Exposition of Immortality: One of the text interludes that crop up during gameplay at various intervals mentions you and your Planetfall colleagues still being alive after several centuries. It makes mention of you spending time in a rejuvenation tank in order to maintain your longevity and that at least one of your staff still looks to be in the prime of her youth, even after two hundred years.
Fascist, but Inefficient: The police state government reduces the "efficiency" stat by quite a bit, increasing energy losses due to number of cities by a lot. Combined with planned for the full totalitarian experience, and the resulting inefficiency will reduce energy income to almost nothing. (The Hive is an exception to this, probably due to both this combination fitting their theme well, and not having a lot of other good social policy combinations.) Thought Control also has reduced support, mainly said to be due to resources needed to control the population.
Averted with the Cloning Vats Secret Project, which eliminates the support penalty for Thought Control.
Fantastic Caste System: Alpha Centauri has access to advanced psychological science and genetic engineering, but the availability of these benefits is uneven, resulting in a three-tiered system based on intelligence: the tiers are Talents (elite, highly-educated transhumans with full access to the benefits of their faction's technology), Citizens (average joes with limited access to psychiatric education) and Drones (inferior humans, treated as slaves and kept under control by Bread and Circuses, armed police or nerve stapling). The Free Drones attempt to avoid this form of social stratification, but it's still in effect nonetheless.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Despite being based around ideologies (at least initially), the human factions still retain elements of their nations of inspiration and are reminiscent of certain societies back on Earth.
The Federation: What the Unity colonists were originally meant to establish. Pravin Lal's Peacekeepers meanwhile are the only ones still following the old UN mandate.
Fiction 500: Morgan Industries, sponsor of the entireUNS Unity project and owner of a whole faction!
Fictional Geneva Conventions: The U.N. Charter prohibits extermination of human populations, the use of nerve gas, nerve stapling people (in a non-systematic way; it's perfectly okay to run a Punishment Sphere, though), and the use of planetbusters. However, you can repeal the Charter, which strips out all of these regulations except the law against planetbusting.
Fling a Light into the Future/Hope Spot: The UNS Unity was one for humanity, a last ditch effort by the United Nations to save some semblance of civilization somewhere in the stars while Earth slowly slid into self-inflicted oblivion. The game itself has you determine whether that hope was well-placed or not.
4X: The game was marketed with the tagline "Explore. Discover. Build. Conquer." Additionally, the Tech Tree has identifiable (if intertwined) tracks (Explore=environmental/expansion/scout techs, Discover=pure science, Build=base-building and industrial/development-type techs, Conquer=military techs), and you can set the AI "Governor" at your bases to focus on a single track, or a combination of them, if you don't care to micromanage.
Gaia's Vengeance: Start polluting the planet, and you'll have to fight wave after wave of Mindworms while keeping them clear from your bases. The Cult of Planet attempts to give this a more organized form.
Genius Loci: What you—and all of humanity—become after reaching the Transcendence victory.
The Self-Aware Colony secret project turns your cities into these.
Geo Effects: High ground means better output from solar collectors, rocky terrain increases mine output, fungus is a general-purpose pain in the ass unless you're Gaians/Planet Cult or have a ton of Explore technologies/secret projects, and so on.
Since the terraformer units in the game can change the elevation of a map tile, a viable (If ridiculous) strategy in the game is to create a mountain chain between yourself and an enemy to the east. Mountains actually trap moisture, like they do in real life; since for purposes of that the game assumes that the wind blows ever eastwards, it's possible to use the "raise terrain" command as a way of giving yourself better farmland while making deserts out of a rival's farms.
A faster way, albeit a more expensive one, would be to launch a missile with a seismic warhead and detonate it over the needed terrain. This will create an instant mountain. Since this warhead does not wipe out cities, it is not considered an atrocity by the other factions. Edward Teller would be proud.
Another silly terraformer trick involves lowering the terrain between you and another faction to cut them off on an island away from you, or doing so within their territory to drown any colonies that don't have Pressure Domes. This is because all terrain below sea level is assumed to be a lake or ocean basin.
Glass Cannon: Any unit with a high attack rating and a low defense rating becomes this (and the Unit cost system makes those units a lot cheaper to build), but there's also an in-universe version of it with the Mind Worms. They can chew through armor like paper, yet their squishy bodies die easily to conventional weapons. The real threat is the terror they instill in their victims. Battles with them thus revolve around morale and mental combat. If your guys are more experienced and mentally tougher, they can keep it together long enough to blow away the worms, but if they're green cadets, they'll panic and die quickly even if they're in a diamond-hard hovertank.
Global Warming: Building on high land and trying to drown your rivals by inducing global warming is a viable strategy, so long as they haven't built Pressure Domes yet. On the flip side, you can choose to induce global cooling, lower the sea levels and get more land.
Once a Faction has researched the proper technology, the Council can even go and intentionally raise the see levels using artificial global warming via giant space mirrors.
Glorious Mother Russia: Zakharov's University is not very overt about it, but there's a clear Russian overtone present, albeit with a strong emphasis on the technocratic aspects of the Soviet Union and Russia's scientific tradition.
A God Am I: In the epilogue after you complete your Ascent to Transcendence, the pronouns referring to you are capitalized, just as they usually are in reference to the Christian God in religious literature.
Gone Horribly Right: If any human faction other then the Peacekeepers managed to take control of Planet, you would have achieved exactly what the Unity project was intended to do in the beginning: To create a new home for humanity on Alpha Centauri, unified under a single government that will be able to face the dangers of the universe. Too bad that said government have an ideology that is vastly different from the one that the original UN council had in mind.
Good Is Not Soft: Domai started his revolt for the benefit of the downtrodden drones, and his end goal is a free peaceful society focused on maximizing the happiness of the people in it. He's also the only explicitly physically violent leader and is quite aggressive politically.
Great Offscreen War: "Tau Ceti Flowering," in the past. The Progenitors created another planet similar to Chiron, only when it attained sentience, it went insane and destroyed itself and most of the Progenitor civilization.
It's also implied that civilization back on Earth eventually went down in flames not long after Unity left. By the time Planet's descendants return, only a handful of eroded craters remain of that carnage.
Guilt-Based Gaming: If you go to quit the game, it tells you, "Please don't go. The drones need you. They look up to you."
Hannibal Lecture: When a computer leader thinks it has you on the ropes, or hilariously when you refuse their surrender and steamroll them.
Hard-Coded Hostility: Mindworms. You can train your own or capture individual units, but wild Mindworms will always spawn as hostile to absolutely everyone.
Heart Is an Awesome Power: The Peacekeepers get extra happy people, extra space for people and doubled council votes. Minor bonuses until one realizes that happy people lead to golden ages and population booms. Coupled with doubled votes, this is instant diplomatic victory.
Human Popsicle: How colonists are stored in Colony Pods (read: new cities in the making).
Lal: In the years since our arrival, we have foolishly disrupted so many of Planet's ecosystems that entire species may vanish without our ever having understood, or even known them. We must halt this plunder, and halt it immediately, for our own survival as a species depends on our ability to strike a balance on this world.
Hypocrite: The factions and their leaders tend to be this in varying degrees.
Ill Girl: Aki Zeta-5 in the backstory suffered from rheumatic fever three weeks before planetfall.
Immortality Seeker: Though all the faction leaders and Talents have greatly extended lifespans due to advanced medical techniques, the Secret Project titled "Clinical Immortality" shows its rather... unsettling long-term consequences.
"I plan to live forever, of course, but barring that I'd settle for a couple thousand years. Even five hundred would be pretty nice."
— CEO Nwabudike Morgan
Instant A.I., Just Add Water: Subverted. There is the "Pre-Sentient Algorithms" technology and its descendants, not to mention Aki Zeta-5 and pals, but the trope is somewhat subverted in that true AIs are hardly instant.
Further down the tech tree, Sister Miriam Godwinson sounds increasingly rational and cautious regarding some of the more questionable tech advances; one couldn't help but find her "We Must Dissent" quotes sensible compared to the Self-Aware Colony. That her faction, the Lord's Believers takes up at least some Catholic pretensions in its overall aesthetic despite being comprised largely of Protestants just adds to it.
In contrast, Zakharov, a man obsessed with scientific endeavor starts referring to discoveries and revelations in a more religious overtone. Towards the end, he even explicitly calls the burgeoning Planet-mind an "awakening alien god" in the Voice of Planet project.
It's stated that the UNS Unity colonists were no longer divided by ethnicity or nationality but by ideology. But while the ideological factions initially follow that line, over time they tend to mirror (and function like) the very nation-states they've supposedly abandoned.
Jack-of-All-Stats: The Peacekeepers. Their advantages and disadvantages are all relatively slight, so they're a good all-'round introductory faction (although the Gaians can also serve this role).
The Joy of X: The title of your memoirs after you retire (used as a ranking of how well you did) is based off of an existing work.
LEGO Genetics: Averted; one of Zakharov's quotes insists "genes are not blueprints."
Leitmotif: Every faction has theme music and cues that play as you control them, which are usually sensitive to your actions and change accordingly. The original game has five themes shared amongst the seven factions: the University, the Spartans, and the Believers each have their own music, while the Peacekeepers and the Gaians share one, as do the Hive and the Morganites.
Let's Play: A rather masterful one done up on the Something Awful Let's Play Archive; half interactive strategy, half well-written fanfic that ties all the factions (and faction quotes!) together. The seven new factions from Alien Crossfire are Demoted to Extra; Aki was an early experiment in creating Transcendii that failed, Cha Dawn's cult became irrelevant when Planet achieved true sentience, the Progenitors were killed off by Planet itself in the past to keep them from enslaving it, and so on.
There is a secret project called 'The Longevity Vaccine' and another called 'Clinical Immortality'.
The faction leaders are mentioned to undergo harsh gene therapies and other treatments so that they can remain active throughout the whole 500 years of the game.
Mad Scientist: The University is implied to be what happens when a large number of Mad Scientist types hang out together. The Academician seems like an Affably Evil version from some of his quotes. The Gaians are similar but the madness is because of being best friends with mindworms. The Morganites also have a Lex Luthor tendency to hire these types. Note however that the science involved is still very hard, its more a case that the scientific advances come easier to a science/corporate based society with an ethics board that is either a cost/benefit analysis or a question about how scientific the research is.
Prokhor Zakharov. His first name is so close to 'Proctor' that the two will become inevitably mixed up. A proctor watches over students taking a test, much like Zakharov watches over his people as they take the test of Planet.
Alpha Centauri B is named "Hercules," after the Greek Demigod, because he was often an enemy to centaurs. When Hercules reaches perihelion, bad things happen to Chiron, usually in the form of extra swarms of mind worms and fungal blooms.
Nwabudike Morgan. His surname recalls that of J. P. Morgan, the renowned American financier and philanthropist who helped change America (the powerful banking institution he founded still bears his name today). J. P. also invested in electricity and co-founded General Electric.note Morgan and his partner Anthony Drexel provided the financing for GE, but the firm was founded to consolidate Thomas Edison's electrical-products empire. In the game, one of Nwabudike's quotes is "Energy is the currency of the future".
Miriam Godwinson and Chairman Yang are rather blatant.
Mega Corp.: Morgan Industries, a corporation the size of an entire faction. (For comparison, imagine if the world had become twelve enormous countries. Now imagine that one of those countries was entirely owned and operated by a single corporation—which also did work outside its own borders.)
Mind Rape: The way Mind Worms paralyze their victims.
Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Very hard. How hard? We've already created several of the technologies and secret projects that are in the game. The Human Genome Project was completed several years after the game came out and we just recently made monopole magnets, although on a very small scale.
Moral Event Horizon: In-Universe example when using a Planetbuster, which completely annihilates the target but causes everyone to turn against you, even if you repealed the U.N. Charter against atrocities (it only covers minor atrocities, such as using chemical weapons and nerve stapling) or use them against aliens. Including Planet. People will get nervous if you so much as build one, and when another faction lets you know they have, you know they're about to try to extort you for something. Nerve Stapling will result in a very negative reaction as well.
Zakharov was originally named "Saratov". The dev team changed his name before the game's release when it was pointed out that it was an improbable Russian surname (there is a city and administrative region called Saratov though). See As Long as It Sounds Foreign above.
CEO Nwabudike Morgan and his faction are likely a reference to the 20th century financier J.P. Morgan.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Custom units have preset names, including one name each for high-powered offense and defense. For example, a gravship outfitted with a singularity laser (weapon power = 24, the highest number in vanilla SMAC) will be called a Singularity Deathsphere. Ooh yeah.
On the other hand, this can lead to cases of Deathbringer the Adorable: Put Silksteel Armor on an Impact Rover, and you get an Impact Dragon. This might be scary in the early game, but would quickly get dated.
New Tech Is Not Cheap: This has prototyping, where the first unit of a new design has an added initial cost before you can even produce any. This cost is ignored by the Spartans and at bases with a Skunkworks.
No Biochemical Barriers: Averted: whenever a human faction seizes a Progenitor colony (or vice versa), the incompatibilities between the species result in the colony being downsized to 1 population and a number of colony pods for the losing faction being created.
Even before the expansion pack added the Progenitors, it takes getting through a good part of the tech tree and thorough analysis of the native life to get useful amounts of resources out of Planet's native xenofungus. One of Lady Deirdre's in-game quotes (also given above) contrasts the appetizing look and decidedly unappetizing nature of a particular native fruit.
No Delays For The Wicked: Yangs special ability is immunity to inefficiency, meaning he can run a planned economy and a police state without any penalty.
No, Except Yes: the factions don't wage war, as that was what led to the doom of old Earth. They will, however, pursue vendettas with each other.
No Name Given: While it does have a proper name, Chiron is usually referred to as simply "Planet".
No New Fashions in the Future: Averted. The various factions and their leaders have very different ideas for what constitutes fashion, all of which would be considered otherworldly by our standards. That said however, there are some exceptions: Corazon Santiago and her Spartans have a recognizably militarist aesthetic, the Morganites come across as having more futuristic versions of present-day corporate attire and Pravin Lal still seems to prefer more traditional Indian garb.
Nonindicative Name: When a Secret Project is started, nearly finished or completely finished, the fact is broadcast to the entire world.
No Place for Me There / Necessary Evil: The Cult of Planet will build industrial capacity in their attempt to purge Planet of the pollution of humanity; they acknowledge this and will destroy them last once everything else is cleansed.
No Sell: The Hunter-Seeker Algorithm project renders all of your cities and units immune to any sort of probe team sabotage and kills the team that attempts it. This makes it a must-have for the University and anybody else with a low Probe stat (i.e. anyone running Knowledge—indeed, Hunter-Seeker is pretty much a license to run Knowledge, especially if for whatever reason fighting the Spartans is not an issue).
Although it doesn't stop other factions from framing you for probing the rest who didn't get it.
Not So Stoic: Most of Zakharov's quotes have him speaking very calmly, an academic giving a lecture. However, in the quote for the Temple of Planet, he's absolutely furious:
"Let the Gaians preach their silly religion, but one way or the other I shall see this compound burned, seared, and sterilized until every hiding place is found and until every last Mind Worm egg, every last slimy one, has been cooked to a smoking husk. That species shall be exterminated, I tell you! Exterminated!"
— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, Lab Three Aftermath
Not the Intended Use: A more in-universe example than one in gameplay. Exploration/Discovery research sometimes provides you with devastating weapon upgrades (for example, learning how to synthesize fossil fuels grants you the ability to build combustion-based rocket launchers).
Nude Nature Dance: Enemies of the Gaian faction might accuse Lady Deirdre of dancing naked in the trees.
One Nation Under Copyright: Morgan Industries is structured like a corporation and run on the basic principle that "greed is good." Since corporate rule is not itself a choice in the Social Engineering options, the exact flavour of corporate rule can vary widely from one game to another — a power-focused police state ('Politburo of Directors') is just as possible as a knowledge-focused democracy ('One man, one voting share'), give or take hidden AI preferences.
One World Order: The original UNS Unity mandate was intended to be this. The various factions meanwhile try aiming at fulfilling that, albeit under their respective ideologies.
Orion Drive: the sleeper ship is propelled by an Orion-type drive, the shield of which fails (almost certainly due to sabotage) when the ship is almost at its destination, causing the passengers on the colony ship to splinter into factions.
The Promised Land: The people of Earth and Unity considered Planet to be this, due to Earth's massive Crapsack World status. The Believers consider Planet to be their Promised Land in a more Biblical sense as well.
Psychic Powers: Mindworms rely on telepathic fear to paralyze their victims. Humans can develop psi abilities too, from the telepathic empathi and mindworm handlers to units of psychic warriors who are as deadly as mindworms.
Punishment Box: the "punishment sphere," which make the oppressed masses too frightened to ever riot no matter what. For some reason, constructing this city improvement is not on the list of atrocities that will turn the other civilizations against you.
This is because secretly, every faction has one stored away for the day they capture a defeated faction leader.
Puppet State: Completely trouncing a rival faction may leave them begging to be your puppet state instead of being annihilated. If you let them, they count as "conquered" for the purpose of a military victory.
Robot Republic: Or rather, Cyborg Republic, in the form of the Cybernetic Consciousness.
Recursive Ammo: Most weapons are a laser of some kind, and any weapon can be made into artillery.
Later, a mod for Civilization IV (Final Frontier), included with "Beyond the Sword" contains many homages to it.
Of course, some of the Civilization games have a victory condition where you launch a colony ship to Alpha Centauri, so it could also be considered a sequel, especially since the game begins 10 years after the latest date Civ can end.
The Remnant: Pravin Lal's Peacekeepers are all that remains of the United Nations as well as the original Unity initiative.
Sanity Slippage: If you decide not to show mercy to an enemy who offers total surrender, it can be quite fun to watch their rantings get more and more insane as they continue contacting you while you slowly exterminate their faction.
Scavenger World: The humans of Planet are able to build their infrastructure on Planet in part by acquiring scattered pods from the Unity, which provide valuable raw materials and data on Lost Technology.
Science Marches On: In the game, there are no planets orbiting Alpha Centauri B. In Real Life, a planet was discovered in a (very) close orbit around Alpha Centauri B in late 2012.
Furthermore, the Human Genome Project has long since been completed. And it was hardly 'secret.'
Shout-Out: Microsoft (in the late '90s) and Morgan Industries. Just compare Microsoft's slogan "Where do you want to go today?" with Morgan's slogan "Where do you want your node today?". Similarly, the "Network Backbone" Secret Project (think "Wonders" from Civilization) includes a quote from Morgan where he insists he doesn't want a monopoly, despite bundling his company's software with every Network Node—their products are "just so good" that no one feels a need to compete.
For reasons that are never fully explained, the Secret Project "The Longevity Vaccine" produces a recording of someone on Planet watching TV, but apparently watching a cross between SMAC itself and South Park.
Also, the video opens with what sounds like the NBC chimes played on an electric guitar.
Also, many, many literary references to actual works, each of which may also count as a Shout-Out in its own right.
The tech name "The Will to Power" is directly derived from the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, and while "Homo Superior" might seem to be a simple reference to Linnean taxonomy, you realize that it's also a good way to express the term ‹bermensch, which comes from...Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche quotes appear for both technologies (all from the Prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra).
Also, the names of some bases (like Farnham's Freehold or Googleplex) may ring some bells.
In the game's files, technologies use seven-letter abbreviations. SMAC shortens the Digital Sentience technology to HAL9000. SMACX has String Resonance, which enables the best weapon in the game, shortened to BFG9000.
The portrait of the Peacekeepers' leader, Pravin Lal, might ring a bell too - he's basically the Indian (that is, Southern Asian) version of real-life UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The manual has an entire appendix solely dedicated to the tehnical details of the Alpha Centauri system as assumed in the game. Technical stats on orbital data (for Chiron, its moons, and its suns), atmospheric composition, meteorology and climatology, oceanography, soil composition etc., together with analyses on what exactly they would mean for human colonists. It even has a "Suggested Reading" list.
The level of immersion in each faction, the futuristic plausibility and thoroughness presented in detail... quite a lot.
Slap-on-the-Wrist Nuke: Reversed. Using a (quasi-nuclear) Planet Buster will leave a huge crater where the enemy city or twelve used to be. And every other faction will declare Vendetta on the culprit.
"I don't know but I've been told Deirdre's got a Network Node Likes to press the on/off switch Dig that crazy Gaian witch" — Spartan barracks march, "Yes sir!"
Spiritual Successor to Civilization II. Virtually all of the basic gameplay is identical, just with different terms for all of the gaming concepts.
In some ways, this reaches Serial Numbers Filed Off territory. While the gameplay is identical, the terminology is changed; people pursue "Vendetta" instead of "War," Wonders are "Secret Projects," Food is "Nutrients" and so on.
Spiteful A.I.: The enemy loves to attack you no reason (even if it means they're going to get stomped), just to make sure you aren't allowed to play a relaxing "building" game.
Starfish Aliens: Progenitors: in depth, their wacky sentence structure. The sentence structure is shown to be just how humans interpret or translate their speech, or maybe their attempts at communicating with humans. The "interludes" shown to a Progenitor player don't contain any of the weird sentence structure.
One of the weirdest things about them is how they communicate. Generating patterns of sounds is how humans talk; progenitors "alter" existing sounds with their resonance. In written form, their alphabet might look like instructions for "*existing sound* Pitch Up, Pitch Down, Pitch Way Up, Elongate," etc.
In another sense, the game also deconstructs the trope. Every faction's basic ideology is deliberately taken to its "utopian" extreme. The game then shows what it would realistically take to make such societies work. Hint: If you want anything even remotely resembling the life you have now, avoid everyone who isn't the Peacekeepers or the Gaians. Maybe the Free Drones or the Morgan Industries depending on your ideology's position on economics.
Superweapon Surprise: Gaians. Living in peace and harmony and environmental balance is great, especially when your ecological prowess helps make friends with, and power up, indigenous creatures that psychically paralyze enemies and proceed to core out their skull like an apple. While they're still alive. Which no amount of advanced armor or high-tech weaponry can defend against. Good times. One of Deirdre's books (Our Secret War) talks about how they would attack and obliterate their Spartan opponents with mindworms, with nobody realizing the Gaians were controlling the mindworm boils.
The 'Planet Cult', a faction introduced in the Alien Crossfire expansion, are even more naturally aligned to Planet than the Gaians, but they already had rather a fanatical bent.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Not Playing Fair With Resources: On transcend difficulty, the AI can mind control your units and bases or hurry production for less than a quarter of what the same would cost you, and several difficulty-related penalties do not affect the AI, such as eco-damage and base number-caused inefficiency. In every difficulty setting, it's a case of The All-Seeing A.I.: even your submarine tech probe cruisers can get blown up, out of nowehere, in the middle of the ocean, by a missile.
Standard Sci-Fi Army: The basic units already cover the main areas of the trope (Infantry, Oceanic Navies, Aircraft, Armored Combat Vehicles, Support). The Mindworms and the Isle of the Deep could be consider examples of Exotic and (to a certain extent)Indigs.
Too Awesome to Use: While Battle Ogres in Alien Crossfire have impeccable stats early-game (especially the Mark IIs and IIIs), they can't be built or repaired (even by Progenitors or monoliths) and their encounter rate among scattered Unity Pods is too low to scavenge a decent force. They do, however, come with "Non-Lethal Methods" (double Police duty all the time) and have resonance defenses (to better defend against psionic—i.e. mindworm—attacks), and thus are better garrisoned at a base rather than dismantled outright.
Planet Busters also have elements of this, thanks to the fact that everyone will immediately and irrevocably declare war on you if you use one. Alternatively, if you can stockpile enough Planet Busters, you could declare war on everyone and win, although you'll run out of continents pretty quickly; initially because you've blown great big holes in all the other continents, this is quickly followed by sea level rise caused by your enormous levels of eco-damage.
Video Game Caring Potential: Build an enlightened democracy. Adopt a Eudaimonic society with peace and justice for all. Take good care of your citizens, and cultivate your Talent pool. Be good to Planet, with Centauri Preserves and all the environmentalist Secret Projects. The people will reward you with Golden Ages and the increased cash flow and productivity that comes with it; Planet will reward you with an army of mind worms.
Video Game Cruelty Potential: Construct an oppressive Police State! Use Planet Busters on your enemies! Use Thought Control! Rip apart Planet and despoil her for all she's got! Sure, you might get drone riots, but you can just nerve-staple them into submission! Who cares about the sanctions; everyone hates you anyway! Besides, biological and chemical warfare are just so much fun!
What Measure Is a Non-Human? Humans blasting on aliens with nerve gas is just fine, but God forbid if you use it against other humans! But then, the aliens make no bones about the fact that they consider humans little more than undesirable pests and there's a reason that human bases that they take over drop down to population 1.
Fridge Logic applies in that if you capture a sea colony of another species, not only does the population drop, but colony pods flee, which can be captured by your ships with marine detachments. Yes, you can found colonies not only with another faction's citizens, but with another species.
Winds of Destiny, Change: The Probability Mechanics discovery. Not only does God play dice, the dice are loaded. In addition, it's hinted that Chaos Cannons and Probability Infantry manipulate probability in their odds. In the GUR Ps supplement, the Monoliths are said to do this, changing probability so things are better.
World of Badass: Every crew member on the Unity was chosen from the best and brightest that humanity had to offer. Everyone on the ship, from the XO (Yang) to a lowly mining specialist (Domai) had some exceptional attributes, from genius level intellect, to incredible personal charisma, to neigh-superhuman willpower. Makes the very existance of the Drone underclass kinda sad, doesn't it?
You Shall Not Pass: Somewhat parodied by Richard "Recon Rover Rick" Baxton, who is lauded as a hero for holding off four waves of mindworms. At the same time, his death is glossed over to be able to sell his story.
"Richard Baxton piloted his Recon Rover into a fungal vortex and held off four waves of mind worms, saving an entire colony. We immediately purchased his identity manifests and repackaged him into the Recon Rover Rick character with a multi-tiered media campaign: televids, touchbooks, holos, psi-tours— the works. People need heroes. They don't need to know how he died clawing his eyes out, screaming for mercy. The real story would just hurt sales, and dampen the spirits of our customers."
— CEO Nwabudike Morgan
Zerg Rush: Mindworms attack in massive waves, unconcerned about the defenses they face. Planet has reserves. Certain factions also play this way with regular units (The Drones, Hive, and Believers are the strongest examples.)
Please don't go. The drones need you. They look up to you.