Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

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Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Developer(s) Firaxis Games
Publisher(s) Aspyr (Mac OS)
Electronic Arts (Windows)
Loki Software (Linux)
Designer(s) Brian Reynolds
Sid Meier
Timothy Train
Douglas Kaufman
Bing Gordon
Platform(s) Linux (Alpha/PowerPC/x86), Mac OS, Windows
Release date(s) (Win)
Flag of the United States January 31, 1999
Flag of Europe February 17, 1999
Flag of the United States February 2000
Flag of Europe March 10, 2000
(Linux 2.2)
April, 2001
Genre(s) Turn-based strategy (4X)
Mode(s) Single player; multiplayer (over IPX, TCP/IP or modem)
Rating(s) ELSPA: 3+
ESRB: E (Everyone)
Media CD (1)
System requirements P 133 MHz CPU, 16 MB RAM, 600 MB HD
Input methods Keyboard, mouse

Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (sometimes abbreviated to SMAC or Alpha Centauri) is a 4X turn-based strategic computer game created by Brian Reynolds and Sid Meier under the auspices of Firaxis Games in 1999. It is based on a fictional attempt by human beings to colonize a planet in the Alpha Centauri star system. It picks up where Meier and Reynolds' earlier titles, Civilization I and Civilization II, left off. An expansion pack called Sid Meier's Alien Crossfire (aka SMACX or just SMAX) was also released. Although popular with gamers, the game never reached the heights of success of the Civilization games. Pre-patched versions of Alpha Centauri and Alien Crossfire were later bundled together in the Alpha Centauri Planetary Pack. The game has also been released under the Sold-Out Software label.

The game is no longer available via Sold Out Software, and Gametap has also dropped the game. THQ's deal with Gamergate indicates that it may become available through their service, but at this time independent retailers and piracy are the only source of the game.


[edit] Storyline

According to the storyline of the game, humanity is destroying itself through war, famine, pollution, and poverty, but before it can complete self-destruction, the U.N. launches an enormous colonization starship called Unity. The Unity is destined for a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. This planet, named "Chiron" (but often just called "Planet") is very similar to Earth.

However, before the starship fully reaches Planet, forty years into the journey, the Unity suffers a core malfunction, awakening many of the crew, who then proceed to fix the malfunction. Before they are done, however, the captain of Unity, Garland, is assassinated by an unknown assailant. The rest of the crew is awakened soon after.

When news of the assassination spread, the crew panics, the ship beginning to break apart due to mishandling. Seven leaders take up the challenge of leading a faction onto Planet by use of colony pods. (The game's video introduction depicts an eighth escape pod separating from the Unity, only to explode shortly thereafter.) Unity breaks up in high orbit, supplies, components, and factions spread everywhere. After the colony pods land, the player comes in to take control and aid their faction to victory over the others.

[edit] Gameplay

Alpha Centauri: Alien Crossfire screenshot

Within the game, the player assumes the role of one of the seven distinctly different faction leaders and attempts to expand their colony and achieve victory. Players engage themselves in a race against the other factions, and are free to adopt any number of strategies in pursuit of their goal. Scientific discoveries within the game determine what technologies are available to particular factions, which in turn determines what facilities and units they can build at their colony bases. Unlike Civilization I and Civilization III, Alpha Centauri allows the player to fully customize units.

Alpha Centauri is open-ended and has multiple, customizable parameters for victory. The player can choose to work toward a victory based on diplomacy, economics, conquest, or transcendence.

[edit] The Datalinks

The Datalinks, similar to Civilization's Civilopedia, contain information crucial to playing the game. Most important is the tech tree, which shows a complete system of all technologies available in the game, along with prerequisite technologies and all benefits the technology gives (new chassis, weapon, armor, reactor, or special ability types, along with new terraformer abilities, base facilities and secret projects, bonuses to xenofungus squares, social engineering choices, etc.) In all technology trades the game allows you to consult the Datalinks to find exactly what is being offered (or demanded).

In addition, the Datalinks store the quotes involved with all technologies and secret projects. Many Alpha Centauri fans enjoy the quotes in particular and the thought behind them. The game's creators developed the personality and ideology of all the faction leaders through these quotes, as well as thoughts on human psychology. For instance, the Virtual World secret project is accompanied by Chairman Yang's view that reality is only what one perceives it to be, while Provost Zakharov denounces the general simplistic views on genetics when such technologies are discovered.

Tying the imaginary technology of the Datalinks into real intellectual history are quotes from Plato, Machiavelli, Immanuel Kant, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, Sir Thomas More, Albert Einstein, Saint Augustine, Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sun Tzu, Lao Tzu, Herman Melville, Jules Verne, John Milton, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Søren Kirkegaard interspersed among those from the game's characters, as well as references to traditional songs and sayings from Earth. [1]

[edit] Terrain

The game is represented on an isometric map of the planet surface, upon which bases are built and units deployed. Local features of the terrain influence the amount of resources a base harvests from any particular square. For example, rocky squares yield minerals but no food unless cleared, while river squares produce extra energy. The altitude of terrain influences how much energy can be harvested there, can create rain shadows downwind, etc. Terrain can be enhanced and altered (including raising and lowering altitude) by units equipped with a terraformer module. The terrain also affects combat. For example, defending units receive a +50% bonus in rocky squares, while artillery units receive bonuses when attacking from higher elevation.

[edit] Landmarks

The game also includes several "landmarks" that are featured in the standard maps and prone to appear on random maps. They include The Garland Crater, Mount Planet, Pholus Ridge, The New Sargasso, and The Ruins. Many of these are good locations to build bases at due to their resource output, but others, such as the New Sargasso (Sea) should be avoided, as it is filled with native life. The landmarks and their attributes are listed below.

  • Garland Crater: Named after Captain Garland, the captain of the U.N. Starship Unity. Is mostly rocky, crater-shaped, and gives off good mineral output. It takes up 21 squares.
  • Mount Planet: Named after "Planet", the nickname given to Chiron. This is an energy paradise. Building a base on or near Mount Planet will give that base good energy bonuses on all of the squares that are Mount Planet squares. Mount Planet takes up 3×3 squares.
  • Pholus Ridge: This comes in the form of a large ripple that is seen running down part of Planet. Although it is an excellent place to build bases because of its high energy output, it creates a rain shadow on one side or the other depending on the hemisphere it's in. Takes up 2x10-12 squares; the longer side is always pointed down.
  • New Sargasso: Named in honor of the Sargasso Sea, a life-filled segment of the Atlantic Ocean on Earth. The entire span of the New Sargasso is covered in Sea Xenofungus, and always has five "pods" at its center. However, most of the pods will trigger an "Isle of the Deep", the sea version of mindworms, to come up and attack the ship that took it. Attempts at clearing the Sea of Xenofungus will result in Planet getting mad at you and attacking your sea formers, but if you are really determined, then not even Planet can stop you. Takes up from 4×4 squares to 12×12 squares depending on amount of native life on Planet.
  • The Ruins: Named that because of the organization of the monoliths, this is a key point. They take up a 3×3 square segment, with monoliths everywhere except in the center square. Monoliths cannot be "improved" by terraforming, but will allow the adding or removal of Xenofungus as well as roads. Each monolith gives two nutrient, mineral, and energy resources, and is often covered in Xenofungus. Since monoliths not only give good resources, but heal the units and give them a morale bonus, they are excellent points to put a base near.
  • Sunny Mesa: Named because of its excellent energy output, this is a giant plateau that takes up 5×5 squares and, when covered in solar collectors, produces much energy.
  • Freshwater Sea: Named due to its position, the Freshwater Sea is usually cut off from the ocean, taking the form of an inland lake. Provides +1 nutrient to every ocean square within it.
  • Great Dunes: This is the name of the largest desert on Planet, named because all of the land is arid and flat or arid and rocky. Takes up from 3×5 squares to 6×10 squares depending on how arid Planet is.
  • Geothermal Shallows: These are a series of bubble-looking squares that are found in the ocean. These squares give off extra energy bonuses and sometimes have an energy surplus sign in them. Typically takes up 5x5 squares.
  • Monsoon Jungle: A large expanse of land covered with jungle; the only place where jungle can be found on Planet. This gives a +1 Nutrient bonus and all squares are rainy, resulting in +3 total nutrients unless a square is rocky, in which case the +1 nutrient bonus still applies. Takes up from 5×5 squares to 7×15 squares depending on sea level and the amount of rain on Planet.
  • Uranium Flats: A segment of land covered with uranium; this gives off bonus energy resources. Takes up 5×5 squares.

In addition there are numerous features named on the standard maps such as Eurytion Bay which improve the feel of the maps but have no effect on game play.

[edit] Units and combat

A unit is made up from different components such as chassis, weapon, armor, reactor, and special ability slots. Unlike the Civilization series proper, units come in default designs but can also be customized by the player. As new technologies become available, old designs may be brought up to date and existing units upgraded. The first of a new type of unit is considered a prototype and generally cost 50% more than the normal production model will.

Generally, only friendly units (your own or those of a pact ally) can occupy the same square. Enemy units must be eliminated (or, in some cases, forced to withdraw) in order to move into their square. Combat is usually initiated when a unit belonging to one faction attempts to enter a square occupied by a unit/units of a hostile faction. Many factors affect the outcome of combat, including:

  • The attacking unit's weapon rating;
  • The defending unit's armor rating;
  • The hit points of both units, capped by the type of reactor used;
  • The morale status of both units;
  • Any attack or defense modifiers brought about by base facilities, Secret Projects, faction abilities, unit special abilities and terrain effects.

Researching certain new technologies unlocks progressively better equipment. Possessing certain support infrastructure (such as Command Centers), creating units with certain special abilities (such as High Morale), and having a positive morale rating in social engineering will all confer morale bonuses to new units, effectively enhancing their strength multiplier; conversely, a negative morale rating will incur morale penalties on new units. Also, gaining access to the mysterious alien monoliths that dot the planet, or defeating enough enemies to gain experience, will upgrade an existing unit's morale.

Psionic combat ignores conventional components and circumstances, focusing instead on morale, and gives a bonus to the attacker if the combat takes place on land. It is resolved normally. Native life forms fight psionically, and some components enhance a unit's psionic ability or permit it to make psionic attacks. It is also possible to cultivate native life forms under a player's control. Here the equivalent of morale is determined by ecological status and breeding techniques, rather than infrastructure. Psi combat also takes priority over regular combat, so that if either attacker or defender is psi-capable then psi combat occurs in place of regular combat. Attacks that occur from a distance, such as missile strikes and artillery or naval bombardments, are an exception to this priority.

There are a number of different unit types on land, sea and air, each with specific special properties and movement speeds. Air units are not initially available and require considerable technical development. Conventional missiles are a special type of single-use unit. Planetbuster missiles blast holes in continents, but provoke extreme global warming, a frenzied assault from native life, and being declared hostis humani generis by all other factions.

[edit] Native Life

Adding to the trouble of the human factions is a pinkish-red indigenous semi-sentient fungus (xenofungus) (pronounced Zee-noe-fuhn-guhs) that spans the planet. Concentrations of it can spawn more aggressive native life forms, the most basic of which are known as mind worms. Mind worms and other native life act as the planet's immune system, reacting to heavy industrial pollution by attacking offending cities and installations. On the flip side, mind worms can be captured by factions with a deep understanding of Planet's fragile ecology and used as instruments of war and police.

Also, in addition to native life there are certain structures dotted across the map called monoliths. These monoliths will upgrade any attack-based unit by one level only once. Every other time you land on them, they merely heal the unit, making them good places to fight or skirmish if you control them. Within many maps there is a ring of monoliths that fills all the squares in a 3x3 section of the map except the middle square with monoliths. These are called The Ruins by the game. This is a key point, as monoliths give the base an even "2" of every resource (nutrient, minerals, and energy). However, in most games this area is covered in xenofungus, so in order to build a base there (bases cannot be built in xenofungus) a player will need to have a former come down and clear it off, but beware: clearing too much fungus is considered polluting, and Planet may become angry and send mindworms to attack offending formers.

  • Note* even if the land that The Ruins was on submerges, the monoliths will be there. They cannot ever be destroyed unless a random event makes them "disappear" as happens on rare occasions when a unit attempts to use them.

Once in a while, what appears as a drop pod from the Unity turns out to be a purple "alien artifact." These immensely valuable items may be used to finish prototypes or secret projects more quickly, or to reveal a new technology when combined with the Network Node base facility or the Network Backbone secret project.

In the course of the storyline, it is discovered that all xenofungus collectively forms a massive neural network, making the entire ecosystem a colossal group mind. It grows increasingly intelligent as the game progresses, even beginning communications with faction leaders in cut-scenes from time to time. However, contrary to the concept of a benevolent Mother Earth, the "Planetmind" is suspicious of humans and will defend itself if necessary. Faction leader quotes scattered throughout the game reveal that all of them, with the notable exception of Lady Deirdre--the first leader to have a conversation with the Planetmind--consider the emerging mind to be highly dangerous. This is due to the fact that the final growth stage is self-destructive, and will take humanity with it. However, the Transcendence victory condition allows the player to unite human consciousness with the Planetmind, helping it avoid self-destruction and propelling humanity to a new plane of existence.

[edit] Bases

The Alpha Centauri game CD (Microsoft Windows version), depicting the surface of the planet Chiron and the system's two stars.

Bases, like cities in the earlier Civilization games, are the center of the game. A base is nothing less than a self-contained city that can be built, captured, as well as destroyed (either through war casualties, starvation, abandonment by constructing a colony pod at base size 1, weapons of mass destruction, unintentional ecological disruptions, being overrun by native mind worms, or through ethnic cleansing--i.e., putting a civilian populace to death). A base collects resources from the surrounding environment, using the manpower of the local population, or mechanically through resource crawler units. Mineral resources are used in building units and maintaining their upkeep, or can be converted to energy credits. Nutrient resources feed the local citizens, with more nutrients harvested leading to a higher rate of population growth. Energy collected from boreholes, tidal harnesses, forests or solar collectors is piped into three priorities: PSYCH, ECONOMY and LABS. PSYCH represents how much energy is being used in improving the living standard of the inhabitants. ECONOMY represents how much energy is diverted into energy credits. LABS represents how much energy is being diverted into powering research. The output of all three can be enhanced by facilities or by special inhabitants called specialists. Energy credits created by the economy are the currency of the game. They can be used to hurry the production of new base facilities, units, secret projects, or they can be bartered in diplomatic encounters. Some covert missions or prototype construction also require energy credits. Depending on a faction's social policies and the individual base's distance from the capital, a portion of collected energy can be lost to inefficiency.

Citizens are the inhabitants of a base. One citizen represents 10,000 inhabitants. It takes one citizen to harvest the resources of one square. New citizens are produced when a base has accumulated a set quantity of excess nutrients. The amount of nutrients needed to create growth becomes higher as the population multiplies. Social engineering choices or facilities can help reduce this required amount during each stage of growth. If the base's population reaches 127 (i.e. 1,270,000) the next increase incorrectly rolls over to -128 as the base population size is stored in a signed 8-bit value.

Bases build all of the faction's units, and by extension, new bases. A new base is created when a previous base builds a unit equipped with a colony pod module and the unit is deployed at the desired location, which cannot be adjacent to an existing base of any faction. Building new units requires a set amount of minerals, depending on how complex or advanced the unit is. Each turn, minerals processed by citizens are added to the current task until it is completed. This process can be hurried by spending energy credits. New technologies are researched in a similar manner. LABS output from every base is accumulated each turn until it fulfills the required cost to research the technology. All of these aspects can be enhanced by facilities and other factors.

A base can also build facilities and secret projects. Facilities, which are analogous to the buildings of the original Civilization games, create or alter some function of the base they are located in. Similarly, Secret Projects are comparable to the Great Wonders of the original Civilization. They are expensive and can only be built once, and only by one faction per game, but usually have dramatic benefits ranging from free facilities to social engineering effects and special unit abilities.

[edit] Launching Space-Based Vehicles

As you progress in the game, you will discover "Orbital Spaceflight," which allows you to launch the first type of space probe into space. There are four different probes that can be sent into space.

  • The first is called a "Sky Hydroponics Lab" and gives every base in your control a +1 Nutrient bonus. They are compatible with each other and can be built multiple times at the same base. However, they only give a full nutrient per satellite if the base has an Aerospace Complex; otherwise the base will only get half as much. Note that the nutrients cannot exceed the base size.
  • The second is called an "Orbital Power Transmitter." This has the same properties as the Sky Hydroponics Lab except for the fact that you get bonus energy instead of nutrients.
  • The third is called a "Nessus Mining Station" and has the same properties as the previous two satellites have except it gives bonus minerals instead of nutrients.
  • The fourth satellite is not for domestic purposes; it is called an "Orbital Defense Pod." When deployed, each one you build has a 50% chance of intercepting a planet buster, though they have to be deployed, ie, expended, for that.

[edit] Diplomacy

When two factions have established contact, they can engage in a variety of diplomatic actions. New technology, energy credits and bases can be bargained for, given away or demanded with the threat of force. Factions can sign treaties and pacts, declare war or ask for a temporary cessation of hostilities. Treaties lead to commerce between faction bases and an increase in income for both factions. Pacts allow units to enter allied-held territory and bases, and double the commerce modifier between the two factions. Computer controlled factions will remember past dealings, betrayals and atrocities, and will base their reactions (modified by the leader's personality) to the player's diplomatic overtures accordingly.

Once one human faction has made contact with all other human factions, it can choose to convene the Planetary Council and elect a Planetary Governor. Thereafter, factions can periodically convene the council (at most once every 20 years (turns) for each faction; the Planetary Governor only has to wait 10 years) to make proposals such as electing a new governor, salvaging the Unity fusion reactor core to gain a large amount of energy credits for each faction, lower sea levels via satellite shades or raise them by melting the polar ice caps, eliminate the ban on atrocities like weapons of mass destruction, killing civilians with gas or punishing rioters by nerve-stapling, or creating or repealing a global trade pact. With the exception of the Planetary Governor or Supreme Leader elections, each faction has one vote, with the governor holding veto power. In Planetary Governor or Supreme Leader elections, each faction casts a number of votes based on its total population and modifiers from faction ability and secret projects.

[edit] Society

Despite being set in the future, the problems of human society still plague the inhabitants of Chiron. Reflecting this are the existence of drones in the population. Drones represent the undereducated, discontent segments of society. When the number of drones overwhelms the number of well educated citizens, called Talents, a drone riot occurs. During a drone riot all productive activity within the base is suspended. If not stopped, prolonged drone riots will eventually escalate in severity until facilities are destroyed or, in extreme cases, the entire city defects to another faction.

Drone riots can be suppressed through the use of in-base military units as police. The amount of suppression allowed depends on the degree of tolerance the society, under current social engineering models, has for policing and on special police training the units may have. There also exists the temporary and more extreme solution of nerve stapling. This directly suppresses the violent tendencies of the population, preventing drone riots for a short period of time, but carrying it out is considered an atrocity and will negatively impact diplomatic interactions. As well, the base facility called Punishment Sphere, among other effects, eliminates all drones from a base's population; the secret project named The Telepathic Matrix, among other effects, does not eliminate drones but means they will never riot in any base of the player who controls it.

[edit] Social Engineering

Social engineering is another decisive game element reflecting human nature. Here, political, economic, social and future society models may be chosen. Each choice has its benefits and drawbacks, shown in a technical manner in-game by altering listed values which reflect how a faction operates overall. For instance, a good "INDUSTRY" rating improves build speeds and a good "ECONOMY" rating increases your faction's wealth.

  • Politics represents the method your society uses to make political decisions.
    • Frontier is the default system. This represents the informal government used early on before colonies grow large enough to warrant a more sophisticated system.
    • Police State is the system in which an oppressive police presence is maintained. This helps improve police effect and military support, but economic efficiency suffers.
    • Democratic is the system where the citizens partake in government via elected representatives. The stability this offers promotes growth and efficiency, but large military deployments become costly due to support penalties representing citizens' unease with long military campaigns.
    • Fundamentalist is the system where the government is controlled and run in a religious manner. This improves military morale and helps counter enemy espionage, but scientific research suffers greatly due to suspicion of secular methods.
  • Economics represents how a faction society manages its resources.
    • Simple is the default administration. It represents the ad hoc economy which is utilized in the setting's early years.
    • Free Market is the system where market forces run free. This system generates great wealth, but due to lack of any regulation damages to the environment and cripples any sort of police presence.
    • Planned is the system where the market is controlled by heavy government regulation in accordance to an overall economic plan. This improves population growth and industrial output, but bureaucracy makes management of resources inefficient.
    • Green is the system whereby the economy is regulated such that it places environmental management above all else. This helps limit ecological damage and improves efficient use of resources, but because of ecological safeguards population growth is limited.
  • Values represents which value system a faction leader places emphasis upon.
    • Survival is the most important value early on in the game, before factions become established and safe enough to divert to other choices.
    • Power is the value of having a strong military. This bolsters morale and allows for large forces to be maintained more easily, but civilian industry suffers due to martial concerns having priority.
    • Knowledge is the value of supporting intellectual pursuits. Scientific research is accelerated and efficiency improves due to an emphasis on the free flow of information and taking the "best option", but this freedom of information also makes enemy espionage and subversion easier.
    • Wealth is the value emphasizing finance and its material rewards. This improves the economy and industry, but the official emphasis on greed as a motivating factor hurts military morale.
  • Future society represents advanced social-engineering models, which can only be applied very late in the game due to the high technological base and willingness for societal realignment required. Unlike other social engineering choices, the designers could not rely on observable societies in the real world, and had to speculate on how technology and society would progress.
    • None is the default future society, where a faction is not advanced enough to yet consider such things.
    • Cybernetic is the future society where artificial intelligences take over many tasks, improving efficiency and greatly reducing effects on the environment. Research also improves from humans being freed from menial labor for more intellectual pursuits, but policing becomes more difficult due to handling discontented workers displaced by machines.
    • Eudaimonia is the future society where people are encouraged to strive for their hopes and dreams, valuing life and liberty. Population growth, the economy and industry all prosper, but military morale is lowered and training drops in quality due to near-pacifism espoused by the populace.
    • Thought Control is the future society where mind control methods are used to subjugate people to the will of the government. Crime and disorder are seriously reduced, military morale improves, and enemy espionage is made difficult, but the massive material support needed diverts resources away from military maintenance.

Social engineering plays an important role in game diplomacy with computer players. Players that presently utilize the social engineering preference of a particular faction may have improved diplomatic relations with that faction. However, if a player has made a different social engineering ideal in whatever area of society (government, economy, values, or future society) a computer player's social choice lies, diplomatic relations will become strained, sometimes leading to outright vendetta. For example, the Gaians may make the social choice of Green economics, which will lead to strained relations with the Morganites (who favor Free Market economics) but will make no difference with the Hive, even if the Hive is using Free Market or Planned economics, since the Hive's preference is that of a Police State government.

At the beginning of each game, each faction is designated a particular social engineering preference and a particular social engineering aversion. Computer players must use their social engineering preference as soon as it is available, while all players (regardless of whether they are human or computer) may not use their social engineering aversion. Normally, the preference and aversion reflect the apparent ideologies of the faction (i.e. the Gaians favor Green economics and abhor Free Market economics). However, the player has the option to randomize the social agendas of all computer players. If this option is selected, the social engineering aversion of the faction remains the same. Consequently, it is possible for any faction to have the same social engineering choice as a preference and an aversion. In such a case, the player will still support that particular social engineering choice in diplomatic relations but cannot use that particular choice.

[edit] Factions

The original seven factions in the game are as follows below (the Alien Crossfire expansion adds seven more):

[edit] Spartan Federation

True to their namesake, the militaristic Spartan faction places the highest priority on strength, discipline and combat readiness. Colonel Corazón Santiago, a survivalist from Puerto Rico, and a UNS Unity Security officer, leads the faction, and lead the initial mutiny aboard ship. The Spartans make planetfall with the technology Doctrine: Mobility. Spartan units receive morale upgrades (making them better fighters) and their disciplined society is naturally tolerant of martial law, allowing two military units to help suppress a colony's drones. The Spartans' skilled military expertise allows them to build prototype units without extra mineral cost. However, the society's devotion to military imposes a 10% penalty to industrial production. The Spartans prefer the Power social engineering choice and may not pursue Wealth, all the while remaining wary of those who don't choose an emphasis on Power. The Spartans are likely to press vendetta against the Hive and the Gaians. Their founding base is Sparta Command. Social effects: +2 Morale, +1 Police, -1 Industry; prototypes do not cost extra minerals

[edit] Gaia's Stepdaughters

The Gaians are a faction that values living in ecological harmony with Planet and abhors ecological destruction, particularly after the way humanity left Earth. They are led by Lady Deirdre Skye (Unity officer in charge of hydroponics) of Scotland. The Gaians make planetfall with the technology Centauri Ecology. The Gaians' ecological safeguards allow them to avoid ecological damage and to capture native mind worms (they also automatically succeed on their first attempt to capture a mindworm), and their experience with lifecycles and recycling gives them an efficiency bonus. The Gaians also receive one extra nutrient from fungal squares and their infantry units can move through xenofungus with reduced movement penalties. The Gaians are pacifistic and freedom-loving, giving rise to their weaknesses: low troop morale and a lower tolerance for policing. The Gaians prefer Green economics and may not use a Free Market system in social engineering, and look upon Planned economics as little better - which usually leads them to bitter hostilities with the Morganites, The Spartans, and The Hive. Their founding base is Gaia's Landing. Social effects: +2 Efficiency, +1 Planet, -1 Morale. -1 Police; +1 nutrients in fungus squares, always auto-capture first mind worm.

[edit] University of Planet

A technocratic faction that values knowledge and scientific advancement above all else, including ethics. The University are led by Academician Prokhor Zakharov of Russia (possibly named in tribute to physicist–politician Andrei Sakharov; the character's name was changed from Saratov early in development), Unity's chief science officer. The University makes planetfall with Information Networks, as well as one other level 1 technology that of the player's choice. The brilliant researchers of the University allow them to discover new technologies 20% faster than normal, but the openness of their academic networks leaves them prone to infiltration from other factions' probe teams. Every University base comes equipped with a Network Node base facility for free (Nodes boosts research by another 50% and allows the base to study alien artifacts, and have other benefits related to certain secret projects). Due to the University's lack of ethics in regards to research and experimentation, the faction suffers from more drones, representing the underclasses' discontent with and distrust of their amoral, well-educated leaders. The University prefers the Knowledge value in social engineering and may not use a Fundamentalist government. They are most likely to go to war with the Believers. Their founding site is University Base. Social effects: +2 Research, -2 Probe; free Network Node in each base; one additional drone for every four citizens in all bases).

[edit] Peacekeeping Forces

This faction works hard to keep the peace through diplomacy and maintaining the United Nations charter. Led by Commissioner Pravin Lal of India, the UNS Unity's Chief of Surgery and third-in-command after its arrival in the Alpha Centauri system, the Peacekeepers make planetfall with the technology Biogenetics. The United Nations-style bureaucracy of the faction causes them to have a negative efficiency rating, but the Peacekeepers attract intellectual elites. Peacekeeper colonies may grow two sizes beyond normal population restrictions. In votes for Planetary Governor and Supreme Leader, Lal's experience with politics means the Peacekeepers' votes are doubled. The Peacekeepers favor democratic politics and may not use a police state government in social engineering, and neither are they keen on religious dogma thanks to their liberal universalist tendencies. As a result, they tend to go to war with the Hive and the Believers, who favor these forms of government. Their founding base is United Nations Headquarters. Social effects: -1 Efficiency; one additional talent for every four citizens in each base, double votes in Planetary Governor/Supreme Leader).

[edit] Human Hive

A totalitarian faction based on Collectivist principles. They are controlled by Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang of Great China, the former Executive Officer (second-in-command) for the Unity mission, who tends to see his people as fodder for sociological experimentation. The Hive makes planetfall with the technology Doctrine: Loyalty. The Hive has its growth rate boosted by 10% and its brutal serfdom decreases the mineral cost of units and facilities by 10%; however, the lack of political freedom causes each base to generate one fewer unit of energy per turn. The Hive has an immunity to inefficiency caused by social engineering choices thanks to the remorseless treatment of workers; this greatly bolsters the Police State government favored by Yang as it removes negative side effects caused by that choice. The Hive may not use a Democratic government, and is wary of religious hyperbole. This may lead the Hive into conflict with the Peacekeeping, Gaian, and Believing factions. Their founding base, naturally, is The Hive. Social effects: +1 Growth, +1 Industry, -2 Economy; free Perimeter Defense in each base, immune to negative Efficiency in social engineering table

During development, this faction was named "The Labyrinth" and had a stronger scientific inclination, before being changed to "The Hive" in the final release; however, one of their bases is still called The Labyrinth. In the pre-release version of the game, the Hive's belief in the greater good greatly raised the morale of Yang's army; however, this is not present in the final version of SMAC or the SMAX expansion pack.

[edit] Lord's Believers

A fundamentalist faction wary of secular technology. Led by Sister Miriam Godwinson (Unity's chaplain) from the Christian States of America. The Believers make planetfall with the technology Social Psych. The Believers' convictions give them a 25% attack bonus as well as increasing the morale of their Probe Teams and their ability to resist enemies' probe attempts. Their eagerness to defend their faith allows each colony to support up to four units without cost of minerals. Because the Believers feel that Chiron is their promised land, ecological tensions are increased and production of resources in fungal squares is decreased. The Believers are also skeptical of secular technology, thus their research rate is decreased by 20% and they may not accumulate any research points in the first ten years on Chiron. The Believers prefer Fundamentalist government and may not use Knowledge as a social engineering choice, and for reasons best known to themselves become very upset with neighboring Democratic and Police states; Sister Miriam generally decries them as "Godless". While the game was being coded, this faction was named "The Conclave" before being changed to "The Believers" in the final release. Their founding base is named New Jerusalem. The AI behavior of the Believers tends toward aggression and forceful actions to get what they want. Because they cannot gain technology at the rate of most of the other factions, the Believers prefer to deploy large numbers of technologically inferior troops, overwhelming their foes by force of numbers. The faction they are most likely to declare war on is the University, as they have nearly opposite views. Social effects: +2 Support, +1 Probe, -2 Research, -1 Planet; +25% bonus when attacking).

[edit] Morgan Industries

A corporate capitalistic faction, led by self-made mogul and diamond tycoon Nwabudike Morgan (whose company funded the Unity mission, and had a secret, private sleeping pod installed on the ship for him) of Namibia. The Morganites make planetfall with the technology Industrial Base and an additional 100 energy credits. Because they are an industrial conglomerate, and thus skilled in matters of economy and production, they receive an energy bonus in social engineering - an extra unit of energy in each base, and one energy per square and even larger bonuses if this is combined with social engineering values such as Free Market or Wealth. However, because of the faction's followers' expensive tastes and demand for creature comforts, Morganite units have high mineral maintenance costs and colonies cannot exceed population size four until the Hab Complex Facility is built (the default is seven). The Morganites receive extra energy from commerce due to their marketing and trade expertise. They prefer Free Market economics and may not choose a Planned economy in social engineering, and find that Green economics 'hinder the just and proper flow of capital'. Their founding base is Morgan Industries. Social benefits (+1 economy, -1 support, extra 100 credits at beginning, hab complex needed to expand base beyond 4, and extra energy through commerce).

While the Morganites prefer the Free Market social-engineering choice, they cannot be said to be a wholly "free-market" oriented faction, which the portrayed attitude of N. Morgan through the game, particularly at the end, also shows--Morgan proves to be a dedicated monopolist, and indeed the Economic victory could hardly be called an attempt at a free market (see below).

Morganites can easily make astronomical profits with the right social engineering, but cannot effectively maintain a large army due to their support penalties (at least not until the invention of clean reactors, which erase support costs for military units using them). A common strategy is to use waves of probe teams to subvert (i.e., control) enemy units, putting their vast funding to good use.

[edit] Victory conditions

There are several victory methods available in Alpha Centauri. As well, it is possible to have a cooperative victory, allowing multiple pact-bonded factions to win the game if one of the factions achieves one of the following methods.

A victory by conquest occurs when all factions are annihilated or have surrendered to one player. If cooperative victory is enabled then there may be up to three pact siblings who can share the victory (excluding those who have surrendered).
When a player has enough energy reserves (roughly equal to what it would take to mind-control all the remaining cities on Planet), he or she can win the game through economic victory by cornering the global energy market. This takes 20 turns to achieve, and can be prevented if during this time the faction's headquarters falls to an enemy.
A player achieves diplomatic victory by uniting the Planetary Council behind him or her. To do this, the player must get 75% of the votes, by population, at Planetary Council. If the vote succeeds but remaining factions oppose the decision, they must be eliminated by force to achieve a victory by conquest.
The transcendence victory is achieved by building the Ascent to Transcendence secret project, which becomes available after the Voice of Planet secret project has been built (by any faction). This concept of a post-human era is very closely related to the idea of the technological singularity. After this project is built the human inhabitants of Chiron leave their material bodies to merge with the emerged planet intelligence.

[edit] Inspirations

According to the game's designer, much inspiration for the game came from "classic works of science fiction"[2]. Reynolds cites Frank Herbert's novel The Jesus Incident as a clear inspiration. The native life and singular planet mind of the game draws heavily from this book. The concept of presenting quotes with every achievement also comes from The Jesus Incident.

Chiron (the name of the planet) is the name of the only non-barbaric centaur in Greek mythology and an important loregiver and teacher for humanity. It also is an homage to James P. Hogan's 1982 space opera novel Voyage from Yesteryear, where a human colony is artificially created at Alpha Centauri by automatic probe on a planet later named by colonists as Chiron. Chiron in the game has two moons, named after the centaurs Nessus and Pholus, with the combined tidal force of Earth's Moon, and is the second planet out from Alpha Centauri A, the innermost planet being the Mercury-like planet named after the centaur Eurytion. Alpha Centauri B is also dubbed Hercules, a reference to him killing several centaurs in mythology, and the second star preventing the formation of larger planets.

The arrival on Chiron is referred to as "Planetfall", which is a term used in many science fiction novels, including Robert A. Heinlein's Future History series, and Infocom's celebrated comic interactive fiction adventure Planetfall. Vernor Vinge's concept of technological singularity is the origin of the Transcendence concept.

The game's cutscenes use montages of live-action video, CGI, or both; most of the former is from the 1992 experimental documentary Baraka.

[edit] Influence

While not being a direct sequel of Civilization II, Alpha Centauri was considered a spiritual successor of that much-acclaimed game, because it had the same general principles and was made by many of the original developers. At the time, the future of the Civilization franchise was in dispute since Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds had left Microprose to found Firaxis. Unable to make Civilization III, the two made Alpha Centauri instead, beginning the game where the storyline had left off in Civilization, with mankind leaving Earth to travel to Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri was also built on the Civilization II engine modified for voxel graphics.

The magazine PC Gamer US awarded Alpha Centauri a score of 98%, which was the highest score ever given by that magazine—Civilization II being the previous holder of this record with 97%. Later, PC Gamer also gave Half-Life 2 and Crysis scores of 98% in 2004 and 2007, respectively, tying each with Alpha Centauri. The magazine also gave Alpha Centauri Editor's choice and Turn-based strategy game of the year awards in 1999.

Alpha Centauri has also won several Game of the Year awards, including those from The Denver Post and Toronto Sun. It won Turn-based Strategy Game of the year award from GameSpot as well. The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences named Alpha Centauri best strategy game of the year. In 2000 Alpha Centauri won the Origins Award for Best Strategy Computer Game of 1999.

In the community of Civilization players, many quotations from Alpha Centauri, which are shown at different points in the gameplay, are also quite popular.

The game has also sparked a trilogy of novels (see below) and a strategy guide by Chris Hartpence ("Velociryx"), which was later printed and published. Steve Jackson Games also published GURPS Alpha Centauri, a sourcebook for the GURPS role-playing game set in the Alpha Centauri universe.

Many gameplay features which made their debut in Alpha Centauri would be implemented in later games in the Civilization Series, such as enhanced diplomatic options (including the ability to loan money to other players and to make other players become vassals), an election-based UN-like system for enacting laws affecting all players, and the ability to fine-tune a faction's governmental structures by varying separate aspects of their governance.

[edit] Technology

Alpha Centauri employs (isometric) 3-D rendering for both the terrain and units. This is made possible by the "Caviar" voxel library by AnimaTek International (now Digital Element), which renders the voxel models and terrain geometry using self-modifying assembly language routines.

[edit] Fiction

The original story of the journey and splintering of the colonization space ship from Earth to Alpha Centauri was detailed in multiple installments that were released periodically by Michael Ely of Firaxis on the web, immediately prior to the release of the game, for marketing purposes. During the course of the installments, the names of regular forum members on the official Firaxis forums were incorporated into the story in cameos. The resulting short story Journey to Centauri can be downloaded from the official website[3]. A second short story, Arrival, introducing the Alien Crossfire factions, is also downloadable from that site.

For further reading, game story developer Michael Ely has also written a trilogy of novels based on the game. Each of these novels is loosely based on one of the three "Faction vs. Faction" scenarios included with the game: Peacekeepers vs. Spartans, Gaians vs. Morganites, and Believers vs. University, respectively.

There is also a graphic novel Alpha Centauri: Power of the Mindworms written by Steve Darnell and illustrated by Rafael Kayanan.

SMAC is no longer available for purchase anywhere except those that sell used copies. Unless the current owners of the game's copyright allow it to be sold (through a system such as Steam or Gamersgate), the game is currently unavailable for legal download anywhere however it can be accessed via Gametap.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Generation Terrorists.
  2. ^ Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri Manual p.185
  3. ^ Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri: The Story

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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