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Paean to Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (2016) (paeantosmac.wordpress.com)
152 points by Apocryphon 61 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

Those voice-acted quotes after you finished research or build your first building of given kind are little gems that stay with you for decades.

"The Academician’s private residences shall remain off-limits to the Genetic Inspectors. We possess no retroviral capability, we are not researching retroviral engineering, and we shall not allow this Council to violate faction privileges in the name of this ridiculous witch hunt!”

—Fedor Petrov, Vice Provost for University Affairs

... spoken with official, assertive voice right after you completed research on "Retroviral Engineering".

"Some would ask, how could a perfect God create a universe filled with so much that is evil. They have missed a greater conundrum: why would a perfect God create a universe at all?"

--Sister Miriam Godwinson, "But for the Grace of God"

They're all listed out here: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Sid_Meier%27s_Alpha_Centauri

This one pairs well with the one about Nietsche I mentioned in my post. Such a brilliant game!

And when at last it is time for the transition from megacorporation to planetary government, from entrepreneur to emperor, it is then that the true genius of our strategy shall become apparent, for energy is the lifeblood of this society and when the chips are down he who controls the energy supply controls Planet. In former times the energy monopoly was called "The Power Company"; we intend to give this name an entirely new meaning.

-- CEO Nwabudike Morgan, "The Centauri Monopoly"

I recently read the book about Enron and kept thinking about this quote when it came to their lobbying efforts. "Power company" indeed.

I like the one that’s the riff off Microsoft’s 90s campaign “where do you want to go today?” while mocking Microsoft’s defense of its monopoly conviction.

“Of course we'll bundle our MorganNet software with the new network nodes! Our customers expect no less of us. We have never sought to become a monopoly. Our products are simply so good that no one feels the need to compete with us. --Where do you want your Node today?”

CEO Nwabudike Morgan, Morgan Data Systems press release

I can recite a few of these from memory, because you just hear them so often...

Some of the most meaningful to me were the ones coming from a place of spiritual philosophy. I am absolutely not a religious man, nor would I consider myself to be even remotely spiritual or superstitious. That said, there is a sort of poetic beauty through the concept of a deity as a storytelling mechanism, or a way to put a complex philosophy into a memorable narrative.

"Companions, the creator seeks, and not corpses, nor herds or believers. Fellow creators the creator seeks-- those who inscribe new values on new tablets. Companions the creator seeks, and fellow harvesters; for everything about him is ripe for the harvest. ... Fellow creators, Zarathustra seeks, fellow harvesters and celebrants... What are herds and shepherds and corpses to him!" (this quote is is often shortened, but this adaptation is the most meaningful to me)

"Men, in their arrogance claim to understand the nature of creation, and devise elaborate theories to describe its behavior. But they always discover in the end that God was quite a bit more clever than they thought."

I'm not a religious man, but I do identify with the visceral rejection of humanity's collective hubris.

and of course, hearing 'Eternity lies ahead, and behind. Have you drunk your fill?' some 20x per game really cements that phrase into my head.

I frequently play as Zakharov, and I like his quotes, but they're always rambling and difficult to recall in the moment.

That said, anyone playing as University would always make the Hunter-Seeker Algorithm a top priority. Fusion power and orbital spaceflight follow soon after, and that's the game. I usually go after Yang, then the Believers. Pretty formulaic at this point, but I enjoy it about as much, perhaps maybe even more, than Beyond Earth. SMAC just has so much character to it.

Scientist: "All models are wrong, some are useful."

Fiction Writer: "Oh, the arrogance of man, to believe he understands nature!"

There's no hubris like the hubris of a science fiction writer claiming that the plot they cooked up for the express purpose of entertainment implies something deep about the actual risk profile of future technological development. Scientists trudge through a swamp of unknowns every day. That's their job. The idea of a scientist who thinks they know everything is as crazy as the idea of a programmer who thinks that all software is perfect and bug-free.

Fortunately, Alpha Centauri also provides material for those who enjoy a healthy dash of ambition here and there:

"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

You seem to be responding to a Michael Crichton type doomsday situation, when that quote comes out of the mouth of a religious fundamentalist character, who doesn't even say it in a doomsaying way so much as chastising in a memento mori sort of way.

Then perhaps I should clarify: the Alpha Centauri character Sister Miriam Godwinson is no fiction writer, at least not in this world, her spiel just reminds me of one.

One of my favourite quotes of all time quotes comes from this game.

"Once a man has changed the relationship between himself and his environment, he cannot return to the blissful ignorance he left. Motion, of necessity, involves a change in perspective." - Chairman Pravin Lal

Maybe it was because I was young at the time, I dunno, it just really stuck with me.

Beware he who denies you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master. - Commissioner Pravin Lal

I wonder if our choice of favourite quote strongly determines our moral foundations (in an MFT sense). Certainly this is the one I hold most dear.

I have a rule to never pay for information because I think it's not a good idea to make witholding information from you profitable.

Some thoughtful sorts put all of them into a series of YouTube segments. I find them to be timeless, and quite heady when listened to in sequence.


Having Leonard Nimoy voice these for Civ 4 was great.

"Beep...beep...beep...beep..." (discovering the satellites tech)

I don't know what I've been told!

Diedre's got a network node!

Likes to press the on-off switch!

Dig that crazy Gaian Witch!

Something you almost never hear as University, especially if you don't go around conquering your rivals on, say, a massive planet. Science victory, ftw. Definitely get that Hunter-Seeker Algorithm, tho. It's very worth it :3

"Astronomy's much more fun when you're not an astronomer" - Brian May

Civ 6 Astronomy tech unlock.

It's also funny, I can recite that quote in its original cadence. Quite memorable!

SMAC is solidly in my top 10 games of all time, moreso than some of Sid's more recent 4X games. SMAC has a lot of elements that I think are still unique from the Civilization series: elevation, weather, terraforming, cities on water tiles, useful satellites, more types of combat, and even the ability to create your own unit types. It ties a story to "barbarians" (alien mind worms) and technology advancement. It ties the difficulty of the aliens to how much pollution you generate and what civic choices you make: is your government pro-aliens or anti-aliens?

Same here. SMAC is my favourite Sid Meier game by far. I prefer it to all of the Civ games. I’m doing a philosophy minor in university right now and I proudly admit that all of my interest in philosophy began with this game.

SMAC is a story of the possible, an homage to “what if?” Many armchair philosophers have dreamt their utopias. SMAC lets you build one. And then it puts you up against other utopians with their own visions and gives you a front row seat to all of the consequences: the atrocities, the nuclear weapons, the environmental degradation.

People have been thinking about these issues for millennia, at least as far back as Plato’s Republic. SMAC lets you experiment and play dictator for a day, without hurting any real people. It gives you the first taste, and if you’re a certain kind of person, you just might end up hooked for life.

Wow, yeah all of those elements are utterly absent from Civ 5 and 6.

The latest DLC added some environmental effects to the game, but nothing on the scale that SMAC had.

Also the social engineering and faction traits replacing govts from previous civ games. All these traits give you various bonuses or punishments for different attributes like morale, green, economic, and population growth. It’s also cool how it dictates how you relate to everything else in the game: from the planet to other factions ideologies.

I can play a “green Morgan” for example that mixed capitalism and environmentalism. Or throw in police stare to make it a kind of Fascist capitalist state...

It all makes me feel like I truly am playing a character like in an RPG. Which involves me in the story in a way other strategy games don’t.

Interesting, I just started playing this again in the last week. I found it surprisingly accessible after all this time. Especially the slightly pessimistic hard sci-fi content given the current political / environmental situation.

You can buy the game on gog.com relatively cheap, and there's a set of community patches for things like widescreen, better AI, and other features at (http://alphacentauri2.info).

The biggest annoyance I've found is moving multiple units. I think other civs have figured out grouping better. Alpha Centauri hasn't quite gotten this.

I definitely rank this in my Top 3 4X games (w/ Master of Orion II and Civ V)

Did they patch out the way supply crawlers completely break the end game? How do you get started simply with these mods?

Well I’ve only installed the widescreen patch. I’m not sure I have the time to get into all the other stuff they have!

Better AI would be fantastic. I always stopped playing after a while because the AI was too bad.

For such a wonderful game SMAC is, it's a real pity it doesn't come with a proper scripting engine or a mod SDK. Yes, you can edit the .txt files, but that mostly limits you to constants and names (e.g. you cannot create a new type of secret project, or a completely new special ability).

I wish the present copyright holders would consider publishing the source code for the game under a license that still requires purchasing the original. I don't think it would drop the sales by much (the pirated download link is #2 result in Google, so I would assume they don't care), but that would give a massive boost to the modder community, and likely more PR/sales.

Realistically though, it probably relies on a bunch of 3rd-party components and reviewing their licenses for each of them would be a massive headache...

Just exposing the internal scripting interface / data format, without opening any sources, would go a long way.

Man's unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist.

- Academician Prokhor Zakharov, "For I Have Tasted the Fruit" - Accompanies the Intellectual Integrity technology

so true.

There was some brief HN discussion around SMAC's 20th anniversary: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20879088

There I wrote: "It's interesting to examine Alpha Centauri's political perspectives in light of the fact that it was released in 1999. The triumph of 'the old world's liberal order' seemed so permanent that public intellectuals were writing paeans to 'the end of history,' yet here was a game premised on the ultimate breakdown and fragmentation of that order."

In case anyone else is playing the game in 2019 (2020?), here's a nice little cheat that allows instant and unlimited terraforming:

1. Open the alphax.txt file and locate the Chassis definitions. Set the "Missile" flag for the Missile chassis to 0 (set it to 1 for Needlejet) and change its range to 99.

2. Replace the 'deleted' technology in alphax.txt with an arbitrary name and link it to the 'missile' platform.

3. Edit your faction txt file so that it starts with the missile technology and the gravship technology.

4. Open the unit designer, make a gravship former and switch the chassis to missile (the gravship step is important). This will make you a "missile former" capable of instant unlimited terraforming (i.e. terraforming doesn't end the turn) and unlimited range (is gets reset to 99 once it reaches zero).

Kinda breaks the balance, but makes it possible to play for an otherwise weak faction, while eliminating the grind.

Which factions are so weak as to make this 'fair'?

I still haven't played a better 4X strategy game.

One of the best aspects was that it provided so many different ways to play that were effective. Usually in Civ-games, no matter how they try to design around it, there's no real alternative between just rushing technology and pumping cities to snowball.

One of my favorite things to do was to use the terraforming abilities as weapons, and build mountains or flood the low-lying land. Or you could encourage the native life to go wild and take out the other players.

The unit designer was also fun; it's one of the few in games where I have actually bothered to build out specialized units for different roles - usually it's either pointless or too complicated to bother with.

Yes you can literally rebuild the landscape, and the climate system will redefine the raininess and other factors of the landscape.

I also like you can do ocean colonies, and working in the ocean isn't entirely second class.

I enjoy the vision of the future split up into ideologies, and not nation states, which seems to be closer to our current life.

I loved being able to build a spy unit that was submersible.

I loved this game! Having said that, the main change I'd make to this and other similar games is to have an option to limit and adjust the number of actions the AI player can perform on each turn. There always came a point where the AI player would do tons of things each turn. Not only would the AI's turns take ages, but on my own turn it'd take me a long time to catch up, figure out what the AI did and play accordingly. Another, additional option would be to limit the number of units and/or cities the AI player (or maybe all players) can build. It became tedious to attack or deal with the dozens of cities created by the AI players.

On a different note, I loved the quotes in the game that referenced a various fictional books and speeches. Something similar happens in the book "Dune", with quotes to nonexistent books set in Dune's future that referenced the events in the Dune. There's something to be said for when a work of fiction makes references to fictional works of nonfiction within the real work of fiction's fictional universe. (Another book that exhibits this is "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", a fiction book that makes references to the nonexistent, nonfiction book after which the real book is named.) I like the illusion of that the fictional universe is much larger than I can see, and the desire to read the fictional works of nonfiction the author lets me peek into.

On a final note, I loved the parody books titles mentioned at the end of the game. Has anyone found a list of the original book titles being parodied, or does someone know all those cultural references? I'm referring to titles such as "Boreholes I Have Known" or "I'm OK, You're a Drone" (the latter of which parodies "I'm OK, You're OK". Yet I don't get what book title the former is parodying, and there are others whose references I don't get.)

"$subject I Have Known" has been a popular title for personal and anecdotal historical works in British and American literature. It's a likely play off that and not one in particular.

I still play SMAC/X and find new campaigns from time to time. If you don't own the GoG version, it's frequently on sale for <$5.

I’m surprised EA hasn’t worked with Hollywood to develop Alpha Centauri into a TV series yet

Game of Rovers

fungus is coming

Does anyone know if anything comparable to SMAC these days? I probably spent more time playing this game than anything else.

While the writing in Alpha Centauri is some of the best in video games, the actual game itself is less fun than Civilization. The hostile terrain and alien life you spend most of the game dealing with just isn't as interesting as the enemy AI.

Two things make a great narrative game, the narrative and the game mechanics. As one would expect Alpha Centauri's game mechanics have been significantly improved on since it came out, however the narrative and setting is so strong that poor mechanics connect you to the nature of that reality. For instance mindworms (Alpha Centauri) vs barbarians (Civ). The mindworms should be annoying but because the game shares stories of mindworms attacks the annoyance is transmuted into a feeling of sympathy with the settlers of the game. You never get that sense with barbarians in Civ.

The best example is horror games like Amnesia. They are essentially "walking simulators" with almost no game mechanics beyond movement. Yet the atmosphere is so good that the players don't notice.

Personally I think too much attention in the game industry has been placed on flow and artificial-sweeteners such as RPC leveling reward systems at the cost of neglecting atmosphere and as a sense real presence.

It had some great ideas, though. The planet had prevailing winds, and you could terraform mountains so that your cities had lush farmland while your competitors were left with arid deserts. And the terrain didn't have to be hostile in the late game, depending on how you treated Planet. It was also cool how you could mix and match technologies to make different units.

But it was sort of overambitious, and a lot of the features were ridiculously opaque. I think it's a sci-fi gem, but it definitely takes a bit of patience.

If you don't have patience or time, most of the pithy quotes are here:


creating mountain to get more precipitation sounds good until you realise that the optimum strategy is either forest spam or getting weather control and then borehole and condensor spam.

If you compare SMAC to the contemporary Civ2, SMAC is a much deeper game in many ways. The terrain and alien life is not really something to be conquered, more like a natural hasard like barbarian raids in Civ, it never really goes away.

I think Civ 3 was the contemporary.

Civ 3 came after Firaxis got the Civ trademark. They made SMAC in part because they didn’t have the TM after breaking away from Microprose. The contemporaries to SMAC are the Civ: Call To Power games.

I picked up Call to Power recently, and despite playing hundreds of hours of Civ 2, I just couldn't get into it. Probably in an earlier era, where I'd buy a game or get it as a Christmas present and spend the time until I could actually get home to install and play it reading the manual cover to cover, I'd have handled it. But I just don't have the tolerance for the opaque complexity and clunky UI anymore.

I contend that it's one of the best games in the Civ franchise, but someone else can articulate it better than I can.

The enemy AI in every Civilization game is incredibly stupid. "Interesting" isn't really the word.

There have been talks at GDC and elsewhere about this...my memory is that humans don’t like being surprised by a smart AI that silently builds up resources and suddenly and mercilessly betrays and annihilates them, which is the obvious winning strategy. Humans don’t even like the random battle results to be truly random but expect them to hew very closely to the outcome of the odds as presented. The AI is grindy and unsophisticated on purpose.

I believe you're thinking of Sid Meier's GDC 2010 keynote "Everything You Know Is Wrong" [1]. The entire talk is interesting, but section on player perception of probability is about 20 minutes in.

One takeaway is to be careful about how strength numbers translate into odds. If your strength is 100 and mine is 1, does that mean I have a 1% chance to out-and-out beat you? Your armored tank shouldn't have an even 1% chance of being completely annihilated by my club-wielding warrior (that's somehow still around by then).

The later Civ games have taken odds out of the equation, and I think it's for the better. Instead, the amount of damage each unit takes per combat depends on the difference in their strength deterministically. From my own perspective, this is overall more fun than 'randomly' having really strong units lose against weak units occasionally.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY7aRJE-oOY

> Humans don’t even like the random battle results to be truly random but expect them to hew very closely to the outcome of the odds as presented.

Because of this Civ2 added health and firepower stats to units, random battles sometimes meant an ancient trireme could destroy a battleship, which is fun to imagine...

The classic example is a militia (the weakest unit in the game, relying on no technology at all) defeating a battleship bombarding it from the sea, causing the battleship to sink. :D

Warrior, actually. But yes. Militia required gunpowder.

Civ1 Militia == Civ2 Warrior

Warriors should never be able to defeat a battleship in Civ2 because of the new combat system. The AI cheats (of course); I have had armor go down to knights on deity level

This is not correct; the weakest unit in Civilization is the militia, and the unit you get from gunpowder is the musketeer. There is no unit called "warrior".

How do I know we're talking about Civilization?

> Because of this Civ2 added health and firepower stats to units

I think it's unlikely Civ II added stats in response to feedback from Civ III.

You're right about musketeers. https://civilization.fandom.com/wiki/Musketeers_(Civ2)

I was thinking of Partisans which spawn when a city is captured, https://civilization.fandom.com/wiki/Partisans_(Civ2); I think of militia when I think of Partisans.

However, the weakest unit in Civ 2 is definitely the Warrior: https://civilization.fandom.com/wiki/Warriors_(Civ2)

And the weakest unit in Civilization is the Militia. As I just said, there is no Warrior.

In the same way that Civ II cannot have made changes in response to Civ III, it also can't have made changes in response to itself.

FWIW, Civ V on windows has the vox populi mod which immensely improves the AI

You are more than welcome to create a game with better AI and therefore better playability. The rules of Civ games are complex enough imo. It’s just a game after all.

I've played a lot of civilization, mostly 2 and 3, but before I ever played those, I played a lot of alpha centauri. It was my first 4x game. The thing is, I don't really remember much about it at all. I remember it being harder than civ and I remember not really being able to figure things out and even when I did, it was still kind of confusing in comparison to civilization.

But, I'm pretty sure i got to the end game at least once and when I think about it, I remember still having fun and I still spent a lot of time on it. It's actually one i've thought about going back to play as an adult, just because I feel like I'd have a better time of it now.

I have to agree here. While I really love this game, the increasing hostility of the environment really drags the game down.

I very much like Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, but this blog is some kind of creepy personality cult. Reynolds this, Reynolds that...

Also, the author seems to be into conspiracy theories and extrapolates A LOT. This is the latest quote by Chairman Yang, therefore in canon Yang must be defeated by this point, therefore these factions must have defeated him because canon-wise they don't like him, and those were probably the next to go... I think s/he reads too much into it.

It reminds me of the "missing replicant" issue with first cuts of Blade Runner, which was simply caused by reduced budget and removed scenes. They just removed a character from the movie and forgot to update a few script lines.

Why no love for Civilization Beyond Earth? With its expansion (Rising Tide) I think it got most things pretty much right as a reinterpretation of the original Alpha Centauri.

I heard a lot of it was because of how bland the characters and writing were.

I feel annoyed he launches into the minutae of 4x games, without defining them? What is a 4x game? This article excludes anyone who hasnt already played the game in a major way.

Yes, the first mention should be a link to the Wikipedia page.

4x = eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate


Confused about the wording and the intent of the author, looks like it's genuine.

The only other time I've seen paean used as a word is when a group of US navy POWs in North Korea praised it saying 'we paean [Kim/NK]' while secretly meant 'pee on'

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