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SMAC, Atrocities, and Diplomacy

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

Oh, that game has probably consumed more of my life than anything other than World of Warcraft. While testing the Linux port back when I was younger, I probably played it more outside of work hours (and during work hours!) than any other game, and it remained a favorite for years.

I still kick off a game from time to time.

Part of the appeal is, of course, having played the original Civilization PC game in college when it was new (and unusual, at least to me). Empire building, guiding a civilization through the ages. I ended up preferring the longer, build everything up games, ending with a race to the stars and building a spaceship to travel to…

Alpha Centauri.

So this game feels very much like a continuation and sequel to me.

Since I was actively testing the game (like, for a job, which was fun), I did play all the factions. I settled in on U.N. Peacekeepers as my favorite. Diplomacy (which seemed advanced to me, but isn’t all that complex in hindsight), world government vs. atrocities, adhering to truces and treaties, yeah. It’s a kind of nice, shepherding style of play.

It also meant that I never committed the atrocities (obliterating a base, nerve stapling drones, building certain facilities, dropping missiles on opponents). As a faction, it’s always meshed well with my preferred style of play.

(I contrast this with another player at Loki, who took special delight in polluting so much the sea level rose and wiped out the coastal bases of the other factions, and gleefully nerve stapled rioting bases. He had a cruel streak.)

The games I played tended to be on customized, extra, extra, extra large worlds, with long, long time horizons. Plenty of time to develop in isolation before encountering foes, and with enough distance that transportation was more important to action than military unit numbers. If you couldn’t get enough ground units to the opponent’s island in time, they’d rebuild before the next wave… (It also meant I tended to avoid actual fights until I had drop units and air units, so I could soften defenses until I could parachute into an enemy base unhindered. The Space Elevator really helped there, too. Ah, late game…)

It also meant weeks of play time to finish a game properly. Which is one of the reasons I often no longer finish games — I just play the fun bits to the point where the outcome is inevitable, and I get tired of the micromanagement.

The lesson I took away from this, though, was that a good sandbox game that provides consequences for choice paths, but neither specifically rewards or punishes, is pretty cool. I mean, sure, if you commit atrocities, a diplomatic victory is off the table. If you want an economic victory, spending all your resources on a large army sweeping planet is probably not idea. Etc., etc., etc.

(Also, can I just say I love that there are lots of victory conditions: race to transcendence, diplomatic, economic, military, and, of course, one can just run out of time altogether and just be ranked. Plus there’s a Planet-specific story that progresses, too, where Planet is awakening as human civilizations thrive, in a potential Planet-wide wipe-out-the-interlopers event if it’s not headed off.)

Choices, with consequences within the game. A world that develops as things go on. It’s a lot of fun.

Incidentally, that includes being able to raise/lower land (including lowering the area around a base which has no pressure dome, turning it from a land base into, well, nothing — an atrocity). There’s some strategic value to being able to terraform up/down early, especially on a 90% water planet, just to have more land to build bases on — and to raise an otherwise difficult to attack sea base out of the water so it can be swarmed by land units.

Anyway. Enough talking SMAC for one blog entry.

Why are these brief meditations important? Well, that’s a post for another day, but I’m distilling years of casual thinking about the games I enjoy so that I can reference the highlights later — and there’s this idea that’s been kicking around for decades, and I need clarity before starting on it.


Published inSMACVideo Games