Brand New Colony: Alpha Centauri Retro

By Lewie Procter on April 25th, 2011 at 9:00 am.


Alpha Centauri has a special place in my heart. It’s a sort of spin-off from the Civilisation series (but don’t tell the lawyers), released way back in 1999. It’s not available to buy digitally (EDIT: Now available on GOG.com), but it had a Complete Edition reissue on the Sold Out range, available on Amazon US/UK. It’s essentially Civ in space.

Or is it?

Yeah, it is. But it’s also quite a lot more than just Civ in space. The premise is as humanistic as they come. 22nd Century Earth is dying, and rather than go down with the planet, a group of colonists escape on a UN ship. Destination: Alpha Centauri. We never really find out exactly why they had to leave, but it’s easy to imagine a dozen different ways that Earth could become uninhabitable in the next 100 years, and the reason doesn’t actually matter much. Watch this lovely looking intro video to get an idea of how much of a grown up game this is.

Divided not by nationality, but by ideology.

That’s a core principle of Alpha Centauri. There are seven factions in the base game, seven more in the expansion, each with their own principles and beliefs. Rather than perks loosely based on history, each faction has strengths and weaknesses that reflect the ideology of the leader, or indeed, the player. The University of Planet is an interesting faction, it has strong faith in science and so receives a nice research bonuses, but I’m always drawn to the economic strength of the capitalist Morgan Savy Industries.

Scattered across an alien world, cut off entirely from the rest of humankind, and with – initially – no way of contacting the other factions, you build your new home on “Planet”. You start off with one base, and perhaps a scout unit (depending on the faction), and from there it is fairly open ended. You can set about planning which units to build, which colony pods to set up more bases and expand your faction, which formers to manipulate the environment in your territory and build roads for fast movement, what military units to defend your base and borders, and which scout units you will use to explore the planet and attempt to make contact with the other factions. Or perhaps you might want to focus on enhancements to your bases, concentrate on population growth, or save up credits to fund plans further down the line. The open-ended sandbox nature of the game rewards strategic experimentation, and is rarely entirely predictable.

Guiding you up the tech tree are your research priorities. By choosing to focus your energies on developing technology to help you “explore”, “discover, “build” and/or “conquer”, you can open up new unit types, new base enhancements, and all sorts of other interesting strategic advantages. If you choose, research can be a useful bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations, you can flog research to other factions for credits, swap for any useful research they’ve developed, or perhaps just show them some compassion in a time of need. Sometimes I’m generous, and I’m not sure if it is out of some bizarre digital altruism, or hope that AI will remember to return the favour sometime down the line.

Once you’ve got a bit of research under your belt, you’ll be able to initiate secret projects. These are large investments which will take many turns to develop, and provide some kind of permanent bonus. They’re all part classic sci-fi, part real world science, and partly from the fantastic imaginations of the people at Firaxis. Each secret project can only be completed by one faction, and can often offset a particular faction’s weaknesses, so there’s always race to get there first. Upon completion, you’re rewarded with another classy video showing what huge leap in human technology you’ve accomplished. Look at the pretty birdies.

Gradually you’ll start to encounter the other factions, and once you’ve swapped phone numbers you can access the diplomacy options through the comlink. You can speak about the other factions behind their backs, make all sorts of financial dealings, sign a treaty or pact of brotherhood or attempt to convince them to ally you in a war against another faction. Once you’ve got in touch with everyone, you can call Planetary Council, to vote on planet-wide decisions on things like trade and terraforming. If you can convince (or bribe) enough people to back you, you can run to be Chair of the Council, which is one of the victory conditions.

Or you can develop the biggest guns, and expand your new human empire through military conquest. When you take over an enemy base, you gain control of any secret projects developed there. The high tech arms race means that as the game goes on, both you and the other factions will be improving their offensive and defensive abilities throughout the game, so you have to be careful you don’t start a war you can’t finish. But it’s not just your fellow humans you have to be scared of.

As a turn based single player/asymmetric multiplayer strategy game, Alpha Centauri works, and it works well, but there’s a bigger story going on than just what the humans are doing on Planet. Without giving too much away, indigenous lifeforms start appearing, and the story of Planet unfolds in prose interludes. These skippable vignettes give you an insight into the mind of the faction leader you’re role playing, and nicely build on the wider narrative thrust of the main game.

On a hostile planet, the rest of humanity left behind, you forge a brand new civilisation in your image. You’re cut off from earth’s legal and justice system. There are no consequences for your actions beyond how your fellow factions respond. You’re a long way from home, and it’s up to you whether you stick to any UN agreements signed on Earth. It’s Lord of the Flies by way of Isaac Asimov. Anything can happen at the edge of space. Who knows what kind of weaponry your neighbour might be developing? Perhaps you’d better strike first.

The setting creates a kind of tension that is missing from a lot of similar strategy games. On the one hand you are motived to act in the interests of the greater good, with the hope of establishing sustainable survival for the human race. On the other hand, you’ve got to be responsible for your faction. No one else is going to keep the mind worm’s from melting all of your civilians brains in the night.

I caught them paying RRP for some games on the highstreet.

Alpha Centauri is a hugely solid strategy game that is highly replayable. For longevity, there are highly customisable rule-sets and difficulty settings, and you can customise how Planet is randomly generated, and each of the 14 factions lend themselves to different playstyles.

Some of the little details really set it apart. There’s the voxel based unit workshop and terrain system, that I’m not exactly sure what they do beyond “look damn cool”. There’s also the datalinks, a huge resource full of information about plot and game mechanics to spend hours getting lost in if you’re the type. There’s also some fairly dark humour in some of the choices you get to make, and some of the best dialogue boxes in gaming.

Alpha Centauri still holds up fantastically well. If you can get past a slightly problematic interface, and some of the menus looking a bit tiny at modern resolutions, then AC is still to this day unsurpassed in many areas. Wonky AI rears its ugly head from time to time, but more often then not the computer controlled factions behave rationally. I strongly recommend getting the complete version, which includes the Alien Crossfire expansion. Without the expansion, the game won’t run properly at 1920×1080.

It’s telling how much love there is left for Alpha Centauri. Every time there is a new Civ game released, someone starts putting together an Alpha Centauri mod (see Crazy Spatz’s Alpha Centauri Mod for Civ5 or Planetfall for Civ4). EA aren’t too keen on revisiting their old games it seems, but I’m not sure if I’d want to play a new Alpha Centauri that wasn’t helmed by Firaxis, and lead designer Brian Reynolds left Firaxis shortly after AC shipped. Still, it’s probably highest on my list of “Games what I wished I could download”, and EA even have their own DD service.

It’s hard to say how much of my love for Alpha Centauri is a result of nostalgia. Probably not all that much, because it wasn’t until a good few years after release I first played AC. Maybe around 2005? I definitely think its aged better than Either Red Alert 1 or Wing Commander: Prophecy which I got in the same box set. I urge you to give it a try, and perhaps it will find a special place in your heart too.

I need Alpha Centauri. I look up to it.

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208 Comments »

  1. megazver says:

    Alpha Centauri is magnificent.

    • Loix says:

      They need to patch this up so it works out of the box (which I still have) on Windows 7, or finally make a sequel.

      I’m not talking about a Civ5 sequel, either… I mean a good one.

      The amount of hours I lost to SMAC as a child have shaped who I am today – a social retard.

    • Archonsod says:

      Works out of the box for me.

    • Caleb367 says:

      You kiddin’? It’s a freaking masterpiece, man.
      Rock-solid game mechanics, competent AI, astounding setting… it’s still way ahead of both Civ4 and Civ5. Heck, gimme a remake of that – streamlining the user interface which was indeed a little awkward – and I’ll be happy.

    • karry says:

      “Works out of the box for me.”
      No it doesnt. Well, technically it does, but you cant INSTALL it out of the box on today’s machine. I had to go search for a rip, then mix it with my files from the disc, to get a proper version.

    • Gepetto says:

      Depends on which version you have. The most recent Sold Out budget release with Alien Crossfire works just fine for me. It has the ‘Windows Vista Compatible’ logo on the front. My old jewel-case version from back in the day needs all sorts of fiddling with to get to play nicely.

    • fallingmagpie says:

      Some pretty straightforward instructions on getting it working on Win 7. Worked for me.

      http://atreus.necrolounge.org/blog/?p=18

  2. MrEvilGuy says:

    Here’s my take on how the Earth is destroyed in that video:

    First, the military get fed up with occupying countries with civilians begging for food so they nuke them.
    They miss.
    They nuke random cities instead.
    Firefighters and police rush to the scene and are obliterated when they realize they are amidst a nuclear explosion rather than another run-of-the-mill cat stuck in a building on fire.
    The starship “Unity” takes off from Earth, believing that the destruction of horrendous modern and post-modern architecture equates to the end of humanity, and hence ignoring the still surviving less developed nations behind to either be devoured by the ongoing nuclear threat or prosper in the remains of the ruined cities.

  3. Jonathan says:

    This is by far my favoruite game in the Civ series. Its setting is wonderful, the graphics were much more appealing to me than the flat planes of Civ 2/Call to Power, the sound effects were perfect for the setting, and … well, I don’t know how else to describe my fondness for it in ways you haven’t already mentioned. I am so bitterly disappointed its IP is so tangled up.

    I had no idea you could change the resolution with Alien Crossfire. I’ll have to try and find a copy of that — thanks for the tip.

    • Gassalasca says:

      “This is by far my favoruite game in the Civ series.”

      Mine too.
      Not to mention that it introduced me to Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen in a roundabout way.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Be thee forewarned—the expansion is generally considered pretty lacklustre, and far more sinisterly (at least with the original boxed copy) adds a CD check, where the original game had none.

      Installing it on a netbook is ruinous.

    • Nesetalis says:

      I know exactly how you feel… I spent years on alpha centauri… but when they came out with Civ Call to power.. and Civ 3.. I was all hyped.. hell yea.. going back and making another civ (which i also loveD) and I was sure they would use the engine or an engine based off the one from alpha centauri… then i played it… and promptly threw it aside, never picked it upa gain.. I had been spoiled by alpha centauri… and I’ve never truly loved another civ since.. Lenard Nemoy helped alot… but still.

  4. DeepSleeper says:

    Aw, god. I saw the title of the article and instantly thought “There’s a webgame or a sequel or a hint of a sequel or something please please please…”

    Ah well. No sequel or other revival could capture the feeling of RULING THE SEAS OF PLANET as Captain Von Pirateguy, whatever his name was.

  5. MasterBoo says:

    Best 4X game ever. I still play it with friends over LAN once in a few months. There are actually a few mods that balance the game and make it more interesting, such as SMACniac).

    • Rinox says:

      The diplomacy system allows for sheer brilliance when playing with friends. Not just the abilty to be a total jackass to each other (“Rinox out” *disconnect*), but also the fact that there’s actually an overarching ‘council’ where votes can be bought and sold.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      I’d like to hear more about these mods, if at all possible.

    • MasterBoo says:

      SMACniac adds lots of new (interesting) factions, improves the AI and changes the tech tree to make it more balanced and even more realistic in some way (as in, “real science” :P). My only problem with it is that it adds unfair units to the AI which you shouldn’t build (you can but that will be against the spirit of things) and are terrible to counter.
      EDIT: Oh and it also changes Social Engineering to make it more balanced (who would pick Fundamental in a multi player game come on).

      EDIT2: It’s a SMACX mode, not for the original :P

    • DrazharLn says:

      I think you mean SMAniaC.
      Another essential download is this unofficial patch, it fixes a whole host of game-killing bugs and fixes a number of mistakes and exploits in the game.
      There are plenty of other SMAC resources on that website, including a number of cunningly designed scenarios with frequently excellent custom interludes and stories. I helped in the production of a couple of them and that work probably constitutes the modding of which I am most proud.

      Hello comment moderator!

  6. Tei says:

    A wild Classic appears.
    Is super efficient! (sorry, I am this bad at memes).

    From all the factions, I love to hate 3 factions:

    Believers:

    The righteous need not cower before the drumbeat of human progress. Though the song of yesterday fades into the challenge of tomorrow, God still watches and judges us. Evil lurks in the datalinks as it lurked in the streets of yesteryear. But it was never the streets that were evil.
    – Sister Miriam Godwinson, “The Blessed Struggle”

    Morgan Industries:

    “Human behavior is economic behavior. The particulars may vary, but competition for limited resources remains a constant. Need as well as greed have followed us to the stars, and the rewards of wealth still await those wise enough to recognize this deep thrumming of our common pulse.”

    – Nwabudike Morgan, “The Centauri Monopoly”

    The treehugers:

    In the great commons at Gaia’s Landing we have a tall and particularly beautiful stand of white pine, planted at the time of the first colonies. It represents our promise to the people, and to Planet itself, never to repeat the tragedy of Earth.

    – Lady Deirdre Skye, “Planet Dreams”

    I normally play as University of Planet, because.. heee… SCIENCE!
    So my first task is to wipe out these righteous and treehugers bastards, then deal with the Spartans :D

    • Lewie Procter says:

      I nearly went off on one about how much of a bitch Miriam is.

    • Thirith says:

      I usually played with the Gaians. Why? Because I loved how they were all “Love the planet” and seemingly peacenik, but with the right techs they could wield the mindworms as a powerful, terrifying army. The others won’t love the planet? Well, let’s teach them some tough love!

    • Jonathan says:

      @Thirith

      Exactly — fully-developed mindworm boils are a sight to behold and to fear. Also, Dierdre’s voice was soothing.

    • Loix says:

      Gaians were unbelievably powerful on the easier difficulties. Favourite faction to play by far.

    • Decimae says:

      As a wannabe tree-hugging scientist myself I played the University every time on my (pirated because it wasn’t available anymore, I should really buy it now) copy, but tried to make peace with the Gaians(and with all the other factions but Miriam, which is a bit of a problem considering there’s the Spartans and the Peacekeepers). I also disliked Morgan and Miriam, though.

    • Archonsod says:

      I always preferred the Hive myself.

    • arienette says:

      @Lewiw Procter

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who hated her with a deep burning passion. Even when playing peacefully she’d always manage to annoy me enough to declare war.

    • Caleb367 says:

      I nearly always played the University guys until Crossfire. Then, it was Free Drones all the way. IN SOVIET RUSSIA, MINDWORMS FEAR YOU.

    • Bhazor says:

      The treehuggers were surprisingly over powered. Especially at the start when you can grab a couple mindworms and no body else has any kind of defense against them. If you play Gaia and spawn near a good patch of fungus then the nearest faction to you is pretty much fucked.

    • Foosnark says:

      AC still is the best Civ game of all.

      I was almost always the University, Gaians or Hive. I was crap at Morgan and didn’t like them much anyway.

      Miriam was always trouble.

    • Baka says:

      I don’t know, but I’ve been told
      (I don’t know, but I’ve been told)
      Deirdre’s got a Network Node
      (Deirdre’s got a Network Node)

    • Chalee says:

      She likes to press the ‘on all’ switch!
      (She likes to press the ‘on all’ switch!)

    • Hrolf Ganger says:

      My gaming history is one 99% saturated by the dew of home consoles, but one of the rare PC experiences I had was with Alpha Centauri. It remains one of the most incredible gaming memories I have in the grey (not actually grey, of course) wrinkle-pudding inside my head.

      I played as the Hive, and kept it cool until I got a nuke…at which point I decided to test it out on either the Gaians or the Believers. It took a very long time, of course, for anyone to get over the stick in their ass about the whole matter, and I was left without any allies for entirely too long. The nuke was initially hilarious, eventually a frustrating decision. But by the time I was back on everyone’s good side, I’d allied myself with Osama Bin Laden and Morgan (Freeman) Industries to completely wipe out the Gaians (or was it effing Miriam?). I was a naval BEAST…that is, until I finally got a full view of Planet an–OOOOH SHIT THE SPARTANS! The Spartans controlled at least 40% of the globe, and I really didn’t like that. I did not want to get on their shitlist, though, so instead, I got on Morgan’s and amassed a legion of Mindworm boils (the big, McHuge variety) and very quickly took over all of his bases. In the process of doing this, I was starting to attract the attention of the Spartan navy, and found myself split between a naval war (fought with Mindworms and my own uber-laser-boats) and a terrestrial one (against Morgan). If time had allowed, the Spartans surely would have defeated me. Fortunately, by the time I’d captured all his bases, MY SOCIETY HAD ACHIEVED TRANSCENDENCE. Poof. Game was done.

      And my hard-on has lasted forever since.

    • destroy.all.monsters says:

      I completely agree. At times I ally with Dierdre out of convenience but generally these are the people that I annihilate first.

      I find it interesting that most of the sides are at least borderline insufferable. Playing as Spartan, as I usually do, there are some interesting negatives with many of the other factions. Last time I played I took over the Hive’s bases one by one and the bastards kept springing up all over the place. Apparently they’d signed non-aggression pacts with everyone else in order to survive – on what was essentially the other factions’ land. .

    • LionsPhil says:

      University is easy mode.
      Peacekeepers, and roleplaying to type as Lal, are much more interesting.

      The really interesting thing is that, if you look at the philosophies, the faction who most closely fit SMAC’s best ending, the ascention to transcendence? The Hive, the surface “bad guys”. Yang advocates working at and for a higher, society-wide level than the individual meat shell and glimmer of thought from day one, long before the fungus plotline starts kicking in; he just doesn’t have the technology to do it as enlightened hivemindness, so it ends up all communist police state.

      Miriam remains a total bitch, however.

  7. aerozol says:

    I played the time-limit demo of this over and over and over as a kid.
    Almost exclusively used mindworms, if i remember correctly

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      Hah. As did I. PC Gamer demo disc, I think. Tremendous.

      Eventually bought the full game when I was no longer a small child. This and MOO2 are probably my favorite game thingies of all the times.

    • mistwolf says:

      The best part of the Alien Crossfire expansion was two of the new factions were native, so units like mindworms and such were bread and butter. :)

    • Loix says:

      @Spider – Are you me?

    • jeremypeel says:

      Time-limit demos were king in my youth also.* Anyone else lose their evenings after school to the PC Gamer Freelancer demo? Forever associated with McFlurrys in my mind.

      *I’m still relatively young, for the sake of clarity.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      @ Loix

      There is a non-zero chance that I am, in fact, you.

      @ jeremypeel

      When Freelancer came out I was old enough to buy it, so I lost after-school evenings to the full game instead. Sweet mercy I loved that game.

  8. Spoit says:

    The best part of it was the terraforming, where which side of the mountains you were on actually mattered. I don’t know why they never revisited that in later games, when they were actually built on top of 3d engines.

    • Unaco says:

      Indeed… If I am remembering correctly, it was actually possible to starve/dry out the other factions or parts of the map, with the right terraforming… raising mountains high enough that they trap moisture on 1 side, but leave the other in drought.

    • CMaster says:

      It was indeed. It was also possible to sink enemy cities with cloaked super sea formers. (Technically the cloak and super parts aren’t necessary, but keeping non-cloaked formers alive near the enemy coastline is difficult to say the least.

    • CMaster says:

      Hell, more subtly you could create an inlet to a rival’s freshwater lake, contaminating it with salt and reducing their food income. Yay for a game about conquering a world that actually makes the world a big part of the game.

    • JuJuCam says:

      CMaster: It’s a tribute to the incredible variety of strategy available in this game that as much as I played it (many many many hours), I never once considered the possibility of sinking an enemy city! Genius.

      Then again I was young and foolish and obsessed with world peace and healing the world. Such nefarious tactics would never come to me naturally.

  9. Spacewalk says:

    I wish that games were like this again.

    • Rinox says:

      I doubt they would pass the ‘common denominator’ test at most firms’ marketing departments. But we can hope!

    • pipman3000 says:

      i explain the posts: by saying the game wouldn’t pass the “‘common denominator’ test” rinox is implying that modern gamers/modern developers/modern movie-goers are too stupid to properly enjoy alpha centauri. “common denominator” is referring to the “lowest common denominator”, a concept where you make things to appeal to those dumb jocks who stuffed me in a locker the average (nationality here), allowing the most people possible to enjoy your product.

      author’s note: alpha centauri in a way is an even higher form of art then the illiad, i mean like if those dumb kids can read that in high school than how smart can it be? i don’t see any people that age playing alpha centauri.

    • Rinox says:

      I didn’t necessarily mean that I think anyone is too stupid to enjoy it, though. I meant that companies tend to try and make their games appeal to the broadest public possible to generate maximum sales, making games like AC rare(r).

    • Hunam says:

      But with the indie revolution in it’s early phase in a few years we could see smart games like this pop up from small companies that aren’t too worried about the bottom line and have never met an investor.

    • Fiatil says:

      @pipman

      Hi, I’m from a place called Amerrca. I enrolled in as many honors classes as were possible from 6th grade until graduation, which means that most of my school encounters were with the top 15% of my class. We “read” all of these fancy classics and smart books in our AP English classes, but I would say about 3 out of the 30 on average actually read the entire book and maybe 1 of the kids read it with enough interest to actually appreciate the novel. Out of a graduating class of around 250 I would say a maximum of 5 would have any chance of enjoying the background flavor of Alpha Centauri that we’re all raving over (assuming they actually encountered the game). Almost every guy(tm) I knew owned a console or enjoyed playing video games that were not called Alpha Centauri.

      But you go ahead and keep being too cool to believe that games like Alpha Centauri are on the decline. After all, we’re all just bitter nerds claiming that Alpha Centauri should be considered the greatest example of the written word in history.

    • Berzee says:

      Fiatil, I don’t think that pipman means any of the things that you think that he means. Either that, or you don’t mean any of the things that I think that you mean.

  10. rasputinsownbear says:

    Best factions in a 4x game, like, ever. I mean, I don’t know any other game where you can wage war on religion and capitalism as a leader of militant eco-crazy scientists.

    • Marar Patrunjica says:

      And what made those factions great were the bits of spoken dialogue, I still remember half of the quotes during tech advancements by heart

      “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” ”

      Quotes like this were pure gold, and that’s not even counting the ones from Nietzche, Aristotle, Li Po, etc.

    • Gassalasca says:

      Exactly!
      We need to find out who wrote the fluff and erect him a statue.

    • Colton says:

      As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth’s final century
      The free-flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny.
      The once chained peoples who’s leaders at last loose the grip
      on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality.
      But a free nation gradually restricting it’s grip on public discourse
      has begun it’s rapid slide into despotism.
      Beware of He who would deny you access to information
      for in His heart he dreams himself your master.

      Pure poetry! This game has had permanent status on several hard drives since 1999

    • Arglebargle says:

      “You could see them in there. You could hear them. It was a thing of terrible beauty.”

      Best 4x game. Arguably best game ever. As someone else once put it (roughly), you could learn more playing Alpha Centauri than most college graduates get in their four years.

  11. Doctor_Hellsturm says:

    I need this on Steam right now!

  12. The Army of None says:

    This is one of my favorite games of all time. I’ll always remember reading about it after I had been playing it obsessively in a PC Gamer top 100 games of all time list… and it being up at the top.

  13. theunshaven says:

    I also think this is the best 4X game I’ve ever played. If this turned up on GoG.com, I would buy it so very hard.

    I still have savegames archives from many, many years ago. I uninstalled the game during my master’s thesis because it was the only way I could guarantee I’d go cold-turkey and actually submit some goddamned work.

    I had a friend who created an online radio show, who featured a letter during the mailbox section that read:

    “Miriam Godwinson is an incomprehensible bitch. University kicks ass.”

    As nonsequiturs go, it was entirely apt.

    • Tssha says:

      Indeed. Quite apt. I miss him too, he always had a sparkling if caustic wit. One of his many gifts.

      Those words stayed with me for a long time. I always remembered them because they were so true. And yes, she really was an incomprehensible bitch…

  14. Setroc says:

    I agree, the faction setup and setting just set this game apart and ahead of the civ games for me. I fell in love with Chairman Yang’s communal utopia by way of police state, the Human Hive.

    “It is every citizen’s final duty to go into the tanks and become one with all the people.”

    On top of the fantastic factions, it struck a perfect balance between diplomacy research and aggression, all being viable paths to victory. It was the perfect civ game, but with extra special touches added to make it really memorable.

  15. The Army of None says:

    Also, your final line: Brilliant throwback! I remember that line. “The drones need you. They look up to you. Please don’t go.”

  16. Mark says:

    PLANET BUUUUUUUUUUUSTEEEEEEEEEERS!

    Loved this game to bits, before I even knew what PC gaming was (owned a Mac; dad was an Apple fanboy).

    In my rose-tinted eyes, what makes it stand out is the design of the setting, characters and plot along with a much improved diplomacy system compared to Civ 2. It was a brilliant decision to leave Earth behind, but also leave it in the historical background, to allow the player to forge their own path, their own morality and place in the stars. It’s like the Heart of Darkness of TBS.

    • Riotpoll says:

      Was just about to post this about them:
      WMDs that actually have permanent consequences were pretty good too. (The “planetbuster” destroyed a big chunk of land and turned it into ocean, voila instant terraform!)

      I loved this game more than any of the Civ games since.

    • vagabond says:

      Plus the fact that as you upgraded through new power sources, the amount of land they destroyed increased. They actually felt like proper nukes compared to Civ’s little “kill some units, create some pollution” things.

      Although my favourite path to victory remains building domes on all your cities and melting the polar ice caps to flood the planet and drowning everyone else.

    • Hunam says:

      Now, in these types of games I’m normally the first lunatic to start acting like a sociopath with my toys, but you sir, you scare me. That’s not even genocide, that’s something much more devious.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Sometimes when I went all ‘planet friendly’ I would build the ‘mindworm missles’ and start every conflict with a barrage of boil enducing attacks that would devastate the opposing faction’s defenses, but allow me to move quickly, and gain allies swiftly.

    • Mark says:

      I remember one time I played it like Don Corleone. Everyone was starting to get irritated by my power lead so I nuked the heads of five (however many there were) factions. I’m pretty sure that’s how that film goes, anyway/

  17. Sobric says:

    Good to see some SMAC talk on RPS.

  18. CMaster says:

    The unit design system didn’t do much great, save letting you create units for some very specific roles. (Eg in the late game going for a Transcend victory I’d create a group of units called “Worm Corp” geared up to be brilliant at Psi combat and defeating the high level boils that popped up).

    The terrain system however was sheer brilliance. Why was it wet there? Because rain falls after coming off the sea with the prevaiing westerly winds. Why is that terrain difficult – because it’s a line of really high terrain, forming a mountain range. It was brilliant because it didn’t create arbitary square “types”, it simply created the features for real. It was also brilliant because you could used cloacked super sea formers to drown enemy cities.

    Also, the Morganites Lewie, really? You obviously liked hard mode as I’m pretty sure they were one of the weakest factions in the game. (In contrast to the University and The Hive who were pretty mad overpowered).

    • Archonsod says:

      The Morganites were actually one of the easier factions. By around turn 100 you usually have enough energy on hand to finish the economic victory with change; or alternatively buy an army large enough to conquer planet.

      If anything I’d say the only hard faction was the data angels, and that only because their spy bonuses weren’t particularly useful against the AI.

    • CMaster says:

      Data Angels? Sounds like you’re talking about Alien Crossfire, where they changed the factions and balance thereof around.

    • Archonsod says:

      Applies to both, in fact they’re one of the few original factions who did quite well out of SMAX as none of the new factions made any in-roads to their specialisation.

      It’s really down to the mechanics. Money is used for everything, from research and hurrying buildings to bribing enemy bases and units. And the entire specialisation of the faction is generating money. You can out-tech the University simply by dumping more income into your labs; you can out expand The Hive by hurrying colony modules and you can even outfight the Spartans by buying more units; or for that matter simply bribe away their army or indeed their whole empire.

    • karry says:

      “The terrain system however was sheer brilliance.”

      Aye. If only it didnt have that crappy color scheme, which made it really hard to discern what properties a particular square had until you clicked on it. Firaxis must really hate people with impaired vision, those jerks.

    • CMaster says:

      I have to admit never having more than dabbled with the Morganites, not getting very far with them. However whenever the AI has been behind them, they’ve always been one of the smallest, poorest factions. Their big penalties to growth mean that for all their economic benefits still give them worse income than the much bigger, more productive other factions. Plus their huge planet penalties lead to them getting nailed hard by blooms and mind worms. Frequently they get wiped out before I even meet them.

      Of course, the AI doesn’t have a clue how to play University either (it never gets Virtual World for example, which is a requirement for a successful Uni game) but they don’t do so bad. And apparently in skilled multiplayer The Hive absolutely stomps all anyhow.

      @Karry
      I would agree that the colour scheme was a bit weak. SMAC could be accused of being one of the earlier “realistic means BROWN” games. Stronger greens for rain could have helped, as would better variety in terrain. 3 level of moisture + 3 levels of “rockiness” does mean lots of terrain types – but they aren’t that different.

    • JuJuCam says:

      Karry: I seem to remember that there was an optional colour corrected patch for the colourblind. I recall it since it was the first time I’d heard of a developer doing such a thing and thought it was extra neat.

    • karry says:

      “I seem to remember that there was an optional colour corrected patch”

      I am neither colorblind, nor otherwise vision impared, and i can barely see what a particular square has. Its simply undiscernable.

  19. Rinox says:

    Alpha Centauri is one of the best TBS games of all time, and in my heart definitely the best Civ game.

    When playing Shogun 2 recently, the shoddy diplomacy and randomness of the factions’ actions made me yearn for AC where things (most of the time) made sense. The game was ahead of its time.

    Didn’t AC win a big fan poll on Firaxis’ website? On which Firaxis classic they’d like to see a remake of?

  20. Flyspeck says:

    I don’t think any other game has shaped who I am as much as this game. Re-release or sequel please.

    We must transcend……

  21. qrter says:

    I did buy a copy of this when it came out in that Sold Out range, but I had a hell of a time getting it to run properly on XP, maybe that’s a reason why it hasn’t appeared on a site like GoG? (Beside the usual reason of rightsholders completely forgetting about a game, then getting all prissy and perhaps greedy when a site contacts them).

  22. terry says:

    What I love about SMAC (unfortunate acronym though it is) is that no other 4X game feels as complete a package as it does. To my mind, it’s one of the few games that uses multimedia correctly – not just because the movies are so goddamn well done (and often eerie – The Dream Twister and Virtual World movies spring to mind) but also merge seamlessly with the UI, story and gameplay, and aren’t just mindless CGI cutscenes shoehorned in for no particular reason. This extends to the backstory, the fiction, the tech tree… damn near everything is so fleshed out it’s hard to not feel like you are a ruthless faction leader left to struggle on a hostile planet, right from the get-go.

    And even better, there’s all the depth you’d expect of a Civ-like with even better customization (to this day I have only tinkered with the Unit Designer, despite playing hundreds of hours of SMAC) without being overwhelming. On the easiest difficulty you can feasibly automate ALL your units and not lose. Seriously. Why you would want to is another thing entirely, but it’s possible. I love how each faction offers a distinctly different play experience, and with the (admittedly unbalanced) expansion pack, there’s even more variety. Randomise social agendas and personalities and suddenly all bets are off. Marvellous.

    Anyway, I’ve rabbited somewhat. If you don’t have it, get it, love it, play it forever.

  23. Tssha says:

    There’s no way I’m seeing SMAC through rose tinted glasses, as I reinstalled it just this month. I rolled with the University and I had fun. Man that game is fun. Only thing I don’t like is the resources support model. I’d rather pay energy credits to support my armies. Makes it harder to support an army of Formers if you have to pay for them on a city by city basis. Also makes it harder to build up the terrain around cities faster as combining their efforts often leaves the city they’re supported by at a disadvantage. Oh well, I wouldn’t gripe if it didn’t bother me, which is proof that I love SMAC so. It’s rather like imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in that way.

    EA may have had a point, but that doesn’t mean it’s a hard and fast rule. This game is a classic because it was made so well and because all of the elements fit together like the cogs in a master watchmaker’s watch. Such is the quality of the design that game designers would be apt to ape many of the mechanics within its design document. It really was ahead of its time, and for all its flaws, none of them took away seriously from the enjoyment of this wonderful, wonderful game.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to teach Miriam the meaning of “University Territorial Waters”. Ta.

  24. Markachy says:

    By far my favourite Civ game. Civ 5 doesn’t even come close for me. The world, story and factions are all absolutely brilliant, as are the techs and unit designer. Methinks I know what I’m going to spend the rest of the day doing now…

  25. Wednesday says:

    Truly a magnificent game, properly grown up and thinky.

    I love all the quotes. I’m a bit of a quote fiend, and there’s corkers from Kant, Einstein, Nietzsche, the list goes on.

    I mean, Jesus H Christ, how many other games have anything to do with Kant? I ask yes.

  26. FunkyBadger3 says:

    This article has a Headline-to-Sale (HtS) score of 4.8 seconds.

    Good work.

  27. pipman3000 says:

    i like this game because it makes me feel smart

  28. Thants says:

    I was just saying in the Bargain Bucket that I think this is still the best Civ game, good timing :) I played it again recently and it holds up remarkably well. And it still has stuff the other Civ games don’t, like terrain elevation, and the unit creator.

  29. Dozer says:

    Great. I watched that video. Then read some wikipedia articles and vegan propaganda. Now I know about male chick maceration. Way to brighten up my day, RPS!

    • Jonathan says:

      Grossly off-topic now, but:

      Though I’m mostly vegetarian (because the Mrs is), this is why you should be wary of eating chicken. They’re the most abused of the animals we eat for meat — debeaking, battery farming, maceration, etc — though it’s possible to find meat from chickens that have been raised and slaughtered humanely.

      This is also part of why I don’t eat much egg, even though I love eggs — again though, it’s not too much work to find good eggs from hens that live fairly decent lives. I get mine from the local farmer’s market, where there’s a supplier with a biodynamic farm that raises chickens.

      The egg concerns at least are making it into the public consciousness, with brands like Happy Egg, but I’m not 100% convinced how much what they say about how they treat their animals is to be believed.

    • CMaster says:

      @Jonathan
      How come your reply has an outline?
      Also, are free range or even woodland eggs not good enough animal welfare wise? Or do you not get those (legally protected) definitions where you are?

    • Jonathan says:

      @cmaster

      An outline? What? *innocent whistle*

      Having just moved back to the UK from a place where such terms are not properly regulated, I am suspicious of them (and nonsense things like “dolphin friendly” too). If they’re genuinely trustworthy here, then I suppose I have no problem with them.

      That said, if you’re an egg snob then getting your eggs from a small supplier’s well-raised hens generally gets you fresher and tastier eggs.

    • CMaster says:

      Page 25 details protected legal terms and their definitions.
      Enforcement of course is another matter, and it’s of course beneficial to get fresh eggs. Although in these cases there is perhaps more onus on the consumer to check that said market stall is telling the truth. The RSPCA runs a standards sceme too that you’ll often see on posher “woodland” and the like eggs and some meat products.

    • aerozol says:

      I’m almost vegetarian, since I like to know where my meat comes from. Stickers on packaging don’t mean shit sadly, so I just get meat from hunters and my familys farm.
      Eggs are just as bad- The best advice I can give is that if there’s a brand of eggs that sells both ‘free range’ and caged/ ‘barn raised’ eggs, let them go get f*cked, and get a brand that only does ‘free range’. Even if it’s more or less meaningless/ unenforced, you’re not giving money to the real a-hole companies.

    • vagabond says:

      Michael Pollan’s book “the omnivore’s dilemma” discusses how some companies (at least in the US) meet the “free range” requirements by providing a tiny little patch of bare dirt outside that the chickens have access to, but that they don’t use because, well, it’s a small patch of bare dirt that is outside; and that for roughly half the chicken’s life they argue that the door has to be locked because the chickens aren’t old enough for their immune system to cope with being exposed to the outside world. So depending on your country’s laws and how well they are enforced, the free range label may or may not mean anything.

      Anyway, if you are interested in this sort of thing, I have the audio book version which I highly recommend…

  30. pakoito says:

    I can’t get past the UI, but I’m 200% sure I would love the core game.

  31. Kong says:

    Why would they not remake Alpha Centauri? Politics.
    Controversial content complicates clones control.
    Alpha Centauri is proof that modern mainstream game developers/publishers suck. They can only try to hide that shining example of what could be done. What does this say about the customer clones? We suck as well.

    • JackShandy says:

      So it’s refusing to remake an old idea that makes them clones? Might keep that for future reference.

    • Kong says:

      Dunno. I just had the urge to write a phrase with 5 words that begin with the letter C.
      The clones I thought of are gamers of today. Who are content with being fed with the same cloned crap over and over – see Civ 1 to X.
      Giving them a new Alpha Centauri might spoil them.

  32. Dreamhacker says:

    I, too, welcome the SMAC/SMACX coverage on RPS. Best Civ-like TBS in space ever. Also best transhumanist PC game ever.

    But EA really pisses me off. They have the license to SMAC, but they will NEVER use it! They won’t even sell it to Firaxis! How goddamned bullheaded can a corp be!?

  33. BAReFOOt says:

    it has strong faith in science

    I don’t think “science” means, what you think it means.
    Science is by definition (the discovery of) that which still exists, even if you don’t believe in it.
    So “faith in science” is an absurd and insulting oxymoron. With an uppercase “moron” in it.

    • JackShandy says:

      It is possible to have faith that a logical process will find an answer, before you’ve seen any evidence that it will.

    • Kong says:

      faith
      /feɪθ/
      –noun
      1. confidence or trust in a person or thing

      I concur. We should not have total confidence and trust in knowledge, especially when it is the exclusive science of other people.
      But you may want to expand your understanding of what science is…

    • Lewie Procter says:

      I suggest you take it up with Zakharov.

    • Kong says:

      Zakharov who?
      The hero, the architect or artist? The athlete, military head honcho or the politician? Alex, Gury, Prokhor, Svetlana; Viktor?
      Edit: oh Vladimir Professor. What does he say about faith in science?
      Fruitcake silly me

    • Unaco says:

      Academician Prokhor Zakharov.

    • Nalano says:

      Kong,

      Faith is belief despite the absence of evidence. It’s trusting that something is trustworthy, not directly that something is true. As such, faith has no business with reason. “I have faith in reason” belittles reason, because reason verifies itself just fine.

      It’s not unlike the Republican pundits who say “I take Obama at his word that he’s a citizen” when the State of Hawaii has the files on record.

    • Chris D says:

      Nalano

      I don’t think that’s true. I don’t see how reason can verify itself, as in order to verify anything you need to assume that reason is reliable. You can only prove reason is reliable if you sneak in that assumption somewhere in the process, which is no way to prove anything.

    • Kong says:

      Faith in reason does not belittle reason, it valorizes reason unreasonably. *g* sry
      Sometimes science does not have all the facts but still claims to be reasonable. That takes a lot of faith.
      Reason does not verify itself at all. It is verifyed by scholars, who have to make up a lot of missing facts in order to improve knowledge/science until assumed facts are proven right or false.
      Followers of science need faith in their individual knowledge or faith in the knowledge of their particular school. What they also always need is doubt. Faith without doubt equals death. Christian Dark Age is the best example I can think of where science was crippled because of a general lack of doubt.

    • briktal says:

      It’s not faith that science exists or is correct, but rather faith that science and reason will solve your problems.

    • Kong says:

      “who knows nothing must believe everything”

      this is a punch line from a Vienna radio program called “science busters”

    • Lewie Procter says:

      10 points to briktal.

    • Kong says:

      I second that. Nuff said

    • Nalano says:

      Kong, reason verifies itself in observable ways. That’s kinda the freakin’ point.

      I don’t need to have faith in the benefits of reason and science, because I am typing this message to you on a computer games forum over a global network largely because my immediate needs for food, shelter, medicine and safety are all taken care of. We have time for leisure, entertainment, and this silly debate because of the obviously verifiable benefits of reason and science.

      The idea that we have belief in science’s ability to solve our problems is mainly because science has had an amazing track record of solving our problems. We continue down the path of science not due to blind faith but due to curiosity, and to conflate the two is to misconstrue human nature.

    • DrGonzo says:

      20 points to Nalano

    • bjohndooh says:

      I tend to think anything you don’t experience yourself, or see with your own eyes definitely requires some faith.
      For example, you have to have faith that what is presented as having been conducted in proper scientific procedure actually was.
      I’d say even if you’ve done the science yourself you have to have faith at some point in your instruments and/or your own senses.

      In truth it’s just a semantic argument arising from different definitions of faith.

    • Bret says:

      Yeah, Faith can be completely rational and still be faith. Why it’s a virtue rather than idiocy.

    • Berzee says:

      “Kong, reason verifies itself in observable ways. That’s kinda the freakin’ point”

      So you believe that past performance is an indication of future performance? But why? There are only two answers:

      1) Because we have seen other examples of past performance being an indicator of future performance. But that’s silly. You can’t say “Past Performance is an indicator of Future Performance because its past performance has indicated future performance” — because, because, because. The only evidential reason to believe that patterns will keep repeating is because they keep repeating — but that reason is only compelling if we’re already assuming that the pattern of the Pattern will repeat.

      2) The other reason to believe that past performance is an indicator of future performance is because — it’s obvious to a reasonable mind. Not obvious because of observable phenomena — because a reasonable mind that relies on observable phenomena has *already accepted* the idea that past observations will help you predict future events. Simply…obvious.

      Your statement “reason verifies itself” argues against you well enough that I shouldn’t have to say anything (though of course I will anyway =P). Reason verifies itself…with reason! Before we even start reasoning, we know that reasoning is a good thing to do…because of such and such *reasons*! No, sir, no.

    • thurzday says:

      The door swung open behind him. He turned to see Miriam crossing the mess to the small metal sink. He watched her splash cool water onto her face. Finally he spoke.

      “Your faith and psychology will not help us repair this ship, Officer. Perhaps you should save them for the lecture halls.”

      “They can help,” she said simply, dabbing her face with a thin white towel. “They are as vital to this mission as your technical readouts and precision instruments.”

      “Are they?” He laughed once. “Shall my engineers join hands and pray the ship to planetside? Can God change the atom?”

      “God, and faith, can change anything. Indeed, faith is more visible to me than the atom.” She lifted one hand. “Faith keeps my hands steady in these troubled times. How about yourself?”

      Zakharov, clutching his hands around his metal cup, looked at her angrily, trying to discern if she knew about the tremble in his hands. “I am steadied by the knowledge that your belief systems are all but extinct.”

      “Perhaps. Yet I see the fear in your own engineers’ eyes. Men and women who have science as their religion now know they may die tomorrow. It gives a body perspective.”

      “Meaningless perspective. The atom exists, God does not. You fill their minds with illusions.”

      She looked at him carefully. “My faith exists, for the world would be a different place without it. With faith, my actions are different, my responses to the events of my life are different. With faith, I look at you with calm instead of pity.”

      “Pity?” He barked a laugh. “Your experiences are all subjective.”

      She toweled her hands dry, considering. “You kill my child. With faith to guide me I take no revenge and my heart heals, without faith I kill you, or spend my life in bitterness. Faith has altered my reality.” Miriam turned to face him now, tossing the white towel on the counter between them like a gauntlet. “Show me the atom that will do that.”

      “Lithium,” Zakharov said, and grinned like a death’s head. “I could put chemicals into you that would turn your heart bitter, and destroy your faith.”

      “No you couldn’t.” Her eyes were calm, defiant.

      “It is a proven fact. It is scientifically valid. You can not deny it.”

      This time she did not speak, but held his eyes with hers, and he became aware again of the metal cup clenched in his hands. He finally spoke again, in a near whisper. “You can not measure faith. You are atoms, and nothing more. That your configuration of atoms believes in something it calls God means nothing. Your kind, you crusaders, have set back humanity a thousand years or more.”

      She suddenly reached up and grabbed his hands, holding them tightly. He felt the warmth in them, and he felt the tremble in his own hands, and knew she could feel it as well. She closed her eyes.

      “Your atoms betray you,” she said softly, and then released him. “Every struggle you undertake is for a purpose you can not define. Put your own faith in science, because it feels safe. Rescue the ship, because you consider it a grand experiment. Live or die, it changes nothing. God is waiting for you as well as me.”

    • Berzee says:

      Hooee, that’s good stuff. I never read it back in the day! I must look up the lore =) whence did you find it? (I could google…)

  34. Bureaucrat says:

    What blew my mind about SMAC is the amount of storytelling they managed to put in a 4X game. Even beyond the richness of the writing in the faction concepts and in the datalinks entries, there are little emergent vignettes that crop up when make pass certain points in the tech tree or do things like build your first mindworm unit (a story which continues if that unit dies in battle with another faction). That kind of totally unexpected narrative content stuff is what elevated the game above simply Civ-in-Space.

    • Kong says:

      yeah, they had something when creating that game, which they miss so regularly today:
      Love
      It is the lovely little things that make life worthwile.

      In game terms love means to be able to collect enemy soldier’s hats…I guess

    • Nalano says:

      Great, now you’re making me think of The Fifth Element.

      Which was a total copout in what was otherwise a fun little action movie.

  35. Gap Gen says:

    One of my only published pieces was a retrospective of this (just before Edge published a better one, damn them). I think the core of SMAC is how merging identical tech trees with simple social models creates such diverse factions, and how the narrative and game mechanics merge so seamlessly. It’s a shame that other games, like Republic: Revolution couldn’t manage the same trick.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Aha, here’s the piece EDGE did: http://www.next-gen.biz/features/time-extend-alpha-centauri
      It’s a great little piece that really digs into what makes SMAC as deep as it is. For my money, it’s deeper than Civ because Civ can never hope to be more than a bad approximation of history, whereas SMAC can define its own fiction; its clinical, spartan presentation (eh, pun, whatever) of horrific events (mindworms wipe out a city, numbers go down) merges well with the idea of Doctrine: Loyalty and the ivory tower feeling of being a supreme leader of a fanatically loyal faction (even in Democratic societies, you’re still a supreme leader with unquestionable power).

    • Dreamhacker says:

      Well… with the exceptions of the Hive (which used horrible social experiments and mind control technologies) and (maybe) the brain-networked cyborg faction in the Alien Crossfire expansion, I never got the feeling there were any fanatically loyal faction-citizens in SMAC. There were nothing but multi-faceted, sometimes unruly (drone riots, anyone?) factions with skunkworks, subfactions, corporations and the extra-factional UN.

      Oh, did I mention SMAC is an unbelievably deep game? :)

  36. Demiath says:

    Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is the only remotely Civ-like game I ever cared about. Instead of generic civs and boring perks, SMAC brings ideology to gaming (which is way sexier than it might sound). Because they are ultimately grounded in convictions which resonate with actual real-world politics, I’ve always felt that SMAC’s leaders have more personality than, say, any of the breathing fantasy/sci-fi tropes which populate Bioware RPGs.

    Also, whether you’re of the opinion that Deirdre Skye is completely naked from the shoulders down or not says more about your essential character than even the Jagged Alliance 2 personality test does… ;)

    • Kandon Arc says:

      I agree. One of my favourite little features was when you’re talking to another leader you can see little pictures of them at various stages of their life. It was those tiny touches that created one of the most atmospheric games I’ve ever played.

  37. icupnimpn2 says:

    Hey Lewie, happy to see you moving into some feature work outside of the Bucket. Must say your writing is a bit more conventional than that of the Hivemind. Have they not shared their special honey with you yet?

    If this keeps up you may want to consider a new email address for your byline. Without the bargain context. “Bucket@rockpapershotgun.com” just reminds me of an unfortunate child’s toy, Mr. Bucket.

    “I’m Mr. Bucket, put your balls in my top.
    I’m Mr. Bucket, out of my mouth they will pop.
    The first to get their balls into Mr. Bucket wins, but lookout!”

    • Lewie Procter says:

      They’ve all been writing words about games for ~15 years more than me (except for Quinns, but he’s not normal). Give me some time.

      Please don’t put your balls in my top.

    • DrGonzo says:

      But it’s such a lovely top to put my balls in Lewie!

      And yes, good article.

      I picked up Alpha Centauri back in the day, and loathed it, but you’ve made me want to go back and play it again and give it another try. So well done, and thanks!

  38. Moth Bones says:

    This sounds amazing. Anyone have any comments on the Planetfall mod, how does it compare?

    • Ghost of Grey Cap says:

      Planetfall is a great mod. It doesn’t quite have the character of SMAC, mainly because it’s missing the individualized short stories that told “the story”, but it requires far less micromanagement and looks simply fabulous.

      My main criticism would be that the diplomacy (had to) follow the Civ IV structure, and lost a lot of options- especially regarding bribing the planetary council. On the other hand, the mod fleshes out the worship of Chiron into it’s own “win the game through being a cult” mechanic, with it’s own council.

      Highly recommend you try it!

  39. Jumwa says:

    Whenever I play a new Civilization game, I can’t help but think back on Alpha Centauri and say “Really? The people who did Alpha Centauri can’t manage better than this?” Not that the civilization games have been bad games, but they do seem to lack a certain feeling of progression and building upon their past achievements. Civilization V, for instance, brought in a lot of great new features, but totally eschewed a lot of old ones (it’s my only complaint about the game, though a BIG one) such as basic options to remove unit animations.

    AC brought in three dimensional graphics for the terrain, but they USED it to simulate the terrain, with its many levels and the ability to alter that. CivV makes a big showy thing of its over the top graphics (totally unnecessary for the game that it is, in my opinion) but it serves no real purpose except to raise the required specs.

    I suppose my point is just that: some great ideas were lost from Alpha Centauri, and the leaps from titles after that seem so marginal by comparison.

    • Nalano says:

      Not the same people; and the staff who do overlap aren’t necessarily directly contributing.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      I seem to remember reading an interview, but don’t quote me on this, that Civilization didn’t want to go the same route that SimCity did; A host of new features with each version invariably turned the game into a very difficult game to appeal to newcomers to the series, due to its very steep learning curve.

      Besides, and on this you can quote me, I always found that Civ games achieved a very good balance and provide excellent gameplay. Seeing a more conservative posture to new features actually pleases me.

    • Jumwa says:

      I can completely sympathize with the desire not to overwhelm newcomers with a plethora of stacking features, however, that doesn’t explain the lack of options such as: the ability to turn off animations so I don’t spend long spaces between turns watching meaningless AI movements.

      As well, I think old gamers and new alike would be better served by adding on the depth of features as optional content. Allow the new gamers to get in with the base new system, but have the option to add on those extra layers for those of us who expect a little more.

      Well, that and the totally broken LAN play in CivV makes me very disappointed.

    • FhnuZoag says:

      The thing you need to remember is that SMAC, despite the name, was mostly Brian Reynold’s baby.

      And now he’s stuck making facebook games. D:

  40. arioch says:

    I’d love to see a remake of this – but even more I’d love to see a remake of Master of Magic…

  41. Basilicus says:

    Hell, GoG or Steam or EA or – hell! – even GFWL could put this up for $20 tomorrow and I would pay it. And then I would install it. And then I would swoon.

  42. Derpentine says:

    I remember the cover of the PCZone issue, the planet looking awesome and flipping through spotted an advert, the planet on a white background, a few review snippets including one saying that PC Gamer had awarded it 98%, the highest rating it had ever handed out, above HL1 and the like. I simply had to purchase it to play the demo and work out “hah it sucks, you were all wrong”. I have never enjoyed (re)playing a timelimited demo so much, I purchased the game on the following Monday right after school. This game really did make a little part of me. I’ve constantly thought of porting it to FIFE… maybe some other RPS devs would be interested :)

  43. danimalkingdom says:

    A wonderful game. I’m certain it’s still just as playable as when it came out. I loved that it was full of hard-science, sober decision-making and some great humour all at the same time. I’d play this again over most Civ games.
    Good article Lewie. Could this not have almost been a Gaming Made Me piece?

    EDIT: Just noticed the title’s Postal Service ref. Props where it’s due.

    • Lewie Procter says:

      I actually flipped between wanting it to be a gaming made me or a retrospective when I was planning it, but I reckon there are a few games that had more of an impact on making me than this, that I need to acknowledge first.

  44. blainestereo says:

    Since we’re on the nostalgia bandwagon, nobody here mentioned the high score thing with faux book titles
    “The Little Terraformer That Could”
    “Chairman Yang’s big book of recycling tanks humour”
    still cracks me up when I remember.
    Anyone got the full list by the way?

    • Kong says:

      now you have done it. Thx.
      Where did I put the game? In a box in the attic of my parents house a long time ago in a country far away.
      Calls his mum asking the old lady to search her attic for a computer game.

    • Jim Reaper says:

      Big Book of Recycling Tanks Humour
      We Must Consent: 100 Surefire Pickup Lines
      For I Have Tasted The Fungus
      The Cat in the Vat: Sleepchamber Stories
      Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Organic Superlubricant (But Were Afraid To Ask)
      I’m OK, You’re A Drone
      Boreholes I Have Known
      The Little Terraformer That Could
      Are You There Planet? It’s Me
      Recon Rovers: Unsafe At Any Speed
      How to Raise a Nerve-Stapled Child
      Women Are From Nessus, Men Are From Chiron
      All I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned in the Cloning Vats
      Mind-Worms in the Mist
      Our BioMachinery, Our Selves
      Actualizing Your Sentient Being: Self-Help Guide for Talents
      The Unbearable Lightness of Hovertanks
      Sentient Econometrics Made Simple
      Lady Deirdre’s Lover
      Zen and the Art of Missile Rover Maintenance
      Transcendence For Dummies
      The 27 Habits of Highly Effective Talents
      Critique of Pure Reason
      Will to Power: A users guide
      Stairway to Transcendence: The last book you’ll ever read

      The books are all in your SMAC folder (files “artbox0-24″)!

    • blainestereo says:

      The Unbearable Lightness of Hovertanks

      YES

      thank you, kind sir, you’ve accomplised my diurnal routine!

    • Dreamhacker says:

      But… Critique of Pure Reason is a real book by Immanuel Kant! :)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critique_of_Pure_Reason

  45. ananachaphobiac says:

    It’s interesting how much the line “Or Is it?” has endured in the gaming press.

    That AP’s influence is still felt 15 years after the cyclists got involved is a rather nice thing.

  46. Om says:

    Even today SMAC stands up to scrutiny. Indeed one of the amazing things about it (and the game industry) is the degree to which many of its features are still unsurpassed. For example, I can’t think of another 4X game that comes close to its diplomatic options: SMAC had vassal states almost a decade before they arrived in Civ4 and GalCiv 2′s ‘United Planets’ was a pale shadow of the Planetary Council

    • karry says:

      “For example, I can’t think of another 4X game that comes close to its diplomatic options”

      It has its share of fuckups, like the inability to trade maps unless having a pact. And that vassal thing also isnt on the list, its just assumed.

  47. ChromeBallz says:

    Personally i think it’s rather curious that the Civilization spin-offs (Colonization, Alpha Centauri) tend to turn out so much better than the games they’re based on, yet none of the ideas presented in those spin-offs ever make it into Civ itself.

  48. Sheng-ji says:

    The Human Hive will crush you all.

  49. Kong says:

    Thx for this nostalgia input on Easter holiday. I just ordered via amazon.de, they had one UK import copy of AC complete.
    My old version is somewhere and would not run on Win7 I suppose.
    Just why? I hated the graphics 15 years ago, I will hate the colors and the units today. But I just beat GalCiv II, which I bought after I read about it here on RPS so I need another fix. My TwinFrozr card will be mighty bored again. Mount&Blade, GalCiv, ancient graphic galore what can I do?
    Maybe Shogun 2 patch will come soon for some eyecandy, maybe Stalker complete revisited will give my gfx card some exercise.

  50. Blackseraph says:

    Alpha Centauri is awesome game, I so very much would like a proper expansion for this, this is a proper masterpiece if there ever was one. Still much better imo than newer civilizations by far.

    We must dissent.

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