Alpha Centaurish: Pandora: First Contact Out Now

By Graham Smith on November 15th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

This looks pretty hexy.

I first heard about Pandora: First Contact when an RPS commenter linked to it as being ‘maybe a bit like Alpha Centauri’. Except that’s not true, because I’ve since remembered that I first heard about the planet-settling turn-based 4X game when frequent RPS contributor and friend-o-person Dan Griliopoulos updated his LinkedIn profile to mention he wrote for the game. Now the game is out.

To prove that this relationship doesn’t impact on my ability to be a hard-hitting journalist, I put tough questions to Dan about the game, and I’ve included his responses along with the launch trailer below.

Because I’ve been writing for RPS for about a month now and clearly I’m already running low on ideas. Here’s the latest trailer:

Graham: Dan! I’m going to write a story on RPS about Pandora First Contact being out and (if it’s alright with you, and no worries if not) quote from this chatlog to show that I’m up front about knowing you and to prove that I’m still a hard-hitting journalist I’m going to swear. So tell me something about Pandora, you prick?

Dan “Corrupter of the Week” Griliopoulos: AGH. On the spot!

Okay, it’s a bit like a shiny version of Alpha Centauri, with multiplayer, but some nasty little twists. Basically, you’re one of six factions landing on this virgin planet. Sadly, most of the factions are horrible, horrible people. I mean, I wrote the religious faction as Scientology-meets-Facebook. Not that scientologists are horrible people, ahahah. Don’t hurt me Mr Cruise.

Anyway, there are two very neat things. First, the world starts out peaceful. There are gigantic roaming aliens, sure, but they’re happy to just munch the pseudograss until you start screwing the world up with pollution. Second, there’s a randomised tech tree, meaning no two games are going to be the same. And that should make multiplayer interesting…

But overall, it’s ridiculously rich world. We’ve sketched out a semi-plausible Fate of the World style future for Earth over the next century, allowing us to send all these nasty extremists over to this virgin planet. And the artist has done a stellar job, the music is just right, and of course the writing makes Borges read like Viz.

Graham: Alright, stop marketing your game now. This will end up making me look even more corrupt. You prick. Is your job title, “Writer”? “Better Than Borges”?

Dan “Writer” Griliopoulos: My job title is Corrupter of the Week. But Writer will do.

Graham: Thanks Dan!

Adam was excited by Pandora when he played an early version in March. It’s now available from the Slitherine website.

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94 Comments »

  1. GernauMorat says:

    Hope this turns out as good as it looks. Will there be a WIT?

  2. Leb says:

    Graham, write a WIT on this, you prick!

  3. biggergun says:

    Finally! After all those years! Even if it is only a bit like Alpha Centauri, I don’t need my real life any more. Oh joy.
    Also, for some unexplainable reason I’ve always thought Dan Griliopoulos is an imaginary character not unlike Horace, and now I’m a little ashamed since he has a Linked In page and writes for games and everything. Sorry.

    • GernauMorat says:

      Horace surpasseth all understanding, heretic!

      • biggergun says:

        He certainly doesn’t have a Linked In page, that much I’m sure of. All hail Horace.

        • The Random One says:

          Universal Entity, Universe: ∞ – 1873
          Endless Server Technician, Rock Paper Shotgun: 1873 – present

          • biggergun says:

            Professional interests: being generally endless.

          • BooleanBob says:

            He should have had a friend look over it for him. The profile just goes on, and on..

    • Dan Griliopoulos says:

      Dan here! I am now not convinced of my own existence. Goddamned pyrhonnic skepticism.

      • biggergun says:

        Don’t mind me, I’m pretty sure I’m not real myself.

  4. dubyabyeats says:

    I see a first impression over on spacesector. Sounds pretty positive.

    http://www.spacesector.com/blog/2013/11/pandora-first-contact-first-impressions/

  5. Cytrom says:

    Uhh, that’s it? Wasn’t too informative…

    Anyways, this looks like a decent game, seems to be basically civ 5 on an alien planet… at least thats the impression the video gave. Which would be great.

    It should be on steam though, or the humble store, or wherever people would actually ackowlegde its existence and consequently be able to buy it.

    • Gormongous says:

      Not from Matrix and Slitherine, sadly. It’s kept me from a lot of their games.

      • dE says:

        And with some very odd notions too, like: Panzer Corps Wehrmacht didn’t clear Greenlight in a reasonably short time, therefore there is just NO market for ANY of our games on Steam. Q.E.D.

        Not wanting to get on Steam is totally fine and cool, but explanations like these are a tad silly. And then there’s the extra weird of their Forums, where people will argue with a straight face that Matrixgames would sell far less copies of their games, if they were to go on steam (while still selling DRM Free on their own as well).

        • tormos says:

          Can you supply a link, good sir? I don’t doubt you, I just want to go and be incredulous.
          EDIT
          In case it wasn’t clear, I’d like a link to someone arguing that going on Steam would decrease sales.

          • dE says:

            I didn’t bookmark it and couldn’t find it again in the 20 minutes I searched. It was in one of those long winded super toxic Steam Discussions on the Matrix Forums I think. For all purposes though, consider it unsaid until I can find it again, sorry.

          • Longtime Listener says:

            This forum thread where Matrix/Slitherine’s lead guy says they are removing their games from all store fronts to avoid devaluing their games seems relevant

            http://www.matrixgames.com/forums/tm.asp?m=3303077&mpage=1&key=

      • Flavorfish says:

        They’re trying to get this one on Steam.

        • Gormongous says:

          Really? That’s great news if so. I couldn’t find it on Greenlight and, knowing past policy, assumed the worst.

        • Stromko says:

          I’d just like to see a promise that anyone who buys it now will have the option of playing the Steam version when and if it exists.

          Having the Steamworks stuff so I can talk to my friends while I’m in the game without alt-tabbing out is very desirable to me; but definitely NOT worth dealing with having to make and remember yet another developer-specific social account. Also having access to the latest patches without having to hunt them down is very helpful, since I have Steam open to play most of my other games anyway it’s always nice when a game gets a nice big patch out of the blue and is worth playing again (at least once I stopped keeping games I didn’t care about at all installed, so they aren’t wasting my bandwidth with their meaingless-to-me updates all the time).

          edit: Hm. Decided to go test if simply starting an exe via Steam would have the overlay, which is all I truly need from the service and would mean I can probably rationalize buying Pandora now. I’ve rarely done this, only did so for Far Cry 2. But when I tried to run Far Cry 2 via Steam, Avast complained about it and then killed the exe. It’s completely gone. Amazing.

          • SephiRok says:

            You can pretty much find that promise from Slitherine here: http://www.slitherine.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=173&t=46309

            Regarding your other concerns: you can add an external game to your Steam library and the Steam overlay has been reported to work fine with Pandora (also in that thread). You also won’t have to hunt patches down since Pandora has an update system integrated. Hopefully that clears things up.

        • prian says:

          No, they wrote that they are “considering” it – that’s a big difference then actually trying to get the game on Steam.

          They (matrix/slitherine) went through the same thing with the super-expensive ($100 USD) game Distant Worlds. They (matrix/slitherine) still argue that there is no market in Steam for their products and that they’d lose too much money by selling on steam (check out the Distant Worlds forums for posts from Matrix in regards to this.)

          I would totally get this game, Pandora First Contact, if it was being published by any other company. Matrix / Slitherine have said so many things about Steam users (along with their community) that I’m done with that company.

          They want to market their game to a “niche” market that buys their war games and that’s what they want to do. They aren’t interested in anything else and that’s cool – but it’s not a company I’m going to support regardless of how good the games might be.

          I was interested in Pandora… ages ago. I tried to follow it but there was so little information about the game (posts on the official forums went unanswered for weeks and sometimes were never addressed) that, meh, I’m done with it.

          • Goncyn says:

            Regarding Distant Worlds in particular (because that’s a game I own), they have an echo chamber in their own forums, too — they are full of people who are righteously outraged at Steam’s very existence, and the mere suggestion that their beloved grognard game would appear on such a DRM-laden storefront brings them all out to cry foul in any thread on the topic.

          • MellowKrogoth says:

            Hey maybe their reasoning makes economic sense, if their audience is *that* small. They sure aren’t gonna expand the audience this way though, more like slowly strangle it. And what I’m sure about is that their pricing and the absence of demos makes their games the only ones I’ll either torrent or ignore, while if they were available for 5 bucks I’d probably own half of their catalogue.

      • iridescence says:

        Their pricing scheme has thusfar kept me from Distant Worlds even though it seems by far the best space 4X on the market. As a non-rich person I just can’t justify $70+ on any game that’s not an MMO, especially in a market where quality games are often offered under $10 after a few months.

        That being said, I gave Pandora a try, the price is reasonable by their standards and the game looks like a decent knock off of SMAC which is one of my favorite games of all time

  6. Phendron says:

    I won’t buy it unless you can play the Mother Earth faction and merge consciousness with the sentient plant mass.

  7. Flavorfish says:

    I was part of the Beta and it was GREAT! As a Civ vet I found that it’s a more interesting, engaging and fresh game then the latest offering of Civ, and the AI for war is really incredible.

    I’ve never played another strategy game with AI that’s so unbelievably competent, it would execute huge naval invasions, it would distract the bulk of my army and then sneak in through the flanks, and it would always bring the perfect troops to counter mine.

    The only thing I didn’t enjoy as much was the writing, which isn’t really anything like the bueatiful philisophical sci fi of Alpha Centurai.

    • HadToLogin says:

      There is AI? You can play it as single-player-pleasure? Text rang some “multiplayer-only” rings for me for some reason, so would love to hear “yes, you can get kicked by your PC alone, no need to bring friends to your demise”.

      • Flavorfish says:

        Yeah I’d wager the battle AI is one of the most impressive parts of the game. As someone who can dominate the Civ AI on Emperor, I struggle just to survive from the AI’s superior tactics and overwhelming force on Medium in this.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Yes, I imagine it’s very hard to write something as impactful as SMAC without just copying it.

    • dysomniak says:

      I was also in the beta and I mostly like the game itself, though the randomized tech trees create some nonsensical progressions I found immersion breaking.

      The writing… Ugh. The factions aren’t just bad people, they’re jokey, superficial parodies. I get the impression that this is supposed to be satire, but to be blunt satire requires you to understand the subject matter which I see no hint of here.

      • Dan Griliopoulos says:

        Dan here – it wasn’t meant to be satire (as I haven’t played AC much). Faction names, portraits, mechanics, and some of the in-game texts were all done when I arrived – I filled in backstory, dialogue and faction profiles as fast as I damn could.

        Just to clarify: as Rok says below, the characters and backstory were entirely my responsibility, save for their theme. I actually wrote the scientific faction as completely slapstick first-time around until Proxy pushed back. Anything you don’t like about the characters is my lookout.

        I still need to do another pass (for the next patch) so any writing feedback would be hugely useful.

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          I have to say, I am worried by the ‘these are awful people’ approach. I mean with SMAC, pretty much everyone was to some extent sympathetic, which made it easy to identify with the factions etc. Like, Miriam is hated by everyone, but she did write We Must Dissent. I do think that each faction should have at least one redeeming quality.

          • Dan Griliopoulos says:

            It’s a fair point – hopefully, with this pass, I’ll be able to draw more of their backstory and the world’s history in (written after the factions, for timing reasons.)

        • dysomniak says:

          Heh, I’m certainly not going to claim I could do any better under those (or any) circumstances. Anyways it’s cool that you’re open to criticism and I’ll probably end up buying the game eventually. Hopefully I jibe better with your second pass.

        • TCM says:

          Jeezum frig man, I hope you’ve at least seen a paycheck for this — that’s a crazy thing to ask of any writer.

          If it were me, I probably would have pushed to throw out everything they already had and rewrite it from scratch, if you could have convinced them to delay their schedule a bit — like Asterism said below, as far as quotes and leader personalities go, from what I’ve see, they completely missed the mark. Where they haven’t shamelessly cribbed from Alpha Centauri, they’ve made things more bland and ‘safe’. And, from your posts, it’s pretty clear you were flung off the deep end without a paddle here, not knowing what expectations would be from the SMAC fanbase.

          Alpha Centauri is 90% atmosphere. To get a good idea of that atmosphere…I can only recommend playing it, really. GOG has it for cheap.

          • SephiRok says:

            Let’s be clear. Dan had full freedom in writing the characters as he wanted. In fact our feedback to him 90% of the time was to portrait them more seriously and give more gravity to their lines. Before he came on board, barely one faction had a couple of dialogue lines, with no background or story to them apart from mechanical themes (ecologic, fanatic, and so on) — yet RPS’s own Adam still thought our writing was solid overall.

          • Dan Griliopoulos says:

            The team at Proxy has been hugely supportive and flexible – and they did give me lots of extra time. So it’s not fair to put it all on them and sorry if I gave that impression.

            But it’s true that I don’t know SM:AC and didnt think that would be such a big issue. It does sound like that, if you think I’ve been cribbing from it and I haven’t, it might not have been as non-obvious as it seemed.

            And, yes those characters are entirely my call.

  8. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Totally read Graham’s part of the conversation in Alan Partridge’s voice

  9. nimbulan says:

    As far as I can tell they aren’t really doing any marketing and nobody I know has heard of this company or their game. It isn’t even on Steam Greenlight. Do they not want it to sell well?

    • The First Door says:

      Yeah… and the trailer doesn’t really show much at all! Still, it’s intriguing…

      • LionsPhil says:

        And what it does show isn’t SMAC.

        One of SMAC’s biggest distinctive features from other Civ-likes was its heightmap, weather-influencing terrain. This looks like just hexes with particular terrain types in it, same as Civ has always been.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    Looks promising, but it does fall into the trap of ridiculously generic-sounding sci-fi faction names.

  11. ExitDose says:

    This looks awesome. Shame about where it’s being sold. I would never buy from there again.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lessing says:

      Why is this? I’ve never bought from them but the videos of this look great. Very tempted.

      • ExitDose says:

        I don’t have a horror story or anything. I just wasn’t thrilled with paying forty dollars for a game only to be sent a download link that expired 30 days later. The place just seems really fly-by-night.

        • PipFromSlitherine says:

          To this point, I’m not sure when you made your purchase, if it was many years ago with Digital River they did indeed charge for downloading it again. But any new games (and frankly most older ones if you registered it back in the day so we can find your order) are downloadable as many times as you like via the helpdesk.

          Cheers

          Pip

        • Iain at Slitherine says:

          For a start this is completely incorrect. If you buy from us re-download for ever as often as you want. Either register your game in the members club and you can get a new download link automatically or if its an old purchase you have to contact support for a download link. We have 13 year old games we are still supporting with download links to customers who bought when we first started selling downloads.

          We are successful because we have eh best customer support. Here is one of many thread that explain why we are so good :
          http://www.matrixgames.com/forums/tm.asp?m=2134670

          • yusefsmith says:

            Hi, I just bought your game. It is amazing! Will you ever put it on Steam?

          • prian says:

            Doesn’t the “best customer support” require responding to customers and potential customers on your website?

            If you look at this game’s forums (Pandora) you will see questions posted by prospective customers that went unanswered and unaddressed for weeks. Some of them were -never- answered.

            That is terrible customer support. To claim otherwise is to be disingenuous.

            I think that it is unfortunate that this title is part of that Matrix / Slitherine (why are you two companies even though you really are just one?) catalog of games. In my view this game could have done incredibly well. Now it might do moderately well and once this article is a few days old very few people will even realize the game exists.

          • Iain at Slitherine says:

            I cant reply to Prian below for some reason but will do so here. The thread I linked to above is customers praising us, nothing to do with us. It is one of many but we sticked this one to use at times like this to try and explain we are not evil despite the best efforts of some people to paint us as such :) The only unanswered posts I see in the forum are from team members posting info to the forum. If you have ever dealt with Steam support and our support I’ll leave you to decide which is better :) I have and know what I think!

          • Hobbes says:

            Just because your support might be better on metrics, doesn’t make your tone sound any less patronising. Steam is a big disorganised mess, to be sure, but it’s a big disorganised mess that acts as a very effective storefront and value added service to the -vast majority- of the PC market at this point. If you don’t want to put your games on Steam, I like many others, respect that choice, though in my case – No steam. No sale :)

          • MellowKrogoth says:

            You really do sound like a patronizing prick. Anyways, unlike the gentleman above I don’t insist on having everything on Steam, I own stuff on GOG.com, GamersGate and so on. But unless you reduce your prices I’ll never buy from you. If Distant Worlds Complete was around 20$ for the whole thing for instance, I’d buy it. The “oh but this game is massive” argument doesn’t cut it for me, I rarely spend more than 20-30 hours on a game before I move on to something else. If the only customers you accept are those who dedicate their lives for months to a single game, so be it. You’ll do without me and the many other similar-minded gamers.

            The end result of your policy as far as I’m concerned is that I’ll either torrent your game, or if it’s not available because it’s too obscure, I’ll just ignore it. At 20$ I’d still torrent it and play a few hours to have an idea if it’s worth the money before purchasing… since you don’t offer demos. At 5$ I’d probably impulse buy most of your games in case I want to play them later down the line.

    • Stuka_JU87 says:

      That’s the opposite experience I’ve had with them. I requested new keys and download links for Panzer Corps and its DLC’s twice now. And got links and keys in a personal email hours later with no expiration date.

  12. James Allen says:

    If you are so inclined, here is my video review of the game.

    • trjp says:

      That’s actually quite nice – thanks for that – more useful than the piece here really ;)

  13. lomaxgnome says:

    Still waiting for a game in this genre that has Alpha Centauri’s terrain manipulation.

  14. Premium User Badge

    daphne says:

    Those among this game’s audience that know what it takes to be a spiritual successor to SMAC will disagree with the game calling itself as such.

    SMAC was the closest thing to Dune that vidoegames got. I doubt this has such caliber of writing and thought behind it, but then very few games do.

    • Premium User Badge

      DrScuttles says:

      Somehow I’ve never made the Alpha Centauri / Dune connection before. As a moderate Dune nutter (in that I have no desire to read any of the Brian/Kevin stuff), that makes so much sense and thus I am subsequently ashamed.

      • Triplanetary says:

        Don’t worry, you don’t need to read the Brian/Kevin shit to be a Dune nutter. In fact if a person claimed to be a Dune fan but also liked the Brian/Kevin novels, I’d be forced to wonder if they’re actually literate enough to enjoy Dune.

        • Guzzleguts says:

          I was received the first one of those as a gift and can confirm that it was utterly dreadful. I couldn’t finish it. I don’t understand who it is that actually buys them???

    • Longtime Listener says:

      I have to say I admire the sheer balls it takes to make that claim. Especially with seemingly no one from the original Alpha Centauri attached.

      I mean is that even legal to reference a game you don’t own the IP for like that? Because if that is legal I’m calling my book “The Spiritual Successor to the Bible”.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        The bible isn’t copyrighted by EA, so I guess in principle you could do that.

      • LionsPhil says:

        It’s a pretty bullshit claim, yes. I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t rattled the lawyers yet because it’s both misrepresentative and using that trademark to try to promote this unrelated product within the same market. That’s a pretty huge no-no AIUI.

        • Harkkum says:

          It has fairly little to do with any reasonable notion of law. Of course you are entitled to refer to other games when promoting your own to position your own game in the field. Would they sell their game as Alpha Centauri II, there would obviously be legal hassle as it would imply an unbroken lineage of some sort between the two. This one claims no such.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Ok, now try thowing together a template FPS in Unity and selling it as “the spiritual sequel to Call of Duty”. I will be amazed if you don’t get a nice litle letter from Activision, strong legal case or not.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      SMAC did borrow heavily from the things it quoted, but the original text was written and acted with such gravitas that it’d be difficult to top. It also achieves the rare goal of a game doing sci-fi without any noticeable camp. So many games leave me thinking “ugh, this game gives me no idea why the Xendron Complex and United Earth Consulate of Acronyms are fighting, nor do I care.” I’ll give this a go, though, sounds like a neat project. Could be a neat diversion from everyone piling in on me in my latest attempt at Endless Space.

      EDIT: Well that was nice of the Sophons to give me all their planets.

    • yusefsmith says:

      I know, dolphin.

      But seriously, buy this game. Unless you are really poor, buy this game. you will love it.

  15. Sp4rkR4t says:

    I’ve played it quite a bit and honestly I’m just not that impressed with the balance of it.

  16. GlassDeviant says:

    Oh yay, another game with a randomized tech tree as an excuse/substitute for sufficient content to make the game worth buying. No thanks.

    • Flavorfish says:

      Really? Are you bitter and need to vent or do you really think that the randomized tech tree somehow signifies a lack of content?

  17. Premium User Badge

    JiminyJickers says:

    It doesn’t look like it can live up to SMAC, but I will definitely try a demo if they ever agree to release one.

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      What will you do if they agree to release one, but do not in fact release one? Or if they release one without having agreed to do so?

      The world needs to know.

  18. Lemming says:

    Sorry I’m confused: This is only available through their own site? That’s practically commercial death, isn’t it? I might buy a boxed copy for my brother for xmas though, assuming they wont give me any hassle about shipping to the channel islands.

  19. LVX156 says:

    Wait a minute…is this BOTH single- and multiplayer? Because I couldn’t care less about multiplayer, but a new 4X singleplayer game? Yes please.

    • Alphadrop says:

      Yup it’s singleplayer, a.i looks pretty decent to boot.

  20. DanMan says:

    Units stack. :(

    That’s one of the things Civ5 really improved on. Less but more powerful units.

    • Guzzleguts says:

      A stack limit can be ok, but stacks of doom? NO!

      • iridescence says:

        Why do people hate “stacks of doom” in a game that’s supposed to be about large scale armies? I just don’t get this. Why would you want your combat simulated as one super powerful guy fighting against one other rather than two armies clashing? It was a major step backward in Civ V for me.

        The fact that this game has stacks rather than Civ V’s retarded system is a big selling point I think.

        • Guzzleguts says:

          1 unit/tile allows army composition tactics to be integrated with the map. Big stacks aren’t automatically terrible so long as the game is fully designed around them. In civ4 the ai would spam units so much that you could see stacks with too many units to be displayed on screen. At this stage you have all the tactical complexity of conkers. For the record I like limited stacks such as in master of magic.

        • MellowKrogoth says:

          Duh, is it not obvious? With stacks of doom it’s blob vs blob with barely any of the tactics related to terrain. No flanking, no encirclement, and so on. You really need zoomed-in tactical combat like in Master of Magic, HOMM, Age of Wonders, Total War, etc., if you want big stacks but still keep interesting combat.

  21. Asterism says:

    Trip report!

    I ended up buying it, because from all reports it at least wasn’t a buggy mess and I’m a huge bloody sucker for anything Alpha Centauri related. Feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse right now. Pandora hits a lot of the same beats that SMAC did–the factions are reskinned versions of SMAC’s original factions sans Peacekeepers, there’s fungus, there’s the audio quotes which play when you research a tech, there’s transcendence and formers and a sweet unit designer. The game feels very much like a competent port of SMAC to a Civ 4 engine. It’s smooth and stable. The UI is astonishingly slick for a grognard game. The AI can actually fight. The AI can actually fight.

    (minor rant-why drop PKs? It’s true that they have the feeling of the bland vanilla generalist faction, but in MP they had a very important mechanical niche–easy drone control, big bases, and double vote scaling made them The Growth Faction. Growth was a strong generalist niche–if that makes any sense–since strong specialist economies let you convert pop to whatever you wanted. That’s different from having no niche, though–IMO the easier faction to drop would have been Miriam/believers. The closest thing she has to a niche that Yang or Santiago don’t is probe warfare, that’s not even well represented in Pandora.)

    The problem is that the the game has no God Damned soul. The faction leaders are unmemorable caricatures. The quotes which play when you research a tech (one of the most important ways in which SMAC characterized the leaders and did worldbuilding) have no voice direction worth talking about and in any case lack the inspired writing of the original. The randomized tech tree is interesting from a strategic sense but for obvious reasons makes no sense. Terraforming is slick and functional but lacks the crazy shit you can pull in SMAC. No cutsey/disturbing videos for secret projects (because secret projects have been lobotomized in favor of endless +XX% to Y buildings). I could go on and on.

    As it turns out, I should have remembered SMAC’s brilliance was the worldbuilding and the ambiance. Take those away, and I have difficulty coming up with words for the experience. Melancholic. Regretful? Redolent with disappointment. It’s probably unfair to expect any game to kook good compared to one of PC gaming’s most revered titles in that respect (as a benchmark for whether you’ll agree with me: the games I’ve played with worlds that I found as compelling in the sense that I did SMAC’s have been Star Control 2 and the first Homeworld). That said, I don’t think they even tried.

    They’ve got a really, really slick and competent 4x game here in its own right if you’re in it for the mechanics. Personally I don’t think I’ll ever get over the crushing sense of disappointment when I play it–the underlying issues are probably deeper than a content patch can fix. It seems to be a disconnect between what I thought made SMAC great and and what they think they needed to copy. Right now I want more than anything else to be proven wrong, maybe with an expansion or a sequel now they they have a stable base to work off of. Or maybe just a modder to take things the rest of the way.

    • Mr.Pugna says:

      Nice insight. I ended up buying the game, too. Although I could not put more than an hour into it yet there is one big thing I noticed. There seems to be no social engineering. No green free market police states or whatever crazy combinations you prefered anymore. A pity.

      Edit: Seems the Planetfall mod will remain the more complete SMAC experience for a while.

    • Dan Griliopoulos says:

      Dan here – WRT the “quotes that play” do you mean the voice acted bits? Sadly wasn’t involved in those and had to give my key away to a reviewer, so haven’t had a chance to hear them in context. Or indeed, play any of my writing in context yet, thanks to a crazy-fast turnaround.

      What doesn’t work for you about the faction leaders? I’m going to do a second pass on them soon, so might be able to fix ‘e, if I can get good feedback.

      • Asterism says:

        Standard just-my-opinion disclaimers.

        Yeah, the voiced tech discovery bits. That, together with the voice blurbs whenever you built a facility, was the main way people got to know the old SMAC leaders in their own voices. From the first turn a SMAC player gets hammered by them–who didn’t feel a little frisson the first time they built Recycling Tanks, or the Planetary Datalinks? I fully approve of Rachel Carson quotes in the general context, but every Rachel Carson quote is lost chance to characterize not-Deidre.

        As for the faction leaders themselves, I suppose my major problem with them is that they’re caricatures. To some extent the original seven in SMAC (SMAX, for all that it’s a fantastic expansion, didn’t really live up to the characterization of the original) were also caricatures, but they were imbued with something Pandora’s leaders lack. Gravitas is the correct word here, I think.

        (The art style’s not exactly doing you any favors in the gravitas department, especially with not-Morgan and not-Miriam, but that might not be under a writer’s direct control.)

        SMAC treats the leaders with a respect I can’t really see in Pandora. SMAC’s Miriam, for all that she’s a terrible regressive person, eventually takes on the role of conscientious objector to the brains-in-jars insanity of the lategame tech tree. Bizarro-Miriam I can only describe as what you’d get if you let r/atheism write Believers, which if nothing else is out-of-place in a game ostensibly about the development of human societies in a new setting. Not that religion has ever been an important lens with which to study such matters or anything.

        The difference between Yang and not-Yang is that Yang truly believes to the hilt in all this horrible pseudo-mystical stuff he uses to justify his tyranny, whereas not-Yang is just a hypocritical Kim Jong-Il on a different stage. Morgan is an eloquent advocate for human selfishness and a sort of serial-numbers-removed objectivism. Not-Morgan is written as just another outrageously rich, cynical plutocrat a la Bain Capital 2012 all over again.

        Essentially, I have difficulty seeing Pandora’s faction leaders as anything other than cardboard cutouts. SMAC’s original seven resonate with each other because for all the game was set in the SPACE FUTURE, each represented a uniquely 20th century motif. The rise of modern finance and fundamentalist religion, Big Science, the 1960′s counterculture and environmentalist movement, the military-industrial-complex, totalitarianism (twice!), and–of course, the Fukuyama-style triumph of liberal democracies*. SMAC really spoke to something in ourselves, I think.

        It’s here important to note that wargamers seem to love playing as the wrong side of history. Be Lee at Gettysburg! Make Barbarossa and Case Blue work for Germany! So on and so forth. If you work for Matrix Games, you’re probably more aware of this than I am, but suffice to say every grognard seems to want to be Hitler. But when I can convince my (Berkeley-trained, overwhelmingly liberal) playgroup to play SMAC with me, it’s always Zak, Deidre, and Lal who get taken first. Nobody wants to be Yang.

        * Yet another reason not to have ditched Lal! :<

        • LionsPhil says:

          Yang truly believes to the hilt in all this horrible pseudo-mystical stuff he uses to justify his tyranny

          Yang’s philosophy always seemed to be putting the whole—society—above the individual; to triumph as humanity, not as a human. I thus love the final twist that the “enlightened” end-game victory condition is pretty much what he seemed to want, but made real through magic science rather than oppressive dehumanization: transcendence into one big shared conciousness. He’s a more natural fit to that ending than even “good guys” like Lal, Deidre or Zhakarov.

        • Dan Griliopoulos says:

          First, and you’re going to loathe this, I wasn’t trying to replicate SM:AC as I haven’t really played it – I bounced off the game many years ago after 30 minutes and never went back to it. I was just writing the characters as they’d been presented to me with their faction titles, names and the little bits of already-existing dialogue.

          Despite that, I take on board your criticisms of the leaders. Sadly they don’t have the chance to develop during the course of an average game. Because of that and the speed of writing, they are a bit cardboard-cutout baddie – though I did try to expand on their characters a little in the manual short stories (the last part of the project completed, sadly, so they didn’t get to feed back into the game.)

          But I’m to go away, play AC and do a second pass. I may even pitch to the developers to use my remaining time on the project to create a second, more AC-like, set of dialogues, to be selected at game creation. Or possibly multiple dialogues. We’ll see what they say.

  22. lsc9x says:

    OK, I will COUNTER previous arguments, and agree with them somewhat. First off, I am in a game like this FOR the mechanics. I like thinking problems out, and the UI for this game is SO much better than SO many games in this genre… I hope other developers take notes. The Tips section helps you from step one, but it stays out of the way, and you can leave it up the whole game if you want. The buttons are in the right places, they mouse over tips give you exactly the information you need (albeit there could be a bit more), and you find aliens to kill right off the bat. None of this “wander around doing nothing for 15 turns” like Civ.

    Is the production value up to snuff? No. It’s not Civ 5! This is a small studio, with a GREAT little game. I plan on sinking many hours into this, just like I did last night. I actually feel lucky I found this title because it’s been so long since I’ve a good strategy game to sink my mind into that isn’t so complicated and overbearing with horrible UIs, crappy graphics, unstable crashes etc. I’d take this game over Civ5 any day of the week. In a word: It’s FUN!

    In my opinion, the big studios spend way too much money on fancy animations, voice acting, etc and not nearly enough time on THE GAME. Thank you. =)

  23. Idialot says:

    Finding this not a bad game, but it needs a few tweaks to match the detail of Alpha Centauri the game that inspired it.

    For their second offering Proxy Studios seems to be putting out quality work for a small independent developer. Good for them. Not yet finding this an addicting game, it has however, commanded many hours so far and quite sure improvements are on the way…

    addicting game reviews