Above And Beyond: Rediscovering Alpha Centauri

As we prepare to cast judgement on Civilization: Beyond Earth, Firaxis’ latest voyage into the unknown, we cast out minds back to Alpha Centauri’s treatment of humanity’s future. With a stronger emphasis on narrative, rigid factions and a malleable Planet, Alpha Centauri changed the Civ formula significantly and to great effect. We asked author and Icon deputy editor Will Wiles to examine the impact of future past.

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri was always a sideways move for the seminal Civilization series of turn-based straegy games. But it was an entirely logical one. Every iteration of Civilization has had a successful mission to our nearest stellar neighbour as one of its possible paths to victory, with the intriguing suggestion that there, human history begins anew. You have taken your tribe from a single vulnerable settlement to planetary plenipotence – now your tribe will tell that story again under an alien sun. But is the story always the same?

The family resemblances with classic Civ are plain enough. Seven cultures, each starting with a single settlement, a darkness-shrouded world to explore. A small number of basic units and base facilities, which can be added to by climbing up a tech tree.. The Civ player can start off feeling right at home, making easy equivalences – the free-gift huts or ruins in the Civ games are replaced by supply pods, barbarians are replaced by ravening, sanity-assaulting, brain-eating mind worms … wait, that’s less familiar. Where are the fruited plains of Civ? What’s with the impenetrable, useless local fungus? And was that a green mind worm we just saw slithering through the puce undergrowth?

We’re not at home. Alpha Centauri took the fundamentals of the Civ games – competition between empires, slow development of infrastructure, technological advancement along a tech tree to unlock new buildings, units and abilities – and gave it a few good, hard twists, resulting in a truly distinctive game. It was no spin-off, no reselling of an old experience in a new skin. Instead it was a fully realised success in its own right and even shows that the Civ games, for all their immense strengths, had areas that were under-explored or perhaps even poorly implemented. There were things that could be altered significantly while still succeeding.

Alpha Centauri did this partly by adding new factors – that alien world, its secrets and its unfamiliar, unfriendly locals. But it also thrived – and has endured – by restricting the player’s options. In place of the famously open-ended potential of Civ was a more compact and thoughtful experience.

Take the factions, which are established in the opening moments of the game. Earth has suffered an unspecified but apparently many-Horsemanned apocalyptic breakdown, hinted at in snips of grainy, chaotic video. Our mission to Alpha Centauri is recast not so much as the pinnacle of human achievement but a last desperate throw of the dice. In the Centauri system there orbits a tempting, possibly habitable, planet with the plain name Planet (which seems at first glance to be a bit lazy, until you imagine a United Nations subcommittee pressured to come to a universally culturally acceptable name at the eleventh hour). But with Planet in sight, the commander is slain by an unknown assassin, the mission splinters and the ship breaks apart. Seven factions, each based around a vision for the new world, pilot their own chunk of wreckage to the surface and set about building their particular flavour of paradise.

A pleasure to be found in the original Civ games was the unexpected historical paths nations could take – you could find yourself competing against industrial-powerhouse Iroquois, social-democratic Huns, basket-case communist Americans. And you never knew who your neighbours would be at the start of the game. Alpha Centauri’s factions do not vary. Each is devoted to a different set of values and priorities, embodied by its charismatic leader – the militarist Spartans, the tree-hugging Gaians, the authoritarian and communitarian Hive – and each has a convincing voice and manner. (It’s a good game for female characters, too.) But it’s only ever that seven and they don’t stray far from their founding values. This is obviously more limited in some ways than the free-form nature of Civ factions, but it feels like the beginning of a conversation about the human qualities that will survive and thrive on an alien world, and it’s a conversation that differs every time.

Another example. One of the less satisfactory aspects of the classic Civilization games has been their handling of terrain and climate. Terrain was never much more than a selection of different properties – movement penalties, food potential – painted onto a flat surface, and climate pretty much doesn’t figure at all, a startling fact, given its influence over real human history. Still, it worked well enough for its purpose and often threw up interesting challenges during play, but it could have been so much more.

Alpha Centauri showed how to make it more, taking a very different approach to worldbuilding. Planet had a procedurally generated three-dimensional surface – its vales and mountains were not “terrain types” but naturally occurring features in this contoured isometric environment. Pretty much the only “terrain type” on Planet was a parched brown tundra, littered with rocky patches and one or two points of highly local specialism, such as the verdurous Monsoon Jungle and the radioactive acne of the Uranium Flats.

Variety was added to this barren land by the climate, which allowed some sparse greenery to grow on the windward side of ridges and near freshwater springs. These springs could support rivers, if the terrain allowed an uninterrupted flow of water down to the sea, so a wasteland of dust and stones had intermittent fertile oases capable of supporting clusters of settlements. But much more common was the native flora: Xenofungus, an ugly and ubiquitous pink weed, which in the early game is hard to traverse, useless for cultivation and a source of constant danger from those Cronenbergian swarms of worms.

Finding a niche in this hostile environment, and then steadily shaping and cultivating it into a fertile garden, was one of Alpha Centauri’s central challenges – and central to its characteristic, enduring appeal. Forests could be seeded, and once established spread on their own, drawing more moisture to the surface. Rainfall could be artificially boosted using “condensors”, and “thermal boreholes” tore into the crust, releasing resources and energy. And the undulating terrain could be raised or lowered, and new freshwater springs dug, so dry valleys could be watered and dead-end streams could be coaxed into irrigating vast tracts. These techniques could also be turned to destructive ends, allowing devious environmental warfare unthinkable in classic Civ. A river that starts in your territory and flows into your rival’s land can be diverted or dammed up entirely, wrecking their agriculture and starving their bases without a shot being fired.

The Earth-based Civs are characterised by an intoxicating sense of abundance in the early game, as you explore and uncover fruitful plains and plentiful untapped resources. Instead of this manifest-destiny fantasy, Alpha Centauri’s early game has an atmosphere of hard frontier poverty beautifully in keeping with its storyline. You must work the land – and it will resist. Rather than being a passive theatre for your dreams of conquest, like the worlds of Civ, Planet was an active character, a dynamic, living, breathing entity that had to be studied and understood. One could say “it’s almost an eighth faction”, but in truth it’s more than that – more menacing than the other players in the early game, and more important than them in the later game.

The unvarying initial setup and the player’s evolving interaction with Planet form the basis for Alpha Centauri’s greatest strength, the secret of its overall success – its story. It is a tremendously well-written game. This applies to its incidental writing, such as the snippets of the faction leaders’ works and diaries that appear as you advance through a plausible future-technology research tree, but also to its overall structure. This is what the restrictions of choice and the privations of Alpha Centauri add up to – a remarkable sense of atmosphere, and a journey of exploration and development that differs markedly from the classic experience.

The Civilization games naturally take their structure from human history; denied this well-worn arc, Alpha Centauri is a story about confronting, and then accepting, the Otherness of Planet. It is not Earth, nor will it ever be, and this will not be a replay of Earth’s history. You can play the game clear-cutting, strip-mining and exterminating the indigenous life if you choose, but it is much more satisfying and rewarding to come to a more sophisticated relationship. As for your opponents, they are on the same journey, but if they get in your way, if talks should fail … well, you know what has to be done. This is Civilization, after all.

109 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    wsjudd says:

    I played Alpha Centauri back in the day (and again just before Beyond Earth was released), but I didn’t realise the landscape was generated and could be adapted in such a different manner to Civ. A really nice piece – thank you!

    • LionsPhil says:

      One of the best implications of that was that the superweapons in SMAC are SUPER.

      Unlike Civ’s eggy-fart nukes, planet busters will actually reduce enemy cities to memorial flooded craters.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Because one video shows this better than a thousand words :

    • Gap Gen says:

      They bigged up terraforming land up and down as being a potential competition strategy, turning enemies’ cities into arid dustbowls, although I’ve never used that and the AI at least has the good sense to treat that kind of thing as an act of aggression (I think). You can still do things like build land bridges, and a major mid-to-late-game thing is trying to control sea levels rising from global warming because you have a city that can produce wonders in two turns but pollutes like nothing else.

    • ZephyrSB says:

      I always find it difficult to go back to the mainstream Civs after playing a bit of AC thanks to this. They just feel so….flat.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Sorry, to hijack this tread at the top, but if anyone cares about Alpha Centauri (and Civ in general), you HAVE to listen to this “Three Moves Ahead” podcast with its designers :
      link to flashofsteel.com

      Some of the things they’ve talked about :
      – Alpha Centauri was Firaxis’ first game. They couldn’t call it “Civilization in Space” because Microprose still had the right for Civilization. (And now Firaxis can’t call Civilization : Beyond Earth “Alpha Centauri 2” because Alpha Centaury rights belong to EA…)
      – One reason Alpha Centauri appealed to me was probably because I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars” trilogy a few years before, and that was one of the books that the game took as inspiration.
      – Alpha Centauri not only introduced the Social Engineering system that was later re-used in Civ4;
      it also introduced (?) the idea that factions could hate/like each other for reasons other than respective strenght, like moral/religious ones;
      but most importantly, it introduced the idea of “National Borders” that seems an obvious idea in hindsight, but it would seem that nobody else did before.
      – The designers didn’t like the custom unit design “Unit Workshop” system. They would have preferred a system more like in Beyond Earth, where each faction has different, specific units. (IMHO, both systems can coexist to a point, a bit like the resonance weapons/armors in SMAX that are alien-flavored, but it certainly would have taken even more resources.)

  2. heretic says:

    Great piece! I’ve never played Alpha Centauri (or Civ games) but always been meaning to give it a go, this has definitely strengthened my resolve to try it.

    As I understand it the new beyond earth is much more a Civ reskin than anything?

    • daver4470 says:

      It’s more than a Civ reskin… but it ain’t SMAC, that’s for sure.

    • revan says:

      Well, yes and no. It has similar mechanics to Civ V. Same tactical combat (which I love). Some buildings feel like reskins. Values are basically ideologies from Civ V. Plays similar but with a twist. There is orbital layer, where you can launch all kinds of satellites to help you in combat, science, infrastructure. They can genuinely turn your inferior force into competent adversary. AI behaviour seems much improved. Other factions will react to your moves much more realistically.

      For instance, I share a border with African Union and we compete for the same land. I’ve warned them not to settle cities near me. They’ve warned me not to buy land near them. We both said f*** off to each other. In Civ V, this would mean certain war, but since we share lucrative trade routes we both depend on, it is now sort of cold war. Covert ops are flourishing on both sides of the border, espionage, theft of resources etc. We actually had genuine wargames when the AI sent his army to my border, with me responding by positioning mine and doing several flanking maneuvers, while launching a satellite to boost the army and positioning TacJets in a base within range of his cities . In Civ V, AI would go to war regardless. Here he actually retreated and things calmed down.

      There is also a nice new quest system. Conclusions are mostly underwhelming but it allows you to role play your faction better. Speaking of that, there are three world outlooks you can steer a faction towards (Purity, Supremacy and Harmony) in relation to your new home. It reflects both through bonuses, aesthetics, and the kind of victory you can achieve.

      I wouldn’t say it’s a reskin. More like an upgrade. If you liked Civilization V, you will love Beyond Earth. If not, well…

    • Rindan says:

      I was really looking forward to Civ:BE. I would have been pretty content with Civ5 with a new skin and some tweaks. This isn’t even Civ5.

      Theme:
      -The “victory” screen is horrible. Horrible. You get a paragraph of unenthusiastic text and that is it. Why oh WHY! could they have not made this more interesting? I could have at least made up a better slab of text in an hour. Maybe a little cut scene?
      -The factions barely differentiate. The difference between pillaging the planet on the purity tract and going full on treehugger with harmony is minimal. Your supremacy civilization never gets weird and creepy. I hate to be the guy that keeps bringing up Alpha Centauri, but if you simply glanced at a Gaian content and a Morgani content, you would not confuse the two. One would be covered in fungus and mind worms would be patrolling the borders, while the Morgani would be covered in farms, solar collectors, and bore holes. In this game? They all look exactly the same.
      -The wonder pop ups are bad. Want to see how it is done properly? Observe getting a wonder done properly:

      link to youtube.com
      link to youtube.com
      link to youtube.com

      -The factions are utterly lifeless. Technically, we might all be shooting for different affinities, but I can’t tell who is going for what, and the practical difference is almost zero. Throughout my first game I literally couldn’t tell who was shooting for what.
      -The flavor text for technologies is utterly lifeless. People still quote Alpha Centauri to this day. No one is going to ever quote Civ:BE.
      -There is almost no difference between the affinities. The difference in units and buildings is cosmetic and slight modifiers that do nothing to enhance the theme.
      -There is no reason as harmony to not slaughter the planet. None.
      -The “story” is just relayed poorly. I managed to trash the planet and emancipate earth without ever even getting an inkling as to what was up with the planet other than that barbarians now are apparently aliens that you need to slaughter with no consequences.
      -No real terraforming. Remaking the planet in the image of Earth or adapting to planet should be a theme, but it doesn’t exist. The purity guy isn’t actually causing any real harm to the harmony guy.

      Polish:
      -It doesn’t tell you what you built when you build something. You just get informed that the city was done.
      -If you get a technology through some other means that research, it just tells you the technology name and you have to hunt it down in the help or the tech tree.
      -If someone builds a wonder, you again get told the name, but it doesn’t bother to let you click it and view what the wonder did.
      -There are zero stats and graphs. No ending replay, no graphs, nothing.
      -Alien aggression simply doesn’t work. You can beat the crap out of the aliens and there are no consequences. They don’t get more or less angry at you. I played supremacy and murdered every alien I came across, and they never changed their behavior towards me once.
      -You can’t get any information when you get ambushed by the sparse diplomatic options that there are. Someone wants you to go to war, and you have no way to look at the map and decide if that is a good idea. The fact that they use the name of the leader instead of the faction name just makes it even harder to figure out who they are talking about. Someone wants to trade strategic resource, and you can’t even tell how many of that resource you have!
      -There are some affinity quests, but most of them apparently ignore your affinity. Do you REALLY think that my techno-cyber race with a 15 supremacy rating and (according to an earlier quest) a group mind is going to balk at cloning or holographic theaters?
      -No strategic map, and literally half of the factions are a shade of blue-green.
      -You can’t tell what your strategic resources are being used on.
      -The military menu is useless. You have to click, open a menu, open a menu, click on a unit and then click out of the menu to mess with that unit. If you are searching for a particular automated unit, you are going to have a bad time.

      Mechanics:
      -Some of the wonders appear to be nonsense and just give minor amounts of food/production/etc. I had boring old upgraded buildings that beat some wonders. Wonders in general appear to be broken from a balance perspective.
      -If there is a way to to tell who is at war with who and who has what relations with who, I can’t find it.
      -Diplomacy in general is utterly screwed up. There are almost no real diplomatic options.
      -Stations: not a bad idea in concept, but they apparently forgot to include them in the diplomatic options. If someone is beating up on a station you trade with, you can’t warn them off or threaten them with war. This is a massive step backwards from Civ5’s city states.
      -Buildings and wonders are utterly uninspiring. Almost all of them are just boring +some-resource. Very few of them do anything interesting.
      -There is no point in city specialization. There are very few synergies in this game so, if you need more science, just slap down more science somewhere. That lab is going to give you +2 science basically no matter where you put it.
      -The game ends too early. Right as you get to the point where you fill out the space and start to butt heads with the advance technology, the game simply ends.

      This is just what I thought up of off the top of my head, and there is certainly more. There is some real potential here, but the execution is horrible. I beat the game, and I’m done. Someone give me a shout when this has even a fraction of the theme of Alpha Centauri or the game play of Civ5. As it stands, this like someone took Civ5, stripped off its polish, and stapled on some systems that are theoretically interesting, but are executed horribly. It doesn’t even come within spitting distance of having the theme of Alpha Centauri.

      Someone give me a shout when they fix this mess.

      /nerd rage finished

      • revan says:

        Oh, hell. I’m just around turn 200 on my epic run and this just kills it for me. Didn’t realize it was that bad. Yeah. I’ve noticed that there is scarcity of information. In particular, I miss military, economic, cultural and science advisors. If they are in the game, I can’t find them.

        I did experience station problem. One of them being my key trading partner, Brasilia attacked it, and in order to protect it without outright war, I had to buy up the territory around it and create a buffer zone.

        Although Aliens did change their behaviour in my game, based on how I treated them. Since I’m Purity, it means extermination if they come close.

        After reading your post, it looks to me like the game was just cobbled together quickly to capitalize on the last CiV V expansion.

        Seems like we’ll have to wait for further expansions for the game to be complete.

        • bonuswavepilot says:

          I think the different advisors show their recommendations by little icons next to the building/unit names in the city view when you are choosing what to build…

          On the whole I must agree with Rindan’s points here. It isn’t a *bad* game, but it certainly doesn’t have a lot of character. AC’s writing is a high bar to try to hit, but I didn’t get the impression they really tried much.

          • revan says:

            Yeah. But what I’m really missing are the talking heads which would tell you about relative military strength, what sort of strategic resources others need, etc. It was a convenient way to find out quickly.

      • LionsPhil says:

        That Lal speech remains amazing. Fuck yes roleplaying the Peacekeeper faction properly.

      • Lanfranc says:

        The quest system in C:BE just really bothers me, because it’s such a wasted opportunity. There are never any *hard* choices, and the things you get out of them are so bland. Anything you do will give you straight bonuses. Take an augmented group of people in, or kick them out? Doesn’t matter, you get a bonus either way. Let an invasive species grow, or kill it? Either +1 to this or +1 to that. Build a city full of robots, or not? It’s 10% more of this, or 10% more of that. I guess doing it this way makes perfect sense from a game design standpoint, but it’s useless for trying to build atmosphere or tell a good story.

        • psuedonymous says:

          ” Build a city full of robots, or not?”

          Incidentally, FUCK that quest. At no point does it mention that building that not-a-Colony-Pod will RAZE THE FUCKING SIZE 14 CITY. Even the flavourtext mentions something along the lines of eager corporations buying up the citiy’s vacated real estate, so you expect the existing city to survive.

          And the new city is not in any way special, it’s just a regular colony. The quest ‘reward’ is literally to reset a large city back to a small one.

      • Gahrian says:

        I agree with your statement 100%!

      • hjarg says:

        Totally agree with that as well. Just one thing- if you complete the game (or retire), you can see your high score and some graphs on the Extras menu from the main screen. Why on earth was it not included in that horrible-horrible ending, i’m not sure.

      • Laurentius says:

        I agree as well. Plus BE is absolutely terrible at selling its own point: different planet. I mean people know what: iron, rice, oil are, even in n-th game whre is all about min-maxing there is certain plesaure in building Pyramids, Manhattan project or Sistine chapel, that goes unnoticed. It’s something that creators of SMAC knew, that people won’t be familiar with game concepts so whole game is just oozing with atmosphere, falvour and lore. BE fails at this completlely: there is no BANG! about discovering aliens (even, siege worms), new minerals etc. Everything is made with minimalistic, taken for granted approach. I’m not to keen of this “affinity” system but it could have been much better with evey level of going down affinity path was made flavour meaningful: like a screen explaining how your society is changing, new era starting etc. even if game mechanics is just + x% here and there. With smaller developer it would be reasonable but with Firaxis is just shot in the foot.

  3. Paraquat says:

    I loved Alpha Centauri back in the day, but my memory is a bit hazy. Does it hold up without the nostalgia (graphics notwithstanding)?

    • mister_pete says:

      I nearly failed out of school because of SMAC. I recently replayed it. In my mind, it does not hold up. The characterization is interesting, but the game’s design is imbalanced, broken, or full of false choice (the unit workshop, for example). The AI is fundamentally unable to grasp certain facets of how the game is played (it won’t settle the ocean, or sensibly work it, for example). The interface is largely a product of its time, and I found myself keeping the manual pdf open in another window for reference. It is a product of its time, I think. And I think a lot of the attitude towards it today is a product of where we were and our expectations of games at the time.

      • LionsPhil says:

        The AI totally settles the ocean if it finds adaquately resource-rich tiles.

        Please don’t break out the stupid “it’s just rose-tinted glasses” argument. I bet a bunch of people in this discussion have played it within the last year.

        • MacTheGeek says:

          Additionally, the Alien Crossfire expansion includes a faction called the Pirates, who start out with the ability to build boats and sea bases. The Pirates pretty much have the seas to themselves until other factions research Doctrine: Flexibility, which can give them a huge advantage in the early expansion phase.

      • Gap Gen says:

        The designers consider the unit workshop to be a mistake in retrospect. I played it at least within the last year, and yeah, it still holds up.

        • wyrm4701 says:

          It’s one of my favourite bits of the game, to the point that I wish something similar was in each succeeding iteration of Civ proper. Any idea why they felt this way? Was it poorly realized or wildly unbalanced somehow?

        • BlueTemplar says:

          Because the units the player designs don’t look distinctive enough?
          link to designer-notes.com
          link to designer-notes.com
          With all respect to Soren Johnson, I don’t buy this.
          Most 4X games feature unit design, and most of those 4X games don’t even have any significant visual differences between similar units. So I’d say that the SMAC team did the best job they could on that – you quickly learn what the various weapons and armors look like. (They also looked pretty awesome for the time.)
          And the gameplay possibilities opened by unit design are too good to pass on.

          • Chris Cunningham says:

            That the units all looked identical was one of the lesser negatives. The answers in the comments in part 1 are far more important; that the system was completely overwrought, that 95% of the possibilities were junk, that the damned thing popped up every five minutes if you worked through the tech tree at a decent rate.

            It’s telling that he favourably compared it to Spore, another game infamous for giving you thousands of choices which ultimately made little actual difference to the way the game played.

          • BlueTemplar says:

            First, the units don’t look identical (and as I already mentioned, they look less identical than in most other 4X games with unit design).
            Second, the designer himself says that the issue with the Unit Workshop “doesn’t actually have anything to do with the game mechanics themselves”. (EDIT : The designers take a different, more critical, look at it in the Three Moves Ahead podcast I linked above.)
            Third, far from being overwrought, the system is a lot more streamlined compared to most other 4X games with unit design systems.
            Fourth, “that 95% of the possibilities were junk” is a ridiculous criticism. Of course that most of the possibilities are going to be junk when there are tens of thousands of them! It’s a bit like saying “most of the possible city locations are junk, why would you allow the player to choose where to found a new city?”. (EDIT : Or, “most of the possible research paths are junk, why would you allow the player the freedom of researching the techs in the order he wants like in Civ:BE or Endless Legend?”)
            Fifth, again, if you don’t want the game to design the units for you, or bother you with telling about new units it designed, just disable that in the options. The only warnings you’ll get are those about new reactors, and there are only 3 upgrades for that in the game. (again, if you don’t know that, then you probably haven’t played Alpha Centauri that much)
            Sixth, comparing it to Spore was a compliment : it was made before Spore was released (and there are no purely cosmetic choices in the Unit Workshop, it’s a lot more complex than Spore and anything you put in will most of the time have a significant difference on unit role, strength and cost). Not to mention that the biggest issue with Spore was probably that it tried to be 5 games in one.

      • revan says:

        I’m currently in the midst of playing the game and the AI is settling oceans better than I am. I have a border with Hive and since he is militarily inferior and unable to expand past me, he took to the seas and created quite few good bases there before I settled my first. In my defense, was busy killing Miriam to devote much time to the seas.

      • Horg says:

        As a product of its time, it was a game that made you think about what you were doing every step of the way. Not something to be rushed through, not something you can master in a few games, defiantly not something to approach without reading the manual first. Personally, I love games like that, still play them to this day and miss those times. Our expectations of game design have really taken a nose dive if we start thinking SMACs ambition and achievements were a mistake.

      • MacTheGeek says:

        I never found the unit workshop to be a “false choice”. The AI can be easily overwhelmed by any modifications you make, but that’s not a failing of the workshop.

      • mouton says:

        While it is certainly flawed – and it was flawed even on release, with its imbalances – it has many elements that just haven’t been repeated or well replicated in other civ games.

        Factions, atmosphere, the hostility and aliennes of Planet. Beautiful and meaningful wonder cutscenes. Social engineering matrix. Terrain modification. Planet-mothafucking-busters. Environment being actually dangerous, not just reskinned barbarians, waiting to be smashed.

        Firaxis comes up with new concepts and some of them are really good, but they keep losing so much.

      • haircute says:

        Try the new patches sir!
        link to alphacentauri2.info

    • Rich says:

      I’d say so. Even the graphics have aged well.
      The interface can feel a bit clunky, but then it did when it was new.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Yes, its main flaw is that it’s hard to get into. I didn’t find the social engineering window until my second playthrough.

        • revan says:

          I played the game for years before finding it. But when I did, oh boy, it was like a new game.

        • BlueTemplar says:

          How did that happen? I’m pretty sure Social Engineering is covered by the in-game tutorial?

          • revan says:

            Nope. I just missed it for some reason. Never bothered to open that particular tab. That’s actually what’s so great about SMAC, you can just automate what you don’t want to bother with, even on higher difficulties. You’ll be inefficient, but it is still possible to win the game.

          • BlueTemplar says:

            But when you research a technology that has a social policy, it actually asks you whether you want to implement that policy, and if you click yes, it takes you to the social engineering screen!?

          • revan says:

            I know. I would just say no. Don’t rock the boat kind of thinking I guess. :)

            I ask myself to this day how could I have missed something so fundamental in a game for so long. I even read about the options you can choose in the Datalinks. Bit ashamed, to be honest. It was a big fail on my part.

    • Cinek says:

      I tried to replay Alpha Centauri half a year ago.

      Graphics were… ok,
      Sound was…. ok,
      but the interface… oh my god…. it’s nearly unplayable unless you have enormous amount of patience. This game really shows how a long way we made in terms of GUI design. It’s like a collection of obstacles on top of obstacles, between barbed wire and heavy artillery shelling trying to prevent you from doing what you want to do.
      You basically need to play this game with manual. Manual that’s open all the time and preferably – has a search function build in.
      Seriously – I don’t recall when last time I played such a badly designed game from a GUI point of view.
      I gave up after getting my second city standing.

      This game really doesn’t hold up to the great memories of past. What was acceptable back in a day – today is borderline unplayable. If you want to keep Alpha Centauri in your memory as one of these great games that write a history – just like it really was when it got released – I highly advise you to stay as far from the installer as you possibly can. Don’t hurt yourself with this game. Let the good memories remain.

      • pelham.tovey says:

        I feel like this is a really defeatist attitude to such a wonderfully clever game.

        There is a huge amount of information that has to be imparted with any strategy game and, in defense of what you call “borderline unplayable”, Alpha Centauri presents it in a fairly compact form – Left click to select a unit, right click to bring up a command menu, a key to bring up a context-sensitive manual page. Contrasted with Beyond Earth’s mess of sprawling icons and hidden tabs it’s positively straightforward.

        You will have to read a manual, yes. You will also be able to govern radically asymmetric factions, alter whole landmasses and weather systems, invent new units and tactics, and commune with sapient plants.

        • Ryuuga says:

          While I did read the in-game reference manual a lot, just having played Civ games before was really all I needed to get started. There’s plenty more to learn, of course, but I found it accreted naturally just by playing.

      • Ryuuga says:

        While the UI is clunky, I never have trouble getting lost in the game anyway. Replayed it recently and I just love it to bits. I never had trouble finding everything either, from social engineering to the rest. In other words, I think the mileage may vary a lot on this one.

        That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t appreciate a better interface, or the smoothing out of other flaws. It’s still an awesome game, tho. The writing is superb, if nothing else. The only drawback for me is that I’ve played it so much I feel like I fall down a memory hole when I start it up. Even writing about it, I hear the sound effects, the music, the voiceover.. even the one that runs when you start to quit the game: “Please don’t go. The drones need you. They look up to you.”

        I fear if I reinstall it, I’ll be stuck days again..

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Sorry, if you want to repeatedly call something “unplayable”, and “badly designed game from a GUI point of view” at least give some examples.
        Myself, I find the SMAX GUI pretty decent… better than the giant, dumbed down buttons in Civ5. The Datalinks are not really searchable in-game (the “all categories” tab can kind of do this), but are very useful – compared to Civ5 in-game Encyclopedia that is almost completely useless.

        • revan says:

          I keep searching for “Please wait while I consult Datalinks” button in newer Civ games. Such a small detail and sorely missed in other games. SMAC really allowed you to make informed decisions with even the smallest bits of information at your fingertips. You only had to be willing to sift through it all.

        • LionsPhil says:

          I think BE actually does Civ5 for having Civilopedia topics linked from the advisor which are of the form
          Advisor link: “Does this thing promote [back of the box feature X]?”
          Civilopedia article: “Why, it sure does!”

          If you are feeling the need to put ads for your game in your game to tell the player that the game they are playing is good, you may be doing something wrong.

      • honuk says:

        UI is without a doubt the one thing video game designers are patently better at today than they used to be. BUt yeah, the downside of that is it is so hard to go back and play a great many classic PC games.

        • P.Funk says:

          I think thats debatable. I keep running into horrible menu designs and UIs. When they’re better they are pretty good but honestly I think whats changed is overrated. Sometimes its just cultural shifts.

          For instance Google Chrome is the bees knees apparently, however I think its interface is gawdawful, unintuitive, and frustrating. It is however driving the web browser interface wars.

          SMAC still has a bit of a frustrating UI but sometimes I think people just get used to things being presented a certain way. For instance everyone complains these days about the Grim Fandango LACK of a UI. I think we’re used to UIs that feed us things and so we can’t appreciate the deliberate design conceit which honestly never got in my way back then. However back then when it was a new game I was in my early teens so I was an alien who could learn and adapt to anything.

  4. BlitzThose says:

    thanks for this article now I have to go kill Sister Miriam for the 10,000th time, there is nothing quite like killing religious zealots.

  5. suibhne says:

    Worth noting that the GOG.com version now bundles the Alien Crossfire expansion for the same price ($5.99, but also on sale at least a few times/year).

    • heretic says:

      Great! I’ll pick it up when on sale, still negotiating my first playthrough of jagged alliance 2 in the mean time

    • airmikee says:

      I read your comment, got excited and went to Gog to find Alien Crossfire, but no luck, it was only in the bundle. But apparently Gog gave me the expansion for free since I had already purchased SMAC, so thank you for letting me know it’s available, and then discovering I already have it. ;)

      • Lagran says:

        I had similar thoughts when the Deeper Dungeons expansion was released for Dungeon Keeper. Mostly a “cool, that’s nice”, then saw the news that it was free for current owners of the game and updated the game page/contents.

  6. Gap Gen says:

    Planet worked pretty well, I thought – the planet actually had another name, Chiron, but Planet seems more familiar. I mean, we don’t have an Earth Bank, Earth Series or Earth Book Day.

    Again, SMAC is a great example of narrative being a core part of the design, written by people who want to capture human culture and thinking. It used some very simple elements used highly effectively to evoke a sense of place and character. BE is a fine strategy game in its own right, but its setting and storytelling are a mess.

    • Graves says:

      I logged on just to mention the Chiron thing. My understanding, based on reading the book series right now, is that we called the planet Chiron, but once they began realizing that Chiron was more than a simple ball of rock, they began calling it Planet.

      Also, I agree about BE.

  7. Mezmorki says:

    I so desperately want an iPad port of SMAC/X – it would be awesome. As is, I’ll have to settle for playing over a remote desktop app (which actually works okay!). One of my favorite games of all time.

  8. Bart Stewart says:

    These points — and one other — are why I’ve replayed Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri since its release, but haven’t much interest in Beyond Earth.

    That one other thing is how Bryan Reynolds and Firaxis implemented the mechanics of the various social and economic policies that each faction could eventually adopt. These policies combined with the natural abilities of each faction in ways that were fun to explore. (Enough so that a version of this made its way to Civs IV and V.)

    One of the reasons why I appreciated this in SMAC was that these policies, despite being adapted from real-world political systems, generally avoided playing favorites to satisfy the personal politics of the game’s developers. Even better, if you did disagree with some of the benefits or drawbacks assigned to a policy, you could change it because Firaxis exposed those settings in flat files.

    I always liked SMAC because of this respect it showed to all its potential players…

    …and then I watched the video of Beyond Earth’s designers explaining the backstory for their game in terms of one-sided political beliefs they seemed to think were incontestable: humans are causing global warming; the U.S. is controlled by corporations; the Citizens United decision was bad. Regardless of what one thinks about those particular beliefs, hearing them (all from only one side of the basic political spectrum) mentioned as bases for a game’s factions and, presumably, policies makes me much less likely to think they respect all the possible players of their game the way that SMAC did.

    My point in writing this stuff here, rather than in one of the Beyond Earth articles here, is not to bash Beyond Earth — since I haven’t played it — but to point out an important reason why Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri remains a mechanically and thematically excellent game to this day. Games whose designers respect their players deserve to be highlighted as good examples for today’s designers to follow.

    • pelham.tovey says:

      “That one other thing is how Bryan Reynolds and Firaxis implemented the mechanics of the various social and economic policies that each faction could eventually adopt.”

      This point can not be stated often enough. With just 3 resources, 10 intuitive parameters and a smattering of story text; Firaxis created a spectrum of governments that really feel completely differently to one another. There’s so much role-playing inspiration in that compact bit of design.

      It’s also, as you say, such a disappointment to see them throw that agnostic view of politics (and fairly damning view of politicking) and replace it with…pop military sci-fi

      …and that one guy who won’t stop telling me “No village ever suffered from trade”. THANKS, GUY.

      • Ada says:

        The “No Village Ever Suffered From Trade” thing actually struck me as pretty disrespectful. Haven’t a lot of African nations suffered from coercive “trade agreements” with Western powers?

        • revan says:

          Japan had civil wars because of damaging trade agreements. Hell even one of the causes of the Opium Wars was because China wouldn’t buy European goods. Guess those devs didn’t read much history.

    • E_FD says:

      “I watched the video of Beyond Earth’s designers explaining the backstory for their game in terms of one-sided political beliefs they seemed to think were incontestable: humans are causing global warming; the U.S. is controlled by corporations; the Citizens United decision was bad. ”

      There’s snippets of that sort of thing in Alpha Centauri’s backstory too. Looking at the faction leader profiles at the start of the game, for instance, Miriam comes from the “Christian States of America”, and Deidre’s from “free Scotland”.

    • LexW1 says:

      “…and then I watched the video of Beyond Earth’s designers explaining the backstory for their game in terms of one-sided political beliefs they seemed to think were incontestable: humans are causing global warming; the U.S. is controlled by corporations; the Citizens United decision was bad. Regardless of what one thinks about those particular beliefs, hearing them (all from only one side of the basic political spectrum) mentioned as bases for a game’s factions and, presumably, policies makes me much less likely to think they respect all the possible players of their game the way that SMAC did.”

      You seem to be claiming BE is a leftist game, but it’s not. It’s extremely Neoliberal with a bit of Neocon, so centrist and even fiscally right-ist. I agree that it isn’t as thoughtful as AC, but let’s not pretend BE (or Civ V) are remotely left-wing games. They aren’t. Civ V is far to the right of Civ II, for example – you mention climate change, but you cheerfully ignore the fact that in Civ II and SMAC, climate change is a big thing, it’s in the game, it actually happens if you pollute enough. Whereas in Civ V and BE, no amount of pollution, industrialization or resource burning can cause that.

      So yeah, no, you’re looking at words and ignoring what they’re actually saying. Agreed that BE is less intelligent and philosophical, though.

    • acheron says:

      Yeah. Even Miriam, who at first seems to be “strawman preacher”… when you read her quotes from the Datalinks, a lot of the time she is making very well-thought-out points. Same for Yang, from a different direction.

      It’s the lack of Datalinks quotes that makes the expansion factions seem less fleshed out.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yang is a great character because his horrible little “evil” regime is fundamentally transcendent, putting society as an entity above the individual. SMAC’s “best” ending is likewise transcending the limitations of individual bodies. The difference is all in the execution.

        Miriam becoming the voice of reason as society becomes increasingly weird is also an ace touch, yes.

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        Yep! Miriam’s take on religion works really well as a contrast to high-tech, and as an argument for a need to fill a spiritual void – “Evil lurks in the datalinks as it lurked in the streets of yesteryear. But it was never the streets that were evil.” argh, so good!

        I love the dark view of every position in the game… I think one of my favourites being “The Academician’s private residences shall remain off-limits to the Genetic Inspectors. We possess no retroviral capability, we are not researching retroviral engineering, and we shall not allow this Council to violate faction privileges in the name of this ridiculous witch hunt!”, which naturally is the one you get when you develop retroviral engineering… :)

        Says a lot that every conversation of SMAC I’ve seen online ends up with people linking to YT’s of quotes, or directly quoting the text. Amazing writing.

      • revan says:

        Great way to really dig into the game is to read the short story Journey to Centauri by Michael Ely. It really fleshes out all the factions and provides denser version of the backstory to the Planetfall.

      • Arglebargle says:

        Yeah, every faction leader has some serious wisdom and horrible atrocity to proclaim. Just brilliant stuff. When I started playing around with electronic music, my first piece was just chock full of quotes from AC.

  9. Arglebargle says:

    In my opinion, the best computer game ever made. Still on my hard drive, and I usually run through a game once a year now. Nice write up.

    • MacTheGeek says:

      SMAC is the only game that I can say with certainty that I’ve installed on every single laptop and gaming rig I’ve owned since the year the game came out.

      My laptop bag contains a USB 10-key numeric keypad that I bought for the primary purpose of playing SMAC.

  10. Sleepymatt says:

    Prepare to be mind stapled, Miriam… I loved this game back in the day, really should play a few games of my untouched GoG copy!!

  11. revan says:

    I like Beyond Earth and am having a lot of fun economically strangling African Union by blocking their expansion routes with my own strips of territory and covertly stealing their energy, science and tech. Still, it is no Alpha Centauri. That game is truly special. Just don’t put me next to those fundamentalist Believers. I’ll take Spartans as neighbors any day. They at least can be faithful allies and actually help in a pinch. Believers will roll over you the moment they sense blood.

    I didn’t dabble much into terraforming. I’ll have to try that in my current game.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      “Believers will roll over you the moment they sense blood.”

      I’ve never not ended up in a massive war to the finish with Godwinson. She’s just so damn war mongering. Anything, anything, that doesn’t fit her zealous world view and she bloody well attacks. Last game as the Gaians I had to resort to planet busters just to make it stop. I literally destroyed huge swathes of the planet I was trying to be in harmony just to stop her endless war.

      Hell, even Morgan liked me more than her.

      We’ve always been at war with the Believers, is how I imagine the propaganda.

      • revan says:

        Pretty much the same with me. There is no living with her. I’m just playing with Gaians and she attacks all of a sudden, taking my capitol and nearly destroying me. Luckily i got some tech from Spartans (Pact Sisters) and managed to fend her off, reclaim what I’d lost and started rolling over her bases. She begs me for a truce with only two bases left. I give in and show mercy. The moment I did, she starts positioning her units in my territory for another surprise attack. Of course, when I tell her to leave, she declares war just three turns after pleading for a truce. Crazy. Wiped her off the map after that. :)

        • MacTheGeek says:

          One of SMAC’s few flaws, I think, is the way a hopelessly outgunned faction will continue to start wars. If I’ve already beaten you twice, and your continued existence is solely due to me accepting your surrender, then it might be a bad idea to attack me again. Go team up with some other faction, or build some new bases, or do something to turn your fortunes around before sending more of your laser infantry up against my neutronium-armored defenses.

          It’s almost as though the faction is asking to be put out of its misery. There’s no satisfaction in obliging them.

          • LionsPhil says:

            There’s no satisfaction in obliging them.

            When it’s Godwinson? Speak for yourself.

            Get the hell off of my brainsphere, fundies.

      • E_FD says:

        “I’ve never not ended up in a massive war to the finish with Godwinson.”

        Sometimes, on a big enough map, she runs into the Spartans or the Hive first and they wipe her out first, if they’ve got a more favorable map position or it’s long enough into the game from them to have developed a tech lead over her.

  12. DrManhatten says:

    Thank god the survival week is finally over now we can finally read some decent articles on RPS again

  13. Horg says:

    One of my favorite features of SMAC that almost never gets mentioned is the ability to have an entirely blind research program, with the player just increasing the odds of advancing down one or two of the four tech paths. Compared to the tech web from SMBE it holds up pretty well. I think both systems make for a more interesting game than proceeding down a linear, predictable tech tree. Blind research on an alien world also fit the frontier survival narrative quite well, giving the impression that your science team were making the best out of whatever they had available at the time.

    • revan says:

      That also increased the value of tech trading or could even be used as a type of warfare by restricting the proliferation of some tech to the other factions. It could give you years worth of advantage before someone else gets it.

    • MacTheGeek says:

      It’s also possible to randomize the faction profiles. I had a game once where Miriam was the planet-lover and Morgan was the fundamentalist. Good times.

  14. FireStorm1010 says:

    Nice article. I had a similar experience with AC, the gameplay was good , but what set it apart for me and what i still remember after all those years is the serious and tought provoking sci-fi subjects, the story.

  15. RedViv says:

    Something that Beyond Earth didn’t aim for and was core to the enjoyment of AC for me is the atmosphere of ever-present threat. Be it through ideological clashes or just fighting the planet, something might always be waiting around the corner to jump out and destroy you. And it always felt *right* for this something to do so, unlike the odd turns AI opponents take in BE.

  16. Elusiv3Pastry says:

    Reading this was actually more fun than playing Beyond Earth.

  17. jalf says:

    Here’s something I read on Twitter earlier:

    SMAC was a passionate argument that humanity was worth preserving, an showed us becoming something better. Civ:BE is much crueler.

    SMAC’s endgame was about making a case for humanity’s inherent worth to a God (it was explicit and unapologetic about its divinity).

    SMAC went so far as to say that the Datalinks – humanity’s history, art, and science – represented its soul. It saves you from divine wrath.

  18. Rindan says:

    I think the thing that I loved the most about SMAC was how it just dripped with theme. As you start getting near the end game, you REALLY feel like society is turning kind of crazy and things are starting to get weird. You look over at the Gaians, and they are a mass of fungus surrounded by happily little mind worms. The Morgani have torn up the planet, slammed boreholes in every other square, and their land is covered in mag tubes. The Hive has resorted to mind control and has a scary content of blue bunker shaped colonies under their sway. The University has gone full on cyborg. All of this ingame signs of stuff getting weird is backed up with simply fantastic flavor text in the techs and the wonders. You get a real sense that people are getting creeped out about where society is headed, but can’t possibly slow down and stop.

    Forget gameplay mechanics for a moment, and Civ:BE (which is horribly flawed and unpolished at best) doesn’t even hold a candle to SMAC. They are not even in spitting distances of having a fraction of a fraction of the theme. Civ:BE is utterly lifeless. You would never confuse the Gaian territory with the Morgani, but in Civ:BE, you will have to squint to tell the difference between a level 15 purity, supremacy, and harmony player. Both will have chopped up their land, covered it in improvements, and murdered off the native lifeforms.

  19. haircute says:

    I love how you guys always seem to know what I am thinking about playing. Just today, while walking the dog and thinking about how I don’t want to get CIV:BE until a few patches and and expansion have landed, I thought about reinstalling AC. I looked up the newest patches and got it running on win7 with NO FUSS. Then I decide to waddle over here and what do I find? Just the perfect article to get me really fired up to play. Freaking awesome!

    Also: great article!

  20. Supahewok says:

    Haven’t read the article yet, (I’ll do it tomorrow, I need to get to bed…) but I wanted to state my great appreciation with what RPS seems to be doing with it’s Supporter’s money. The past couple of weeks have had a lot of interesting articles, along with new or irregularly seen authors’ names. Don’t think I’ve seen this many insightful articles on a single website since the Escapist went downhill a few years back. Kudos!

  21. Commander Gun says:

    Also, the Secret Projects (wonders) actually had movies that added much of the flavor for me. For instance:
    link to youtube.com
    really gave me a feeling of foreboding, of science getting out of hand.
    If BE (or any Civ really) had those movies, it would have added so much to the atmosphere.

    • mouton says:

      Ah, artificial intelligence ruling us. Funnily enough, it is likely inevitable.

  22. seabass83 says:

    My brother and I played this to death back in the day, and crossfire which was a brilliant add-on. Having the option to play with or without the two alien factions opened up a whole different set of dynamics.

    The voice acting and production values for the faction intros/wonders/discoveries stands as a true high point, 15 years later i can still hear all the main characters voices clearly (especially Morgan, great voice, great character).

    And you guys are all correct Sister Miriam was a truly epic hate figure. The Believers were so bellicose the Spartans tended to give them a wide berth!

    I played SMAC before I tried any Civ and every iteration of Civ subsequently just felt limp and unambitious compared to SMAC.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      It’s funny, AFAIK among Alpha Centauri fans, Alien Crossfire is generally being considered as not as good (thematically) as the vanilla game. Probably because the new human factions aren’t quite as well made/integrated, especially the alien factions that seem kind of out of place. Alien Crossfire having been made by a different team that the one that worked on the vanilla game might be a reason why.

      • seabass83 says:

        oh yes it was by no means perfect but it was a nice addition, not as good as the vanilla but added a new dimension. The two alien powers being so overpowered meant you really had to cosy up to one of them and lay into the other to survive.

        Vanilla SMAC was truly class though, playing as UN goody goody Lal was always fun, get elected head of planetary council > stockpile WMDs > use said WMDS (planet busters and Nerve gas) > then banning them before the retaliation comes, brilliant

        But nothing beats pushing through votes to melt the ice caps in order to raise sea levels shortly after researching the tech that made your cities capable of operating at sea thus drowning rival conurbations.

        brilliant brilliant game

      • mouton says:

        Yeah, I usually played Alien Crossfire with SMAC factions anyway. Though the aliens felt nicely alien, I must say. That’s not that common.

  23. Amazon_warrior says:

    I have a terrible confession to make: I’ve only ever played the demo of SMAC. D: (It was back in the days when I didn’t have the money to afford full games or (I assumed) the hardware to run them, so I tended to make the demo discs off games magazines really last. You wouldn’t believe how many times I played through the T:TDP demo, for example.) I did eventually buy a copy of SMAC some years later, mostly on the basis of nostalgia for that brief taster, but never quite got around to playing it, partly out of an irrational fear that it mightn’t be as good as I remembered. This article was the tipping point that made me finally install and run it. Oh happy days, it is as good as I remembered! :D (Although I think I’m gonna need to track down and read the manual. Holy crap, but there’s a lot going on in there…

    • Tssha says:

      I have absolutely no idea what game T:TDP refers to. Your lack of expansion of the acronym is practically criminal.

      • Klatu says:

        T:TDP = Thief: The Dark Project., I recognised it straight away only because I too played the T:TDP demo to death.

  24. acheron says:

    Alpha Centauri is amazing, and really has never been equaled. Mechanically and especially thematically. Mechanically, it is a lot closer to Civ II than it appears, because the things they did change were so hugely affecting (the voxel terrain, social engineering, the sometimes maligned unit workshop).

    I just finished a playthrough of BE last night, and… it seemed cool enough, though a lot of it is more potential than actuality. Much like Civ V, which I enjoy now but wasn’t ready on release. I’m not sure it will ever be up to par thematically, though. Gameplay mechanic wise there’s a lot interesting there, but I do think it needs help.

    I remember SMAC being a bit rough on first release too, and improving after patching, though not near to the extent of newer games (even Civ IV). People were much less tolerant of “wait for the patch” in 1999. (look at that year! Civ 1 was 8 years old when SMAC came out; SMAC is now 15 years old. My lawn, etc.)

    Not to say SMAC is perfect. The crawler mechanic is broken, for one. Terraforming doesn’t quite balance right; there’s almost no reason to do anything other than plant forests. Etc., you could nitpick all day. Nonetheless, nothing else comes close.

    Interface thing I wish would come back into the Civ series: naming “landmarks” on the map. I always liked being able to name continents and islands and such, independent of the city names. Total fluff, but just adds to the theming. Could consider it a bit of emergent story in a game that otherwise has a very defined story. But I always thought it would be cool on an Earth-like planet too.

  25. Wandering Taoist says:

    Reading this at work while downloading SMAC from GoG to my work Mac. I love the future.

  26. Hieronymusgoa says:

    This might be the only game I ever was able to finish on the hardest difficulty. But like beating the final ship in Faster Than Light or certain bosses in the Dark Souls franchise (curse you, Smelter Demon!) not much has ever felt so rewarding. Civilization in space with a good story and the still only version of this series with something close to working diplomacy….I love this game.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Sadly, like for all other 4X games, the “AI” (an expert system actually, there’s no such thing as a real AI, especially not in video games) can’t compete on the level field with a somewhat experienced player. That’s the difference with FTL, where there’s no illusion that you’re playing by the same rules as the AI. Well, you might think for some time that you have that in the ship-to-ship combat, but you don’t (AI fires randomly, AI ships have no airlocks, etc…).

  27. Shardz says:

    This is still a superior product to all the newer carnations out there which have fallen flat of such a remarkably detailed game system. You might get a nice looking 3D game engine to look at, but everything I have played simply lacks the depth of Alpha Centauri in whole. Grab it at GoG for pennies on the dollar and amaze yourself if you haven’t already.

  28. Graves says:

    Its also worth noting that this game spawned a triology of books, which I am currently reading. The first one isn’t excellent, but I understand that the series improves as it goes on and actually become pretty good. I wouldn’t recommend them if you are new to SMAC, but its one of my favorite games of all time and it is pretty cool to see the factions and leaders I know so well in a real story. Its a testament to the storytelling ability of the game that characters that are really only given a few quotes and references in the civlopedia are so well realized that they seem familiar when I read about them in the book.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      I found the books horrible. Mostly because how depressing they are. The game itself is extremely positive and optimistic in comparison.
      (The comic book isn’t stellar either. Maybe because I just didn’t like the art style though…)

      *SPOILER AHEAD*

      One example is that they don’t end up in Transcendence… but in a much more depressing alternative ending.