Author Topic: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri  (Read 4374 times)

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Offline sisko

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The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« on: October 24, 2014, 06:58:19 AM »
Evolution is at work here, but just what is evolving remains to be seen.
--Comissioner Pravin Lal, "Man and Machine"

Quote
Tomorrow will see the international release of Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth on Microsoft Windows. This addition to the Civilization series takes the action to space, and is a spiritual successor to 1999's Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, itself intended as a sequel to Civilization II. Fans of that game will recognise this as being both a welcome and a worrying fact.

First, a quick summary of Alpha Centauri. Earth is lost and mankind travels to the distant Alpha Centauri system, to the planet Charon, to rebuild civilization. The colonists split under the leadership of seven charismatic figures who vie for survival. They are up against an eighth character: Planet itself.

What made Alpha Centauri special was how well-written and researched it was. The technologies and social projects in the game were within the bounds of scientific theory at the time of release (indeed, the in-game researchable Human Genome project has since been completed in real life) and even the most outlandish fancies such as teleportation are theoretically possible. This can be contrasted to a franchise such as Mass Effect, which has a detailed, hard science universe that nevertheless relies entirely on the fictional Element Zero. Alpha Centauri does not need such additions to make its world work. It adheres to Occam's Razor beautifully.
The seven leaders are fascinating. Almost every significant event comes with commentary from a leader, and these each provide as succinct a summary of their world views as you can ask for. Colonel Santiago (Spartan Federation) speaks efficiently on military doctrine, CEO Morgan (Morgan Industries) discusses 'the ethics of greed' and pragmatic economics in a rich, extroverted voice. The Human Hive's Chairman Yang's lilting, gentle lecture on the meaninglessness of sensory input chillingly accompanies a video of virtual reality torture. A lesser game would have transformed these characters into caricatures. But no matter how abhorrent they may appear on the surface, you realise they each raise valid points. Whatever atrocity Yang rationalises, every inflection in his voice tells you he believes in what he's saying. Likewise, Morgan is a brilliant economist who is more present-minded than anyone else on Planet. As the game carries on, you start to notice the delicious ironies setting in: future advancements are viewed with scepticism and caution by Sister Godwinson (Lord's Believers), as well they should be. In contrast the decidedly rationalist Academician Zakharov (University of Planet) begins to speak of his discoveries with an almost religious fervour. The outwardly pacifist Lady Skye (Gaia's Stepdaughters) has no qualms about using Planet's psychic fauna to drive her enemies insane. For all their ideals and philosophies, these are flawed people.

It is this insistence on the creation of a well-researched, convincing and philosophically diverse universe that is Alpha Centauri's real legacy. It is something that is missing from mainstream gaming, to say nothing of the genre of 4X, turn-based strategy. I have followed the development of Civilization: Beyond Earth and am perfectly willing to concede that it looks like a great game. I am just sceptical as to whether it can really be a 'spiritual successor' to Alpha Centauri. Sure, they could easily make the game better to play, but that is not the real spirit that has to be captured. It may be overly optimistic to expect that level of writing and presentation again (witness Starcraft 2). Indeed, Alpha Centauri's own expansion pack, Alien Crossfire, didn't get it right. And the gaming industry has changed so much since then.

I guess we'll find out soon enough. Either way, I'm excited. Transcendence awaits.
Zoheb Mashiur @ The Daily Star

You can follow the release of Civilization Beyond Earth on our dedicated forum: http://alphacentauri2.info/index.php?board=27
Anyone else feels like it's time to fix the faction graphics bug?

Offline Rymdolov

Re: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2014, 09:06:01 PM »
That article sums up my thoughts better than I could myself, I think. Thanks for posting!

Offline Flux

Re: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2014, 10:41:06 PM »
One of the things I find very interesting about Alpha Centauri is how much it has made me think. The article above talked about how well researched and such it was, but I looked in the game and find that you really never DO get a backstory to any characters beyond a quote about the ideology in general. Yet they capture your imagination with the slowly developing characters through nothing but text from fake books.
It's something I don't think any other game has done. It may be the reason AC is my favorite of the Civ series.

Almost makes me want to write little 50-page Alpha Centauri stories and put them in PDF.
"The Ethics of Greed"
By: Nwabudike Morgan
Edited by: Flux
"Human behavior is economic behavior. The particular may vary, but competition for limited resources..."
Alright, I know that is from one of his other books, but I was just giving an example.
That would be a nice challenge for one of our better fanfic writers to do. Too bad it would actually have to include useful marketing strategies in the case of Morgan.
Left the internet, more-or-less.... Might drop in occasionally.

Offline Rymdolov

Re: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2014, 07:28:07 AM »
Yes, the developers have managed to create the perfect balance between painting an interesting background and leaving enough gaps for the player's imagination to fill in. That's how stories should be told in (relatively) open games and it's the most important legacy of SMAC, in my view!

Offline Flux

Re: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2015, 07:41:57 PM »
I want a 3D SMAC so bad.
Maybe one day I'll learn how to do stuff in Unity. That could work.
Left the internet, more-or-less.... Might drop in occasionally.

Offline Sawelios

Re: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2015, 02:36:35 PM »
I want a 3D SMAC so bad.
Maybe one day I'll learn how to do stuff in Unity. That could work.


But why? Personally I never understand people's love for 3D. Doesn't anyone see it looks WORSE than beautifully painted 2D sprite art?! SMAC is not the best example of "beautifully painted 2D art" though but if it was something like, say, War Wind 2 art... ::) ;)




Offline Flux

Re: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2015, 01:21:39 AM »
-snip-
In my opinion, SMAC is ugly. 3D would allow for things like multiple soldiers on one title to represent a unit for example.
Oh, I have some games I love in 2D with sprites. Take Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Genesis. I'm okay with the way that looks, yessir.
But SMAC and any large-scale nation-building games I prefer in 3D.
Left the internet, more-or-less.... Might drop in occasionally.

Offline Peter Gray

Re: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2015, 09:59:21 PM »
I wouldn't say it's ugly, rather, it's very dark. General atmosphere of the game is very dark. Even scientific advances look like crude steel. Everything is so very cold and technical to the point of being dystopic. Yet, not as sterile as "Master of Orion 3". The game has a very particular feeling to it.

But... yeah, the insights into progress of science, social projects, ideologies, everything has so much feel and yet, is very generic and somewhat unbiased. No phantasy, only hard science. And the Planet itself seems like a probable product of evolution yet is very far-out at the same time.

Offline Yitzi

Re: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« Reply #8 on: February 01, 2015, 12:41:16 AM »
I wouldn't say it's ugly, rather, it's very dark. General atmosphere of the game is very dark. Even scientific advances look like crude steel. Everything is so very cold and technical to the point of being dystopic. Yet, not as sterile as "Master of Orion 3". The game has a very particular feeling to it.

But... yeah, the insights into progress of science, social projects, ideologies, everything has so much feel and yet, is very generic and somewhat unbiased. No phantasy, only hard science. And the Planet itself seems like a probable product of evolution yet is very far-out at the same time.

Actually, there's a lot that isn't hard science, most notably psi, but also stuff like probability mechanics, graviton manipulation, even monopole magnets.

But, like all good sci-fi, it takes its scientifically questionable assumptions and then honestly examines their implications.

Offline Peter Gray

Re: The Legacy of Alpha Centauri
« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2015, 01:01:11 AM »
For me psi is a matter of fact but granted that it hasn't been properly proven with our current scientific methods :P

 

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