Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (sometimes abbreviated to SMAC or Alpha Centauri) is a 4X turn-based strategic computer game created by Brian Reynolds and Sid Meier under the auspices of Firaxis Games in 1999. It is based on a fictional attempt by human beings to colonize a planet in the Alpha Centauri star system. It picks up where Meier and Reynolds' earlier titles, Civilization I and Civilization II, left off. An expansion pack called Sid Meier's Alien Crossfire (aka SMACX or just SMAX) was also released. Although popular with gamers, the game never reached the heights of success of the Civilization games. Pre-patched versions of Alpha Centauri and Alien Crossfire were later bundled together in the Alpha Centauri Planetary Pack. The game has also been released under the Sold-Out Software label.
According to the storyline of the game, Earth is destroying itself through war, famine and poverty, but before it destroys itself completely, the U.N. launches a colonization starship called "Unity". The Unity is destined for a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. This planet, named "Chiron" (but often just called "Planet") is very similar to Earth.
However, before the starship fully reaches Planet, forty years into the journey, the Unity suffers a core malfunction and awakens many of the crew, who then proceed to fix the malfunction. Before they are done, however, the captain of Unity, Captain Garland, is assassinated by an unknown assailant. The rest of the crew is soon awakened.
When the assassination occurs, the crew panics. Seven leaders take up the challenge of leading a faction onto Planet by use of one of seven colony pods. Unity crashes onto Planet and the supplies spread everywhere. That is where the player comes in to take control and aid their faction to victory over the others. (The game's video introduction depicts an eighth escape pod separating from the Unity, only to explode shortly thereafter.)
Within the game, the player assumes the role of one of the seven faction leaders and attempts to expand their colony and achieve victory. Players engage themselves in a race against the other factions, and are free to adopt any number of strategies in pursuit of their goal. Scientific discoveries within the game determine what technologies are available to particular factions, which in turn determines what facilities and units they can build at their colony bases. Unlike Civilization I and Civilization III, Alpha Centauri allows the player to fully customize units.
Alpha Centauri is open-ended and has multiple, customizable parameters for victory. The player can choose to work toward a victory based on diplomacy, economics, conquest, or transcendence.
The Datalinks, similar to Civilization's Civilopedia, contain information crucial to playing the game. Most important is the tech tree, which shows a complete system of all technologies available in the game, along with prerequisite technologies and all benefits the technology gives (new chassis, weapon, armor, reactor, or special ability types, along with new terraformer abilities, base facilities and secret projects, bonuses to xenofungus squares, social engineering choices, etc.) In all technology trades the game allows you to consult the Datalinks to find exactly what is being offered (or demanded).
In addition, the Datalinks store the quotes involved with all technologies, base facilities, and secret projects. Many Alpha Centauri fans enjoy the quotes in particular and the thought behind them. The game's creators developed the personality and ideology of all the faction leaders through these quotes, as well as thoughts on human psychology. For instance, the Virtual World secret project is accompanied by Chairman Yang's view that reality is only what one perceives it to be, while Provost Zakharov denounces the general simplistic views on genetics when such technologies are discovered.
Tying the imaginary technology of the Datalinks into real intellectual history are quotes from Plato, Machiavelli, Immanuel Kant, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, Sir Thomas More, Albert Einstein, Saint Augustine, Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sun Tzu, Lao Tzu, Herman Melville, Jules Verne, John Milton, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Søren Kirkegaard interspersed among those from the game's characters.
The game is represented on an isometric map of the planet surface, upon which bases are built and units deployed. Local features of the terrain influence the amount of resources a base harvests from any particular square. For example, rocky squares yield minerals but no food unless cleared, while river squares produce extra energy. The altitude of terrain influences how much energy can be harvested there, can create rain shadows
downwind, etc. Terrain can be enhanced and altered (including raising and lowering altitude) by units equipped with a terraformer
module. The terrain also affects combat. For example, defending units receive a +50% bonus in rocky squares, while artillery units receive bonuses when attacking from higher elevation.
Units and combat
A unit is made up from different components such as chassis, weapon, armor, reactor, and special ability slots. Unlike the Civilization
series proper, units come in default designs but can also be customized by the player. As new technologies become available, old designs may be brought up to date and existing units upgraded. The first of a new type of unit is considered a prototype
and has a significantly elevated resource cost.
Generally, only friendly units (your own or those of an ally) can occupy the same square. Enemy units must be eliminated (or, in some cases, forced to withdraw) in order to move into their square. Combat is usually initiated when a unit belonging to one faction attempts to enter a square occupied by a unit/units of a hostile faction. Many factors affect the outcome of combat, including:
- The attacking unit's weapon rating;
- The defending unit's armor rating;
- The hit points of both units, capped by the type of reactor used;
- The morale status of both units;
- Any attack or defense modifiers brought about by base facilities, Secret Projects, faction abilities, unit special abilities and terrain effects.
Researching certain new technologies unlocks progressively better equipment. Possessing certain support infrastructure (such as Command Centers), creating units with certain special abilities (such as High Morale), and having a positive morale rating in social engineering will all confer morale bonuses to new units, effectively enhancing their strength multiplier; conversely, a negative morale rating will incur morale penalties on new units. Also, gaining access to the mysterious alien monoliths that dot the planet, or defeating enough enemies to gain experience, will upgrade an existing unit's morale.
Psionic combat ignores conventional components and circumstances, focusing instead on morale, and gives a bonus to the attacker. It is resolved normally. Native life forms fight psionically, and some components enhance a unit's psionic ability or permit it to make psionic attacks. It is also possible to cultivate native life forms under a player's control. Here the equivalent of morale is determined by ecological status, rather than infrastructure.
There are a number of different unit types on land, sea and air, each with specific special properties and movement speeds. Air units are not initially available and require considerable technical development. Conventional missiles are a special type of single-use unit. Planetbuster missiles blast holes in continents, but provoke extreme global warming, a frenzied assault from native life and being declared hostis humani generis by all other factions.
Adding to the trouble of the human factions is a pinkish red indigenous semi-sentient fungus (xenofungus
) that spans the planet. Concentrations of it can spawn more aggressive native life forms, the most basic of which are known as mind worms
. Mind worms and other native life act as the planet's immune system
, reacting to heavy industrial pollution by attacking offending cities and installations. Moreover, mind worms can be captured by factions with a deep understanding of Planet's fragile ecology and used as instruments of war and police.
In the course of the storyline, it is discovered that all xenofungus collectively forms a massive neural network, making the entire ecosystem a colossal group mind. It grows increasingly intelligent as the game progresses, even beginning communications with faction leaders in cut-scenes from time to time. However, contrary to the concept of a benevolent Mother Earth, the "Planetmind" is suspicious of humans and will defend itself if necessary. Faction leader quotes scattered throughout the game reveal that all of them, with the notable exception of Lady Deirdre the first leader to have a conversation with the Planetmind, consider the emerging mind to be highly dangerous. This is due to the fact that the final growth stage is self-destructive, and will take humanity with it. However, the Transcendence victory condition allows the player to unite human consciousness with the Planetmind, helping it avoid self-destruction and propelling humanity to a new plane of existence.
Bases, like cities in the earlier Civilization games, are the center of the game. A base is essentially a self-contained city that can be built and captured, as well as destroyed (either intentionally through war casualties, starvation, abandonment by constructing a colonizer at base size 1, weapons of mass destruction, through unintentional ecological disruptions, being overrun by native mind worms or through ethnic cleansing (putting civilian populaces to death)). A base collects resources from the surrounding environment, using the manpower of the local population, or mechanically through resource crawler units. Mineral resources are used in building units and maintaining their upkeep, or can be converted to energy credits. Nutrient resources feed the local citizens, with more nutrients harvested leading to a higher rate of population growth. Energy collected from boreholes or solar collectors is piped into three priorities: PSYCH, ECONOMY and LABS. PSYCH represents how much energy is being used in improving the living standard of the inhabitants. ECONOMY represents how much energy is diverted into energy credits. LABS represents how much energy is being diverted into powering research. The output of all three can be enhanced by facilities or by special inhabitants called specialists. Energy credits created by the economy are the currency of the game. They can be used to hurry the production of new base facilities, units, secret projects, or they can be bartered in diplomatic encounters. Some covert missions or prototype construction also require energy credits. Depending on a faction's social policies and the individual base's distance from the capital, a portion of collected energy can be lost to inefficiency.
Citizens are the inhabitants of a base. One citizen represents 10,000 inhabitants. It takes one citizen to harvest the resources of one square. New citizens are produced when a base has accumulated a set quantity of excess nutrients. The amount of nutrients needed to create growth becomes higher as the population multiplies. Social engineering choices or facilities can help reduce this required amount during each stage of growth. If the base's population reaches 127 (i.e. 1,270,000) the next increase incorrectly rolls over to -128 as the base population size is stored in a signed 8-bit value.
Bases build all of the faction's units, and by extension, new bases. A new base is created when a previous base builds a unit equipped with a colony pod module and the unit is deployed at the desired location. Building new units requires a set amount of minerals, depending on how complex or advanced the unit is. Each turn, minerals processed by citizens are added to the current task until it is completed. This process can be hurried by spending energy credits. New technologies are researched in a similar manner. LABS output from every base is accumulated each turn until it fulfills the required cost to research the technology. All of these aspects can be enhanced by facilities and other factors.
A base can also build facilities and secret projects. Facilities, which are analogous to the buildings of the original Civilization games, create or alter some function of the base they are located in. Similarly, Secret Projects are comparable to the Great Wonders of the original Civilization. They are expensive and can only be built once, and only by one faction per game, but usually have dramatic benefits ranging from free facilities to social engineering effects and special unit abilities.
When two factions have established contact, they can engage in a variety of diplomatic actions. New technology, energy credits and bases can be bargained for, given away or demanded with the threat of force. Factions can sign treaties and pacts, declare war or ask for a temporary cessation of hostilities. Treaties lead to commerce between faction bases and an increase in income for both factions. Pacts allow units to enter allied-held territory and bases, and double the commerce modifier between the two factions. Computer controlled factions will remember past dealings, betrayals and atrocities, and will base their reactions (modified by the leader's personality) to the player's diplomatic overtures accordingly.
Once one human faction has made contact with all other human factions, it can choose to convene the Planetary Council and elect a Planetary Governor. Thereafter, factions can periodically convene the council (at most once every 20 years (turns) for each faction; the Planetary Governor only has to wait 10 years) to make proposals such as electing a new governor, salvaging the Unity fusion reactor core to gain a large amount of energy credits for each faction, lower sea levels via satellite shades or raise them by melting the polar ice caps, eliminate the ban on atrocities like weapons of mass destruction, killing civilians with gas or punishing rioters by nerve-stapling, or creating or repealing a global trade pact. With the exception of the Planetary Governor or Supreme Leader elections, each faction has one vote, with the governor holding veto power. In Planetary Governor or Supreme Leader elections, each faction casts a number of votes based on its total population and modifiers from secret projects.
Despite being set in the future, the problems of human society still plague the inhabitants of Chiron. Reflecting this are the existence of drones in the population. Drones represent the undereducated, discontent segments of society. When the number of drones overwhelms the number of well educated citizens, called Talents, a drone riot occurs. During a drone riot all productive activity within the base is suspended. If not stopped, prolonged drone riots will eventually escalate in severity until facilities are destroyed or, in extreme cases, the entire city defects to another faction.
Drone riots can be suppressed through the use of in-base military units as police. The amount of suppression allowed depends on the degree of tolerance the society, under current social engineering models, has for policing. There also exists the temporary and more extreme solution of nerve stapling. This directly suppresses the violent tendencies of the population, preventing drone riots for a short period of time, but carrying it out is considered an atrocity and will negatively impact diplomatic interactions.
Social engineering is another decisive game element reflecting human nature. Here, political, economic, social and future society models may be chosen. Each choice has its benefits and drawbacks, shown in a technical manner in-game by altering listed values which reflect how a faction operates overall. For instance, a good "INDUSTRY" rating improves build speeds and a good "ECONOMY" rating increases your faction's wealth
- Politics represents the method your society uses to make political decisions.
- Frontier is the default system. This represents the informal government used early on before colonies grow large enough to warrant a more sophisticated system.
- Police State is the system in which an oppressive police presence is maintained. This helps improve police effect and military support, but economic efficiency suffers.
- Democratic is the system where the citizens partake in government via elected representatives. The stability this offers promotes growth and efficiency, but large military deployments become costly due to support penalties.
- Fundamentalist is the system where the government is controlled and run in a religious manner. This improves military morale and helps counter enemy espionage, but scientific research suffers greatly.
- Economics represents how a faction society manages its resources.
- Simple is the default administration. It represents the basic, informal, ad hoc economy which is utilized in the setting's early years.
- Free Market is the system where market forces run free. This system generates great wealth, but is damaging to the environment and cripples any sort of police presence.
- Planned is the system where the market is controlled by heavy government regulation in accordance to an overall economic plan. This improves population growth and industrial output, but makes resource management inefficient.
- Green is the system whereby the economy is regulated such that it places the environment above all else. This helps limit ecological damage and improves resource management, but growth suffers due to its lower priority.
- Values represents which value system a faction leader places emphasis upon.
- Survival is the most important value early on in the game, before factions become established enough to divert to other choices.
- Power is the value of having a good military. This bolsters morale and allows for large forces to be maintained, but industry suffers due to martial concerns having priority.
- Knowledge is the value of supporting intellectual pursuits. Scientific research is accelerated and efficiency improves due to an emphasis on the free flow of information, but this also makes enemy espionage easier.
- Wealth is the value of having strong finances and its material rewards. This improves the economy and industry, but the official emphasis on greed as a motivating factor hurts military morale.
- Future society represents advanced social-engineering models, which can only be applied very late in the game due to the high technological standing needed for them.
- None is the default future society, where a faction is not advanced enough to consider such things.
- Cybernetic is the future society where artificial intelligences take over many tasks, improving efficiency and environmental friendliness. Research also improves from humans being freed for more creative pursuits, but police strength suffers due to having to handle discontented displaced workers.
- Eudaimonia is the future society where people are encouraged to strive for their hopes and dreams. Population growth, the economy and industry all prosper, but military morale drops due to increased pacifism.
- Thought Control is the future society where mind control methods are used to subjugate people to the will of the government. Police have a much easier time, morale improves and enemy espionage is made difficult, but the large support needed diverts resources away from military maintenance.
Social engineering plays an important role in game diplomacy with computer players. Players that presently utilize the social engineering preference of a particular faction may have improved diplomatic relations with that faction. However, if a player has made a different social engineering choice in whatever area of society (government, economy, values, or future society) that player's social choice lies, the diplomatic relations will become strained, sometimes leading to vendetta. For example, the Gaians may make the social choice of Green economics, which will lead to strained relations with the Morganites (who favor Free Market economics) but will make no difference with the Hive, even if the Hive is using Free Market or Planned economics, since the Hive's preference is that of a Police State government.
At the beginning of each game, each faction is designated a particular social engineering preference and a particular social engineering aversion. Computer players must use their social engineering preference as soon as it is available, while all players (regardless of whether they are human or computer) may not use their social engineering aversion. Normally, the preference and aversion reflect the apparent ideologies of the faction (i.e. the Gaians favor Green economics and abhor Free Market economics). However, the player has the option to randomize the social agendas of all computer players. If this option is selected, the social engineering aversion of the faction remains the same. Consequently, it is possible for any faction to have the same social engineering choice as a preference and an aversion. In such a case, the player will still support that particular social engineering choice in diplomatic relations but cannot use that particular choice.
The original seven factions in the game are as follows below (the Alien Crossfire
expansion adds seven more):
True to their namesake
, the militaristic
Spartan faction places the highest priority on strength, discipline and combat readiness. Commanded by Colonel Corazón Santiago, a survivalist
from Puerto Rico
and leader of the initial mutiny on the UNS Unity after being placed on the ship as a Security officer, the Spartans make planetfall with the technology Doctrine: Mobility
. Spartan units receive morale upgrades (making them better fighters) and their disciplined society is naturally tolerant of martial law
, allowing two military units to help suppress a colony's drones. The Spartans' skilled military expertise allows them to build prototype units without extra mineral cost. However, the excessive labour devoted to military production imposes a 10% penalty to industrial production. The Spartans prefer the Power social engineering choice and may not pursue Wealth, all the while remaining wary of those who don't choose an emphasis on Power. The Spartans are likely to press vendetta against the Hive and the Gaians. Their founding base is Sparta Command. Social benefits (+2 morale, +1 police, -1 industry, prototypes do not cost extra minerals).
The Gaians are a faction that values living in ecological harmony
with Planet and abhors ecological destruction. They are led by Lady Deirdre Skye (Unity officer in charge of hydroponics
) of Scotland
. The Gaians make planetfall with the technology Centauri Ecology
. The Gaians' ecological safeguards allow them to avoid ecological damage and to capture native mind worms, and their experience with lifecycles and recycling gives them an efficiency bonus. The Gaians also receive one extra nutrient from fungal squares and their infantry units can move through xenofungus with reduced movement penalties. The Gaians are pacifistic and freedom-loving, giving rise to their weaknesses: Low troop morale and a lower police rating which prevents nerve stapling. The Gaians prefer Green economics and may not use a Free Market system in social engineering, and look upon Planned economics as little better - which usually leads them to bitter hostilities with the Morganites, The Spartans, and The Hive. Their founding base is Gaia's Landing. Social benefits (+2 efficiency, +1 planet, -1 morale. -1 police, +1 nutrients in fungus squares, always auto-capture first mind worm).
University of Planet
faction that values knowledge and scientific advancement above all else, including ethics. Led by Academician Prokhor Zakharov (possibly named in tribute to physicist/politician Andrei Sakharov
; name was changed from Saratov early in development) of Russia
, who was the chief science officer on Unity. The University makes planetfall with Information Networks
, as well as another technology that the player gets to choose. The brilliant researchers of the University allow them to discover new technologies 20% faster than normal, but the openness of their academic networks leaves them prone to infiltration from other factions' probe teams. Every University base comes equipped with a Network Node
, which boosts research by another 50% and allows the base to study alien artifacts. Due to the University's lack of ethics in regards to research and experimentation, an additional one in every four citizens is a drone. The University prefers the Knowledge value in social engineering and may not use a Fundamentalist government. Their founding base is University Base. Social benefits (+2 research, -2 probe, free Network Node in each base, and +1 drone every four citizens in all bases).
This faction works hard to keep the peace
through diplomacy and to maintain the United Nations
charter. Led by Commissioner Pravin Lal of India
, the UNS Unity's Chief of Surgery and third-in-command after its arrival in the Alpha Centauri system, the Peacekeepers
make planetfall with the technology Biogenetics
. The United Nations style bureaucracy of the faction causes them to lose efficiency. The Peacekeepers do attract intellectual elites, causing every fourth citizen to be a talent. The Peacekeeper colonies may grow two sizes beyond normal population restrictions. In votes for Planetary Governor and Supreme Leader, Peacekeeping votes are doubled. The Peacekeepers favor democratic politics and may not use a police state government in social engineering, and neither are they keen on religious dogma thanks to their liberal universalist tendencies. As a result, they tend to go to war with the Hive and the Believers, who favor these forms of government. Their founding base is United Nations Headquarters. Social benefits (-1 efficiency, +1 talent in for every four citizens in bases, and double votes in Planetary Governor/Supreme Leader).
A totalitarian faction based on Collectivist
principles. They are controlled by Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang of Great China
, the former Executive Officer (second-in-command) for the Unity mission. The Hive makes planetfall with the technology Doctrine: Loyalty
. The Hive has its growth rate boosted by 10% and its brutal serfdom decreases the mineral cost of units and facilities by 10%; however, the lack of political freedom causes each base to generate one fewer unit of energy per turn. In the pre-release version of the game, the Hive's belief in the greater good greatly raised the morale of Yang's army; however, this is not present in the final version of SMAC or the SMAX expansion pack. The Hive has an immunity to inefficiency caused by social engineering choices, namely Police State and Planned Economy; this greatly bolsters the Police State government used by Yang, as it removes all negative side effects. The Hive favors the Police State government, may not use a Democratic government, and is wary of religious hyperbole. This may lead the Hive into conflict with the Peacekeeping, Gaian, and Believing factions. Social benefits (+1 growth, +1 industry, -2 economy, free Perimeter Defense in each base, immune to Inefficiency in social engineering table).
During development, this faction was named "The Labyrinth" and had a stronger science inclination, before being changed to "The Hive" in the final release; however, one of their bases is still called the Labyrinth. Their founding base, fittingly, is The Hive.
faction wary of secular technology. Led by Sister Miriam Godwinson (Unity's chaplain) from the Christian States of America. The Believers make planetfall with the technology Social Psych
. The Believers' convictions give them a 25% attack bonus as well as increasing the morale of their Probe Teams and increasing the cost of their enemies' probe attacks. Their eagerness to defend their faith allows each colony to support up to four units without cost of minerals. Because the Believers feel that Chiron is their promised land, ecological tensions are increased and production of resources in fungal squares is decreased. The Believers are also skeptical of secular technology, thus their research rate is decreased by 20% and they may not accumulate any research points in the first ten years on Chiron. The Believers prefer Fundamentalist government and may not use Knowledge as a social engineering choice, and for reasons best known to themselves become very upset with neighboring Democratic & Police states; Sister Miriam generally decries them as "Godless". While the game was being coded, this faction was named "The Conclave" before being changed to "The Believers" in the final release. Their founding base is named New Jerusalem. The AI behavior of the Believers tends toward aggression and forceful actions to get what they want. Because they cannot gain technology at the rate of most of the other factions, the Believers prefer to deploy large numbers of technologically inferior troops, overwhelming their foes by force of numbers. The faction they are most likely to declare war on is the University, as they have near opposite views. Social benefits (+2 support, +1 probe, -2 research, -1 planet, +25% bonus when attacking).
A corporate capitalistic
faction, led by self-made mogul and diamond tycoon Nwabudike Morgan (whose company funded the Unity mission, and had a secret sleeping pod installed on the ship for him) of Namibia
. The Morganites make planetfall with the technology Industrial Base
and an additional 100 energy credits. Because they are an industrial conglomerate, and thus skilled in matters of economy and production, they receive an energy bonus in social engineering - an extra unit of energy in each base, and one energy per square and even larger bonuses if this is combined with social engineering values such as Free Market or Wealth. However, because of the faction's followers' expensive tastes and demand for creature comforts, Morganite units have high mineral maintenance costs and colonies cannot exceed population size four until the Hab Complex Facility is built (the default is seven). The Morganites receive extra energy from commerce due to their marketing and trade expertise. They prefer Free Market economics and may not choose a Planned economy in social engineering, and find that Green economics 'hinder the just and proper flow of capital'. Their founding base is Morgan Industries. Social benefits (+1 economy, -1 support, extra 100 credits at beginning, hab complex needed to expand base beyond 4, and extra energy through commerce).
While the Morganites prefer the Free Market social-engineering choice, they cannot be said to be a wholly "free-market" oriented faction, which the portrayed attitude of N. Morgan through the game, particularly at the end, also shows.
Morganites can easily make astronomical profits with the right social engineering, but cannot effectively maintain a large army due to their support penalties (at least not until the invention of clean reactors, which erase support costs for military units using them). A common strategy is to use waves of probe teams to subvert (i.e., bribe) enemy units, putting their funds to good use.
There are several victory methods available in Alpha Centauri
.Cooperative : A Cooperative victory allows multiple allied factions to win the game if one of the factions achieves one of the following methods.Conquest : A victory by conquest occurs when all factions are annihilated or have surrendered to one player. If cooperative victory is enabled then there may be up to three pact siblings who can share the victory (excluding those who have surrendered).Economic : When a player has enough energy reserves (roughly equal to what it would take to mind-control all the remaining cities on Planet), he or she can win the game through economic victory by cornering the global energy market. This takes 20 turns to achieve, and can be prevented if during this time the faction's headquarters falls to an enemy.Diplomatic : A player achieves diplomatic victory by uniting the Planetary Council behind him or her. To do this, the player must get 75% of the votes, by population, at Planetary Council. If the vote succeeds but remaining factions oppose the decision, they must be eliminated by force to achieve a victory by conquest.Transcendence : The transcendence victory is achieved by building the Ascent to Transcendence secret project, which becomes available after the Voice of Planet secret project has been built (by any faction). This concept of a post-human era is very closely related to the idea of the technological singularity
. After this project is built the human inhabitants of Chiron leave their material bodies to merge with the emerged planet intelligence.
According to the game's designer, much inspiration for the game came from "classic works of science fiction. Reynolds cites Frank Herbert
's novel The Jesus Incident
as a clear inspiration. The native life and singular planet mind of the game draws heavily from this book. The concept of presenting quotes with every achievement also comes from The Jesus Incident
Chiron (the name of the planet) is the name of the only non-barbaric centaur in Greek mythology and an important loregiver and teacher for humanity. It also is an homage to James P. Hogan's 1982 space opera novel Voyage from Yesteryear, where a human colony is artificially created at Alpha Centauri by automatic probe on a planet later named by colonists as Chiron. Chiron in the game has two moons, named after the centaurs Nessus and Pholus, with the combined tidal force of Earth's Moon, and is the second planet out from Alpha Centauri A, the innermost planet being the Mercury-like planet named after the centaur Eurytion. Alpha Centauri B is also dubbed Hercules, a reference to him killing several centaurs in mythology, and the second star preventing the formation of larger planets.
The arrival on Chiron is referred to as "Planetfall", which is a term used in many science fiction novels, including Robert A. Heinlein's Future History series and Infocom's celebrated comic interactive fiction adventure Planetfall. Vernor Vinge's concept of technological singularity is the origin of the Transcendence concept.
The game's cutscenes use montages of live-action video, CGI, or both; most of the former is from the 1992 experimental documentary Baraka.
While not being a direct sequel of Civilization II
, Alpha Centauri
was considered a spiritual successor of that much-acclaimed game, because it had the same general principles and was made by many of the original developers. At the time, the future of the Civilization
franchise was in dispute since Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds had left Microprose
to found Firaxis
. Unable to make Civilization III
, the two made Alpha Centauri
instead, beginning the game where the storyline had left off in Civilization
, with mankind leaving Earth to travel to Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri
was also built on the Civilization II
engine modified for voxel
The magazine PC Gamer US awarded Alpha Centauri a score of 98%, which was the highest score ever given by that magazine—Civilization II being the previous holder of this record with 97%. Later, PC Gamer also gave Half-Life 2 and Crysis scores of 98% in 2004 and 2007, respectively, tying each with Alpha Centauri. The magazine also gave Alpha Centauri Editor's choice and Turn-based strategy game of the year awards in 1999.
Alpha Centauri has also won several Game of the Year awards, including those from The Denver Post and Toronto Sun. It won Turn-based Strategy Game of the year award from GameSpot as well. The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences named Alpha Centauri best strategy game of the year. In 2000 Alpha Centauri won the Origins Award for Best Strategy Computer Game of 1999.
In the community of Civilization players, many quotations from Alpha Centauri, which are shown at different points in the gameplay, are also quite popular.
The game has also sparked a trilogy of novels (see below) and a strategy guide by Chris Hartpence ("Velociryx"), which was later printed and published. Steve Jackson Games also published GURPS Alpha Centauri, a sourcebook for the GURPS role-playing game set in the Alpha Centauri universe.
) 3-D rendering
for both the terrain and units. This is made possible by the "Caviar" voxel
library by AnimaTek International (now Digital Element
), which renders the voxel models and terrain geometry using self-modifying assembly language
The original story of the journey and splintering of the colonization space ship from Earth to Alpha Centauri was detailed in multiple installments that were released periodically by Michael Ely of Firaxis on the web, immediately prior to the release of the game, for marketing purposes. During the course of the installments, the names of regular forum members on the official Firaxis forums were incorporated into the story in cameos. The resulting short story Journey to Centauri
can be downloaded from the official website. A second short story, Arrival
, introducing the Alien Crossfire factions, is also downloadable from that site.
For further reading, game story developer Michael Ely has also written a trilogy of novels based on the game. Each of these novels is loosely based on one of the three "Faction vs. Faction" scenarios included with the game: Peacekeepers vs. Spartans, Gaians vs. Morganites, and Believers vs. University, respectively.
There is also a graphic novel Alpha Centauri: Power of the Mindworms written by Steve Darnell and illustrated by Rafael Kayanan.