Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
In 2060 A.D., the Earth was one hell of an awful place to live, torn apart by war and sunken into disgrace by poverty and ecological damage. In a last attempt to save Humanity from extinction, the United Nations ordered the construction of a massive spaceship, the UNS Unity. The mission: stash as many people as possible within the spaceship, deep freeze them to sleep, get the hell off of the Earth towards Alpha Centauri, the closest star from the Sun, and form a settlement in Chiron, a planet orbiting the star that seems to have most of the necessary conditions to sustain sentient life.
But Finagle's Law says everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and this mission was not the exception. The deep freeze system malfunctioned and the colonists found themselves living on rations meant for colonization in spaces around the ship not meant for living quarters. An explosion on board causes massive damage to the ship's thrusters, creating an escalating crisis among the ship's leaders. As a result, the Unity's captain is murdered, and the crew is now split into 7 different factions, each one commandeering a colony pod and launching for the surface of Chiron (known in the game as "Planet", and yes, that's a proper noun). Each faction has a different ideology and their own plans to achieve prosperity in the new world. These factions include:
- the militaristic Spartan Federation.
- the theocratic Lord's Believers.
- the technocratic University of Planet.
- the capitalistic Morgan Industries.
- the environmentalist Gaia's Stepdaughters.
- the collectivist Human Hive.
- the humanitarian remnants of the UN, the Peacekeeping Forces.
The expansion pack added:
- the rationalistic Cybernetic Consciousness.
- the socialistic Free Drones.
- the anarchist Data Angels.
- the religiously-enviromentalist Cult of Planet.
- the self-explanatory Nautilus Pirates.
- two alien factions, The Manifold Usurpers and The Manifold Caretakers.
A little tweaking would also reveal a secret faction:
- the self-inserted Firaxians, which may or may not be two factions since either Sid Meier or Brian Reynolds can lead.
Upon their arrival, however, everybody finds, to their horror, that Planet is not nearly the safe haven they had hoped for. The atmosphere is far too light on oxygen and heavy on nitrogen, forcing anybody exiting sealed colonies to wear oxygen masks, and that's the least of their concerns. The local "flora", known as Xenofungus, covers much of the surface and prevents settlement or even easy transport where it occurs. Worse yet, the Xenofungus acts as a home to "mindworms", which randomly boil out of the fungus and attack human settlements by psychically stunning their victims with fear, burrowing inside their brains, and placing their ravenous larvae inside, causing the hapless victims to die a Horrible death, with a capital H. And there is no terrain safe from them since they also come in aquatic and flying variations. Trying to hide far away won't save you either, as the Xenofungus can vomit out spore towers, essentially biological artillery that can attack even submerged colonies. If they try to remove the Xenofungus for any reason, they face massive fungal towers with giant tendrils that can tear apart tanks. And even the rest of Planet's biosphere is dangerous to humanity: where it doesn't immediately attack humans on sight, the differences in biology are enough that they act as poisons if ingested by humans and vice versa.
But the real twist begins when Deirdre Skye discovers that Planet's native life might be friendlier if treated nicely, and starts considering the idea that the entire Xenofungal network might well be a gigantic brain. And it seems like every 100 million years or so, Planet's native life achieves a state of growth large enough to turn the entire Planet into a gigantic sentient being, with a consciousness and a mind of its own, but this causes an explosive outgrowth that ends up killing most of Planet's life, just before Planet's "mind" reaches a "development threshold" that allows for survival, thus having to repeat the same cycle from scratch. And it seems like Humanity's arrival is accelerating the cycle. Will Humanity face final extinction? Can the cycle be broken? What will happen if the cycle is broken?
Created by the masterminds Bryan Reynolds and Sid Meier under the auspices of Firaxis, and released in 1999, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (abbreviated as SMAC, the expansion is SMAX) is a turn-based strategy game that, while rather popular, didn't managed to reach the soaring popularity of the Civilization series. However, that doesn't mean the game is worse. Far from that. According to the Wikipedia entry about the game, even though development was rather hindered by Reynolds and Meier's departure from Microprose to found Firaxis, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri was awarded by the US edition of PC Gamer a score of 98% (the first and one of only three games to have ever done so), and was also granted a long list of Game of the Year prizes. A trilogy of novels based on the game was even written! Admittedly, this doesn't sound too impressive by modern standards, but in 1998, it was basically unheard of.
As the Spiritual Successor of the Civilization series, Alpha Centauri features incredibly complex and profound gameplay, with a myriad of options and variables that can leave an unskilled player dazed with too much information, although a Civilization player can pick up the game and get started right away. Like the Civilization games, in Alpha Centauri you start with a single city, and your job is to create more Colony Pods to expand your colony with new cities, carefully nurture the ones you already have so they can reach a high population and become productive and profitable, research new technologies to unlock new units and options, and if you want to (though it's not necessary), wage war on everyone else. As is common in the series, there are four ways to win the game: Conquest (just Kill'Em All), Economic (gather enough Energy -- the game's Global Currency -- to buy everyone else's bases), Political (get elected as Supreme Leader by the Planetary Council) and Technological (clear the entire Tech Tree and Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, or, if you're an alien, summon your ultra-advanced fleet to blow the rest of Planet away). Also familiar: your civilization is pestered by Planet's native life, similar to the barbarian tribes in the Civilization games. About the only real flaw in the game, if flaw it could be called, was that the expansion kept the seven-faction limit (players could either choose their opponents or randomize them), as opposed to expanding it to cover all fourteen.
However, the biggest merit of the game to many came from the way it portrays The Future. The vast majority of it (basically, everything that doesn't involve mental powers, and sometimes even those) is justified by Hard Science, most of the scientific concepts are linked to our nowadays science from
2009 friggin' 1998, and the few ones that aren't have already been explored and predicted by theoretical scientists and writers. Combined with the near total absence of nonsensical Techno Babble and the clever use of quotes from game characters and real literary works, this setting actually manages to suck you inside and take seriously the struggle for Humanity's own future, only to let you go once you look outside your window and see the first gleam of the morning sun shining through.
The game is relatively old, and hard to find in most retail stores nowadays, although British re-packaging firm Mastertronic (Formerly known as "Sold-out software") is selling new copies of the original game with expansion pack for some $11/£4.88, likely in honour of the game's 10th anniversary), but it's worth searching out for any fan of hard, complex strategy and simulation games. It is now available on GOG.com for $5.99. Alternatively, you can buy Civilization IV and download Planetfall, a fan-made Civilization IV mod which takes Alpha Centauris setting (leaders, quotes, and technologies included, with entirely reworked graphics) and mixes it with Civilization IVs gameplay improvements.
If you came here looking for the actual star Alpha Centauri, and not the Sid Meier video game, look here.
- 4X: The game was marketed with the tagline "Explore. Discover. Build. Conquer." Additionally, the Tech Tree has identifiable (if intertwined) tracks (Explore=environmental/expansion/scout techs, Discover=pure science, Build=base-building and industrial/development-type techs, Conquer=military techs), and you can set the AI "Governor" at your bases to focus on a single track, or a combination of them, if you don't care to micromanage.
- Aerial Canyon Chase: In the cinematic for The Cloudbase Academy Secret Project.
- After the End: Sometime between the Unity's departure and the start of the game, Earth is devastated. It is recolonized at the end though.
- Alien Sky: Alpha Centauri is a trinary system, with two large suns and a third smaller and more distant one. Planet's atmosphere is a bright yellow, claimed to offset life-threatening greenhouse gases generated by being too close to Alpha Centauri A.
- All There in the Manual: The on-disc manual has an appendix that goes into quite a bit of detail about the nature of Planet and its denizens. Also, three novelizations and one short story "prequel" that is available online. The GURPS tabletop roleplaying game setting book has tons and tons of story information and details that they left out of the main on-disc manual and novels and short stories.
- Archive Binge: In-Universe, to win the Transcendence victory, you have to upload every single bit of data regarding humanity into Planet's mind. At once.
Imagine the entire contents of the planetary datalinks, the sum total of human knowledge, blasted into the Planetmind's fragile neural network with the full power of every reactor on the planet. Thousands of years of civilization compressed into a single searing burst of revelation. That is our last-ditch attempt to win humanity a reprieve from extinction at the hands of an awakening alien god.
—Academician Prokhor Zakharov, "Planet Speaks"
- The result is a quite momentary bit of Archive Panic on Planet's part.
- Armor Is Useless: It is to the mindworms! Psychic combat completely ignores conventional attack and defense ratings and is based solely on morale.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The aptly titled Ascent to Transcendence victory.
- Assimilation Plot: The Ascent to Transcendence.
- Awesome but Impractical: You can make a submarine that functions as an aircraft carrier.
- Badass: The. Spartan. Federation.
- Units start tough and mindworms just feed them experience points. By the mid-game, the majority of their units will have "hardened" rank or better. Also the only faction that can Zerg Rush without being crippled by slowed development, as well as start fights with multiple factions in the early game and survive. If the Believers attack them early in the game, the AI controlling the Spartans goes berserk and will often take a large chunk of their territory, wiping them out early. It's rare, but satisfying to watch.
- Bad Moon Rising:
- Every time Hercules/Alpha Centauri B reaches perihelion, that means 20 years (turns) of increased wildlife attacks.
- Solar flares mean communications are disrupted so diplomacy is disabled. But atrocities are kept secret.
- Base on Wheels: Colony Pods are big rolling life support systems for a thousand workers that unfold into colony cities when they get to their destination.
- Belief Makes You Stupid: The fundie tendencies of The Lord's Believers prevent them from accumulating research points during the first ten turn-years. Compound that with their natural 20% penalty to research speed, and you get a faction that needs to run Fundamentalist social engineering to catch up using slightly cheaper Probe Teams... and woe betide the Believing player in a game where the most advanced faction has the Hunter-Seeker Algorithm!
- Berserk Button: All of the factions have a Berserk Button which increases their hostility and can provoke them to declaring Vendetta... namely, picking a government, economic model, value or future society that isn't their own agenda (or the no-modifiers starting model):
- The Peacekeepers and the Data Angels: using any government except Democracy. Justifications: "You're violating human rights"/"It's an insult to freedom!"
- The Gaians and the Planet Cult: using any economic system except Green. Justifications: "Your insensitivity to the environment is troubling."/"Your insensitivity to the environment is sacrilege!" (the Cult gets more irritated/militant about it than the Gaians, who are less bloody-minded).
- The Spartans and the Pirates: using any value except Power. Justification: "You're idiots, and wealth /knowledge are very suspicious to us."
- The Believers: Using any government except Fundamentalist, or running Knowledge values. Justifications: "You're disobeying the will of God!" and "Science is evil!"
- The University: using any value except Knowledge, or running Fundamentalist government. Justifications: "I find your pursuit of wealth/power irrational and stifling to science." and "Belief Makes You Stupid!" (the University gets more miffed about the latter than the former).
- The Hive: using any government except Police State. Justifications: "God doesn't exist, you moron; running a state according to religious principles is stupid." (contra Fundamentalist) and "You really expect the people to maintain an ordered society?" (contra Democracy).
- Morgan Industries: using any economic system except Free Market. Justification: "You are stifling the market with your socialist policies!"
- The Cybernetic Consciousness: using any future society except Cybernetic (duh). Justification: "Anything else would be irrational."
- The Free Drones: using any future society except Eudaimonic. Justification: "Your Blue Sky Research will not improve living conditions!"
- Both Progenitor factions: using any economic system except Planned (which, apparently, is closest to their own economic model).
- In addition, Progenitor factions hate each other very much, so a peace treaty with one will be a Berserk Button for the other.
- It should be noted that some factions regard this as more serious than others, and this is closely linked to which option you take and how aggressive they are. Morgan won't much mind if you pick Green as long as you don't annoy him too much otherwise--Planned is another story, assuming he has the resources to fight you--while the Believers will declare on you for switching to Democracy or Police State, even if you're not running Knowledge (with which she has a bigger beef).
- Even then, leaders might overlook any of these for pragmatic reasons like global politics, a faction you both hate more than you hate each other, good trade relations, one faction's insignificance to the other (either by being far away or by being very small and weak), technology-sharing, and so on. Thus you can have a game where, for instance, the Peacekeepers and the Hive have a long-lasting Treaty of Friendship and never fight even though they share a border, or where the Morganites and Gaians have a Pact. The only real exception (besides the hardcoded fight between the Progenitor factions) is Miriam, who will always fight Zakharov. Always.
- Firing a Planet Buster will cause every faction to declare Vendetta on you, regardless of your relationships between them. Plus, you will be expelled from the Planetary Council, and there is no way to negotiate peace once the other factions declare war.
- Big Brother Is Watching: The Self-Aware Colony's cinematic. Also, anytime you or the computer run an oppressive faction.
- Book Ends: The game's very first shot, in the intro, and very last shot, at the end of the Ascent to Transcendence, are of the same nebula.
- Brain In a Jar:
- One of the results of the Clinical Immortality project.
- The Bioenhancement Center facility implies the use of these in the quote heard upon building one. See the trope page for details.
- Brain Uploading: Implied to be the result of the Clinical Immortality project; definitely also part of the Ascent to Transcendence.
- Bug War: Mindworms, Xenofungus Towers and Spore launchers are hostile and incredibly dangerous, requiring military action against them whenever they appear in your faction's territory, though the second are immobile.
- The Captain:
- The never-seen Captain Garland, who, true to the trope, was the only man who could have held his highly diverse crew together. He was mysteriously assassinated shortly before Planetfall, resulting in his subordinates splitting the crew into the seven factions.
- Ulric Svensgaard of the Nautilus Pirates is addressed by the title of captain.
- There's also the leader of the Spartan Federation, Colonel Corazon Santiago.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Subverted. The Lord's Believers are for the most part derived from Protestants, though their colonies bear aesthetics reminiscent of Roman Catholicism.
- Church Militant: The Lord's Believers, The Cult of Planet.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard:
- Not Playing Fair with Resources: On transcend difficulty, the AI can mind control your units and bases or hurry production for less than a quarter of what the same would cost you, and several difficulty-related penalties do not affect the AI, such as eco-damage and base number-caused inefficiency. In every difficulty setting, it's a case of The All-Seeing AI: even your submarine tech probe cruisers can get blown up, out of nowehere, in the middle of the ocean, by a missile.
- Late in the game, as global warming from increased populations and industrial activity provokes Planet, it is supposed to start sending massive waves of mindworms to attack the faction most responsible. Instead of two or three mindworms randomly appearing, massive armies numbering 30-40 in some instances will start suddenly popping up outside of your major bases... and as soon as you defeat the last of this batch (or nearly so), another batch just as large will suddenly sprout into being (the Planet just generates them... unlike your faction enemies, it has no infrastructure limitations). Dropping some Planet Buster nukes causes massive ecological damage so this is guaranteed to make Planet start sending waves of native life after you. The kicker? In single-player, Planet will always single out the human player... even if you were not the one who detonated nukes, or if you only have a meager infrastructure relative to the super-power factions who are doing the overwhelming majority of the pollution. Planet won't single out the faction that fired nukes like it's supposed to, nor will it at least attack every faction equally. Basically, as soon as planet-wide eco-damage becomes bad enough, regardless of who caused it, it will single out you the human player as a target. It also gets fairly determined to wipe you off the map: if you're in the late game and have sufficiently advanced tech and military, such as Tachyon Shields around each base and units armed with maxed out tech tree capabilities (Stasis Generator armor, Singularity Engines, Graviton Guns, etc), you can actually weather an assault by 30 mindworms for one turn. So it just sends more of these super-swarms of over 30 mindworms. Within the space of ten turns, you can sometimes fight off over 300 of these things, and they just keep coming. Even if you weren't even responsible for the eco-damage. Dropping a Planet Buster on one of these super-swarms doesn't really help either: 1, they usually pop up right next to your own base, so you're nuking your own soil, dropping the soil down to sea level; 2, dropping nukes is one of the things that specifically pisses off Planet even more (though given that it's already mad at you personally for no good reason...); and 3, for all the damage the Planet Buster does to the landscape, the computer shall just auto-generate another super-swarm of over 30 mindworms on the next turn. While all of this is going on, none of the other, even more powerful factions are getting targeted.
- My Rules Are Not Your Rules: Wild spore launchers can fire from isles of the deep. Under no circumstances may player artillery of any sort fire from any sort of transport.
- Crapsack World: Earth had turned into this in the backstory and no matter how well you do, Planet will go this way as well as she starts to ramp up the mind worm population to deal with the human infestation. Also, most of the factions can be pretty shitty places to live in depending on your social position.
- Crystal Spires and Togas: Some environmental projects, such as The Telepathic Matrix, are run by what looks like mages in shiny, luminous temples.
- Used Future: Other structures, however, look dirty, dilapidated, and run by thousands of underpaid workers. The movie for The Self-Aware Colony comes to mind.
- Deadpan Snarker: Zakharov is the planet's most brilliant geek, so it makes sense that he'll occasionally make an offhand snarky comment.
- Death World: Deirdre makes it very clear that "juicy ripe grenade fruits may look appealing, but a mouthful of highly toxic organonitrates will certainly change your mind in a hurry."
- Organonitrates also tend to be explosive, so the "grenade fruit" might well be aptly named.
- The Xenofungus and mindworms cross this with Everything Is Trying to Kill You, since the planetary Hive Mind recognizes any sort of independant thought as a threat (i.e. the human colonies), and it's up to the mindworms to kill the source of any such anomaly.
- While Planet is very hostile to Earth animals, the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere and nitrogenous soil make Planet a paradise for Earth plant life.
- Disk One Nuke:
- "The Weather Paradigm" secret project increases the rate of all terraforming actions, save for removing xenofungus, by 50%, and also lets you raise and lower terrain, and build boreholes and condensers, without needing the mid-game technologies normally needed to enable them.
- For Zakharov, "The Virtual World". The Virtual World makes every Network Node in the player's faction double as a Hologram Theater, quelling drones and providing Psyche... it so happens that one of the perks of the University is that every base gets a free Network Node upon construction. Zakharov's problems with extra drones just got solved for the next century or so.
- If rushed for, the Hunter Seeker Algorithm can be gained in the early-mid game by the University faction. What does that project do? Oh, only remove their biggest weakness, probe teams. Permanently.
- If you're fortunate enough to begin near a landmark, which give some sort of resource bonus to bases in their radius, it's a big help. Special mention to the Ruins and the Unity wreckage. The Ruins are a cluster of 8 Monoliths, which each give 2 of each resource, while the wreckage gives you a Unity Chopper, Mining Laser and 150 energy credits.
- Dysfunction Junction: The expanded universe prologe suggest that the Unity planners took no account of the personalities of the ship's leaders before launching.
- Earth-That-Was: "You are the children of a dead planet, earthdeidre and this death we do not comprehend. We shall take you in, but may we ask this question--will we too catch the planetdeath disease?" -Voice of the Planet
- Emotionless Girl: Aki Zeta-5 of the Consciousness.
- Emperor Scientist: Zakharov may be a researcher, but all of the original seven faction leaders are scientists in their own way. Deidre and Lal are more humanistic but also heavily into the science, Yang's a brilliant social engineer, Morgan's a visionary financial genius, Santiago has a keen insight into military science, and Miriam is a social psychologist who does know a thing or two about the hard sciences, as her quote on plasma steel armor indicates. The seven faction leaders in the expansion also have shades of it. But since they are added in the expansion, you can only assume it on the 3-4 quotes, each of them received.
- Encyclopedia Exposita: The Datalinks entries for every tech advance, base facility, unit ability and Secret Project in the game. These, of course, run parallel to later Civilization games' Civilopedias. It's thorough.
- Energy Economy: The Global Currency is energy credits, with energy gathered from solar collectors, tidal generators and thermal boreholes. Nwabudike said it best when he said:
"In former times the energy monopoly was called 'The Power Company'; we intend to give this name an entirely new meaning."
- Everything Is Trying to Kill You: The mindworms are Planet's natural defenses against alien threats, and they specifically target sources of independant thought that is not linked to the planetary Hive Mind. If you start mucking up the environment very badly, Planet will let loose bigger hordes of mindworms and, in extreme cases, their flying counterparts, the Locusts of Chiron.
- Expanded Universe: Not a very large one, consisting of three novels (Centauri Dawn, Dragon Sun and Twilight of the Mind), a graphic novel (Power of the Mindworms) and two free short stories (Journey to Centauri chronicling the story of the U.N.S. Unity in the Alpha Centauri system, and Centauri: Arrival introducing the new faction in Alien Crossfire).
- It is worth noting that the novelizations are loosely based on the three scenarios included with the game. Then again, it is not that difficult to imagine that factions with opposing ideologies are going to have problems getting together (e.g. hippies and warmongers, tree-huggers and ultra-capitalists, religious fanatics and crazy scientists).
- In addition, GURPS released a sourcebook for Alpha Centauri. In addition to stats, it provides alot of background detail on the factions that isn't in the game.
- Exposition of Immortality: One of the text interludes that crop up during gameplay at various intervals mentions you and your Planetfall colleagues still being alive after several centuries. It makes mention of you spending time in a rejuvenation tank in order to maintain your longevity and that at least one of your staff still looks to be in the prime of her youth, even after two hundred years.
- Face Full of Alien Wingwong: And in the worst way imaginable.
- Fantastic Caste System: Alpha Centauri has access to advanced psychological science and genetic engineering, but the availability of these benefits is uneven, resulting in a three-tiered system based on intelligence: the tiers are Talents (elite, highly-educated transhumans with full access to the benefits of their faction's technology), Citizens (average joes with limited access to psychiatric education) and Drones (inferior humans, treated as slaves and kept under control by Bread and Circuses, armed police or nerve stapling). The Free Drones attempt to avoid this form of social stratification, but it's still in effect nonetheless.
- Feelies: The Virtual World Secret Project.
- Fiction 500: Morgan Industries, sponsor of the entire UNS Unity project and owner of a whole faction!
- Flavor Text: For each technology.
- Fungus Humongous: The Xenofungus.
- Gaia's Lament: Earth in the backstory.
- Gaia's Vengeance: Start polluting the planet, and you'll have to fight wave after wave of Mindworms while keeping them clear from your bases. The Cult of Planet attempts to give this a more organized form.
- Gang Up on the Human: Nobody likes you in this game. The AI is programmed to gang up on you and ignore their own best interests. As in other strategy games that employ this tactic, it makes the game quite frustrating when you've invested hours, and suddenly, your 50 population empire is simultaneously attacked by three 30 population empires. Even if you perform well, you are still likely to suffer a death of a thousand cuts on higher difficulties unless you exploit the AI.
- Genius Loci:
- What you--and all of humanity--become after reaching the Transcendence victory.
- The Self-Aware Colony secret project turns your cities into these.
- Geo Effects:
- High ground means better output from solar collectors, rocky terrain increases mine output, fungus is a general-purpose pain in the ass unless you're Gaians/Planet Cult or have a ton of Explore technologies/secret projects, and so on.
- Since the terraformer units in the game can change the elevation of a map tile, a viable (if ridiculous) strategy in the game is to create a mountain chain between yourself and an enemy to the east. Mountains actually trap moisture, like they do in real life; since for purposes of that the game assumes that the wind blows ever eastwards, it's possible to use the "raise terrain" command as a way of giving yourself better farmland while making deserts out of a rival's farms.
- A faster way, albeit a more expensive one, would be to launch a missile with a seismic warhead and detonate it over the needed terrain. This will create an instant mountain. Since this warhead does not wipe out cities, it is not considered an atrocity by the other factions. Edward Teller would be proud.
- Glass Cannon: Any unit with a high attack rating and a low defense rating becomes this, but there's also an in-universe version of it with the mindworms. They can chew through armor like paper, yet their squishy bodies die easily to conventional weapons. The real threat is the terror they instill in their victims. Battles with them thus revolve around morale and mental combat. If your guys are more experienced and mentally tougher, they can keep it together long enough to blow away the worms, but if they're green cadets, they'll panic and die quickly even if they're in a diamond-hard hovertank.
- Global Currency: See energy credits.
- A God Am I: In the epilogue, after you complete your Ascent to Transcendence, the pronouns referring to you are capitalized, just as they usually are in reference to the Christian God in religious literature.
- Gray and Grey Morality: About the only ones officially called out as evil are the Usurpers; the others are shown to have their good points and their bad. Even the Hive, Believers, Cult of Planet and Caretakers are Well Intentioned Extremists with some valid points.
- Great Offscreen War: "Tau Ceti Flowering", in the past. The Progenitors created another planet similar to Chiron, only when it attained sentience, it went insane and destroyed itself and most of the Progenitor civilization.
- Guilt Based Gaming: If you go to quit the game, it tells you "Please don't go. The drones need you. They look up to you."
- Hannibal Lecture: When a computer leader thinks it has you on the ropes, or hilariously when you refuse their surrender and steamroll them.
- Harder Than Hard: The possibility of winning a game in "Transcend" is merely theoretical. The theory of this game has been so well explored by now that by using some very potent techniques the AI is generally terrible at (population booms at +6 growth, supply crawler abuse, Infinite City Sprawling, etc), skilled players can steamroll Transcend on a regular basis, unless the RNG decides otherwise.
- Hive Mind: The biomass of Planet acts as a single semi-sentient planet-sized brain.
- Human Popsicle: How colonists are stored in Colony Pods (read: new cities in the making).
- Human Resources: Implied in the quote for Recycling Tanks. Might overlap right into Soylent Green.
- Human Subspecies: With the right technology, two human variants are possible:
- Homo Superior: a being equal parts organic and computer, using the best of both worlds.
- Genejacks: genetically modified for labor, with strong body and little brain. It's probably no surprise that Chairman Yang was behind this.
- Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: Ranked from "Citizen" to "Transcend", named after the non-field jobs your bases' workers can take.
- Ill Girl: Aki Zeta-5 in the Backstory suffered from rheumatic fever three weeks before planetfall.
- Immortality Seeker: Though all the faction leaders and Talents have greatly extended lifespans due to advanced medical techniques, the Secret Project titled "Clinical Immortality" shows its rather... unsettling long-term consequences.
- That's what you get when you're an early adopter.
- "I plan to live forever, of course, but barring that I'd settle for a couple thousand years. Even five hundred would be pretty nice."
- Instant AI, Just Add Water: Subverted. There is the "Pre-Sentient Algorithms" technology and its descendants, not to mention Aki Zeta-5 and pals, but the trope is somewhat subverted in that true AIs are hardly instant.
- Jack of All Stats: The Peacekeepers. Their advantages and disadvantages are all relatively slight, so they're a good all-'round introductory faction (although the Gaians can also serve this role).
- The Joy of X: The title of your memoirs after you retire (used as a ranking of how well you did) is based off of an existing work.
- Just One More Level: Lampshades this, and even encourages it at one point.
- Kill It with Fire: The standard approach to mindworms is to loose flamethrowers on them. If they can manage to overcome the overwhelming psychic terror, that is.
- La Résistance: The Free Drones from Alien Crossfire.
- The Laws and Customs of War: The U.N. Charter prohibits extermination of human populations, the use of nerve gas, nerve stapling people (in a non-systematic way; it's perfectly okay to run a Punishment Sphere though), and the use of planetbusters. However, you can repeal the Charter, which strips out all of these regulations except the law against planetbusting.
- Lego Genetics: Averted: one of Zakharov's quotes insists "genes are not blueprints".
- Leitmotif: Every faction has theme music and cues that play as you control them, which are usually sensitive to your actions and change accordingly. The original game has five themes shared amongst the seven factions: the University, the Spartans and the Believers each have their own music, while the Peacekeepers and the Gaians share one, as do the Hive and the Morganites.
- Let's Play: A rather masterful one done up on the Something Awful Let's Play Archive: half interactive strategy, half well-written fanfic that ties all the factions (and faction quotes!) together. The seven new factions from Alien Crossfire are Demoted to Extra: Aki was an early experiment in creating Transcendii that failed, Cha Dawn's cult became irrelevant when Planet achieved true sentience, the Progenitors were killed off by Planet itself in the past to keep them from enslaving it, and so on.
- Mad Scientist: The University is implied to be what happens when a large number of Mad Scientist types hang out together. The Academician seems like an Affably Evil version from some of his quotes. The Gaian's are similar, but the madness is because of being best friends with mindworms. The Morganites also have a Lex Luthor tendency to hire these types. Note, however, that the science involved is still very hard, it's more a case that the scientific advances come easier to a science/corporate based society with an ethics board that is either a cost/benefit analysis or a question about how scientific the research is.
- Meaningful Name: Prokhor Zakharov. His first name is so close to 'Proctor' that the two will become inevitably mixed up. A proctor watches over students taking a test, much like Zakharov watches over his people as they take the test of Planet.
- Alpha Centauri B is named "Hercules", after the Greek Demigod because he was often an enemy to centaurs. When Hercules reaches perihelion, bad things happen to Chiron, usually in the form of extra swarms of mind worms and fungal blooms.
- Mega Corp: Morgan Industries, a corporation the size of an entire faction (for comparison, imagine if the world had become twelve enormous countries; now imagine that one of those countries was entirely owned and operated by a single corporation... which also did work outside its own borders).
- Mind Rape: The way mindworms paralyze their victims.
- Moral Event Horizon: In-Universe example when using a Planetbuster, which completely annihilates the target, but causes everyone to turn against you, even if you repealed the U.N. Charter against atrocities (it only covers minor atrocities, such as using chemical weapons and nerve stapling) or use them against aliens. Including Planet. People will get nervous if you so much as build one, and when another faction lets you know they have, you know they're about to try to extort you for something. Nerve Stapling will result in a very negative reaction as well.
- Named After Somebody Famous: Zakharov may be named after Andrei Sakharov, a Russian nuclear scientist, who Arthur C. Clarke fictively attributed the Leonov's reaction drive to in 2061: Odyssey Three (similar to the reaction drive used in the UN Unity, developed by Zakharov). In the Real World, Sakharov is known for having won the Nobel Peace Prize for his activism against nuclear proliferation and the Arms Race... and the development of the 50MT "Tsar Bomba" a.k.a. the biggest bomb ever set off (the latter led to the former). It is worth noting that Zakharov is also a real Russian surname, unrelated to Sakharov, stressed on the second syllable (zaKHArov) unlike the original (SAkharov).
- Zakharov was originally named "Saratov". The dev team changed his name before the game's release when it was pointed out that it was an improbable Russian surname (there is a city and administrative region called Saratov though).
- CEO Nwabudike Morgan and his faction are likely a reference to the 20th century financier J.P. Morgan. And looks just like Morgan Freeman.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Custom units have preset names, including one name each for high-powered offense and defense. For example, a gravship outfitted with a singularity laser (weapon power = 24, the highest number in vanilla Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri) will be called a Singularity Deathsphere. Ooh yeah. On the other hand, this can lead to cases of Deathbringer the Adorable: put Silksteel Armor on an Impact Rover, and you get an Impact Dragon. This might be scary in the early game, but would quickly get dated.
- Naming Your Colony World: An example under virtually every category.
- New Tech Is Not Cheap: This has prototyping, where the first unit of a new design has an added initial cost before you can even produce any. This cost is ignored by the Spartans and at bases with a Skunkworks.
- No Biochemical Barriers: Averted: whenever a human faction seizes a Progenitor colony (or vice versa), the incompatibilities between the species result in the colony being downsized to 1 population and a number of colony pods for the losing faction being created.
- Even before the expansion pack added the Progenitors, it takes getting through a good part of the tech tree and thorough analysis of the native life to get useful amounts of resources out of Planet's native xenofungus. One of Lady Deirdre's in-game quotes (also given above) contrasts the appetizing look and decidedly unappetizing nature of a particular native fruit.
- Even though Planet is remarkably Earth-like, its atmosphere has a lower proportion of oxygen (which, once again, is often mentioned by Lady Deirdre, who talks about plant life thriving in the anoxic environments on Planet). As a result, humans have to wear pressure helmets at the very least, lest they succumb to nitrogen narcosis. This is why all infantry units wear bodysuits in-game.
- No Delays for the Wicked: Yangs special ability is immunity to inefficiency, meaning he can run a planned economy and a police state without any penalty.
- No Except Yes: The factions don't wage war, as that was what led to the doom of old Earth. They will, however, pursue vendettas with each other.
- Non-Indicative Name: When a Secret Project is started, nearly finished or completely finished, the fact is broadcast to the entire world.
- No Name Given: While it does have a proper name, Chiron is usually referred to as simply "Planet".
- Noodle Incident: A quote alludes to the Americans learning painfully during Earth's final century that freeflow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The details are left to the imagination.
- No Place for Me There/Necessary Evil: The Cult of Planet will build industrial capacity in their attempt to purge Planet of the pollution of humanity; they acknowledge this and will destroy them last once everything else is cleansed.
- Not So Stoic: Most of Zakharov's quotes have him speaking very calmly, an academic giving a lecture. However, in the quote for the Temple of Planet, he's absolutely furious:
Let the Gaians preach their silly religion, but one way or the other I shall see this compound burned, seared, and sterilized until every hiding place is found and until every last Mind Worm egg, every last slimy one, has been cooked to a smoking husk. That species shall be exterminated, I tell you! Exterminated!
—Academician Prokhor Zakharov, "Lab Three Aftermath"
- Not the Intended Use: A more in-universe example than one in gameplay. Exploration/Discovery research sometimes provides you with devastating weapon upgrades (for example, learning how to synthesize fossil fuels grants you the ability to build combustion-based rocket launchers).
- Nude Nature Dance: Enemies of the Gaian faction might accuse Lady Deirdre of dancing naked in the trees.
- One Nation Under Copyright: Morgan Industries.
- Opening Narration: There's a little blurb at the start explaining the situation.
- Oppressive States of America: One of Pravin Lal's quotes references a painful lesson about the importance of free flow of information learned by Americans in Earth's final century.
- Oracular Urchin: Cha Dawn from Alien Crossfire.
- Orion Drive: The sleeper ship is propelled by an Orion-type drive, the shield of which fails (almost certainly due to sabotage) when the ship is almost at its destination, causing the passengers on the colony ship to splinter into factions.
- Pink Girl, Blue Boy: The Progenitors are split into two factions, the Manifold Caretakers and the Manifold Usurpers. The Caretaker leader is a feminine alien named Guardian Lular H'minee who is a reddish pink, while the Usurper leader is a masculine alien named Conqueror Judaa Marr who is a blueish green.
- Pro-Human Transhuman: Transcendi.
- The Promised Land: The people of Earth and Unity considered Planet to be this, due to Earth's massive Crapsack World status. The Believers consider Planet to be their Promised Land in a more Biblical sense as well.
- Psychic Powers: Mindworms rely on telepathic fear to paralyze their victims. Humans can develop psi abilities too, from the telepathic empathi and mindworm handlers to units of psychic warriors who are as deadly as mindworms.
- Punishment Box: The "punishment sphere", which make the oppressed masses too frightened to ever riot no matter what. For some reason, constructing this city improvement is not on the list of atrocities that will turn the other civilizations against you... because secretly, every faction has one stored away for the day they capture a defeated faction leader.
- Recycled in Space: Civilization II IN SPACE!. Most of the game mechanics are either exactly the same or very similar.
- Later, a mod for Civilization IV (Final Frontier), included with "Beyond the Sword" contains many homages to it.
- Of course, some of the Civilization games have a victory condition where you launch a colony ship to Alpha Centauri, so it could also be considered a sequel, especially since the game begins 10 years after the latest date Civ can end.
- Robot Republic: Or rather, Cyborg Republic, in the form of The Cybernetic Consciousness.
- Sanity Slippage: If you decide not to show mercy to an enemy who offers total surrender, it's quite fun to watch their rantings get more and more insane as they continue contacting you while you slowly exterminate their faction.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Nwabudike Morgan.
- Microsoft (in the late '90s) and Morgan Industries. Just compare Microsoft's slogan "Where do you want to go today?" with Morgan's slogan "Where do you want your node today?". Similarly, the "Network Backbone" Secret Project (think "Wonders" from Civilization) includes a quote from Morgan where he insists he doesn't want a monopoly despite bundling his company's software with every Network Node... their products are "just so good" that no one feels a need to compete.
- The video for the Secret Project "The Longevity Vaccine" takes the form of a series of network bumpers for Morgan TV (the video opens with what sounds like the NBC chimes played on an electric guitar), surreal, '90s-style rapid-fire ads for other Morgan products (it's Morgan Industries, so of course they're going to treat the cure for death as just another product to be marketed), and the Alpha Centauri equivalent of South Park.
- The tech name "The Will to Power" is directly derived from the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, and while "Homo Superior" might seem to be a simple reference to Linnean taxonomy, you realize that it's also a good way to express the term Ubermensch, which comes from... Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche quotes appear for both technologies (all from the Prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra).
- The names of some bases (like Farnham's Freehold or Googleplex) may ring some bells.
- In the game's files, technologies use seven-letter abbreviations. Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri shortens the Digital Sentience technology to HAL9000. SMACX has String Resonance, which enables the best weapon in the game, shortened to BFG9000.
- The portrait of the Peacekeepers' leader Pravin Lal might ring a bell too: he's basically the Indian (that is, Southern Asian) version of real-life UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
- Shown Their Work: And how!
- Slap-On-The-Wrist Nuke: Reversed. Using a (quasi-nuclear) Planet Buster will leave a huge crater where the enemy city or twelve used to be.
- Sliding Scale of Turn Realism: Round by Round.
- Sound Off:
I don't know but I've been told
—Spartan barracks march (Yes sir!)
- Spiritual Successor: To Civilization II. Virtually all of the basic gameplay is identical, just with different terms for all of the gaming concepts.
- In some ways, this reaches Serial Numbers Filed Off territory. While the gameplay is identical, the terminology is changed; people pursue "Vendetta" instead of "War", Wonders are "Secret Projects", Food is "Nutrients" and so on.
- Spiteful AI: The enemy loves to attack you no reason (even if it means they're going to get stomped), just to make sure you aren't allowed to play a relaxing "building" game.
- Standard Sci-Fi Army: The basic units already cover the main areas of the trope (Infantry, Oceanic Navies, Aircraft, Armored Combat Vehicles, Support). The mindworms and the Isle of the Deep could be consider examples of Exotic and (to a certain extent)Indigs.
- Starfish Aliens: Progenitors: in depth: their wacky sentence structure. The sentence structure is shown to be just how humans interpret or translate their speech, or maybe their attempts at communicating with humans. The "interludes" shown to a Progenitor player don't contain any of the weird sentence structure.
- One of the weirdest things about them is how they communicate. Generating patterns of sounds is how humans talk; progenitors "alter" existing sounds with their resonance. In written form, their alphabet might look like instructions for "*existing sound* Pitch Up, Pitch Down, Pitch Way Up, Elongate", etc.
- Strawman Political: Wonderfully averted. Even Miriam Godwinson and Sheng-ji Yang make legitimate points: the former's fear of technology is quite frequently justified, while the latter's goals bear an uncanny resemblance to the process of transcendence, and many of his quotes are rooted in Eastern mysticism and suggest he genuinely believes Utopia Justifies the Means.
- Superweapon Surprise:
- Gaians. Living in peace and harmony and environmental balance is great, especially when your ecological prowess helps make friends with, and power up, indigenous creatures that psychically paralyze enemies and proceed to core out their skull like an apple. While they're still alive. Which no amount of advanced armor or high-tech weaponry can defend against. Good times. One of Deirdre's books (Our Secret War) talks about how they would attack and obliterate their Spartan opponents with mindworms, with nobody realizing the Gaians were controlling the mindworm boils.
- The 'Planet Cult', a faction introduced in the Alien Crossfire expansion, are even more naturally aligned to Planet than the Gaians, but they already had rather a fanatical bent.
- Telepathic Spacemen: Mindworms.
- Too Awesome to Use: While Battle Ogres in Alien Crossfire have impeccable stats early-game (especially the Mark IIs and IIIs), they can't be built or repaired (even by Progenitors or monoliths), and their encounter rate among scattered Unity Pods is too low to scavenge a decent force. They do, however, come with "Non-Lethal Methods" (double Police duty during Drone Riots) and have resonance defenses (to better defend against psionic (i.e. mindworm) attacks), and thus are better garrisoned at a base rather than dismantled outright.
- Planet Busters also have elements of this, thanks to the fact that everyone will immediately and irrevocably declare war on you if you use one. Alternatively, if you can stockpile enough Planet Busters, you could declare war on everyone and win, although you'll run out of continents pretty quickly; initially because you've blown great big holes in all the other continents, this is quickly followed by sea level rise caused by your enormous levels of eco-damage.
- Too Dumb to Live: Similar to the Civilization series: "Our engineers have invented [laughably weak unit], rendering our forces invincible."
- To Serve Man: When the aliens take a human base, they're quite happy to recycle the inhabitants for nourishment.
- Tube Travel: The technological advance of Monopole Magnets grants this to your faction.
- United Nations Is a Super Power: The remnants of the UN form the UN Peacekeepers faction, which can become a powerful (or weak) faction depending on how the game turns out.
- Upgrade Artifact: Both the Monoliths and the actual Artifacts.
- The Usual Adversaries: Miriam fills this role to most other factions, due to her belligerent and fundamentalist agenda.
- Vicious Cycle: Planet's native life becomes sentient approximately every 100 million years, with the sentience coming just too late for planet to prevent massive die-backs caused by the flowering that leads up to planet becoming sentient, sending the newly-sentient Planet back into a semi-sentient dreaming state. The presence of humans on Planet's surface accelerates the cycle, leading to Planet rapidly becoming more coherent. Can humanity find a way to end the cycle? Yes, they can.
- Video Game Caring Potential: Build an enlightened democracy. Adopt a Eudaimonic society with peace and justice for all. Take good care of your citizens, and cultivate your Talent pool. Be good to Planet, with Centauri Preserves and all the environmentalist Secret Projects. The people will reward you with Golden Ages and the increased cash flow and productivity that comes with it; Planet will reward you with an army of mindworms.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: Construct an oppressive Police State! Use Planet Busters on your enemies! Use Thought Control! Rip apart Planet and despoil her for all she's got! Sure, you might get drone riots, but you can just nerve-staple them into submission! Who cares about the sanctions, everyone hates you anyway! Besides, biological and chemical warfare are just so much fun!
- Virtual Ghost: Transcendi.
- What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: The Peacekeepers get extra happy people, extra space for people and doubled council votes. Minor bonuses until one realizes that happy people lead to golden ages and population booms. Coupled with doubled votes, this is instant diplomatic victory.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Humans blasting on aliens with nerve gas is just fine, but God forbid if you use it against other humans! But then, the aliens make no bones about the fact that they consider humans little more than undesirable pests and there's a reason that human bases that they take over drop down to population 1.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: The Voice of Planet, as it attains sentience, speaks with a strange accent that rolls the r's.
- Winds of Destiny Change: The Probability Mechanics discovery. Not only does God play dice, the dice are loaded. In addition, it's hinted that Chaos Cannons and Probability Infantry manipulate probability in their odds. In the GURPS supplement, the Monoliths are said to do this, changing probability so things are better.
- Won't Work On Me: The Hunter-Seeker Algorithm project renders all of your cities and units immune to any sort of probe team sabotage and kills the team that attempts it. This makes it a must-have for the University and anybody else with a low Probe stat. Although it doesn't stop other factions from framing you for probing the rest who didn't get it.
- You Shall Not Pass: Somewhat parodied by Richard "Recon Rover Rick" Baxton, who is lauded as a hero for holding off four waves of mindworms. At the same time, his death is glossed over to be able to sell his story.
Morgan: Richard Baxton piloted his Recon Rover into a fungal vortex and held off four waves of mindworms, saving an entire colony. We immediately purchased his identity manifests and repackaged him into the Recon Rover Rick character with a multi-tiered media campaign: televids, touchbooks, holos, psi-tours-- the works. People need heroes. They don't need to know how he died clawing his eyes out, screaming for mercy. The real story would just hurt sales, and dampen the spirits of our customers.
- Zerg Rush: Mindworms attack in massive waves, unconcerned about the defenses they face. Planet has reserves. Certain factions also play this way with regular units (the Drones, Hive and Believers are the strongest examples).
Please don't go. The drones need you. They look up to you.