Technology: Transcendent Thought

“Eternity lies ahead of us, and behind.
Have you drunk your fill?”

— Lady Deirdre Skye, “Conversations with Planet”, Epilogue

It is a tradition in “4X” games to have a node at the very end of technology tree called some variant of “Future Technology”. In the Civilization games that SMAC was based off of, this represents any future scientific discoveries that are out of scope from the perspective of the history-based tree. Usually they provide few or no benefits save for bragging rights, which in Civilization are made tangible through the otherwise meaningless in-game score mechanic.

It’s worth noting that, uniquely, the Future Tech can be researched multiple times. This allows it to serve as a perfect end-game sink for research points. Perhaps the best way to think of it, mechanically, is that it enables the player to turn any excess research points that he generated during the course of the game into score.

For players that are interested in maxing out this number, they’ll generally find themselves ending up “milking” the game. This means that they progress to the end of the game and then set about churning out as many copies of Future Tech as they can manage, only stopping when the penalty for taking an extra turn to win the game is greater than the number of Future Tech instances they can generate in that turn.

SMAC is no exception to this trend. Though we can see that Reynolds was presented with a small problem here by the very concept of his game. SMAC is essentially supposed to answer the question of what comes next after a game of Civilization winds to an end. This means essentially every tech on the SMAC tree is a “Future Tech”. So what comes after the future?

Since we’ve seen how the game ends, now, it should be little surprise that Reynolds would label the last technology Transcendent Thought. It has no concrete benefits. This is fitting given that the precise state of the player’s empire will naturally be entirely meaningless post-Transcendence. To the degree that this technology represents anything concrete at all, it can only be interpreted as the result of the people on Planet accepting Planet’s invitation in the final video to join it in celebrating the gift of consciousness.

It’s critical to note that Reynolds has shown us no hint of jadedness at the end. Unlike the archetypal dissolute aristocrat, the people of the player’s faction have genuinely accomplished something of real and lasting value with their great power. They haven’t just leveled the mountains and plumbed the secrets of creation. They have also finally discovered and lived the truly virtuous life that was always implied by their beliefs. Theirs is the satisfaction of the race well run.

Thus, the full scope of Reynolds’s genius stands revealed. He has arranged events so that the player’s own feelings at the end can be reminiscent of those felt by the nigh-unimaginably powerful people at the end of history when they look around their world. Just like the player, they’ve seen everything there is to see; they’ve done all there is to do. So even though the player cannot possibly have the context to fully imagine virtually any detail about the content of their fictional future lives, the final emotional note he strikes still rings true.

Even here at the very end, SMAC does not rush the player along. The actual outcome of the game is long-since decided, of course. But he is invited to stay and continue to engage with the game as long as he’s having fun. That’s the whole point of the endeavor.

Hence the sheer perfection of this final quote. It’s a little microcosm of the game itself, actually, in that it speaks powerfully to both the character and the player himself. On one level, Planet is inviting Lady Deirdre to join it in Transcendence, offering her an eternity of experience whenever she’s willing to leave her old life behind and transition to a new state of being.

But on another, Reynolds is speaking to the player himself. In the context of the game, an eternity of potential lies ahead, when his people transcend, and behind, when the player ends this game and starts another. A universe of new, exciting possibilities await as soon as he’s done milking this one for score.

On the final level, though, this message is best read as the moral of the game. SMAC, itself, is at its heart a joyous exploration in the way that only the best science fiction can be. The content of the game has been alternately light and dark, hopeful and despairing, but it’s always been approached from an unfailingly earnest, enthusiastic place.

In retrospect, one doesn’t have look very hard to notice that. Reynolds so obviously loves this game. The love radiates from every nook and cranny of it. He loves the big ideas and the childish insults. He loves building up a beautiful sandbox and then knocking it all over with nuclear weapons. He loves all the cool futuristic weapons and the spaceships and the crazy fungus worms. He loves it so much that he even has a place in his heart for all seven of his mutually-contradictory faction leaders.

Reynolds wants the player to go off and live his life with the same joy he has tried to bring to SMAC. After all, infinite possibilities surround all of us. When one comes to an end, simply head off and enjoy another.

With this, I believe we have now completely answered the question with which I began this blog over a year ago. How is it that Reynolds was able to build a satisfying story into a sci-fi strategy game, of all things? And why did that story resonate so strongly with many who played it that people are still talking about it a generation later?

It wouldn’t be right, after having spent so long as SMAC’s unofficial chronicler, to conclude this blog in any way other than adding my voice to Reynolds’s. I suspect I’ll find myself returning to SMAC and analyzing different aspects of the game just as I might milk a playthrough of SMAC for a higher score. But it won’t change the fact that this represents the true and proper end for our journey.

To anyone out there who finds that any measure of joy in walking this path with me: thank you for your time. It has been both an honor and a privilege to share with you the unique experience represented by SMAC. Hopefully you get just a little more out of it the next time you fire up the game.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to credit Brian Reynolds and the whole team at Firaxis Entertainment for creating a true work of art. It’s certain that your work has brought me countless hours of enjoyment. But I’d go even farther and say that to the degree that I can be said to have earned any spark of enlightenment, a good chunk of the credit should go to the time I spent with SMAC.

Thanks, guys. For everything.

Secret Project: The Ascent To Transcendence

“No longer mere earthbeings and planetbeings are we, but bright children of the stars! And together we shall dance in and out of ten billion years, celebrating the gift of consciousness until the stars themselves grow cold and weary, and our thoughts turn again to the beginning.”

— Lady Deirdre Skye, “Conversations with Planet”

The Ascent to Transcendence marks the end of the game. If the player sees this video, he has won. Which means that Reynolds has to deliver a satisfying conclusion to the entire gameplay experience. To accomplish this, it needs to serve as a fitting coda to the human era. But it must also be a happy ending. The player just triumphed; there’s no way Reynolds can end on a dark note.

That’s worthy of comment given that the canonical game was shaping up to end much like the player was told Earth ended. The technological level was higher, of course. But Reynolds went out of his way to sow the same the same sense of fear, economic dislocation, growing strife, and impending ecological collapse that we saw in the first half of the introductory video all throughout the last third of the game.

So this ending video begins with what appears to be some sort of religious ritual. Seven figures are each standing in a circle located in a barren plain. It’s critically important that there are exactly seven brought together in united effort now, as the game opened with the image of humanity fracturing into the seven disparate colony pods. We know that in canon these cannot all be the seven original faction leaders. But, here, these seven represent all the threads of humanity coming back together into a unified whole.

Each figure is on their own small, raised platform and facing a strange sphere. It rises up into the air before them and hovers momentarily before exploding in a white-blue flash. This causes a rapid bloom of xenofungus to radiate out of the circular ritual structure in all directions. The camera shifts to show that this fungal bloom sweep over entire continents before shifting again to show a side view of the bloom racing over the plains, spreading as fast as the bolt of lightning that’s skimming just above the surface. The fungus, which the player knows is the stuff of the Planetmind, has been spurred to cover every inch of the planet’s surface.

Then we see that same lightning arcing into tall skyscrapers and domes, where the humans live. Lines of lightning draw straight lines between buildings in a city before the camera zooms out and shows similar lines radiating out between points at a continental scale. These link the bases together, psychically, just as the individual people had been linked within the cities. Meanwhile, the fungus in the background finishes covering the planet.

The camera then cuts to encompass the entire planet as it glows brightly with this blue-white aura. Then the quote goes silent. The player is then left to contemplate what has just happens as he regards the last twenty seconds of footage. These echo the image of space that opened the game. But this time, instead of the story of the expulsion from Eden, these images of space just have a minimal instrumental accompaniment intended to evoke a feeling of profound awe at the possibilities inherent in transcendence.

The quote explains what, exactly, is happening here. All of humanity has abandoned their remaining attachment to their physical form and their individual existence. Instead, they’ve joined together with each other and with the Planetmind to become a brand-new entity. It’s presumably similar to Planet’s previous existence, but the combination takes place at the psychic level rather than a physical one, using the newly dense fungal relays as the computational substrate.

In canon, I presume that the Gaians won the race. Deirdre has always had the closest relationship to Planet. We know that the Gaians were a Great Power. And the quote is generally attributed to Deirdre’s collected “Conversations With Planet” because it’s spoken with the Planet’s voice in the same vein as the others, though that is omitted from the final video.

But that leaves one last question. Why was there the great race at the end, anyway? Winning the game doesn’t mean living forever. Nor does it mean transcending. It looks like everyone who makes it to the ritual is welcome in the new collective consciousness.

No, the reason why there’s a race is because it matters whose values get written most deeply into the heart of the new godlike being. And thus the physical universe. Not to mention whatever might come after when the stars burn out. Literally everything was at stake. Because in the end, the real legacy of the human era, the only one that could possibly still matter to the transcended post-humans millennia from now, is our set of values: the seven distinct philosophies.

Secret Project: The Voice of Planet

“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 construction of the Voice of Planet secret project is supposed to represent the climax of the game’s narrative. Ever since the mid-game bled over into the late game, SMAC’s technology tree has been set up to hand out powerful rewards as if they were candy, making manifest the nigh-infinite promise of the future and greatly accelerating the player’s faction’s forward progress.

Simultaneously, though, the game’s lore has been sounding several ominous notes. In particular, Sister Miriam got a substantial amount of spotlight in which to decry and eventually attempt to escape what she saw as the oncoming, hopelessly immoral future. Several otherwise excellent late-game secret projects are delivered as poisoned pills in this sense.

Reynolds has also gone out of his way to amp up the menace from Planet, as well. The quote from Sentient Econometrics warns that Planet’s attempted metamorphosis into a sentient being inevitably wipes out what may as well essentially be the entire ecosystem in a massive cataclysm. The destruction of Lab Three and the implied war between the University and the Gaians should definitely best seen as the first salvo in that conflict.

The game mechanics are intended to support this by making severe ecodamage likely. This should be even worse if the planet has been filled up by large bases working many mines and boreholes, amplified by factories granting 100-150% multipliers. All this ecodamage is intended to cause late game fungal pops that are usually accompanied by massive stacks of mind worms. Which are often the much scarier Locusts of Chiron instead of the less difficult to deal with standard variety.

And, in fact, from this perspective the increased tile yields for fungus can easily feed the problem. Matter Transmission makes fungus tiles yield two minerals, which is as good as a forest. Then making it all the way to the Threshold of Transcendence so that the Voice of Planet can be built makes them yield three. Recall that a mine on optimal terrain only yields four minerals.

The upshot of all this is that fungus pops don’t actually shut down mineral production like they used to in the mid game. The old mechanism was supposed to be something of a negative feedback loop. Too much industry leads to a local reaction from Planet, which then forces and/or encourages the player to moderate that base’s mineral output.

But the player will naturally be working the terrain that’s available to him. So when fungus starts yielding good output – and especially good mineral output – the ecodamage response stops reducing base production. In fact, it can actually increase it if fungus starts replacing farms and forests. The feedback loop could theoretically enter a runaway state.

Enough of this is then supposed to trigger the global warming rule to start flooding out coastal terrain. This will quite likely kill lots of people all over the globe. And, overall, just make it feel like the planet really is in the process of rising up to cause imminent Armageddon.

And it seems like this is how things went down in the implied canon. I wouldn’t be surprised if the University opened up on the Gaians with Singularity Planet Busters after their Singularity Laser drop troopers and Gravship-supported Hovertanks didn’t prove immediately decisive against the heavily psi-focused Gaian armies. The use of these weapons would have counted as a massive atrocity, which would have increased global warming and thus the intensity of the endgame apocalypse.

After a few years of this, Zakharov has run the numbers and decided that he can’t win his war. And, at this rate, humanity is certainly doomed. So he orders the construction of the Voice of Planet. His description of the act as a last-ditch effort and his characterization of Planet as an alien god make it seem like this is more of a surrender than anything else. For all the miraculous technology at his disposal, his faction is somehow virtually helpless before the power of the awakening gestalt Planet-being.

Thematically, Zakharov was the perfect choice for the faction leader to build this project and deliver the quote. See, he’s arguably the most aggressively secular leader. If he stands for anything, he stands for humanity’s quest to gain the power of the gods through the scientific project. And he’s not exactly subtle about his Promethean ambitions. I mean, he named his series of educational texts “For I Have Tasted The Fruit”, and I’m sure he meant the allusion as a dig at Sister Miriam and everything she stood for.

Now just take a moment to imagine what it must be like to be in his position. Here he stands at the end of time. He’s an immortal cyborg superhuman. He possesses all the secrets of the universe. He’s created at least one universe to help bend this one to his own ends. He may as well be a god himself. And after everything he has accomplished, after learning every last secret Reynolds has hidden on the technology tree, he still has to humble himself before an alien god and beg to be spared.

We’ve already seen how he values the acquisition of knowledge above all else. It’s literally baked into the game as his favorite Social Engineering choice. It is thus perfectly fitting that when he is finally forced to make his prostrations, his offering is the sum total of the datalinks themselves. This is a beautiful image; it works on every literary level.

The associated video depicts this act as a bunch of rapidly cycling images. They’re all actually from the previous secret project videos. Which is a brilliant way to represent the sum total of human knowledge at the end of the game. The Secret Projects are intended to represent humanity’s greatest accomplishments, after all. And by virtue of being evocative video clips instead of mere text, they likely represent the player’s most vivid memories of the canon, as opposed to his own gameplay experiences. So this video calls back to the entirety of the SMAC era in a way that would remind both Zakharov and the player of the best parts of the time they’ve spent on Planet.

Once it’s actually built in the game, the Voice of Planet only does two things. First, it grants a final lifecycle bonus to any alien life built by the faction, which is perhaps the most pointless mechanical bonus in the whole game. Second, it then opens up the Ascent to Transcendence project for construction. Since the faction that ascends first wins the game, and since any faction can try to build it as soon as the Voice of Planet goes up, the idea is that the Voice of Planet is supposed to kick off an in-game race. This last struggle serves as the game’s short denouement before its ultimate conclusion.

Secret Project: The Singularity Inductor

“What actually transpires beneath the veil of an event horizon? Decent people shouldn’t think too much about that.”

— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “For I Have Tasted The Fruit”

The video for the Singularity Inductor invites the player to continue the train of thought that Miriam began in the quote for the Controlled Singularity technology. Why would a perfect God create a universe at all? But instead of popping the stack to consider Miriam’s plight in the broader context of her being a character in a video game, it encourages the player to ask what happens if we push the stack down a meta-level?

It has been a fairly popular cosmological theory that our universe might be inside a black hole. As such, it’s a sci-fi theme that the player is expected to have some rough familiarity with. The logical extension of this theory is that black holes in our universe might potentially contain entire sub-universes within them.

Now recall that this project represents the ability for people to create and manipulate a persistent black hole. In this light, then, Zakharov has constructed an entire universe. He is literally their creator-god. And he brought forth their universe in a great Big Bang for industrial purposes. In essence, eons of pain, suffering, and evil were brought into being as a side effect of getting a free Quantum Converter at every base.

This line of logic almost assuredly applies to the Singularity Laser weapon and the Singularity Engine as well. Which means that Zakharov’s University is building entire universes on an assembly-line basis. And he’s doing it all so that his Gravships can more efficiently roast Gaian bases at the end of the game.

He dismisses any concerns like these with what amounts to a verbal shrug. We already know that he has a refined philosophical disdain for what others might consider pressing moral concerns. For him, the fierce moral urgency is located entirely in the quest to most quickly find the best answers to entirely practical questions. What is this phenomenon? How is it best described? What possible use does it have?

So Zakharov would clearly maintain that it just doesn’t matter what scale of horrors might take place beneath the event horizon. It’s no different in principle than the old Bioenhancement Centers, in which row upon row of brains were grown in jars to develop better direct brain implants. And generations of people have lived and died on Planet in the time it took to progress the eleven tiers of the technology tree since then.

So the objective Ethical Calculus does not necessarily to give a strong weight to the well-being of sentient beings in general. Nor does it seem to require any particular concern for any being who exists on a meta-level distinct from one’s own. If a simulator need have no concern for those whom he simulates, it follows that a god need not have any care for the universe he brings to life.

If you’re a decent person, Zakharov grants that the thought of all that suffering probably bothers you. He’d say it’s an irrational preference, of course. But he’ll generously grant that it’s not necessarily altogether unworthy. So his advice to someone plagued by such an overabundance of conscience is to just try not to think about it too much. Not when there’s still so much science to be done.

Technology: Threshold of Transcendence

“And when he has brought forth and reared this perfect virtue, he shall be called the friend of god, and if ever it is given to man to put on immortality, it shall be given to him.”

— Plato, “The Symposium”, Datalinks

Here it is. We have finally reached the end of the technology tree. Centuries have almost assuredly passed since the moment a handful of fragile colony pods came to rest upon the surface of an alien world. Upon researching this technology, their literal and philosophical descendants now stand at the Threshold of Transcendence. The threshold can be passed by constructing the associated Voice of Planet secret project, which starts the countdown to the end of the game.

Transcendence, in SMAC, represents the end of the human era. Whatever comes next will necessarily represent a dramatic shift in what it means to be a person and a society. One that’s so much sharper than anything that’s been envisioned to this point that SMAC no longer attempts to represent it in the game world. Recalling the dramatic impact of many of these prior technologies should help to demonstrate the full weight of that statement.

But what exactly does this technology do? What is it meant to concretely represent, other than telling the player the game is about to end? Answering these questions first requires us to take a look at its prerequisites.

In SMAC, the Threshold of Transcendence requires Temporal Mechanics and the Secrets of Creation to research. We have already seen that Temporal Mechanics implies a complete understanding of psionics. But what may not have been obvious then is that it also implies a complete understanding of society-wide ethics. The Social Engineering and Base Management screens have been constant companions for the player for the duration of the game. And it’s only at Temporal Mechanics that it’s guaranteed to be possible to select every Social Engineering choice and to assign all the most effective forms of specialist.

On the other hand, whatever their contents, the Secrets of Creation are obviously relevant to the final fate of humanity and the universe. It’s also worth pointing out that they require the Unified Field Theory, in turn. This means that this inclusion as a prerequisite implies that the people at the end of time need a theoretically complete picture of fundamental physics in order to move to the next phase in existence.

But it’s just as interesting, in my view, to see what on the tree isn’t actually required to win the game. Temporal Mechanics recursively implies all three ninth-tier technologies and all five eight-tier technologies. But it’s actually the Secrets of Creation that’s required to pick up the final seventh-tier Unified Field Theory.

As an aside, it’s kind of mind-blowing to realize that it’s theoretically possible to master time itself without a truly correct and satisfying fundamental physics. There’s a potential SMAC universe out there in which the people of Chiron just kept muddling through to the top of the tree with increasingly accurate domain-specific theories. All the while, they lacked the single, revolutionary flash of insight that could have came centuries before.

So that leaves seven technologies that are unnecessary for transcendence. They range from Frictionless Surfaces, up through Quantum Power/Quantum Machinery, Singularity Mechanics, and the parallel three-technology chain at the top that starts with Graviton Theory and runs through to Controlled Singularity. The common theme uniting these breakthroughs is that they’re all physical in nature. They’re about particles, not people.

Thus, SMAC posits that transcendence must stem from something more than, or different from, mere scientific empiricism. Reynolds has always seen the fantastic powers and the exciting promise of new technology as tools rather than as ends. In this, Reynolds stands squarely within the tradition of the greatest science fiction.

From the beginning, the resonant themes of the game have been centered about genuinely meaty philosophical questions. How should we live? What is best in life? Which ethical principles are eternally true and which are only contingent upon circumstance? What values are essential to the human experience? And what parts of our lives will we want our far-future descendants to look back on and treasure as central to the legacy we have left them?

Reynolds presents the faction leaders as a detailed existence proof that these questions can be satisfactorily answered in at least seven different ways. The quote that accompanies this technology would lead one to believe that, whichever path one chooses to walk, they each imply an end state in which this perfect virtue is somehow made manifest. Or, in other words, for a faction to find itself at the Threshold of Transcendence means that the people have come to embody a final and complete solution for philosophy itself.

Metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and even aesthetics are all solved problems. And not only in a theoretical sense. At this point, the entire society is an instantiation of a completely correct, self-consistent philosophy. But Reynolds has left it for the player to determine whether or not the society his faction has painstakingly built has resulted in a true utopia or the final triumph of evil, invincible for all time.

Technology: Controlled Singularity

“Some would ask, how could a perfect God create a universe filled with so much that is evil. They have missed a greater conundrum: why would a perfect God create a universe at all?”

— Sister Miriam Godwinson, “But for the Grace of God”

Controlled Singularity is the final technology in the chain that began with Graviton Theory. From the name and the prerequisites, it would appear that it uses the techniques represented by Applied Gravitonics to safely manipulate the artificial singularities that can be created using Singularity Mechanics. So now they can be safely used for more purposes than just a potent power source.

For instance, they allow the creation of the twenty-four strength Singularity Laser. This is ultimate unit weapon in SMAC. Units equipped with these weapons and using the earlier Singularity Engines have no problem sweeping aside any lesser-equipped enemy.

This is the reason why this technology is considered a military tech. Which is interesting given that its other benefit is to allow the construction of an economy-focused secret project. The Singularity Inductor counts as a free Quantum Converter at every base. Which is simultaneously very powerful and generally almost completely worthless in a typical game, as it is very unlikely for there to be many turns left for the investment to pay itself back.

So let’s move on to the associated quote. It’s Sister Miriam again. Which is a little surprising given that we know how her story ends. But notice that this one isn’t attributed to “We Must Dissent”. In fact, judging by the quote to the Planetary Transit System, I’d argue that “But for the Grace of God” was likely written at the height of the Believers’ fortunes. At that time, her people had just constructed their first Secret Project. And it was one that seemed to herald an age of prosperity as her people spread out to colonize wide swaths of the new world.

We can conclude, then, that Miriam’s question isn’t coming from a place of existential doubt or despair. She has been grappling with what philosophers have called the problem of evil since the beginning. And instead of making a loud statement in favor of God’s obvious goodness, she turns it around by asking instead why God would choose to create the universe at all.

This is a pretty profound line of argument. Ancient philosophers and wise men have often been drawn to the idea of perfection as that which is complete in and of itself. The image of God as an axiomatically perfect creator naturally raises the question as to why he would ever feel the need to create anything outside of himself. To create is to theoretically attempt to fill or sate a felt need. And a perfect being would logically have no such needs.

There are several natural ways to resolve this dilemma. God could not exist, God could be imperfect, God’s perfection could be best seen as some sort of dynamic state instead of as an instantiation of some Platonic ideal, or that the system defined as God includes the universe itself as a component. And those are just the possibilities that came off the top of my head; there are certainly many others. But Reynolds chooses to leave it unclear in the end as to what Sister Miriam’s answer may have been.

All of this would just be another in the long tradition of rambling that makes up the typical philosophers’ favorite pastime, were it not for the context in which the player encounters this discussion. Popping the stack a meta-level, the player actually knows the concrete answer to both of Sister Miriam’s questions: because he wanted to play a game of SMAC.

Her world exists and is filled with so much imperfection and moral evil because Reynolds and his friends at Firaxis Entertainment set it up that way. For his entertainment. From that perspective, SMAC could be seen literally as a god-game, with the player standing in as a cruel or callous god.

Technology: Temporal Mechanics

“Time travel in the classic sense has no place in rational theory, but temporal distortion does exist on the quantum level, and more importantly it can be controlled.”

— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “For I Have Tasted The Fruit”

Temporal Mechanics is a fourteenth-tier economic technology. It is labeled as such because its only effect is to unlock the last armor technology: the twelve-strength Stasis Generator. The name and the quote would make this out to be the ultimate forcefield. Presumably it stops the incoming attack by literally freezing it in place. This represents a rather different approach compared to the traditional attempts to deflect or absorb the incoming energy. It isn’t too hard to see how it could be even more effective than ablative antimatter plating.

Given this effect, though, it has a rather curious pair of prerequisites. On the one hand, we have Matter Transmission. It’s not all that hard to see the logic here. Faster than light teleportation inherently has implications with regard to causality. In a world where physics allows such an action at such large scales, it would make sense that time itself would prove to be a little more flexible than we might otherwise expect. Playing with the one odd physical behavior thus leads to a breakthrough in a related area.

But the other required technology is Eudaimonia, of all things. It seems rather unlikely on the surface that a novel theory of social organization is required to make an engineering breakthrough like this. But, from the name of the Psi Gates allowed by Matter Transmission, it would seem that psionics are somehow required to achieve the effect. This is why that technology relied on access to the ultimate psychics, represented in SMAC by the Transcendi and unlocked with the Secrets of Alpha Centauri.

So achieving the insights represented by Temporal Mechanics would seem to require something unique to Eudaimonia that is not already implied by the Secrets of Alpha Centauri. Other than unlocking the Eudaimonic society, the Eudaimonia technology itself has a couple of other psi-related effects that lead me to believe that the future society is made possible only by the work of advanced Empaths.

Let’s look back further to see if we can’t find some more clues. Examining their prerequisite chains for their highest common ancestors reveals that they both need Sentient Econometrics and Centauri Psi. So either of these techs or any that they recursively require can’t be the answer. The only other chain that culminates in Eudaimonia that fits the bill is The Will to Power, through Homo Superior and Biomachinery.

To sum up, this means that Temporal Mechanics actually represents the peak of psionic technique and understanding. Only here does the traditional, Planet-focused line of psionic inquiry dovetail back in with the new, human-derived psionics that became possible in the mid-game by engineering better people. And it just turns out that the primary application of this is to bend the previously expected rules of physics by fueling time-stopping forcefields.

I find it fascinating that, even this close to the end, the tech tree still contains within it this kind of implied serendipity in the march of technology. This is one of those patterns that Reynolds was careful to establish in the beginning that continues to pay dividends here at the end. Even if almost none of his players peers closely enough to notice this detail directly, the fact that it’s there to be found at all adds a great deal to the player’s feeling that even the distant SMAC future is still a real place.