Technology: Doctrine: Mobility

“Once a man has changed the relationship between himself and his environment, he cannot return to the blissful ignorance he left.  Motion, of necessity, involves a change in perspective.”

— Commissioner Pravin Lal, “A Social History of Planet”

Doctrine: Mobility is labeled in the game as an exploration technology.  It enables the creation of units using the rover chassis, which enables double-speed land travel over flat terrain or on roads.  In the early game, rover units serve as the backbone of both land exploration and attacking forces, and continue to see use until almost the very end of the game.

Interestingly, in SMAC, the technologies that enable the basic modes of propulsion we’re familiar with from Earth (wheeled transport, boats, airplanes, even hovercraft) are all represented as doctrines.  The idea is that the technologies themselves and their purposes are well-known; the real problem in the context of military operations on Planet is in tactics and logistics.  Therefore, the knowledge represented by Doctrine: Mobility isn’t just how to build a car’s drivetrain, though that’s certainly part of it.  It’s mostly about how to resupply a mobile column or how to keep the various far-flung units in contact so that they can effectively coordinate.

It’s worth mentioning that the Spartans start with this technology along with a scout rover instead of the other factions’ scout infantry units, reflecting their emphasis on military doctrine and preparedness.  Based on the above reasoning, this makes total sense.  Col. Santiago and the people that would have flocked to her are exactly the people who would have treasured copies of Heinz Guderian’s Panzer Leader in their e-readers.  Speed, audacity, and decisive force at the crucial point are prized.

But it’s also intriguing that this technology is represented by another social-science quote from one of Brother Lal’s works.  In game, the immediate effect of this technology is military in nature.  But the ability to transit between bases in rovers must necessarily effect the experience of daily life on Planet.  Quotes like this make it clear that the game as experienced is intended to be seen as a model, in some ways.  The world of the game feels more real, in some sense, when the player finds himself imagining what it would be like for a typical civilian colonist to get access to motorized transport.

Another intriguing thing about this is that Lal is again chosen to deliver this perspective.  Presumably, unlike his “History of Science”, “A Social History of Planet” was written well after Planetfall to describe the rapid changes in society stemming from the era of early colonization and up into the mid-game, when each of the societies manage to establish themselves more firmly on the alien world.  The fact that these words were presumably written in the in-game future (from the perspective of the player discovering the technology) gives the implied narrative of the game an added solidity.

Finally, the quote itself is both a truism and a clever point, as befitting the best of highbrow social theorizing.  Lal’s a sharp guy.  And it is both interesting – and true – that the ability to cross long distances rapidly changes both a person’s physical perspective and that of the resulting society.  Liberalism, in the sense represented by Lal, has historically fed off of this mobility and the resulting breakdowns in the sharp lines between the in-group and the out-group.

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One thought on “Technology: Doctrine: Mobility

  1. northstar1989Blake

    A tiny note- the units are *rovers*, not cars, and they wouldn’t have drivetrains. That’s because drivetrains exist to couple the energy released by an Internal Combustion Engine with the wheels- but in Planet’s oxygen-thin atmosphere and with its lack of any natural fossil fuel deposits (and the Synthetic Fossil Fuels technology doesn’t come until *much* later), combustion engines would be all but impossible to run. Rather, the rovers on Chiron must necessarily be closer analogs of something like the Lunar Rover or the Mars rovers- electrically powered wheeled craft. And, since a drivetrain is far more complex than simply building an electric motor on each engine, it’s likely that the rovers just have 4 separate electrical engines powering each wheel instead… The source of the electricity, by the way, is clearly the nuclear reactor every unit is equipped with…

    An unrelated side-note: since most vehicles are clearly already nuclear-electric powered, it’s very interesting that the aircraft have “fuel”. Almost certainly this was implemented for gameplay balance purposes, but it’s completely unrealistic- a portable nuclear reactor can easily be made to last for *years* without requiring any kind of refueling… When you already have an abundant source of electricity (like an onboard nuclear reactor) the most efficient way to run a helicopter is simply with an electric motor- which could theoretically operate for years without stop, although it would require occasional shut-downs for maintenance (so the copters needing to land at the end of every turn for repairs makes sense- just it being due to a need to “refuel” is bogus…) The requirement for needlejets to land every two turns, and that they require Synthetic Fossil Fuels, makes even less sense though- as if you already have an onboard nuclear reactor all you need to do to propel a plane is pass air over the exterior of the thing in a Thermal Turbojet to produce thrust, and you can do that with zero onboard fuel requirement (and, as Thermal Turbojets have very few moving parts, they are extremely reliable- meaning you could circumnavigate the Earth SEVERAL times in a row with one before needing to land for maintenance…) The main reason people don’t use Thermal Turbojets in real life is because of concerns of putting a nuclear reactor on a plane in the first place, and what might happen if the plane crashed or there were a radiation leak- however in a world where Fission Reactors are routinely built into practically everything (and later, Fusion Reactors become available- which don’t produce any substantial amount of radioactive material) one would expect Thermal Turbojets to be the main means of aerial propulsion…

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