“Man has killed man from the beginning of time, and each new frontier has brought new ways and new places to die. Why should the future be different?”
— Col. Corazon Santiago, “Planet: A Survivalist’s Guide”
This quote is great. It hits the player square in the utopian solar plexus, leaving his Star Trek inspired optimism gasping for breath. And we can be almost assured that the player, being a late 90’s sci-fi strategy game player, will be at least somewhat conversant in the heroic, optimistic visions of the future popular in the canonical science fiction classics.
We’ve already seen hints that the SMAC future isn’t quite turning out like Roddenberry hoped it might. But Santiago’s final question is so brutal for being simultaneously so simple, so horrible, and so completely irrefutable. She’s right. She has to be.
And, moreover, the player knows she’s right. He has already, personally, ordered soldiers to fight and die in this brand-new world. Even if by chance the player’s faction has been at peace with the other human factions, he has certainly been attacked by mind worms and has lost soldiers to their previously-unimaginable psionic attack.
The technology accompanying the quote is a fourth-tier military technology that combines Doctrine: Flexibility and Optical Computers to unlock the Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) special ability, which grants the unit a strong defense multiplier against air units. Intriguingly, the defense for air units is available earlier on the technology tree than the air units themselves, enabling a faction that is behind technologically to not necessarily crumple immediately upon losing the race to air power.
There are a couple of other ancillary military benefits that come with this technology. First, units can also take the Deep Radar special ability, which increases the sight radius of the unit. And, second, this technology lets terraformers produce bunkers on tiles. A bunker replaces most of the economic improvements on a tile (like mines or the like) in exchange for allowing an additional defensive bonus for units in the tile. Also, the tile is treated like a base tile for the purpose of stacking and collateral damage.
It also allows the social engineering choice to make Power the society’s preeminent value. As one might expect from the quote, Power is Colonel Santiago’s favored choice. And adopting it will make the player’s faction more like the Spartans: granting a large bonus to unit support and morale at the expense of a substantial industry penalty. Unfortunately, industry penalties are pretty drastic, so unlike Wealth, it only makes sense in special situations.
Finally, it enables the creation of giant Punishment Spheres. These facilities allow for the complete suppression of drones in a base in exchange for a massive local research penalty. Which doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense from the narrow technical perspective. After all, why would anybody need better software to come up with such a facility? But when it is juxtaposed with the unlocking of Power as an option, it makes a lot more sense.