Technology: Applied Relativity

“You ivory tower intellectuals must not lose touch with the world of industrial growth and hard currency. It is all very well and good to pursue these high-minded scientific theories, but research grants are expensive and you must justify your existence by providing not only knowledge, but concrete and profitable applications as well.”

— CEO Nwabudike Morgan, “The Ethics of Greed”

This quote cuts to the heart of Morgan’s philosophical clash with Zakharov and, to a lesser extent, Brother Lal. Which is quite interesting as, in the game, Morgan need not emphasize his opposition to either of them. They are not his natural opposites in the way that the Gaians are, as nothing prevents the Morganites from adopting Democracy or Knowledge on the social engineering panel. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. All seven factions represent overarching philosophical approaches that are complete, in and of themselves. So at some point they will inevitably conflict.

Digging into the quote further, we see that Morgan bases his objection to the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake on his previously explicated ethical principle. Namely, when profit and loss are properly denominated in energy, profit then necessarily becomes the overarching imperative for all agents. To knowingly incur a loss for any reason is to sacrifice some fraction of the future’s promise. To the Morganite way of seeing things, energy is life and more is always better.

Therefore, contra Lal or Zakharov, knowledge is only instrumentally good. If the theories do not yield applications that enable the capture of more input energy than the search costs, the search was a mistake. In practice, though, they usually do. So, as we’ve already seen in the Research Hospital quote, the CEO is willing to go to great lengths to support these research programs.

The SMAC game rules support this assessment of the situation by making virtually every advance along the technology tree deliver forth wonders. In practice, the return on investment for energy spent on research is generally very high. So much so that one of the major benefits of having a high-efficiency economy in high-level play is that it enables the faction to tilt their energy production further toward labs without loss, enabling the faction to climb the tree further into the future faster.

Which makes Reynolds’s selection of this quote for this particular technology worth mentioning. In the game, Applied Relativity is a fifth-tier pure research technology that relies on Advanced Subatomic Theory and Superconductors. And despite the name, all it does is enable the production of the Supercollider secret project, which for a large outlay of minerals allows a single base to supercharge its research output. There are very few other technologies on the tree that do so little outside of the ivory tower.

After reading this quote, it’s not hard to imagine the look of disappointment on Morgan’s face when he first sees these results. The SMAC game rules illustrate the high opportunity cost for the thousands of energy credits he must have poured into this Applied Relativity research program. They could have been used to rush-upgrade an army, fund spy operations to take over an enemy base, construct a half-dozen important base improvements, or rapidly complete a secret project through crawler upgrades.

But it is worth keeping in mind how the SMAC technology tree is fairly tightly interwoven. Unlike other games with separate tech trees for different technological fields, it is impossible in SMAC to simply pick and choose only the style of technologies one prefers. Applied Relativity serves as an excellent example of this pattern: on a given playthrough a player might only want pure-science technologies, but in order to research this particular one, it is necessary to research the military-focused Superconductor tech. So the CEO’s dismay is at least likely to be short-lived.


2 thoughts on “Technology: Applied Relativity

    1. Nick Stipanovich Post author

      Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? The factions are all pretty well balanced among themselves in the hands of a human player, but they all play differently. In order to win as the Gaians, the game encourages you to act differently than you would if you’re playing the Morganites or the Spartans. The thing that makes it so neat is the subtlety with which he does it.

      See, the rules very rarely outright deny any given course of action. You can do almost anything you want. But you find yourself nudged in a bunch of little ways by the rules toward acting like the faction leader who you’re playing as. Which then puts you in a place where you’re more likely to care about the philosophical diatribes from the quotes I’m running through with these posts.

      Liked by 1 person


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