Traditionally, there were two ways to win a game of Civilization. If the player led his civilization to conquer all the others on the map, he could unify the world under his banner. Were he not able or willing to build a throne of skulls out of his enemies, the other way to win was to reach the top of the technology tree and then use advanced technology to construct a spaceship to colonize a distant world.
SMAC inherited this framework. It is still possible in SMAC to win the game by bringing all of the other factions to heel. And there is a victory condition that comes from constructing a final great work at the end of the technology tree that represents an epochal shift worthy of being deemed a final victory in a game with such wide scope.
But SMAC innovates on this foundation to bring with it a few novel victory conditions. For instance, in SMAC it is now possible to win a joint victory, if the player selects the option at the beginning of the game to allow such a thing. If a victory condition is reached by a faction, then that victory is considered shared with any other faction that has an active Pact of Brotherhood going with the winner.
This is the logic behind the new submission pacts that are introduced in SMAC. Sometimes when a player is prosecuting a war successfully enough that his opponent feels like it is hopeless, they will offer to abjectly surrender instead of fighting to the death.
If this surrender is accepted, the defeated faction immediately signs a permanent Pact with the victor. As part of the surrender, they hand over both the full contents of their treasury and any technologies they might have that the player does not. Henceforth, that faction will continue to share freely any technological advancements they might have that their master has not discovered and will accept any demands within their power to make war or peace on third parties. For purposes of a conquest victory, this faction is considered defeated.
Since the struggle on Planet is largely ideological, it makes sense for the faction leaders to do this if the alternative is certain death. They may no longer have a chance to become the dominant ideological current of humanity’s future, but by knuckling under and joining the winning team it’s at least possible for them to preserve and transmit some subset of their core values into the future.
But that’s not all. SMAC also introduces two new victory conditions that are unlocked by sixth-tier technologies. After researching Mind/Machine Interface, it becomes possible for the U.N. Planetary Governor to issue a resolution for all of the other factions to unite under his banner as Supreme Leader. This vote is similar to the Governor’s election, complete with the opportunity to buy votes from the other factions, but with a much higher vote threshold for victory. If the vote goes through, the U.N. is established as the formal, one-world government of Planet and the leading faction’s values are permanently enshrined as the dominant ideology for humanity as it returns to the stars.
The other new victory condition is an economic win. SMAC has already introduced the ability to use energy credits to subvert bases using probe teams. After Planetary Economics is researched, a new option is available in the menu called “Corner Global Energy Market”. When the player clicks it, it informs him of how many energy credits it will cost to begin the subversion and hostile buyout of the entire world.
If the player has the money and chooses to go for it, he pays the cash and a timer goes off. From then on, the rest of the world has twenty years to conquer his capital to prevent his bid for ultimate power. The cost to do this is usually an incredibly large number of energy credits. One that’s really only practicable if the player is very good at the economic side of the game, or if the game is already in hand and the player is in a position to choose his form of victory.
All in all, I think that this casts some good light on how to think about the future history as it is implied by the technology tree. Each leap up to a new tier represents a significant increase in human capability. By the sixth tier of the tech tree, the SMAC game rules are telling us that the new society that’s been created on Planet has the worldwide reach, along with the political and economic sophistication, for it to be actually practical to create a one-world state or leverage the global economy to world domination.
Consider that there are fifteen meaningful levels to the technology tree in SMAC. And the legacy of Earth has been completely surpassed as of tier six! The player is going to spend the rest of the game on a ride into an increasingly speculative future.