Technology: Organic Superlubricant

“Organic Superlube? Oh, it’s great stuff, great stuff. You really have to keep an eye on it, though–it’ll try and slide away from you the first chance it gets.

— T. M. Morgan-Reilly, Morgan Metagenics

Organic Superlubricant is a seventh-tier military technology. It has Synthetic Fossil Fuels as one of its prerequisites. That much, at least, makes sense. In practice, this stuff must be like leveled-up, futuristic engine grease. But instead of inefficiently slathering all the moving parts in your engine, you can use small amounts of this stuff to get the same effect. Which is pretty valuable on Planet because it’s already established that carbon – and thus grease – is hard to come by.

The quote backs this up. It’s a testimonial of sorts from one of Morgan’s minions who is presumably actively engaged in working with the new technology. As the player marches up the tree and the technologies grow more and more speculative, Reynolds comes back to this angle again and again in an attempt to keep it grounded. For as much as their technology might seem like magic to the modern-day player, the people doing the discovery and working at places like Morgan Metagenics are still recognizably people.

But I would have naturally expected from the description that the other prerequisite would be something like Bio-Engineering. That would model the fact that the organic material needs to be harvested from some carefully-cultivated genetically modified bacteria. And then I’d expect this would grant some sort of efficiency bonus to the faction’s economy.

Instead, Reynolds chose to make the other requirement Fusion Power. Which makes more sense when you see that the main application of this technology is to enable equipping units with the ten-strength Fusion Laser. This fits in with the previous choices we’ve seen by now on the technology tree. SMAC generally models the diffuse, economy-wide effects the player might expect from any given technology through the links on the tree itself rather than by granting direct bonuses.

It’s also worth noting that this is the second time it is possible to pick up multiple weapons on the same tier of the tree. The ten-strength Fusion Laser and the twelve-strength Tachyon Bolt both come on the seventh tier, just as the five-strength Gatling Laser and the six-strength Missile Launcher coexisted back on the fourth tier. Looking more closely at these patterns, it becomes apparent that there are two primary weapons routes through the tree.

Factions that prefer to research technologies with a pure military focus will tend to stick to the STEM portions of the tree. They’ll end up going through Applied PhysicsNonlinear Mathematics early for impact weapons. Then, after a few more techs, they’ll make their way to Superconductor for Gatling Lasers. Eventually they’ll break into the seventh-tier up the line that brings Chaos Guns and Tachyon Bolts. At most points of time, a faction pushing this priority will have the more powerful weapons than their rival. But it comes at a cost: many of the techs along this line don’t do anything other than unlock new weapons.

Factions that focus more on less martial exploration and economic techs, on the other hand, will find themselves getting Nonlinear Mathematics pretty late. And they’ll end up backfilling Superconductor. However, they’ll probably be first to Missile Launchers, because Synthetic Fossil Fuels mostly requires techs on the main economic development line. And then they’ll end up with Fusion Lasers by the seventh tier.

Of course, the tech tree is so tightly interwoven that every faction will eventually need to pick up pretty much every tech in order to get something that they want. It’s generally not possible to beeline too deeply even if the player is directing his own research manually. But it’s interesting to note that there are enough options scattered about to ensure that no matter how a player ends up bouncing through the tree, he won’t be left completely adrift.

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