Technology: Centauri Genetics

“Remember, genes are NOT blueprints. This means you can’t, for example, insert “the genes for an elephant’s trunk” into a giraffe and get a giraffe with a trunk. There -are- no genes for trunks. What you CAN do with genes is chemistry, since DNA codes for chemicals. For instance, we can in theory splice the native plants’ talent for nitrogen fixation into a terran plant.”

— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “Nonlinear Genetics”

Centauri Genetics is classified in the game as a seventh-tier exploration technology. Where Biomachinery reflects the application of Retroviral Engineering technology to humanity, Centauri Genetics appears to represent the same level of mastery over the building blocks of native life. So, quite naturally, it requires Centauri Meditation as its other prerequisite.

Its gameplay effect is pretty dramatic for factions that are relying on native life as the mainstay of their armies, as it enables the creation of Locusts of Chiron. And the name pretty much describes what they do. They’re a thick swarm of small flying mindworms. In the game, they can move quickly over any terrain and even engage airborne targets.

This is even more important because it does not appear to be possible to capture wild locust boils. Land and sea based worms have a chance to be captured when a faction with a positive Planet rating attacks them in close combat. But the player can only get access to Locusts of Chiron by building his own.

To go along with this, it also enables the creation of the Pholus Mutagen. That’s another secret project whose main benefit is to grant lifecycle bonuses to constructed native life.

The other thing that the player may notice is that, after this point, the tile yields for fungus squares have gone up considerably. When the game began, fungus squares were worth nothing except to the Gaians, for whom they were just worth a small number of nutrients. But many exploration technologies that model a greater understanding of Planet’s ecology have a side benefit of mildly increasing tile yields.

The previous tech in this line, Centauri Meditation, allowed a faction to get an energy from each fungus tile. And Centauri Genetics is the first technology that allows a faction to get fungus tiles to yield minerals. Overall, by this point a fungus tile is worth one nutrient, one mineral, and one energy (1-1-1) to most factions. With the Gaians’ nutrient bonus, that comes to (2-1-1). This is now somewhat competitive with a base forest (1-2-1), but still strictly worse than a forest in a base with a Tree Farm and a Hybrid Forest (3-2-1).

However, the key advantage of working fungus over forest is that it doesn’t require any expensive infrastructure. As technology continues to improve, these yields will keep going up and up for free. This dynamic unexpectedly has the effect of considerably reducing the pain of fungal pops. They’re supposed to be a penalty for causing too much ecodamage, but by the end of the game the player may very well find himself preferring the fungus to whatever else might have been on that tile in the first place.

In light of all this, I think Zakharov’s quote is best read as explaining how these small, ancillary benefits are actually achieved under the covers of the game interface. Instead of crafting versions of old Earth plants that can better compete in the alien landscape, it proves to be more effective to splice in traits to Earth plants that enable them to make better use of the existing alien biomes.

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