Secret Project: The Cloning Vats

“We shall take only the greatest minds, the finest soldiers, the most faithful servants. We shall multiply them a thousandfold and release them to usher in a new era of glory.”

— Col. Corazon Santiago, “The Council of War”

This is one of the best secret project videos in the game, hands down. And, as usual, the genius is understated. On the surface, this video is just thirty seconds or so of footage of people sorting baby chicks by sex in a clean, industrial setting. To people who are not crusaders for animal rights, in the PETA mold, there’s very little that’s immediately offputting about the imagery.

The impact comes from the juxtaposition with Colonel Santiago’s quote. Obviously, Santiago is announcing the completion of the project to her council. And they intend to use the potential of this new technology as aggressively as they can.

Remember, it’s never been about raw quantity for her. The Spartans have always placed an extreme emphasis on the cultivation of the very best. So the main attraction to investing in this industrial-scale, society-wide cloning program is that it enables her to dispense with the typical quality/quantity tradeoff. She can set the bar as high as she wants and still come up with more than enough brilliant, brave, and faithful Spartans to fill her bases to bursting.

The gameplay reflects the implications of such an endeavor in a couple of dramatic ways. First, the faction that builds the Cloning Vats is permanently in population boom status, just as if it always had a +6 growth rating in the social engineering screen. This means that as long as any base in the faction has a nutrient surplus and is below the cap for base population, it will grow one point every turn without needing to wait for the nutrient box to fill.

And second, this project cancels out the downside for adopting Power as the organizing value of society. Along with this, it also negates the downside for using the Thought Control option, when the late-game Future Society choices become available. This makes this project huge for the Spartans, as the industry penalty for Power stacks with their inherent negative. With the Cloning Vats, Power fits the Spartans just as nicely as a Police State fits with the Hive.

The really interesting thing about this project is the way the bonuses combine together to influence the player’s social engineering decisions. Removing the negatives from Power and Thought Control obviously make those choices more attractive. But enabling the faction to ignore their growth rating significantly changes the balance among the remaining options.

When you look closely at it, the main attractions of Democracy or a Planned economy are that they improve the growth rating. When growth is no longer an issue, there isn’t much appeal remaining. Democracy becomes a straight trade-off of support for efficiency, while Planned trades an efficiency malus for just a small industry bonus. At the same time, the growth negative for Green economics is made completely irrelevant.

Following the logic onward, those two factors together then make Police State a more attractive option for the politics row. This is true even though nothing has changed with regard to that specific choice. That’s because a switch to Green economics yields an efficiency bonus that can be used to neatly cancel out the Police State penalty. And since the player is now looking for a reason to run the newly-free Power choice, the support and police bonuses line up nicely.

What’s going on here, thematically, is that SMAC generally models policies that are intended to improve or uplift the living standards for the lower classes with growth bonuses. When growth no longer matters, due to all the new people coming in an unending stream from industrial-sized cloning vats, there’s not a lot of incentive to care about their livelihood. The game doesn’t force the player to use this new capability for creepy, dystopian ends. It just arranges things so that the player finds himself naturally drawn in that direction.

With that context it becomes entirely clear why the video is so chilling. In the future, each one of those little chicks rolling down the line is a person. The ones that pass inspection get rolled down the line into the Cyborg Factory. And the ones that don’t meet the bar get casually tossed into the hopper that leads to the Recycling Tanks.

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