Secret Project: The Nano Factory

“Industrial Grade Nano-Paste, Planet’s most valuable commodity, can also be one of its most dangerous. Simply pour out several canisters, slide in a programming transponder, and step well away while the stuff cooks. In under an hour the nano will use available materials to assemble a small factory, a hovertank, or enough impact rifles to equip a regiment.”

— Col. Corazon Santiago, “Planet: A Survivalist’s Guide”

This video is quite straightforward. Which is not intended as negative criticism. It’s a well-done illustration of Santiago’s description of the nano-paste. In particular, the visuals deliver some important context.

The camera begins by panning past a tattered flag while showing wreckage in the background. It’s clear after a few moments that this is intended to depict the aftermath of a futuristic battlefield.

Once the scene is set, we see the canisters deployed and the blue paste emerge. Next, we see the seemingly magical transmutation of the nearby scenery into brand-new military equipment. Notably, as this takes place, the camera makes sure to pick up a human hand getting consumed by the blue ooze along with the rest of the discarded and shattered machinery.

This little detail is actually a pretty interesting view into the Spartan future. Santiago warns her readers not to get too close to the paste. The threat is obvious; the nano paste doesn’t know or care while it’s cooking that you don’t want your body to get repurposed into a little piece of the new hovertank. It just sees matter to rearrange.

But the point worth pondering is that the Spartans don’t seem to have much veneration for the dead. The wreckage of both man and machine are equal fodder for the paste. This is kind of weird. Traditionally, warrior societies put a lot of emphasis on showing respect for those who were slain in battle. So it’s odd that the Spartans treat the battlefield more like the Borg from Star Trek than U.S. Marines.

There are a couple of possible explanations for this. We don’t have anything other than the loosest circumstantial evidence that the fallen soldier was a Spartan. Perhaps he was just an enemy soldier.

But I think the other possible explanation is a lot more fun. We have previously inferred that the Spartans were the faction in the implied canon to build the Cloning Vats. And we know that operating that secret project can have significant society-wide effects. In this light, this could be seen as evidence that the Spartans have come to hold life as cheap in the way that Chairman Yang predicted people would back in the first days after Planetfall.

In any event, SMAC models the new capacity so dramatically illustrated by the video with a couple of related bonuses. The faction that uses Industrial Nanorobotics to build the Nano Factory gets half-price unit upgrades and is able to repair all units to full health in one turn while out in the field. In addition to granting advantages over one’s rivals, these both have the effect of speeding up the perceived pace of the game.

Which actually brings up another intriguing point. What exactly is the Nano Factory, physically? What is represented by the minerals spent on the secret project? Why is it associated with a single base?

I think the answer to those questions is that the Nano Factory is actually a giant facility back home. What it does is to cheaply fill those canisters with vast quantities of nano paste. Given that Santiago says the stuff is Planet’s most valuable commodity, chances are that you can’t make more of it given a little bit of seed nano paste, waste materials, and time. There must be an irreducibly complicated or energy-intensive process to it.

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