Technology: Super Tensile Solids

“Optical computers, genetic catalogs, nanorepair modules–forget all of that. It’s when you see a megaton of steel suspended over your head by a thread the thickness of a human hair that you really find God in technology.”

— Anonymous Metagenics Dockworker, MorganLink 3DVision Live Interview

I always loved this quote. Reynolds does such an economical job of demonstrating just how amazing the SMAC future is here. A lesser approach would have been to spend some time talking about tensile strength and have someone get excited about all the cool things that might be buildable with new materials. It’s what I probably would have done, based on the existing established pattern.

But, instead, Reynolds chooses to introduce this technology with a regular guy talking about the technology by the time it’s already become reasonably commonplace. The image of a megaton held securely in mid-air by a tiny thread is one thing; it’s quite another to imagine looking up to realize that your very life is hanging by that tiny thread. And it’s even more impressive still to realize that, since this guy is a dockworker, he must walk under those massive pallets all the time. This interview is him taking a moment to share with the audience – and thus, the player – just what he’s taking for granted on a daily basis.

And that’s not all. Before he even gets into that, our anonymous Morganite laborer takes some time out to comparatively dismiss a handful of other technologies that might all seem equally impressive from the player’s perspective. To the dockworker relying on the new materials represented in SMAC by the tenth-tier Super Tensile Solids technology, genetic catalogs and nanorepair modules are old news. And so he makes a point of treating them as such.

This naturally invites the player to imagine just what a world might be like where all that might be true. What would most people consider normal by then? And whatever he comes up with on his own, he will naturally find convincing in a way that gets him to buy into the far future depicted by the SMAC late-game just as hard as he did with the comparatively more-grounded era of early colonization.

Now, with all that in mind, consider that Reynolds was able to get all this across using two sentences and a fictional citation! And Reynolds’s facility for economy with words isn’t merely impressive. It’s crucial to the effectiveness of what he’s doing.

Recall the context in which these quotes are being delivered. The player isn’t engaged with the text as a reader. He’s listening to this quote being read as he looks over a pop-up that contains gameplay information about what this technology does. In this case, it’s informing him that his faction has learned a new economic technology that will enable him to build Habitation Domes and the Space Elevator, were he so inclined. So that’s likely to occupy a big part of his attention the first time through the game.

More importantly, it’s critical to keep in mind that he hears this in the interlude between turns of a strategy game. A line of strategy games that are famously addictive, in fact, which pride themselves in being built to make the player want to play just one more turn. Chances are the player just wants to get past this in order to get back to whatever scheme he was focused on when he last hit the “Next Turn” button.

In order to be seen as a valuable part of the experience, these quotes have to be very tightly written and well-delivered. Otherwise, they’ll just be skipped. Or if they’re delivered in a way that doesn’t allow for that, they’ll be seen as an imposition and an active annoyance. The degree of difficulty of the task that Reynolds set before himself should not be underestimated simply because he routinely makes it look so easy.

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