“That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.”
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Datalinks
The Paradise Garden is a rather unique base facility. It’s the only base facility that grants bonus talents at a base. And it comes in the late game, as the technology that it depends on is the eleventh-tier Sentient Econometrics. The only other precedents for adding talents that the player may have encountered earlier in the game are the Peacekeepers’ inherent bonus and the very early Human Genome Project. All of the other drone control facilities and powers encountered so far focus on removing drones rather than adding talents.
To understand why this is such a big deal in the gameplay, it’s necessary to take a moment to describe the population morale subsystem in greater detail than we have needed to get into before. The system itself is largely taken from Civilization II. Population points can be classified as either happy, content, or angry. If the number of angry citizens exceeds the number of happy citizens, the whole base goes into revolt. A revolting base produces nothing for as long as it is in revolt. And if the revolt goes on too long, the rioters can randomly destroy base facilities or possibly even flip the entire base to a rival player.
In SMAC, happy citizens are referred to as talents. They represent the brilliant, well-educated, high-functioning elite. Content citizens are labeled workers. They represent the vast body of the middle and working classes on Planet. And angry citizens are referred to in the game as drones. Drones represent the embittered, left behind lower classes.
These descriptions only apply to population points that are working the land. One of the bonuses of specialists is that are always considered to be content for the purposes of determining the morale of a base. Unfortunately, specialists can only produce particular types of energy. Since the player needs lots of nutrients and minerals in order to grow his bases and build units, chances are that he will want to have most of his population points working the land.
So, then, what turns content workers into drones? The biggest driver of drone activity is population in a given base. Depending on the difficulty level, the first few population points are naturally workers. After that, each additional population point is naturally a drone and must be pacified somehow in order to keep the base running.
The second main source of drones comes from what is referred to in the game as bureaucracy. As the number of bases grows past a certain level, determined by the faction’s Efficiency rating on the Social Engineering screen, additional drones start appearing in random bases. This is intended to be a check to ICS strategies, as new bases built on outlying, marginal land can potentially harm existing core bases in addition to being less valuable themselves.
And the third significant source of drones is pacifism. These come when a faction running a very low Police rating (almost always due to adopting Free Market) sends units outside of its territory. These drones are calculated differently by the system in a way that makes them significantly worse than normal drones. Thus, the usual way to deal with them is to change social engineering policies to ones that better support the war effort.
Potential drones are turned back into content workers through two main means. The first is police. At default social settings, the first military unit stationed in a base removes one drone. By adopting positive Police Social Engineering choices or by using police units with the Non-Lethal Methods special ability, it is possible to use more police units and have each police unit suppress more drones.
The second choice is to build base facilities for the purpose. There exist several base facilities and secret projects throughout the tree that remove drones. In essence, this allows a player to gain social stability by spending energy in maintenance instead of minerals in unit support cost. But in the beginning of the game, most players will have little option but to make use of both these methods when available to keep a handle on his increasingly unruly bases.
The other major handle the player has over the morale of his bases is the faction-wide Psych slider. This is the equivalent to what the Civilization games called luxury spending. Spending energy directly on the populace is considered by most players to be a waste, as it means that those increments of energy aren’t becoming credits for rush-buying or fueling research. This problem is made worse by the fact that it is impossible to adjust the slider per base. So if the player has one large base in his faction that he needs to pacify, he might need to blow ten or twenty percent of his entire faction-wide energy budget to make that happen.
The really interesting thing about psych spending in SMAC is that it is applied after most base facilities and it starts from the top down. So instead of pacifying drones, psych credits first upgrade workers to talents. If more budget is spent and all the workers are talents, then it will upgrade a drone to a worker and then upgrade that worker to a talent again. After a couple of psych multiplier buildings are in place, this process gets a lot less expensive.
If after all the bonuses are applied, half or more of the base’s population are talents and there are no drones in the base, the base enters a Golden Age. This Golden Age increases the effective Economy and Growth ratings of the base on the SE screen. As we have seen, this can be a critically important bonus.
These gameplay rules yield some implicit social commentary. Energy-poor factions often have few talents and rely on police to suppress most of their drones. This yields a broadly equal society with few elites. Meanwhile, factions running Free Market have lots of energy and cannot use police. So they often spend some of the surplus on psych and end up stabilizing with a sharp distinction between large numbers of talented rich and equal numbers of dispossessed drones.
So, after all of that, we are finally able to understand why a base facility that grants two additional talents would be so revolutionary. It makes it significantly cheaper for late-game societies to enjoy Golden Ages in their giant bases. For the first time player who is possibly not aware of how this subsystem works in detail, it might even be his first introduction to the concept.
Accompanying this accomplishment is a selection of poetry from Coleridge. At the time I first encountered this quote, I remember thinking that this was a pretty weird choice. The man described in the selection sounds pretty crazy. The image I got was something like a stereotypical street preacher shouting that the end of the world was nigh. Or, a drug addict, perhaps. The “milk of Paradise” in that case being an allusion to whatever substance had brought him to this maddened state.
That’s where I had left it until just recently. When doing a little research into the source of this quote, I discovered that it comes from one of Coleridge’s more famous poems, “Kubla Khan”. And, in context, the selection doesn’t make a whole lot more sense.
Supposedly the first half of the poem was composed in a opium-fueled dream. He got the first bit down and then was interrupted before he could copy the rest to paper. By the time he returned to his work, the rest of his masterpiece had vanished from his mind. It was gone forever.
So he finished it off with this, which is perhaps best read as something of a tribute to the missing half of his great poem. In this context, the sunny domes and caves of ice are the fantastic images of paradise he had been composing in his earlier dream-poem. And the rest of the selection is often said to be something of a reflection on art and the artist in the context of the broader society.
Which finally brings to light the connection to SMAC. This quote works on a couple levels. The Paradise Gardens themselves could be physically reminiscent of Coleridge’s descriptions of Xanadu. This would imply a new, literal dimension to the images of sunny domes and honey-dew. Even if the player is completely ignorant of the context, it works well enough here.
But in context, we can gather that these gardens are certainly designed to cater to the soul in a way deeper than mere entertainment. Where Recreation Commons turn drones into workers, Paradise Gardens turn them into poets. And then these artists then return back to the rest of society with their terrifyingly powerful visions of beauty and despair. Visions that, if heeded, can go on to set the souls of the people on fire. Visions that can, perhaps, inspire a new golden age.