Technology: Quantum Machinery

“Men in their arrogance claim to understand the nature of creation, and devise elaborate theories to describe its behavior. But always they discover in the end that God was quite a bit more clever than they thought.”

— Sister Miriam Godwinson, “We Must Dissent”

Quantum Machinery is a twelfth-tier technology that relies on Quantum Power and Nanometallurgy. It’s labeled as an economic technology, which makes sense given that it enables the construction of one of the final pair of mineral multiplier buildings: the Quantum Converter.

But it also allows the new sixteen-strength Quantum Laser weapon. This is something that the player likely will not expect from an economic tech. But it also represents another shift in the previous pattern in the distribution of weapons throughout the technology tree.

As we have seen by now, through the early and mid-game there were two rough paths through the tree that yielded weapons improvements. The “builder” path got Missile Launchers, Fusion Lasers, and Plasma Shards along with potent economic techs, while the “conqueror” path gets early Particle Impactors, Gatling Lasers, the Chaos Gun, and ends with the Tachyon Bolt.

Originally, it appears that the game was going to have an additional rock/paper/scissors kind of element in weapon and armor selection. Basically, there were going to be two kinds of weapons (guns and lasers) and two kinds of armor (plates and force fields). Then, in theory, you’d get a bonus if you used the right defense against the right weapon type. There are lots of hints along these lines throughout the tech tree and in the printed manual.

I presume that this mechanic was removed after playtesting showed that the idea was an uncomfortable fit with the relatively simplistic core combat system inherited from the earlier Civilization games. It just added mechanical complexity without adding any real depth to the gameplay. This was a wise decision, especially in light of the balance concerns caused by the flexible unit designer.

So the variety of weapons left over from that original idea allowed Reynolds to arrange these two paths and the soft tradeoff between them. But this is no longer true in the narrower late-game section of the technology tree. There are three weapons left, they come in a strict ascending order, and they each represent a four-strength jump over their predecessor, which is calibrated to ensure that the attacker almost always has the edge in the late game.

This reflects a design pattern that is quite typical for games in the 4X genre. Designers generally want to encourage the game to come to a decisive conclusion. Even people with the legendary patience of turn based strategy gamers rarely enjoy clicking through dozens and dozens of turns long after the game has been decided. And no one likes a stalemate.

So, with its combined, powerful boosts to both military effectiveness and unit production, Quantum Machinery is intended to be the beginning of the end. If the game is still in doubt and is going to end by conquest, these bonuses will be crucial in bringing the conclusion about.

To commemorate this advance, the player gets the last of Sister Miriam’s broadsides against the scientific project as it is practiced by the other factions on Planet. This is the extension of her previous rant the player saw upon discovering the Unified Field Theory. And it’s likely these two quotes together, along with Miriam’s aggressive in-game AI, that give many players the impression that Sister Miriam is intended to be a know-nothing extremist.

This reaction is somewhat unfortunate. As we have previously seen, there’s a lot more to Miriam’s philosophy than mere unthinking nostalgia. She’s railing against the arrogance of the scientists here because she foresaw many of the dangers inherent in the world that they ended up building. And now that her concerns have been firmly marginalized in canon along with her faction, she’s got nothing left but angry denunciations with a subtext of despair. We’ve come a far way from the optimism she demonstrated in the quote to High Energy Chemistry, during the heady years just after Planetfall.

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