“And what of the immortal soul in such transactions? Can this machine transmit and reattach it as well? Or is it lost forever, leaving a soulless body to wander the world in despair?”
— Sister Miriam Godwinson, “We Must Dissent”
Judging from the video, The Bulk Matter Transmitter is a much more impressive facility than its gameplay effects would imply. It just grants two free minerals to each base in SMAC. This is essentially equivalent to two extra Nessus Mining Stations, but without any of the limitations of the satellite economy.
This isn’t really a very good deal. When you consider that it is one of the very last secret projects, based on the thirteenth-tier Matter Transmission technology, the deal gets worse. It’s both very expensive and has very little time to pay back its cost. So only a massive endgame empire will find this to have a positive return on investment.
This is fine, though, since at this point the game is no longer competitive. A player who’s still enjoying the builder game this late is almost assuredly more interested in making cool stuff than he is in scraping out every possible advantage from micromanaging his faction. And this secret project definitely delivers on that.
There does not appear to be much of a limit on the scale to the matter transmission technology. So it turns out that the Bulk Matter Transmitter is the most boring name imaginable for a real, live stargate. Through which people are flying actual starships.
Since all the action takes place on and around Planet, it’s easy for the player to forget the level of sophistication that SMAC assumes for space travel technology. Until he’s forcibly reminded by seeing a massive spaceship flung instantly across the stars. This is the kind of feat that typically only shows up in sci-fi stories about ancient, galactic-scale space empires. So it serves as an excellent benchmark for the sheer scope of imagination Reynolds has exercised in SMAC.
And, of course, it would not be SMAC without some philosophy to go with the technological wonder. Here, we are treated to Sister Miriam taking the contrary position to CEO Morgan’s pronouncement on the discovery of Matter Editation. Recall that it was Morgan’s firm belief that the value of anything cannot escape its smallest parts. Therefore, a reassembled person on the other side of the stargate must have the same moral value as the original.
But Miriam seems to believe that continuity of a person’s path in space-time is key to anything we’d rightly consider identity. Which, if she’s right, would leave the resulting teleported person bereft of his link to his past. If not abandoned by God all together.
It’s certain that whichever faction actually built this project in canon took Morgan’s side of the argument. But knowing what we know now about Miriam’s eventual fate, it’s especially poignant to see her express doubts over the fate of the soul during teleportation. She’s not really sure what going through the portal actually means. This makes her choice of death a profound final statement of her faith in the face of deep empirical uncertainty.
I cannot help but gush again over how wonderful I find it that Reynolds was willing to play fair here. He didn’t have to give Sister Miriam anything resembling this tragic depth. His players would have been more than satisfied if he had just made her an angry, monochromatic antagonist in a black hat. That’s all most of them saw anyway, judging by many of the comments I’ve seen from SMAC players since the game came out.
But this is another instance of the true genius of SMAC. Reynolds has crafted a game that rewards the player in proportion to the effort he brings to it. If the player wants a fun war game, the game can provide that in spades. If he wants a futuristic SimCity experience, he can spend all his time carefully building up his bases just so. If he wants the joy of crushing his philosophical foes into the dirt until they grovel before him, SMAC delivers.
And if he’s willing to drill down deep into the lore, as I have here, he’ll find that the whole edifice stands up to scrutiny. Reynolds has built a futuristic world that actually works. It’s simultaneously epic in scope, self-consistent, fair-minded, fascinating to contemplate, expressed powerfully to the player, and laden with distinctive flavor. Any one of these would have made the game worthwhile. Crafting a game that manages them all at once makes this a masterwork.