TGomL: Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (PC, 1999)

Note: this post is expanded from one in my old blog, The Games of My Life.

This game should have actually been named “Brian Reynolds’ Alpha Centauri”, but Sid Meier was (and is) the best known name, and it draws heavily on Meier’s original Civilization, so… Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri it was (or “SMAC” to its friends). By Firaxis Games, distributed by Electronic Arts, shortly before the end of the last century.

Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri - title

SMAC, believe it or not, is still a very popular game these days among strategy fans, and for good reason. In my opinion, it’s still the best Civ-style game, and has yet to be surpassed: Civ 4 was indeed a great game, and so is Civ 5 (though I can’t agree with a couple of design decisions), but, to me, SMAC remains the best Civ-style game. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell as well as it should have, possibly because most people — even most strategy buffs — aren’t science fiction fans, and it’s much easier to understand what you’ll get by inventing The Wheel” or “The Alphabet” than what “Bioadaptive Resonance” or “Controlled Singularity” even are. In short, it scared away many Civ fans, which was a shame.

Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri - gameplay

But it has some things no other game of its kind has:

  • style – the spartan(1)) interface, the voices, the graphics, the sounds, the descriptions, the movies. It really made you feel like you were in a different, but viable world.
  • personality – the Civ games’ leaders, even though they’re supposed to be real life ones, have little or no personality. SMAC’s had. A lot. Who can forget Chairman Yang, Lady Deirdre, Sister Miriam, or CEO Morgan? They actually have different goals in mind, and act towards them. They all speak in their own way. And they all have great quotes — all of them spoken in the game by the characters.
  • a story – yes, a strategy game with one. Really. And it doesn’t always end the same way (and I don’t mean just because you lose the game in the middle).

As I said, it’s still my favorite game of its kind, after 12 years. You can probably find the Planetary Pack (the game plus the expansion pack on a single CD) for sale somewhere, though it’s harder than it used to be. And you really should, if you’ve ever been interested in the Civilization series, or strategy games in general. Note, however, that getting it to run perfectly on modern Windows operating systems may constitute a challenge.

Links: Wikipedia entry, Official site.

P.S. – did you know that this game has inspired 3 novels (which I have), a comic book (which I also have) and a GURPS book (dammit…)? Not bad for a turn-based strategy game… :)

  1. no, I’m not referring here to the Spartans, a survivalist faction in the game : []

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6 Responses to TGomL: Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (PC, 1999)

  1. jer says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more….play it everyday and each game is like a new day..

  2. KW says:

    What impressed me to no end was the authenticity of the science that it was built upon. Sure, it was science fiction, but it was HARD science fiction, based heavily on existing technology. Retroviral Engineering? We’re using that, just not to the extent and purpose that it was used in SMAC. Zakarov’s quote from his fictional work Nonlinear Genetics? Much MUCH more accurate than almost anything that comes from Hollywood.

    And hidden under shiny sparkly tech advances and new base facilities were text and audio clips that supplied a great deal of social commentary.

    SMAC is an unsurpassed masterpiece in its genre. Like many delicacies, it’s an acquired taste, but more than a decade later, it still gleams with enough innate lustre that beats the cheap polish of many modern games.

  3. Thomas G. says:

    I agree whole-heartily, SMAC or SMAX. I was first exposed to this game believe it or not in 2002 in a begin bin in the electronics department of Wal-Mart for $9.99. it is a challenge to get it to run on newer PCs, but certainly possible. The Unofficial Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri & Alien Crossfire Patch by Brendan Casey makes it easier to get to run. The patch and instructions can be downloaded at: http://www.civgaming.net/forums/showthread.php?t=7511

  4. sectoid says:

    I used to love this game when it was first out and even had both SMAC & SMAX posters on my wall with technology trees. Me and my friend used to play it for days on one end, to the point where we literally falled asleep in front of our computers.

    Few days ago I bought it again from Good old games and it works straight in my 64bit Win 7. Feels like long lost love being found again! I absolutely love this game. The atmosphere, ambience and story are just something very different, even today.

    • Dehumanizer says:

      It’s a pity the GOG version doesn’t include the expansion pack… while the new factions weren’t as good as the original 7, it still added more variety to the game.

      • Sub says:

        It includes the expansion pack now. This also retroactively applies to anyone who bought the game in the past, so anyone who purchased their game from there can redownload it and it’ll contain the expansion.

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