Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

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Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
Alpha Centauri box art
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts (Windows); Asypr Media (Mac); Loki Software (Linux)
Release date: 1999
Genre: Turn-based strategy (4X)
Game modes: Single player; multiplayer over IPX, TCP/IP or modem
ESRB rating: Everyone (E)
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
Media: CD (1)
System requirements: P133 MHz CPU, 16MB RAM, 60MB HD, DirectX 6
Input: Keyboard, mouse

Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (sometimes abbreviated to SMAC) is a turn-based strategy 4X computer game created by Brian Reynolds and Sid Meier under the auspices of Firaxis Games in 1999. It is based on a hypothetical attempt by human beings to colonize a planet in the Alpha Centauri star system. It picks up where the games Sid Meier's Civilization I & II left off. An expansion pack, Sid Meier's Alien Crossfire, was later released.



According to the storyline of the game, the Earth has destroyed itself through war, disease, famine, and other catastrophes. The United Nations manages to launch a colonization starship, the Unity, to Alpha Centauri, where an Earth-like planet, Chiron (often just called "Planet"), has been discovered; it is hoped that the best and brightest of mankind aboard the Unity can build a perfect civilization there.

As the Unity approaches Alpha Centauri, a malfunction occurs, awaking the top officers from suspended animation. During the crew's attempt to repair the damage, the commander, Captain Garland, is assassinated. Due to the critical damage of the Unity, the ship's seven top officers each, together with likeminded crewmembers, lays claim to an escape pod and lands on Chiron. These seven, with their conflicting personalities and ideologies, then begin to build a society in their own likeness - leading humanity once again to factionalism and war.

Game play

Missing image
Alpha Centauri screenshot

Within the game, the player assumes the role of one of the seven faction leaders and attempts to expand their colony and achieve victory. Players engage themselves in a race against the other factions, and are free to adopt any number of strategies in pursuit of their goal. Scientific discoveries within the game determine what technologies are available to particular factions, which in turn determines what facilities and units they can build at their colony bases. Unlike the previous Civilization games, and those to follow, Alpha Centauri allows the player to fully customize units.

Also, while not unique in this regard, Alpha Centauri is an unusual civilization-building game because it is open-ended and has multiple, customizable parameters for victory. The player can choose to work toward a victory based on diplomacy, economics, conquest, or transcendence.


The game is represented on a three-dimensional map of the planet surface, upon which bases are built and units deployed. Local features of the terrain influence the amount of resources a base harvests from any particular square. For example, rocky squares yield minerals but no food unless cleared, while river squares produce extra energy. Terrain can be enhanced and altered by units equipped with a terraformer module. The terrain also affects combat. For example, defending units receive a +50% bonus in rocky squares, while artillery units receive bonuses when attacking from higher elevation.

Units and combat

A unit is made up from different parts such as chassis, weapon, armor, reactor, and special ability slots. As new technologies become available, old designs may be brought up to date and existing units upgraded.

Adding to the trouble of the human factions is an indigenous semi-sentient fungus (called xenofungus) that spans the planet. Concentrations of xenofungus can spawn more aggressive native life forms known as mind worms. Xenofungus acts as the planet's immune system, and will react against heavy industrial pollution by growing over terraformed sites and concentrating multiple hostile mind worm units against offending cities. In accordance with its semi-sentience, the fungus reacts to the actions of the player, making it an important aspect of the game.

Generally, only friendly units can occupy the same square. Enemy units must be eliminated in order to move into their square. Combat usually initiates when a unit from one faction attempts to enter a square occupied by units from another hostile faction. Many factors affect the outcome of combat, but the most important are the attacking unit's weapon, the defending unit's armor, and the hit points of both units, determined by the type of reactor used. Researching certain new technologies unlocks progressively better equipment.


Missing image
The Alpha Centauri game CD (Microsoft Windows version), depicting the surface of the planet Chiron and the system's three stars

Bases are the center of the game. A base can be built and captured, as well as destroyed (either intentionally through war casualties, starvation, abandonment by constructing a colonizer at base size 1, or weapons of mass destruction, or unintentionally through ecological disruptions or being overrun by native mind worms). A base collects resources from the surrounding environment, using the manpower of the local population, or mechanically through resource crawler units. Mineral resources are used in building units and maintaining their upkeep, or can be converted to energy credits. Nutrient resources feed the local citizens, with more nutrients harvested leading to a higher rate of population growth. Energy collected from rivers, boreholes or solar collectors are piped into three priorities: PSYCH, ECONOMY and LABS. PSYCH represents how much energy is being used in improving the living standard of the inhabitants. ECONOMY represents how much energy is diverted into energy credits. LABS represents how much energy is being diverted into powering research. The output of all three can be enhanced by facilities or by special inhabitants called specialists. Energy credits created by the economy are the currency of the game. It can be used in hurrying production orders or as an object of barter in diplomatic encounters. Some covert missions also require energy credits. Depending on a faction's social policies and the individual base's distance from the capital, a portion of collected energy can be lost to inefficiency.

Citizens are the inhabitants of a base. One citizen represents 1,000 inhabitants (as opposed to Civilization's citizens, who each represent 10,000 inhabitants). It takes one citizen to harvest the resources of one square. New citizens are produced when a base has accumulated a set quantity of excess nutrients. The amount of nutrients needed to create growth becomes exponentially higher as the population multiplies. Social engineering choices or facilities can help reduce this required amount during each stage of growth.

Bases build all of the faction's units, and by extension, new bases. A new base is created when a previous base builds a unit equipped with a colony pod module and the unit is deployed at the desired location. Building new units require a set amount of minerals, depending on how complex or advanced the unit is. Each turn, minerals processed by citizens are added to the current task until it is completed. This process can be hurried by spending energy credits. New technologies are also researched in a manner. LABS output from every base is accumulated each turn until it fulfils the required cost to research the technology. All of these aspects can be enhanced by facilities and other factors.

A base can also build facilities and secret projects. Facilities, which are analogous to the buildings of the original Civilization games, creates or alters some function of the base it is located in. Similarly, Secret Projects are comparable to the Great Wonders of the original Civilization. They are expensive and can only be built once, but usually have dramatic benefits ranging from free facilities to social engineering effects and special unit abilities.


When two factions have established contact, they can engage in a variety of diplomatic actions. New technology, energy credits and bases can be bargained for or demanded with the threat of force. Factions can sign treaties and pacts, declare war or ask for a temporary cessation of hostilities. Treaties lead to commerce between faction bases and an increase in income for both factions. Pacts allow units to enter allied held squares and bases, and doubles the effect of commerce between the two factions. Computer controlled factions will remember past dealings, betrayals and atrocities, and will base future relations on this history.

Once one human faction has made contact with all other human factions, it can choose to convene the Planetary Council and elect a Planetary Governor. Thereafter, factions can periodically convene the council to make proposals such as electing a new governor, salvaging the Unity fusion reactor core, or creating a global trade pact. With the exception of choosing a Planetary Governor or Supreme Leader, each faction has one vote, with the governor holding veto power. With Planetary Governor or Supreme Leader votes, each faction casts a number of votes depending on its total population.


Despite being set in the future, the problems of human society still plague the inhabitants of Chiron. Reflecting this are the existence of drones in the population. Drones represent the undereducated, discontent segments of society. When the number of drones overwhelm the number of well educated citizens, called Talents, a drone riot occurs. During a drone riot all productive activity within the base are suspended. If not stopped, prolonged drone riots will eventually escalate in severity until facilities are destroyed, or in extreme cases, the entire city defects to another faction.

Drone riots can be suppressed through the use of in base military units as police. The amount of suppression allowed depends on the degree of tolerance the society, under current social engineering models, has for policing. There also exists the temporary and more extreme solution of nerve stapling. This directly suppresses the violent tendencies of the population, preventing drone riots for a short period of time, but carrying it out is considered an atrocity and can negatively impact diplomatic reactions.

Social engineering is another decisive game element reflecting human nature. Here, political, economic, social and future society models may be chosen. Each choice has its benefits and drawbacks. When combined, these models shape the faction's overall society. The aspects of social engineering affect a diverse range of gameplay elements, ranging from contentment and growth of the populace, unit morale and fighting strength, to the amount of energy credits received, among other things.


The original seven factions in the game are as follows:

Spartan Federation

True to their name, the Spartan faction places the highest priority on strength, discipline and combat readiness. Commanded by Colonel Corazon Santiago, the Spartans make planetfall with the technology Doctrine: Mobility. Spartan units receive morale upgrades (making them better fighters) and their disciplined society is naturally tolerant of police actions, allowing two military units to help suppress a colony's drones. The Spartans' skilled military expertise allows them to build prototype units without extra mineral cost. However, the excessive labour developed to military production imposes a 10% penalty to industrial production. The Spartans may not pursue Wealth as a social engineering choice.

Gaia's Stepdaughters

A faction that values living in ecological harmony with Planet and abhor ecological destruction. They are lead by Lady Deirdre Skye. The Gaians make planetfall with the technology Centauri Ecology. The Gaians' ecological safeguards allow them to avoid ecological damage and to capture native mind worms, and their experience with lifecycles and recycling gives them an efficiency bonus. The Gaians also receive one extra nutrient from fungal squares. The Gaians are pacifistic and freedom-loving, giving rise to their weaknesses: low troop morale and a lower police rating which prevents nerve stapling. The Gaians may not use a Free Market system in social engineering.

University of Planet

A faction that values knowledge and scientific advancement, although not necessarily ethically obtained. Led by Academician Prokhor Zakharov. The University makes planetfall with Information Networks, as well as another randomly selected technology. The brilliant researchers of the University allow them to discover new technologies 20% faster than normal, but their open academic networks leaves them prone to infiltration from other factions. Every University base comes equipped with a Network Node, which boosts research by another 50%. Due to the University's lack of ethics, one in every four citizens is a drone. The University may not use a Fundamentalist government in social engineering.

Peacekeeping Forces

Faction that works hard to keep the peace through diplomacy and to maintain the United Nations charter. Led by Commissioner Pravin Lal. The Peacekeepers make planetfall with the technology Biogenetics. The United Nations style bureaucracy of the Peacekeepers causes them to lose efficiency. The Peacekeepers do attract intellectual elites, causing every fourth citizen to be a talent. The Peacekeeper colonies may grow two sizes beyond normal population restrictions. In votes for Planetary Governor and Supreme Leader, the Peacekeepers' votes are double its population. The Peacekeepers may not use a police state government in social engineering.

Human Hive

A faction supposedly based on communist principles, but in reality more of a totalitarian state. They are controlled by Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang. The Hive makes planetfall with the technology Doctrine: Loyalty. The Hive has its growth rate boosted by 10% and its brutal serfdom decreases the mineral cost of units and facilities by 10%, however the lack of political freedom causes each colony to generate one less unit of energy per turn. In the original version of the game, the Hives' belief in the greater good greatly raised the morale of Yang's army. In the expansion pack, the Hive loses its morale bonus but is given an immunity to inefficiency, which greatly bolsters the Police State government used by Yang, as it removes all negative side effects. The Hive may not use a Democratic government.

Lord's Believers

A fundamentalist faction wary of secular technology. Led by Sister Miriam Godwinson. The Believers make planetfall with the technology Social Psych. The Believers' convictions give them a 25% attack bonus as well as increasing the morale of their Probe Teams and increasing the cost of their enemies' probe attacks. Their eagerness to defend their faith allows each colony to support up to four units without a cost of minerals. Because the Believers feel that Chiron is their promised land, ecological tensions are increased and production of resources in fungal squares is decreased. The Believers are also sceptical of secular technology, thus their research rate is decreased by 20% and they may not accumulate any research points in the first ten years on Chiron. The Believers may not use Knowledge as a social engineering choice.

Morgan Industries

Faction valuing material wealth. They are run by CEO Nwabudike Morgan. The Morgans make planetfall with the technology Industrial Base and an additional 100 energy credits. Because they are an industrial conglomerate, they receive an energy bonus in social engineering - an extra unit of energy in each colony, and one energy per square and other bonuses if this is combined with social engineering values such as Free Market or Wealth. However, because of the expensive tastes and the demand for creature comforts, Morgan units have high mineral maintenance costs and colonies cannot exceed population size four until the Hab Complex Facility is built. The Morgans receive extra energy from commerce due to their marketing expertise. They may not choose a Planned economy in social engineering.

Victory conditions

There are several victory methods available in Alpha Centauri.

A Cooperative victory allows multiple allied factions to win the game if one of the factions achieves one of the following methods.
A military victory occurs when all factions are annihilated or have surrendered to one player. If cooperative victory is enabled then there may be up to three pact brothers and sisters who can share the victory (excluding those who have surrendered).
When a player has enough energy reserves (roughly equal to what it would take to mind-control all the remaining cities on planet), he can assert an economic victory and win the game. This takes 20 turns to achieve, and can be prevented if during this time the faction's headquarters falls to an enemy.
A player achieves diplomatic victory by uniting the Planetary Council behind him. To do this, the player must get a certain percentage of the votes, by population, at Planetary Council. The percentage varies based on difficulty level, up to 75% at the highest difficulty (transcendent). If the vote succeeds but remaining factions oppose the decision, they must be eliminated by force to achieve a military victory.
The transcendence victory is achieved by building the Ascent to Transcendence secret project, which becomes available after the Voice of Planet secret project has been built (by any faction). This concept of a post human era is very closely related to the idea of the technological singularity. After this project is built people leave their material bodies to merge with the emerged planet intelligence.


While not being a direct sequel of Civilization II, Alpha Centauri was considered a continuation or a successor of that much acclaimed game, because it had the same general principles as Civilization II did, and had been made by many of the same people. It was also thematically linked, as the earlier game had ended with mankind leaving Earth to travel to Alpha Centauri, the moment at which SMAC begins.

During the development of Civilization III, many people on Apolyton Civilization Site, which was very active in providing ideas for the game, said that Civilization III should take many concepts from Alpha Centauri, which was by many considered to be the best 4X game at the time. Civilization III was subsequently released, being based on the Alpha Centauri engine.

The magazine PC Gamer awarded Alpha Centauri a score of 98%, which was the highest score ever given by that magazine—Civilization II being the previous holder of this record with 97%. In 2004, PC Gamer gave Half-Life 2 a score of 98%, making it tied with Alpha Centauri. The magazine also gave Alpha Centauri Editor's choice and Turn-based strategy game of the year awards in 1999.

Alpha Centauri has also won several Game of the Year awards, including those from Denver Post and Toronto Sun. It won Turn-based Strategy Game of the year award from Gamespot as well. The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences named Alpha Centauri best strategy game of the year. In 2000 Alpha Centauri won the Origins Award for Best Strategy Computer Game of 1999.

In the community of Civilization players, many quotes from Alpha Centauri, which are shown at different points in the gameplay, are also quite popular.

The game has also sparked a trilogy of novels (see below) and a strategy guide by Chris Hartpence ("Velociryx"), which was later printed and published.


Unlike comparable games at the time of publishing, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri employs (orthographic) 3-D rendering for both the terrain and units. This is made possible by the "Caviar" voxel library by AnimaTek International (now Digital Element (, which renders the voxel models and terrain geometry using self-modifying assembler routines.

Further reading

For further reading, game story developer Michael Ely has written a trilogy of novels based on the game.

Steve Jackson Games has also published GURPS Alpha Centauri, a role-playing game book that allows role-playing in the game universe with the GURPS RPG system.

See also: List of computer and video games by name

External links

Template:Civilizationde:Alpha Centauri (Spiel) es:Alpha Centauri (videojuego) fr:Alpha Centauri (jeu) pl:Alpha Centauri (gra komputerowa)


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