Is this the “OpenSMAC” that we’ve all been waiting for?… After the break…


Where were you on February 12, 1999? For all that I know, some of you that are reading this might not have even been born yet! For the gaming community, it was the date that the computer game “Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri” premiered.

The turn-based strategy game has since become a cult classic, a successful spin-off in reputation and style. The game captures the look and feel of the early Internet “Cyberpunk” era (I am beginning to think that the official colors of the early Internet were black, green and blue), with a plot of seemingly futuristic groups all vying for control over a hospitable but not overly-friendly alien planet.

A follow-up expansion pack for the game (called “Alien Crossfire”) premiered later in the year and the property also spawned a series of novels but, for the most part, after 2002, the official property ended. No more expansion packs; No more novels; No more graphic novels. The End.

Since then, there have been two commercial attempts to re-capture the gameplay ‘magic’ of Alpha Centauri: “Pandora: First Contact” and “Sid Meier’s Beyond Earth” (Sid Meier and his company, Firaxis Games, no longer owns the rights to Alpha Centauri). Both have been partially successful in at least re-creating some aspect of “Alpha Centauri” but both also suffer from drawbacks. “Pandora: First Contact” has been accused of having poor documentation and not having a fully-developed diplomatic gameplay. “Sid Meier’s Beyond Earth” has been accused of being nothing more but a simplified version of “Civilization 5” and not featuring enough divergence from Civ5 (sort of like how “Far Cry: Blood Dragon” was derivative of the game “Far Cry 3”).

A true successor to “Alpha Centauri” has not yet been crowned and, until then, the only way to play authentic “Alpha Centauri” is by playing that game. However, we live in the era of the aging computer game. Programmed to run in the world of Windows 98, (as in “1998”) , the game has needed more and more programming tricks to operate adequately in succeeding Windows operating systems.

Fans of the game have responded with unofficial patches but, just as with the “OpenMW” team, a few fans have felt that it was time for an unofficial engine re-write: to re-create the engine and use the existing the data files to play the game in a way that is more compatible and modifiable with present-day operating systems.

“OpenSMAC” was the first of these fan projects but, as of late, has not been active.

In the wake of the inactivity in “OpenSMAC” progress, a new project has emerged, called “JAC” (as in “Java Alpha Centauri”). Just as with “OpenSMAC,” “JAC” is presently in it’s formative stages but it’s goals are no less ambitious than “OpenSMAC.”

“Alpha Centauri,” much like “System Shock II” or the 1982 version of the movie “The Thing,” has only grown in stature over the years. It is nice to see that the fans recognize the need for the game’s engine to be updated in order for the game’s continued use in modern operating systems. I hope that both projects come to fruition so that Alpha Centauri players benefit fully.


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