The future is a tricky thing. Back in the 70s, boffins predicted that wed all have floating cars, robot sex slaves, and alien overlords by 1998. Hmm, didnt quite work out like that. Games have a similarly difficult job, trying to guess what might come next. Metal Gear Solid is hit and miss, the Tom Clancy games are a little pessimistic, and Street Fighter 2010? Were you even fucking trying, Capcom?
With all that in mind, Civilization: Beyond Earth takes a brave stride into the future of world-building, inviting players to give mankind a fresh start among the stars. And in creating a game that could realistically represent the future of the human race, Firaxis has done a curious thing: it has actually designed a plausible blueprint for a better world. Not just in games. The tech here could actually save our planet. Here are six technologies in Beyond Earth that have very plausible real-world applications.
Pioneering (creating the ability to build)
You can have all the smart tech and wonder-alloys in the world, but without the ability to make them into something useful, youre essentially a caveman. As we look to make more efficient use of our planet, we need to think about how we lay the groundwork BEFORE we build--to maximise each areas potential. Its the same in Civ. David McDonough, Co-Lead Designer at Firaxis explains: When you land, you have a very interesting problem. You have advanced technology at your disposal, but no way to implement it.
Thats why Pioneering is one of the first things you learn in the game. We today take for granted how easy it is to get steel from city A and coal from city B and turn it into something in city C. On a new planet, on turn one, you dont have any of that. You have a lot of technology, but none of the machinery to implement it.
Thorium Reactors (keeping the lights on)
So, youve built some factories and machines. Well done, you. Now you need to switch them on. Uh no power. In Civ Beyond Earth, you can create Thorium Reactors to supply sweet electricity to your world. Its a very efficient way of generating power, and its also something real scientists are looking at right now.
McDonough explains: The idea exists, but theres none operating at scale. Thorium Reactors are something Im very enthusiastic about because they could possibly hold an answer to our carbon neutral and energy independent future. Theoretically, a thorium reactor can produce a huge amount of nuclear power that is safer and processes less waste than todays uranium-based technology.
Vertical farming (making the most of limited space)
Civ Beyond Earth lets you choose from various factions, which have different philosophical approaches to space-colonisation. The Purity faction is all about getting a lot for a little--maximising the potential of everything. And a big part of that is vertical farms. McDonough explains: Vertical farming is another tech that already exists and is a concept that has existed for millennia. In Beyond Earth, researching this tech means being able to build a skyscraper-esque greenhouse.
He continues: What do you do when you have to grow plants in an alien environment or places that dont have any sun, natural water, etc.? You have to be creative and combine what you have. By integrating farms with urban architecture, youll gain a lot of efficiencies. Thats why youre receiving energy and food from one resource. So, massive roof-gardens and window-boxes then. Smart!
Robotics (getting someone else to do the work)
McDonough is keen to chat about the robots in Beyond Earth. Robotics are heavily applicable to industry, he says. People no longer chisel rocks by hand. Instead, we use big machines to blow the tops off mountains. Its the same thing in Beyond Earth. Getting the new alien resources in a useable state presents an engineering challenge weve never faced before. We imagine robotics would be integral to that gathering process.
Yeah, hes talking about alien resources in BE, but robotics is actually integral to reaching some of the larger areas of untapped natural resources here on real Earth. As we run lower on natural minerals on the surface of the planet, theres going to be a push to create robots that can access the parts of the world that squishy humans cant reach. Also, making robots fight each other is cool (if nothing to do with saving the planet).
Transgenics (making mankind perfect)
Ok, tricky subject, this. In Beyond Earth the Purity faction messes with genetics to perfect and optimize humanity in its original form. Its a noble goal when youre talking about keeping mankind alive in deep space--combating disease, and helping the species adapt to a new climate--but becomes morally-grey in real life when you start considering things like designer babies and master races.
McDonough sees the positive side of transgenics: Again, this isnt something new. Theres a little bit of this happening today: doctors and scientists working to identify and rid our genome of defects and diseases. He says that: The Promethean Wonder is a research project conducted in the narrative of Beyond Earth where a single genotype has been created that is flawless. An admirable goal, and again something that is in its infancy in the real world.
Bioengineering (growing cities)
So, this one is a little 'pie in the sky', but it's a cool way to end this feature. The idea of Bioengineering is that you grow things like buildings and cities. Weird, right? I'll let McDonough explain it: Some of the strongest, most elegant, and most impressive structures on Earth are trees. Think of that, and now imagine the question, What if we could grow a skyscraper instead of building it?
Carry on David--it's all good: This whole process would start small, like growing a suit of armor or the chassis of a car. If you can manage that, the applications start to run wild. What if we could get metals and machinery to assemble themselves? What if they could heal themselves, or evolve to adapt to their environment? The idea behind the Bioengineering tech is to create a genetic machine where metal can operate almost like organic tissue. Biometals are materials that behave like a living thing. This concept is one of my favorites.
Enjoy that? Well, it's certainly more entertaining than an Al Gore lecture, and more fun than recycling month-old, empty milk cartons. And it's nice to know that--when you're being a war-mongering space-asshole in Beyond Earth--you're kind-of saving the planet too. Kind of. Got any thoughts? Leave 'em below, fool.