Empires & Archetypes

Transcendence is a game of exploration, and one facet of the universe to explore is the variety of sovereigns and societies in the game. Like many other fictional universes, the Transcendence universe relies on archetypes for its sovereigns. All archetypes are inaccurate, of course, but some archetypes are useful.

In Star Trek, for example, aliens follow clear archetypes: the honor-bound warrior races; the intellectual, logical race; the Swedish zombie collective. This allows for interesting stories when the various archetypes interact with humans or with each other. There’s nothing wrong with this, but Transcendence needs to explore new archetypes.

Star Control II, one of Transcendence’s main influences, primarily uses animal archetypes for its aliens: they have spider-aliens, pterodactyl-aliens, racoon-aliens, etc. Again, this is pretty cool, and it gives the galaxy a sense of alienness with minimal effort. In Transcencence—at least in Part I—we rely less on alien races and more on different societies. Both the Commonwealth and the Sung Slavers are genetically human, but they differ radically on their values.

Star Wars surprisingly avoids the planet of hats trope. E.g., any alien race can be a force user (or a Sith). There are a few stereotypes: we never see Wookies commanding a rebel cruiser (maybe because they don’t speak English?) but in general, aliens are more like decorative skins rather than well-defined archetypes. In Transcendence I don’t think we need to go that far. We should avoid the planet of hats trope—e.g., every sovereign should have individuals who reject the dominant archetype. But we shouldn’t have every sovereign be identical either.

Archetypes in Transcendence

One of the premises of Transcendence is that once humans go out in space, the variety and diversity of possible societies increases. On Earth, there is so much integration between governments/economies that it is difficult for radically different societies to exist. But in space, where many societies need to be self-sufficient, it is possible for a thousand flowers to bloom.

What might these societies be like? How do they differ from one another. While working on Part II, I developed a method for generating archetypes for sovereigns. I defined four axes:

  • Community vs. Individuality: How much diversity is there among individuals in the sovereign? Do they have freedom to defy societal conventions? At one extreme you have homogeneity: all individuals have identical values and it is easy to agree on common goals. [One variant of this is authoritarianism, in which conformity is imposed by force from above.] The other extreme is heterogeneity, where everyone follows the beat of their own drummer. [When this works, we call it individual freedom or diversity; when it doesn’t, it is anarchy.]

  • Knowledge vs. Spirituality: Does the society value practical, real-world knowledge (and technology) or abstract, philosophical values? The knowledge extreme is utilitarian, but can become overly hedonistic (whatever makes people happy is good). The spirituality extreme believes in a higher purpose (not necessarily a divine purpose) that outweighs suffering. For example, imagine the goal of exploring the universe, even if it means that some explorers die along the way. The downside is, of course, when the purpose justifies atrocities.

  • Stability vs. Revolution: How stable is the society? At one extreme, the society preserves the traditions of the past because they are assumed to be optimal. The risk is that it leads to stagnation and decay as the environment changes. The other extreme expects society to constantly change and adapt. The risk is that it leads to chaos and sometimes makes things worse instead of better.

  • Constructive vs. Destructive: Lastly, this axis is used to define how the society behaves around other (distinct) societies. Constructive societies attempt to coexist. Destructive societies try to destroy competitors.

Imagine that we grade each sovereign on each of the four axes above. We can create archetypes by imagining a sovereign at one of the extremes of each axis. We end up with 16 different archetypes:

Republic (constructive, community, knowledge, revolution): Republics are often homogenous civilizations with a well-defined hierarchical government. They value knowledge, reason, and facts, but they acknowledge that nothing stays the same and continually try to improve themselves. The Commonwealth is a good example.

Collective (destructive republic): Taken to an extreme, a homogenous society can become an unthinking mass controlled by a central ruler. Lumiere is a collective.

Federation (constructive, community, knowledge, stability): These civilizations, often composed of diverse peoples, have achieved balance and peace over several millenia. They rely on their great stores of knowledge to guide their decisions and they tend to be suspicious of innovation because of the risk of unintended consequences.

Empire (destructive federation): Whereas federations are voluntary associations of diverse groups, empires seek to conquer and expand. The Sung Slavers are an empire.

Uplifter (constructive, community, spirituality, revolution): Uplifter civilizations believe in continuously improving themselves and those around them. Their sacred mission is to make the universe better for all its sentient beings. Their one flaw is that they sometimes lack patience.

Sterilizer (destructive uplifter): Sterilizers and uplifters have a similar goal: to create a better universe. Sterilizers destroy flawed cultures rather than help to improve them. Xenophobes are classic sterilizers.

Foundation (constructive, community, spirituality, stability): Foundations strive to be selfless civilizations that support the development of others. They are like the solid core around which a gas giant forms. Foundations preserve the infrastructure, keep the peace, maintain trade, and otherwise serve to bind other civilizations together.

Corrector (destructive foundation): While foundations support civilization, correctors can stifle it. Correctors impose their own byzantine rules, regulations, and mores on all. Omnithor is a corrector.

Competitor (constructive, individuality, knowledge, revolution): Competitor civilizations idealize the individual who competes, excels, and triumphs. They value the process of competition almost more than the result. Anywhere in the universe is home for these beings and the only thing they fear is boredom. The Corporate Hierarchy is (arguably) a competitor (though they are currently classed as a republic).

Megalomaniac (destructive competitor): The dark side of competition leads to this archetype, in which belief in superiority leads to destructive ends. Sapiens are megalomaniacs.

Archivist (constructive, individuality, knowledge, stability): Archivists value the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge. The hard-won insights of long-dead races hold more interest to these civilizations than either conquest or treasure.

Cryptologue (destructive archivist): Cryptologues horde knowledge and use it to achieve their own dark goals. They often prevent the dissemination of knowledge to others. Curators are cryptologues.

Seeker (constructive, individuality, spirituality, revolution): These civilizations are composed of diverse individuals who worship open-mindedness and questioning. Through art, philosophy and religion, Seekers strive to give meaning and sense to a cold and irrational universe.

Perversion (destructive seeker): Unbound by logic, perversions become obsessed by paranoid theories and destructive ideals. These are some of the most chaotic and unpredictable civilizations.

Hermit (constructive, individuality, spirituality, stability): Hermit civilizations concentrate on the simplicity of existing. They believe that desire leads to obsession which leads to unhappiness. Only by accepting the universe as it is can an intelligent creature be truly enlightened.

Solipsist (destructive hermit): Solipsist civilizations believe that nothing matters except what happens in their own mind. Though often harmless they can cause great suffering because they never worry about the consequences of their actions.

Development Update

Last week I continued to work on 1.9 Beta 4. I’ve been working on a new UI for controlling all the ship helping the player, including wingmates, autons, etc. I’ve made the following changes since my last update:

  • Fixed a crash bug caused by invalid images.

  • Fixed a typo in the CSC Antarctica text.

  • Fixed a regression in which stations allowed the player to install illegal devices.

  • Fixed a bug which caused a crash with more than 127 armor segments.

Join the Universe

What do you think of these ideas? Can you think of some interesting sovereign archetypes. Let me know in the comments below, or write to me: transcendence@kronosaur.com.

You can buy Transcendence on Steam or download a free version on our site. If you’re really brave you can download the development version and/or contribute to the code on GitHub.

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