Tiberium, known as Ichor to the Scrin, is a fictional substance that is central to the plot of much of the Command & Conquer series of real-time strategy computer games. Within each title set in the Tiberium story arc (Tiberian Dawn, Tiberian Sun, Renegade, Tiberium Wars, Tiberian Twilight, and their respective expansion packs), the Tiberium crystals represent both the tools and spoils of war and are used by players to purchase new units and buildings, with each of the series' factions either directly or indirectly battling for control over the crystals. Tiberium has extraterrestrial origins and comes in a variety of forms, mostly the common green crystal but also in the form of more rare blue crystals, the extremely rare red crystals, and in the form of "veins". It has also demonstrated a liquid form by the time of Tiberium Wars. Parts of the chemical composition of tiberium remain unknown.
Tiberium is presented as a double-edged sword within the context of the story arc of the respective video games. While it is the greatest mineral resource ever encountered, conveniently gathering many potent elements into an easily harvestable form, it also brings with it considerable hazards: areas rich with the rapidly spreading Tiberium substance are eventually exhausted of their native ecosystems, and become too toxic to support normal carbon-based life. In the context of the gameplay, Tiberium can also be seen this way with its obvious tactical advantage as a resource, and its destructive effect on infantry, sometimes transmuting them into destructive "Visceroids".
Tiberium is a commodity, with everything that one builds in the game costing Tiberium-based credits. It can appear anywhere on Earth, but spreads much more slowly in areas of extreme cold climate. In Tiberian Dawn and Tiberian Sun, it will spread very slowly in-game but primarily comes from special Tiberium-generating Blossom Trees, infested trees that release Tiberium spores into the air; in Tiberium Wars, these trees are replaced by Tiberium Fissures in the Earth's crust, and Tiberium will not spread outside a certain radius of these fissures. Either way, it is harvested by vehicles called harvesters. As a currency, Tiberium is collected to build structures and to train units.
The substance is named as such because it was first discovered near the river Tiber in Italy. Kane, who claims it was in fact the Brotherhood who first discovered Tiberium, states that he himself named it after Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus.
Tiberium was first introduced in the original 1995 Command & Conquer game to replace the "spice" from Dune II as the mined resource for building and expanding, and was inspired by the 1957 B-movie "The Monolith Monsters". According to Westwood Studios co-founder Louis Castle "It solved one of the fundamental problems we had with making an RTS, which was that we wanted to have a central resource that everybody was fighting over. Dune has spice, which made perfect sense — and it was also used when we came to the idea of Tiberium. It became the anchor of the C&C universe because people were arguing over a limited resource that represented wealth and power".
In Tiberian Dawn, Tiberium is said to be composed of 42.5% phosphorus, 32.5% iron, 15.25% calcium, 5.75% copper, 2.5% silica, and 1.5% unknown substances. Its gaseous emissions are composed of 22% methane, 19% sulfur, 12% naphthalene, 10% argon, 6% isobutane, 2% xylene, and 29% unknown gases.
For the development of Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, Electronic Arts decided to radically alter its composition, and commissioned scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to provide a white paper describing the biophysics of Tiberium, its atomic structure, its method of transmutation, the form of the radiation that it emits, and the way to harness it for powering machinery and weapons—giving it the same treatment as would be suitable for a scientific journal article on a real substance.
Mike Verdu, executive producer for Electronic Arts, gives the following scientific analysis of Tiberium from the perspective of the game universe:
Tiberium is a dense "dynamic proton lattice" held together by exotic heavy particles. When Tiberium comes into contact with other matter, the heavy particles randomly collide with the nuclei of the target matter, smashing it to pieces (in the case of smaller nuclei) or incrementally knocking off protons or neutrons (in the case of heavier nuclei). Tiberium captures a fraction of the protons that are ejected during this collision process and incorporates them into its own structure, thus transmuting matter into more Tiberium. Whenever one of the heavy particles—a muon or tauon—collides with an atomic nucleus, fission occurs, which results in the production of alpha, beta, and gamma radiation as well as other forms of electromagnetic radiation (like infra-red). During the transmutation process, nuclei that Tiberium has come into contact with may be changed into nuclei with different (usually fewer) numbers of protons or neutrons.
— Mike Verdu, 'Living with Tiberium'
Verdu describes Tiberium as being at the center of the fictional C&C universe as well: "This enigmatic crystal is at the core of our gameplay as well as our fiction. [...] Tiberium is our Force, our Spice, our One Ring, and our Matrix. Everything in our game world is defined by its relationship to Tiberium."
In the game universe, Tiberium crystals proliferate in a number of different ways. In the simplest and most common way, a tiberium "pod" will send out "roots", which create more pods. Tiberium also spreads by infecting trees and mutating them into so-called "Blossom Trees", which seed the substance across large areas of land. Destroying a Harvester, Refinery, Cyborg, Tiberium Spike, or other Tiberium-containing unit or building can cause a small amount of tiberium to be released. In Tiberium Wars, it spreads by growing out of the ground from Tiberium fissures within the Earth's crust. Verdu describes these Tiberium concentrations as "oddly beautiful fields of green crystal that [kill] everything around them". The substance is radioactive and is extremely toxic to carbon-based life, causing either death or severe genetic mutations in plants, humans and animals alike. It replicates by converting everything around it into more Tiberium either through oddly directed mutation of plantlife, or through direct assimilation of other substances on the atomic level, through this gradually covering the whole surface of the Earth. It gives off radiation, which in the game universe is harnessed both for energy and as a weapon. In Verdu's words it is both "a gift and a curse — a resource and a plague".
Tiberium is extraterrestrial in origin and was introduced to the world through a meteorite impact near the Tiber river in Italy, in the year 1995. Exposure of human beings to Tiberium, which can be through touch or inhalation, either results in death or extreme mutation, the mechanism (or purpose) for the latter not being revealed in the game. Verdu describes Red Zones as being "like the surface of an alien world". Part of the game storyline comprises scientific speculation that an alien species is using Tiberium to terraform Earth to its own requirements. This speculation is borne out in Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, when the alien force known as the Scrin arrive at Earth to mass-harvest Tiberium (which they name Ichor).
This effect on both humans and materials has consequences for harvesting. Unprotected infantry passing through a Tiberium deposit are at risk, both from direct exposure to Tiberium itself and thus conversion into Tiberium and from secondary radiation burns and radiation poisoning as others are contaminated and converted around them. Soldiers, tanks, and other vehicles in Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars thus have protective shielding against Tiberium. However, this shielding is imperfect, since it simply slows down the process of conversion, it being based upon the fact that some materials take longer for Tiberium to convert than others (there are other shields against Tiberium. "Sonic resonators", devices that emit sound at particular frequencies, stop the spread of Tiberium and are used in Blue Zones to ensure that Tiberium deposits there are contained). Partial contamination of a human, which can occur within 20 seconds, requires immediate treatment in properly equipped medical facilities.
What happens if you're exposed to Tiberium? Nothing good. If you come into direct contact with Tiberium, the green matter will start to fuse with your skin within about 20 seconds. You'll feel an intense burning sensation, similar to touching a hot pan or spilling acid on your skin. A full blown infection will manifest if you aren't treated immediately. Your flesh will begin to take on a glassy-greenish appearance as it begins to crystallize; eventually your internal organs will shut down as Tiberium extends rigid crystalline runners throughout your body. If you breathe in the crystal, then it will become embedded in your lungs. You'll lose the ability to process oxygen as your lung tissue crystallizes. Eventually you'll start coughing up blood and will hemorrhage to death.
— Mike Verdu, 'Living with Tiberium'
Tiberium, is, in Verdu's words, a "simple" and an "elegant" piece of game design. It is a resource that drives both the overall storyline and the economy of actual gameplay. Its several properties, including the tradeoff between harvesting it and the damage that it does to infantry that come in contact with it, make game strategy more complex for players. Tiberium deposits provide focus points for conflict, and the depletion and regrowth of such deposits both controls the pace of game play and prevents a runaway economy.
Tacitus, in the Tiberium story arc of the Command & Conquer series, is an extraterrestrial data storage device containing information regarding Tiberium. It appears in Tiberian Sun, Tiberian Sun: Firestorm, Tiberium Wars, Kane's Wrath and Tiberian Twilight. Before Tiberian Twilight, it was a MacGuffin, a plot device to spark more conflict between the already warring factions as the player was required to capture or secure it. Nod and GDI both said that it was a crucial source of information about Tiberium but its existence had no tangible effect. In Tiberian Twilight, however, Tacitus is used to build the Tiberium Control Network to tame the Tiberium and eventually reverse its wildfire growth.
Reference in other works
Tiberium is referenced in other works of art as well. The Sims 3: World Adventures, a 2009 video game by Electronic Arts, features Tiberium that can be obtained in the form of a relic from Egypt, combining certain combinations of relics using a Carter's series display case, or breaking space rocks using the Board Breaker. It will start out as a small Spire Cut Tiberium that can be sold for a comparatively small amount of Simoleons (video game's fictional currency), then after a few days, it will become a Large Spire Cut Tiberium worth around 30k Simoleons. Leaving a Large Spire Cut Tiberium out on the lawn will spawn more Spire Cut Tiberium. Leaving a piece of Tiberium in a Sim's inventory for a while will give the Sim "Tiberium Poisoning", which drops the Sim's mood by 20, causes them to become very sick and vomit frequently. Unlike the "Command and Conquer" series Tiberium, The Sims 3 Tiberium will not spread.
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- EVA: Tiberium is named after the Tiber river in Italy where it was first discovered. Kane: Discovered by the Brotherhood, that is. And I named it after Tiberius Drusus Ceasar. (Command & Conquer) Westwood Studios, 1995
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- Mike Verdu (1 August 2006). "Command & Conquer 3 — Tiberium as a Game Resource". ign.com. IGN Entertainment, Inc.
- Morris, Dave; Hartas, Leo (2004). Strategy Games. Thomson Course Technology. ISBN 1-59200-253-6. – a general discussion of harvesting in strategy games