Brad Wardell's Blog


GALCIV DEV JOURNAL: January 2018

Published on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Happy new year!

This month marks my one-year anniversary of returning to my beloved Galactic Civilizations as its lead designer.  And since then, we've made a lot of changes much to the joy and angst of many galactic conquerors.

Unintended Consequences

With the announcement of the third expansion pack to Galactic Civilizations III imminent, this serves as a good time to look at where we stand today.

For the past year, I've been going through and weeding out improvements, events and other game modifiers that had unintended consequences.   

The very first thing I did was read all the forum posts on GalCiv3.com, Steam, Reddit, elsewhere and see a lot of criticism for what amounts to unintended consequences of multiplying bonuses.  Getting rid of these has been good for the game but not all players appreciate the changes since it dramatically nerfs their gameplay.

For example, with the right combination, you could get ships with a base speed of over 40 moves per turn.  That's without adding an engine.  There are players who have posted complaints at how slow things get when they try to move their 90 move per turn ship around late game on a ludicrous sized galaxy.

The game itself was designed (and thus the underlying engine) on the premise that you wouldn't get many ships with more than say 10 moves per turn.   

While the AI could be scripted to do the same thing, it would destroy the game.  If you think it's slow for you to move a ship 90 moves per turn, imagine 60 AI players doing it with 400 ships per turn.  Even with a multicore Astar path finding algorithm, it would make the game both unplayable and not fun (what's the point of even having defenses or a forward line if ships can swoop in from sectors away every turn?).

So there's been a lot of work to get things balanced together.  It's not a matter of trying to change the game around as much as making the game play as had been originally intended.  As a math nerd, when I came in and saw the numbers it was just a matter of time to find all these unintended bonuses and kill them off.

Version 2.8: Invasions & Accessibility

One of our Fall tasks was to do more focus testing on why people don't find GalCiv III that approachable.  From watching new players, one thing was incredibly obvious.  The DESIGNER button at the top of the screen of the main screen was killing us.

Think about it.  You're new to the game and you are just clicking on buttons and you click on the Designer button and you get a super complex screen.  It's poison to new players.

The thing is, we don't really need that button.  For one thing, players can design ships from the main menu now.  Secondly, the ship designer, while super cool, isn't one of the features you need to use to manage your empire.  It belongs as part of the shipyard.

The second big task we worked on for 2.8 was the AI managing legions.  The concept of having to train legions and then put them on transports was relatively new as of 2.5.  And while the GalCiv III AI is somewhat genetic in how it works, I still have to make the "tests" that it has to pass to determine whether it's on the right track. 

Unfortunately, I was quickly schooled by other GalCiv players in not being very good at keeping a healthy supply of legions and transports ready to deal with opportunities.  And my own weaker assumptions got passed on to the AI.  Version 2.8 addresses this. Hard.

The rest of the AI changes were small but add up to a big difference.  For instance, previously, the AI had a one-size fits all fleet size.  While good enough for most players, our better players found themselves able to actually out compete the AI even on harder levels.  Thus, the AI gained the ability to evaluate different sized fleets based on a number of galactic conditions (instead of a fixed size).

Cleaning

Most of my work was on Crusade.  We brought over features from Crusade to the base game but we didn't bring what is arguably the more important aspect of it - cleaning and streamlining.

Put  your new player hat on and load up the base game.  You have tons of technologies to choose from with lots of improvements, weapons and modules that really just are hard to grasp onto.  Thus, we streamlined the base game for 2.8 so that there are fewer techs available at the start and what they provide is more obvious and more beneficial.

Population Growth

Population growth is tricky.  On the one hand, you want it to be realistic but on the other, you don't really want it to be realistic because realism can be pretty boring.

So we have population growth default to 0.1 population growth per turn.  Many good players recognized that if you loaded up transports with tiny populations to colonize you could get huge benefits by fast expanding.  And a big part of our work has been to support tall empires and not give fast expansion too big of a benefit.

For 2.8, we made the minimum population you can have on a colony ship be 1.  This makes colonizing a planet somewhat more serious than previous and allows us to avoid having to do a % population growth (do the math, there's no happy ending with a flat % growth -- boring or broken).

Diplomacy

We are in the process of adding some new diplomatic modifiers.  One of which is "We have a long, happy friendship" which essentially helps reward players who have been keeping the peace a long time from suddenly having players going to conquer them.  We already have various hidden mitigating factors for this but we haven't had anything a player could visibly see.

As always...

Anything you can do to spread the word on Galactic Civilizations helps.  Sales determine how many engineers we can put on the game.

When GalCiv III first came out, it was at a supreme disadvantage because it was on a brand-new engine.  But now, as we enter 2018, it's multi-core, 64 bit engine is looking pretty awesome as the rapid progress should, I hope, make apparent.  You'll be happy to know that the Spectre and Meltdown fixes you may have heard of will affect GalCiv III very little because we don't rely on single CPU core performance.  

Those of you who have moved to 4K probably have noticed just how future-proof GalCiv III is.   As time goes on, the game gets richer, deeper and more polished and with your help, we can ensure it is the ultimate 4X space strategy game.

 

Brad's Toad-2018

Published on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

I just got my new PC set up.  First new one in 3 years and it's a monster.

I mostly got it for the Core i9 which has 18 cores.  The reason for this is, basically, I compile a lot.  Most of my programming involves AI coding and that means doing lots of recompiling and running.  I highly recommend 18 cores for most people as it's wasted.

The other reason I wanted so many cores is for Nitrous/Cider work which is Stardock's new engine.  I want to make sure that Ashes of the Singularity and Star Control and Game X are all scaling up as you add more cores as this is a major part of our ongoing effort here.

 

Community Managers for hire

Published on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Community

Hi everyone!

Stardock is looking for Community Managers who can help provide technical assistance on the forums.

One of the changes in the market is that software pricing has changed from (for example) $19.99 down to $4.99.  This is good news for most consumers but on the other hand, it has largely eliminated our ability to provide individualized technical support (you can't really afford to have a staff of full-time dedicated tech support staff providing one-on-one help on a $5 program).

Instead, Stardock has been moving to a community manager approach where people will be increasingly directed to the forums (and we will be looking for ways to make the forums better for this purpose) as well as beefing up e-Support http://esupport.stardock.com/index.php?/Knowledgebase/List 

If you are very technical and like helping people with the Stardock desktop utilities let us know.  These are part-time (you can do it in your spare time) and can be done from anywhere.

Obviously, WinCustomize and other Stardock community moderators and leads are encouraged as well.

If you are interested, either respond here or you can email jobs@stardock.com with the title "Object Desktop Community Manager".

Cheers!

 

GalCiv DEV Journal: You're in for an AI treat

Published on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

image

Just in time for Christmas we released version 2.71 which is almost strictly about AI tweaks based on player feedback and saved games.  Now, someone might ask "Why do you need save games to make the AI do [obvious thing]?".  The answer is that with so many different ways of playing the game (both in terms of game setup and in-game strategies) it turns out people play the game very differently from one another.  It's one of the reasons why you have most people who think the AI is really good and some people who think the AI is a total push-over.  It's not that the latter group are cheating or even exploiting, they have simply discovered a strategy that is unbeatable.

But as much as version 2.71 improves the AI, I'd like to give you a sneak preview of 2.8...

Continue Reading...

Stardock's Groupy may change the way we use the PC

Published on Wednesday, December 13, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

How's that for a dramatic headline?

Groupy is a new program from Stardock that does something so simple that, in hindsight, seems like it should have always been part of the OS.  It allows users to drag windows together and create a single tabbed window.

Like so:

Groupy1

A few years ago at CES, I showed a prototype of it to Mary Jo Foley, Paul Thurrott, Brad Sams and others.  The motivation to create Groupy came from the frustrating of having lots of windows open (a very filled taskbar) but wanting to group my windows together based on what the user was working on.  The little CES demo focused on Explorer and Office (as we had that kind of working at that point) to show how useful it would be to be able to group the two together into a single, maximized window.   Fast forward 4 years and now Groupy is here!

Groupy is super compelling whether you are using a single monitor or, like me, have 4 monitors. 

Let me describe my workflow and hopefully you will see how obviously transformative it is:

Group 1: Development Task (Perforce + Visual Studio + Explorer + CMD)

image

One of the ways Groupy transforms your work flow is that you start to think in terms of TASKS instead of APPS.  If my task is development, I will end up with a command prompt, an explorer window, source control and Visual Studio.

Group 2: The Office task

image

Over the course of the day I end up with lots of Office windows up.  I will often attach an explorer window to these as well if I'm dealing with a lot of images (like when I types up my Christmas letter).

Group 3: The communication task

Groupy-Waffles

So I've got Skype, Slack, Discord and email open.  I use Windows key ~ here to quickly hot-key between the tabs (once I'm set up, it's all hot keys, I rarely click on actual tabs).

Group 4: My Chrome task

image

Wait what? Doesn't Chrome already have tabs? Yep.  However, here's the problem, I quickly end up with a bunch of duplicate Chrome windows because I can't find an existing window.  Now, just put them into categories. 

Here I have my Google Calender, Gmail, Surfing, Google Docs and Reddit tabs.  Within each one might be only 1 tab (like for the Calendar) or several (Google Docs).  Sometimes I end up with an Edge tab too if I'm going through PDFs.  On my Surface Pro, it's all via Edge as MS Edge is awesome on my Surface Pro 4.

A paradigm shift

Now, how I use Groupy is different from how someone else will.  The art team frequently has Adobe Photoshop + Premiere + Aftereffects grouped together.  I've seen Maya and some custom tools grouped together.

Back in the day, OLE and COM were thought of as technologies that would help bring about task based computing. The idea behind OLE is that we would do task based work and only have a small piece of the other program loaded.  Thus, if you wanted to work on a spreadsheet inside of MS Word, you could and you'd only use up a little bit of memory.  It never worked as well in practice as the theory.  The point being, it's been well understood that task-based computing is the way of the future. The problem has been execution.

OLE and such were developed during the time when 16 MEGAbytes was considered a lot of memory.  Today, most users have over 4 GIGAbytes of memory so the idea of futzing around with components of other programs (who hasn't groaned when they've tried to paste an Adobe Photoshop image into a Word document...you know what I'm talking about!) is a little archaic.

With Groupy, you get your task based computing.  You just drag the apps together and group them.  And with that grouping, the task based desktop has arrived.

Try Groupy yourself at www.stardock.com/products/groupy

Microsoft veteran Kevin Unangst Joins Stardock Executive Team

Published on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

PLYMOUTH, MI.  December 6, 2017 -- Stardock announced today that nearly 30 year Microsoft veteran Kevin Unangst has joined the company as Vice President to head Stardock's global marketing and partnership group.

Mr. Unangst spent nearly three decades helping to lead Microsoft's Windows and Xbox marketing efforts, including leading Windows XP consumer marketing, head of marketing for Microsoft Studios, and most recently global director of Windows gaming marketing at Microsoft.

"Kevin has a multi-decade track record of recognizing turning points in the technology industry and helping ensure that emerging opportunities are fully realized," said Brad Wardell, CEO Of Stardock.  "We are excited to have someone of his talent and experience lead our efforts to ensure that our new endeavors reach their potential."

Mr. Unangst was part of Microsoft's efforts to become a dominant player in the PC industry, from the transition to graphical computing with the launch of Windows 95, to leading the charge to make Windows and DirectX the definitive gaming platforms for PC gamers.

"I've always had a passion for helping make sure innovative technology is translated into meaningful benefits for consumers," said Unangst. "My time at Microsoft allowed me to help evangelize exciting changes that technology was bringing to the market, whether that be the power of Internet integration into Windows, the transition to 32-bit protected operating systems, and more recently, the potential of DirectX 12 for PC and Xbox gaming.

Stardock has a long track record of technological innovation going back to its invention of ZIP folders, user interface customization, desktop enhancements, digital distribution, 32-bit game development, multithreaded game development, and more recently, its investment in companies creating 64-bit, core-neutral technologies.

It was during the release of the first DirectX 12 game, Ashes of the Singularity, that Mr. Unangst became familiar with Stardock's roadmap.

"Stardock had long been known at Microsoft as an innovative company," said Unangst. "Even back in the 1990’s -  when I was marketing Windows NT - I knew of Stardock from their work with IBM's OS/2 and then with their creation of the Impulse digital distribution platform.  But it wasn't until I saw what they were building during the development of DirectX 12 that I realized I wanted to be a part of what they are creating."

Mr. Unangst will officially start his position on December 11, 2017.

# # #

Stardock is a leading developer and publisher of software and games including Object Desktop, Sins of a Solar Empire, Fences, Star Control, Galactic Civilizations and much more.  Its home page is www.stardock.com.

Sunday’s at my house

Published on Sunday, December 3, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Life, the Universe and Everything

Sunday’s are strange.

  1. Do I have enough time to start a new book?
  2. Is the dog getting enough attention? She doesn’t seem to think so.
  3. i really want to play game X but shouldn’t I be working on Star Control? Or GalCiv? Or Ashes of the Singularity?
  4. My son has math homework. Shouldn’t I be helping? How much?
  5. People are mad at the Democrats/Republicans. Should I care? I don’t really care.
  6. its cold outside but the solar array inverter needs to be checked
  7. YouTube Let’s plays are addictive. Damn you Quil18
  8. The wife unit is putting up Christmas decorations with our daughter. Should I help? It looks boring.
  9. What the hell are freeze dried strawberries?
  10. Why hasn’t CGPGrey made a new video?

 

Stardock response to Paul and Fred

Published on Saturday, December 2, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Star Control

We are disappointed that Paul and Fred, two people we have a great deal of respect and admiration for, have chosen to imply that we are somehow preventing them from working on their new game. 

Stardock has been nothing but supportive of their new project and wish them the best. I personally made the post here on StarControl.com in support of it.

With regards to their contentions:

First, as many people know, the classic Star Control games have been available for sale long before Stardock acquired the rights from Atari four years ago.  For the entirety of the time we have held the rights, they have been getting paid for those sales.  If they had an objection to the games being sold this is something that could and should have been addressed before we were ever involved. 

Second, we have stated, repeatedly and consistently for over four years that we are not using any of the aliens from the classic series.  As we have stated, our position is that, to the best of our knowledge, the classic alien IP is owned by them. 

We have also discussed, at length, why it wasn't commercially viable for us to attempt to continue or retell the Ur-Quan story. 25 years is just too long of a gap.  This is one of the reasons why we have been so excited about Paul and Fred's project.  Their game frees us to introduce new characters and a new story into the new Star Control while allowing fans of the classic series a way to continue the classic story.  This strikes us as a win-win situation.

Lastly, when we acquired Star Control from Atari in 2013, many assets were transferred to us including the various publishing agreements to the Star Control franchise.  The short version is that the classic IP is messy. We understand that this makes them "really really angry" but we weren't a party to that agreement.  All we can do is try to put something together that releases them from the restrictions placed on their IP that they agreed to and transfer any and all rights and responsibilities to them.  We want them to make Ghosts but we don't want any liability or association with it.  

Given the disturbing and unanticipated post by Paul and Fred, we are persuaded more than ever that a clear and irrefutable document that makes it clear that we are not associated or involved with their new game is needed. 

We have nothing but respect and admiration for Paul and Fred and wish them well in their new project.  

Update 12/4/2017:

Paul and Fred continue to make unsubstantiated claims regarding the DOS-based Star Control games. If they have any documentation to provide evidence to their assertions, we have yet to see them. 

Stardock, by contrast, possesses a perpetual, exclusive, worldwide licensing and sales agreement that was explicitly transferred to us by Atari who in turn acquired it from Accolade that has Paul Reiche's signature along with a signed distribution agreement between Atari and GOG for the DOS Accolade Star Control games. 

The tone of their blog posts is similar to the kind of correspondence they had with us since the announcement of their Ur-Quan Masters successor, vague, full of demands and without any documentation.  

With all due respect to Paul and Fred, they really should talk to competent legal counsel instead of making blog posts.

Update 12/5/2017:

Dealing with the sales and distribution of 20+ year old DOS games is an unusual way to spend a Tuesday afternoon. Nevertheless...

Atari had transferred to Stardock a signed agreement between Atari's President and GOG that we assumed was the agreement. Paul and Fred claimed they were the ones who had set up the agreement and upon verification with GOG, we instructed them to terminate this agreement which they have which we appreciate.

The games are now correctly transferred to Stardock and we will continue to ensue that Fred and Paul receive royalty payments for the games per the publishing agreement. We apologize if anyone was inconvenienced.  

Old IP can be messy to deal with. The best way to deal with that is to have the parties talk to each other (as opposed to making public Internet posts) and work something out.   We remain committed to dealing with this situation with as much restraint and gentleness as possible.

Other links:

Scavenger Race entries

Published on Saturday, November 25, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Ideas/Wishes

Here is a list of Scavengers that have been submitted thus far:

  1. Ellerian Fusion
  2. The Sik-Mu-Thieln
  3. Martakeelan Corporation
  4. Red Pirates
  5. Gwarmuthun Virulence

We are also putting together a list of primary and secondary weapons here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1NoAw4cvuET1JoLjQ_hGV7xawMj8VP5SWcSRIgwggE64/edit#gid=0

If your idea requires more than a few word to describe it, probably best to not submit it.  

Side-Quests

So basically, we will have a lot of races in the game but most of them won't be part of the main story but rather side-quest races that you will meet.  They won't have a home planet that is within the Origins main game area but rather are traveling from further out. 

 

 

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