Brad Wardell's Blog


Making Microsoft's Surface Pro work as a better tablet

Published on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

I love my Surface Pro.  It doesn't always love me.  This Summer, a firmware update caused the keyboard cover connector to not work anymore which forced me to use the Surface truly as a tablet.  It wasn't...a good experience.

While I wasn't a fan of Windows 8, it was a pretty decent touch OS.  Windows 10...not so much.  A big part of the reason Windows 10 isn't good for touch is that it doesn't use the screen edges well.

Windows 10, by default, has these touch-based shortcuts:

  1. Swipe from left: You get a very cluttered desktop / app manager (3 x 3)
  2. Swipe from bottom: nothing (no standard use in apps)
  3. Swipe from top: Nothing (will close apps if they're running)
  4. Swipe from right:  Notification Center

That's pretty weak.

Compare that with an iPad:

  1. Swipe from left: Brings up your gadgets / reserved for apps
  2. Swipe from bottom:  Return to home screen OR bring up a nice 3X2 list
  3. Swipe from top:  Notification Center
  4. Swipe from top right:  Quick settings
  5. Swipe from right: (reserved for apps)

The Surface Pro, like all touch devices, has an interesting, not well known feature: The touch sensitive area is bigger than the display area.  You could assign areas outside the display area to have functionality.

...Enter...TouchTasks...

TouchTasks lets you define zones at the edge of your touch screen to do things.  Stardock even includes a few custom applets as examples but it's purpose is to let people decide what they want to do with it:

For example:

Here I have it set up so that if I tape in zone 4, it will bring up a big friendly quick launcher.  But I could just as easily have set it up so that it just launches say OneNote or define a custom hot key on Windows or bring up the Windows start menu or bring up recent documents or basically anything else you might want.

For my use, I have the Start menu to let me go through all the stuff I might need so I have begun to clean up my Surface Pro a bit:

 

For v1.0, we are mostly testing the waters in seeing how much interest there is by Windows users to make Windows 10 work better as a touch only device.    A lot of other accessibility options could be added in here such as Search or Cortana or a Widget panel.  

I suspect I'm not the only person who would like to see Windows 10 made into a better touch-based OS.  

You can download and try TouchTasks yourself for free.  Just remember to touch outside the display area!

www.touchtasks.com 

 

Cosmetic and functional planet improvements

Published on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Galactic Civilizations III

We're working on a wide range of things including one thing that has bugged me a long time: The way planets look.

Ugh.  These just look so bad.

Now improved to:

These will be part of an upcoming free update later this Fall.

We are also going to release a DLC with a bunch of new planet types (with really cool looking surfaces made from scratch to support the new system) that give worlds a little more character both visually and in terms of bonuses/penalties.

 

GalCiv Dev Journal: October 2019

Published on Tuesday, October 8, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

We're putting the finishing touches on GalCiv III v3.95 which includes both balance changes and new game options and some quality of life updates.

Originally we were going to go right from v3.6 to v4.0 but we've broken the tasks down into smaller chunks, hence v3.7, v3.8, v3.9, v3.91 and now v3.95

But we've also been working on v4.0 which has a heavy modding emphasis. Now that the major expansions to III are over (we will still be releasing DLCs, but all new FEATURE changes will happen in the base game) we are focusing more on content management, quality of life and helping make sure GalCiv III is the best GalCiv game we've ever done.

So how do we imagine enhanced mod support looking?

Here's what we have in mind:

From the main menu you click on Mods.  This takes you to the Mod Manager.

It has 3 pages:

  1. Installed
  2. Available
  3. Create

GalCiv IV-25

The Installed mods simply let you enable and disable mods.

When you click on Available it takes you to a page that has a bunch of categories of mods.  These are just glorified Steam tags.

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The idea here is that you can press a button and it will launch the Steam workshop browser with tags set up.  Just makes it a bit easier for players to go directly to the types of mods they're looking for.

The last page is Create.

Now, this isn't a tool.  Modders will still have to actually to the mod like they do today.  The difference is adding support for what expansions the mod requires to work and what tags your mod requires.

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Based on these settings, it'll create a folder in the documents\my games\gc3crusade\mods\ directory with the proper directory structure worked out.

The directory structure in which GalCiv is setup is a bit complicated.  That was because we didn't want to change the gameplay experience for everyone when an expansion came out.  Only those who voluntarily bought the expansion would have the changed game play and those who didn't want that gameplay changed could effectively opt-out.   This decision has a lot of advantages and disadvantages but one disadvantage is that makes modding much more error prone.

For example, for the Retribution expansion we have our various data files in a directory like this:

GalCiv3\Game\DLC\EXP4_Retribution\Game

If you have Retribution installed, then it uses the files in this directory instead of the files in say

GalCiv3\Game\DLC\EXP3_Intrigue\Game

With mods, we will need to know which files you plan to "replace" which means knowing which version of the game you want your mod to support (i.e. Retribution vs. Intrigue).  So for instance, let's say you want to replace ImprovementDefs.xml.  We need to know WHICH one you want to replace.    But let's say you want to create NEW planetary improvements.  We still need to know which set of improvements your planetary improvements are going to essentially append to.

For those of you who are already experienced at modding GalCiv, let us know what you think along with any improvements to how we are looking to do it that might make it more robust.

Some Sneak Previews for end of the year

Published on Tuesday, October 8, 2019 By Brad Wardell In OS Customization

Lots of exciting things happening this year.  

Stardock is actively hiring software developers to begin revamping all of Object Desktop.  You will begin to see the changes starting in mid November as new and old things alike start being added.

A few things on our plate include:

  1. Updating SoundPackager.  The sounds in Windows 10 are a bit annoying.  Stardock has a lot of audio talent here that we plan to use to revamp the sound packages that it includes as well as put dev resources into updating it.
  2. Updating Keyboard LaunchPad.  This is mostly about updating the UX and feature set to support modern apps as well as changing the defaults short-cuts.  Sorry WinAmp fans!
  3. DeskScapes 10.1.  We are going to be integrating in-app Dream creation (not just DreamMaker but a full on mini app for creating really cool effects and dreams!).
  4. NEW APP.  I can't talk about this yet but it should show up within the next month or so.  It's the biggest new customization app we've put out in years.

And that's just by end of this year!

Stay tuned!

 

Galactic Civilizations III v3.95 Change Log (Released 10/10/2019)

Published on Tuesday, October 8, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Galactic Civilizations III

Greetings!  

We are pleased to let you know about the exciting changes in v3.95 of Galactic Civilizations III.

This is a big one so stand back!  

Gameplay

  • New game option: On Surrender, transfer all planets.  Defaults to OFF
  • New game option: No FOW in your territory. Defaults to ON
  • "Ascension Victory" no longers requires you to control a majority of the crystals.  
  • Common and Abundant asteroid frequency increased.
  • When a planet gets colonized or a shipyard gets made and it sees if there is a shipyard nearby that would be in the green zone (no penalty), planet automatically becomes a sponsor.
  • Eliminated the map size limitations on map sizes as long as you have at least 8GB of memory.
  • "Nanite Transmitter" now has limited uses.
  • "Nano Fabricator" now gives 100 manufacturing overflow.
  • "Nano Fabricator" now gives a +10% Max Manufacturing bonus to the planet.
  • Dodge value on high-end thrusters reduced by 3%.
  • Tactical battle maximum final dodge increased from 10% to 20% (i.e. a ship always has a 20% chance to hit you).
  • Base relationship penalty for approaching ascension is -2 instead of -1
  • Ascension close to victory threshold lowered from 66% to 50% as there tends to be a feedback loop on accumulating points.
  • Space Rockets moved from default to Militaration tech
  • Retribution: Civilization capital max population increased from 8 to 10
  • Race Trait changes
    • Base Game: 
      • Reduced the effect of the "Popular" race trait
    • Crusade and up
      • Research techs for Drengin no longer have maint cost.
    • All:
      • Port of call is one per player instead of one per planet to align with Retribution balance
      • Productive1 trait now provides 20% instead of 10% social production boost
      • Production2 trait now provides 10% instead of 5%
      • Clever1 now provides 15% research boost instead of 10%
      • Influential1 trait now does 40% influence boost instead of 15%
      • Influential2 trait now does 15% influence boost instead of 10%
      • Economical1 now provides 15% gross income boost instead of 10%
      • Handy1 now reduces Colony Maintenace by 50% instead of 20%
      • Handy2 now reduces Colony Maintenace by 30% instead of 15%
      • Popular1 tourism per planet boost reduced from 2% to 0.4% (it's still pretty huge)
      • Popular2 tourism boost reduced from 1% to 0.2%
      • Traders1 trade boost increased from 20% to 40%
      • Traders2 trade boost increased from 10% to 15%
      • Brutal1 increases soldiering from 20% to 50% now
      • Brutal2 increases soldiering from 10% to 30%
      • Courageous1 trait now boosts resistance from 20% to 50%
      • Courageous2 trait boosted from 10% to 30%
      • SharpEyed1 increases ship accuracy from 20% to 30%
      • Sharpeyed2 increases ship accuracy from 10% to 20%
      • Agile1 increases jamming (dodge) from 20% to 30%
      • Agile2 increases jamming (doge) from 10% to 20%
      • Observant1 increases sensors from 25% to 50% 
      • Observant2 increases sensor range from 15% to 30%

Interface

  • Moved the "planet build queue" over to give the improvement list more room.
  • Moved "Word on the Street" window to the Govern screen.     
  • Tourism on a planet displays decimals if it falls below 1%.
  • The game now provides feedback when you can't select a tech because of an "Age" restriction

Bugs

  • Fixed a rare bug that prevented planets and ships from spawning in the campaigns
  • Fix typos.  Hat tip our discord fans for their help
  • Ambient music no longer plays during the victory movie.

 

The Dog thread

Published on Saturday, September 28, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Life, the Universe and Everything

When it comes to dogs my views can be summed up by this incident this weekend...

I am at the store and I need a USB-C cable.  They're $9.99.  I call my wife and tell her "I dunno, $10 for a cable, can you just bring the one we have downstate with you?"

However, before I had left the store I bought a $9.99 "Super Premium" dog bone.  

Priorities.

Post your picture of your dog here.

We have two dogs.

First, the new puppy:

This is an "English Creme" retriever.

 

And this is my baby girl with our 8 year old Entlebucher, Bailey.

 

Finally, my new PC is working-ish

Published on Saturday, September 28, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

What an adventure...

So I built "Frog-2019" and this time I bought a Fractal Design case that has a USB-C port on the front!  Great.  Well, my first motherboard, an ASROCK X299 Tachi said it had a USB-C front panel on it but when I got it, the actual header on the motherboard was missing.

Ok.  That gets swapped out with an ASUS and now Windows 10 wants activation.  And this was a ridiculous situation.

It said I needed to reactivate.

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Ah but there's a link that I changed my hardware.

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No go.

I now spend the next HOUR on the phone with Microsoft that involves, I kid you not: Giving them control over my PC so that they can do the following:

  1. Verify I purchased this new motherboard (going to Amazon and seeing it).
  2. Verifying that this is the motherboard in question through looking at msinfo32.
  3. Generating a new key.

Now, mind you, this guy on the phone was pretty technical and professional which means he's probably not cheap to employ.  Similarly, suffice to say, my time isn't cheap either.  Yet this was all wasted over something that everyone else (including Office365) has figured out how to do with regards to licensing.

So now I'm all set.

But wait, not quite.  My front panel USB-C is working on the new motherboard...but the USB 3.1 Gen 1 (i.e USB 3.0) is not working. Why? So I take a look at where the 20 pin connector goes and realize it can't quite get in all the way because the header next to it is too close.  I order a 20 pin extender.  Not because I need an extender but because it's connector is skinnier and hook that up.

Now I'm all set.  I load up my tools, start to debug.

Blue screen.

But I'm getting closer than ever!

Recent Groupy setting to combine your windows together

Published on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

One recent feature of Groupy that I appreciate is that I can now specify how long I keep one window on top of another to group them.  Originally, this was instant but I found myself often grouping windows when I didn't mean to.  I think I'll request a half second option just to be difficult.

www.stardock.com/products/groupy 

 

Villains of Star Control: Origins AAR - Xraki Chaos

Published on Monday, August 26, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

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This is part 2 of a 4 part series on the villains of Star Control DLC for Galactic Civilizations III. You can see the...unpleasantness that took place in part 1 here. Mistakes were made.

In Star Control: Origins we wanted to make sure that humanity's opposition wasn't simply a set of cartoon bad guys.  Each opponent has a pretty strong motivation and a rationale...except for the Xraki.  The Xraki are insane.  They're not "evil" they were driven insane by events in the distant past and now simply destroy anything they come across.

In this game, I will play as the Xraki against the other villains and see how things work out.

It Begins

We get a pretty good starting location with a number of habitable worlds.

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We soon have a couple of colonies and it is time to form a new government.

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As you can see here, each species gets their own unique portraits for citizens.   They also get their own names.

War is quick

So let me be clear, playing with malevolent civilizations is rough. 

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I had a colony ship on its way to a planet they wanted. So they killed it.  No warning. 

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The Xraki's technology is based around control of singularities. So at the heart of their ships tends to be something freaky looking.

The Phamyst arrive at around turn 50 in this game.  So far, it's just been the Xraki vs. the Scryve. As it should be!

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The war between the Scryve and the Xraki is endless skirmishing combined with subtle expansions.

However, the Xraki find one of the best locations to build a starbase that I've ever seen.

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And at last at turn 57 we meet the Measured.

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And here is the power rating of each civilization at this stage:

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But in the background of all this, there is war.

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The Scryve and the Xraki continue to hammer it out.  We are both equally matched more or less.

The Settlement

With the right payments, the Phamyst and the Measured went to war with the Scryve which resulted in a peace settlement between the Xraki and the Scryve.

This allowed a period of uninterrupted internal growth.  Through careful planning, for example, I was able to build Kimberly's Refuge in just the right spot to get a huge boost for it.

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Balance of power

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The Phamyst and the Measured together were still powerful enough to deal with the Scryve.  We had pulled out ahead thanks to our internal buildup. By turn 120 (and thanks to some new multithreaded techniques on AI pathfinding, the turn times are less than half as long as what they were in 3.8) there was a balance of power in the quadrant.

The problem with a balance of power is that some malevolent bastard always wants to upset it.  In this case, everyone.  By turn 140, all the powers were at war with everyone else.  The Scryve quickly took the lead with a coordinated attack / invasion right into the heart of our empire.

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Scryve thrusts into my empire.

But we had not been naïve enough to think we had peace in our time.  One of our internal improvements was the research of weapons and defense technologies.

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We had transports escorted by entropy class frigates which were deadly in numbers.

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While a single Entropy couldn't take out a mighty Scryve battlecruiser, they could overwhelm one thanks to each Entropy having very good defenses and a sharp sting.

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...Time

Passes...

Many months later, the war continues with back and forth battles.   At one point, the Xraki homeworld is conquered by the Measured which has emerged as the super-power of the quadrant.

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We have fallen far from our early lead.  But we aren't dead yet.

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The Chaos class battlecruiser should be able to take on any single ship out there.

It would get its first test in a very important battle:

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The Measured had succeeded by using the same strategy the Xraki were.  Not too many large ships but lots of deadly small ships.  However, unlike the Xraki, their ships had virtually no defensive capabilities. They were designed to be cheap and efficiently mass produced.

The Chaos class ship, however, was massively defended by barrier fields.  This would be a good test of offensive investment vs. defensive investment.

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The Xraki strategy had succeeded.  Other than a tiny disintegrator class ship and a first generation Entropy, the fleet remained relatively untouched.

(Many hours later)

At turn 236 the galaxy remained on fire but we had recovered our lost territory.

Here is the status of the quadrant:

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The Xraki ownership and happiness joy region has been reclaimed.

On the other hand, this region represents only a small part of this medium-sized map:

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The Xraki are not close to being the most powerful.

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However, we are well situated going forward as the Scryve are somewhat over extended and many of their outer colonies are pretty isolated.

Some final thoughts

Having played through the "evil" civs as someone who  usually plays as neutral or good, I will tell you that as cool as the unique abilities of each civilization are, they really don't hold a candle to the varied gameplay that you get from the combination of opponents you pick.   Playing as a malevolent civilization in a galaxy filled with malevolent civilizations changed the dynamic a great deal.  I hope if you're reading this that next time you play, try playing the opposite ideology as you usually do and put in some evil civs.

As the old saying goes: Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.

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