Brad Wardell's Blog


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.

Villains of Star Control: Origins AAR - The Phamyst

Published on Sunday, August 25, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Greetings!

For this After Action Report I'm going to be playing Galactic Civilizations v3.9 with only the Heroes of Star Control civilizations. 

I'll be pointing out notable and interesting things as I go along.

The Setup

I'm going to play as the galaxy's classiest cannibals, the Phamyst.

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The Phamyst have the Ravenous ability which results in them receiving food after every battle which can be used to build cities.  However, this food spoils after 25 turns so use it or lose it.

My opponents:

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The Scryve,The Measured and the Xraki. 

So it begins...

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The new civilizations in Villains of Star Control come from Star Control: Origins, sharp-eyed players will notice that the art style has been slightly altered to conform with the Galactic Civilizations style of a bit more realistic.

The villains of Star Control are, as you might expect, pretty malevolent.  I normally play Galactic Civilizations as a neutral or neutral-good against a mix of civilizations.  This is one of those rare times where it's going to be a bunch of evil civilizations thrown in together.

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Each civilization has a very unique ship style.  The Phamyst have a very minimalistic aesthetic.

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A feature definitely not talked about enough is the fact that each of the four new civilizations provides a ton of new ship parts.  And as you can see, we didn't scrimp on them.

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I'm going to play the Phamyst a bit darker than I normally play.

Below you can see the unique aesthetic in action.

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Phamyst battle cruiser.

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First meeting with the Xraki.  If you click and zoom in, you can see the subtle art style difference between Star Control and GalCiv in action (if you look at how the Xraki are depicted in Star Control).  I.e. we didn't just port them directly from Star Control, we updated their look to match GalCiv's. Look at the veins!

This is probably even more obvious with the Scryve:

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I probably should get universal translator.

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Starbases (mine and the Scryve's).

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What you can't hear (obviously) is that each civilization has their own music track and their dialog was written by the Star Control team.

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Scryve Cruiser up close.

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A fair trade scary guy.

The War of the Scryve

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It was inevitable I suppose.

The Scryve and the Phamyst were neighbors and both are pretty evil. 

However...

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The Scryve have better ships but my ships are designed specifically to counter the Scryve's favored weapon type (energy beam weapons).  So it's not quite the walk over they thought.

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One of the changes we've made in recent updates is to make defenses a lot more effective.  Not only are defensive values higher but they don't get reduced nearly as quickly during battle.  So defenses are a good thing to have on a ship.

Just in time for me to have researched Orbital Manufacturing which allows for the construction of much larger hulls.

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The war expands

The Measured have joined the Scryve!

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Unable to take on both empires at once, we are forced to grovel for an armistice with the Scryve.

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Meanwhile, we had just finished the design of a new battle cruiser, the Ravager!

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The Measured have conquered most of my planets but we are slowly making our way back thanks to the Patriot.  The Measured ships are very business like (see screenshot below).

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Defeat

The Scryve and Xraki ultimately declare war on me as well.

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I learned something today.

Evil civilizations put into a shark tank is rough.

And so the Phamyst go down in flames. 

Villains of Star Control: Origins is coming to Galactic Civilizations III

Published on Tuesday, August 20, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III News

Last year we released Heroes of Star Control: Origins, and it proved to be so successful that we're following it up with Villains of Star Control: Origins DLC. The DLC arrives on August 27th and comes with 4 new playable races, each with their own unique abilities, ship styles, and theme music.

The Star Control: Origins multiverse is filled with beings of all shapes and sizes.  Here is a preview of some of the darker species coming over to Galactic Civilizations III.

The Measured
The Measured are sentient coral.  They once had a rich, thriving civilization before they were modified by the Scryve (who we will discuss in a moment).  The Measured are the Bureaucrats of the Scryve sector which makes them fit in with the gameplay of Galactic Civilizations III nicely.  They not only get the Bureaucrat ability but receive a new one: Mitotic, which gives them free administrators when they colonize new worlds. 

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The Phamyst
The Phamyst are the galaxy's most polite cannibals. They find other beings generally intolerable.  The galaxy is a messy place and they are just the ones to bring class and refinement to it. 

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The Xraki
The Xraki are considered fanatical monsters that came from another dimension by most. But things are not quite as they seem.  The Xraki were once the shock troops of the Scryve Empire, who harvested them and modified them via the Scryve's exclusive access to the only known Origin in the galaxy (a device that allows its user to go into alternative universes). 

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The Scryve
The immortal Scryve were not always villains.  The Scryve Empire was once full of idealism and hope.  Time and events slowly corrupted them.  Now, the once all-powerful Scryve Empire is slowly dying.  They have controlled our part of the galaxy for so long that few species have been left untouched by them.   The Scryve are unlike any villain from the Galactic Civilizations universe.  Where the Drengin are brutal, violent and intolerant, the Scryve are civilized, thoughtful and methodical.   The Scryve could best be described as a people who followed "the ends justify the means" one too many times.

The Scryve are masters at conquering and then holding.  Not only do they have the Conquerors ability, they also receive the new Imperial ability which gives their ships a HP bonus in their territory based on the number of colonies whose zone of control are contiguous with their home planet.

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Where to get it...

Villains of Star Control: Origins will arrive for Steam, GOG, and Stardock on August 27th for $5.99.  Not only does each new species have their own unique abilities, but they come with their own ship styles, which means lots of new ship parts to play with.

Start10 adds dark mode support to bring back the classic Start menu

Published on Tuesday, August 13, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

Stardock will be releasing Start10 v1.75 today which, amongst other things, adds dark mode support.  Start10 is designed to bring the Windows 10 start menu the full power it traditionally had.

I won't pretend to understand the UX team at Microsoft.  It will come as no surprise to those who have been following Microsoft and Stardock for the past twenty years that we've been pursuing often parallel visions of where the Windows desktop should go. When our visions diverge they tend to diverge in a big way and probably the most famous example was the evolution of the Start menu.

Stardock's Start8 was the first, and for awhile, only, program that returned the classic-style start menu.  We're not sure what Microsoft was thinking with Windows 8 but luckily, by Windows 10, they had returned to their senses...mostly.

This past Spring Microsoft introduced "Dark Mode" to Windows 10 which is a visual treat for most of us who spend many hours in front of the computer.  Nevertheless, the Windows 10 Start menu is still...not ideal.

If you have Windows 10 you already know this but let's recap.  Windows 10 with dark mode looks like this:

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Image from Walter Glenn's terrific article on customizing Windows 10's Start menu

Walter's article is one of the best out there for trying to make the Windows 10 Start menu usable.  The problem isn't just that it's a bad UX, it is also not well implemented.  It's basically divorced from the rest of the Windows shell experience. 

Where Start10 shines

First, as you can see here, it is important that users quickly and easily be able to choose which presentation of the Start menu they want. That includes Microsoft's Windows 10 style.  We want our users to always be able to check out things on Windows 10 easily to make sure that Start10 remains a better solution for them.

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Start10: Choose between classic, modern and Windows 10

Personally, I prefer the modern style.   When I use Start10, it's not because I'm "afraid of change" in my UX.  I just want the most usable, modern experience, period.  The classic style (Windows 7) isn't a retrograde either.  You can still mix and match UWP programs and such.  It just gives you a bit quicker access to elements of Windows that have become hard to directly access.

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Start10: Modern Style

vs.

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Start10: Classic style

Windows 10 at full power

With Start10, you can customize both your taskbar and your Start menu however you'd like both in terms of color and texture.  But cosmetics aside here are some of my favorite features from Start10 that I just can't live without:

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Jump Lists

One of the best features of Windows was jump-lists.  They're still there.  The OS still has them.  But the default Windows 10 Start men hides them.  They allow you to quickly get to a particular document.

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Start10: All apps

Whether you organize your Start menu or not, one of the most useful features the start menu was nested folders.  I could organize things like Apps->Graphics->Adobe and quickly go through the Adobe apps.   These days, I tend to use search for anything I remotely use often so I don't organize to that level of detail anymore.  However, it is still very handy to be able to organize utilities and development apps because I often absolutely forget the name of many of my favorite tools (such as Balsamiq Mockups!).  

To be fair, Windows 10 is slowly returning some of these features but with relatively little control over how they're displayed:

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Windows 10's Start menu for comparison.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of features of Start10.  Version 1.75 adds Dark mode support to the app.  If you don't already have it, definitely go download it at www.start10.com.

More screenshots

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GalCiv Lore talk

Published on Friday, August 9, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Galactic Civilizations III

Year 2260 galactic situation.

The "fence" marks the beginning of where Hyperdrive works a lot less efficiently due to increased stellar mass density (a lot of this is speculative).

The blue area is the area controlled by the Terran Alliance.  Purple is Yor.  Red is the Drengin Empire and yellow are the Arceans. 

The continued refinement of Galactic Civilizations III

Published on Thursday, August 8, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Greetings!

Thanks to you guys continuing to buy our DLC we are able to keep developing Galactic Civilizations III with new features and improvements.

The last few updates have been focusing heavily on quality of life and the latest version, v3.8 continues that trend.  Below are some of features we've recently added that we hope you find useful.

Adjust difficulty mid-game

Finding yourself doing really well mid game or struggling more than you thought?

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Under the options->Gameplay you can now adjust difficulty on the fly and it will update the AI's accordingly!

UI Cleanup

We don't necessarily respond to every post (or even most) but we do read them.  So many of our updates are pretty minor. A text change here. A font tweak there.  Here are a few examples:

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We now display a little more information about ships than we used to.  For example, tactical speed is now displayed.

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More information, such as research, is displayed in the planet list.

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Capturing Ascension crystals now makes it clear how long it will take players to win through that means.

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The shipyard list displays how much production is going to it.

Immersion

This is hard to quantify but we have been going through the game making small text changes as well as making sure the default ships from every species has a colorful name rather than simply the ship class.

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Also a better use of fonts to better emphasize who is speaking and what options are.

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The work continues

We are keen on hearing your thoughts! We hope you like what we've been doing!

Groupy is a superset of Windows Sets anyway

Published on Tuesday, August 6, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Stardock Software Blog

Before Microsoft even announced their windows as tabs feature, "Sets", Stardock had released Groupy v1.0.

Groupy is pretty straight forward: We like having our browser windows organized by tabs, why not the rest of the OS experience?

There are a number of popular use cases for Groupy.  For instance, merging multiple Windows explorer windows together with tabs the top.

Groupy-DarkMode

Groupy supports Windows dark mode

I find it particularly helpful that I can just click the + button to get another tab.

Here's how I use Groupy when doing development work.  I have GalCiv and Siege of Centauri and Perforce grouped together.  This is my "Dev" app.

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I like to think of each of my groups as an "App" in itself.  That is, if I treat Chrome as a single app with lots of tabs for different pages, then my Dev "app" simply has tabs that let me switch between different tasks related to development.

You can try Groupy for yourself at https://www.stardock.com/products/groupy/.  I suspect you'll find it as easy to use as I do.

Galactic Civilizations Summer 2019

Published on Wednesday, July 31, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

We're putting the touches on v3.8.  From here on out, a lot of our effort is going to be on features that improve the game experience, polish and usability.  They're not sexy features but they're much needed imo.

Starting with 3.6, we began work on improving the modding experience.  This is something that's been being further developed in 3.8 and will get more attention after as we try to "unify" the experience further so that people can eventually pass around mods and know they'll "just work".  

We still have the general challenge in that you have Crusade and "base" GalCiv III v1.x.   Crusade changes the economic system to a citizen based system so that's a big challenge in reconciling in terms of mods.

There won't be any more expansions for GalCiv III.  Future gameplay improvements will be made to the Cruade base (i.e. as long as you have Crusade these will work).   But we do have new DLC coming over the coming year.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them here. Cheers!

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