Brad Wardell's Blog


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 Groupy News

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 http://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!

Summer of Star Control

Published on Monday, July 29, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals


It's been an exciting Summer so far for fans of Star Control. Last month we re-released the classic trilogy on Steam, posted a major update to the engine to improve the visuals, and now we are busy working on chapter 3 of the Earth Rising expansion.

For those of you who have played the game or will be buying the game in the near future, let's talk about the galactic scene today.

Star Control takes place in the not-so-distant future. The stars are real stars, and in Origins they're placed based on their actual relative distances from Earth. We even have the known exoplanets in there.

The part of the galaxy we are in is known as the "Mid Spur," which refers to Orion's Spur (sometimes called Orion's arm), in a single sector called the "Scryve Sector". 

The Scryve sector contains hundreds of stars with thousands of planets. We travel between stars, skipping slightly above our dimension, through what is called Hyperspace.

Hyperspace isn't truly FTL travel (though you are traveling at near relativistic speeds) in the sense that your ship isn't itself going faster than light. Rather, Hyperspace exists in a dimension that warps space in incredibly intricate and really impossible to understand ways.



Traveling through hyperspace requires two key components: a Hyperdrive (which allows a ship to enter hyperspace), and a Hyperspace map to tell you where the stars are. Without the map, a ship would quickly get lost in Hyperspace. It is only through the map that the sensors of a ship can detect other star systems. 

What this means is that only stars that have been mapped and given Hyperspace coordinates can be found. This becomes obvious when you travel to the edge of "the map". The better question is: why is the edge so fixed and arbitrary? For instance, why is Earth placed where it is? These are all mysteries that Star Control players will gradually discover over the coming years.

For now, we hope you're having a good time playing and welcome any feedback, suggestions or requests for what you would like to see next! 

If you're new to Star Control, welcome to the galaxy!

The Video Game Machine = The Game that makes games

Published on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

Have you ever been playing a game and wished you could just hit a button and start changing it right in the middle of the game? Then you're going to love The Video Game Machine (VGM).

This is a game we've been working on for over four years.  Hopefully you'll be able to see why.

VGM isn't a development tool.  It's been designed so that anyone can make games with it.  Easily. Here's how it works:

First, you pick a genre.  We've started with popular genres from the 8-bit era (1980s and 1990s). 

Picking the genre eliminates most of the complexity right off the bat.  If you pick a side-scroller, you already have most of the basics down right there.  It's...a...side...scroller.  You can configure it further with the rule-book but the genre sets the stage for how the game is going to play.

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Pick your genre

And since it's a side-scroller you have a hero right?

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Pick your character

Eventually, you'll be able to import your own character, graphics, etc.  But for now, we supply the basics for you.

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Once you name your game you're ready to go!

 

You then start with a clean slate:

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You can also just load an existing game and start editing that, we include an ever increasing set of games

 

You can also pick your look.  Does the game look like it's being played on a CRT (television) or a modern monitor? What graphics set do you want to use?

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We already include a ton of different tilesets so you can truly make your own world.

And again, eventually you'll be able to import new tile sets that you create.  But right now, we just want to focus players on the core features.

You can even choose the music you want:

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You can set the pacing of the music which remarkably enough, can really alter the feeling of the game.

 

Not every side scroller is the same of course.  Super Mario Bros is very different from say an Endless Runner or say Commander Keen.  This is where the rule book comes in:

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You can further customize the game with the Rulebook

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Editing my game

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Adding enemies

At any time, if you hit the TAB key you can start playing.  There is no separation from making and playing.   Here's me just hitting TAB:

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Easy to switch from making to playing.

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CRT effect!

This makes it super easy and fun because you can constantly try out your stuff.

 

By this point, you're probably starting to understand where things are going.   There are 3 levels of player for this game:

  • Player A: Just wants to play lots of cool games
  • Player B: Wants to make games but doesn't want to get too technical
  • Player C: Wants to mod games or make really sophisticated games.

For now, we're just focusing on player A and B.  But you can imagine eventually people being able to script up their own rules, their own AI stuff and their own mechanics and sharing them.  They then would show up in the rulebook or in the enemy list or have new tiles and new heroes and so on.

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Once you have made a game, you can share it with the world.

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Games made by others

Since we're just in alpha, you can already see the work we have ahead of us.  For instance, we'll need some sort of rating system on public stuff so people can choose between the good stuff and the stuff I made. 

Other Genres

For the Alpha, we only included two genres. Side-scroller and Adventure.

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Adventure genre

Like with side-scrollers, there are a ton of different graphical choices to choose from.

The path forward

We're starting the alpha with the game only costing $10.  Obviously, it won't stay this way.  But we want to encourage lots of people to come try it out, give feedback, tell us what they like and don't like and of course, make games.

Like I said earlier, The Video Game Machine isn't a development tool.  It's meant to be fun.  It's not intended to compete with Unity or Unreal or even sophisticated game making products.  This is a game that is meant to make it easy and fun for people to create games in well understood genres. 

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We made it very easy for people to tell their own stories through their games as well.

We internally have around 7 genres in various stages of development.  You can probably guess most of them.

Over time, as we advance, modders will be able to create and share their own music, tile-sets, enemies, game rules, gizmos, etc.

Starting today, May 29, 2019, you will be able to start playing it if you join the Founder's program.  Join the adventure at www.TheVGM.com.

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