Brad Wardell's Blog


Stardock Curtains brings new customization options to Windows

Published on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Software Blog

Last year, Microsoft released “Dark Mode” to Windows 10 users.  Dark Mode gave users an alternative color and style option to the Windows GUI. 

Now, Stardock is preparing to release a new customization program called Curtains.  Curtains works similarly to the modes that Microsoft has implemented.  Any app that already supports the existing dark and light modes will automatically benefit from Curtains.

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Stardock Curtains

Stardock Curtains includes several new styles such as Graphite, Crystal, Sky, and Midnight.  It also includes styles that give users the ability to change Windows to look like previous versions of Windows (XP, Windows 95, etc.), as well as alternative operating systems.

Stardock is well known for its customization programs including Fences, Groupy and Start10.  It also is the developer of classic GUI “skinning” apps such as WindowBlinds.  Unlike WindowBlinds, which is far more comprehensive, Curtains doesn’t take over the painting of the Windows GUI but instead works akin to how Dark and Light mode on Windows 10 works.  This means that it inherently takes advantage of different DPI settings and is able to leverage apps that already support Dark and Light Mode.

For Creators

Another big difference between Curtains and WindowBlinds is the complexity of a Style versus a WindowBlinds skin.  Because WindowBlinds essentially takes on the responsibility of drawing the GUI of windows, skins must include all of the GUI controls.  One missing element or one poorly designed control and a WindowBlinds skin can look incomplete.  By contrast, Curtains only needs to supply a handful of images and settings.  It’s simple enough that style modifying and creating is part of its configuration.

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It is very simple to create or modify existing styles

 

Availability

Curtains will be going into beta on Stardock’s Object Desktop suite of Windows enhancements tools next week (late April 2020).  A stand-alone version is expected later in the Spring.

Visit www.objectdesktop.com to get it.

 

Screenshots

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Fluent Peach (Peach Mode)

 

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Dark Waters

 

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Crystal

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Fluent Red (Red Mode)

 

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Workbench

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MacMono

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Midnight

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Warp

 

GalCiv III Dev Journal: April 2020

Published on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

So we are on the road to v4.0.  It's hard to believe that GalCiv III was released five years ago.  We've made a lot of changes since then.

Version 4.0 is designed to do a lot of different things.  I won't go over all the changes here but instead will take you on a bit of a guided tour.

Most of the changes are for users of Retribution which is the latest expansion.  If you don't have that, I highly recommend getting it.

Turn 1

On your first turn you're going to likely notice some subtle but important changes.

First, more food.  There are a lot more fertile tiles in general that you can use either for farming or plow away to build other things.

There is also an Administrative Center that you can have 1 per planet with.  It gives you 2 admin points but it's also useful because it enhances adjacent structures.

There has also been a slight tweak to the costs of planetary improvements (on Retribution).  You also end up with a fuller set of choices.  

Not only have asteroid fields been made bigger but Durantium is more common as well.

Technologies have been tweaked so that more administrative points are handed out and a lot more trade routes are handed out.  For instance (Retribution), Xeno Commerce now provides 5 trade routes instead of 2.

Early game changes

Resources like Promethion are somewhat more common as well.

On the other hand, while we've added more asteroids, we've reduced the amount of raw resources mining bases give from 1.0 to 0.50.  As many know, by late game, a disproportionate amount of raw resources ends up coming from the asteroids which was not the intent.  

Instead, because food is so much more common, players will tend to have much larger populations which do provide, over time, more production.

Planets themselves have gotten a bit of a make-over.  More interesting layouts and more interesting cosmetics.

Even Mars.

And this is all in the first 20 turns or so.   We will discuss more as we get closer.

Highlighted feature

A lot of users have asked for the ability to turn OFF the colonies auto-upgrading structures.

Coming in v4.0 in May!

The PC of the future - The new desktop

Published on Tuesday, April 14, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Software Blog

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This PC is using Windows 10.  But not just Windows 10 on its own.  It's been upgraded a bit with Object Desktop. That's what Object Desktop does.  A lot of the things in Windows we see today first showed up in Object Desktop.  A few examples include transparencies, shadows, gadgets, ZIP files as folders, GUI skinning, etc.  There is a natural progression to the operating system.

On this screenshot I have Groupy, CursorFX, Fences, Start10 and a new app that hasn't been announced yet. 

The PC of the future series is going to explore where we think the desktop is going. This PC has 64 CPU cores and 128 logical processors.  It has 128 GB of memory and an extremely fast GPU.  So what are we going to do with this hardware? That’s what this series will explore.

Edit: Additional screenshots below.

The Political Machine 2020 #5: One for the Gipper

Published on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 By Brad Wardell In TPM Journals

This week’s update to the Political Machine adds Ronald Reagan.  He’s the first candidate that includes a scoring handicap which means that your score is modified slightly because he’s a bit easier to win with than other candidates.  We’ll show you here.

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The update also includes AOC, Al Gore, and Barry Goldwater. 

The Reagan Era

Ronald Reagan was one of the last Presidents we had before the hyper politicization of American life really took hold.  In 1980 and 1984 he won California, something that would not be possible today regardless of whether he had been governor or not. 

Simulating Reagan

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In this simulation, we have Reagan going up against Hillary Clinton.  It’s not very close.

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This is where the handicap comes in.  It takes a lot of testing and tweaking here.  For example, we have a _Credibility stat which affects how persuasive someone is on a given issue.  Hence, Reagan, who is pro-life is able to take Abortion Rights and get most people who care one way or the other on the issue to vote for him.  He does less well on Lower Taxes and this has to do with how each campaign spends their time campaigning for (or against) certain issues.

In the example here, it would be safe to say that we need to adjust Reagan’s score handicap further. 

So there you go.  Reagan returns!

A Tour of Stardock Plymouth

Published on Thursday, April 2, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Stardock Blog

With our state on lockdown, our offices are empty. 
This gives me a rare opportunity to give a little tour of our offices with almost no one here.

 

A little bit about Stardock

So I started Stardock from my dorm room back in 1991 and incorporated it in 1993.  The building we’re in now, we bought in 2005.  We own it, so we are able to do whatever we want with it.  It’s about 20,000 square feet and we’ve had the opportunity to try out various working area styles.

 

The Welcoming Committee

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As you enter the main lobby of Stardock...

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This is Cheesecake.  An essential employee.  We allow dogs at work. Smile

 

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Stardock has 3 floors.  This is the lower floor in an area called Lab-2 (Lab-1 is upstairs).  The team is working from home.  We let people check out their PCs and take them home.

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This is also part of Lab-2.   Lab-2 has the workstation area. It’s not an open floor plan, but rather a hybrid, where everyone gets their own workstation area.  There are also 3 offices connected to it – Senior Producer (oversees schedule) – Senior Publisher (oversees the “biz” side) and Senior Designer (the lead designer on the project).  We mix the artists and engineers together so that they can work seamlessly together.

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This is the office I’m occupying down here.  I’m currently on a new project that won’t be ready for a couple years.  This is the first time I’ve been the senior designer on a game project since GalCiv II from the start.

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This is part of our Cafe. 

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Sitting area for the Cafe.  The nice thing about this area is that there’s a presentation area up front.

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This is on the main floor.  This is where the Impulse team used to be back in 2011.  We occasionally use it for podcasts, but it’s been unfilled since 2011.

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Also on main floor.  Has been empty since we sold Impulse to GameStop.

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Biz Conference room.  I spend a lot of time here, unfortunately.

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The fitness room.  Empty. So sad.

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My office.  Empty now that I’ve moved to the senior designer office.

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Gamer’s Bill of Rights.

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Wife and kids. Smile

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Back of my office.  There’s a little framed box of the “contract” between Chris Taylor and I on Demigod.  It’s on a napkin.

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Upstairs Lab-1 with Agile wall (Scrum wall).   So empty.

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Kristy’s workstation isn’t empty at least!

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Cleanest this area has been in years. The IT area.

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Play-testing lab.

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Derek Paxton, upstairs in Lab-1’s Senior Designer office.

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The kids of the QA area. Today, just making sure everyone else is able to work from home.

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Obligatory picture of gender neutral bathroom. We have gender-specific bathrooms on every floor but we also installed this along with an area for employees who have just had children to take care of things (and we did this back in 2005).

The general goal is to create an environment that is welcoming and comfortable.  We have extremely low turn-over and I think a big part of that is our company environment.

And with that, back to work!

GalCiv III Dev Journal: March 2020

Published on Monday, March 30, 2020 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

I found a magic planet.

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It’s not that it is a class 20 planet – it only started as a class 14 and I’ve upgraded it since.  It is that it had 6 fertile tiles with 5 of them ready to have something amazing placed in the middle.  In this case, Kimberly’s Refuge.  Combined with the planet being a fertile world the result is that this one planet produces 34 food. 

Of course, having the time to build this up required relative peace to be the norm which is the subject of this dev journal.

Leave me alone

One of the most common questions we get is how do you keep everyone from going to war with you? Can you play the game without having to build up a huge military.  The answer is, yes and…maybe. 

I’m playing as a benevolent civilization.  This means my polar opposite civilizations (malevolent) will be inclined to go to war with me.  If I were playing as pragmatic, they would also not like me but they are somewhat less likely to pull the trigger on going to war with a pragmatic civilization versus one that is their opposite.

So what’s the key to getting them to leave me alone?

Relationship factors

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Here is the Drengin.  The biggest two things helping me with them are the fact we’re trading with them and they are relatively far away.

Tip #1: Trade with them  

When I play as a peaceful civ, I am careful to trade as much as I can.  You do take a hit due to trading with their enemies but it’s still a big benefit.

Trade helps in so many other areas too.  For example, the more you trade, the less easy of a target you are since they really want your money.

Tip #2: Treaties

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Make sure you are setting up treaties with them.

Tip #3: Financial Aid / Tribute

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You can give tribute to civilizations (give them money) which will make them happy. 

Tip #4: Don’t be an easy target

If a bear is chasing after you and your friends, you only need to be faster than the slowest friend.   You don’t need a big military to keep from being attacked.  But if you are absolutely defenseless then you are inviting conquest.

Tip #5: Use Diplomats

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If you have trained any diplomats, you can use them on the powerful civilizations that you want to leave you alone.  You don’t need them to love you, you just need them to hate someone else more.

Tip #6: Build up your diplomatic skills

There are certain planetary improvements and technologies that give your civilization more diplomatic points.  Your increased skills will cause other civilizations to like you more.

Tip #7: Spy with Freighters

A lot of players will try to keep an eye on what other civilizations are doing by building starbases and sensor ships.  But these can sometimes cause other civilizations to consider them trespassers.  But freighters don’t have that issue.

Instead, design freighters that have great sensor ranges.  Make sure you get an open borders treaty with them.

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Hopefully these tips will help you maintain a galactic peace…or at least long enough to either ascend or get a diplomatic victory!

Using Stardock Groupy to Mix Teams and Slack

Published on Friday, March 27, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Stardock Blog

As I write this, we’re starting to find a lot of friction due to the way some communications apps work when it comes to multiple servers.  I’m looking at you, Microsoft Teams.

While connecting multiple Teams servers (not teams) isn’t hard, it is a bit tedious. 

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I end up having to click on the drop down and then select the server I want.

Now, ideally, I would like Teams to let me have a truly integrated experience (where I can move teams from various servers onto a single master page) but in the meantime, there is a solution for the user who wants to have multiple Team hosts available in a single click (or keyboard hotkey): Groupy.

Stardock Groupy lets users combine multiple windows together as if they are web pages.

Once installed I move my communication windows together:

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Now I can either click between tabs to get right to the other server or use Windows key-~ to tab between them.

If you’re someone who’s using multiple communication apps or servers, I highly, highly recommend you download Groupy.

Political Machine 2020 #4

Published on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 By Brad Wardell In TPM Journals

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The next update to The Political Machine will be including mod support to Steam Workshop. 

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Specifically, we are going to let people make their own ideologies and share them with others.  We include quite a few in the game.    We will be uploading a few ideology mods to get things started and to help others learn how to make them.

What is an ideology?

An ideology is a set of issues your candidate wants to run on.   Unlike normal campaign issues, ideology issues, when run on, increase the importance of those issues nationally.  This results in making different candidates play quite differently.

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Players can either have their ideology work with existing issues or create their own from scratch (which is a new feature in v1.1).

New Features

We are also adding an election night speed so players can savor (or zip through) the results:

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We also are implementing a scoring system.  In this test, we made a case where the ideology had a slight penalty because it was easier to play with (in the release, fascism will not be considered easier, we just wanted to test it).

This feature is important because it unlocks the door to having “easier to win” candidates added to the game without it debalancing everything.

This new version should be available next week.

Read the other journals here.

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