Brad Wardell's Blog


DeskScapes 11: Preview Guide

Published on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 By Brad Wardell In Galactic Civilizations III

I like wallpapers.  Or desktop backgrounds, if you prefer.  But what comes with Windows is really…lacking.   That’s why I use DeskScapes. It adds a ton of features that arguably should have been part of the OS.  Millions of people use DeskScapes already, but there were a number of missing features that I think kept it from becoming a “gotta have” app.  DeskScapes 11, I believe, adds those killer features.

The new features

Below I’ll highlight some of the bigger features we’ve added:

Cloud Integration

I have a confession to make: I generally prefer normal backgrounds.  By that, I mean non-animated.  I mainly use animated wallpapers when I want something behind me if I am streaming or doing a demo.  But typically, I don’t run them.  This is why I, and others like me at Stardock, felt that DeskScapes 11 needed to become absolutely compelling for anyone who just likes regular static backgrounds.  Hence, cloud integration.

Bing Integration

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Bing has an image of the day.  You’d think Microsoft would incorporate this into Windows directly.  I don’t mean a web link to an app or something, I mean right into the background UI.  DeskScapes does.

 

WinCustomize Cloud

Another obvious feature is being able to use the cloud to instantly search and get new desktops. 

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You can even do a search:

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You can also subscribe to popular artists:

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You get the idea.  It’s like your favorite music streaming service, except for desktop backgrounds.

 

Background Tweaking

When you go to apply a wallpaper there are a bunch of tweaks you can make to it.

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If  you look over on the left, you will see some tabs. Here you can apply (and mix) a bunch of cool effects.

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One of my favorite features here is the portal effect:

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Even the noisiest (but pretty) background can be made usable by simply putting it in a portal.

Check this out:

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You can also do color blending here too.

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Here I made a weird, muted desktop background if I want to reduce the amount of color I’m looking at.

 

Playlists

Another feature new in DeskScapes 11 are the playlists.  The easiest way to create them is to do this:

Step 1: Create the Playlist

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Step 2: Go to your installed tab

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AND RIGHT-CLICK on backgrounds.

Step 3: Add them to your playlist

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Step 4: Apply

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I have mine change every hour.  And you can specify which monitors you want them on and so forth (I only have playlists changing monitor 3 here).

 

DeskScapes Wallpaper Creation

What if you want to do something a bit more advanced? Imagine you have a wallpaper a favorite game or something.

Let’s start with Star Control.

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When you go to apply it choose this:

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This will open up the DeskScapes Creator.  It’s extremely powerful.

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Let’s go ahead and add some light sourcing and glowing…

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So here all I’m doing is using the brush on the green and white “lights” already in this image.  It turns these dots into light sources.

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And each affect has a bunch of options available to it.  Did I mention it supports layering too?

Just as a fun tool by itself it’s pretty amazing and you can use this to create any background effect you can imagine.

And naturally in the untalented (like me) you can do all kinds of obnoxious stuff too.

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If you’re familiar with something like Photoshop you will have no problem here. 

When you’re done, hit EXPORT:

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Then just fill out the fields, hit export, and voila.

 

Just the tip of the iceberg

These are just a few of the new features.  DeskScapes 11 is basically a rewrite of the app designed to be a must-have for anyone using a Windows PC.  There are dozens of small tweaks and enhancements to make customizing your desktop easier and more fun.  It also uses hardly any background memory or CPU (Admittedly, we can thank modern GPUs and CPUs for a lot of that since everything DeskScapes does now is accelerated).

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What little memory it does use is actually the desktop background (multiple monitors X resolution) which previously would have been used anyway via a svchost process or something.  In the above example, it’s running an animated desktop called “Shapes” on 3 4K monitors.

 

Availability

DeskScapes 11 went into beta on Object Desktop, Stardock’s full suite of desktop enhancements that includes programs like Fences, Groupy, Curtains, Tiles, etc.  It will be available as a stand-alone program later this Spring.

Mac and PC side by side

Published on Thursday, April 15, 2021 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

So I keep my Mac and PC next to each other.

Broadly speaking, even taking multiple monitors out of the picture, I find the PC more productive.  This is primarily a difference in how Windows and Mac work.  This wasn't always the case but over time, Microsoft has added a lot of nice little short-cuts and tweaks that just don't seem to exist on the Mac.

Even little things in the Mac seem needlessly complicated. For instance, on Windows 10, I can hit Windows Key - Shift S to take a screenshot.  On the Mac is's Shift, Command 4.   This minor difference forces me to look up and in fact a lot of programs seem to not take power typers into account (hot key placement awkwardness).

Here are a few other observations.

Resizing windows on the Mac is often frustratingly difficult compared to Windows.

I find Mac a much more productive laptop environment to use because of the 4 finger full screen slide.

I really like the window snapping feature on Windows. 

File management in Explorer is a lot easier, faster than on Finder.  On the Mac, you really need to download a third party file manager if you're doing serious file management.

Installation on the Mac is much better.

UX on Mac is much nicer. Windows is full of annoying flickering and jankiness.

The Windows 10 system management stuff is much better now than the Mac System Preferences which seem to be from a bygone era.

I have to use a utility on the Mac to not have the mouse wheel work backwards from expected when I have a separate trackpad that I am expecting to work as it would normally.

Broadly speaking, the Mac is more pleasant to use and Windows is more productive to use.

Just some random thoughts.  Do you use a Mac and Windows daily? If so, what are your observations?

Airplay: Documentary on Games Journalism

Published on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

This is really interesting documentary broken up into bite sized chunks.

It deals with the transition in games journalism that we saw starting around 2010 with the changes to the underlying business models of the media and in particular the games media.

Here is part 1:

Star Control 3 canon

Published on Saturday, March 20, 2021 By Brad Wardell In Star Control 3

The lore that exists in the Star Control games is pretty convoluted due to the various splittings of copyrights in the series.

It kind of reminds me of some of the Man-Kzin Wars books where Larry Niven has a "Known Space" universe with many others having written Man-Kzin war books and own, presumably the copyrights for their own works.

I don't know if Larry Niven ever got into talking about canon in those books.  

As far as we're concerned, we look at it like this:  Star Control is a series of science fiction games and Star Control 1/2 take place in one universe which we call the Ur-Quan universe and Star Control 3 takes place in a separate universe which we call the Kessari universe and Origins takes place in a third universe (Origins).

The idea, at least back in 2013 and what not, was that you would see Star Control games that licensed the IP of various universes.  So picture a Star Control game that uses the Babylon 5 IP or another with the Farscape IP.  That was the thinking at the time.  

We hope to get back to that plan someday in the future once we have our engine ported.  Things got a little side-tracked with Covid (limited console dev kits don't mix well with everyone working from home).  

 

GalCiv: What's next?

Published on Friday, March 12, 2021 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

We aren't ready to announce anything specifically yet but I wanted to give you a sneak preview of some of the things we have going on around here.

First, there probably won't be a lot more journal entries for GalCiv III.  There will be more updates to GalCiv III but they will fall under bug fixing only.  The team has been staffed up (and we're hiring more) to focus on "GalCiv Next".

So what are some of the broad strokes?  In no particular order these are the things that have been on our mind:

How to have big maps and play tall. You're going to hear this concept a lot: A map of maps.   

More player actions. We really liked the artifacts as a concept because they let the player actively do things in the world.  We are looking at expanding on that.

Crazy big tech tree without it being a mess to manage. Like every GalCiv game we've ever done, we are going to be trying a lot of different new ways of managing techs.   What I can say is that we would really like to have a much, much larger tech tree in the future.

Invasions. We don't like the invasions in GalCiv III.  It's...fine.  But I feel like I'm popping balloons rather than engaging in some titanic battle for control of an entire planet.

Combat. We would like to see combat move away from being an all or nothing thing in a single turn.

Citizens++. Citizens were introduced in Crusade.  But we would really like the entire game revolve around citizens to the point where population = citizens and it is all about what you do with them.

Much, much, much bigger empires. In 4X games, including GalCiv, I think we've been approaching colonies backwards.  We always default to forcing players to micromanage their cities, planets, whatever and then add some sort of AI manager system to try to automate planets.  As a result, the game designs always try to discourage/punish players for having too many colonies which I find off-putting.

Instead, why not encourage players to have as many colonies as they want but by default, they are just simple resource generators? That is, they provide money, resources, research to their sponsor world.  Then, when you find a particularly interesting world, you flip the concept of a "governor" on its head and assign a citizen to govern the planet which means THEN you manage the planet.   And in doing so, we make sure that consuming a citizen to become a governor is a pretty big deal since that citizen could be doing something else important.  So imagine a game where you have 400 colonies of which say you directly manage your best few yourself?

Because in GalCiv III, we basically made class 1 through 10 planets rare because who wants to manage these worlds? This was a missed opportunity.  Now we can have lots of meh planets that simply act as the raw resource providers to their sponsor world which in turn you are managing to do super awesome stuff (think of the min-maxing going on there!).

Vastly bigger map differentiation.  The smallest maps in the future will probably feel roughly the same as they currently do.  But the largest sized maps will make the maps in GalCiv III look piddly with a lot more strategic depth to it as well.

We want multiplayer to be viable. Putting aside that most people don't play 4X games multiplayer, we would like there to be gameplay modes that you could play with a total stranger in less than an hour if you'd like.  These special modes would be available for single player too.

NO CAMPAIGNS. All the story and special scripting would instead be integrated into the game as events and such to help make the sandbox game more interesting.  

So that's just some thoughts.  We'll be talking more about it in the future.

 

Here's what to do with Stadia

Published on Monday, February 8, 2021 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

Google's streaming game platform, Stadia, has been having a rough time this past year.

From Take 2's CEO publicly calling them out to the recent Terraria debacle coming right after Google's decision to close their first-party studios, it's not looking too promising for Stadia these days.

The tech Stadia is run on is good.  We were deeply involved during the Yeti project and were very impressed with the potential.  We ported our engine over to Yeti and were ready to move our games to it.  The reason we haven't is a different subject and likely related to why there is relatively little content for Stadia today.

So what could Google do to turn it around?  

First, kill Stadia.  The whole business unit.  Fold it into YouTube and call it YouTube Gaming or something.

Second, integrate streaming and YouTube Gaming so that someone streaming a game on YouTube could easily let someone just start playing that game right then and there if it's there.

Third, make YouTube Gaming part of the YouTube premium subscription.  You pay for that and you get access to all the games on the platform while your subscription lives.   

Fourth, quit targeting high frame rate console games so much.  Focus on the games that people like to watch streaming (or games like them).  I don't want to play Cyberpunk on a Chromebook.  But I'd love to play a game like Galactic Civilizations, Crusader Kings, Civilization, RPGs, classic games (run via emulation), etc.   I'd just go to Games.YouTube.com or something and type in the game I want to play and start playing it.  

Fifth, beef up your creator support.  Google has no clue how to compete. Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo treat their developer communities relatively well. They need to step up their game on supporting their creators if they want any serious enterprise to rely on them for their livelihoods. 

 

WindowBlinds skin contracting

Published on Monday, February 8, 2021 By Brad Wardell In WinCustomize Talk

If you look over here: WindowBlinds 2001 in 2021 » Forum Post by Frogboy (wincustomize.com)  you will see that there are a lot of great skins for WindowBlinds that just don't work well in 2021 for a variety of reasons.

We are looking for modern recreations of OS skins that work with Windows 10 using WindowBlinds. 

In particular:

  1. Windows 3.1
  2. MacOS Classic (pre system 7)
  3. MacOS System 7
  4. Aqua 
  5. Amiga WorkBench (old style)
  6. Whistler
  7. NeXTStep
  8. Windows 95
  9. Luna (Windows XP)
  10. BeOS (Haiku)
  11. Gnome
  12. Aero
  13. OS/2 2.0
  14. OS/2 Warp
  15. Object Desktop for OS/2
  16. Open Windows

We would be looking for modern recreations without skinner embellishment except when it involves a UI control that didn't exist back then (start menu, etc.) and even then the goal would be to make it appear as if it were part of the OS.

If you are interested (and you would need to have a Master level of skinning experience) respond here and we'll get in touch.

 

WindowBlinds 2001 in 2021

Published on Monday, February 8, 2021 By Brad Wardell In OS Customization

How does WindowBlinds 10 handle older skins on the latest version of Windows 10?

The answer: Inconsistently.  There are some apps, like Notepad, where it always works fine.  Others, like an Explorer window it sometimes works fine.  And then there’s Edge where it rarely works fine.  Look at the results yourselves.

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For the next version of WindowBlinds we are looking to either update the most popular skins (certainly the OS skins) so that they work with the modern versions of WindowBlinds and/or update WindowBlinds to be able to handle these skins more reliably in today’s high resolution, high DPI (and often mixed DPI) world.

I think CK3 is the best game I've played in years

Published on Saturday, February 6, 2021 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

I am really, really enjoying CK3.

These days, I generally prefer to stick to playing games that I would never want to make.  So games like Civilization VI or even Stellaris are games that I play but I don't enjoy because they feel like work (this isn't the game's fault, it's because my brain goes into analyst mode when I play them).

But CK3? There's nothing else really like it and I love it.

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