Brad Wardell's Blog


Political Machine 2020 #3: A Walk-through

Published on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 By Brad Wardell In TPM Journals

Today let's do a quick walk-through of The Political Machine 2020.  This will include what's new from previous editions as well as a discussion of the underlying simulation.

Creating a candidate

When creating a candidate you have a finite # of points to use to figure out what your candidate's strengths are.

  • Stamina: How many moves you get per turn
  • Intelligence: Enhances how well you do on interviews
  • Charisma: Affects how well your speeches and ads do
  • Media bias: Affects how many ideology points you get from town halls
  • Minority appeal: Gives you enthusiasm points in states based on their minority population
  • Experience: Determines how expensive operatives are
  • Starting Money: Self explanatory.

The most obvious new feature in The Political Machine 2020 are the ideology trees.  Each candidate can truly play differently from another based on what their ideology. 

For this game, I'm going to choose Joe Biden's ideology.

There are 21 weeks (turns) to build your campaign.  This means every single move you make matters.   At the start, the candidates tend to be pretty close to tied.

But a few things to note:

  1. The cost of political operatives is based on supply and demand. They cost more early on in the game and slowly decrease in cost but will go up in cost as they are hired.
  2. Campaign HQs build enthusiasm in states. I recommend building them in friendly states to help nail them down. They also generate money for your campaign.
  3. Advertisements multiply your perceived position on a given issue. It is better to use an ad to magnify an issue you are already strong on than to use it on an issue you’ve barely spoken on.

When you see a town hall show up, you should absolutely go to it as soon as you can to maximize the ideology points you get.  The # of points you get is based on how tired your candidate is and the media bias.

Once you have collected some points, you can buy an ideology.  There is a lot of subtle strategy involved in the choice.  Enthusiasm is great as it will get people out to vote.  But they won't necessarily vote for you if they like the other candidate's position on the issues.

Some issues are bland. Others are controversial.

"Social justice" is a great issue if you're running as a Democrat but doesn't really get people that enthused due to it being so vague.   By contrast, an Assault Weapons ban will fire up voters on both sides and is specific enough to make it a major issue in the campaign.

My strategy tends to revolve around Reducing Wealth Inequality.  That is because it polls pretty well across party lines (relative to other partisan issues).  However, be careful, there is a reason why most politicians don't get too specific.  Unlocking fighting Wealth Inequality unlocks Taxing the Rich and Universal Healthcare.  Look carefully at polling on different issues in battleground states before picking an issue you feel passionate about.  It's not about winning California (or Texas if you're a Republican).  It's about winning those battleground states.

Advertising

As Mayor Bloomberg is learning, ads on their own aren't enough.  Ads magnify your existing support. They can't create it.

In The Political Machine, an ad will affect the state it's in plus adjacent states. However, they multiply your perceived position on an issue.  In this case, I've made Reducing Wealth Inequality a big focus of my campaign.  So taking an ad out on this will greatly increase my perceived position on that issue because I already have a lot of points into that issue.

By contrast, it would be dumb to spend it on stopping Coronavirus (which is spelled correctly in the final version) because I haven't spent time on it.

So here I already have a strong position on this issue. So taking an ad out on it will help cement my ownership on this issue.

Beware of pandering

Pander all you want but remember, your speech to make people happy in one state might hurt you elsewhere.

That said. I support farm subsidies..

Your VP choice

In The Political Machine 2020, the AI will take care of your running mate for you.  They will go around and campaign on the issues they have in common with you.  It also means you should probably take a little care on who you pick.

Hit them in their own back yard

The data shows that there are hidden toss-up states.  Or more to the point, there are states that become toss-up states if you put effort into them and your opponent ignores them (see Wisconsin 2016).  Because every turn matters, you can force your opponent to spend precious time late game having to win over states that they should have captured early on.

Operatives

Operatives do the dirty work in the campaign.   They are very expensive but get cheaper over time.  The difficulty level affects how many operatives the AI will be able to afford (so don't get too frustrated if you're losing on higher difficulties -- start on the easy levels).

Now in this game, as we are on the last turn you can see a lot of operative son the map.  I messed with Trump and forced him to invest in Alaska. He's doing the same in New Jersey.  Luckily, my running mate, Catherine Cortez Masto, is there to help.

Election Day

It was a narrow victory and I lost the popular vote but Joe Candidate was victorious.  Now I can look at the exit polls.

Focusing on good jobs and addressing climate change were major parts of my campaign.  But I probably would have won with a wider margin if I had focused on addressing wealth inequality as an issue.

Trump made some mistakes that cost him here.  In this particular game, he went for deporting illegal aliens which, despite what many online argue, doesn't seem to have as much support as many people believe (at least as of March 2020, we update the polling data a few times during an election cycle).

Another issue that polls well but isn't likely to be used in this cycle is returning civility to politics (though here, because it's a game, 100% of those voters who care about that went for Joe Candidate).  

The random event that occurred in my game (the stock market crashed) also was a big help.

Now, this map isn't intended to be accurate to how the actual election would turn out.  We walk a fine line between pure simulator and strategy game.  For example, the AI tried (and failed) to troll me in New York, New Jersey and Illinois.  That was foolish but I've seen cases where it forces the player to spend precious time in the states it targets.

By contrast, my counter of Oklahoma and Iowa paid off.  Alaska, being my home state in this game, went my way as well (just barely).

Every game is different

Re-designing the game around the new ideology tree mechanic ensures every game plays differently.  Pick your issues carefully and pay attention to the winning the battleground states and you should find great success in your political campaigns.

 

Political Machine election roll-out schedule

Published on Saturday, February 29, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Political Machine News

For this election cycle we have a ton of updates in store between now and election day.

Below is a tentative schedule:

## Spring 2020 ##

Steam Workshop support for creating and sharing your own political ideologies.

This year is a total, 100% rewrite of the game and while doing so we revisited everything about the game. The feature we like the most so far are the ideologies which will bring immense replayability to the game.

Most of the candidates have their own ideology with them. We also include a few alternative ones like Fascism, Lunacy and Giant Meteorism.

But we suspect other players will want to try making their own and the Steam Workshop support will make it easy to do so.

Scoring Handicap.
Some candidates are easier to to win with than others. To this end, different candidates will get score bonuses based on how hard they are to win with. This will make adding lots of historical Presidents to the game without it totally breaking things.

Spring Issue Update
Every few weeks we'll be updating the campaign issues. Even during our internal beta we've had to make a lot of changes such with "Escalation with Iran" and now with "Coronavirus". We are constantly getting new issues as well as tweaking existing issues to try to keep things as current as possible.

Really Loud Crowder & Rachael Maddox
New podcasts and TV shows are going to be added as we go through this election cycle. The game includes several already but we are looking to add more during the cycle. Two we plan to add this Spring include one based on Louder with Crowder and one inspired by Rachel Maddow.


## Summer 2020 ##

Candidate Architect
We already allow players to create custom candidates. But we also would like to expand on this feature to allow serious political wonks to architect candidates to extreme detail and share them.

State Emergencies
Not national emergencies. Instead, these would be events that affect only a single state. Maybe your campaign can ignore giving support to a tree fungus in Idaho but can you ignore a water contamination issue in Ohio? This will be a feature that players can turn off but will ensure that various states will require special attention.

Throughout this election cycle, we'll be hanging out on www.politicalmachine.com and the Steam forums to listen to ideas and suggestions and see what we can get in before the November election!

## It's a new game ##

We're incredibly excited to get this to you guys. This is the first time we've done a full rewrite since the original 2004 edition.

We added a bunch of new features. Some features in the old game we didn't include. For example, we don't have a "randomize the issues" feature or playing on an alien planet.

We also didn't bring the variable length campaigns and instead focused on 21 so that we could nail down the pacing. Players of previous versions will, we hope, really appreciate how well paced the new version is.

The biggest change you can't really see. It's the underlying simulation. It is so much better. Your actions mean so much more in the game and the game just "feels" better as your actions just make a lot more sense.

Stay tuned!

Hard Drive speeds over the years (2020 edition)

Published on Saturday, February 22, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

We’ve had some great discussions on Hard drive speeds over the years.

One of my favorites was the one about whether SSDs was worth it.

I’ve also been benchmarking my PC’s for a very, very long time:

https://forums.wincustomize.com/168111

Here is a brief recap:

image

Most of the CPU speed improvements comes from adding more CPU cores.  My 2019 machine has 18 cores, 32 logical threads.  My 2008 box was the last machine with only a single core in it.  That isn’t to say that the CPU experience isn’t much better these days.  I’m just saying that unless your app is using all those cores, you could argue that you could divide these scores by the number of cores to get a better approximation of what a single threaded app would perform like.

Anyway, here are the results from my box today:

Samsung 970 Pro NVME:

image

Sabrent Rocket  NVME 2280:

image

As a practical matter, they’re both incredibly fast. 

In real world practice, an NVME (like these) will have roughly the same load times as a SATA SSD despite scoring a lot lower on the benchmarks.

Feel free to use this thread to post your Hard drive specs and scores to share with others.

The Political Machine 2020 #2: Evil ideologies

Published on Wednesday, February 19, 2020 By Brad Wardell In TPM Journals

The biggest, most game changing feature of The Political Machine 2020 are the ideology trees.  Each candidate can have their own ideology tree which makes Bernie Sanders play quite a bit differently than say Joe Biden.

For today's entry, I am going to try out making a custom candidate and choose the Fascism ideology. 

I'm going to loosely base him off of one of my favorite villains of Stephen King's book, The Dead Zone.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEE141IC4Q8

We include a bunch of ideologies with the game.  They're pretty easy to make your own.  In short, an ideology is a list of key issues that candidate can get behind during the campaign.  I'll show you here how they work and how they can affect the game.

I'm going to have him go up against Bernie Sanders.  Let's see how he does...

He has early support from his home state of Maine.

By attending a town hall, he picks up some ideology points which he can now spend to begin developing his platform.

Ideologies tend to have multiple heads to them.  Trying to go down a new path gets very expensive while, by contrast, the more extreme you get on an existing ideological branch the cheaper it gets.  It is very tempting to pick "crazy" stuff.

Here, we have Nationalism, a Stronger Federal Government and Socialized capitalism.  None of these seem too crazy...

Let's pick nationalism.  This unlocks two new ideology issues: A strong military and stronger law enforcement.  See, nothing evil so far...

I've even been invited onto Good Day America!

So far, Stilson is doing pretty well.

He has also looking at supporting the concept of preemptive war..

Which lets him unveil his next platform:

A united North America!

This is where things start to go badly for Stilson.

That's because the idea of conquering north america is, as you can imagine, not a widely supported position.

 

This is a phenomenon that exists in the real world.  Most savvy politicians don't advertise some of their more controversial positions.  The challenge is to see if you can still win even if you have a horrible, horrible paltform.

But it's a very delicate balance because you can't win the game simply because most people agree with you on the issues.  One only has to look at the primaries to see that many candidates have perfectly fine platforms and positions.  What they lack is enthusiasm.

The ideology tree has the effect of getting people enthusiastic and setting your position on a given issue.  Ideally, it's an issue that won't increase the enthusiasm of your opponent's supporters too.

So our evil candidate blandly supports protecting social security and hopefully, the whole "let's conquer Canada" thing will be treated as a joke or a gaffe...

Same for advertising:

The North America crazy position got people talking about your candidacy (not in a good way). But now you can take out ads talking about something generic like "Good jobs".  Everyone supports that.  But mind you, people are still talking about the crazy positions you took.

Having fallen behind in the polls (due to the continued "he wants to invade Canada thing") we attend enough town halls to get another ideology.  

The fascist platform hinges on disarming the population.  The problem here is that we have Stilson running as a Reepublican so this will really hurt him with them.  Let's see what happens.

It unlocks a new ideology:

OOnce you disarm the population, it's now time to start getting rid of the wrong people... But it probably would not be a good idea to publicly promote that position if you want to win.

Unfortunately, the mandatory gun buy back position just put Kentucky and North Carolina into play as few RRepublicans will come out and vote for someone promising to disarm them.

As we head into election day, Stilson is now 6 points behind.

Now I'm playing dirty.

 

I'm bringing in political operatives to misrepresent my positions and those of my opponents.  

Despite our slimiest efforts, as we approach election day, Stilson is 7 points behind.  It is not looking promising.

Let's see what happens.

We lose. Badly.

These polls are an exaggeration of real world polls.   On the issue of United North America, everyone who answered our survey said those who thought this was an important issue voted for Bernie.

Same for Mandatory gun buy back.  Those who believed this was an important issue voted for Bernie as well.

Interesting result:

Stillson did get Wisconsin. This was more of a voter turn out issue.  Even the AI running the Democratic candidate fails to visit enough thus, even though they like Sanders, the enthusiasm wasn't sufficient to get people to go out and vote.

Lessons learned

So what is the lesson?  If you're going to run as a fascist, keep your crazier plans to yourself. Just like real politicians.

 

Simulating the 2020 Election in Political Machine 2020

Published on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 By Brad Wardell In TPM Journals

One of the options in the game is to simulate the election cycle.  The player just chooses two candidates and sees how they do.  Now, you won’t get the exact result every time, but it’s fun to see how a given candidate will do if run by the AI. This mode helps us test against any unintentional biases in the issues.

Since no one knows how the election will go, it can be difficult to draw the line between when candidate A is simply more viable than candidate B.  In the 2016 version, we had to issue a patch. You see, Trump kept winning and that was impossible.  Goes to show what we know.

So let’s take a look a Sanders vs. Trump using the current data set we have (and we will be continually updating the data set between now and release).

Run #1: Sanders vs. Trump (AI vs. AI)

image vs. image

The stats we give to each candidate are subjective.  But since our goal is to make the game as accurate as possible, we do our best to be fair to each.

image

Early campaign

image

Mid Campaign

image

Late Game

From here we can see what mistakes the AI made.  For one thing, Bernie not even visiting New Hampshire is a glaring error.    Most of the time, the errors the AI makes are ones of taking certain states for granted.  Also, in this game, the AI did not focus on Medicare for All.

image

Run #2: Sanders vs. Trump (AI vs. AI)

Fundamentally, the AI players will make different choices each game.  They are the choices they think, at that very moment, will help them win but because each game is a little different (town halls and such come up in different places and we have a margin of error on the various issue data that we use to adjust the issues from game to game slightly.

Let’s see what happens game 2.

image

Mid-campaign in game 2.  One thing that the game concludes is that “Medicare for all” is a losing issue in Florida.  When he picks that issue, Florida goes red. 

We dug into this and (and again, this is a game) but seniors in Florida tend to have higher than average incomes and don’t tend to favor Medicare for all.  We will have to get more information on this.

image

Late game

image

Final map.

Anyone into politics knows that these results are impossible.  There’s no scenario where Trump is going to get Massachusetts or New Hamphire.  So what’s the deal?  It is a simulation issue or an AI issue or both?

In both cases, it’s an issue with AI.  Bernie just isn’t visiting these states.  Same with Wisconsin.  So then the question is, why isn’t he visiting those states?

Run #3: Sanders vs. Trump (HUMAN vs. AI)

So this time, I’m playing as Sanders. 

I also pick Amy Klobuchar as my running mate.

image

image

Mid Campaign

Playing as Sanders, I’m beating Trump pretty effectively.  However, I’m also not running my campaign as Sanders probably would.  I focus on Wealth Inequality, the Environment and Diversity.  I stay away from talking about medical insurance or college loans or guns.

image

End of game: Sanders victory

So what did I do differently than the AI?

For one thing, I didn’t ignore my core states.  I took advantage of AI Trump ignoring Oklahoma and edged Trump out there.  But the big thing was focusing on the wealth gap issue and addressing climate change and not so much on Medicare for all.

In the real world, Sanders won’t get Oklahoma.  But he didn’t actually need that to win.  He didn’t even need Florida.   I did manage to sneak Tennessee and Kentucky away from AI trump because, again, he didn’t start to visit there until it was way too late.

 

What we are learning

Trump is a difficult candidate to beat.  This is mostly because he puts certain states in play that most Republicans would not.  While I won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, I had to put quite a bit of effort to do so.  I had to give up Florida to ensure victory in those states.

From a game point of view, it all means there’s lot of replay value.  All the game’s key stats are in text files so players can play around with the numbers all they want and share them with others.

In the meantime, we continue to get more and more data and the team continues to improve the AI.

Political Machine 2020 #1: Being Pete Buttigieg

Published on Monday, February 17, 2020 By Brad Wardell In TPM Journals

image

The Political Machine is a strategy/simulation game.  What has made it so popular over the years is that while it is a game, it has a pretty serious and robust simulation running behind it.  Most of the data is collected from a wide array census results, surveys and demographic research. 

Every four years when we update the data, we are constantly surprised on the changes we see in different states.  The opioid epidemic is one example.  This issue wasn’t on our radar four years ago. Now it’s actually a pretty big issue in numerous states.

But in other areas, we can't rely on data. We have to make subjective judgments. Take candidate design for instance. Mayor Pete has gone through a few designs this time. Some people are easier to create caricatures than others.  He’s hard. At least that’s what the artists tell me. Mr. Buttigieg is doing well in the early primaries but should he become the nominee, can he win? 

Some candidates are harder to win with than others.   I would say Pete Buttigieg is a bit harder to win with than some of the others.  Here’s why: He has low minority appeal and for Democrats, there are a few states that become pretty hard to win as a Democrat if your minority appeal isn’t strong.  The problem however is that minority appeal is a subjective rating we give the candidates.  That’s why it’s so tricky.  What makes us qualified to say his minority appeal is weaker than say Joe Biden's?  We have some polling data but that’s really a cop-out on something that is simply a rating on a scale from 1 to 10.

image

So which states would be harder for Pete Buttigieg to win?

 

Michigan for one.

image

 

Florida for another.

image

 

Which isn’t to say he can’t win them.  It's just harder.

image

 

Overall, Mayor Pete is a bit tougher to play as than say Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama but a skilled player can definitely win.

GalCiv III v4.0 data stuff

Published on Monday, January 20, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Galactic Civilizations III

The "big cleanup" is the plan for v4.0 of GalCiv III.  It's in progress but it's slow going because of developer availability (btw, we are hiring new C++ devs here..).  

So as I've discussed in the past, I'd really like to find a way to make modding more robust though that's easier said than done because of the dumb way we did our data structuring early on.

Basically you have lots of directories that the game pulls from which all depends on which expansions you have installed.  It's a pain.

When someone buys GalCiv III today from Steam, they actually get GalCiv III + Crusade + Retribution.  That's because we really want to focus on the assumption that everyone has Retribution going forward (or at least Crusade) which simplifies modding.  

I don't have an exact ETA on the v4.0 version other than it'll probably be this Spring.

 

Microsoft is the weakest link for the Surface Pro X

Published on Wednesday, January 15, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

As I mentioned yesterday, there is a really good use-case for the Surface Pro X as a device that uses Remote Desktop to your "main machine" when doing heavy lifting provided that it is sufficiently powerful enough to do light tasks on its own relative to say a Surface Pro 7.

Now, this is for my purposes.  YMMV.   

As you can see, for me, the Surface Pro X hardware has the edge over the Surface Pro 7.   

It's on the software support -- from Microsoft -- where things fall apart.  A lot of the benefits of the Surface Pro X hardware disappear when running Windows software under emulation.  This is particularly true on the battery life which just gets destroyed when its doing emulation. 

My serious work does include Adobe Creative Cloud (mainly Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects) plus Visual Studio 2019, Unity, Unreal, Cider, Nitrous, and lots of other development work.  But I'm not going to monkey with that sort of thing on an airplane or at a cafe or anywhere remote on any laptop (and if I did, I would use a Razer 15).

I am, frankly, baffled that Microsoft would even release the Surface Pro X without support from its own software.  For instance, MS Teams shouldn't be that hard to port and while it runs adequately in emulation, it's not the performance that is the issue, it's the battery cost of emulation. And this is an app that's running all the time.

So for now, I'll be sticking with my Surface Pro 7 as my mobile device of choice despite the fact that would really like the LTE support and battery life of the SPX.

 

A case for the Surface Pro X

Published on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

This is my work station area at Stardock when I'm working in the Object Desktop area of the company which is located on the third floor of the building.

As you can see, I have 3 monitors connected to a Surface Pro.  The reason I'm up here is so that I can collaborate in person with the rest of my team.  And the reason for the Surface Pro is that I frequently use it as a tablet for sketching on screenshots and designs.

The only downside is that the Surface Pro 7, while quite powerful, isn't really intended as a full-on development box.  It is more than powerful enough to run Office and tweak things in Adobe Photoshop and I've even edited videos in Premiere with it.  Even After Effects runs pretty decently.  But it's still no where near as fast as my main machine at Stardock which is physically located on the first floor.

At some point, Microsoft's Remote Desktop got really good at handling a multi-monitor setup.  It's had this capability for years but for some reason, I always remembered it as being a pretty crappy experience.  Recently, however, I decided to give it a shot and when combined with our internal fast network and the Surface Pro's high performance along with the crazy fast performance of my main machine I ended up with a solution that runs faster than if I were running the Surface Pro directly.

As a result, when I'm doing serious work at Stardock, I simply connect with Remote Desktop.  I haven't tried doing this from over a VPN yet (so no Coffee Shop test).  But even if it didn't make the cut when running via the Internet, the SP7 is more than capable enough to do all the work I could possibly need when using it cut-off from our network.

Which brings me to the Surface Pro 7.  While some of my friends in the tech community love their Surface Pro X's, I find that there just aren't enough ARM64 native apps yet to justify using it.  To be sure, the Surface Pro X is still more than enough for doing a lot of productivity work -- Jira, Visual Studio Code, MS Teams, Office and such.  But I wouldn't dream of doing any heavy lifting with it.

That's where the Remote Desktop pairing might really let the SPX shine.  First, there is a native Arm64 version of Remote Desktop.  Second, the Surface Pro X is substantially faster in video performance than the Surface Pro 7 which means it may drive my 3 high resolution monitors better (I do wish they had Thunderbolt 3 support however).  

As a result, whether I'm at home or work (my home gaming PC is a monster) the SPX would be able to use Remote Desktop to let me get real work done while still being powerful enough to get work done even when not connected to the network (which is why a Chromebook doesn't make the cut).

I won't claim that this use-case isn't a niche use.  But it takes the Surface Pro X from being, for me, completely useless to having a pretty viable use-case.

StarCraft Smurfs

Published on Monday, January 6, 2020 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

So I still play quite a bit of StarCraft online.  I am not great at it (low Diamond league) but I am good enough at it to know when I'm playing a Smurf.

A Smurf is someone who is deliberately playing in a league far lower than what they should be in and they really ruin the game experience.  

Smurfing isn't specific to StarCraft and there really isn't much that can be done about it that I can think of.  But it is one of those things that helps remind me as to why I don't want to develop games that rely heavily on competitive multiplayer.

If I play 10 games of StarCraft the breakdown is something like this:

2 games will involve Smurf accounts outright

1 game will probably be a smurf but can't tell because they immediately quit

1 game will involve some sort of obnoxious cheese strategy (as you go up in rank, this becomes less common ironically).

1 game will involve griefing. This isn't "cheese" per se because they aren't really trying to win as much as make the game unpleasant for you.

1 game will involve a ton of BM that forces me to mute the player.

4 games will be actual, legitimate games.

The only thing that saves StarCraft is that even though only 4 of the 10 games are real games, those games represent the vast majority of actual play time.

But the % of games that involve some sort of social-path spectrum player is sufficient to make me wary of ever wanting to make a game for that genre. 

 

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