Brad Wardell's Blog


Getting the GalCiv gang back together

Published on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Galactic Civilizations II (not III) was released a long time ago.  Since then, most of the people who worked on the game have remained at Stardock but not everyone.  However, over the past year or so, we've been lucky enough to recruit and or contract back some of the original members to return working on new Galactic Civilizations efforts.

 

Why the right is angry

Published on Sunday, January 10, 2021 By Brad Wardell In Politics

This article pretty much describes how I'm feeling about the recent events concerning Trump and the rapid deplatforming going on.

I'm not going to miss Trump.  But I am going to miss the days when people were able to talk to each other civilly even when they disagreed.

Celebrating tyranny

Published on Saturday, January 9, 2021 By Brad Wardell In Politics

I found this article quite thought provoking. https://pjmedia.com/columns/dennis-prager/2021/01/05/i-now-better-understand-the-good-german-n1305198

This past week we didn't just see the banning of Trump for "inciting violence" (despite said inciting is never included for people to judge for themselves).  Countless other people were banned and even groups like #walkaway on Facebook were banned.

Regardless of your politics, this is nothing to celebrate. 

I remember a time when it was the left that feared multinational mega corps taking over our lives.  I would have never guessed that the trick to get the left's approval for that take over was to simply ban people that the left doesn't like.

Building a better social media messaging site

Published on Friday, January 8, 2021 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

Given recent events, I was thinking that maybe there's an opportunity to rethink social media platforms entirely.

The current leaders like Twitter and Facebook are actually fairly primitive from a technical point of view.  Not their fault. They were built when they were built.

If you were to create a new social media site today you wouldn't be able to get away with being like those sites because the distributors of the social media apps (Apple, Google) won't tolerate the growing pains that are inevitable with any clone of Facebook or Twitter (especially Twitter).

Until recently, Twitter was a dumpster fire of hate and extremism. It's still pretty terrible but nothing like it used to be.  But now Twitter has the capital and processes in place to actively moderate their dumpster fires.  It's a brute force way to do things and very expensive but it works adequately.  

So if you can't just clone Twitter and Facebook how would you make a social network today? 

Here are my thoughts on what it would take and I don't expect my ideas to be acceptable by most people but that's OK.  It would only need to be acceptable to enough people to be commercially viable.

First, The Problem:

Social media lends itself to tribalism.  Once a given group has sufficient numbers to dominate those with a minority opinion they can effectively kick them off the platform.  

Reddit has done a pretty good job by recognizing this and allowing people to silo themselves in subreddits.

But messaging networkings like Twitter have few features to prevent the site from becoming tribal. Indeed, the site is almost seemingly designed to magnify the power of tribes (sub-tweeting to your followers for instance and mass-reporting for example).

The answer to tribalism isn't to create a site for your tribe.  Instead, the solution is recognize that tribalism is a thing and build a platform that allows people to silo themselves in whatever ways they want.  

Moreover, the tech today is so much better and so much has been learned about social media that it could be done better. Much much better.

Here's how:

API Centric

Rather than being a monolithic service like Twitter or Facebook that retrofitted some APIs after the fact, you'd make the service start with APIs.  The apps would be built on top of the API.  That means that third-parties could create their own apps mixing and matching the APIs they think their users want.  This would distribute out the development.

Extensible

Just like Teams and Slack make it easy for third parties to create extensions, so would this.  If you've ever used something like Jira you can imagine an entire App Store for people to extend their experience.

So rather than trying to have its own photo album service or its own file system or whatever, it would have extensions that users could use add that to their system.

Decentralized

You don't want your service at the mercy of a single ISP.  Instead, you'd make it kind of a Mesh.  Not pure peer-to-peer but rather allow people to host bits and pieces of the platform.  All the data would be encrypted partial blocks. 

Audience Control

Facebook has a pretty good (but rarely used) feature for controlling who can see a given post.  Stardock's own JoeUser.com had audiences from the beginning but in 2001, it was just too CPU intensive on the servers to not slow down the entire site.

In the case of this platform, you'd have posts that are either Public, for Followers and a new tier called For Subscribers.  Subscribers are followers that have been approved by the Poster.    If Twitter had this feature, a lot of the viral hate dog piling would disappear.  Quote "tweeting" would only work for public posts for instance.

Deflect

Instead of only having blocking, you could deflect. This would prevent someone from following you but would not prevent them from seeing your public posts.

Two-Factor Required

Accounts would be required to have two types of authentication. This is to make sure every user is an actual person and not a bot or alt.  The data wouldn't necessarily need to be stored. The goal is to prevent armies of phantom accounts.

Cats

Not the feline variety but rather Category tags. When making a post, the site would use AI to suggest a Category tag (#games, #political, #actualcats).  There would be a finite number of these cats with the purpose being that the public or even your followers can filter out cats that they don't want to see.  

So for instance, you're following someone who, 90% of the time, posts great info about tech.  But 10% of the time he goes on a rant about some political issue.  You're not interested in seeing the political crap.  You just want to see the tech.

Focused

255 characters. This wouldn't be a platform for writing articles. Quick and simple.  I am not looking to replace Reddit or Facebook. I just want to get and/or distribute information. 

Not for chatting

There'd be a 30 second delay between posting and it being sent out to give people time to change their minds and discourage people from trying to use the service as a real time chat program.  Plus it gives time to edit it before it goes out.

Moderation Event Logs

Moderation is an unfortunate requirement these days.  The problem with moderation is that they aren't transparent and come across as arbitrary.  That's mainly because they aren't transparent and are often arbitrary.

Any post that is reported would go to a moderation channel that volunteers and non volunteers can discuss.  Just like with Wikipedia's discussion pages, moderator notes and comments would be logged and which rule it violated would be listed.  

Monetization for Creators built in

You're not going to get anyone heavily invested in Twitter to use a new service unless there's a really strong incentive.  That's where the Subscriber stuff I mentioned earlier comes in.

News sites, content creators, etc. would still post most of their content for the general public to get users. But they could also provide additional content that's only available to subscribers.  

Because this platform would be handling (in theory) hundreds of thousands of creators eventually you could have subscriptions that might costs trivial ($0.10 for instance) per month because the actual overhead for charging and such would be far upstream (i.e. the subscriber would be paying a total minimum per month and then distributing it out).  Sort of like combining Patreon + RedditGold.  

More rules

This might sound bad but it's not.  Instead of a handful of vague, inconsistency enforced rules you would have what amounts to a very, very long list of rules that are very very specific.  So for example there would be no rule about "racism" but rather several specific rules concerning writing that would be prohibited so that everyone is on board (or not) with it BEFORE people invest thousands of hours into a service only to find out that something you wrote was deemed "racist".

So in this case, think of "more rules" as being more akin to a programming language where an error (rule violation) is specific and obvious.

I'd rather have 548 specific rules than 6 vague, open to interpret rules.

Understandable business model

Rather than the user being the product, revenue would be made not through ads but instead through the extensions I described earlier.  In a world where F2P Fortnite lives off of skins, it doesn't take much of an imagination to come up with many ways to monetize social media in a way people would happily volunteer to pay a little bit for something they want.

 

So that's my quick thoughts on the subject.  Back in 2001, we developed two platforms: JoeUser.com and BannerAds.net.  We didn't have any venture capital behind us so naturally could not compete with Facebook or Twitter.   But we do know how to build these things.  

We sold our digital distribution platform, Impulse to GameStop in 2011 and we're currently pretty busy building an unannounced cloud-based (not web but a game for PCs and consoles) game takes advantage of many of the same techs such a service would require.

I'd never make the mistake of trying to build such a platform on our own again.  But I wouldn't rule out building one provided that it was properly capitalized.

WindowBlinds 11 planning

Published on Friday, December 25, 2020 By Brad Wardell In WindowBlinds

We are putting together the schedule to make WindowBlinds 11.  

Customization is a lot harder now than it used to be.  Microsoft, for reasons unknown, has actively encouraged developers to take care of their own client and even non client (border, frame) painting rather than using standard Windows controls.  

Microsoft's baffling decision to throw away trying to provide a standard set of in-app controls for developers and instead provide vague, often conflicting standards (cough, Fluent) has resulted in having less and less of the OS we can even touch.

Which is unfortunate because WindowBlinds, in theory, could actually give Windows users a consistent, OS-wide Fluent if apps weren't handling the drawing of their own UIs these days.

Still, with that in mind, there are things we can do such as skin the standard OS controls and then handle apps on a case-by-case basis.  Keep in mind though, the more non-standard apps we have to handle, the harder it is for us to keep compatibility.

Earlier this year we released Curtains which doesn't even hook into the OS.  This means it is 100% compatible. Skins, even the weirdest ones, won't break a given app.  Of course, the price is that it doesn't skin nearly as much (no client area GUI controls like scrollbars, push buttons, radio buttons, etc.).  It's done quite well.  However, we know there are still plenty of people out there who would like to have more full control over how their Windows desktop looks.

That's where this thread comes in: What would you like to see in WindowBlinds 11?  

How can forums compete with Reddit?

Published on Friday, December 25, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Everything Else

I'll be honest with you.  I spend a lot of time on Reddit.   

One can see a direct correlation between the rice of Reddit (and to a lesser extent Twitter and Facebook) and the fall of blogs and forums.

And I think that's a shame because the nice thing about forums is that you get to know the regulars and there are many nice features on forums that Reddit doesn't have.

Still, the UI on many forums, including ours, is not as good as I'd like to see.  Which makes me wonder, what would it take to make forums more competitive to Reddit? What would they need for you to come visit more?

One reason I ask is that over the next 18 months Stardock is going to be releasing a lot of stuff and we'd like to get our forums in shape to hopefully offer a fun and useful place to spend time at.  

In 2020, we did a number of behind the scenes updates that regulars might have noticed (for instance, the entire backend got a huge upgrade making everything much faster).  But there's a lot of UX stuff that we don't have a consistent opinion on which shows. 

So we're asking you, what are 5 things you would do to these forums that would make you and other more inclined to visit?

Sins of a Solar Empire at the end of 2020

Published on Friday, December 25, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Sins of a Solar Empire

Merry Christmas everyone!

So 2020 has come and gone.  We hope to have some exciting news for you this next year in the world of Sins.  In the meantime, we will be continuing to do events and hopefully have some new updates to the game in the coming months.

 

GalCiv at the end of 2020

Published on Friday, December 25, 2020 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

It's hard to believe that GalCiv III was released over 5 years ago.  Since then, we've had a few major expansions and a lot of DLC.

As we enter 2021, we have finally reached the stage where GalCiv III won't be seeing any new DLC but will continue to get updates in the form of balance, fixes and performance improvements as we find them.  Updates will be less frequent as QA time is particularly precious right now.

We are very proud of how Galactic Civilizations III evolved.  We have taken a lot of lessons from it on things that people liked (citizens, hyper gates, artifacts) and things that players didn't like so much (how invasions worked, commonwealths, how governments worked) and will be applying these lessons in the future.

One feature of GalCiv we have discussed many times is how future-proof the engine was.  And that has indeed been proven out as the engine is state of the art (does need its rendering module updated to DX12 at some point).  This means that its future sequel will start out much more fleshed out.  

With GalCiv III v1.0, we basically had to start from scratch which was a real bitter pill, especially given that I had spent oner a decade on the GalCiv OS/2 and Windows I/II AI tech which had to be rewritten.

For those who don't already have GalCiv III, now is the best time to get it.  It is now in its fully realized form.  And for those of you who have been on this journey with us, I hope you like how its evolved and thank you for being there with us!

Merry Christmas and Happy New year!

716 pages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Next