Brad Wardell's Blog


A Quiet PC is a happy worker

Published on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

One of my favorite features of my work machine is how silent it is.  I mean, silent.  Even  under pretty heavy loads it is really quiet. This means no overclocking but I know from experience that overclocking only presents modest improvements and frankly, I'd rather just buy slightly faster hardware that I run at spec (or even below) for quieter day to day operation.

The key features I have going are:

  1. Corsair RM1000i power supply. I love this thing.
  2. A big heat sink (instead of water cooling).
  3. Careful use of fans (basically they're completely off until they need to be on).

Maybe it's an age thing but there is something quite beautiful about a silent, but monster, PC.

Siege of Centauri: Stardock's take on tower defense

Published on Monday, April 8, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Siege of Centauri Dev Journals

What is tower defense?

Tower defense is a genre of strategy game in which you have ever more daunting enemies trying to attack your base (or simply escape).   Your job is to place defenses ("towers") to stop them.

Each of your towers has specific strengths and weaknesses.  Some are fast firing but do little damage while others fire infrequently but do a lot of damage.  There are towers that do area damage and towers that can only target one individual at a time.  There are towers that can target just air and towers that can fire great distances but only hit the ground. 

Because you have finite resources, knowing what enemies are coming and where they are coming from is key as you will need to choose your towers carefully.

Stardock's take

Stardock has a new game engine that is specifically designed to handle massive entity counts.  By massive we mean like 100X more than what has been seen before.  That allows us to think of game designs that weren't previously doable (at least without an insane PC).  An entity is a full-on unit. Not a clone or a visual trick but an actual unit with its own AI, weapons, pathfinding, targeting, etc.  

Having more enemies isn't enough on its own.  We also wanted to bring some of our 4X strategy game experience into Siege of Centauri.  Here are a few examples of what we mean:

  • Maps have Metal Refineries which produce resources. They provide alternative locations that the player may, or may not, want to defend.
  • Scavenging.  Players don't collect resources from killing enemies by default. Instead, player-built scavenger modules will collect resources of units destroyed in their area.
  • Orbitals.  The player has a set of orbital abilities that can be called down to take a direct hand in the action in a pinch.
  • Map Objectives.  There are various achievements attached to maps that give the player additional twists in trying to solve the map.

image

What Early Access is Missing (or what we're working on still)

It is important to stress that this is a BETA and not feature complete. This isn't some demo.  We have a number of features we have in various states of completeness that we may or may not add in based on player feedback.  That's the point of having early access.

Features that are definitely coming, just not ready yet:

  1. Voice-overs.  Lots of them.
  2. More enemy unit types.
  3. More weapon types.
  4. More orbitals.
  5. Survival Mode (maps where you will definitely, eventually lose but see how far you can make it)
  6. Equip screen.  Eventually we will limit your active tower types to 10 and you'll need to pick from your arsenal the 10 you want to use on based on the enemies that will be on there.
  7. Much better effects (we have lots of programmer art in right now).
  8. A lot more optional objectives.
  9. More battle locations (a lot more) on bigger maps.
  10. The Archive screen is still an early work in progress.
  11. More paths (general map pass with enemies taking out other buildings that aren't on a direct path to your base).
  12. Placement grid (makes it easier to place your towers).

Features we have in various states of completeness but want player feedback on beta 1

  1. Tower upgrade tree (versus linear progression). Again, this is one of those things that sounds good on paper but might make the game too busy.
  2. Destructible walls (place obstacles to force the enemy to either destroy them or find another way)
  3. Night maps (we had these but they weren't fun, you placed light beacons to see, seemed like a good idea on paper)
  4. Second resource (that is used for Orbitals rather than orbitals being set to a time out).

The take-away here is that Early Access here is designed to give players input into the game before things are locked down.  We have a lot of work ahead of us and we are excited to hear your ideas.

 

HDR, HDMI and oh my!

Published on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

So I recently got a 4K projector for my home theater.  It's a Epson Cinema 4010 and on paper, it's a 4K HDR projector.  I have connected it to my Apple TV 4K and that's when I started to realize that HDR is still not fully ready for prime time for most people.

Here's some background:

Color TV is in color...but barely.  We are used to it but it's actually pretty crappy.  Luckily, we don't realize how crappy it is until we see something like HDR which stands for High Dynamic Range and shows a lot more color.  But HDR is also just the start.  There's also Dolby Vision which like HDR but better. 

However, HDR requires more bandwidth than SDR (standard).  And not only are most HDMI cables just v1.4 (most people don't even know there's a version number on HDMI) but most televisions and controllers are v1.4 as well.  You actually need v2.0A (obviously) to get the full benefit and needless to say, my new Epson projector doesn't have that.  

So what does that mean? How can it be HDR but while still using the older (but standard) HDMI setup?  The answer is frame rate.  I can watch HDR movies at 24 frames per second (which is like a movie theater I suppose) and the difference is pretty noticeable.  But this took some trial and error to understand because the 4K projector (which, it turns out, is not really 4K but really 2X1080p) like most audio/video equipment, does its best to bury these stats so that only the truly entrenched can discover this.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love this new projector.  And I'd argue HDR is a bigger deal than 4K.  But it's pretty surprising that we are increasingly seeing these amazing new standards come up (like Dolby Vision which my projector doesn't support at all and HDMI 2.0a which isn't even that new) with the hardware makers not making use of them.  

In short, we're still probably a couple years away from HDR and its cousins being mainstream.

 

Your favorite tower defense games

Published on Monday, March 18, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Siege of Centauri

So what is your favorite tower defense game and why?

One of our favorites is Defense Grid.  Below you can read Callum's thoughts on why it's so great:

Defense Grid: The Awakening is regarded as one of the best tower defense game on Steam, my experience with it has been extremely positive and can see why it is praised so highly. Many of the tower defense games try to implement some innovation or unique spin to the genre, but Defense Grid (DG) is a very traditional tower defense. Instead of shaking up the formula it delivers a very solid classic TD experience with an interesting variety of towers that function very differently and consequently forces positioning of them to be very tactical. Short-range inferno towers should be placed on critical choke points while Laser Towers need only to target a creep briefly to apply the damage-over-time burn damage, meaning they can be placed in poor locations to still good effect.


Gameplay There is wide variation in enemy and tower types which means players have to manage their composition (Splash towers, anti-heavy), it also means there is room for multiple different tower strategies both in composition and in positioning. The advanced arenas provide many different build locations for where players can focus their towers, if you lose a mission you can restart and try going somewhere else.

Gameplay DG has a great mission variety with map layouts and creep paths. Some have the creeps spawn in from a single spot and need to run through and back again, others are only A to B, some involve multiple creep entry locations, and some include air units. Some missions require walling while others don’t give you the option.

It tells you which waves are incoming so you can prepare the right towers in advance and not get “unlucky” and build the wrong ones. Tells you how many waves in you are.

Presentation, QoL Creeps and Towers have a consistent color scheme for their difficulty; Green/amber/red denotes their strength as you upgrade towers.

Gameplay Complexity of placing Towers is increased because towers can’t fire through others, they can only fire through the limited gaps inbetween them. This means you want to place weaker or certain tower types (Laser, Meteor) behind others.

Gameplay Towers can be upgraded which takes time so you want to avoid doing that during combat. If upgrades were instant there would be no consideration. A lot of the game is trying to identify which towers are being the most effective and focus on upgrading those or saturating that area.

Presentation The towers, creeps and effects are average looking but the background scapes are gorgeous and makes it a pretty and immersive game. This is an important emphasis that other TD’s do.

QoL Lots of quality of life features very important for tower defense: Fast forward, checkpoints, incoming waves, range displays, hotkeys.

QoL Information is communicated readily to the player, they can select a creep or tower and get a summary of all the stats and quirks.

Gameplay Lots of replayability due to different challenges and modifiers that can be applied to each mission, as well as a leaderboard for competing with steam friends and global.

Gameplay Creeps having to collect Energy Cores and escape back to the end and Energy Cores can be transferred from a dead creep to another as it floats back. This means taking losses is more gradual than just whether or not you kill everything as you can lose multiple energy cores while still being in a good spot.

QoL Shows range of every tower when you go to build or upgrade

Gameplay Towers in many locations can be structured in a way to “Wall off” creep movement paths to funnel them in and maximize their running time through the maze and maximizing damage received from towers.

Gameplay More opportunity cost is made by interest, if you don’t spend your money you get extra interest on that but then you may suffer losses, and loses cores reduces interest rate.

Notes

  •    Can block pathing to create tactical walls
  •    Tells you what enemies are coming so you can counter them more  deliberately
  •    Upgrading towers changes the VFX and weapon type
  •    Beautiful backgrounds
  •    Having them pick up power cores and run off with them is less contrived and feels more tense than just running past the edge.
  •    The maps are positions in a way where some building slots are better than others and you have to be mindful of putting a short range tower in a bad spot
  •    Have to think tactically about where to go
  •    Can hover over each unit to give you info, lore and stats about that unit type.
  •    Different modifiers and mutators for each map, so you can play every mission multiple times to complete all the missions with certain challenges
  •    Gradually introduces towers over time depending on complexity
  •    Upgrading is an interesting opportunity cost.
  •    Leaderboards for every mission
  •    Rounds are mixed up with different alien types even during each mission
  •    Consistent color scheme, green/amber/red for toughness of aliens and  your own defences.
  •    Certain towers do well in certain areas. You want to spread out laser towers instead of placing them all together to tag as many aliens as you can. Inferno you want to place on a great corner.
  •    Fast forward mode
  •    Strength level of tower communicated on its base
  •    Towers can’t fire through each other physically so you have to be careful about blocking the most important tower
  •    When you kill a boss there is a contextual voice line about which laser you kill it with “Nothing a giant laser can’t handle”
  •    Lots of voice over lines to keep you engaged We should have lots of “Enemy Juggernaut detected”
  •    Blocking sight can actually work to the benefit of the laser towers
  •    Some towers can be built on different heights which allows some to fire over others.
  •    Some maps you can completely determine the flow of where they go, there’s multiple strategies you can play not only of directly flow but also tower composition
  •    Tesla towers that charge up should be placed at the end to get max damage.
  •    Having them go back and forwards instead of just through ads a lot more room for creative walling
  •    Some towers have long range with minimum range.
  •    Some maps have multiple entrance paths and air units.
  •    Coming from multiple directions keeps it interesting as you can’t just feel safe forever
  •    Always Show upgrade range
  •    Gives you lots of time at the start to prepare
  •    Auto check points that you can load back to.
  •    Interest, if players float resources they gain bonus.

 

Callum also wrote a review of it for Wayward Strategy.

 

I myself have a general preference for walling but at the same time, I don't like the idea of artificially preventing me from walling which is what most tower defense games seem to do.  

 

Tower defense as a genre

Published on Monday, March 18, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Siege of Centauri

Stardock's own Callum McCole wrote this.

Let's talk about how towers should work.

TD Design Pillars - Meaningful Tower Variety

For positioning and composition of towers to be meaningful, they need significant differences in their utility and characteristics, typically in the form of what creep types they are strong against but also other modifiers such as range, damage-over-time, splash damage, minimum range, and many other quirks. These quirks should be intuitive for the weapon type and VFX of the tower, such as Flame Towers doing splash and damage over time rather than a gun tower.

You should need to mix multiple different tower types together, instead of just spamming 1-2 towers types, but this requires good map design. Maps should also be designed where some towers perform better than others so that each mission becomes a new challenge and you can’t just default back to the same strategy that you used on previous missions.

Almost no Tower Defense game has a super tower, as having the ultimate tower would remove any strategic consideration. While TD’s have towers that are more expensive and powerful, but they still have weaknesses and can serve only as part of a wider tower composition.

Tower upgrades can be more interesting if they have specific bonuses the player has to choose between such as Increased range or Increased rate of fire. Upgrades should also take time to implement putting the tower out of action, making timing of the upgrades important.

 

Core Tower Archetypes Found in Tower Defense Games:

  • Gun Tower - Standard rapid firing weapon
  • Burn (Laser) Towers - Single target damage over time. Doesn’t stack.
  • Flame Towers - Short range splash. Weak single target.
  • Artillery Tower - Long range indirect fire with splash
  • Frost Tower - slows enemies in a cone with attacks
  • Railgun - Slow firing armor-piercing attack strong against heavy targets.
  • Shock tower - single target slow or stun with good range
  • Glaive Turret - Bounces between targets
  • Anti-Air Flak - Medium Splash Damage against air.
  • Anti-Air Missile Tower - Long range strong single target damage
  • Boost Tower - Buffs rate of fire or damage of nearby tower
  • Rocket tower - long range, slow moving projectile but explodes with splash damage. Accurate
  • Tesla Coil - Damage increases the longer it can charge up between attacking something

Additional Tower types and utility

    • Debuff aura - reduces armor of nearby creeps
    • Slow Aura - Slows all units around it rather than units it attacks.
    • Minigun - Damage increases the longer it maintains focus on a single target
    • Prism Tower (Red Alert 2) - Can bounce attack off other nearby Prism towers to get bonus damage.
    • Pillbox - Does damage to targets all around it instead of a single target.
    • Heavy Machine Gun Bunker (Company of Heroes) - High constant damage but can only fire in a small arc forward
    • Blocking Towers - Spawns objects that impedes creep movement
    • Wall Towers - A cheap tower with no attack specifically for funneling enemy around key positions.
    • Nuclear Tower - Damages friendly towers near the blast, needs to be placed to avoid doing that
    • Salvage - Collects extra resources when destroying creeps (or when creeps are destroyed near it)
    • Critical Chance - Tower has a chance to do additional damage. Or just has RNG based damage.
    • Overcharge - Dangerous burst but then has a long cooldown. Needs to reload it’s clip.
    • Snare - Casts single target snare (stops it from moving)
    • Evolution - Gains a small bonus every unit it kills or after x amount of damage dealt
    • Stun Tower - Stuns all enemies around it for a short duration every x seconds
    • Summoning Tower - Automatically summons drones, or spawns them off creep kills
    • Weaken tower - Reduces cree’s max health and health regeneration but does little damage

 

  • Logistics Tower - Decreases the cost of building and upgrading towers around the Logistics tower.
  • Boomerang tower - Fires a projectile that spins around hitting any enemies it goes through. Should be placed around corners from a certain angle.

 

What are some of the other kinds of towers you could imagine seeing?

NOW AVAILABLE: Object Desktop 2019 and Exclusive DeskScapes 10 Beta

Published on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Object Desktop News

Object Desktop 2019 is here
Object Desktop is a powerful suite of desktop enhancements that transforms your Windows
experience. It’s like getting the next version of Windows today.

Object Desktop owners are the first to test beta versions of software before
they’re ever released and you get free updates to all Object Desktop applications.

What’s Coming in Object Desktop 2019:

  • Brand New Applications, starting with DeskScapes 10, which will let you completely personalize your desktop wallpaper with animations, pictures, and video.
  • New Object Desktop Manager, (coming soon) with a sleek new look, making it easier to access betas and install, update, and manage your applications.
  • Major Updates to your favorite Object Desktop applications.

Renew Object Desktop
Reg. Price: $49.99
Renewal Price: $19.99
Special Discount Price: $14.99*

Upgrade to Object Desktop
Reg. Price: $49.99
Upgrade Price: $24.99
Special Discount Price: $14.99*

Get Object Desktop
Reg. Price: $49.99
Sale Price: $29.99
Special Discount Price: $19.99* 

 

 

Try the DeskScapes 10 Beta Now
Stardock is pleased to announce a major new version of DeskScapes
Personalize your desktop wallpaper with animations, pictures and video.

The new version includes updates based on customer feedback such as:

  • A new wallpaper manager, complete with the ability to mark “favorite” backgrounds, as well as modifying and saving both static and animated wallpapers.
  • Seamless WinCustomize library integration allows direct browsing and downloading of backgrounds from within the application.
  • Comes in light and dark theme modes to suit your personal tastes.
  • Supports h264 videos with hardware accelerated decoding where possible.
  • New additional effects you can apply to static and animated wallpapers which can now easily be combined and ordered.

 

The DeskScapes UI has had a complete overhaul

As well as the obvious dark / light mode, the interface now splits the list in to folders allowing improved management of your backgrounds.

 

DeskScapes now allows you to browse the WinCustomize library directly from the app

Directly browsing the WinCustomize library from within the application puts new backgrounds a click away and offers greater exposure of new Deskscapes and wallpaper backgrounds to other users.

 

Apply effects and now apply more than one at once

If you've ever found yourself loading up an image into a photo editing app to tweak it to make for a better desktop background, look no further than DeskScapes 10.  The beta includes over 60 effects, along with the ability to combine multiple effects to give users the ability to turn pretty much any image or video file into a usable desktop background.

 

DeskScapes 10 beta is available for Object Desktop subscribers today.
A stand-alone version is expected to be released this Spring.

Renew Object Desktop
Reg. Price: $49.99
Renewal Price: $19.99
Special Price: $14.99*

Upgrade to Object Desktop
Reg. Price: $49.99
Upgrade Price: $24.99
Special Price: $14.99*

Get Object Desktop
Reg. Price: $49.99
Sale Price: $29.99
Special Price: $19.99* 

Visit www.objectdesktop.com to learn more.

 

*Sale ends 3/26/2019 at 1PM ET.

PREVIEW: Star Control: Origins - Return of the Lexites

Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

The first expansion pack to Star Control: Origins, Earth Rising, is broken into 4 parts that is being delivered as a season pass (that is, a new part every season).  The first part, Aftermath, was released in December and added a whole new region of space to explore, as well as new quests for your crew and the beginning of Earth's journey into being an interstellar power.

Part 2 is arriving soon and it concerns itself mostly on the mysterious Lexites. The Lexites first appeared in Dawn of the Singularity and started out as a small group of humans that developed strong AI, resulting in a controlled technological singularity. The Lexites contributed greatly to humanity in the mid part of the 21st century, but then suddenly, they left, with very little reason given. Their departure was the original impetus for the formation of Star Control.

Now, the player will learn more about why the Lexites left and what this means for the future for not just humanity, but for all the worlds that exist in Orion's Spur (the part of the galaxy that we live in).

As we put the finishing touches on it, we thought we'd share some of the first gameplay screenshots.  Note: these aren't final shots, but you can get an idea of what the Lexites, or at least the beings you encounter, look like.

2

The Lexites have their own set of ships that you'll get to see first hand.

3

Of course the Tywom dress up like humans.  Because: OF COURSE THEY DO.

 

 

4

New weapons and other goodies come with part 2 that you can experience in battle.

image

Encounter with a group of Lexites.

If you don't already have Star Control: Origins, you can grab it at www.starcontrol.com.  Earth Rising is also available there as well.  The nice thing about Star Control being a non-linear "sandboxy" RPG is that you don't have to have finished the game to enjoy the expansion.  In fact, you don't even have to have started the game to start experience the new content. It simply builds out the universe. What you do in that universe is up to you.

Ashes of the Singularity: March 2019 Update

Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

Greetings!

Lots to go over this month so I will do my best to keep it short.

## NEW Ashes Game ##

We are about to announce a new game in the Ashes of the Singularity universe.  It's in the tower defense genre.  This originally was going to be released as a DLC for Ashes but the gameplay changes required made it impossible to keep it part of the same EXE so it's being released as a stand-alone game.  Lifetime Founders of Ashes will get this added automatically.

We'll have more details about this later this week.  The good news for Ashes players is that a lot of new tech was experimented with and implemented with this game that will be coming back to Ashes of the Singularity this Spring.

## NEXT Ashes DLC ##

Many of the engineers at Stardock have been working on porting the engine to Linux.  I've mentioned this elsewhere but we've got it running.  The challenge now is that we need to do more optimization with Vulkan before we can make it publicly available.  

While the Vulkan work goes forward, we are in the process of creating a new DLC for Ashes that includes new units and buildings that should result in some new strategies and greater strategic depth.  We'll have more on that also this Spring.

## Ashes of the Singularity v3.0 ##

The new core engine features and bug fixes that we've made to Star Control: Origins and the upcoming tower defense game will be collectively referred to as Ashes v3.0.  We have a lengthy list of player requests (I'm working on a Hades bomber targeting update myself this week) plus a lot of other changes that will result in what will almost feel like a new game in some respects.

 

 

 

Do you notice how fast tech is changing?

Published on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Life, the Universe and Everything

I'm on an airplane right now.  I've been flying pretty regularly since I was 5 years old (parents got divorced and back then they could live in different states). 

It's the flight experience where you can really see how much tech has changed.  More to the point, as Kurzweil has pointed out, tech is changing exponentially and it's gotten to the point where it's really hard to miss.

On the way to the airport

I was able to check in to my seat via the Delta app that put a notification on my screen while in my Tesla on auto-pilot.  Just a couple of clicks and I was good to go.

At the airport

I have TSA PRE and the new clear program which is supposedly (but not really) faster than TSA Pre.  I was through security faster than before 9/11.   The only hic-up, was that the monorail was down to the gate which meant hoofing half a mile.   Reminded me that most rail advocates probably don't use much rail.  Rail was a great tech in the 19th century...

I sit down near the terminal and every chair has its own little iPad type device for ordering food and drink.  Almost no one uses them now, they're already outdated because their iPhone or Android device "has an app" that's easier.

Under the covers, thanks to computer aided data analysis, what are in airports now are much nicer and useful.  They know what works in airports (coffee ships, mid to high end restaurants, shoulder massage) and what doesn't (fast food, general goods).  And tech has largely eliminated book stores (sigh).  The result is that the airports I visit are generally quite pleasant.

Moreover, the better experience means lower stress.  If Brad from 1989 were to time travel to 2019, the first thing I'd notice is how much happier people are.  The general smoothness of how air transportation works now (relatively speaking) means a lot less stressed people.  The only really archaic thing left are the &#$%@ drivers licenses or other physical ID we still have to mess with and of course the normal TSA experience (mainly the damn shoe thing).  But the end result is that people tend to be pretty relaxed (relatively).

On the plane

Many of the chairs have displays on the back.  Already outdated.  They're the display of last resort because everyone has a handheld or some kind.  Which reminds me, I can't find my Kindle.  

Planes typically have WiFi, it's not free but eliminates much of the boredom of long flights.  I use to pour through PC Gamer, PC Magazine, PC World, Macworld, etc. from start to end on these flights.  And even that was a big step up from the early 80s and 70s where I'd lug Infoworld with me in the late 80s.  I still miss reading Nick Petreley's articles.

But it's not just that it's improved, it's that the rate of improvement is accelerating.   

What are some of the things you've noticed changing that seems to be changing even more rapidly now?

 

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