Brad Wardell's Blog


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. 

 

The Star Control benchmark!

Published on Friday, December 13, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Benchmark

When developing the new Star Control game, we had an opportunity to see how far along the Vulkan and DirectX 12 tech was.  The answer, at the time, was not as far as we would have liked.  

In the end, Star Control: Origins shipped using only DirectX 11 because there just wasn't enough of a difference between DX11 and the new APIs even though the game sure could have benefited, especially on the planet, from the features of DX12 and Vulkan.

You might be wondering, what is the big deal about DX12 and Vulkan versus the old DirectX11?

There are a lot of differences but the big one is that DirectX 12 and Vulkan can have multiple threads sending commands to the GPU at the same time.  This means that complex scenes can be composited in various threads asynchronously so that you get the most out of your video card.

Now that most of us have several cores on our CPU, there's no reason to have only a single core talking to your graphics card.

The goal of this benchmark is to help users and our friends at AMD and NVIDIA and Intel to see how well their GPUs are doing with DirectX 12 and Vulkan.  Over time, we hope to see the DX12 and Vulkan scores pull away from the DX11 scores (and we'll be updating the benchmark as new DX12 and Vulkan improvements come in).

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

 

CursorFX cursors

Published on Monday, December 9, 2019 By Brad Wardell In WinCustomize News

With screen resolutions getting higher and higher there are many people who would like to have a bit more control over their mouse cursor.

If you don't already have CursorFX, try it out. www.cursorfx.com.  Stardock is currently working on a major new version of it but it will be compatible with the existing cursors here.

Here are a few of the most popular cursors here on WinCustomize:

ElectroSexual

Visit https://www.wincustomize.com/explore/cursorfx to check out the CursorFX gallery.

 

Post your rig setup

Published on Wednesday, November 27, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

I just got the Surface Pro 7 and I'm loving the power of USB 3.1 gen 2 (the USB-C port on the side).

I have everything connected via a single USB-C dock including two more monitors.

My main workstation is in the lower level.

Looking for WinCustomize volunteer news posters.

Published on Monday, November 18, 2019 By Brad Wardell In WinCustomize News

We are looking for some volunteers to help improve WinCustomize's news delivery.

Our mission is to bring you the latest, greatest news on everything related to the Windows user experience.  

Back when we were starting, what we now call "UX designers" were called "skinners" (not surprising that as what we do here got more respectable a more refined name would be used).

What are the kind of things we want to cover? Here are 3 examples.

  1. Interesting designs created around the net.  Example: this by this person.
  2. Interesting new Windows specific hardware like this review of the Surface Pro X.
  3. Interesting things created by the WinCustomize community you want to draw attention to.

Requirements:

  1. Must have had an account here for at least 90 days already.
  2. Must be a good writer.

If you're interested, DM me.

Cheers!

Microsoft Fluent Design site

Published on Monday, November 18, 2019 By Brad Wardell In WinCustomize News

If you're interested in UX design, you will definitely want to keep up with what Microsoft is update to.

https://www.microsoft.com/design/fluent/#/ 

Fluent is the name of Microsoft's new design language for Windows.

Here is an example of Fluent design in action.

As we get up for a major WinCustomize revamp, we are going to be taking cues from this design language to make the site more accessible, faster (much faster) and more modern.  Stay tuned.

Stardock Dreams Getting Updated

Published on Monday, November 18, 2019 By Brad Wardell In WinCustomize News

If you like animated backgrounds we have good news for you.  Stardock is in the process of updating its DeskScapes dream files to support MP4 (previously MPEG2) which should result in far lower CPU use and no additional codec downloading for Windows 10.

You will be able to see the updates here: https://www.wincustomize.com/explore/dream/search/Stardock+Design

 

Object Desktop 2020 Wishlist thread

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

Object Desktop

This past year we've been recruiting developers to begin doing some major updates to Object Desktop over the next year.  

First, I'm going to post what our thoughts are on what to focus on but then we want to hear what you would like to see updated.  As always, our choices are determined by a combination of factors including technical challenge and market demand.

Definitely getting big updates next year

Fences

CursorFX

SoundPackager

Keyboard LaunchPad

DeskScapes

New Apps

We have three new programs for Object Desktop slated for release next year

Maybe getting big updates IF there's demand

Multiplicity

Tiles

Start10

On the bubble (for getting major update)

WindowBlinds (usage of desktop skinning is becoming less common and skinning  has gotten more and more complicated). What would go into v11?

IconPackager (making icons today is a lot of work due to resolution and most people don't bother changing them anymore)

What are your thoughts?

What do you use Object Desktop for and what sorts of things do you want to see updated as well as what new things do you think people would like to see?

Let us know in the comments area.

 

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9 with Hunter / Prey

Published on Wednesday, November 13, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

Version 2.9 of the award-winning massive-scale RTS, Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation goes out this week.

This version is the biggest AI update since the original release.  It also has numerous visual improvements including higher resolution textures.

Let’s take a look…

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

This is one of the Hunter / Prey expansion turrets.  In v2.9 you can rapidly drop down Emergency Turrets.  They can now be upgraded into a Machine Gun Turret (pictured here) or a Shotgun turret.

You may also notice a general refresh on the terrain in this shot.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

This shot is mainly to just show off the updated terrain texture.

Same here:

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

Structures blend in more nicely and the terrain itself has a bit more punch.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

Here I have a bunch of the new Nova Towers and Minos Cannon towers.  They are very vulnerable to air but are great anti-turtle siege weaponry.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

Subtle but important new feature in v2.9: Hold position.   The previous command “Stop” did indeed stop.  But you still ended up with the unit AI occasionally wandering towards unwanted objectives.

Version 2.9 will be released on November 14 at 1pm EST.

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