Brad Wardell's Blog

The Political Machine 2020 #5: One for the Gipper

Published on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 By Brad Wardell In TPM Journals

This week’s update to the Political Machine adds Ronald Reagan.  He’s the first candidate that includes a scoring handicap which means that your score is modified slightly because he’s a bit easier to win with than other candidates.  We’ll show you here.


The update also includes AOC, Al Gore, and Barry Goldwater. 

The Reagan Era

Ronald Reagan was one of the last Presidents we had before the hyper politicization of American life really took hold.  In 1980 and 1984 he won California, something that would not be possible today regardless of whether he had been governor or not. 

Simulating Reagan


In this simulation, we have Reagan going up against Hillary Clinton.  It’s not very close.


This is where the handicap comes in.  It takes a lot of testing and tweaking here.  For example, we have a _Credibility stat which affects how persuasive someone is on a given issue.  Hence, Reagan, who is pro-life is able to take Abortion Rights and get most people who care one way or the other on the issue to vote for him.  He does less well on Lower Taxes and this has to do with how each campaign spends their time campaigning for (or against) certain issues.

In the example here, it would be safe to say that we need to adjust Reagan’s score handicap further. 

So there you go.  Reagan returns!

A Tour of Stardock Plymouth

Published on Thursday, April 2, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Stardock Blog

With our state on lockdown, our offices are empty. 
This gives me a rare opportunity to give a little tour of our offices with almost no one here.


A little bit about Stardock

So I started Stardock from my dorm room back in 1991 and incorporated it in 1993.  The building we’re in now, we bought in 2005.  We own it, so we are able to do whatever we want with it.  It’s about 20,000 square feet and we’ve had the opportunity to try out various working area styles.


The Welcoming Committee


As you enter the main lobby of Stardock...


This is Cheesecake.  An essential employee.  We allow dogs at work. Smile



Stardock has 3 floors.  This is the lower floor in an area called Lab-2 (Lab-1 is upstairs).  The team is working from home.  We let people check out their PCs and take them home.


This is also part of Lab-2.   Lab-2 has the workstation area. It’s not an open floor plan, but rather a hybrid, where everyone gets their own workstation area.  There are also 3 offices connected to it – Senior Producer (oversees schedule) – Senior Publisher (oversees the “biz” side) and Senior Designer (the lead designer on the project).  We mix the artists and engineers together so that they can work seamlessly together.


This is the office I’m occupying down here.  I’m currently on a new project that won’t be ready for a couple years.  This is the first time I’ve been the senior designer on a game project since GalCiv II from the start.


This is part of our Cafe. 


Sitting area for the Cafe.  The nice thing about this area is that there’s a presentation area up front.


This is on the main floor.  This is where the Impulse team used to be back in 2011.  We occasionally use it for podcasts, but it’s been unfilled since 2011.


Also on main floor.  Has been empty since we sold Impulse to GameStop.


Biz Conference room.  I spend a lot of time here, unfortunately.


The fitness room.  Empty. So sad.


My office.  Empty now that I’ve moved to the senior designer office.


Gamer’s Bill of Rights.


Wife and kids. Smile


Back of my office.  There’s a little framed box of the “contract” between Chris Taylor and I on Demigod.  It’s on a napkin.


Upstairs Lab-1 with Agile wall (Scrum wall).   So empty.


Kristy’s workstation isn’t empty at least!


Cleanest this area has been in years. The IT area.


Play-testing lab.


Derek Paxton, upstairs in Lab-1’s Senior Designer office.


The kids of the QA area. Today, just making sure everyone else is able to work from home.


Obligatory picture of gender neutral bathroom. We have gender-specific bathrooms on every floor but we also installed this along with an area for employees who have just had children to take care of things (and we did this back in 2005).

The general goal is to create an environment that is welcoming and comfortable.  We have extremely low turn-over and I think a big part of that is our company environment.

And with that, back to work!

GalCiv III Dev Journal: March 2020

Published on Monday, March 30, 2020 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

I found a magic planet.


It’s not that it is a class 20 planet – it only started as a class 14 and I’ve upgraded it since.  It is that it had 6 fertile tiles with 5 of them ready to have something amazing placed in the middle.  In this case, Kimberly’s Refuge.  Combined with the planet being a fertile world the result is that this one planet produces 34 food. 

Of course, having the time to build this up required relative peace to be the norm which is the subject of this dev journal.

Leave me alone

One of the most common questions we get is how do you keep everyone from going to war with you? Can you play the game without having to build up a huge military.  The answer is, yes and…maybe. 

I’m playing as a benevolent civilization.  This means my polar opposite civilizations (malevolent) will be inclined to go to war with me.  If I were playing as pragmatic, they would also not like me but they are somewhat less likely to pull the trigger on going to war with a pragmatic civilization versus one that is their opposite.

So what’s the key to getting them to leave me alone?

Relationship factors


Here is the Drengin.  The biggest two things helping me with them are the fact we’re trading with them and they are relatively far away.

Tip #1: Trade with them  

When I play as a peaceful civ, I am careful to trade as much as I can.  You do take a hit due to trading with their enemies but it’s still a big benefit.

Trade helps in so many other areas too.  For example, the more you trade, the less easy of a target you are since they really want your money.

Tip #2: Treaties


Make sure you are setting up treaties with them.

Tip #3: Financial Aid / Tribute


You can give tribute to civilizations (give them money) which will make them happy. 

Tip #4: Don’t be an easy target

If a bear is chasing after you and your friends, you only need to be faster than the slowest friend.   You don’t need a big military to keep from being attacked.  But if you are absolutely defenseless then you are inviting conquest.

Tip #5: Use Diplomats


If you have trained any diplomats, you can use them on the powerful civilizations that you want to leave you alone.  You don’t need them to love you, you just need them to hate someone else more.

Tip #6: Build up your diplomatic skills

There are certain planetary improvements and technologies that give your civilization more diplomatic points.  Your increased skills will cause other civilizations to like you more.

Tip #7: Spy with Freighters

A lot of players will try to keep an eye on what other civilizations are doing by building starbases and sensor ships.  But these can sometimes cause other civilizations to consider them trespassers.  But freighters don’t have that issue.

Instead, design freighters that have great sensor ranges.  Make sure you get an open borders treaty with them.


Hopefully these tips will help you maintain a galactic peace…or at least long enough to either ascend or get a diplomatic victory!

Using Stardock Groupy to Mix Teams and Slack

Published on Friday, March 27, 2020 By Brad Wardell In Stardock Blog

As I write this, we’re starting to find a lot of friction due to the way some communications apps work when it comes to multiple servers.  I’m looking at you, Microsoft Teams.

While connecting multiple Teams servers (not teams) isn’t hard, it is a bit tedious. 


I end up having to click on the drop down and then select the server I want.

Now, ideally, I would like Teams to let me have a truly integrated experience (where I can move teams from various servers onto a single master page) but in the meantime, there is a solution for the user who wants to have multiple Team hosts available in a single click (or keyboard hotkey): Groupy.

Stardock Groupy lets users combine multiple windows together as if they are web pages.

Once installed I move my communication windows together:


Now I can either click between tabs to get right to the other server or use Windows key-~ to tab between them.

If you’re someone who’s using multiple communication apps or servers, I highly, highly recommend you download Groupy.

Political Machine 2020 #4

Published on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 By Brad Wardell In TPM Journals


The next update to The Political Machine will be including mod support to Steam Workshop. 


Specifically, we are going to let people make their own ideologies and share them with others.  We include quite a few in the game.    We will be uploading a few ideology mods to get things started and to help others learn how to make them.

What is an ideology?

An ideology is a set of issues your candidate wants to run on.   Unlike normal campaign issues, ideology issues, when run on, increase the importance of those issues nationally.  This results in making different candidates play quite differently.


Players can either have their ideology work with existing issues or create their own from scratch (which is a new feature in v1.1).

New Features

We are also adding an election night speed so players can savor (or zip through) the results:



We also are implementing a scoring system.  In this test, we made a case where the ideology had a slight penalty because it was easier to play with (in the release, fascism will not be considered easier, we just wanted to test it).

This feature is important because it unlocks the door to having “easier to win” candidates added to the game without it debalancing everything.

This new version should be available next week.

Read the other journals here.

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.


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 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 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:

Here is a brief recap:


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:


Sabrent Rocket  NVME 2280:


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.

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.


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