Build 2014: Microsoft is back on track

Published on Thursday, April 03, 2014 By Frogboy In Personal Computing

Build is Microsoft’s annual developer’s conference.  It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to one of these.

2014-04-02 12.26.10 HDR

This year, for the first time in some years, I feel like Microsoft is back to their old selves.  It’s like they were in an incompetent funk for a very long time.

Consider the idiocy that has flowed from Redmond in recent years:

  1. Creation of Silverlight and subsequent abandonment (Silverlight was awesome)
  2. Windows Presentation Foundation and its abandonment (WPF was awesome)
  3. The Windows Sidebar and its abandonment (this was just a dumb idea)
  4. Windows Phone 7
  5. Games for Windows Live (good idea, horribly executed)
  6. Microsoft Live’s abandonment (great idea, well executed, abandoned)
  7. Zune
  8. Windows 8 in its entirety (this would be a long list of incompetence)
  9. Windows Phone 7.5 (took like 30 years to get this update out)
  10. Calling the new XBox the XBox One (Seriously, who named this?)
  11. The first iteration of “Windows Store” (You can’t find anything)
  12. Windows RT vs. WinRT (One is the Arm version of the Windows OS, the other is an API designed for making “Modern” apps
  13. Surface RT’s condition when it shipped

As a long time Microsoft watcher, especially as someone whose formative tech years were spent watching the Microsoft of the Bill Gates era behaving with a  combination of ruthlessness and competence (Windows 95, NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, SQL Server, ASP.NET, Win32, .NET, DirectX, the NT kernel, etc.) it has been painful watching Microsoft decline into sheer ineptitude.

But with their new CEO, it seems like it’s a brand new day at Microsoft. In talking, off the record, with many tech leads and managers here at Build, it’s pretty clear that the best and brightest at Microsoft were being held back.

Let’s look at Build 2014 and the sudden coherence of what Microsoft is doing:

  1. They announced WinU, a single API that will work on XBox One, Windows Phone, and Windows allowing developers to use their favorite language (C#, C++, etc.) to make Windows apps that can be recompiled for different platforms.
  2. A new version of Visual Studio that integrates these features into it.
  3. An admission of the foolishness of Windows 8 by bringing back desktop functionality like the Start menu and letting Windows store apps run in a window on the desktop.
  4. The unveiling of Cortana, a developer friendly personal assistant that is leveraged by Microsoft’s vast and varied cloud services (and make no mistake, Microsoft Azure is, by far, the best cloud tech out there)
  5. DirectX 12 which is being designed not just for games but as a platform for creating high performance graphics apps that will work on XBox One, PC, and Windows Phone.
  6. Microsoft services and products being introduced across multiple platforms. This means Office for iPad and the unveiling of Office for Metro.

These 6 steps demonstrate that Microsoft is back in the game.  It’s a brand new day for Microsoft.

The GalCiv III tentative schedule!

Published on Friday, March 28, 2014 By Frogboy In Galactic Civilizations III

Greetings everyone!

There's been lots of questions regarding the development schedule of GalCiv III. Below is our *tentative* schedule for the game:


March 2014: Alpha 1
(the version you have now along with some minor updates)

April 2014: Alpha 2
(this version will begin to address early feedback and some new UI improvements, tech tree changes, ideology tree changes)

May 2014: BETA 1!
(This version is when the Founder Elite Edition goes away and is replaced by the normal, $49.99 game which is expected to be priced at a discount. So those people who don't like the $99 Founder Elite Edition who just want GalCiv III and would like to get it early and at a discount, this is the version you'll want.)

June 2014: BETA 1A
(this version is expected to bring in the Shipyard -- the in game ship designer amongst other things)

August 2014: BETA 2
(Diplomacy, Trade, Influence victories, culture, more in depth economics)

October 2014: BETA 3
(The Fleet Combat screen)

Beyond this point: Polish, Tweaking, Fixing, repeat.

Expected final release is 2Q2015 (April through June).

Go play some multiplayer!

Published on Friday, March 28, 2014 By Frogboy In Galactic Civilizations III

Greetings!

Highly recommend trying out some 1 on 1 games on tiny galaxies. Seriously. It's surprisingly fun in alpha.  I didn't want to say that before the alpha was out to keep expectations reasonable but now that it's out, go check it out!

Greetings and welcome! Questions and Answers

Published on Friday, March 28, 2014 By Frogboy In Galactic Civilizations III

Greetings!

First off, welcome to the Galactic Civilizations III Steam forums! We are so glad you're here! 

Before you post please read this as I'll try to answer some of the common topics that come up here.


#1 $99!? For the Founder Edlite Edition?!

Yes. The idea is to let GalCiv fans who are interested in the long-term success of GalCiv III. 

The Founder's Elite edition gives you:

  • The base game (which will list for $49.99 when released)
  • The future expansion packs (we current have 4 planned)
  • All DLC (we plan to do around 6 the first year and 4 per year subsequently as long as there is interest)
  • Access to our Founder's vault which includes access to our own internal dirty laundry (internal docs, failed concepts, music drafts, etc.)
  • Naming a star in the game
  • Forum badge and special forum access


The idea being a bit like some recent games that have come out that have let you do the same thing which can be convenient for those who just want to sit down and always have "everything".


#2 Why not have a seperate option for those who don't want all that?

When the BETA arrives, the Founder Elite version will go away entirely and have the regular version. We actually had this on GalCiv3.com where the standard edition was only $40. 

The regular version with early access will be discounted over the final price as a thank you to those willing to put up with Beta bugs.

However, the ALPHA is a very different animal. It sucks. It's not fun. It's ugly. And for that reason, we decided that it made more sense to only share it with those who are looking to be with us for the long haul and thus looking at the long-term.

By the time the BETA hits, the game should suck a lot less and be less ugly.


#3 Why have an Alpha at all?

The big reason for the public alpha is the same reason I had a public alpha back in 1993 for the original OS/2 verrsion of GalCiv (back when I was in college). 

Alpha access is early enough where we can experiment with new ideas that we may subsequently throw out. The downside is that it's a real sausage factory. People always imagine game designs being set in stone. But they're not. 

Having our most dedicated players sharing their ideas and thoughts early in the process can be helpful. Starbases in GalCiv came from the beta community (for example).


#4 Why 64-bit only?

We are looking for GalCiv III to be able to be enhanced and expanded on for a very very long time. GalCiv II was 32-bit and came out in 2006. By 2009, we could no longer add more stuff to it because we were out of RAM (all those ship parts for ship design and having thousands of unique planets gets memory intensive). 

64-bit is cutting edge today but in 2021, it's going to be pretty passe.

Having the base game be set up for 64-bit and DirectX 10/11/12 means we can do major updates to the game without having to start over.


Anyway, hope that helps! I'll be around!

My evening playing GalCiv everything!

Published on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 By Frogboy In Journals - GalCiv III

image

Galactic Civilizations III

 

 

image

Galactic Civilizations II

 

 

image

Galactic Civilizations I

 

Spent my evening today trying out the various Galactic Civilizations versions over the years. Each has their own particular strengths.  If you don’t have the original Galactic Civilizations for Windows, I highly recommend picking it up. It has a real “indie” charm to it.

Now, the GalCiv III screenshot here is of the alpha. The final version will look a lot better still. Even now though, it’s remarkable how much better it looks. Having a “retina” UI system capability (i.e. different DPI UIs based on resolution) is going to come in handy.  You can kind of tell that GalCiv II was designed during a time before high resolution displays.

BIG REMINDER: GalCiv III requires 64-bit

Published on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 By Frogboy In Galactic Civilizations III

The original Galactic Civilizations for OS/2 was somewhat notable in that it was the first commercial 32-bit game.  

While there are some games that offer 64-bit editions, most of them also include a 32-bit version.  In the case of GalCiv III, it is natively 64-bit. That means no 32-bit version.  You must have a 64-bit version of Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8 (most people these days do but not everyone).

So before you join up, make sure you actually are running a 64-bit version of Windows.

Evolution of Galactic Civilizations

Published on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 By Frogboy In Journals - GalCiv III

Greetings!

I was thinking the other day on how Galactic Civilizations has evolved over the years.  Let’s take a look:

Feature GalCiv OS/2 GalCiv I GalCiv II GalCiv III
Core 4X mechanics x x x x
United Planets x x x x
Moral Dilema Events x x x x
Anomalies   x x x
Galactic Resources   x x x
Galactic Events   x x x
Galactic Resources   x x x
Starbases   x x x
Ship Design     x x
Combat Viewer     x x
Cultural Conquest     x x
Unique Tech Trees per race     x x
Asteroid Fields     x x
Invasion Tactics     x x
Colony Imp. Map     x x
Ideology Tree       x
Hex Map       x
Multiplayer       x
United Planet Proposals       x
Fleet Combat Decisions       x
Technology Specialization       x
Nebula & Ion Storms       x
Strategic Resources       x
Colony Adjacency Bonuses       x

 

Not all features are created equally, however.  For example, the Starbase addition in GalCiv I was, by far, the biggest change from the OS/2 version.

GalCiv II added the ship designer and meaningful cultural warfare (many of my favorite games were about trying to convert my enemies to my culture via influence).

For GalCiv III, it’s too early to say which features will ultimately be the most game changing.  As an AI guy, I think the ideology tree is going to matter a great deal because it’ll heavily affect how diplomacy works in the game.  I also think the introduction of strategic resources (i.e. if you have resource X, you get access to using component Y on your ships) could be pretty amazing in what people choose to fight about.  Then there’s the fleet combat system which I think people will enjoy a great deal once implemented.

Each new GalCiv expands the features of the game universe more and more.  The key, as always, is how these concepts are executed on.

The casual Starcraft player's experience guide

Published on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 By Frogboy In PC Gaming

Every so many months I’ll load up Starcraft to play a few games. It is still an amazingly designed game. It is my go-to game when it comes to seeing a well designed-RTS.

That said, Starcraft is not designed for casual multiplayer enjoyment.  If you’re not “really” into it you will likely find your mood soured after a few experiences online.  This is regrettable because it is intentionally designed to be this way.

Years ago, I worked on the Starcraft expansion “Starcraft: Retribution”. As a result, I became fairly proficient at the game.

Proficient at Starcraft really boils down to two things:

(1) Your build order

(2) Understanding your timings versus your opponent’s timings (that is, at what minute/second you will have X versus what they will have at the same time provided you’ve scoutted adequately.

Proficient won’t get you into the game’s higher leagues but it does mean you know the basics of what matters and what doesn’t. (Counters, APM, micro, macro, etc. are skills that have to be mastered to get beyond “proficient”).

That said, if you’re a casual player getting back to Starcraft after awhile, it can be pretty frustrating.

For you Starcraft players out there, let me share some experiences that might give you a chuckle. 

For these games, I’m playing as a Terran…

Game 1: 6:31pm, Mood = Very good

Me: Hi there! GF and HF!

Opponent: glhf

Opponent is playing as Zerg.  Just over 2 minutes into the game, just after my barracks finishes, a small group of zerglings enters my base, kills my peons.

Me: Ah! You got me. Well done. GG!

 

Game 2: 6:40pm, Mood = good

Opponent: Protoss

It’s about 7 minutes in.  I’ve got 3 barracks and my engineering bay is just about done.

Suddenly, 2 Oracles show up and kill half my peons (SCVs) in a flash. 

Me: Oh! I almost had that engineering pay done! I can’t believe I missed that stargate. Where did you put it?

Opponent: Proxy, noob.

Me: Ah, well GG.

 

Game 3: 6:52pm, Mood = average

Opponent: Protoss

It’s about 3 minutes in and my SCV spots a Protoss Pilon with cannons going up.  I immediately build a bunker to contain it.

Opponent Quits.

 

Game 4: 6:56pm, Mood = average

Opponent: Terran (Map Frost – I think)

It’s about 5 minutes in when suddenly streams of Reapers enter my base while my main army was near my natural that I had just finished.

Me: Ack! I scoutted your base and looked around near mine, you only had 1 barracks

Opponent: AHAHAAH! Look behind the ice debris

(sure enough, on that map it’s easy to build 2 proxy barracks that are very hard to scout)

Me: Clever. GG

Opponent: No. Not GG. l2P [learn to play]

 

Game 5: 7:10, Mood = sour

Opponent: Terran

Very early Reaper harass in my base (~2 minutes). My early scout only saw 1 gas so I assume standard build. 

At 6:40 I do a scan of his base, 2 gas! Oh crap! Banshee! My engineering bay isn’t up yet.

7:00 cloaked banshee enters base, devastates me

Me: grr. GG

 

Game 6: 7:20, Mood = Poor

Opponent: Protoss

Ok. This time I get an engineering bay up and a turret in my mineral line early just in case. I scan his base and I see nothing unusual. Reaper scout noted 2 gas so I’m a bit nervous. I have a bunker up front of my natural.

At around 6:55 I send over a poke (a small attack) to try to do a stim marine/marauder at his natural. Unfortunately, his photon overcharge stops me in my tracks combined with a few zealots but I feel good as I did knock him down a bit.

However, at 8:00 2 invisible units run past my bunker and devestate my army. No scans available as I had just scanned his base so his invisible guys (DTs) wipe out my army. My peons are safe because I have the turrets there but with my army gone (and now my bunker gone he quickly moves in with some zealots and wipes me out.

Invisible, fucking units with unlimited cloak. Jesus.

Me: GG

 

Game 7:  7:33p,, Mood = Pissed

Opponent: Protoss

Protoss snuck in and built 2 proxy gateways. I discover it with my scout SCV at 2:48 but it’s too late. 2 zealots pop out before I can finish my bunker and I’m dead.

ARGH.

 

Game 8: 7:40pm, Mood = Really pissed

Opponent: Protoss

Ok, I scout the fucking base for Pilons (so my timing is now a bit slower). I send an SCV out to scout for proxy shit (which slows me down more). I send a reaper into his base and see 2 gas. So what is it? My SCV finds a proxy templar archives.

Hah you bastard! Your damn invisible guys won’t get me this time.

So I build the goddamn engineering bay early enough so I can build turrets in my mineral line. All this scoutting means I can’t expand as early as I’d like but this time it’ll be worth it.  I build a turret behind my bunker too. I’ve got 3 barracks and plan to get my factory going at around 8:00.

My scoutting revealed he has stalkers so I’m prioritizing Stim but I’m a bit behind my timing because of all the freaking SCV scouting I felt I needed to do.

At just after 7 minutes I see the other guy’s mothership ship core (a strange flying unit that has special abilities and shoots air and ground units that this race gets early for some reason) show up but I’m not worried. I have turrets in my mineral line and he’s way on the edge of the base. 

Suddenly about a dozen stalkers blink into my base bypassing all my defenses and just wipe me out.

Me: What? What the hell? How did you get into my base?

Opponent:  Blink. FTW!

Me: Doesn’t blink require vision?

Opponent: MSC. FTW!

Me: Son of a $@#@ gg.

 

Game 9: 7:49pm, Mood = Enraged

Opponent: SAME GUY!

Me: Well, rematch time! That trick won’t work twice!

Opponent: GLHF!

Since I can’t count on him doing the same build I still have to scout. But this time I go for an early factory and get a couple mines out. I do build a bunker near my command center as a last resort and I kind of cripple my economy to do this but it’ll be worth it.

I send a small poke (small marauder/marine attack) at around 6:40 and see the mothership core which, combined with a zealot and stalkers keeps me from doing much damage beyond destroying a pylon.

Once again, around 7 minute here comes the mothership core. This is going to be awesome. 

Units blink in, MFC moves back before my mines can get it! Damn but they do damage the stalker. My marauder heavy group, armed with Stim (I rushed it) prepares to wipe this bastard out!

Suddenly, his army simply vanishes!

Me: WTF?

Opponent: Recall! FTW!

(Silence)

[His units simply teleported home apparently]

8:00 has passed and I’ve totally gimped my timings in preparation.  A couple minutes later he overwhelms me front the front with immortals (their artillery) because while I had been turtling up, he had expanded and was up to 7 gates while I had only managed 3 barracks, a factory as I had put so much of my economy on hold to build bunkers, turrets, mines and other things at weird timings that I just lack the skill or something to compete.

Me: Well, clearly I’m outmatched! I’m done. gg

 

Aftermath

Mind you, I’m playing unranked. I’m not a very good player. I’m just a casual player.  I have no idea whether there’s a balance issue or whether there’s anything wrong other than the fact I must absolutely suck.   Back in the old days, I used to play a lot so I have a decent understanding of the importance of scouting, timing attacks, unit groups.

I also know the basic counters for different units and my typing speed (I don’t have great “APM” overall but I’m purely a keyboard guy at this game) allows me to have intricate control groups that let me treat my marines differently from the marauders and such.

What I do know is that it’s not fun for me.  I’m sure that a good player would read this and laugh at my suck.  And I have no doubt I suck. But I do know the game pretty well (the mothership core thing was something I hadn’t seen before though and was probably the one thing that struck me as being an odd design choice).

 

What can Blizzard do?

Not much.  Like I said, it’s a well designed game. But it’s an e-Sport now.  If you want to play casually, you need to play with friends. Starcraft was designed before the age of YouTube replays and mass forums.  They’d have to totally redesign it if they wanted the game to be less frustrating to casual players.

The problem is, in the age of YouTube,  anyone can just go on and see a “build” that lets them win against people who haven’t seen the counter to that build. 

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