The Political Machine 2016’s latest update brings in the VPs

Published on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

Stardock has updated its popular strategy game, The Political Machine 2016 with new issues and new candidates to run with including Jill Stein, Bill Weld and Tim Kaine.  In addition, new issues like the National Anthem protest have also been added into the game’s simulation.

In The Political Machine, you run for President of the United States. You can run using existing candidates such as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or create your candidate.  One recent update allows you to simulate an actual election with the AI running each candidate’s campaign to see how well they do. 

The simulation’s top issues for 2016, according to the Trump AI are Securing the Borders, Attacking Mrs. Clinton’s email handling and preventing domestic terrorism.  For Clinton AI, it’s Reducing the wealth gap, Attacking Trump’s Erratic positions, and reducing health care costs.  Of course, that’s only what the computer AI thinks they should do.

“Based on the simulation, it could go either way,” said lead designer, Brad Wardell. “I know that’s a cop out but the AI players tend to run the campaigns slightly more optimally than the real thing. They never go off message and they don’t make mistakes in simulation mode.”

Players can play against the computer AI at different levels of difficulty as well against their friends on the Internet or pick two candidates and have the AI control them to see who would win under various circumstances.

Its home page is http://www.politicalmachine.com and can be purchased on Steam for only $9.99. http://store.steampowered.com/app/404620/

Screenshots

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Elemental: Rivals of the Sorcerer King–a walkthrough

Published on Friday, September 16, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Elemental Dev Journals

Author’s note

Some years ago Stardock developed a game called Elemental: War of Magic.  We loved it.  Unfortunately, it was a bridge too far.  Too ambitious and it largely collapsed under its own tech.  The name Elemental was tarnished and we moved away from using it.

The original plan was to have:

Elemental: War of Magic (2010)

Elemental: Fallen Enchantress (2012)

Elemental: Legendary Heroes (2014)

Elemental: Sorcerer King (2016)

Ah the best laid plans.

So here we are in 2016 and are about to release Sorcerer King: Rivals.  Last year we did release Sorcerer King but, as many noticed, it was 75% RPG and 25% 4X.  Rivals, by contrast, is a more even split.  More 4X. 

If I had to explain it super simply I’d say it’s Master of Magic meets Populous.

www.sorcererking.com/rivals

And so it begins…

Once upon a time…

During the War of Magic, one of the major powers was known as Gilden. In this land dwelt the Ironeers. They were the descendants of the Dwarves who had migrated south from the Frozen Realm during the elder years before the Cataclysm.  In the aftermath of the War of Magic, Gilden was destroyed by Mirdoth the Sorcerer.

Now, in 464AC, the Frozen Realm has established a small Keep…

 

Part 1: New Lands

Of Giott and his expedition

Bazzal, the Lord Hammer of the Frozen Realm is a channeler. Having discovered the ruins of Ipel, found the Forge of the Overlord intact.  While not knowing how to use it, he bound himself to it with the hope of being able to master its great power.

To explore these strange new lands, he sent out Giott, his most trustworthy servant, to see what there is to see.

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The goal was to find shards. Through the Forge of the Overlord, Bazzal could channel the magic of this land to ascend to godhood and rid the world of evil once and for all.  Giott quickly found a second shard near their fledgling keep.

However, the shard was already claimed by Krik, a wannabe Warlord in the south.  He would need to be removed first which would require more soldiers.

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The Frozen Keep had access to a single essence in these early days. This would allow the casting of a single city enchantment

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Enchanted Hammers was a natural for the dwarves and would increase the city’s productivity.

The Loremaster of the Frozen Realm urged Bazzal to learn the Tuelage spell.

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The shards granted Bazzal magic power that he could split between Lore, Skill, and Mana. Lore went to learning new spells.

Discovery by the Sorcerer King

The Sorcerer King sensed Bazzal was a channeler.

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The proud Bazzal had no intention of allowing the Sorcerer King to tap his power.  For now, the Sorcerer King, preoccupied, was willing to leave the Frozen Realm alone.  This would not remain the case for much longer.

Exploration

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Giott found an abandoned village. Its fertile fields left unharvested. These lands were much warmer than what the Dwarves were accustomed to. Unlike the other creatures of these lands, the Dwarves could farm on tundra and ice itself if necessary as well.

Carefully, Giott approached the abandoned village.

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Ice Walkers!

The swampy village has been attacked by Ice walkers! These dread beings must have followed the Frozen Realm south!

Giott was more concerned if that meant the dreaded Ice Lords had come south as well. Their ancient enemy was powerful and relentless.

With the Ice Walkers destroyed, Giott looked through the ruins of the city and found numerous abandoned items. Bazzal now had enough to craft via the Forge of the Overlord.

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A Humble start: crafting gloves.

Reinforcements

Dril the Axeman joined the company shortly after the encounter with the Ice Walkers.

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Dril would join the company and together, remove the ruffians guarding the southern shard.

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Krik was backed up by a magic wielding Ogre!

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Who immediately casts gigantify on himself.

Remember: NOBODY like a giant ogre.

Soon all were dead other than the giant ogre.

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Calling for some help from Bazzal, an obstruction was placed in front of the ogre. Its giant size would work against him.

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Protected from the giant, Giott could use his crossbow to inflict damage on the giant.

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Giott’s spider’s belch made sure that the Ogre would have to wade through poison to get around the obstacles. Nevertheless, he was able to confront the mighty dwarf. Luckily, the poison was enough to overcome the giant. Unfortunately, the rest of Giott’s party was killed in the confrontation.

The defeat of the bandit lord would allow the Frozen Realm to claim a second shard.  In doing so, Bazzal’s skills increased and he was able to acquire a new skill.

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Bazzal could now train Dwarven Magi.

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Similarly, Giott himself gained a new trait.

Legend of Gorm

Gorm was trained as an explorer.  He was stealthy (for a dwarf) and could be sent off to get the lay of these strange lands.

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Gorm would explore the new lands

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He soon encountered Ceresa’s Legacy

From point of view of the Wraiths, Relias was the villain in Fallen Enchantress. And they tell a persuasive tale that indeed, Ceresa, the Fallen Enchantress, was the true hero of the story.

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Ceresa’s lands spread chaos.

In time, Gorm would establish contact with others including the Keepers of the Flame and the Imperium.

 

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The Dwarves are not above making dick jokes.

Tandis the Arnor

At first, we thought he was a man.  But he was no man.  He was something beyond that.  He simply took the form of a man.  He called himself Tandis and he offered to join our cause.

“I have approached the others and they are warring upon one another while the Sorcerer King smiles,” he said.

He looked at the Forge of the Overlord.

“Beware of the Forge, for it is the source of all grief on Elemental,” he warned. “Created by the trio of Hallas, Argynn and Breon through the Spell of Making, the Forge of the Overlord is what first caught the attention of the Titans.  Now, you must use it to become a Titan yourself.  Only through you can Mirdoth be thrown down and the lands freed.”

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With Tandis came new recipes for the Forge

 

The Sorcerer King soon confronted the Frozen Realm about Tandis.  For he knew what he truly was and the threat he represented.  But the Dwarves would not give him up.  It was at this moment that the Sorcerer King first began to perceive the threat of the Frozen Realm. 

Tandis himself journeyed into the wilds for a time, alone, to seek out the location of other shards.

 

Part 2: Allies & Enemies

The Spring brought new hope to the Frozen Realm.  Ceresa’s Legacy had allied with them in their cause to bring down the Sorcerer King.  Their powerful forces would be a boon in the war to come. 

Meanwhile, the Sorcerer King was still unaware of the growing threat.  However, he had made a great deal of progress towards his own ascension.

 

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The Ice Lords

The Spring also resulted with Gorm finding the Ice Lords. They had arrived. Fortunately, they were very far away. But now, they would be seeking the Frozen Realm out actively to destroy. 

Dwarves are not known for their charisma.  However, they were getting along better with the other races better than they were with each other.  Each day, battles between the various races were fought out in plain sight.  They were being manipulated by the Sorcerer King to battle against each other.

Ascension

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Through the Forge of the Overlord, the Spell of Ascendancy is available.  With enough magic, it can be cast which begins to fill the Orb of Power (aka Curgen’s Bane) with Bazzal’s essence, wresting control of it from the Sorcerer kIng.

However, in doing so, the Dwarves would be noticed by the Sorcerer King immediately. Thus, Bazzal waited until he was well prepared for the consequences.

 

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The Sorcerer King knows the threat

 

End Game

What would happen next I leave to you. Smile

Net worth in the age of intellectual property

Published on Friday, September 16, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Everything Else

I run a software company.  I have for over 20 years.  Once in awhile, someone will ask me what my “net worth” is.  I have to respond, “It depends on whether you value intellectual property”.

Intellectual property, IP, would be things my software company owns or has rights to such as Galactic Civilizations or Start8 or our websites and our patents and trademarks.  How much are they worth? It depends.

There are a number of ways of valuing intellectual property. If the IP generates revenue, then one rule of thumb is to take the revenue of the past two years and add a projection of the next year and use that as a fairly reasonable number. If the IP is a patent or a trademark, then things are a little trickier and you’ll likely only find out the real value of those when you go to sell or license it.

If you’re dealing with a bank, your IP is worth basically nothing.  It can be very frustrating.  This is why in the technology world, venture capitalist rule.  In other businesses, you can go to a bank and get a loan.  That is a lot harder in technology.

In my case, what I did was slowly, over time, take profits and acquire physical things that I could use as collateral.  For example:

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That’s the Stardock building.  We own it.  25,000 square feet of glorious nerdom.  Owning your own building is generally not considered a good business move.  You’re better off leasing most of the time.  But I needed to have collateral during our earlier years.  I’ve done much the same in my personal life with slowly acquiring various houses just so I have physical assets to evaluate.

But like I said, most of my wealth is in IP.  That IP generates many millions of dollars each year but the bank counts that IP at $0 because (and you can’t blame them) what would they do with that IP?

When Atari went bankrupt, we went to the auction to acquire some of its IP.  That’s how we picked up Star Control. While there, Atari’s creditors earned millions of dollars selling off Atari IP including Battlezone, Master of Orion and countless other assets that a bank would have little idea what to do with.

One mistake entrepreneurs make is to value themselves based purely on their dreams of their IPs potential.  Nobody cares about its potential.  Your IP is worth basically nothing until you can prove it will generate income (or if you can get a patent on it).

If you have any questions on trying to evaluate your net worth on the basis of IP, comment below.

Sorcerer King: Rivals vs the original Sorcerer King

Published on Thursday, September 15, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Sorcerer King Dev Journals

Once upon a time…

In the Summer of 2015, Stardock released a 4X-RPG hybrid called Sorcerer King.  The premise of the game was that after the events of Fallen Enchantress (or choose any fantasy 4X really) the bad guy (in this case, the Sorcerer King) had conquered the world.  The good guys had lost.

Not content with ruling the world, the Sorcerer King had begun to use a mysterious artifact known as the Bane of Curgen (an orb) to destroy the shards of Elemental to ascend to godhood.

Your role in Sorcerer King was to stop him.  To do that, you would raise and army, gather allies and confront the Sorcerer King in his fortress.

And this was super fun…for the first few times.

However, there are only so many times it’s fun to go kill fizban in his castle and Sorcerer King thus had limited replaybility.

Rivals: Your Turn

Over the past year, we gave some thought as to what would increase replayability without losing what makes Sorcerer King unique amongst 4X strategy games.  We hit upon the idea that the player should have the ability to become a god too.  In this way, we not only got to eliminate the Doomsday counter but instead gave the game more strategic depth without sacrificing the things that made Sorcerer King so special.

Below are a few key things that make Sorcerer King: Rivals different from Sorcerer King.

 

A New UI:

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The first thing players will notice is that there’s a new UI.  We tried hard to not have to change it but ultimately, we realized that to do what we wanted to do, we had to redo the user interface.  For example, we want to support an unlimited number of world resources rather than the fixed number we had in Sorcerer King.  Similarly, since the object of the game now is to charge up the orb of power (the bane) and compel it to obey you, we would need a different way of presenting that.

Also, as we made neutral civilizations into potential rivals, we would need to highlight that aspect of the game.

 

Two new races

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I don’t want to rag on Sorcerer King. It is still a good game. We made some assumptions when we designed it that didn’t lead it to have the diversity we hoped it would have in gameplay. 

Sorcerer King had 6 sovereigns to choose from. Which is nice. Here’s the issue, all 6 of them were sovereigns of the Kingdom.  In other words, there was ONE race in Sorcerer King and you always ruled the village of Athica.

We made this choice with the best of intentions: It was good for the story.  But it wasn’t good for replayability.

In Rivals, there are two more sovereigns but each sovereign leads its own completely new race which means they have their own units, buildings and spread their own environment across the world.

In other words, Sorcerer King had one race, Rivals has 3.

Ascendancy

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The most obvious difference is going to be the object of the game.  Now, you use up mana to ascend.  Doing so, however, makes everyone angry and go to war with you eventually so you have to be careful about when and how you do this.  Moreover, as the orb gets magically charged, new spells come into play.  By the end of the game, all hell will start to break loose. 

In play testing, we’ve seen new players think “Oh this is easy” and start to charge up the orb really early only to get crushed utterly because when you start staring into the abyss, it will begin to stare back at you.

Demigods

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The Sorcerer King also has some demigods as lieutenants. They are insanely powerful. Players of Sorcerer King who go to Rivals will soon notice there are a lot more of them.

Sharing your creations forever

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All the games in the Elemental series have had some modding tools.  With Sorcerer King, it’s all been put out there for players along with the ability to share them.  As I’ve said to a number of friends, I could rebuild Ultima IV with this this engine.

People who remember Neverwinter Nights and its modding power will be happy to know that they have been given that power once again and, thanks to Steamworks (and eventually via GOG) the ability to share their creations.

If there is interest, we will vastly add on to this (all depends on sales of course).

How you can help

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Game sites cover things that are popular already.  Stardock is an independent developer. In fact, we are, possibly, the oldest independent game developer left in the industry.  We don’t have a vast marketing team to go out and build coverage.  What you can do is spread the word. Word of mouth is king.  We want to keep working on Sorcerer King for years to come and with Rivals, we have a game that you and us can do just that. 

People who liked Sorcereer King are definitley going to like Rivals. It’s vastly better in every way.  There’s more of everything and a lot of attention to detail.

People who like 4X games in general or even classic RPG games will almost certainly like Rivals. 

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

A preview of Escalation at PCGamesN

Published on Thursday, September 15, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

PCGamesN has an exclusive preview of Stardock’s upcoming expansion pack to Ashes of the Singularity called Escalation.

IF I had a time machine, which I don’t…yet…I wish we could have called the game just Escalation. I love that title for an RTS.

Anyway check it out here:

http://www.pcgamesn.com/ashes-of-the-singularity/ashes-of-the-singularity-escalation-strategic-zoom

Economic Singularity: The Gods and the Useless

Published on Monday, September 12, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Life, the Universe and Everything

imageI don’t like sounding like chicken little. Nevertheless, the sky is falling.

For those of you who don’t know me, I run one of the oldest independent software companies in the world. My specialty for the past 20 years has been in AI. It is my job to research, evaluate trends and invest accordingly to stay ahead of the curve. And I am here to tell you that the sky is falling.

It is automation. It is inevitable. It is irresistible. And if you think that automation always creates new opportunities look back to horses. Technology made them more useful too…for a time. Now it’s our turn and in this Facebook post I’m going to walk you through, in plain terms, why I think the sky is falling.

I’m not going to try to persuade you. I’m just going to put out the data. I suspect anyone reading this is intelligent enough to reach their own conclusions whether they agree with my assessment or not.

Before I begin, I want you to refer to this page: http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_201.htm This is the Bureau of Labor statistics. It’s the government’s site that tracks what people are employed in.

To summarize we Americans work primarily in these areas:

1. Factory work (8%)

2. Construction (4%)

3. Retail (10%)

4. Transportation (3%)

5. Business Services (13%)

6. Healthcare (12%)

Next, I would like to quote you this statistic: “The maximum unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 25%.”

The sum of the percentages I give above is 50%. You be the judge on what percentage of the areas I am going to discuss below will likely be out of a job in the near future.

Like I said, my day job is to evaluate technology and try to predict where it’s going to go next. And with that, I am telling you the automation revolution isn’t happening soon. It’s happening right now.

Amazon Prime

Do you use Amazon Prime? It’s pretty great right? How are they able to do it so cheaply? It’s because it’s largely automated now. Over the past few years, Amazon has been quietly laying off thousands of employees and replacing them with machines.

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/amazon-robots-and-the-near-future-rise-of-the-automated-warehouse/

Amazon currently employs over 200,000 people, most of whom will be out of a job in less than five years. Right now, you go to their website, you order something. That signals a AGV to go over and pick it up in the warehouse which then takes it over to another AGV (automated guided vehicle) that in turn takes it over to the auto packager which in turn sends it to be sorted and packaged.

I’m not talking about some future technology either. Did you get something from Amazon Prime recently? Look at the box you received. You will see an MSI code and a Code-128 code (very similar) along with a Datamatrix code (a box with graphical blotches). Right now, some of this is still handled by a person. But this will soon be completely automated.

Right now, the Code 128 code is used by UPS or Fed Ex staff (people) to load trucks and get them to you. But this is not going to last much longer. The transportation industry is already in process of being automated. You don’t hear much on this publicly because no one wants to talk about it. But this isn’t a 10 or 20 year away thing. This transformation is happening right now.

Products and goods will soon be transported to you through autonomous vehicles. I’m not talking about drones. That’ll happen too but that’s a distraction. I mean that UPS trucks and Fed Ex trucks will soon be autonomous. Loaded at the warehouse by machines and transported to you by AFVs (autonomous freight vehicles).

And even if you think “how will they get up to my doorstep” remember most shipments occur from business to business who have their own loading docks and warehouses. Moving stuff from point A to point B is a huge part of our employment.

Going…going…gone

Retail, where a lot of people now work, is going to be hit soonest, hardest and most obviously. We are familiar with self-checkouts but that’s really not that big of a deal. It’s the stocking that is going to go away and you won’t even notice. Walmart, Target, you name it, will quietly and not-so-gradually replace their stock people with machines. Read a bar code, go to the proper location in the store and place it. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Chain restaurants? The only reason why McDonalds and Burger King haven’t automated already is the relatively low minimum wage. But that’s going away. Kiosks will replace the order taking and the food preparation will be handled by machines. And machines in 2016, already do voice recognition better than most humans for the drive through (that’s something I never would have thought possible even 5 years ago). And people will be happy for this because it’ll be more convenient and the results more consistent. They’ll never “fuck you at the drive through” because the order will be perfect every time.

What about office jobs? They’re safe right? No. Again, I want to emphasize that I am not talking about some “20 years from now” thing. I am telling you that this automation revolution is happening as you read this. It’s not something to prepare for in the future. It’s already upon us. And with that in mind, Walmart just announced that it is cutting 7,000 office jobs.

http://fortune.com/2016/09/01/walmart-job-cuts-layoffs/

This was a week ago.

These are administrative jobs. Accounting jobs. All those jobs that involve paperwork, inventory management, producing invoices, handling payroll. Do these jobs sound familiar? They’re not going away in the future. They’re going away right now. And it’s accelerating.

Today, you walk into a Walmart and pick up a can of soup off the shelf. That soup was placed there by a person. You probably still go to a person to check it out because you have a bunch of stuff and it’s still a pain to do self-checkout. Nevertheless, everything you bought is automatically deducted from Walmart’s inventory. The acquisition of that item and its purchase doesn’t require people anymore so it was automated.

But relatively soon, every item, from food to your clothes, will have a tiny passive RFID tag in it. You’ll simply walk through a checkout and everything will be deducted automatically (for those with a NFC device like an iPhone or an Android phone). There will still be a person handling stuff for old people. But most people will naturally prefer to take their cart full of stuff through the RFID scanner and have it handled automatically.

Ironically, the service is likely to get better because they’ll probably soon have auto-baggers so you won’t even have to bag your own stuff anymore. But that’s probably around 7 (2023) years away from becoming mainstream. You’ll have RFID tagging sooner than that.

If you’re feeling stressed and want to go to the doctor, well, they’re going to be automated away too soon. And this will be a good thing for everyone. Today’s doctors will become more focused on dealing with patients’ needs while the machines handle the diagnosing and prescription writing.

You, reading this right now, when was the last time you went to the doctor not knowing what you already had? You probably just needed the prescription and had to wait. The machines, networked with each other across the world and able to sample billions of people’s anonymous data will make Dr. House look like an amateur and prescribe you with what you need vastly faster than having to wait for the doctor.

However, this won’t be good news for a lot of people in the health industry. Your doctor today with the thriving practice will be fine. He or she will save up and buy these diagnostic machines that will handle the vast majority of cases he or she currently handles. But those next generation doctors? They’re in for a rough time. Those in the medical profession can comment below and explain the problem a lot better than I can.

What about lawyers? They’re screwed. As someone who routinely gets sued (intellectual property is a mine field), I have a lot of experience with lawyers. The most expensive part, by far, is discovery. This is the part where each party sifts through the other’s sides stuff to determine what bullshit to put into their motions to convince a jury that their narrative of the case is the correct one. 99% of that time is wasted. Machines could handle that 99%.

It is unlikely that there will be such a thing as a paralegal in 20 years. They’ll go the way of the gas station attendant.

http://technoccult.net/archives/2013/10/08/report-47-of-u-s-jobs-at-risk-of-being-automated-out-of-existence/

Now, I’m not suggesting all these jobs are going to be gone in 5 years or even 20 years. Not all of them. But a lot of them. And unlike in the past, there’s no job for these people to go to. There’s no “training” for a new job because this time, the machines aren’t creating a new type of job in their wake, they are simply replacing the existing jobs without creating a new one.

We are not ready

We are not ready for this. We are oblivious now and we will remain oblivious until it’s far too late for our society to adapt carefully.

People will continue to be oblivious even as they watch their malls close down just like people shrugged when their bookstores went away.

http://time.com/money/4327632/shopping-malls-closing/

They’ll continue to be oblivious when their neighbor’s kid loses their job at the coffee shop because there’s a machine that makes the perfect Mocha Latte every single time.

They’ll still ignore it even as their sister’s husband loses his job at DHL (the world’s largest logistic company).

http://roboticsandautomationnews.com/2016/04/20/dhl-opens-supersize-logistics-centre-featuring-130-robotic-shuttles/4068/

They’ll only notice when their job at the local dentist’s office handling appointments and other office duties suddenly, without notice, disappears because Dr. Benning, such a great guy, has bought a Wavenet Office bot that can call patients to make appointments, reschedule, and handle all the tasks they previously did.

https://deepmind.com/blog/wavenet-generative-model-raw-audio/

And what about the unemployed? Think that they’ll just raise up a mob and take on the 5% of the population who owns the means of production now? Think again. The one area automation is already doing very well is security.

The new uber class (calling them rich isn’t even the right term at that stage) will be way ahead of the mob. They’ll have machines to protect their holdings, homes and families from the rabble. So those who think “they’ll have to do something for everyone else or they’ll be a revolution” think again. Don’t assume a universal basic income is a definite.

/">http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/security-robot-knightscope-/

What we do as a civilization, will define my generation. I pray we figure it out. Nothing scares me more than a future of split between the Gods and the Useless.

Further reading:

Economic Singularity

The Tesla Model X and the Supercharger trump card

Published on Monday, September 12, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Everything Else

So I finally got a Tesla.

2016-09-02 13.51.33 HDRSome of my friends were surprised I didn’t get one earlier.  I have a 20kw solar array that provided more than 100% of my electrical needs. So why didn’t I get a Tesla when they first started coming out? The short answer: I didn’t think they were practical at the time.

When the Roadster came out in 2009, it’s theoretical 240 miles (realistic, 190 mile) range wasn’t far enough for me to do serious distance yet.  Remember, in 2009 there was no national super charging network.  I already had a sports car, a Porsche 911 Turbo. And as for an electric daily commute car, I already had something in mind: The Chevy Volt.

Chevy Volt era

I love the Chevy Volt. I still do. It’s a great car. I was one of the first to get one in January 2011.  My 3 mile commute to and from work was no problem for the Volt. It led to a very annoying side-effect though.  The Chevy Volt will force you to burn off your gasoline if it gets old. Which happened to me.  When I got my second Chevy Volt in 2014, the first Chevy Volt still had some of its original gas in.  That is, I almost never drove it beyond its limited range.

For more serious travels, I love (and still do) the Jeep Grand Cherokee.  It can haul stuff, it has a trailer hitch, it’s comfortable.

imageThe Model S as a non-starter

As 2016 approached, I was looking to have a single vehicle to replace my the Chevy Volt ($42k as configured) and my Jeep Grand Cherokee ($48k as configured).  People recommended the Tesla Model S for the same reason people always recommend electric vehicles to me: Charging would be free (both at home and through the now mature Super Charger network).

The problem with the model S for me was lack of towing. I know it’s a small thing but this vehicle had to be able to tow.  Not far. Maybe 10 to 15 miles. But it did need to tow (I needed to be able to move my Polaris Ranger EVs around so I can do beekeeping at various places around here).

The Model X is full of win

The Model X was exactly what I needed.  The model 90D had the range I needed (260 theoretical/230 realistically), a towing hitch and good storage. 

I’ve seen people in reviews and online make fun of the falcon wing doors it comes with as being a gimmick.  They’re not.

Ever put a heavy computer or other delicate device (or I child I suppose) in the backseat of a van or normal car? It’s a pain. The key feature of the falcon wing doors is that they remove the ceiling when they go up. I didn’t care about the falcon wing doors when I bought it. Now, I would say they are one of the most important features of the vehicle.  The other feature that turned out to be a big deal was the windshield. It is, by far, the most expressive windshield I’ve ever seen.  And, somehow, as if by magic, the sun shining on it doesn’t make the car hot.  In fact, you can (don’t do this) look directly at the sun.  It has to be some sort of polarization going on because it’s not due to tinting.  I normally wear sun glasses when I drive but with the model X, I don’t need to. It was the most surprising feature of the car.

In the end, however, it was the auto-pilot that made me pull the trigger.

Autopilot

I regularly see comments complaining that Tesla shouldn’t have called it Autopilot because dumb people are going to get confused.  Two things: First, it’s actually called auto-steer in the car.  Second, generally, the demographic of people who can afford a $100k+ car aren’t idiots.  Buying a Tesla is a very deliberate thing.  People know what they’re getting into and the feature is off by default.

So how is Tesla’s auto pilot? Version 7.1 of it is good. Damn good. Scary good. 

My friend and I just released a sci-fi book about the technological singularity.  In our story brain storming sessions, we argued on when self-driving cars would be a thing.  This was only a couple years ago.  Neither of us would have believed that in 2016 it would be this far along.

Specifically, what auto-pilot is (in version 7.1) is adaptive cruise control + lane control.  This combination, however, is a game changer for anyone who’s taking a long trip. 

Autopilot was designed for people like me. People who’s motto to their children is “Don’t do as daddy does”. I’ve never been an accident but you people are a lot safer with auto pilot in charge than me.

Range Anxiety

With electric cars, every house is a gas station. 

But the rate of charging is very dependent on the circumstances and for whatever reason, reviewers of this car don’t really talk about it.  So I will here:

Source Details (typical) Range received per hour
120v outlet 120v, 12amps 3mph (ugh)
240v (nema 14-50) 240v, 40amps 26mph
J1772 (standard electric car charging hose thingy) (like at that school parking lot) 240v, 28amps 14mph
CHAdeMO thing that you have to buy an adapter for 240v, 80amps (but you can only use 48 amps unless you get dual charging) 30mph (46mph if you have a dual charger)
Tesla Wall 240v, 80 amps (really 48 unless you get a dual charger) 30mph (46mph if you have a dual charger)
Tesla Super Charger Insane ~400mph
     

I ultimately decided against getting a dual charger.  For $1,700 I could go from a charge rate of 30mph to 46mph when using a destination charger. That’s just not enough of a difference to matter.

What does matter, however is Tesla’s Supercharger network. 

Tesla Superchargers

imageYears ago my company made a digital distribution service called Impulse®. It was the primary competitor to Steam and when GameStop came looking for a digital distribution platform for their customers we were the only practical alternative to Steam.  It wasn’t just because we had great technology but more importantly, we had spent the time to build the necessary infrastructure.  Infrastructure rarely gets headlines but it often the primary differentiator.  We had the agreements with all the game publishers and we had built out a worldwide network of data centers.  No one (other than Steam) could touch this at the time and so we our platform was highly valued as a result. Infrastructure matters.  It’s not that GameStop or someone else couldn’t do what we did. It’s that it would take them a lot of time.

Similarly, Tesla has already won the electric car wars. People just don’t know it yet because they don’t realize the importance of the supercharger network. GM or BMW or whomever can’t compete with it and the difference between 400mph recharge (i.e. plug it in, go in and grab some candy or something and come out and have 90 miles back) is irresistible. 

Like I explained to GameStop those years ago, it’s not that they or someone else with deep pockets couldn’t do what we did.  But they couldn’t do what we did quickly.  In our case, it often took months to negotiate a distribution contract, then get it legally approved and then signed.  It took us years to get EA, Activision, Take 2, Ubisoft, etc. all signed and it would take anyone else entering the market that amount of time too.  Our tech was great but in the end, it was our contract portfolio and infrastructure that mattered.

With that in mind, a GM or a BMW would still have to survey locations, get permits, attend the local supervisory meeting to get it approved, build the site, get it inspected, get the transformer placed in, get the meter installed, get the final inspection done.  There is no magic bullet to make that go faster.  No one is going to have a supercharger network any time soon other than Tesla which means that no one other than Tesla is going to have a car that a sane person is going to want to take on long trips.

The Woz and his Bolt

imageI read an article where the Woz was thinking about getting a Chevy Bolt.  Now, I love the Volt and the Bolt looks even better. But what’s the point? Steve Wozniak lives just outside San Jose. A popular spot in the area is Yosemite National Park. Maybe he’ll drive his Bolt there? No. No he won’t. Because it’s 180 miles away (at the very edge of the Bolt’s range) and there’s no way to fast charge it. But Tesla? Yep, there’s a super charger right off 120 on the way there.  Drop by, get a drink and some snacks and off you go. 

Or how about another likely destination such as Fresno.  Again, no.  Fresno is 150 miles away. That means he would have to charge before he comes back.  Let’s say he has a friend with an ideal Bolt charger setup? He’ll be waiting five hours for his Bolt to charge.  But the Tesla? There’s a super charger right off 99 (he actually passes two super chargers on the way).

The point is, no other car currently available or that will be available in the near future is even capable of Super charging and no one else has even begun the process of building a super charger network.  That means, the only car now and for a very long time, that is electric and that you will actually drive a real distance will be a Tesla.

To be honest, I don’t really understand why GM and the others are bothering creating long range EVs without some sort of supercharger network (or even some sort of super fast charging system). My litmus test is that I can take my kid to college and come home (with a quick stop at a Tesla supercharger).  I can’t do that in a Chevy Bolt or anything else unless I want to, literally, sit there for an hour or two. What are they thinking?

Remember me…as…an idiot

2016-09-08 20.09.12When ultimately I accidentally kill myself from my own recklessness, it is important to me that you, the reader, if it happens to get coverage, understands that I had it coming.  My wife doesn’t let me open wine bottles due to the..incidents.  But when I went up north on my own, I needed to be able to charge faster than 3 miles per hour.  This is a real-world issue for people. I drove up north and was down to 10% range.  3mph meant I would have to sit there for 4 days to recharge. Unacceptable.  So I wired up my own NEMA 14-50 outlet (bought the wire, a wire cutter outlet, and breaker).  It worked.  And, as far as I know, I didn’t burn down our cottage.  But as the chart shows, I went from 3mph to 26mph which means that overnight I can drive it a real distance again.

Not perfect

I’ve owned a lot of cars over the years.  The Tesla Model X is, by far, my favorite car of all time.  I like it even more than the beloved Porsche 911 Turbo which is something I never thought I’d say.  It is more fun to drive than a Porsche, more comfortable to drive far than the Jeep Grand Cherokee while being more practical as a daily driver than my Chevy Volt. But it’s not perfect.

  • Problem #1: Fit and finish.  If Tesla goes down in flames, it’ll be because they couldn’t scale up their quality control.  QC is a non-trivial thing in the auto industry. I live in the Detroit area. The car industry dominates here and logistics is king and Tesla doesn’t have that yet on the QC side.  There’s no magic fix for this.  It’s not about lazy workers. It’s about having a QC process and that process is one of those trade secrets each car company holds onto dearly.  My car arrived with minor, but telling fit and finish issues.  They are sending one of their “rangers” here to fix it right away but that eats away at their margins in having to do that.   QC is a massive process that even the major auto companies have trouble with from time to time.  How is Tesla going to scale to 500,000 units? That’s over 1,500 units a day. I just don’t see how that’s possible unless they have some sort of Excellent Adventure, go back in time and steal all the QC architects from GM and Ford during the golden age.
  • Problem #2: Convenience.  The United States has an antiquated and frankly, should-be-illegal dealer system. Unlike everything else, you are expected to deal with a third party to buy a car.  It’s pretty idiotic.  But it is what it is.  I had to buy my car in Ohio and have it shipped here to the “motor city”.  That creates a lot of resistance in the purchase process.
  • Problem #3: Delays.  I ordered my car in May.  I didn’t get it until September.   That’s really excessive for a production car. It was doubly annoying because before I even got the car, a new model that I would have preferred was announced and, in some cases, delivered to people, before I got mine.
  • Problem #4: Range Anxiety is real.  The Tesla Model X comes with what amounts to an 8-gallon tank of gas.  When you put it like that, the range limitation really becomes obvious.  Now, because you can charge at home and at super chargers, this range is not really an issue.  You always have a near full-tank on a day to day basis. But if you’re driving a real distance (like me going up north) you have to think about this a bit.  It also annoys me slightly to have to stop at a supercharger on the way back from taking my kid to college.

Last thoughts

So I obviously love the car and have come to admire Tesla for their long-term vision.  Even now, they’re building a factory dedicated to making batteries. This is another one of those unsexy things that will ensure they own the electric future.

I personally have no issue with “ICE” cars. I’m not an environmentalist. I didn’t buy the car because I am worried about carbon emissions.  I just like the idea of being able to produce my own power.  In a decade or two, many people will be powering their own homes with solar shingles or some other thing.  The kid’s kids will think it weird that we used to pour goo into our autos to make them go. And Tesla is on top of all sides of that equation.  

For the first time in a long time, I enjoy driving. I enjoy having a vehicle that makes driving long distances easier. I never thought I’d find a vehicle that was so fun and so practical simultaneously. But here we it is with the Tesla Model X.

Star Control: September 2016 update

Published on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Star Control News

One year ago I wrote the September 2015 update. You can read that here.

A lot has happened in the past year.  So let's get right to it!

Greetings!

With Offworld Trading Company now released as well as Ashes of the Singularity released, the Star Control team has gotten reinforcements.  The team is now a who's-who of some of the most experienced game developers in the industry.  

Broadly speaking, the Star Control team is made up of the leads of Civilization IV, Civilization V, Galactic Civilizations and numerous other classics.  Never before have I worked with a team with this much experience.  So many people love Star Control and want to bring it back.

Challenge #1: The technical challenge

Star Control is an immensely difficult technical challenge to do today.  You really wouldn't think that given that 24 years ago, Star Control 2 was done as a DOS game. How hard could it be?

The challenge is that Star Control is really five games.  Let's walk through that:

Game #1: A planet exploration game.  You could make an entire game around Star Control's planet exploration concept.

Game #2: A galaxy exploration game.  Space is big.  In fact, some say the universe has hundreds, perhaps even thousands of stars. In Star Control's case, the galaxy has over ten-thousand planets out there.

Game #3: An adventure game.  This is the meat of the game. Going on quests, getting an interesting story to drive you to new objectives is what, ultimately, ties the game together. Without the alien adventure game, Star Control would just be some game where you explore a big galaxy full of planets to land on to get resources to upgrade your ship to get to the next planet. And who would want that? ...

Game #4: The combat game.  Super Melee.  This is where you battle with other ships that have unique weapons and defenses. It's an action game. 

Game #5: It's an RPG.  You are the captain. You have a ship. The ship is, ultimately, your character. Your allies are your party.  You level up, get equipment to upgrade your ship so it's better and more interesting.

It's a big project and one we're happy to tackle. But it won't be easy.

Challenge #2: The budget

The new Star Control game is the biggest game we've ever made.  Its budget is bigger than the combined budgets of all the games we've released in the past few years.  Stardock is the oldest independent game studio left in the industry and this game is a huge challenge for us budget-wise.  When people get excited about this game or that game, it's easy to forget that most of those games are from publicly traded companies or are funded by a publicly traded company.  The new Star Control is not.  It's directly funded by the individual sales of our games by you guys.

Challenge #3: The Setting

Star Control takes place in 2085.  The humans are about to discover that the galaxy has been busy for a long long time.

Challenge #4: Hardware requirements

Star Control uses the Nitrous engine.  For those of you not familiar with it, it's a next-generation 3D engine that can handle CGI like visuals in real-time.  However, that comes at a price: Hardware.  We are working hard to make sure Star Control will run on almost any system that supports DirectX 11, DirectX 12, or Vulkan.  

Founders and setting up canon

A year ago, we let in a tiny tiny number of people into the Founders program.  

We needed the thoughts and feedback of some die hard fans of the classic Star Control series that featured the Ur-Quan story line.  It is not commonly known but the full name of Star Control 1 back in 1991 was Star Control: Famous Battles of the Ur-Quan conflict Volume IV.  

Star Control 1 and 2 deal with the Ur-Quan conflict.

And there's also...Star Control 3.

We've now had almost a year of listening to their thoughts and their ideas on all this.  The biggest challenge we had was determining what is and isn't canon and how to have new adventures without overwriting what came before.  

Most people who get into the new Star Control will never have played or even heard of the classic series from the early 1990s.  But for those, like me, who have, it has a very special place in our hearts.  So the challenge has been, how do you support both groups? 

So to that end, we have concluded (this is only of interest to super fans of the original)

There is a single Star Control multiverse.  Star Control 1 and 2, the Ur-Quan conflict epic, takes place on the universe we designate as Earth-UrQuan.  Star Control 3, however, takes place on Earth-Crux.  Earth-Crux is similar to Earth-UrQuan but is not the same universe.  Thus, if Paul Reiche and Fred Ford, who today work for Activision working on Skylanders are able to return to their Ur-Quan stories, we presume they'd continue from the events in Earth-UrQuan (or whatever designation they'd prefer).

The new Star Control prequel also takes place in its own universe.  That doesn't mean it's a universe without the Spathi and Ur-Quan and so forth.  But if you run into them, it won't be until at least 2122 (after this prequel takes place and only if Paul and Fred are involved in that story).

For all players, the new Star Control prequel is a clean slate. 

For people who aren't familiar with all this lore, we still sell Star Control 1/2/3 from the 90s so you can get into that lore.

Founders: Phase 2

This Fall we anticipate starting up Founders phase 2.  This will be a much larger group that will continue to help provided feedback and ideas and this Winter begin testing out builds of the game with a select few being given the multiplayer Melee build to help us with multiplayer testing.

 More to come this Fall.

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