The recent quarantine due to the pandemic has prompted the company to add a video calling component for remote games
Thursday, June 11, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog
I’ve said it before, but I suppose it bears repeating: I love games - board, video, card, and otherwise.
In particular, since the board game scene exploded over the last few years, I’ve found myself neck-deep into the hobby, excitedly following blogs and Kickstarter for the next ‘big game’ coming down the line. With all of the new games, sometimes I forget about the ‘classics’ - you know, the kinds of games that have been around forever but may not be as ‘shiny’ as newer games on the market today.
Some of my earliest memories of gaming are with my grandfather. I’ve talked about the hours spent in his den playing through Monkey Island, but although we certainly loved our PC games, his first love as far as games went was definitely chess. From a young age, I learned to approach the game with a certain reverence and, although he beat me most every time, I came back to play with him time and again.
He’d be absolutely tickled to see where technology has taken one of his favorite pastimes today. While browsing the web the other day I stumbled on a mechanical chessboard called Square Off that lets you play chess on 20 different difficulty settings, or against someone else via chess.com. The company isn’t new - it’s been around for a handful of years - but they continue to innovate and improve their boards so that they now have several options for chess players.
The Mumbai-based startup behind Square Off have recently introduced a video calling feature. Using the app, you can now connect with one another across the globe while you play. It's not quite the same as having an opponent sitting across from you, but in the midst of a global pandemic, I'll take any sort of social interaction I can get.
“The lockdowns have motivated people to rediscover their passion and the chess community is expanding,” CEO Bhavya Gohil said in a release. “The recent addition to the video calling feature was the call of the hour and we are thrilled for the response it has received. It takes the experience of connected board gaming one notch ahead." According to the company, they've seen an increase in users of the board of about 30% since the pandemic began.
I like physical pieces, and although I'm grateful for things like Tabletop Simulator and other digital gaming outlets, they just aren't the same as holding a piece in my hand and moving it. This board solves that - and honestly, the movement and capturing of pieces is kinda freaky! Frankly, I love it, and am in awe of the innovation.
Honestly, it's been so long since I've played chess - either digitally or in person - that I feel like I've forgotten all of the strategy and most of the rules. I think I might have to find some opponents and delve back into it. As for this board, if I ever get the chance, I'd love to check it out. Get it? ...no, just me? Alrighty then.
Are you a chess player and have you had a chance to see a Square Off in action? If so, I want to hear about it in the comments!
IKEA releases creative fort diagrams to build with your kids during quarantine - so I built one for myself
I met with...mixed results.
Thursday, May 21, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog
I don’t know about you, but I’m a little stir-crazy at this point.
The days are starting to blend together so much that I can scarcely keep track of what day it even is anymore, which becomes especially difficult during the work week since I’ve lost the routine of leaving my house and getting in my car to drive there every day. One of the cool things I’ve seen come out of this quarantine period, however, are the numerous people and companies who have come up with some pretty creative ideas for fighting the cabin fever.
Recently, IKEA Russia shared some photographs of cool new ways to build blanket forts - and, of course, in true IKEA fashion, they all look a little something like this:
A lot of the articles I saw covering the forts say that “if you have kids, these are great ideas” and that you should do them together as a family. I absolutely agree with this! However, I am a firm believer in the adage “Growing old is required, but growing up is optional,” which leads me to the question: do you really have to have kids to enjoy this idea?
Nope, definitely not.
I admit, I have a few pieces of IKEA furniture in my home, but for the most part I’m still rocking out a lot of the free handouts I got from friends and family when I first bought my house, with a couch and a table or two that I inherited from grandparents thrown in. So, obviously I couldn’t follow the instructions to the letter, but I did my best to stay within the spirit of things while I decided to turn my living room into a nice little gamer’s getaway for me and my cat.
Let me start by ruining the punchline for the piece and telling you what I learned from this process right now:
I suck at building forts.
I tend to visualize things very vividly in my head, but when I actually try to execute (like drawing something, for example), it turns out pretty disastrously. Which explains a lot about why I’m a writer.
I started by loosely attempting to follow the “Castle” diagram provided by IKEA. That went south pretty quickly, and I went rogue almost instantly, cobbling together any little bit I could to just make it work. The general idea behind the design was fine, I just couldn’t execute it efficiently with what I had on hand.
My biggest issue was the blanket drooping in the front. The goal for this fort was for me to be able to see my TV so I could play video games, but with the way it sagged I couldn’t see past the blanket even when I was laying down on the floor. Another issue I tend to have is that when I start thinking about how to solve an issue, I go with the first solution I come up with and tunnel vision on that. Frequently, I end up over-complicating things, and it helps to have someone else to point out, “Hey, you know it’d be easier if you did it this way, right?”
Well, my cat definitely isn’t that person, so I was flying solo on this.
You can see Miza watching in the background. She does NOT approve of my methods.
I grabbed one of my little 3M hooks and stuck it to the ceiling. My plan was to run a thread down from it, loop the thread through the blanket, and tie it off so it hung just enough above my line of sight. It worked!
For about .5 seconds.
That...did not last long.
I abandoned that idea, shuffled some stuff around some more (incidentally, NOT having clothespins on hand made keeping the blankets in place about 10x harder), and eventually decided that it was good enough, I’d just post a picture of a collapsed fort, giggle about it, and tell you all what a terrible architect I am.
Except, the fort stood. And while it certainly isn’t what I envisioned, I have enough imagination to see past it and enjoy my little “cave” for the weekend. I tried one more time to re-run the thread from the 3M hook, and by giving it a little extra slack, it stayed intact.
I used my papasan mattress and a beautiful hand-crocheted blanket my friend made me to make things cozy.
The sides felt a little bare, so adding a blanket helped make it feel more enclosed. Again, something that would have been made so much easier if I actually had clothespins handy. My task complete, I excitedly ran off to get some fort essentials.
I also definitely grabbed the chocolate, because duh.
I got some books to read (and some source manuals for D&D 5E to brush up for running some campaigns soon), popcorn, a NERF gun to keep out any intruders (let me just remind you that I'm in quarantine alone), and made sure to charge my controllers. A few extra pillows made things pretty cozy, and when it got dark enough I turned off all the lights for added mood. Miza (my 10 year old Siamese cat) was a little dubious about it, but when I accidentally knocked the blanket down and just decided to put them away, she was quick to claim the newfound "giant catbed" on the floor, so I couldn't clean up completely just yet. Never move a resting cat, you know!
I moved back into my chair because, as I've discovered, laying on the floor for long periods
of time isn't as comfortable as it was when I was a kid.
What about you - will you build a blanket fort with your kids soon? Heck, forget the kids, build one for yourself and play some video games.
May your building endeavors go much more smoothly than mine. Have an awesome weekend!
Facebook/Instagram is hosting a virtual graduation for the class of 2020
Thursday, May 14, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog
Image credit: TechCrunch
A few weeks ago, my dad and I had a conversation about how, if we have to weather a pandemic, we’re sure glad it’s happening in 2020.
Don’t get me wrong - obviously, we wish we weren’t living through this craziness at all, but to deal with it now versus in, say, 1990? We’re all way better equipped in certain areas. For one thing, the internet has come a long way since its dial-up days and is commonplace in most homes and businesses, so staying connected through technology is very possible. Online board gaming certainly has saved my sanity (what little I have left of it anyway) these last two months.
One of the things that crosses my mind frequently is how difficult this must be for our youth, too. Sure, most of them don’t have the same worries as we adults do - things like bills, mortgages, food on the table, and so on - but it’s still a really tough world for them to navigate, even with supportive families. I know a lot of high school seniors who are really disappointed that they’ll be missing their “big year” - the parties, the farewells, the excitement of what comes next. We can promise them all we like that the years get better, that there’s much more to life past high school, and while that may be true that isn’t what they want - or need! - to hear right now.
Some schools are hosting virtual graduations for their students in an effort to celebrate their accomplishments in the best way they can right now, which is pretty great. Facebook/Instagram has recently jumped on that trend as well, announcing earlier this week that they would be launching #graduation2020, a series of online events meant to celebrate this year’s seniors.
In addition to all of the Instagram filters and hashtags debuting this week, Facebook is pulling some major celebrities into the mix for a big commencement celebration on Friday, May 15th at 2:00pm ET. According to the statement on their website, the commencement address “will be given by Oprah Winfrey. Awkwafina, Jennifer Garner, Lil Nas X, Simone Biles, and more, will share words of wisdom for the class of 2020. Miley Cyrus will do a special performance of her hit song, “The Climb.””
It’s not a replacement for a real graduation, and it isn’t going to offer seniors a sense of accomplishment or let them feel the swell of pride as their family watches them take a big step out of youth toward adulthood. Nothing can replace that, but it is still nice to see areas of the Internet rally around these kids and try to give them a little offering of joy.
They’re certainly going to have one heck of a story to tell to their own children someday, that's for sure. Do you have a graduating senior in your life this year? What are you doing to celebrate?
This was going to be titled "Best Star Wars Games" but the blog took another direction...
Thursday, May 7, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog
Monday was Star Wars Day, and as I’m writing this it’s currently Revenge of the 5th, so...I’m just declaring that this week is “Star Wars Week” and so you’re getting a Star Wars blog. Yub nub!
I am prone to nostalgia, I fully admit this. Star Wars, in and of itself, is full of those old, wonderful memories for me - my Dad raised me and my sister on the movies, and our favorite Friday night ritual consisted of tackling him when he got home from work, popping popcorn, and settling in for one of the films - if my sister and I had our choice, it was almost always Return of the Jedi. Dad also was pretty quick to pick up one of those “newfangled Nintendo systems” when they came out because he’s an engineer who loved to mess around with new gadgets.
I think my Dad found a particular joy in finding games that he could play with me and my sister jointly (we played a lot of Contra), so when he found Star Wars: A New Hope for the system he picked it up for us.
Seriously, I know there’s a small subset of the population for whom old school Nintendo games are and were no big deal, but holy cow - that game was hard. It took my 8-year old self years to be skilled enough to even get off of Tatooine, and even then I’d make it to the Cantina, get Han, and then promptly bite it.
I’m not sure that’d fare much better these days, to be honest, which is why YouTube is such a gift. In case you’d like to squint at a screen for 30 minutes and see someone blitz the game with no deaths, here’s the link below.
Man, old Nintendo games are nothing like games nowadays. Graphics aside, there’s no mini-map and virtually no guidance on where to go or what to do next. In fact, the entire game relies completely on you having knowledge of the movie in order to piece together what’s happening.
Originally, this blog was going to be called “(Some of) The Best Star Wars Games ever,” and then when I realized I was going to talk about the NES Star Wars: A New Hope, I...had to change the title, LOL.
What got me thinking about Star Wars in the realm of video games, actually, was a happy memory I had regarding my grandfather. He and my grandma used to live around the block from us, so I’d spend many school afternoons over at their place until mom and dad got home from work. In the mid 90’s, home computers were becoming a thing, and when my grandpa got his it came with an assortment of games (my favorite of which was Monkey Island - incidentally also LucasArts - but that’s another blog entirely).
Included among the games (or honestly, perhaps he got it later, it was over 25 years ago so my memory is hazy) was the 1993 X-Wing game, which I seem to recall he specifically bought a joystick to play. Neither of us were particularly good at it, but it was one of the first truly immersive video game experiences I remember, where we were the pilots aiding the Rebels in fighting off the Empire. To an 8 year old, it was pretty damn cool - for my grandpa’s part, I think he enjoyed the game, but loved watching his grandchild be excited even more.
I went and looked at a list of Star Wars video games in Wikipedia because I wanted a full scope of what was out there (because I knew I hadn’t played them all). As it turns out, I’ve played a healthy fraction, but that’s all it is - a fraction. I could write whole paragraphs on the Jedi Knight games (I played a lot of Jedi Academy in college), Rogue Squadron (I, II, and III), or on Battlefront. I also could find a fair amount to say about the LEGO Star Wars games (which, while clunky in their controls at times, I totally adore).
Knights of the Old Republic deserves more than a mention, but this blog is already long. This game was revolutionary, bringing us deeper into the Star Wars lore and providing an immersive and emotional story and series of choices (which later, as it turns out, would turn out to be a hallmark of most BioWare games). In fact, thinking about it, I’m due to play it again soon.
To round this out, I feel obliged to mention a little game that came out around the time all those motion-censored dance games were a “thing” called Kinect Star Wars: Galactic Dance Off. I fully admit to having played this - I’d say I have no shame here, but honestly, there’s definitely a little shame. I can’t have been the only one who was entertained by the swapped lyrics and themed names for the dance moves!
Talk about a great disturbance in the force.
What’s your favorite Star Wars video game? Share with me!
So let's remember the good times and look forward to more!
Thursday, April 30, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog
Next week marks one of my favorite holidays. Unfortunately for me and my office mates, we will be spending it apart from each other in our own homes. For us, May 4th is a day of geeky celebration, of shared memes and, more importantly, shared (and themed!) food.
When my first opportunity to celebrate Star Wars with some fellow nerds came around, I started fairly simple. I happened to have cupcake wrappers and decorations that were Star Wars themed, so I made a batch of cupcakes, decked them out with funfetti frosting (the BEST kind!), and left them in the cafe.
Now, my coworkers at my previous job always appreciated it when I brought in treats, but some of my more offbeat holidays (like May 4th and Talk Like a Pirate Day) were never quite celebrated to this level. I had people sending me memes and dropping Star Wars quotes at me all day long and it was glorious!
So, naturally, the following year, I upped my game.
The once-plain cupcakes got a glow up with handmade chocolates and nicely piped frosting, I acquired some festive Star Wars dishes, and decorated the counter with some posters I happened to have around.
Predictably, everyone was delighted (and on a total sugar high). No one even resented me for the inevitable sugar crash we all experienced later! But...I was pretty sure I still had more ideas, more creativity to put toward this favored holiday of mine.
By this point, coworkers had started to catch on to the fact that I did this annually and were offering to help. The operations team rolled up their sleeves and dove right in with me, hanging out late the night before to bake cupcakes and spend ENTIRELY too long painstakingly assembling the little buggers in the image below.
My marketing operations manager even made custom signs for all the food - and yeah, we know there was a mistake with the signage above, but we were too busy to change it and everyone knew what it was supposed to be!
By 2019, everyone was just waiting to see what craziness I’d pull next. Once again, the operations team jumped in and helped me out, putting out what I think was our most impressive spread to date.
Yes, those are absolutely Chewbacca lights, and yes, I totally had to be extra enough to put them out.
I feel like I’ve been getting pretty clever with the naming conventions here.
I got these dishes when ThinkGeek was still a thing (RIP ThinkGeek.com), and I love them. They are one of my favorite taking points for when I serve sweet treats to visitors at my home.
Our fruit and vegetable lightsabers were perfect for an epic battle! I’m not sure who won here, but Paul definitely has his battle face on.
Looking back on these old pictures makes me miss my coworkers a lot. We’re all in touch regularly via Teams, of course, but it just isn’t the same as being able to go into an office and talk with a bunch of warm, wonderful people who enjoy embracing the fun in life as much as I do.
So, even though we’re missing our celebration together this year, we’ll just have to make up for it when we can all be together again. Until that time, my friends… May the 4th be with you. Always.
Do you celebrate Star Wars Day? What’s your favorite non-mainstream holiday?
Thursday, April 2, 2020 by Frogboy | Discussion: 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.
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.
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.
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!
Friday, March 27, 2020 by Frogboy | Discussion: 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.
Combating 'boardem' with tabletop games online
Thursday, March 19, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog
I know there’s an overall stereotype about gamers being solitary and reclusive by nature, and while it’s not altogether untrue, there are definitely outliers. I’m one of them, and the coming weeks of isolation are looming over my head like an ominous shadow - dramatic, sure, but that’s not exactly off brand for me.
I am an extremely social person. I host dinners and game nights regularly, I go to the gym (albeit not nearly as often as I’d like to), I visit with friends and family and love going to social events. The recent mandates meant to help contain the spread of COVID-19 are a necessary inconvenience that I am more than willing to bear in order to keep my loved ones safe. Am I happy about it? Oh, heck no, but who is?
These may not apply so much to me, but I laughed.
Memes aside, if there was ever a time when isolation was completely manageable for me, now is it. The Internet has been an incredible tool that I’ve been lucky to grow up with, and while it certainly has its dark sides, I have been fortunate enough to use it to cultivate and maintain friendships with people from all over the world.
As I’ve mentioned before in other blogs, I am an avid board gamer. The thing about board games is that they typically require other people to play with (although there are several games with solo variants!). It makes me a little sad not to have my basement game room filled with people and laughter, but it’ll pass before long - in the meantime, I’ve moved my board gaming online.
There are so many options for board gaming online now, it’s really exciting. I can play some of my favorite games with some of my favorite people, some of whom don’t live close to me and can’t exactly pop over for a game night during non-pandemic times. Some board games have their own specific apps, complete with music, sound effects, and visual effects that fit the overall theme. Tabletop Simulator, however, is a basic program that is powered almost entirely by user-created mods.
While I certainly prefer face-to-face interactions, this really is the next best thing. I have a group of friends who I spend most of my time with online (since they live in places like San Francisco, Vancouver, Florida, London, etc.) and we use Discord to chat while we play things or stream Netflix or Disney+ together. Yesterday, I fired up Tabletop Simulator and a few of them joined me for a game of (sorrynotsorry) Pandemic.
If you’re unfamiliar with the game Pandemic, it is a co-operative player experience wherein you’re all working together playing various roles (Medic, Scientist, Quarantine Specialist, etc.) to contain and halt the spread of 4 deadly viruses. Everyone plays against the board, and while the early game may lure you into a false sense of security, don’t be fooled - chaos comes, and it comes fast.
We usually play on the highest difficulty level and use the “On the Brink” expansion because we enjoy the challenge. We introduced a few new people to the game yesterday, who thoroughly enjoyed themselves, even though we ran the player deck out and lost at the last minute (ouch!). It just meant that we were all fired up to come back for a rematch against the dastardly board.
There are thousands and thousands of mods to download for various games, as well as some premium content for more popular games like Wingspan. If you’re looking to connect with friends while you’re in self-isolation, online multiplayer games are a great way to do that, whether they’re board games on Tabletop Simulator or multiplayer video games like The Political Machine or Offworld Trading Company.
How are you combating boredom and staying connected with people?
The platform has grown over the years to encompass far more than just indie creators looking to get their names out there
Thursday, March 12, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog
Ah, Kickstarter: the land of hopes, dreams, and thousands of people with cash to burn. In its earliest days, Kickstarter was a platform that provided creators with a venue for funding projects they otherwise would never be able to do on their own (and for some, couldn’t do even with successful funding).
Nowadays, Kickstarter is still an effective way for indie developers and other small creators to get their projects funded and out in the public eye, but it’s evolved into something more beyond that. Kickstarter has become an effective and impressive marketing tool for well-established companies in electronic and board gaming industries, among others.
I’ve had the discussion with several different people, all with varying opinions on the matter. Should Kickstarter really be used as a marketing method, or should it be reserved for those small creators who actually need it in order to break into the market? Everyone’s thoughts are pretty mixed, but I’m not likely to believe that Kickstarter will ever bar any legitimate project from launching a campaign - after all, the more profitable the project, the more money Kickstarter makes.
I recently came across an article on The Verge that talked about the marketing strategy behind (at the time) an up and coming Kickstarter from Spinmaster and Cool Mini or Not (CMON), two very established companies in the board game world. CMON is well known for its Kickstarter campaigns and the sort of hype they create, and when they launched Marvel United last month, I decided I’d hop on for the ride. The way they ran their campaign was brilliant, and I’m going to break down what I think made it a successful project in next week’s blog.
I personally have been fortunate enough not to have been burned by a Kickstarter yet. There are certainly records of failed projects, but on the whole most projects are backed in good faith, funded, and rewards are distributed as promised. In fact, a study shows that only 9% of successfully funded Kickstarters fail to deliver to their backers.
Honestly, I think one of the reasons I’ve avoided the sting of money wasted is that I tend to only back projects from companies that I’m familiar with. Board game publishers like CMON, Smirk and Dagger, Slugfest, Calliope Games, and so on, have an established customer base and don’t really need the funds from a Kickstarter to get their games started - they’re just using it to generate hype and gain early adopters by using Kickstarter exclusive rewards.
While a brilliant marketing move, many would argue that this goes against the spirit of what Kickstarter meant to do in the first place: give a platform to smaller creators for funding their projects. But, does the existence of these bigger names on Kickstarter really take away from indie creators?
In order to be effective on Kickstarter in the first place, creators need to have a decent seat in the PR arena. Whether big companies are also campaigning on Kickstarter or not is irrelevant if no one even knows about your project to begin with. You could argue - perhaps rightfully - that the existence of these other projects pushes smaller projects out of the range of discoverability, but that’s not really true, either. Thousands of projects, indie or not, still crowd out the market.
Sometimes, I discover a project on Kickstarter and feel compelled to back it. More often than not, however, I hear about a project elsewhere on social media or through word of mouth, and that’s what drives me there to check it out. If you’re not able to put the time and effort into PR, then Kickstarter won’t be an effective platform for you anyway.
This blog post from Stonemaier Games has an excellent breakdown of a pro and con argument for big companies using Kickstarter as a platform. As it stands, I definitely see both sides from a consumer and a marketer’s point of view.
What projects have you backed on Kickstarter? What do you think about how the platform has evolved over the years?