Starstrider customisations

This is another post in my series about Starstrider (version 2.8); previous installments here and here. Today, I just want to share the customisations I’ve made to my copy of the software.

Important update: The following does not necessarily apply to more recent versions of Starstrider. As of version 2.8.5 (released in July 2010), the keyboard customisation functionality was removed because it depended on Active X routines no longer supported by Microsoft. Also, I am no longer running Starstrider at all because I had problems with it after I upgraded to Windows 7. So please read this blog post in the context of 2008, when it was written.

1. Keyboard customisation

I have customised Starstrider’s keyboard controls as follows.

For manual navigation, I use the numeric keypad. The numeric arrow keys (“2“, “4“, “6” & “8“) cause the spacecraft to turn in the respective directions. To rotate the spacecraft anticlockwise, I press “7“, and to rotate it clockwise, I press “9“. To accelerate I press “5“, to brake I press “3“, and to decelerate I press “.” (the difference between braking and decelerating is that if you keep decelerating you end up going backwards).

As for view controls, I use “[” to decrease field of view, “]” to increase field of view, and “`” (way over on the upper left corner of the keyboard) to flip view direction (i.e. to look behind you). The left shift key is configured to cause the keys which normally change the travelling direction to merely change the viewing direction instead (by default this is done with numeric keypad zero).

Some other keys are assigned to functions that I don’t use (or, in some cases, prefer to toggle via the menus), so I won’t mention them. I also won’t mention the various key assignments that can’t be changed. I will mention that “*” and “/” on the numeric keypad speed up and slow down time respectively, but those are the defaults anyway.

2. View presets

View presets are scripts saved to the  “Presets – View” folder. They specify various settings to do with the appearances of objects, and can be used to switch between settings suitable for simulating the eye, a telescope, a star chart, and so on.

I keep all of the default view presets, and have also created the following three of my own:

  • Custom eye view
  • Custom telescope
  • Custom star chart

Here are some screenshots to illustrate the above presets. They are all oriented at the same angle and centred upon Aldebaran.

  • Custom Eye View – You should recognise Orion in the top right corner (or the Saucepan as we call it in the Southern Hemisphere), and the Pleiades in the centre of the left half of the screen.
  • Naked Eye View – Default preset for comparison with the above.
  • Custom Star Chart – This is a wide view, showing all the stars present on the above images plus more around the edges.
  • Custom Telescope – Given that Aldebaran is in the centre, you should be able to recognise the horns of Taurus (Hyades) among the brightest stars. The star I’ve written about before is highlighted with crosshairs here.

One of the default view presets is “Naked eye view”, which is what I used for the illustrations in my “Location of Heaven” post because when I wrote that I hadn’t yet played around with view settings much. But I find that it makes the stars look too fuzzy, and also shows too many faint stars which is impractical when I’m trying to figure out what alien constellations might look like. So I created “Custom eye view” as an alternative impression of what the naked eye sees, based on trying to simulate what the night sky actually looks like away from city lights.

“Custom eye view” contains the following settings:

option view.skyobjects=off
option view.fov=60.000000deg
option view.vis=6.000000
option view.sat=0.000000
option view.startype=gausslin
option view.scl=0.300000
option view.clr=0.500000

(I don’t actually have every setting on a different line, but the blog pretty much necessitates that)

A word on the “startype=gausslin” setting. This causes stars to be displayed as unsaturated Gaussian bells with radius scaled linearly with magnitude. The Starstrider manual warns that: “this is not the impression real stars have on eyes, but it looks great“, however in my experience this is only true if the star scaling factor is large. Linearly scaled Gaussian bells look quite realistic to me provided they’re used in conjunction with a small star scaling factor (in this case view.scl=0.300000). What’s more, faint stars under the “Custom eye view” setting actually come in and out of visibility as the spacecraft’s orientation is adjusted, simulating the way that real stars seem to fade in and out of view. This seems to be an artifact of the “startype=gausslin” setting.

The “Custom eye view” preset also contains the following settings, which control the colours of various things such as star names, constellation lines, and so on (if display of such things happens to be enabled at the time). One thing these settings do is to make constellation lines and borders faint, so that when I choose to display them they have only a background prominence.

option color.starnames=rgb[0.6, 0.4, 0.8]
option color.usernames=rgb[0.2, 0.2, 0.4]
option color.skyobjectnames=rgb[1.0, 1.0, 0]
option color.constelnames=rgb[0.5, 0, 0]
option color.constellines=rgb[0.25, 0, 0]
option color.constelborders=rgb[0, 0, 0.25]
option color.planetnames=rgb[0.2, 0.8, 0.2]
option color.planetorbits=rgb[0.2, 0.4, 0.2]

The “Custom telescope” preset simulates a telescope of my own design. It contains the following settings:

option view.skyobjects=on
option view.fov=30.000000deg
option view.vis=12.000000
option view.sat=0.000000
option view.startype=gausslin
option view.scl=0.600000
option view.clr=0.500000

The “view.skyobjects=on” setting enables display of nebulae and things like that. It makes sense to turn it off for eye view and on for telescope view. The “Custom telescope view” preset also contains the following colour settings, because with greater magnification I find that labels can be made brighter without looking garish:

option color.starnames=rgb[0.6, 0.6, 1.0]
option color.usernames=rgb[0.4, 0.2, 0.4]
option color.skyobjectnames=rgb[1.0, 1.0, 0]
option color.constelnames=rgb[0.75, 0.25, 0]
option color.constellines=rgb[0.5, 0, 0]
option color.constelborders=rgb[0.5, 0.5, 0.5]

Finally, the “Custom star chart” preset is designed to simulate the star charts included in “The Macmillan Illustrated Atlas of the Universe“, which I bought quite recently. Its settings are:

option view.fov=90.000000deg
option view.vis=6.000000
option view.sat=0.000000
option view.startype=disc
option view.scl=0.800000
option view.clr=0.750000

“Custom star chart” does not toggle display of sky objects or change any colour settings.

3. Space-time presets

Space-time presets are scripts saved to the “Presets – Space-Time” folder. They specify such things as how fast time should flow and whether Starstrider should simulate such things as doppler shift and relativistic abberation (Starstrider does not provide an option for non-relativistic aberration: it’s either relativistic aberration or no aberration at all.).

I have defined four space-time presets, namely:

  • Einsteinean universe – ‘Interstellar ship’
  • Newtonean universe – ‘Generation ship’
  • Newtonean universe – ‘Interplanetary ship’
  • Newtonean universe – ‘Interstellar ship’

The three Newtonian universe presets have the following lines in common:

option info.lengthunit=auto info.speedunit=m/s
option space.aberration=false space.dopplershift=false

The generation ship operates in realtime, the interplanetary ship makes time flow 1,000 times faster than reality, and the interstellar ship makes time flow 100,000,000 times faster than reality. The relevant settings for the three Newtonian universe ships (generation, interplanetary, interstellar) are respectively:

  • option space.timescale=1
  • option space.timescale=1.0e3
  • option space.timescale=1.0e8

The preset for the Einsteinean universe interstellar ship contains the following settings, which consist of measuring speeds and distances in terms of the speed of light, activating relativistic aberration and the doppler shift, and causing time to flow 1,000,000,000 times faster than reality:

option info.lengthunit=cs info.speedunit=c
option space.aberration=true space.dopplershift=true
option space.timescale=1.0e9


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