Interlude 1:Making the Most of the Stars! User Interface

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Organizing Your Display

To gain the most from your Stars! experience, arrange its screen in a way that makes playing as easy as possible. This allows you to concentrate on playing the game, instead of hunting for information (or "playing the user interface").

Screen Resolution

First, choose an adequate screen resolution. Stars! allows loves high screen resolutions of 1024x768 or better--the higher the resolution, the more information Stars! will display. Resolutions of 800x600 and, especially 640 x 480, may actually prevent you from seeing certain information. Try each of the screen resolutions available on your system. Choose one that gives the largest area possible, while still being crisp and flicker-free.

For maximum enjoyment, use the largest monitor that you can afford. Unlike so many other games, Stars! is well worth the hardware upgrade.


Stars! also provides a Window Layout to match your screen resolution. Select the View menu, then select Window Layout, and choose from Large Screen, Medium Screen, and Small Screen. Use the layout that makes the best use of your screen.

You may also want to experiment with the arrangement of the various tiles. Each of the tiles in the upper-left or "Command" pane can be collapsed to give extra viewing room. Additionally, they can be re-arranged to suit your personal tastes. Just click near the top border of the tile and drag it to a preferred location in the Command pane. If there are tiles that you never seem to use, then collapse them. This will minimize visual distractions.

fig i1.1
Tiles in the Command pane

Also pay attention to the raised "dividers" used to separate the various panes in Stars!. If you place your mouse cursor over a divider, the cursor changes to let you know that you can drag the divider back and forth, allowing you to fine tune the sizes of each of these panes.

fig i1.2
Cursor changes over pane dividers

For instance, in the Large Screen Window Layout, the Selection Summary pane is moved to the lower-left corner of the screen. This pane is used to show statistics for whatever the game is currently focused on, be it a planet, a fleet, a minefield, or any other selected object. With an active game open, go to the Large Screen layout, and select a planet. Now grab the divider above the Summary pane, and drag it either up or down to resize the summary pane. You should notice that the size of the mineral bars changes as you select different sizes. Choose a pane size that gives you a comfortable view of the bars, while consuming as little screen space as possible.

Likewise, you can adjust the Message and Scanner panes to fit the particular layout you choose.

If you have the capability of going to a very high resolution, you might choose to move all of the tiles in the command pane into a single vertical row, possibly collapsing one or two of them in order to free additional space. This would allow you to drag the divider for the Scanner Pane even farther to the left, assuming you have already chosen Large Screen layout. This will compress your Message and Summary Panes somewhat, but will give you a much larger Scanner pane. Alternatively, if you would like to have the scanner be larger on a temporary basis, you can simply drag it back and forth as you see fit.

Making Effective Use of the Controls

Let's look at a few more controls that make game play a bit smoother.

Mouse Cursor

If you drag the mouse cursor over the entire display during game play, you'll notice that occasionally the icon changes into a question mark with a pointer. This means additional pop-up information is available at that location. Click and hold the left mouse button in order to see this information. Learning to use this pop-up information effectively can save you from having to switch the focus between multiple objects.

Additionally, there are many controls in the game which are implemented as horizontal bars or "gauges". Examples include fuel and cargo indicators, fleet speed indicators, and mass driver speed controls. Many of these controls respond readily to a click-and-drag operation for adjustment. Setting fleet speeds is a good example. If you are trying to adjust the speed of a fleet in order to see if you can get there one year sooner, try clicking on and dragging the speed indicator, instead of clicking in the bar several times to determine the best speed. When you're satisfied with the speed setting, simply let up on the mouse button. It's also important to know that the drag operation will remain in effect even if you move the mouse vertically away from the control in question. This allows you to cleanly see the results of the adjustment, without the cursor obscuring your view of the readouts.


Keyboard shortcuts can also go a long way towards speeding up play. When transferring cargo, or adding items to a production queue, you can use the Control and Shift keys to add multiple amounts. Holding down Shift while clicking adds 10 units, holding down Control adds 100 units, and holding down both adds either 1000 units, or the maximum amount allowed.

In the scanner, you may find it helpful to rapidly zoom in to see details of an area surrounding the selected object, and then to zoom back out to see larger details. The "+" and "-" keys make this easy to do with just a few taps.

Use the "v" key when you have difficulty locating the selected object in the scanner. Pressing "v" key will blink a pair of diagonal lines that intersect at the selection point.

The help file contains a list of other common keyboard shortcuts. The link to the KB shortcuts is on the front or Contents page of the help file. Alternately, you can search the help file for the word "keyboard". Try each of keyboard shortcuts a few times, to see which fits your playing style and make things easier for you.

Scanner Controls

Let's start with the Toolbar. Use it to quickly change the way your scanner displays information. There are times when the scanner will be simply jam-packed with information, making it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to pick out the information that you're interested in from all the other information. The toolbar contains a variety of scanner modes and filters that allow you to display only the objects or properties of interest.

Let's examine each of the toolbar buttons from left to right. If you pause the mouse cursor over of the button, Stars! pops up a ToolTip to tell you what the button does.

Button1.gif The first button, showing a planet, with a circle and three dots, is the "Normal" view. It's handy for reducing the amount of screen space consumed by planet indicators. It also gives a visual indicator as to the presence of a starbase and any orbital components, as well as the presence of any fleets. One or more of your ships is indicated by a white ring, ships of other players as a red ring, or as a purple ring if both are present. Your planets show as green, allies as yellow, enemies and neutrals as red, uninhabited as white, and unexplored as grey.
Button2.gif Going to the right, the second toolbar button puts a vertical bar graph over each planet you own, with bars for each of the three minerals. You can adjust how tall the bars will be by selecting a planet you own, and then clicking in the Summary pane on the numbers under the mineral bars. This technique is useful for determining which planets have certain minerals available on the surface.
Button3.gif The third button shows mineral concentrations, using the same bar format. The major difference is that this view will show you values for all worlds that you have scanned, not just worlds that you currently inhabit. This makes it the "view of choice" when trying to find a good place to send a remote mining fleet.
Button4.gif The fourth button shows planets based on their habitability. Habitable worlds will show as green, with larger green dots representing better habitability. Yellow dots indicate worlds that are within the range of your current terraforming technology. The larger the dot, the better the habitability will be once terraforming is complete. Red dots indicate worlds that fall outside your habitability range. The larger the dot, the farther outside your ranges the world falls. On each of these dots, a flag will be placed. Blue flags indicate your worlds, yellow indicates worlds of race you have marked as Friend, brown indicates neutral races, and red indicates enemy worlds.

You may find this to be your view of choice when colonizing.

Button5.gif The fifth button shows a view based on planetary population figures, as reported by your scanners. Large dots indicate high amounts of population, while small dots indicate low amounts. Keep in mind that this information may be out of date, and that you won't get any population information on AR races, so they will always show as tiny dots, regardless of the actual population. Green dots are your planets, yellow dots are friendly worlds, and red dots are neutral and enemy worlds.
Button6.gif The sixth view turns off all of the planetary and fleet information. This is useful to allow you to discuss borders with another player, without revealing too much information. I also find this view useful if I turn off scanner and minefield information, and turn on player colors and planet names. When you do this, the names of the planets are written in the different colors for each player. This can make it easier to visualize which player controls what area of space. The same colors are used as the progress lines in the Score dialog charts.
Button7.gif The seventh button allows you to add waypoints for a fleet without having to use the shift key. This makes it easier to perform operations using only the mouse.
Button8.gif The eighth or scanner range button allows you to toggle whether scanners draw their indicated ranges on the screen. The dropdown box allows you to see the effective ranges of your scanners, if you were trying to detect a cloaked fleet. For instance, setting the value to 20% will show you what your effective coverage when trying to find a fleet that is 80% cloaked. For values other than the ones shown in the dropdown box, simply click in the box and type in the range. Acceptable values are 2% to 100%.
Button9.gif The ninth toggles minefields, with the ability to select which minefields you wish to see.
Button10.gif The tenth toggles whether persistent paths should be shown for fleets which have assigned waypoints.
Button11.gif The eleventh in the set toggles the planet names off and on.
Button12.gif The twelfth gives a count of how many ships are present at any given location, with a small number over the fleet or planet where the fleet is located. These ship count numbers can also be color-coded by turning on Player Colors from the View menu.


The next three controls govern ship filtering. These are most useful when managing a large empire. They allow you to display only your freighters when setting up cargo runs, or display only your heavy warships when engaging the enemy, or display your interceptors when launching a braod attack across a front. Later in the game, you will probably find yourself adjusting these filters several times each turn.
Button17.gif The final control allows you to change the current zoom setting for the Scanner pane.
Scanner modes modes can also be selected via keyboard shortcuts. For more information, see the Stars! help file.

Miscellaneous Tips

Setting Waypoints

To change an existing waypoint for a fleet, you only need to click on and drag that waypoint to the new desired location. But if there are several objects close to the new location, you may find that the Stars! will snap to one of these nearby objects instead of the new location you intended. You can disable this snap-to behavior by holding down the Shift key while dragging.

Measuring Distance

There may be times when you want to know the distance between two objects on the screen. You might, for instance, be wondering if a particular planet is closer to your outpost, or to the outpost of a neighbor. Stars! has a built-in tool for measuring distances:

  • Hold down the Shift key, then right click and hold on the first object.

As you drag the mouse away, the distance will be displayed at the bottom of the Scanner. If you wish to have the measuring tool snap to the second target, let go of the Shift key while dragging. Pushing the Shift key during the drag will toggle snap-to behavior off and on. Once you've finished the measurement, let go of the right mouse button.

Selecting Among Multiple Objects at a Location

When you look at the Summary pane, you'll notice a little yellow, arrow-shaped indicator in the pane's upper-left corner. If this indicator is bright yellow, instead of dark yellow, then there is more than one object at the selected location. To cycle between these objects, just click on the indicator.

Right-clicking on a location in the Scanner pane will present a list of all objects at that location, allowing you to choose which object you'd like to view or work with.

Additionally, if you want to choose a particular target when assigning a fleet waypoint at a location with multiple objects, you can right-click on the blue diamond in the Fleet Waypoints tile, which will allow you to select the appropriate target for your fleet.

Replying to Messages

On occasion, you might want to respond to an in-game message sent to you by another player. It's helpful to refer exactly to what has been said by the other player. If you wish to quote part of an in-game message, you can click and drag inside the message pane, highlighting the text you would like to copy. After highlighting the text, hold down the Control key and press "C" to copy the text to the clipboard. When you respond to the message, you can press Control and the "V" key to paste the text into your reply.

Control-C and Control-V are standard Windows keystrokes for cutting and pasting text and graphics.

On to Exploration and Expansion...