Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

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Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby Caplin on Mon 12 May 2014 13:10

Hi ALl,

I've had my eye on StarFire for a few years now, off and on, though was never seriously interested in trying to make a go of it until quite recently. I realize this post may seem a bit odd, but I'd appreciate it if you'd seriously consider my questions. :) With that said, my situation is this.

I happen to be someone who is both totally blind and has a strong interest in 4X-style games, but is generally unable to play satisfying ones on my own. In particular, computerized games aren't often made accessible to the screen reading tech I use, or they're overly simplistic when they are. StarFire seems to be the kind of game I've always wanted to play, with a few caveats.

The most obvious one I see is the hex map. I don't have ready access to Brailled hex paper—if such a thing even exists, I haven't heard of it. I wonder though if I can use the computer to compensate for the lack of physical play aids. It's a lot of information to track, but I think if I organize notes well enough I can probably manage something. One thought I had was using a spreadsheet to simulate a hex grid—it doesn't look the same visually, but I don't think that's as important as all that.

So my first question is about the standard maps used in SF. How many hexes on a side are they? I'm assuming they're uniform. In particular, I'm not sure how big to make a simulated system map, for instance.

The other question is about simplification. Even if the full ruleset proves impractical for my purposes, I'm wondering if anybody has ideas for pairing it down to something more accessible. I have access to both Ultra and third edition revised, and the campaign rules for both, which is frankly where my interest lies rather than in the tactical battles per se.

I'd appreciate any input you could give on these questions. If I can clarify or explain anything further please ask. :) Thanks much!
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Re: Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby Albireo on Mon 12 May 2014 16:59

Caplin,

1.
First you should install a helpful compression uncompression zip utility called 7-Zip.
It can often help you extract various compressed archive files that you sometimes download from the Internet.
Do not be fooled by the many imitations out there in the wild.
These two hyperlinks will help you with the real thing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7-Zip

http://www.7-zip.org/

2.
I had searched around many months ago and discovered Hexagonal graph paper that was created using Microsoft Excel 2003.
I just now tested it, and it opens fine in MS Excel 2010 and also Libre Office 4.1.5.3.
Here is the hyperlink for it.

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/hexagonal-graph-paper-TC010131835.aspx

After you download it, you will need to use 7-Zip to extract that Cabinet file.

hmmm . . .

In MS Excel 2010, I was able to set VIEW = Page Layout, which now shows the horizontal and vertical rulers.
These hexes are much smaller than the half inch counters, so the whole Excel file will need to be revised to have bigger hexes.

I do not know if this is the correct starting point to begin helping you ?
How would you convert this Excel Hex map into Braille ?

IF these map hex sizes were enlarged, then it could be suitable for playing Starfire tactical battles on it.
Except how are you getting the Starfire counters into the computer on this spreadsheet map ?

Maybe you are saying that Starfire ship data is stored in the computer spreadsheet ?
So the missing information might be starship hex map locations and facings.
There are other players here who use spreadsheets utilities, and they might be able to help you with storing starship data.

I do not know whether I am being helpful. Maybe another player on the forum has some other ideas ?

3.
For simplified 4X play, there are several versions of Starfire Admiral's Challenge, to satisfy your desire for interstellar conquest.
You can read more about that from the Admiral's Challenge major topic at this hyperlink.

http://www.starfiredesign.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=12&start=0

Cralis would be able to tell you more about this.
I think there is a version for 3rd edition starfire, a version for 4th edition Galactic Starfire, and I think I might be somehow missing my version for Ultra Starfire which never came with my CDROM ? I am not sure.

You can buy it from the Ordering page.

http://www.starfiredesign.com/starfire/order/
.
Last edited by Albireo on Mon 12 May 2014 17:41, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby Caplin on Mon 12 May 2014 17:11

Hi,

Thanks for this. A couple clarifications are in order I think.

1) Braille hex paper isn't really practical for a variety of reasons—the tech to produce it is expensive and it would need to be a bit larger than you might expect.

2) Therefore I'm wondering about using the computer to track ship data and hex locations, along with facing, obviously. The question I'm not quite clear on is what directions are available for movement. If I were looking at a hex grid, which compass directions, for lack of a better way to put it, are open and which don't exist?

Any other input from people who use spreadsheets for this kind of thing would be appreciated. As for Admirals Challenge, I think that's a computer game, isn't it?

Thanks much for the help. :)
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Re: Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby dazrand on Mon 12 May 2014 18:36

Hi Caplin and welcome!

1) I can understand the impractical nature of Braille hex maps. Would have to be large and the counters could be moved accidentally unless they were secured (maybe magnetized?).

2) I believe tracking ship locations an facing should be possible with an alternative setup. The hexes for the traditional map are numbered across by columns, then numbered down by rows. Being hexes they are offset by one-half a hex between columns to make it fit. A ship can face only one of the six sides of the hex, normally labeled A through F, with A facing to the top of the map and going clockwise from there. Fortunately in Starfire, movement is limited to either stay in place or straight ahead [C2]. Turning is only after movement is executed and can only be 60 degrees at the tactical level, up to 180 degrees above that level [C3.02].

I am interested in what formats your reader software can interpret. Also how do the Solar rules in PDF form work in it?

As for Admiral's Challenge, it is a pen and paper version of the strategic rules. They are simplified at that scale for faster play.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you need more.
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Re: Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby Caplin on Mon 12 May 2014 21:34

dazrand wrote:
2) I believe tracking ship locations an facing should be possible with an alternative setup. The hexes for the traditional map are numbered across by columns, then numbered down by rows. Being hexes they are offset by one-half a hex between columns to make it fit. A ship can face only one of the six sides of the hex, normally labeled A through F, with A facing to the top of the map and going clockwise from there. Fortunately in Starfire, movement is limited to either stay in place or straight ahead [C2]. Turning is only after movement is executed and can only be 60 degrees at the tactical level, up to 180 degrees above that level [C3.02].

I am interested in what formats your reader software can interpret. Also how do the Solar rules in PDF form work in it?


This is very informative, thanks. I think one area which trips me up is the need to figure out bearings for things from the system primary, or what have you. It seems as though the maps need to be quite large to accommodate so many possible locations. I can see, say, a baring of 12 from 1,0 being 1,8 or some such, but the rules also talk about relocating objects if the radian passes through a hex side. I take each radian to be equivalent to a 30° angle, for facing purposes, since there appear to be 12 of them.

As for the screen reader question, frankly, PDF format is a pain in the neck. Almost anything else would be easier to deal with, Word or HTML, for instance. In fact, given how cross-referenced the Ultra PDFs are, I was surprised SDS didn't just go with HTML anyway, it would seem to suit a linked structure much better. I don't have Solar yet.
The biggest issue with the PDF format is poor table support. Even if a table looks fine visually, the reader doesn't know it's a table and so reads it poorly sometimes. One reason I prefer other formats is that tables read much better with them, assuming they've been properly marked up, which is much easier to do in these other formats anyway. I'd hate to see a table be an obstacle to my enjoyment though. :)

Hope this explains a little more of what I've got to work with. Thanks for the enthusiasm and advice. :)
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Re: Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby Cralis on Mon 12 May 2014 23:08

Interesting discussion. I hope you don't mind I'm listening, I have no idea about how Braille and blind-formats for computers works, but Dazrand is the SDS publication expert. If anyone can figure it out, he can!

I can comment about a couple items:

1. I find WinRAR to be far easier for most people to use, and it supports several formats that 7zip does not. Mostly notably, RAR format. You can find it at: http://www.win-rar.com/download.html?&L=0 What I don't know (of course), is whether it supports your needs better than 7zip. I would be interested in knowing what you think of each.

2. Admiral's Challenge has been billed as the "pen and paper" campaign play, and for small campaigns that is true. I don't recall if the ULTRA version of Admiral's Challenge was separate from the GSF version or not, but I kind of doubt it. The differences in those versions are primarily in the non-map area of the game.

Again, I really don't understand the complexities of your requirements or the implications of such. However, I'm more than willing to help out with anything that I can.
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Re: Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby Albireo on Tue 13 May 2014 00:02

Caplin,

I was just now tinkering with my Windows 7 / Ease of Access / Narrator. Needless to say, I am very clumsy with it.

Since you like HTML, I have an idea for you to try. But it may still not work. I do not know. Web browsers have the ability to open PDF files. Would you be able to get your screen reader to read that ? It is still a PDF, not HTML, so it may still have the same problems with those table formats. I sometimes like to use browser Google Chrome to read PDF.
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Re: Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby Caplin on Tue 13 May 2014 00:06

Albireo wrote:Caplin,

I was just now tinkering with my Windows 7 / Ease of Access / Narrator. Needless to say, I am very clumsy with it.

Since you like HTML, I have an idea for you to try. But it may still not work. I do not know. Web browsers have the ability to open PDF files. Would you be able to get your screen reader to read that ? It is still a PDF, not HTML, so it may still have the same problems with those table formats. I sometimes like to use browser Google Chrome to read PDF.


This isn't an option I'm afraid. The PDF is still the same. Nice idea in theory though :)

By the by, I'm using a Mac, so Windows software suggestions aren't super applicable. ;)
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Re: Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby dazrand on Tue 13 May 2014 05:01

This is very informative, thanks. I think one area which trips me up is the need to figure out bearings for things from the system primary, or what have you. It seems as though the maps need to be quite large to accommodate so many possible locations. I can see, say, a baring of 12 from 1,0 being 1,8 or some such, but the rules also talk about relocating objects if the radian passes through a hex side. I take each radian to be equivalent to a 30° angle, for facing purposes, since there appear to be 12 of them.


Yes the radians each represent 30 degrees. From the central system hex at the center of the map, the first one bisects the top edge of the hex heading to the top of the map. They move clockwise with a new bearing every one-half a hex, so the second one is on the corner of the hex while the third one bisects the hex edge on the northeast side. The system maps are huge with a 30 hex radius. Relocating objects passing through the hexside is done to keep the map clean and only occurs on even numbered radians.

As for the screen reader question, frankly, PDF format is a pain in the neck. Almost anything else would be easier to deal with, Word or HTML, for instance. In fact, given how cross-referenced the Ultra PDFs are, I was surprised SDS didn't just go with HTML anyway, it would seem to suit a linked structure much better. I don't have Solar yet.
The biggest issue with the PDF format is poor table support. Even if a table looks fine visually, the reader doesn't know it's a table and so reads it poorly sometimes. One reason I prefer other formats is that tables read much better with them, assuming they've been properly marked up, which is much easier to do in these other formats anyway. I'd hate to see a table be an obstacle to my enjoyment though.


I would be interested in how the free quick start rules (found here http://www.starfiredesign.com/starfire/ ... .php?id=55) work in your reader. The are structured PDFs so should be reader friendly, but I have no idea how the tables will come out, I expect at least some of their structures were flattened. Since Starfire has a good number of tables, I will need to work up a reliable solution for them to be read.
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Re: Starfire Accessibility, or the Poor Man's 4X

Postby Caplin on Tue 13 May 2014 06:24

Your suspicion about the tables being flattened is correct, but the majority of the rules read just fine otherwise. The structure works well.

One thing I'm wondering about is what source was used to prepare the PDFs? Are they originally from Word documents or something more exotic, like InDesign? This might dictate how the table question is resolved. Whenever possible i prefer a Word document in general to a PDF, even for non-gaming stuff.

A final clarification, the system map is 30x30? I ask because you used the word radius, and I wasn't sure if you meant that the map is 30 hexes wide, or that there are 30 hexes in each direction from the system primary. :)

Thanks for answering questions and being willing to try and address this.
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