Announcing the Fritzes

I am pleased to announce an inaugural award for the year’s best interfaces seen in sci-fi movies throughout the prior year, to honor and encourage excellence in sci-fi interfaces, called the Fritzes. I will be give out the awards in February of 2015. The films will be nominated by and voted on a small academy of interaction designers, sci-fi makers, and critics.

If you’re wondering, the name of the award honors Fritz Lang, who, with his film Metropolis, made history with the first serious work of science fiction in film to contain interfaces. Though dark and often times dystopian (heck, Moloch is a character), it marked the first film in which interfaces became a part of the way we told the human story. The Fritzes honor excellence in both storytelling and interface design.

Our sponsor

Intel Corporation has generously offered to support the creation of a custom-designed award to be delivered to recipients after the awards are announced. It’s currently being fabricated, but you can see the draft rendering of it, below.

Note there are opportunities for other sponsorships, please contact me if your organization is interested.

Fritz Sketch 02 3:4 VIEW

Stay tuned

More information about the awards, including the categories and dates will be forthcoming in early 2015. Stay tuned to scifiinterfaces.com to stay up to date on the latest information, including how to nominate your independent film.

A possible mini-con

I am considering hosting a mini-conference the day of the awards, that might include

  • the Redesigning Star Wars workshop that I threw to great feedback in Stockholm
  • Workshops to learn sci-fi interface prototyping software

Speakers

and of course, an awards show itself. Maybe cocktails.

Before I embark on this, I’d love to hear how many folks are interested in attending such a sci-fi interfaces mini-con. I don’t know what ticket prices would be, but that partly depends on how much interest there is. If you are interested in attending something like this, please let me know by answering the poll below.

Note if you have AdBlock installed, the poll will not appear. Disable it for this site to access the poll.

Report Card: Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers is an unlikely movie to have come out of the 1990s. Director Paul Verhoeven says that it got made because it was a high-turnover time at Sony, and the script just got shooed along as studio leads paraded in and out. The irony, hyperbole, and critique of American neocons as fascist warmongers was all in the script from the beginning. Had anyone looked at the script or the dailies, he says, it might not have been made. That’s probably why I like this movie so much, in that it’s a criticism of hawkishness and the culture that gives rise to it.

But despite that soft spot that I have for it, I’m here to rate the interfaces, and in that regard, it is lucky I don’t send it to the brig.

Report-Card-Starship-Troopers

Continue reading

Escape pod weapons cache

I wish that the last Starship Troopers interface wasn’t this one, but so it goes.

After piloting the escape pod through the atmosphere using the meager interfaces she has to work with, it careens off of a hill to pierce the thin wall of a mountainside and landing Ibanez and Barcalow squarely in the dangerous depths of bug burrows.

After checking on Ibanez, Barcalow exits the pod and struts around to the back of it, where he pulls open a panel to access the weapons within.

So equipped, the pair are able to defend themselves at least a few moments before being overwhelmed by superior bug numbers.

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So. OK. This.

I want to ask why, in the first place, they would get out of a vehicle that can survive space, re-entry, breaking through a frakking mountainside, and crash landing without so much as a scratch. If they’d stayed there, would the bugs have been able to get at them? Couldn’t staying inside of it given them at least a fighting chance until Rico got there? The glass didn’t break when slammed at terminal velocity into stone. I think it can handle bug pincers. But I digress. that’s a question of character logic, not interfaces, so let me put that aside.

Instead, let me ask about the design rationale of putting the weapons in an exterior compartment. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put them inside the pod? If they’d landed with hostiles present outside the vehicle, what was the plan, ask them to hold on while you grabbed something from the trunk?

Additionally, it appears that there are no security features. Barcalow just opens it. Silly seeming, of course, but that’s how it should work, i.e., for the right person it just opens up. So in the spirit of apologetics—and giving it way more credit than it’s earned across this film—let’s presume that the pod has some passive authentication mechanism that biometrically checks him at a distance and unlocks the panel so that he doesn’t even have to think about it, especially in this crisis scenario.

That’s an apologetics gift from me to you, Starship Troopers, since I still have a soft spot in my heart for you.

COURSE OPTION ANALYSIS

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When Ibanez and Barcalow enter the atmosphere in the escape pod, we see a brief, shaky glimpse of the COURSE OPTION ANALYSIS interface. In the screen grab below, you can see it has a large, yellow, all-caps label at the top. The middle shows the TERRAIN PROFILE. This consists of a real-time, topography map as a grid of screen-green dots that produce a shaded relief map.

STARSHIP_TROOPERS_landing_trim

On the right is a column of text that includes:

  • The title, i.e., TERRAIN PROFILE
  • The location data: Planet P, Scylla Charybdis (which I don’t think is mentioned in the film, but a fun detail. Is this the star system?)
  • Coordinates in 3D: XCOORD, YCOORD, and ELEVATION. (Sadly these don’t appear to change, despite the implied precision of 5 decimal places)
  • Three unknown variables: NOMINAL, R DIST, HAZARD Q (these also don’t change)

The lowest part of the block reads that the SITE ASSESSMENT (at 74.28%, which—does it need to be said at this point—also does not change.)

Two inscrutable green blobs extend out past the left and bottom white line that borders this box. (Seriously what the glob are these meant to be?)

At the bottom is SCAN M and PLACE wrapped in the same purple “NV” wrappers seen throughout the Federation spaceship interfaces. At the bottom is an array of inscrutable numbers in white.

Since that animated gif is a little crazy to stare at, have this serene, still screen cap to reference for the remainder of the article.

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Design

Three things to note in the analysis.

1. Yes, fuigetry

I’ll declare everything on the bottom to be filler unless someone out there can pull some apologetics to make sense of it. But even if an array of numbers was ever meant to be helpful, an emergency landing sequence does not appear to be the time. If it needs to be said, emergency interfaces should include only the information needed to manage the crisis.

2. The visual style of the topography

I have before blasted the floating pollen displays of Prometheus for not describing the topography well, but the escape pod display works while using similar pointillist tactics. Why does this work when the floating pollen does not? First, note that the points here are in a grid. This makes the relationship of adjacent points easy to understand. The randomness of the Promethean displays confounds this. Second, note the angle of the “light” in the scene, which appears to come from the horizon directly ahead of the ship. This creates a strong shaded relief effect, a tried and true method of conveying the shape of a terrain.

3. How does this interface even help?

Let’s get this out of the way: What’s Ibanez’ goal here? To land the pod safely. Agreed? Agreed.

Certainly the terrain view is helpful to understand the terrain in the flight path, especially in low visibility. But similar to the prior interface in this pod, there is no signal to indicate how the ship’s position and path relate to it. Are these hills kilometers below (not a problem) or meters (take some real care there, Ibanez.) This interface should have some indication of the pod. (Show me me.)

Additionally, if any of the peaks pose threats, she can avoid them tactically, but adjusting long before they’re a problem will probably help more than veering once she’s right upon them. Best is to show the optimal path, and highlight any threats that would explain the path. Doing so in color (presuming pilots who can see it) would make the information instantly recognizable.

Finally the big label quantifies a “site assessment,” which seems to relay some important information about the landing location. Presumably pilots know what this number represents (process indicator? structural integrity? deviation from an ideal landing strip? danger from bugs?) but putting it here does not help her. So what? If this is a warning, why doesn’t it look like one? Or is there another landing site that she can get to with a better assessment? Why isn’t it helping her find that by default? If this is the best site, why bother her with the number at all? Or the label at all? She can’t do anything with this information, and it takes up a majority of the screen. Better is just to get that noise off the screen along with all the fuigetry. Replace it with a marker for where the ideal landing site is, its distance, and update it live if her path makes that original site no longer viable.

landing_comp

Of course it must be said that this would work better as a HUD which would avoid splitting her attention from the viewport, but HUDs or augmented reality aren’t really a thing in the diegesis.

Narratively

The next scene shows them crashing through the side of a mountain, so despite this more helpful design, better for the scene might be to design a warning mode that reads SAFE SITE: NOT FOUND. SEARCHING… and let that blink manically while real-time, failing site assessments blink all over the terrain map. Then the next scene makes much more sense as they skip off a hill and into a mountain.

Escape pod and insertion windows

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When the Rodger Young is destroyed by fire from the Plasma Bugs on Planet P, Ibanez and Barcalow luckily find a functional escape pod and jettison. Though this pod’s interface stays off camera for almost the whole scene, the pod is knocked and buffeted by collisions in the debris cloud outside the ship, and in one jolt we see the interface for a fraction of a second. If it looks familiar, it is not from anything in Starship Troopers.

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Galaxy, Quested

Thanks to everyone in the audience and the Netflix Design Team for an amazing scifiinterfaces movie night of Galaxy Quest. It’s one of my favorite movies, has some awesome interfaces, and it’s so much better watching it with a big group of people who love it, too. Not to mention the free shuttle. And free food. And free beer. And awesome schwag. A fantastic night for everyone who braved the rain.

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Don’t forget, if you won one of the shirts in the trivia contest but it’s not the right fit, let me know the right fit and where to have it sent!

Last but not least in my fall speaking tour is Nerd Nite East Bay at the New Parkway in Oakland on Monday. It’s a sex-themed night. Erin Brandt will seduce a dancing spider. Zarinah Agnew will introduce the basics neuroanatomy and has agreed to talk about where the penis is in the brain as a nod to the theme. :) I’ll be doing a 20-minute (comedic) presentation of sex-related interfaces in sci-fi, including four awesome new and thought-provoking interfaces that weren’t in the book. See you there!

Scifiinterfaces and Netflix present: Galaxy Quest

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Thursday, 20 NOV 02014

Come to Los Gatos to join the Netflix Design Team and Chris Noessel, Design Fellow at Cooper and the author of “Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction” in a viewing of one of the all time sci-fi/comedy greats Galaxy Quest.

Reserve your ticket at Eventbrite

It’s a great opportunity to hear Chris deconstruct one of the interfaces from the movie and network with other designers. There will be a trivia contest with sci-fi interface t-shirts based on the movie as prizes. Additionally there will be cool schwag and possibly some book giveaways. Food, drink, and popcorn will be provided. Best of all, the whole event is free and recently opened to the public!

Agenda

6:30 – 7:00 P.M.: Registration & Networking

7:00 – 9:30 P.M.: Presentation (some mild spoilers) & Movie

Address

Netflix campus cinema: 100 Winchester Circle, Los Gatos, CA 95032

Shuttle from San Fransico

A shuttle from San Francisco will be provided from the Glen Park Bart Station at 5pm. If you need additional information about the shuttle please email asatterlee@netflix.com.

Øredev opening keynote

If you heaven’t read the (admittedly, long) series of reviews on the “operating system” OS1 from Spike Jonze’s Her, now you can watch me work through the highlights as the opening keynote at the Øredev conference in Malmö, Sweden. (There are a few extra things that didn’t make it to the blog.)

Props to my friend Magnus Torstensson at Unsworn Industries, who noted that government would be another possible organization that could produce OS1 (but that also would not have an interest in releasing it, for reasons similar to the military.)