Federal Services Communiqué

StarshipTroopers-Communique-08

Live video in Starship Troopers works a little bit differently than video messages. When he wants to call his parents in Buenos Aires, he somehow sets up the call (it’s offscreen, so we really don’t know how he does it). When the call goes through, a soldier comes in to the barracks to tell Rico that it’s going through, and then tells him to take it. You know, three feet away. At the end of the barracks. That they’re currently in. In a giant wall display. So…short improvement #1: Maybe just let it ring with Rico’s name on it rather than require a communication officer to wander around the barracks just telling soldiers to take five steps in a certain direction.

StarshipTroopers-Communique-09 Continue reading

Fed Communication Service

StarshipTroopers-FedComm000

When they are in basic training, Carmen and Johnny exchange video messages to stay in touch. Videos are recorded locally to small discs and sent to the other through the Fed post. Carmen has her own computer station in her berth for playing Johnny’’s messages. Johnny uses the single player available on the wall in the barracks. Things are different in the roughnecks than on the Rodger Young.

StarshipTroopers-FedComm003

To play her message, he inserts the small compact disk she sent him into a vertical holder, closes the hinged cover, and presses the rightmost of five similar metal buttons below the screen to play it. After the (sad breakup) message is done, the player displays an “END OF MESSAGE” screen that includes the message ID. Three lights sit in the lower left hand part of the interface. An amber light glows in the lower right near text reading, “P3.” There is a large dial on the left (a frustum of a cone, to be all geometric about it) with some debossed shapes on it that is likely a dial, but we never see these controls in use. In fact, there’s not a lot of interaction there at all for us to evaluate.

StarshipTroopers-FedComm005

Usually you’d expect a dial to operate volume (useful in the noisy narracks), with controls for play, pause, and some controls for either fast forward / reverse, or non-linear access of chapters in the message. The number of controls certainly could accommodate either of those structures, even if it was an old two-button model of play and stop rather than the more modern toggle. Certainly these could use better affordance, as they do not convey their behavior at this distance. Even at Rico’s distance, it’s faster for him to be able to see than to read the controls.

We could also ask what good the message ID is since it’s on screen and not very human-readable or human-memorable, but it does help remind Rico that his messages are being monitored by the fascism that is the Federation. So that’s a helpful reminder, if not useful data.

StarshipTroopers-FedComm001

For the larger interaction, most of the complexities in sending a message—initiating a recording, editing, encoding, specifying a recipient, and sending it—are bypassed offscreen by the physical medium, so it’s not worth speculating on how well this is from a larger standpoint. Of course we could ding them for not thinking that video could be sent faster and cheaper digitally via interstellar transmission than a fragile little disc, but that’s a question for which we just don’t have enough information. (And in which the filmmakers would have had a little trouble explaining how it wasn’t an instant video call.)

Tattoo-o-matic

StarshipTroopers-Tattoo-01

After he is spurned by Carmen and her new beau in the station, Rico realizes that he belongs in the infantry and not the fleet where Carmen will be working. So, to cement this new identity, Rico decides to give in and join his fellow roughnecks in getting matching tattoos.  The tattoos show a skull over a shield and the words “Death from Above”. (Incidentally, Death From Above is the name of the documentary detailing the making of the film, a well as the title of a hilarious progressive metal video by the band Holy Light of Demons. You should totally check it out.)  Continue reading

Sci-Fi Interfaces Movie Night “kickstarter” for The Cabin in the Woods

9 P.M. Wednesday, 29 OCT 2014, $10

preordernow

I’m thrilled to announce the second Sci-fi Interfaces Movie Night, again in the New Parkway Cinema in Oakland. This time it’s the amazing meta sci-fi and horror fest from the minds of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods. (Kristen Connolly! Chris Hemsworth! Anna Hutchison! Fran Kranz! Jesse Williams! Richard Jenkins! Bradley Whitford!) Enjoy this amazing film the way it was meant to be enjoyed: With a bunch of other sci-fi nerds, on the big silver screen, with a pre-show, tables, couches, food, and a bar.

newparkway

This one is going to be bigger, gorier, and better than the last, with sci-fi and a heaping helping of metahorror to get you amped up for Halloween later in the week.

CabinintheWoods-050

A few folks had asked if we could move into the smaller cinema at The New Parkway. We could, but there are two problems with it. First, it would have raised the ticket price even more since there’s less seating. Second, that cinema can not connect to a computer for any pre-show visuals. So, we’re sticking with the large cinema.

As before, I’ll make a short presentation deconstructing and analyzing one of the interfaces in the movie, as well as running a trivia contest with at least The Cabin in the Woods sci-fi interface t-shirts as prizes. I’m working on a way to let everyone in the audience participate this time, via their smart phones or something.

CabinintheWoods-120

If you attended the last one, and you have other ideas about how it can have its awesome quotient increased, contact me or leave a comment here.

Let's get this party started

 

preordernow

TryCelery Error

Apologies to anyone who pre-purchased tickets to The Fifth Element earlier this year. I went to the sales vendor (trycelery.com), and marked the tickets as shipped. What I didn’t know is that when I did so, it would email each and every one of you a “Great news! Your order is on it’s way!” without warning me it was about to do so. But don’t worry. Nothing is on its way. It’s just confirmation of that ticket long ago. I’m writing them a sternly worded email now.

futurama-good-news-everyone

Jump Ball scoreboard

[Editor's Note: Knowing nothing of sportsball, I invited fellow Cooper designer Brendan Kneram to bring his considerable skills in both sportsball of design to write a review of this scoreboard seen in the movie. -Chris]

StarshipTroopers-Jumpball

The Big Hurrah for students before they graduate Starship High is a game of Jump Ball followed by a Jump Prom. For the contemporary viewer, Jump Ball strongly resembles American Football with the occasional gravity-defying maneuver added for good measure. This similarity is further emphasized upon closer inspection of the scoreboard, making its first appearance when Johnny Rico finishes his first of two scoring plays (I hesitate to call it a “touchdown” because Rico is awarded only five points instead of the six given in American Football). The first impression is of its underwhelming high school aesthetic—it looks like something found in the 20th century, not the 23rd—and even the information conveyed is insufficient to make sense of the sport. It’s possible that the threat of invasion by giant killer-insects caused some sort of civilization-wide regression in scoreboards, but I do find it hard to believe that such an advanced civilization would fail to innovate anything for the design of a physical scoreboard in over three hundred years.

While it’s true the most important question, “Who’s winning?” is answered by the “Home” and “Guests” scores, the viewer is given very little else of interest.
For example, we know that there is 2:46 left in the fourth period, but until the game is over there is no way of knowing if there is a 5th period. This is a principle that can be found in many of the scoreboards of today: show it whenever possible. Display the periods as four lights that progressively turnoff (it also seems odd that they’re “periods” and not “quarters”). You can often see this progressive-turnoff on hockey scoreboards for its three periods, balls and strikes in baseball, and timeouts in basketball. It’s an efficient and fast way to communicate both the total as well as the remaining amount at once.
Another question that an observant viewer might have is: how was it possible that the teams arrived at scores of 46 and 43, two numbers not divisible by five? When the scoreboard reflects a change of score, there is no indication of previous scores. It would be helpful to not only know who is winning, but also the two team’s trajectories. Did the “Guests” score all of their points in the fourth period? Was either team able to score more than five points in a single play? Something of a sparkline would give a hint of not just the status of the game, but its momentum.
In addition to displaying scoring information, there is no specific context provided for the action on the field. Where is the ball? Is it at a specific location on the field? Conveniently, each team scores on a single play, so there is no opportunity to see how the scoreboard might handle a second play or a change of possession.
Had the designers taken a few more cues from scoreboards of today, the action on the field may have been more engaging. Although who knows, maybe the best scoreboard action is happening on HUDs via ocular implants…

News and Information

StarshipTroopers-information

When Ibanez and Rico are in Federal Transport Hub 39 set to leave for Basic Training, we see Ibanez use a public kiosk for news and information. To do so she approaches a kiosk that tells her to “LOG IN,” and she slips her paper ticket into a slot just above waist height, and types on an adjacent small keyboard, mounted at a slight angle for easy typing. The kiosk reads the ticket and displays her surname on the screen. Continue reading

Compartment 21

After the Communications Tower is knocked off, Barcalow, looking out the viewport, somehow knows exactly where the damage to the ship has occured. This is a little like Captain Edward Smith looking out over the bow of the RMS Titanic and smelling which compartment was ripped open by the iceburg, but we must accept the givens of the scene. Barcalow turns to Ibanez and tells her to “Close compartment 21!” She turns to her left, reaches out, and presses a green maintained-contact button labeled ENABLE. This button is right next to a similar-but-black button also labeled ENABLE. As she presses the button, a nearby green LED flashes for a total of 4 frames, or 0.16 second.

StarshipTroopers-Compartment21-04

She looks up at some unseen interface, and, pleased with what she sees there, begins to relax, the crisis passed.

StarshipTroopers-Compartment21-06

A weary analysis

Let’s presume he is looking at some useful but out-of-character-for-this-bridge display, and that it does help him identify that yes, out of all the compartments that might have been the one they heard damaged, it is the 21st that needs closing.

  1. Why does he have the information but she have the control? Time is wasted (and air—not to mention lives, people—is lost) in the time it takes him to instruct and her to react.
  2. How did she find the right button when it’s labeled exactly the same way as adjacent button? Did she have to memorize the positions of all of them? Or the color? (How many compartments and therefore colors would that mean she would need to memorize?) Wouldn’t a label reading, say, “21” have been more useful in this regard?
  3. What good does an LED do to flash so quickly? Certainly, she would want to know that the instruction was received, but it’s a very fast signal. It’s easy to miss. Shouldn’t it have stayed on to indicate not the moment of contact, but the state?
  4. Why was this a maintained-contact button? Those look very similar when pressed or depressed. A toggle switch would display its state immediately, and would permit flipping a lot of them quickly, in case a lot of compartments need sealing.
  5. Why is there some second place she must look to verify the results of her action, that is a completely separate place from Barcalow (remember he looks forward, she looks up). Sure, maybe redundancy. Sure, maybe he’s looking at data and she’s looking at video feeds, but wouldn’t it be better if they were looking at the same thing?

StarshipTroopers-Compartment21-07

I know it’s a very quick interaction. And props to the scriptwriters for thinking about leaking air in space. But this entire interaction needs rethinking.

In case of evasion, BREAK GLASS

  • INT. FEDERATION ADVANCED RESEARCH & DESIGN
  • WOODS
  • You sent for me, sir?
  • ORTEGA
  • Yes I did…I did not, however, invite you to sit, Lieutenant.
  • WOODS
  • Sorry, sir.
  • ORTEGA
  • Are you aware that we have just lost contact with the Rodger Young?
  • WOODS
  • Everyone’s talking about it, sir.
  • ORTEGA
  • Well, I have the video feed from the bridge here. I understand you are the designer of the emergency evasion panel, and the footage raises some fundamental questions about that design. Watch with me now, Lieutenant.
  • ORTEGA PRESSES A BUTTON ON A CONSOLE ON HIS DESK. F/X: VIDEO WALL
  • StarshipTroopers-BreakGlass-01

  • ORTEGA
  • As you can see, immediately after Captain Deladier issues her order, your panel slides up from a recess in the dash.
  • (He pauses the video)
  • WOODS
  • (After a silence)
  • Is there a question, sir?
  • ORTEGA
  • Why is this panel recessed?
  • WOODS
  • To prevent accidental activation, sir.
  • ORTEGA
  • But it’s an emergency panel. For crisis situations. It takes two incredibly valuable seconds for this thing to dramatically rise up. What else do you imagine that pilot might have done with those extra two seconds?
  • WOODS
  • I…
  • ORTEGA
  • Don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical. Next I need you to not explain this layout. Why aren’t the buttons labeled? What does that second one do, and why does it look exactly the same as the emergency evasion button? Are you deliberately trying to confuse our pilots?
  • (Stares.)
  • OK, now I actually do want you to explain something.
  • (Resuming the video)
  • Why did you cover the panel in glass? Ibanez—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—punches it.
  • WOODS
  • The glass is there also to prevent accidental activation, sir.
  • ORTEGA
  • But you already covered that with the time-wasting recession. You know she’s likely to have tendon, nerve, and arterial damage now, right? And she’s a pilot, Lieutenant. Without her hands, she’s almost useless to us. And now, in addition to having a giant, peanut-shaped boulder in their face, they’ve got a bridge full of loose glass shards scattered about. Let’s hope the artificial gravity lasts long enough for them to get a broom, or they’re going to be in for some floating laceration ballet.
  • WOODS
  • That would be unfortunate, sir.
  • ORTEGA
  • Damn right. Now honestly I might be of a mind to simply court martial you and treat you to some good old Federation-approved public flogging for Failure to Design. But today may be your lucky day. I believe your elegant design decisions were exacerbated by the pilot’s being something of a drama queen.
  • WOODS
  • The glass was designed to be lifted off, sir.
  • ORTEGA
  • (Resuming the video)
  • Fair enough. My last question…
  • StarshipTroopers-BreakGlass-08

    StarshipTroopers-BreakGlass-14

  • ORTEGA
  • Did I see correctly that all of the lights underneath the engine boost light up all at once? The ones labeled POWER ON? AUTO HOME? NOSE RAM? The ones that don’t have anything to do with the engine boost?
  • WOODS
  • And…and the adjacent green LED, sir.
  • ORTEGA
  • All at once.
  • WOODS
  • Sir.
  • ORTEGA
  • (Sighs)
  • Well, as you might not be able to imagine, we’re moving you. After you collect your belongings you are to report to the Reassignment Office.
  • (He scrubs back and forth over the drone video of the communication tower ripping off.)
  • scrubbing

  • ORTEGA
  • Out of curiosity, WOODS, what was the last thing you designed as part of my department?
  • WOODS
  • The Buenos Aires Missile Defense System, sir.
  • ORTEGA
  • I’ll look into it. Dismissed.

Collision Alarm

Holy dreck this fuigetry.

After letting Captain Deladier know what’s up with the giant asteroid looming spinning ever closer, Barcalow’s attention is grabbed by a screen immediately before him. It’s the collision alarm.

Prepare your eyes.

CollisionAlarm

This is the interface equivalent of running around screaming in an Ed Wynn voice while flailing your arms over your head. Sure, it’s clear something’s wrong, but other than that, it’s not helping.

Sure, there’s the buzzing and the giant yellow, all-caps text that blinks COLLISION ALARM. There’s a pea green bar that seems to be indicating steadily decreasing distance or time or something that is running out. Those two are helpful. The rest of this information is a pile of nonsense.

  • Blinking? If the pilot has seconds to act, isn’t there a risk that when he glances at the screen for a split second, that he’ll miss something?
  • What’s with the blue waves rippling out from the representation of the ship? If it’s a collision, wouldn’t you expect something to be represented as coming toward the ship, and maybe a line describing its path, and a point illustrating point of impact?
  • Why do all of the NV need to be labeled as such? Why do they need to blink randomly? How is that useful information?
  • How do those numbers link to those labels? Isn’t that asking the navigator to do a lot of visual work in a crisis?
  • What does it mean for the ESTIMATED MASS to be changing to zero and suddenly jump again? Because that would better fit a Cthulu alarm, as the physics of the Old World no longer applied. Stell’bsna n’ghft. Y’hah.
  • What does it mean for the APPROXIMATE SPEED to start so low, rise to nearly 1000, and fall again? What outside force is acting on this mass? (Or is it a function of the mass changing? Anyone care to do the speculative math?)
  • The DISTANCE TO OBJECT does in fact decrease like you might expect it to at the beginning. But then it drops to zero. Shouldn’t they be dieing instead? Oh, but then it jumps again.
  • Why is time contained in a single number? Does the Federation use some Metric version of time?
  • How can OBJECT TRAJECTORY be a single digit? It’s a multivariate concept.
  • Why are there no units? As in, anywhere?
  • How could OBJECT BEARING change to zero and then jump back up again just like ESTIMATED
  • …wait…
  • …Are you kidding me?

And that’s when I went, frame by frame, and captured the data points. Here they are, visualized as a graph over time. Notice anything?

collision-alarm-graph-01

OK, let me just line those up for you.

collision-alarm-graph-02

I know sci-fi interfaces are often made under time pressure, but it really lets me down when they just copy and paste numbers. Like we won’t, many years later, analyze it frame-by-frame for a blog. Sheesh.

Urgency requires focus

Of course this is a narrative interface, meant to communicate to an audience in about a second that things are very very bad for the Rodger Young. Of course it’s rooted in a mechanical metaphor where dumb, fixed sensors with thresholds would go all calamity when things went pear-shaped.

We don’t live in that world anymore. Urgency requires focus, and when circumstances are dire, yes, the pilot needs to know the direness of the problem, but then they also need to focus on fixing that problem. Urgency interfaces should…

  1. Get attention, and once they have it ease up on the attention getting, since it becomes a distraction.
  2. Illustrate the problem, including time-until-anticipated.
  3. Illustrate what the computer is doing about it (if it’s agentive, which the Rodger Young is clearly not.)
  4. Illustrate the best options available and provide a means to enact those.

Note that the COLLISION ALERT does two and a half of those. It gets Barcalow’s attention, shows the problem with a label, and a green bar shows time remaining. That’s maybe a tenth of the screen. Then it tries its very, very best to distract the user from that useful information with blinking, semi-random nonsense. Was this thing designed by the bugs?