After Hawkeye is enthralled by Loki, agent Coulson has to call agent Romanoff in from the field, mid-mission. While he awaits her to extract herself from a situation, he idly glances at case file 242-56 which consists of a large video of Barton and Romanoff mid-combat, and overview profiles of the two agents. A legend in the upper right identifies this as STRIKE TEAM: DELTA, and a label at the top reads ABIDJAN OPERATION. There is some animated fuigetry on the periphery of the video, and some other fuigetry in windows that are occluded by the case file.
In the second instantiation of videochat with the World Security Council that we see (here’s the first one), when Fury receives their order to bomb the site of the Chitauri portal. He takes this call on the bridge, and rather than a custom hardware setup, this is a series of windows that overlay an ominous-red map of the world in an app called CARRIER CONTROL. These windows represent a built-in chat feature for discussing this very topic. There is some fuigetry on the periphery, but our focus is on these windows and the conversation happening through them.
In this version of the chat, we are assured that it is a SECURE TRANSMISSION by a legend across the top of each, but there is not the same level of assurance as in the videoconference room. If it’s still HOTP, Fury isn’t notified of it. There’s a tiny 01_AZ in the upper right of every screen, but it never changes and is the same for each participant. (An homage to Arizona? Lighter Andrew Zink? Cameraman Arthur Zajac?) Though this is a more desperate situation, you imagine that the need for security is no less dire. Having that same cypher key would be comforting if it is in fact a policy.
Different sizes of windows in the app seem to indicate a hierarchy, since the largest window is the fellow who does most of the talking in both conferences, and it does not change as others speak. Such an automated layout would spare Fury the hassle of having to manage multiple windows, though visually these look more like individual objects he’s meant to manipulate. Poor affordances.
The only control we see is when Fury dismisses them, and to do this he just taps at the middle of the screen. The teleconference window is “push wiped” by a satellite view of New York City. Fine, he feels like punching them. But…
a) How does he actually select something in that interface without a tap?
b) A swipe would have been more meaningful, and in line with the gestural pidgin I identified in the gestural chapter of the book.
And of course, if this was the real world, you’d hope for better affordances for what can be done on this window across the board.
So though mostly effective, narratively, could use some polish.
The velociraptor pen is a concrete pit, topped with high-powered electric fences. There are two ways into the pen: a hole at the top of the pen for feeding, and a large armored door at ground level for moving ‘raptors in and out. This armored door has the first interface seen in the film, the velociraptor lock.
Velociraptors are brought from breeding grounds within the park to a secure facility in a large, heavily armored crate. Large, colored-light indicators beside the door indicate whether the armored cages are properly aligned with the door. The light itself goes from red when the cage is being moved, to yellow when the cage is properly aligned and getting close to the door, to green when the cage is properly aligned and snug against the concrete walls of the velociraptor pen. There is also a loud ‘clang’ as the light turns to green. It isn’t clear if this is an audio indicator from the pen itself, the cage hitting the concrete wall, or locks slamming into place; but if that audio cue wasn’t there, you’d want something like it since the price for getting that wrong is quite high.
The complete interface consists of four parts (kind of, read on): The lights, the door, the lock, and the safety. More on each below. Continue reading
After Loki has enthralled Selvig, enthralled-Hawkeye lets Loki know that, “This place is about to blow and drop a hundred feet of rock on us.” Selvig looks to the following screen and confirms, “He’s right. The portal is collapsing in on itself.”
This is perhaps one of the most throwaway screens in the film, given the low-rez twisty graphics that could be out of Lawnmower Man, its only-vague-resemblance to the portal itself…
…the text box of wildly scrolling and impossible to read pink code with what looks like a layer of white code hastily slapped over it, and—notably—no trendline of data that would help Selvig quickly identify this Very Important Fact. Maybe he’s such a portal whisperer that he can just see it, but why show the screens rather than show him looking up to the blue thing itself?
There might be some other data on the left of this bank of screens seen a few seconds later in the background…
…but it has more red text overlays, so I’m disinclined to give it the blurry benefit of the doubt.
Fair enough, this is there merely to establish Selvig’s enthrallment, and the scientific certainty of the stakes for the next beat. But, we see his eyes, and the certainty is evidenced by everything collapsing. We don’t need scientific assurance. If the designers were not given time to make it passable, I wish that the beat had been handled without a view of the screens rather than shaky-cam.
When his battalion of thralls are up and
harvesting Vespene Gas working to stabilize the Tesseract, Loki sits down to check in with his boss’ two-thumbed assistant, an MCU-recurring weirdo who goes unnamed in the movie, but which the Marvel wiki assures me is called The Other.
To get into the teleconference, Loki sits down on the ground with the glaive in his right hand and the blue stone roughly in front of his heart. He closes his eyes, straightens his back, and as the stone glows, the walls around him seem to billow away and he sees the asteroidal meeting room where The Other has been on hold (listening to some annoying Chitauri Muzak no doubt).
TRIGGER WARNING: IF YOU ARE PRONE TO SEIZURES, this is not the post for you. In fact, you can just read the text and be quit of it. The more neurologically daring of you can press “MORE,” but you have been forewarned.
If the first use of Loki’s glaive is as a melée weapon, the second use is of a projectile weapon. Loki primes it, it glows fiercely blue-white, and then he fires it with usually-deadly accuracy to the sorrow of his foes.
This blog is not interested in the details of the projectile, but what is interesting is the interface by which he primes and fires it. How does he do it? Let’s look. He fires the thing 8 times over the course of the movie. What do we see there? Continue reading
When Loki materializes on the dais, he is holding one the key objects to The Avengers and indeed the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe multi-franchise Infinity Stones plot. What is it?
NIck Fury calls the thing a spear. Others call it a staff. The official Disney wiki calls it the Chitauri Sceptre, but this thing is very much a tool. Over this and the next several posts, I’ll talk about how it is used alternately as the following.
- A melée weapon
- A projectile weapon
- A bad-mojo radiator
- A teleconferencing device
- An enthrallment knife
Notably, in no scene does he carry it on a ceremonial occasion as a symbol of sovereignty, so scepter really doesn’t fit our purposes. What does? Well, any RPG fan worth their Deck of Many Things knows that the blades-on-a-stick category of weapons are many and nuanced. Finding a perfect term is tough since historians and medievalists have categorized other pole arms according to their construction and function, and none of them are quite like this one.
When the Odyssey needs to reverse thrust to try and counter a descent towards the TET, Jack calls for a full OMS (Orbital Maneuvering System) burn. We do not see what information he looks at to determine how fast he is approaching the TET, or how he knows that the OMS system will provide enough thrust.
We do see 4 motor systems on board the Odyssey
- The Main Engines (which appear to be Ion Engines)
- The OMS system (4 large chemical thrusters up front)
- A secondary set of thrusters (similar and larger than the OMS system) on the sleep module
- Tiny chemical thrusters like those used to change current spacecraft yaw/pitch/roll (the shuttle’s RCS).
After Jack calls out for an OMS burn, Vika punches in a series of numbers on her keypad, and jack flips two switches under the keypad. After flipping the switches ‘up’, Jack calls out “Gimbals Set” and Vika says “System Active”.
Finally, Jack pulls back on a silver thrust lever to activate the OMS.
Why A Reverse Lever?
Typically, throttles are pushed forward to increase thrust. Why is this reversed? On current NASA spacecraft, the flight stick is set up like an airplane’s control, i.e., back pitches up, forward pitches down, left/right rolls the same. Note that the pilot moves the stick in the direction he wants the craft to move. In this case, the OMS control works the same way: Jack wants the ship to thrust backwards, so he moves the control backwards. This is a semi-direct mapping of control to actuator. (It might be improved if it moved not in an arc but in a straight forward-and-backward motion like the THC control, below. But you also want controls to feel different for instant differentiation, so it’s not a clear cut case.)
What is interesting is that, in NASA craft, the control that would work the main thrusters forward is the same control used for lateral, longitudinal, and vertical controls:
Why are those controls different in the Odyssey? My guess is that, because the OMS thrusters are so much more powerful than the smaller RCS thrusters, the RCS thrusters are on a separate controller much like the Space Shuttle’s (shown above).
And, look! We see evidence of just such a control, here:
Separating the massive OMS thrusters from the more delicate RCS controls makes sense here because the control would have such different effects—and have different fuel costs—in one direction than in any other. Jack knows that by grabbing the RCS knob he is making small tweaks to the Odyssey’s flight path, while the OMS handle will make large changes in only one direction.
The “Targets” Screen
When Jack is about to make the final burn to slow the Odyssey down and hold position 50km away from the TET, he briefly looks at this screen and says that the “targets look good”.
It is not immediately obvious what he is looking at here.
Typically, NASA uses oval patterns like this to detail orbits. The top of the pattern would be the closest distance to an object, while the further line would indicate the furthest point. If that still holds true here, we see that Jack is at the closest he is going to get to the TET, and in another orbit he would be on a path to travel away from the TET at an escape velocity.
Alternatively, this plot shows the Odyssey’s entire voyage. In that case, the red dotted line shows the Odyssey’s previous positions. It would have entered range of the TET, made a deceleration burn, then dropped in close.
Either way, this is a far less useful or obvious interface than others we see in the Odyssey.
The bars on the right-hand panel do not change, and might indicate fuel or power reserves for various thruster banks aboard the Odyssey.
Why is Jack the only person operating the ship during the burn?
This is the final burn, and if Jack makes a mistake then the Odyssey won’t be on target and will require much more complicated math and piloting to fix its position relative to the TET. These burns would have been calculated back on Earth, double-checked by supercomputers, and monitored all the way out.
A second observer would be needed to confirm that Jack is following procedure and gets his timing right. NASA missions have one person (typically the co-pilot) reading from the checklist, and the Commander carrying out the procedure. This two-person check confirms that both people are on the same page and following procedure. It isn’t perfect, but it is far more effective than having a single person completing a task from memory.
Likely, this falls under the same situation as the Odyssey’s controls: there is a powerful computer on board checking Jack’s progress and procedure. If so, then only one person would be required on the command deck during the burn, and he or she would merely be making sure that the computer was honest.
This argument is strengthened by the lack of specificity in Jack’s motions. He doesn’t take time to confirm the length of the burn required, or double-check his burn’s start time.
If the computer was doing all that for him, and he was merely pushing the right button at the indicated time, the system could be very robust.
This also allows Vika to focus on making sure that the rest of the crew is still alive and healthy in suspended animation. It lowers the active flight crew requirement on the Odyssey, and frees up berths and sleep pods for more scientific-minded crew members.
Help your users
Detail-oriented tasks, like a deceleration burn, are important but let’s face it, boring. These kinds of tasks require a lot of memory on the part of users, and pinpoint precision in timing. Neither of those are things humans are good at.
If you can have your software take care of these tasks for your users, you can save on the cost of labor (one user instead of two or three), increase reliability, and decrease mistakes.
Just make sure that your computer works, and that your users have a backup method in case it fails.
The TETVision display is the only display Vika is shown interacting with directly—using gestures and controls—whereas the other screens on the desktop seem to be informational only. This screen is broken up into three main sections:
- The left side panel
- The main map area
- The right side panel
The left side panel
The communications status is at the top of the left side panel and shows Vika the status of whether the desktop is online or offline with the TET as it orbits the Earth. Directly underneath this is the video communications feed for Sally.
Beneath Sally’s video feed is the map legend section, which serves the dual purposes of providing data transfer to the TET and to the Bubbleship as well as a simple legend for the icons used on the map.
On each of the sleep pods in which the Odyssey crew sleep, there is a display for monitoring the health of the sleeper. It includes some biometric charts, measurements, a body location indicator, and a countdown timer. This post focuses on that timer.
To show the remaining time of until waking Julia, the pod’s display prompts a countdown that shows hours, minutes and seconds. It shows in red the final seconds while also beeping for every second. It pops-up over the monitoring interface.
The thing with pop-ups
We all know how it goes with pop-ups—pop-ups are bad and you should feel bad for using them. Well, in this case it could actually be not that bad.
Although the sleep pod display’s main function is to show biometric data of the sleeper, the system prompts a popup to show the remaining time until the sleeper wakes up. And while the display has some degree of redundancy to show the data—i.e. heart rate in graphics and numbers— the design of the countdown brings two downsides for the viewer.
- Position: it’s placed right in the middle of the screen.
- Size: it’s roughly a quarter of the whole size of the display
Between the two, it partially covers both the pulse graphics and the numbers, which can be vital, i.e. life threatening—information of use to the viewer. Continue reading