Each of the dinosaur paddocks in Jurassic Park is surrounded by a large electric fence on a dedicated power circuit that is controlled from the Central Control Room. The fences have regular signage warning of danger…
To restore the power that Nedry foolishly shut down (and thereby regain a technological advantage over the dinosaurs), Dr. Sattler must head into the utility bunker that routes power to different parts of the park. Once she is there Hammond, back in the Visitors Center, communicates to her via two-way radio that operating it is a two part process: Manually providing a charge to the main panel, and then closing each of the breakers.
The Main Panel
To restore a charge to the main panel, she manually cranks a paddle (like a kinetic-powered watch, radio, or flashlight), then firmly pushes a green button labeled “Push to Close”. We hear a heavy click inside the panel as the switch flips something, and then the lights on the Breaker Panel list light up green.
Now that she has built up a charge in the circuit, she has to turn on each of the breakers one by one. Continue reading
Once Dr. Sattler restores power to the park, Arnold needs to reboot the computer systems. To do this, he must switch off the circuits (C1–C3 in the screenshot above), and then switch off-and-on a circuit labeled “Main”.
It’s a good thing Arnold knows what he’s doing, since these switches are only labeled C1-3, and we don’t see any documentation in the camera frame. As he turns off each circuit, different parts of the computer terminals in the Control Room shut down. This implies that different computer banks are tied to the same power circuits as the systems they control.
So, since this is a major interface for the park, let’s make this bit explicit: When designing infrequently-used but mission-critical interfaces, take great care to explain use, using clear affordances and constraints so that mistakes are very, very difficult to make.
It might look like a mistake to have all the little electrical labeling to the sides, since this cover would have to be removed to get the components where this information would be of use. But that’s perfect. A user needing to remove this panel must encounter this reference information to get to those components, and so would know where to find them. This is a brilliant example of the pattern Put the Signal in the Path. Let’s hope there are similar signs on other access panels.
Wait…where are the backups?
These are the central computer terminals that run Jurassic Park, and keep visitors safe from the “attractions.” And there is no backup power.
When Arnold turns off the main circuit breaker, the computers (and servers behind them) turn off immediately. The purpose and effect of the power switch deactivates all the systems in Jurassic Park, without any kind of warning or backup system.
For something as dangerous as deadly deadly dinosaurs—raised from the 65 million-year deep grave of extinction—the system deactivation should at least trigger some kind of warning.
Tornado sirens have backup batteries in case the city power goes out. They are a solid example of a backup system that should exist, at minimum, to warn park-goers to move quickly towards shelter. A better backup system would be a duplicate server system that automatically activates all the fences in the park.
When Arnold cycles the visitor center’s power system, it also trips the breakers for all of the other power systems in the park. Primary safety systems like that should be on their own circuit. It’s ok if the fridges turn off and melt the ice cream (though it may be an inconvenience), but that same event shouldn’t also deactivate the velociraptor pen security. Especially when the ‘raptor pen is right next to the visitor center and is a known, aforementioned, deadly deadly threat.
The security alert occurs in two parts. The first is a paddock alert that starts on a single terminal but gets copied to the big shared screen. The second is a security monitor for the visitor center in which the control room sits. Both of these live as part of the larger Jurassic Park.exe, alongside the Explorer Status panel, and take the place of the tour map on the screen automatically.
After Nedry disables security, the central system fires an alert as each of the perimeter fence systems go down. Each section of the fence blinks red, with a large “UNARMED” on top of the section. After blinking, the fence line disappears. To the right is the screen for monitoring vehicles. Continue reading
When we first see the HUD, Tony is donning the Iron Man mask. Tony asks, JARVIS, “You there?” To which JARVIS replies, “At your service sir.” Tony tells him to Engage the heads-up display, and we see the HUD initialize. It is a dizzying mixture of blue wireframe motion graphics. Some imply system functions, such as the reticle that pinpoints Tonys eye. Most are small dashboard-like gauges that remain small and in Tonys peripheral vision while the information is not needed, and become larger and more central when needed. These features are catalogued in another post, but we learn about them through two points-of-view: a first-person view, which shows us what Tony’s sees as if we were there, donning the mask in his stead, and second-person view, which shows us Tony’s face overlaid against a dark background with floating graphics.
This post is about that first-person view. Specifically it’s about the visual design and the four awarenesses it displays.
In the Augmented Reality chapter of Make It So, I identified four types of awareness seen in the survey for Augmented Reality displays:
- Sensor display
- Location awareness
- Context awareness
- Goal awareness
The Iron Man HUD illustrates all four and is a useful framework for describing and critiquing the 1st-person view. Continue reading
There is a great deal to say about the interactions and interface, but let’s just take a moment to recount everything that the HUD does over the Iron Man movies and The Avengers. Keep in mind that just as there are many iterations of the suit, there can be many iterations of the HUD, but since it’s largely display software controlled by JARVIS, the functions can very easily move between exosuits.
Along the bottom of the HUD are some small gauges, which, though they change iconography across the properties, are consistently present.
For the most part they persist as tiny icons and thereby hard to read, but when the suit reboots in a high-altitude freefall, we get to see giant versions of them, and can read that they are:
Genarro: “Are they heavy?”
Excited Kid: “Yeah!”
Genarro: “Then they’re expensive, put them back”
Excited Kid: [nope]
The Night Vision Goggles are large binoculars that are sized to fit on an adult head. They are stored in a padded case in the Tour Jeep’s trunk. When activated, a single red light illuminated in the “forehead” of the device, and four green lights appear on the rim of each lens. The green lights rotate around the lens as the user zooms the binoculars in and out. On a styling point, the goggles are painted in a very traditional and very adorable green and yellow striped dinosaur pattern.
Tim holds the goggles up as he plays with them, and it looks like they are too large for his head (although we don’t see him adjust the head support at all, so he might not have known they were adjustable). He adjusts the zoom using two hidden controls—one on each side. It isn’t obvious how these work. It could be that…
- There are no controls, and it automatically focuses on the thing in the center of the view or on the thing moving.
- One side zooms in, and the other zooms out.
- Both controls have a zoom in/zoom out ability.
- Each side control powers its own lens.
- Admittedly, the last option is the least likely.
Unfortunately the movie just doesn’t give us enough information, leaving it as an exercise for us to consider.
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.
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.
The first computer interface we see in the film occurs at 3:55. It’s an interface for housing and monitoring the tesseract, a cube that is described in the film as “an energy source” that S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to use to “harness energy from space.” We join the cube after it has unexpectedly and erratically begun to throw off low levels of gamma radiation.
The harnessing interface consists of a housing, a dais at the end of a runway, and a monitoring screen.
The housing & dais
The harness consists of a large circular housing that holds the cube and exposes one face of it towards a long runway that ends in a dais. Diegetically this is meant to be read more as engineering than interface, but it does raise questions. For instance, if they didn’t already know it was going to teleport someone here, why was there a dais there at all, at that exact distance, with stairs leading up to it? How’s that harnessing energy? Wouldn’t you expect a battery at the far end? If they did expect a person as it seems they did, then the whole destroying swaths of New York City thing might have been avoided if the runway had ended instead in the Hulk-holding cage that we see later in the film. So…you know…a considerable flaw in their unknown-passenger teleportation landing strip design. Anyhoo, the housing is also notable for keeping part of the cube visible to users near it, and holding it at a particular orientation, which plays into the other component of the harness—the monitor.