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]


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…

5 thoughts on “Jump Ball scoreboard

  1. This brings up a suggestion. Could Rollerball be on the list of films for analysis in some upcoming series of posts? In retrospect it seems somewhat… sloppy… in its use of interfaces.

  2. I’ve got three films in the queue ahead of it. But I don’t see why not. 🙂 I ought to dip back into the 70s soon. 🙂

  3. I always have found this sort of display very difficult to parse. I have to unfocus my eyes a bit to read the numbers effectively. It’s even worse when the unlit portions of the display are relatively bright compared to the overall background, as they are here: grey on black. To me, it looks like two sets of numbers overlapping each other, and it takes a moment to decide which set to pay attention to.

    Have you addressed the use of color and contrast in displays? I know that Starship Troopers is full of ugly displays with a lot of clashing primary colors that make my head hurt. In real life I’ve seen a few terrible displays on appliances that use orange and blue LCDs on the same readout – with my glasses the chromatic aberration makes the two colors move and slide around as my viewing angle changes. It’s very distracting. We had some old operating room monitors that had really poorly thought out blocks of important text information on different background colors that made it hard to grasp all the numbers at once. Thankfully that’s been replaced with different color text on a uniform black background, which for whatever reason seems much easier to take in visually.

    • I think it was discussed in the “visual design” chapter of the book, but it would be worth noting here especially. The “VGA” and “CGA” color is certainly painful.

  4. Pingback: Report Card: Starship Troopers | Sci-fi interfaces

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