After Johnny was mistakenly reported as killed, the next time we see him he is in a healing chamber, submerged in green-underlit translucent fluid, resting on form-fitting clear plastic supports. He breathes through a tube, and a pair of small robot arms work busily to regenerate the damaged tissue in his leg.
The main reason to discuss this chamber on a blog about interfaces is the material choice of the outside of the chamber. By being surrounded completely in a transparent material (glass? plexiglass? transparent aluminum?), it means that physicians can keep an eye on progress, and he can have visual interactions with visitors, as we see when Dizzy and Ace visit to share with him his mistaken death certificate (and for Dizzy to leave him a kiss.) Additionally it gives Johnny something to look at during the long hours of recuperation.
I’m not sure why the green light is necessary. The scene implies that it could serve some part in the healing process, but if not, I wonder if an amber light might signal a more human, nurturing warmth to Johnny and visitors. Narratively, you’d want to avoid anything too yellow or run the risk of the audience’s first interpretations drifting too far to the Andres-Serrano-esque.
The initial invasion of Klendathu is disastrous, and our hero Rico suffers a massive penetration wound in combat, with an Arachnid digging its massive, thorn-like pincer straight through his thigh.
Rico is (spoiler alert) mistakenly reported as deceased. (There’s perhaps some argument for outfitting soldiers with networked biometrics so this sort of mistake can’t be made, but that’s another post.)
After returning to dock, Ibanez hears reports about the military disaster, and sees a death roll scrolling by on a large wall display. Three columns of off-white names tick along, surname first, with an initialism indicating whether the soldier was killed, wounded, or missing in action. At the very top three legends summarize key information, WOUNDED IN ACTION 2,548; KILLED IN ACTION 205,515; and MISSING IN ACTION 105,753. Largest of all is the KLENDATHU CASUALTIES: 308,563. (I know, the math doesn’t add up. It’s possible I misread the blurry numbers.) But the screen could use some more deliberate graphic design. Continue reading →
The interfaces aboard the Rodger Young in combat are hard to take seriously. The captain’s interface, for instance, features arrays of wireframe spheres that zoom from the bottom of the screen across horizontal lines to become blinking green squares. The shapes bear only the vaguest resemblance to the plasma bolts, but don’t match what we see out the viewscreen or the general behavior of the bolts at all. But the ridiculousness doesn’t end there.
After Rico’s fatal mistake in the live fire exercise, he is disgraced, relieved of squad command, and subject to corporal punishment. At the time of his punishment, the squads stand at attention around the square as Rico approaches the pillory at its center. Sergeant Zim pulls the restraints down from housings in the frame and loops them around Rico’s wrists. Then, he activates the interface, which is a hand-sized chrome button on the side of the frame.
With a single slap of the huge button, the restraints pull up and hold Rico’s arms at their fullest extents, simultaneously disabling him and giving some adolescents in the audience feelings they would not come to terms with for years.
There’s a basic improvement that can be made, which is for the control to indicate the status. Yes, the status is apparent from a glance at the restraints. So it’s not an essential improvement. But as a general rule, you want to save the user from having to check some other place for the status of a system. Output where you input.
A more important improvement is related to the fact that this is a public event, a piece of authoritarian theater. With that in mind, a big knife switch with a loud thunk would add to the drama of the moment and make more of an impression on the audience. Which is the point. And, incidentally, it would solve the apparent-state problem from the prior paragraph, for a win-win all around. Except for the incredibly painful flogging that comes next.
After the capture the flag exercise, the recruits advance to a live ammo exercise. In this one, the recruits have weapons loaded with live ammo and surge in waves over embankments. They wear the same special vests they did in the prior exercise that detect when they are hit with a laser, flashing briefly with red lights on the front and back and thereafter delivering a debilitating shock to the wearer until the game is over. As they approach the next embankment, dummies automatically rise up and fire lasers randomly towards the recruits. The recruits shoot to destroy the dummies, making it safe to advance to the next embankment. Continue reading →
The recruits practice their war skills with capture the flag games. Each participant carries visible-laser weapons (color coded to match the team color) to fire at members of the other team, and wears a special vest that detects when it is hit with a laser, flashing briefly with red lights on the front and back and thereafter delivering a debilitating shock to the wearer until the game is over.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 →
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.
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.
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.
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.