Planet P Uplink


When the Roughnecks respond to a distress call from an outpost on Planet P, they quickly learn that it is a trap. Rasczak tells Dizzy to immediately summon an evacuation. To do so she uses this “uplink” interface. It has five components.

  1. A handheld speaker microphone, similar to what is seen on CB radios. It has a momentary talk button.
  2. A “green screen” monochrome monitor, featuring a column of text on the left.
  3. A keyboard (QWERTY? It’s hard to tell from the scene, but she does type on it.)
  4. A 6×12 array of illumined, steady-state buttons on a vertical panel near the monitor.
  5. Two rail-guarded toggle switches on the right side of the array.

When working on the uplink, she presses a few of the array buttons, types a few keys while looking at the green screen, and presses a few other array buttons. Moments later we see her with the mic in hand saying, “Mayday. This is Roughneck 2–0 to battlegroup. Do you read?” while pressing more array buttons and afterward flipping the top rail-guarded toggle.


Most of the components are familiar, feeling related to either a CB radio or desktop computers, with the exception of that big array. What is that thing? Note that though some of the buttons are illuminated, and they change, they don’t change as a result of being pressed by Dizzy. Watch the close up as she moves her hand to the rail-gaurded toggle. Some buttons fade and others get brighter, but not the ones she touches.

What object in a communications interface…

  • Warrants display as a simple rectangular array with labels
  • Has a state that can be usefully represented by degree of illumination, and that can change over time

I’m no expert in secure space communications, but I can’t think of anything that makes sense. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. This thing is violating even more fundamental interaction design principles.


It looks like a bunch of buttons. Dizzy clearly thinks they’re buttons, since she’s pressing them as if she expects some result. But there is no result. What kind of an explicit instruction could a user give where they don’t care about having explicit feedback? I don’t think there is one. If it’s worth the instruction, it’s worth at least receipt of that instruction. Even keys on a touch keyboard illuminate for a fraction of a second to tell the user, “Yep, got it.”

Either this interface isn’t really interactive—in which case it violates the principles of affordance by falsely looking interactive—or it is interactive, but violates the principles of feedback. Either way it is a terrible interface. Just terrible. I get it, it’s a throwaway interface meant to quickly convey “future” and “radio,” but its terribleness is enough to warrant major caution when looking to this as a model of future interactions.

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

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