I’ve had a lot of people ask if they can help by adding their favorite sci-fi shows to the database. I’m committed to building-out the database as long they keep making sci-fi but, of course I’m only one guy, and there’s a big backlog, I’m a dad, and I’ve got day job. So by myself, it might take a very, very long time. I can create a more complete picture faster if others want to contribute.

Be forewarned: It’s very, very hard

Did I say “very?” Maybe I should add another one. It’s a lot of work (I suspect a lot of folks who have been asking may not realize how much work goes into this). It takes around 20 hours for the average movie, and maybe 2–4 hours for the average television episode, and that’s once you’re up to speed.

Even writing up the How-To below, I’m a little taken aback at all of the description and constraints. “Really? Does it really take this much?” But on review I realized that, yes, it’s just that hard. None of these requirements are frivolous. They’re all there to keep the content consistent and the quality of the information in the database very high so it’s of use.

If after reading the long requirements you’re not scared off, you have the time, and you want to help us get to your favorites faster, I’d love to have your help, welcome you to the nerd fold, and publicize your good name as thanks. Give the following a read and see if you’re up for it. I’ll publish good write-ups and give you complete credit on the website at the time of publication.

Who owns the rights?

All submissions are accepted under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license. You can read more about those details at the
Creative Commons website. At its core it means that you own the rights to the work, but grant us the right to publish it here while attributing you for your hard work.

Be aware that under this license, others can replicate your work and build on it. That’s the point. I’m trying to build a big, publicly available resource to support the analysis of sci-fi interfaces by creative professionals around the world.

I can’t offer compensation for publishing to the blog. This has to be a labor of love.

I do not have plans of ever publishing this material in print, but if I wereto consider it, I would contact each author and gain explicit permission before doing so.

Shows in the database

You may not see them published yet, but I have material for the following and every intention of publishing it someday.

Check this list to avoid unneccesary work

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Alien & Aliens
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Brainstorm
  • Buck Rogers (1939)
  • Firefly
  • Flight of the Navigator
  • GalaxyQuest
  • Gattaca
  • The Incredibles
  • Independence Day
  • Iron Man
  • Jurassic park
  • La Voyage Dans La Lune
  • The Matrix
  • Men in Black
  • Minority Report
  • Sleeper
  • Star Wars Episodes 1-6
  • The Terminator
  • Total Recall
  • Westworld (original and the reboot)
  • X-Men
  • Zardoz

Shows that have been “claimed”

  • The Avengers
  • The Expanse

It’s possible that a writer who has claimed a show drops out of contact, or changes their mind and must withdraw, or can’t meet the editorial guidelines, and the show will go back to being unclaimed. If you notice that a show you’re burning to review has been claimed for a long time, but still isn’t available in the database, contact me and I’ll look into it.

How To Review a Show for its Interfaces

So you’ve read the lists above carefully, and you’re certain that the show you’d like to contribute to is not on either list. Here’s the giant, daunting list of instructions on how to write a review.

  1. Review existing entries in the database so far, so you can be familiar with them, how I describe them, and the tags.
  2. Contact me and let me know you’d like to work on a show. Let me know the title, the version (I prefer versions that were originally released in cinemas rather than versions that were modified later, though I agree that sometimes a Director’s Cut merits review), and year of the movie or the season and episode of a TV show. I’ll put it in the “spoken for” list so no one is wasting time duplicating content.
  3. Write an overview of the show.
    1. It should not be more than 300 words for a movie. Less than that for a TV episode.
    2. Don’t analyze in the overview. Don’t focus on the interfaces. Just describe what happens during the show. Be succinct and descriptive. Use active voice.
    3. Include a link to the entry for the show. This helps readers get more information about it if they want to watch it.
    4. Include a link to the movie on This helps readers watch it immediately if they subscribe to that service.
    5. Include a link to the search results for the show on Don’t link directly to a product on, since you don’t know if the reader wants the Blu-Ray, the DVD, to rent it, etc. I just want to provide easy access (and support the sci-fi industry as I go.)
    6. Don’t copy your review from elsewhere. Like the rest of your review, it
      must be your own words.
  4. Make screen captures of every interface in the show. Yes, every one. The mundane stuff, the exciting stuff, the stuff you see only for a second. If you think it might be, but aren’t sure… capture it. It is easier to edit later than to go back and find it again. Each set of these figures for an interface, (which has the ugly-but-useful shorthand figset), should be a description of the interface complete enough that someone who has never seen the show, and not very familiar with sci-fi, can understand it. For each figset, be sure to include…
    1. A figure that establishes the context of use. Who is using the interface? Where are they when they start using it?
    2. A figure for every step in the use of the interface. Err on the side of more specific than less specific.
    3. A figure showing the effects of the interaction, the results that using it produces.
  5. Adhere to the figure guidelines:
    1. Figures should be at least 800 pixels wide. Different shows are shot in different ratios, so there’s no minimum height. Larger than 800 pixels wide is OK.
    2. All the figures from the same show should be the same size.
    3. Do not capture subtitles, if at all possible.
    4. Trim each figure so there is no black edge or background. It should just be a frame in the move, and nothing else.
    5. Do not crop the figure. If you must crop for clarity or to show telling detail in an otherwise busy screen, let us know so I can label it as such.
    6. Do not modify the figure in Photoshop (or other image-manipulation software). The only exception is adjusting the color levels so elements in a dark scene are visible. This should be an exception not the rule for your figures. Adjust all levels for a figset the same way.
  6. Provide a title for each figset.
    1. It should be a complete sentence, and only one sentence.
    2. It should be active voice.
    3. Just describe what’s happening. Don’t be snarky. Don’t interpret yet. That comes next.
  7. Provide a description of the interaction.
    1. Start by providing more detail about what happens than you had room for in the title.
    2. Include the following information in the description. The description should be narrative, not a bullet list, but be sure to provide this information in that narrative.
      1. The name of the user and position or title if relevant to the interaction (like General Dodonna)
      2. The character’s goals in using the interface, or at least the task they are trying to accomplish.
      3. The actions they take during use.
      4. What they perceive during use to understand what’s going on
      5. The results of use.
  8. Now (finally) do a little analysis. This is more free-form than the prior steps, but here are some questions to consider as you write your thoughts. Consider every level of the design: microinteractions, tasks/workflow, user goals, and broad social consequences of the design.
    1. Does it make sense? If not, what’s broken about it? Do the users have what they need to understand what’s going on? Do they have the right controls to tell what changes they want?
    2. How would it would it work in the real world?
    3. Does it fit with the rest of what I know about the show’s diegesis (how things work in their reality, not ours)? Does it conflict?
    4. What metaphors does it build on? What mood does it set?
  9. If you have some simple thoughts on how to improve the design that can be easily described in text, have it at the end of the section. Visual comps are great, but I’ll work with you on that.
  10. EXCEPTION: I am not interested in making suggestions for how to improve weapons, torture devices, bombs, etc. If there is a general-purpose aspect to these devices that can be abstracted, sure, no harm in that. But I’m really not into the notion of helping kill or harm people.
  11. Don’t forget these “don’ts” in analyses:
    1. Don’t forget that if it seems broken, you can use the technique of Apology. Try and imagine how it could work the way it’s being shown. Is something deeper going on? Is the technology more sophisticated than it seems at first glance (or could it be)? If you can imagine an apology, label it as such and include your explanation.
    2. Don’t just rag on a movie. As you can see in the examples already in the database, I want to evaluate, not just bitch or whine. Be factual and fair and be aware of historical context.
    3. Don’t add fan theories unless they’re solidly grounded in the evidence that the interfaces provide.
    4. Don’t second-guess the sci-fi maker’s intent or to development constraints. A nod to it is understandable, but Make it So adopts a very loose New Criticism stance towards authorial intent, if you’re into that sort of thing, i.e. presume it is exactly as the designer intended it to be.
    5. Don’t compare to other interfaces in other shows. These reviews are meant to focus on one show only.
    6. Don’t forget to insert the word “extrospection” randomly to one and only one of the analyses. What’s this for? It’s like that “no brown m&m’s” trick in rock star riders. These are complex instructions, and asking for this is an easy way for us to make sure you’ve read these instructions thoroughly. If I receive a review and that word isn’t present, I know I’ve got problems.
  12. Add tags to the figset. Tags aren’t easy.
    1. First consider tags that are already in the database. Do any of these apply?
    2. Tag the inputs
    3. Tag the metaphors
    4. Tag the behaviors involved
    5. Tag aspects of the inputs
    6. Tag aspects of the outputs/display
    7. Tag the goals
    8. Tag any salient points other than this. Tags are meant to be a free-form and self-emerging means of organizing content. So, if you think of a salient aspect, add it!
  13. Once you finish describing and tagging the individual interfaces, categorize similar interfaces from the same show.
    1. Provide headers for each category
    2. Describe the similarities and differences in the examples
    3. Add any appropriate analysis that pertains to the category of interfaces as a whole.
  14. Write a conclusion. This is your analysis for all of the interfaces in the show.
  15. Don’t give the report card. These reviews do have ratings, but I’ll work with you on that just before publication.
  16. Now that you’ve done everything described above and given it a couple of passes for typos, grammar, and sense, then dropped full-sized images inline as they should appear in the final post, share it with me. (I’ll share that editor email after you first contact me, no need to leave food out for the spam bot crawlers.)
    1. Create a folder in a Google Doc.
    2. Include your review as a Google Doc
      at the root level. In the review itself, scale the figures to readable sizes, like you’d see in a live post.
    3. Share the folder with me, giving me editor rights. This allows me to add comments and make suggestions.
  17. Have patience during editing cycles. I will get back to you as soon as I can. Be aware I may ask another user to act as a fact checker on your entry if I don’t know the show or it’s in another language.
  18. Once I have the review finalized, I’ll convert it to WordPress HTML, upload the figures, schedule the review to be published, and credit you.
    1. Your name as you’d like it to appear
    2. A small 50×50 SFW (Safe For Work) image as your picture
    3. A URL that you’d like people to link to, if any.

Tone and Voice

  1. has a distinct voice, and I’d like to keep that tone. Of course the best place to set a sense of it is to read the existing entries in the database and try and match that. But I know it’s also useful to read a description, and that is as follows.
  2. Be succinct. Try and describe the most with as few words as possible.
  3. Be neutral. I’m kind of like a sci-fi anthropologist here, and deliberately staying clear of giving the reviews too much in the way of personality. Remember, this is a reference.
  4. Use active voice as much as possible. People find it easier to read.
  5. Be conversational. It should read like you’re describing the movie to a smart friend who hasn’t seen it, rather than a textbook or a Wikipedia entry.
  6. Avoid hyperbole or fanboying/fangirling-out. You may think an interface is the greatest in the world, and that character who uses it is just dreamy but your readers may not care.
  7. Triple check your facts. Sci-fi fans are dutifully harsh when it comes to this. (Check the errata page for examples of where I’ve been called out.) I’ll try my best to spot check you, but if it turns out too many of your facts are wrong, I’ll just remove the post and put the show back on the list for someone else to claim.

The right to refuse

After all this work, if at any point I feel it’s going to take more work to help someone along than to just do it myself, I will have to reject it. I hope it will never happen, but it might. I can’t take on teaching people to write or follow instructions in addition to everything else. Part of my promise as an author and editor is a level of quality to my readership. If I feel a review isn’t up to scratch or unlikely to get there, I won’t include it. You can publish it anywhere else you like, of course, since the content is yours, but I have to reserve that right on this site.

Holy crap.

I told you it was a lot of work. You down for this? Think you got what it takes? Alright then. Them’s the rules. Let’s see what you’ve got.


3 thoughts on “Contribute!

  1. Pingback: Followup: Video games? Anime? | Make It So

  2. Pingback: Introducing Clayton Beese | Make It So

  3. Pingback: Nerdsourcing | Sci-fi interfaces

Leave a Reply