The Shagpile Cockpit

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Barbarella’‘s rocket ship has a single main room, which is covered wall-to-wall with shagpile carpet. The visual panel of her voice-interface computer, called Alphy, is built into the wall near the back. On the right side of Alphy sits the video phone statue. To the left a a large reproduction of Seurat’’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte masks a door to exit the ship.

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A recessed, circular seating space near the front acts as the cockpit. From this position Barbarella can see through a large angled viewport. One nice aspect of the design of the cockpit is that when things are going poorly for the rocket ship, and Barbarella is being buffeted about, the pile keeps the damage to a minimum and, the recessed cockpit is likely to “catch” her and hold her there, in a place where she can try and remedy the situation. (This is exactly what happens when they encounter “magnetic disturbances” on their approach to Tau Ceti.)

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Magnetic Disturbances

The control panel for the ship is a wide band of roughly 60 unlabeled black, white, and gray keys, curving around the pilot like amphitheater seating. The keys themselves are random lengths, stacking in some places two and three to a column. Barbarella presses these keys when she must manually pilot the ship, at one point pressing a particular one several times in quick succession. That action suggests not controls for building up commands like a computer keyboard, but rather direct-effect controls, like an automobile dashboard, where each key has a different, direct effect.

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This keyboard panel lacks any clues as to the functions of the keys for first-time users, but the high-contrast and cluster patterns make it easy for expert users like Barbarella (being as she is a 5-star double-rated Astro-Navigatrix) to visually locate a particular key amongst them. But there’s a lot that could be improved. First and most obvious is that the extents of the keyboard are quite spread out from her immediate reach. Bringing them within easy reach would mean less physical work. We also know that like an automotive dashboard, unless these keys are all controlling things with direct, obvious consequences, some status indicators in the periphery of her vision would be damned handy. And even with the unique key configuration, Barbarella would have an even easier time of it with physically differentiated controls, ideally with carefully designed affordances.

The other features of the cockpit, including a concave panel in the wall to her left with large, round, colored lights, and a set of large, reflective black domes on the right hand side of the cockpit, are not seen in use.

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Metropolis: Overview

Release Date: 10 January 1927, Germany

After falling in love at first sight with Maria, Freder leaves his idyllic life in the Upper City. In the Lower City he learns of the plight of the laborers and witnesses a tragic explosion. He speaks with his conniving father Joh, who instructs a spy to keep tabs on his son.

Freder switches places with a laborer only to be drawn into an underground resistance, where he learns Maria is its spiritual leader. Meanwhile Joh meets with the mad scientist Rotwang and sees his robotic creation, the Machine-Man. Joh tells Rotwang to use the robot to end Maria and dispirit the resistance. Rotwang captures Maria and gives the Machine-Man her likeness.

Machine-Maria ruins Maria’’s reputation with lascivious public performances. She then foments an insurrection in the Lower City. The mob storms the gates and ruins the vital Heart Machine. The city begins to flood. Maria escapes her captor and rushes to the laborer’s city, to be reunited with Freder and save the children who had been left behind.

Grot reminds the rabble of their abandoned children. Suddenly terrified, they conduct a witch hunt for Maria. They find Machine-Maria and burn her at the stake, who transforms as she is dying back into the robot.

Meanwhile Rotwang has re-captured Maria. In a great struggle atop the roofs of the Upper City, Feder defeats Rotwang and saves his beloved. Afterwards at a public gathering she declares him the Mediator, a savior who was foretold to bring the long-parted classes of the Metropolis together.