Johnny leaves the airport by taxi, ending up in a disreputable part of town. During his ride we see another video phone call with a different interface, and the first brief appearance of some high tech binoculars. I’ll return to these later, for the moment skipping ahead to the last of the relatively simple and single-use physical gadgets.
Johnny finds the people he is supposed to meet in a deserted building but, as events are not proceeding as planned, he attaches another black box with glowing red status light to the outside of the door as he enters. Although it looks like the motion detector we saw earlier, this is a bomb.
This is indeed a very bad neighbourhood of Newark. Inside are the same Yakuza from Beijing, who plan to remove Johnny’s head. There is a brief fight, which ends when Johnny uses his watch to detonate the bomb. It isn’t clear whether he pushes or rotates some control, but it is a single quick action.Continue reading →
The Viper is the primary space fighter of the Colonial Fleet. It comes in several varieties, from the Mark II (shown above), to the Mark VII (the latest version). Each is made for a single pilot, and the controls allow the pilot to navigate short distances in space to dogfight with enemy fighters.
Mark II Viper Cockpit
The Mark II Viper is an analog machine with a very simple Dradis, physical gauges, and paper flight plans. It is a very old system. The Dradis sits in the center console with the largest screen real-estate. A smaller needle gauge under the Dradis shows fuel levels, and a standard joystick/foot pedal system provides control over the Viper’s flight systems.
Mark VII Viper Cockpit
The Viper Mk VII is a mostly digital cockpit with a similar Dradis console in the middle (but with a larger screen and more screen-based controls and information). All other displays are digital screens. A few physical buttons are scattered around the top and bottom of the interface. Some controls are pushed down, but none are readable. Groups of buttons are titled with text like “COMMS CIPHER” and “MASTER SYS A”.
Eight buttons around the Dradis console are labeled with complex icons instead of text.
When the Mk VII Vipers encounter Cylons for the first time, the Cylons use a back-door computer virus to completely shut down the Viper’s systems. The screens fuzz out in the same manner as when Apollo gets caught in an EMP burst.
The Viper Mk VII is then completely uncontrollable, and the pilot’s’ joystick-based controls cease to function.
Overall, the Viper Mk II is set up similarly to a WWII P-52 Mustang or early production F-15 Eagle, while the Viper Mk VII is similar to a modern-day F-16 Falcon or F-22 Raptor.
The Viper is a single seat starfighter, and appears to excel in that role. The pilots focus on their ship, and the Raptor pilots following them focus on the big picture. But other items, including color choice, font choice, and location are an issue.
Otherwise, Items appear a little small, and it requires a lot of training to know what to look for on the dashboards. Also, the black lines radiating from the large grouper labels appear to go nowhere and provide no extra context or grouping. Additionally, the controls (outside of the throttle and joystick) require quite a bit of reach from the seat.
Given that the pilots are accelerating at 9+ gs, reaching a critical control in the middle of a fight could be difficult. Hopefully, the designers of the Vipers made sure that ‘fighting’ controls are all within arms reach of the seat, and that the controls requiring more effort are secondary tasks.
Similarly, all-caps text is the hardest to read at a glance, and should be avoided for interfaces like the Viper that require quick targeting and actions in the middle of combat. The other text is very small, and it would be worth doing a deeper evaluation in the cockpit itself to determine if the font size is too small to read from the seat.
If anyone reading this blog has an accurate Viper cockpit prop, we’d be happy to review it!
Fighter pilots in the Battlestar Galactica universe have quick reflexes, excellent vision, and stellar training. They should be allowed to use all of those abilities for besting Cylons in a dogfight, instead of being forced to spend time deciphering their Viper’s interface.
Dradis is the primary system that the Galactica uses to detect friendly and enemy units beyond visual range. The console appears to have a range of at least one light second (less than the distance from Earth to the Moon), but less than one light minute (one/eighth the distance from Earth to the Sun).
How can we tell? We know that it’s less than one light minute because Galactica is shown orbiting a habitable planet around a sun-like star. Given our own solar system, we would have at least some indication of ships on the Dradis at that range and the combat happening there (which we hear over the radios). We don’t see those on the Dradis.
We know that it’s at least one light second because Galactica jumps into orbit (possibly geosynchronous) above a planet and is able to ‘clear’ the local space of that planet’s orbit with the Dradis
The sensor readings are automatically interpreted into Friendly contacts, Enemy contacts, and missiles, then displayed on a 2d screen emulating a hemisphere. A second version of the display shows a flat 2d view of the same information.
Friendly contacts are displayed in green, while enemy units (Cylons) are displayed in red. The color of the surrounding interface changes from orange to red when the Galactica moves to Alert Stations.
The Dradis is displayed on four identical displays above the Command Table, and is viewable from any point in the CIC. ‘Viewable’ here does not mean ‘readable’. The small size, type, and icons shown on the screen are barely large enough to be read by senior crew at the main table, let alone officers in the second or third tier of seating (the perspective of which we see here).
It is possible that these are simply overview screens to support more specific screens at individual officer stations, but we never see any evidence of this.
Whatever the situation, the Dradis needs to be larger in order to be readable throughout the CIC and have more specific screens at officer stations focused on interpreting the Dradis.
As soon as a contact appears on the Dradis screen, someone (who appears to be the Intelligence Officer) in the CIC calls out the contact to reiterate the information and alert the rest of the CIC to the new contact. Vipers and Raptors are seen using a similar but less powerful version of the Galactica’s sensor suite and display. Civilian ships like Colonial One have an even less powerful or distinct radar system.
2d display of 3d information
The largest failing of the Dradis system is in its representation of the hemisphere. We never appear to see the other half of the sphere. Missing half the data is pretty serious. Theoretically, the Galactica would be at the center of a bubble of information, instead of picking an arbitrary ‘ground plane’ and showing everything in a half-sphere above that (cutting out a large amount of available information).
The Dradis also suffers from a lack of context: contacts are displayed in 3 dimensions inside the view, but only have 2 dimensions of reference on the flat screen in the CIC. For a reference on an effective 3d display on a 2d screen, see Homeworld’s (PC Game, THQ and Relic) Sensor Manager:
In addition to rotation of the Sensor Manager (allowing different angles of view depending on the user’s wishes), the Sensor Manager can display reference lines down to a ‘reference plane’ to show height above, and distance from, a known point. In Homeworld, this reference point is often the center of the selected group of units, but on the Dradis it would make sense for this reference point to be the Galactica herself.
Overall, the crew of the Galactica never seems to be inhibited by this limitation. The main reasons they could be able to work around this limitation include:
Effective communication between crew members
Experience operating with limited information.
This relies heavily on the crew operating at peak efficiency during an entire combat encounter. That is a lot to ask from anyone. It would be better to improve the interface and lift the burden off of a possibly sleep deprived crewmember.
The Dradis itself displays information effectively about the individual contacts it sees. This isn’t visible at the distances involved in most CIC activities, but would be visible on personal screens easily. Additionally, the entire CIC doesn’t need to know every piece of information about each contact.
In any of those three cases, crew efficiency would be improved (and misunderstandings would be limited) by improving how the Dradis displayed its contacts on its screen.
After the Galactica takes a nuclear missile hit to its port launch bay, part of the CIC goes into Damage Control mode. Chief Tyrol and another officer take up a position next to a large board with a top-down schematic of the Galactica. The board has various lights in major sections of the ship representing various air-tight modules in the ship.
After the nuclear hit, the port launch bay is venting to space, bulkheads are collapsing in due to the damage, and there are uncontrolled fires. In those blocks, the lights blink red.
Colonel Tigh orders the red sections sealed off and vented to space. When Tigh turns his special damage control key in the “Master Vent” control, the lights disappear until the areas are sealed off again. When the fires go out and the master vents are closed, the lights return to a green state.
On the board then, the lights have three states:
Green: air-tight, healthy
Blinking Red: Fire
Off: Intentional Venting
There does not appear to be any indications of the following states:
Damage Control Teams in the area
Open to space/not air-tight
We also do not see how sections are chosen to be vented.
Why it works
The most effective pieces here are the red lights and the “vent” key. Chief Tyrol has a phone to talk to local officers managing the direct crisis, and can keep a basic overview of the problems on the ship (with fire being the most dangerous) with the light board. The “vent” key is likewise straightforward, and has a very clear “I’m about to do something dangerous” interaction.
What is confusing are the following items:
How does Chief Tyrol determine which phone/which officer he’s calling?
Who is the highest ranking officer in the area?
How does the crew determine which sections they’re going to vent?
How do they view more complex statuses besides “this section is on fire”?
As with other systems on the Galactica, the board could be improved with the use of more integrated systems like automatic sensors, display screens to cycle through local cameras, and tracking systems for damage control crew. Also as with other systems on the Galactica, these were deliberate omissions to prevent the Cylons from being able to control the Galactica.
One benefit of the simplified system is that it keeps Chief Tyrol thinking of the high-level problem instead of trying to micromanage his local damage control teams. With proper training, local teams with effective leadership and independent initiative are more effective than a large micro-managed organization. Chief Tyrol can focus on the goals he needs his teams to accomplish:
Putting out fires
Evacuating local crew
Protecting the ship from secondary explosions
…and allow his local teams to focus on the tactics of each major goal.
What it’s missing
A glaring omission here is the lack of further statuses. In the middle of a crisis, Chief Tyrol could easily lose track of individual teams on his ship. He knows the crews that are in the Port Hangar Bay, but we never hear about the other damage control teams and where they are. Small reminders or other status indicators would keep the Chief from needing to remember everything that was happening across the ship. Even a box of easily-grabbed sticky notes or a grease-pen board would help here and be very low-tech.
Possible indicators include:
Secondary lights in each section when a damage control crew was in the area
A third color indicator (less optimal, but would take up less space on the board)
A secondary board with local reports of damage crew location and progress
Low oxygen states
High oxygen states (higher fire risk)
It is also possible that Colonel Tigh would have taken the local crews into consideration when making his decision if he could have seen where they were for himself on the board, instead of simply hearing Chief Tyrol’s protests about their existence. Reducing feedback loops can make decision making less error prone and faster, but can admittedly introduce single points of failure.
Colonel Tigh and Chief Tyrol are able to get control of the situation with the tools at hand, but minor upgrades could have lessened the stress of the situation and allowed both of them to think clearer before jumping to decisions. Better systems would have given them all the information they needed, but the Galactica’s purpose limited them for the benefit of the entire ship.
The Battlestar Galactica’s Combat Information Center, or CIC, is a medical-theater-like room that acts as the military nerve center and brain of the Galactica. It is located near the center of the ship, is heavily armored and protected by armed guards, and has a staff of between 35-50 people.
The two highest ranking officers on the ship, Commander Adama and Colonel Tigh, typically stand at the center of the auditorium around the Command Board. This position lets them hear status reports from around the room, and issue orders to the entire ship.
Various pods of workstations provide seating for the rest of the staff. These stations are grouped by function. We see Navigation crew sitting near other navigation crew, weapons officers near other combat functions, communications near the center, and engineering given a special area up top.
Phone kiosks are placed throughout the CIC, with two high profile kiosks on the Command Board. Large display boards and the central Dradis Console provide information to the entire crew of the CIC.
The CIC is dealing with a lot of information from all over the ship and trying to relate it to the lead officers who are making decisions. There is a lot of activity related to this information overload, but the design of the CIC has organized it into a reasonably effective flow.
Teams communicate with each other, then that decision flows forward to lead officers, who relate it to Admiral Adama.
Orders flow in the opposite direction.
Admiral Adama can very quickly shout out an order from the center of the CIC and have his lead officers hear it all around him. It can also act as a failsafe: other officers can also hear the same order and act as a confirmation step. From there, the officers can organize their teams to distribute more detailed orders to the entire ship.
Large screens show information that the entire CIC needs to know, while smaller screens display information for specific crew or groups.
Overall, the stadium-like construction of the CIC works well for the low tech approach that the Galactica takes after. Without introducing automation and intelligent computer networks onto the bridge, there is little that could be done to improve the workflow.
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.
Despite its defenses, Staedert continues with the attack against the evil planet, and several screens help the crew monitor the attack with the “120” missiles.
First there is an overhead view of the space between the ship and the planet. The ship is represented as a red dot, the planet as a red wireframe, and the path of the missiles magnified as a large white wireframe column. A small legend in the upper right reads “CODIFY” with some confirmation text. Some large text confirms the missiles are “ACTIVE” and an inscrutable “W 6654” appears in the lower right.
As the missiles launch, their location is tracked along the axis of the column as three white dots. The small paragraph of text in the upper right hand scrolls quickly, displaying tracking information about them. A number in the upper left confirms the number of missiles. A number below tracks some important pair of numeric variables. In the lower right, the label has changed to “SY 6654.” A red vertical line tracks with the missiles across the display, and draws the operator’s attention to another small pair of numeric variables that also follow along.
These missiles have no effect, so he sends a larger group of 9 “240” missiles. Operators watch its impact through the same display.
These screens are quite literal in the information they provide, i.e. physical objects in space, but abstract it in a way that helps a tactician keep track of and think about the important parts without the distraction of surface appearance, or, say, first-person perspective. Of all the scanner screens, these function the best, even if General Staedert’s tactics were ultimately futile.