Don't worry; it's not that hard once you get used to it.
The bubble-top canopy rose automatically and Tom dived inside, searching frantically amongst hundreds of levers, switches and analogue dials for the start button.
— Attack of the 50-Ft. Half-Klingon
Basically the Rule of Cool
dictates that there should be lots of buttons on the fancy starship or new mech, often paired with rows of unlabeled indicator lights. But we only see a few buttons used, especially with the cases of stock footage. It's a billion buttons, with no apparent purpose.
Usually, of all these buttons, a few will always
be used, usually in different contexts
. This can be justified by the fact that any vessel with standardized parts would have more than a few displays which look identical, and the fact that pressing various combinations of the return, tab, arrow, and escape keys while in a menu system can in fact get you radically different results- but this does not mean that the rest of the keys are unnecessary.note
Nevertheless, many shows just don't manage to make things look convincing, or to consider that the more 'advanced' something is, the fewer buttons it might have
Truth in Television
. Real Life
aircraft, spacecraft, power stations, trains and so on have loads and loads of buttons - many of which are probably only used if one particular component (out of thousands) is misbehaving. The cockpit of the Space Shuttle, for example, has buttons covering every available surface (even the ceiling!). In recent years more advanced and reliable computing power has allowed designers to simplify control panels; the 'Glass Cockpit' with Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) screen, for instance, is pretty much standard kit on most airliners. Even in an era when most or all functions can
be routed through a single simple interface, however, having a cockpit full of hard-wired controls reduces the chances of a single circuit failure rendering an entire craft uncontrollable. The armada of buttons are on standby just in case you have to take full manual control of the craft, or make it do something it wasn't designed to do- say, you need to land an airliner on a river, for instance...
Contrast alternate futuristic design styles Ascetic Aesthetic
and Holographic Terminal
See also Extreme Graphical Representation
, and the The Aesthetics of Technology
for adding billions of buttons to something in an attempt to make it look complicated.
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- In Wolverine #75, the X-Men are re-entering the atmosphere after flying the Blackbird to Magneto's asteroid. Quicksilver must take the pilot seat because there are so many buttons that he is the only one fast enough to activate them all.
- Subverted in The Subtle Knife: after seeing a computer for the first time, Lyra describes the keyboard as "a board with at least one hundred buttons". She is right, mind...
- In the original novels and both film adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the walls of Willy Wonka's Great Glass Elevator are covered floor to ceiling with buttons. At least this time it's clearly explained that there is a button for each room and there are a lot of rooms, as the factory is akin to an iceberg, with only a small fraction visible above-ground.
- The sequel shows how Crazy-Prepared Wonka is. The elevator has a button that supplies oxygen to the elevator, four for rockets for directional movement, and one for orbital reentry rockets. (Exactly why he was expecting to take it into orbit when he built it isn't made clear.)
- Venturus from Archer's Goon got carried away with the Rule of Cool and designed his spaceship like this. Operating it requires two people, stretched across the array of buttons so as to press four or more of them at a time.
- This is lampshaded all to hell, if you can't tell.
- Halo plays around with this in the novel adaptation for the first game. Master Chief has to do X task, just happens to know which of many buttons to press and nobody can figure it the heck out.
- Implied in The Dark Tower: Roland sees a 1980s-era jetliner cockpit and immediately understands why it takes four people to operate.
- The computer room of the cruise ship Star of Empire, in Galaxy of Fear is just crowded with buttons, all colorful.
- The first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons featured an artifact known as the Machine of Lum the Mad, a device consisting of a large console powered by dozens of dials, plugs, levers, and buttons, none of which are labeled. A sourcebook for Second Edition AD&D introduced the Mighty Servant of Leuk-O, which was essentially a Humongous Mecha controlled by around 300 unlabelled levers.
- This trope got used numerous times with Gary Gygax and his original gaming group, as they all liked to gamble on random lever pulls. Often Gary would keep two or three different lever or button rooms as Schmuck Bait for the players, who couldn't resist pulling them and hoping to get a magic item or a sizable boost in XP — though just as often they'd end up dooming the party instead... The infamous Deck of Many Things is based on the same concept.
- The most button (and dial, and switchboard plug) heavy version of the Machine of Lum the Mad had 8.5x10^48 different combinations, each with the possibility to possess its own unique effect. (And the worst part is, it would have far more combination if many of its controls weren't broken.) Obviously, they were not enumerated, but the possibilities do give one the idea why Lum was called "the mad."
- Into the Outdoors with Gun and Camera, the introductory adventure to Paranoia 2nd ed, sends the hapless Troubleshooters into wacky adventures on a six-legged amphibious vehicle. The players are presented a foldout of the vehicle's dashboard with unmarked buttons, gauges and levers, and of course the instruction manual is not available at their security clearance. Have a nice day.
- The Atari Jaguar's controller had seventeen buttons: a normal set of buttons consisting of a directional pad, Pause and Option buttons and 3 face buttons, and a numerical keypad under them with number sign and asterisk buttons. The intention was to include game-specific plastic faceplates to be attached on top of them as a reminder of what each button does in that game. Keep in mind that this is a game controller, where all the buttons have to be able to be accessed easily and quickly. This was one of several reasons as to why it flopped.
- Steel Battalion, a $200 Humongous Mecha game for the X-Box, has a controller approximating what might actually be used to pilot a mech, including an ejector switch housed in a plastic cover which had to be used if your mech was destroyed or you, the pilot, were blown up too... which deleted your saved game. Seriously. Originally the designers intended for the ejector switch to be under a glass cover that the player would have to break if he wanted to use it. Thankfully, they came to their senses.
- The Bonus Dungeon of Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal included a (toned down for simplicity of coding) version of the aforementioned Machine of Lum the Mad. The rest of the dungeon provided several notes giving valid combinations (yielding some very nice stat boosts and the key to the next level of the dungeon), but hitting switches at random produced random results in the usual range from 'brilliant' (the single largest XP reward in the game) to 'damn' (disintegrate the operator with no saving throw).
- Battletech: Firestorm simulator pods have MFDs with many buttons that are labeled that control functions from targeting, selecting between group and chain fire, setting pilot mode, and even buttons to shout pre-recorded radio insults to another/all player(s).
- Kerbal Space Program's "Raster Prop Monitor" Game Mod adds virtual cockpits to almost all control pods, with several multi-function displays that can flip between radar, status displays, orbital maps, etc. Each MFD has multiple buttons for controlling the display. Many cockpits also have additional controls such as flip switches (complete with a protective cover) for emergency boosters, parachutes, staging, fuel cut-off, and so on.
- The Space Shuttle, pictured above.
- Many recent MIDI controllers have arrays of buttons, keys, and knobs that are completely programmable and thus unlabelled.
- What analog audio mixing consoles lack in buttons they make up in knobs. A mid-size console with parametric EQ can have well over one thousand knobs.
- Concorde, the world-famous supersonic airliner.
- Mozilla Firefox is arguably the virtual equivalent: go to about:config, click through the cutesy warning if need be and let your mind boggle at the sheer number of options. Made even better by the fact that a number of settings aren't even there by default; luckily, there's a manual.
- Have a look at a Formula One steering wheel◊.
- Or better yet the control panel of a Nuclear Power Plant.
- The modern design trend is "glass cockpits", (computer displays with touchscreens) meaning this trope is rapidly going away. Critical controls must still remain as physical buttons, however, since power may not be available to the touchscreens in an emergency.
- QWERTY keyboards, compared to a chorded keyboard, which were once thought likely to become commonly used. They're usually labelled, but there are blank keyboards available, intended to help people learn to touch-type.
- Instruments and test equipment, like oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers etc.
- Pilots of the famous A-10 Warthog (that would be the American
attack plane giant rotary cannon with a plane wrapped around it) are expected to not only be able to use the many buttons, knobs, and switches in the cockpit (the design predates the Glass Cockpit concept), but they are expected to be able to do so blindfolded during training in case they have a problem while flying at night.
- Analog or virtual-analog synthesizers. Even more so, modular synthesizers. Justified in that 1960s and 1970s tech level required for one controller for each parameter, and that today this actually makes synths easier to tweak than more modern ones which require sifting through dozens of menus with either one knob for everything or none at all.
- The EKO Computerhythm, the first programmable drum machine. Speaking of stuff used by Jean Michel Jarre, the Geiss Digisequencer. Then again, how much more straight-forward can sequence programming be than a hardware piano roll?
- Modern roller coasters, such as El Toro◊, Top Thrill Dragster◊, and Kingda Ka◊ have lots of buttons, but most of them are only used for maintenance.