Lumon Industries Macrodata Refinement Terminal:

Production designer Jeremy Hindle and set decorator Andrew Baseman worked to capture the feel of a period computer terminal without using anything that would be instantly recognizable to most viewers. The keyboards are very similar to the Data General Dasher, but have been built with a trackball that never existed in the original.

The Stories Behind Severance's Eerie Office Design:

"I was careful not to show anything that was easily recognizable," Baseman said of the props found within the Innies' "macrodata-refinement" office. "We wanted to confuse the viewer about whether this is a period piece, contemporary, or the future. The lamps and chairs, all of those things were either manufactured or found in faraway lands because we didn't want people to say, 'Oh, that's an Eames chair.'" [...]

Hindle and Baseman learned the hard way that any single brand of computer would be too identifiable for viewers. "We made a computer that, if it ever came out in the real world and the engineers described what they were doing, no one would believe them. It's a cathode-ray tube, but it's a touchscreen. It has a trackball. We recognize some aspects of it, and some not at all." The contradictory qualities are supposed to be baffling but also a bit amusing. "It doesn't look like an adult high-tech computer," Baseman added. "It looks like a toy."

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28 Responses:

  1. Rodger Donaldson says:

    Hey, hey, I had an HP150 which was a touch-screen CRT at one point in my early teens.

    Which just makes the slipstream effect of these designs work even better for me.

    • thielges says:

      Then there's UofI's PLATO touchscreen terminals with their pleasing orange plasma glow.

    • Amy says:

      OMG, I remember the HP 150s. That touchscreen was implemented by having a whole bunch of infrared beams crisscrossing in front of the screen, so pretty low-resolution.

      • MattyJ says:

        The old Xerox 5090 had that in ~1990. It was like some kind of wizardry to me back then.

      • Rodger says:

        Yeah, if my memory is correct it was basically half the column by row resolution, something like a 40x20 grid. Given the technology of the time it was quite an elegant solution.

  2. Fleeno says:

    I'm really enjoying this show. The odd, mid-century (but sometimes not quite) design, and those amazing computers had me hooked before I had any sense of the plot. I recently stumbled into the "Liminal Space" subreddit, and found a lot of the design in this show reminded me of that concept.

  3. tnh says:

    I love the look of the show. I’m guessing they used these keycaps.

  4. anon says:

    Apparently no modifier keys at all, other than Caps Lock? It's like the opposite of a terminal keyboard.

    (And I also remember crt touch screens though they weren't nearly so nice as the sort you see now)

    • Andrew Klossner says:

      The IBM 3270 terminal keyboard had no modifier keys. It was a line-at-a-time system: you edited your line within the terminal, then ENTER would send the line. Character set was EBCDIC. I spent too much time sitting at one in the 1970s.

      But a shift key on the right only, not on the left? It's not even compatible with a typewriter.

  5. jwz says:

    Not too far off...

  6. Thomas Lord says:

    I can see the future of hackers unfolding today with the leveling of manufacturing in the sense that as the cost gap of small run bespoke hw and mass market production shrinks, suddenly there will come a renaissance and revolution in bringing forward very retro wisdom about the "human computer interface". Also, people generally will be nicer and more cooperative with one another. Everyone will have lots of free time, too. Instead of watching free time, vicariously, like this.

    Also: tektronics 4*** something, probably a 4551 in retrospect, I think I recall a light pen -- writing some assembly code that never quite came together so that in theory the chemistry dept. could connect their legacy machine to the tiny arpanet. That same year, GNU Emacs was released for the first time and neither it or Gosmacs was my first encounter with Emacs.

    Also worked with a PCB CAD system earlier in the 1980s that had two screens: one for display of PCB designs, the other alternating between a mostly-green light-pen-accessed menu system, and a fully lit green screen for pen-based drawing. The company employed carpenters. They played a lot of cards during the day. There's a DEC J-11 running RSX-11 ("oral sex 11") in the bottom half of that thing:

    • Thomas Lord says:

      Does your computer come with a carpeted, ergonomic slope foot rest? Does it? Why do you even bother to compute?!??

    • jwz says:

      I don't think I ever worked with primordial touchscreens or light pens, but I do vaguely recall playing some video game with a light gun that worked with a regular TV, which I gather worked by chasing the beam: the gun itself had a photoreceptor that could detect the vertical blanking interval and subsequent timing. Magic!

      • Thomas Lord says:

        I remember those, I think. There's another one I can't immediately find a trace of on the intertube -- late 1970s or early 1980s arcade game. Far less sophisticated but strangely elaborate. Must have involved a video disc. You'd strap on a literal holster belt with a wired up toy gun. Across from you was a rear-projected, almost life-sized video of an actor in an old-timey western shoot-out, staring you down with 3-day stubble on some back lot somewhere. When a bright flash was animated on top of the actors' eyes, you were supposed to draw and shoot first. I don't think anything but trigger timing determined whether you won or not but this never stopped us from actually "aiming". Alternate video endings depending on who got who. The old (now would be $$$) pinball machines were less expensive and much more fun.

        For a brief while, people imagined there was going to be a whole new literary form of "choose your own adventure" Vidiodisc fiction forms. That's where the money's gonna be. A few years later there was even a faculty clique Back There involving weirdos from the arts college and the CS dept trying to get an interactive fiction curriculum into the course catalog.

      • Benjy says:

        The hardware and OS software for this was implemented on the Atari 8-bit range, and used in the XEGS BugHunt game to have a proper light gun. As you say when it got a trigger (I can't remember which pin of the 9 pin D connector it was linked to) the OS calculated the screen position based on where the raster dot was. It only worked on bright screens (not surprisingly) so the game flashed the screen bright when you fired (there was an in-game reason for this) and then detected the location. You could also use the same system to build a light pen using a simple phototransistor - I did this as an electronics/computer project.

  7. jc says:

    There is no escape (key).

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