An Oral History of Alpha Beta

Valerie ChenIt was hard to, like... each person you had to teach them how to flip the cart, and tell them “don’t do anything yet” in the intro animation, ’cause they were trying to do shit.

Sarah RothbergYeah, I feel mixed about that, how that ended up.

Sam BrennerYou mean, when you’re walking to the store and you don’t have control of the cart.

Valerie ChenYeah, you’re supposed to just watch, but people would be super confused about that.

Valerie ChenAnd then flipping the cart, and then... you kind of had to just walk them through how it worked, like, “oh, you need to go through the cashiers’ lines, any of them, but not the other way.” They would like to go through the one that’s, like, not a cashier, it’s, like, the welcome guy. Or they would go on the wrong side of the other - the first - one. [I’d] be, like, “no, back up, back up.” And it was really hard for people to steer, so it would be really hard for them to get into the lane.

Sarah Rothberg3D is confusing for people.

Valerie ChenYeah.

Sam BrennerBut it’s the same controls as any first-person shooter, with the mouse and keyboard.

Valerie ChenI’d never played one.

Sarah RothbergPeople who were, like, super-nerdy video game people could play it really well from the beginning.

Valerie ChenYeah, you could tell people who were gamers.

Sarah RothbergBut regular people were like, “uuuhwa, I want to throw up!

In college, I was introduced to motion graphics. Though there were already well-established masters of the medium — pioneers like Saul Bass and contemporary studios like Troika stand out as memorable — me and my classmates felt like we were on the cutting edge of it all. To us, the pinnacle of motion graphics was the intro animation. We had entire assignments devoted to them.

But on the internet the intro animation soon became a joke, put to laughable use by restaurants and bars trying to recreate the spirit of their brick-and-mortar establishment online. From a pinnacle to the nadir: the “skip intro” button, a patch in the design whose existance acknowledges that the decision to hide important content behind a song-and-dance was a bad one.

I initially just wanted this link to be about the effectiveness of different forms of checkout systems. In trying to find something good, I came across this video simulating a bizarrely-laid-out grocery store, which ultimately led me to the website of Simio, the company behind the $4,850 software package used to produce that video. Simulation, naturally, is an established industry with an annual conference. Here is a paper from the 1969 conference titled Simulation Models for Evaluation of Airport Baggage-Handling Systems.