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Well, it was a long time ago. [1]

We've got screens figured out now. What happens in the future that makes them worse?
Graham Stark, Unskippable
Ugh, you'd think in the future they'd have better graphics than Pong.

To the right is what a computer display in Star Wars looks like. Now look anywhere at your screen, and compare to what your computer can do.

In a Science Fiction program, the graphics quality of whatever computer is used is that of what computers were available at the time. Therefore, there are no screens in 1960s shows and there are no GUIs in the 1970s and 1980s.

In earlier eras, the writers probably didn't think computer graphics could improve. As the nature of computer advancements became more apparent, however, such limitations have become more about budget and imagination.

Zeerust for the digital era.

Arguably can be justified in a scenario when functionality is preferable to looks. After all, the last thing you want is to see a graphics driver error on the screen of your spaceship's on-board computer in the middle of a crucial operation.

See also Extreme Graphical Representation, Holographic Terminal, Magic Floppy Disk. Related to Science Marches On and Tech Marches On.

Examples of Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future include:

Anime and Manga


  • Star Wars: In Episode IV, the fighters' targeting computers had very plain graphics, as did the Rebels' displays at the Yavin base. In later (and "earlier") installations, Lucas and company apparently understood how computers were changing. For The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, they didn't put any graphics that would actually appear on a computer screen onscreen (though they continued to show holograms). Even for the prequels, they kept such visuals to a minimum, though they likely could have created any interface they liked with effects.
    • Even so, the holograms are black and white and flickery, not half as good an image as any video technology that would've existed when the first Star Wars movie was filmed. However, it does add Used Future appeal.
    • The X Wing video game actually used the Episode IV visuals for its targeting computers. Apparently deciding that they could do better, in TIE Fighter Lucasarts gave the TIEs a targeting computer that showed the target from the perspective of the pilot's ship, including orientation, though the viewpoint of the "camera" was always from the same distance. It might have been a decision to give the TIEs more advanced equipment, except that all future iterations gave player-controlled craft an identical targeting computer.
  • Compare the drab all-text computer graphics from Alien with the rudimentary graphics from Aliens. 7 years is a long time in computer science.
    • Also, check out the digital photo that briefly appears in the director's cut of Aliens. It looks to be about .001 megapixel resolution.
    • In fact, Alien did have wireframe 3D animation on some of the CRT monitors in the shuttle craft's bridge (see here). The code for these was written in FORTRAN by British programmers on a Prime 400 microcomputer with 192 kB RAM (see here).
  • Averted (a bit) in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which used modified cel animation to depict computer readouts that would otherwise be difficult or impossible in 1968, but played painfully straight in the sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact, with graphics typical of 1984.
  • In Star Trek the Motion Picture their scientific adviser took a look at what the effects people had come up with for their viewing screen tactical displays, and told them "I can do better than that on my TRS-80," so what we see in the movie is what he did on his TRS-80.
    • Some of the displays in The Wrath of Khan and The Search For Spock are definitely low-grade computer graphics. Then Michael Okuda came along on The Voyage Home and vastly improved the look. It's particularly jarring, though, when one of the bridge displays in The Wrath Of Khan, set in 2285, is primitive compared to the display of a circa-1986 computer in The Voyage Home!
  • The text we see when RoboCop is first activated shows that he is running under MS-DOS 3.3.
    • Likewise, the Terminator's POV shots have 6502 assembly language code in the first two movies, and Macintosh ones (including "QuickTime Player"!) in the third.
  • In Gattaca, they can make DNA tests in seconds, but they have neither touchscreens, or high resolution.
  • Escape from New York is set in 1997, but is forced to use 1981 graphics. The effect helps create an Unintentional Period Piece.
    • The glider computer's green wireframe graphic was too expensive to do back then so the model of Manhattan made for different scenes in the movie was painted black, outlined with green reflective tape and filmed. Truly, the past is another country.
  • Inexplicably done in Real Steel, with a Generation 2 controller that Bailey dug up for Max to use with Atom. Seeing that 2007 was a date mentioned where Charlie was still boxing, the monochrome low-res screen on the G2 controller should be more advanced than that.

Live Action TV

  • Many a Trekkie has suffered brain damage trying to explain the dichotomy between the Viewer-Friendly Interface on computers in Star Trek Enterprise and the flashy lights and hand-made slides in Star Trek the Original Series -- we get a little help from the fact that we almost never see the screens of video displays on TOS showing anything other than fullscreen video. We get a better look at a TOS-era display in the Star Trek Enterprise episode "In a Mirror, Darkly", where it appears to be a sort of art deco version of the TNG-era LCARS interface.
    • Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine suffered from the same problem mentioned in the trope description of frame rate refresh being visible on screen. For that reason, only specialised TV monitors whose refresh rate could be adjusted to match that of the cameras were used, which meant that there you rarely saw an animated display in the background, only the ones necessary for the plot.
    • While DS9 has considerably more animated displays than TNG, it makes it look like the Cardassians trashing the station on their way out replaced certain displays with (377-odd year old) Macintoshes, if the Chicago font is any indication. At least some of us wouldn't put it past those Affably Evil Cardassians....
    • Voyager retconned this by stating a time traveler introduced computer displays to the 20th century. The result was an alternate timeline similar to our own.
  • In Knight Rider, all of KITT's "complex" displays are source listings of BASIC programs.
  • Even worse, in Timeslip, a futuristic (evil) computer can output directly as brainwaves or on a video screen. The video screen shows the image of a teletype printing out the computer's output.
  • The makers of the original Battlestar Galactica Classic made an effort to avoid (well, delay) this trope by using the top-of-the-line graphics systems then available for the bridge display of incoming enemy fighters. They looked rather impressive for about five years.
    • Oddly enough, the re-imagined series made a point of this with the computers on Galactica, which have been described as being far below the specs of today's systems.
      • It is presumably due to trying to avoid this trope that you don't really see the computer displays on the Pegasus (which is a more up to date battlestar) or any of the civilian ships, all of which would be running the "current day" (or at least more modern) colonial computers as opposed to the obsolete systems on the Galactica.
      • The spin-off Caprica used much more flashy looking displays and technology in general - for instance, the tablet device Zoe uses and then rolls up to put back in her pocket.
    • When the film Space Mutiny (which used classic Galactica scenes) was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike and the 'bots took notice of this easily.

 Tom Servo: Graphics made by Kenner.

  • In The Sarah Connor Chronicles we learn that at least part of SkyNet is written in Visual Basic and that Terminator CPUs plug into small subsection of PCI bus. No wonder they want to kill humanity.
  • Look Around You, keeping with its Retraux theme, makes use of BBC Micros, using one in the first series opening titles to run a laughably simple BASIC program. The second series features a BBC Micro with glitchy voice software welcoming viewers to the future of "Look Around Yog", while a toaster with a BBC Micro attached is a "futuristic toasting system".
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (BBC miniseries)'s producers looked at what the BBC's own effects department offered for the guide. It wasn't pretty. So they averted this by using very painstakingly detailed cel animation and clever rear projection tricks to show "advanced" computer displays (such as the tiny non-flat flatscreen of the guide, the gigantic widescreen display on the Heart of Gold, etc).
  • Played with in Bones where Angela has a holographic display, with amber graphics resembling some types of 80s crt monitors. The resolution was way better, though.
  • Max Headroom. Everything is in wire frames. Then again, it was the Trope Namer for Twenty Minutes Into the Future....
  • In the classic Doctor Who episode "Logopolis" it turns out the fantastically advanced TARDIS computer has a display that is out-performed by a ZX-Spectrum. Of course this might be justified in that The Doctor is enough of a Bunny Ears Lawyer to actually prefer that look over proper graphics.

Tabletop Games

  • Monitors of any sort are rarely seen in Warhammer 40000 (it being a miniatures wargame, after all) but the graphical quality of what little we do see tends to vary. Often justified since most races, especially humans, are living in a Used Future. The most recent example (at time of writing) is the Cold Open in the tie-in video game Warhammer 40000 Space Marine. The Imperial command's monitor has a fully functional GUI and supports a click-and-zoom map of the galaxy, but can only display yellow, red, and black.

Video Games

  • The famous song from Portal is displayed on a monochrome terminal screen as it is sung, and illustrated with ASCII graphics.
    • As is the interface on its companion website, Justified by the text of the secret employee entry: "And while we're all working on twenty year old equipment, somehow they can afford to build an 'Enrichment Center'." Suggesting that all funds were being diverted into developing GLaDOS and/or Portal technology while keeping everything else on a one-thread-of-a-shoestring budget.
    • Not to mention that the monitors "don't need to print text one character at a time", so either G La DOS is sucking up all operating power as well, or she is just messing with people working at the enrichment center.
  • Ansem's Computer in Kingdom Hearts 2 is supposed to be highly advanced and storing all of his and his students research data. Yet, it uses 8-bit graphics and a user-interface which looks like the most primitive form of Windows the world has ever seen. Not even a mouse is used. It's somehow justified by the fact that this computer is the gate to "Space Paranoids", a world based on the '80s science-fiction movie Tron, and the fact that it is at least ten years old already by the time KH2 takes place, and there hasn't exactly been anyone around to upgrade the software.
  • The computers in Grim Fandango appear to be teletypes hooked up to enormous amber-monochrome screens. It fits with the Art Deco theming everywhere.
    • It's also never explicitly stated just when the game is set; if anything, it seems to be around the Forties or Fifties, which would make them advanced for their time.
  • In Mega Man X, the intro has Dr. Cain working on a circa-2114 machine with 8 Terabytes of "real mem" (probably RAM) and 32 TB of "avail mem" (probably space in the swap partition of the hard drive) whose power-on self-test sequence still looks like this. (By contrast, a Mac Pro can be configured with 64 gigabytes of RAM (1/125th) of the fictional computer) and 8 terabytes drive space (1/4th the fictional) and, well...
  • Used in Startopia. Most likely intentional given how the game is a love-letter to 'classic' sci-fi.
  1. In a galaxy far, far away.