02 May 2014

...upstream Color Zen

Illustration, eye, zen garden, ROYGBIV
If you think there's only one correct way to spell 'colour' then you'd better step away from the screen about now.

With grammar pedants now stepped away from the screen, I'd like to tell the remaining forward thinkers about a game called Color Zen. Anyone already familiar with this game should step away from the screen about now.

All who remain in front of the screen hear ye: Color Zen is, in equal measures, a beautifully addictive and addictively beautiful optical-art crown bowls pocket chess-for-one acid drop. But before I paint a lacklustre picture with a hundred dulled words - like a transcribed version of that retouched JC on the walls of the Sanctuary of Mercy Church - here are some screen grabs from within the game which (even without any sort of game mechanic attached) would have me entranced any given day of the week, including the hard-to-please Monday.

Looks lovely doesn't it?

The back-of-a-cig-packet aim of play is this: knocking shapes of the same colour into one another causes a wave of colour to flood the screen, absorbing any  other matching coloured shapes as it goes. Each level screen is framed by a coloured border. You complete the level by flooding the screen on your final move with the same colour which matches the border. Got that?

It's like being in control of a zombie apocalypse except instead of decimating a small town by biting, tearing and eviscerating, you spread your rainbow virus using colour, geometry and head skill. To explain all this is like telling you how beautiful the sunrise was this morning over my town, so if you can, download it now on iOS or Android.

On top of it being a thing of aesthetic beauty, its makers, Large Animal Games, have made a superb fist of level design, getting the balance in most parts spot on. And on the occasions where some levels appear easier than others, you're so ensconced in its ambient tone that you're not sure whether you fluked it or were in-the-zone from all the braincolourwashing (you can use that special compound if you like). The UI is simple and tidy, if a little confusing navigating through the Help menu, but you'll never need to visit that as the learn-as-you-play user flow has you up and tapping straight off the (coloured) blocks.

Reading an interview by UIPalette with the developers and designers reveals some insight which I found not only true to making apps and games in general but to 'the creative process' as a whole. Color Zen was the product of one of their Project Days: a creative labs boiler room approach where over 24 hours an idea (which quite brilliantly is decided upon from an initial internal free-pitch) is rapidly developed. No time to over-think things. Solidified focus. Stuff getting done. It came from the desire to do something simple and cool, almost for the sake of doing it. I'm sure there's workaday pot-boiler stuff everyone should be getting on with over at Big Animal Games, but that as a sole focus stifles creativity and it's this, after all, which is the solid fuel of innovation and progress. I bookended the weekly team meeting recently with a classic Charles Eames quote found published within the pages of The Designer Says which I keep on spouting off and have been known to stick to walls as a reminder to everyone with eyes (I should consider a Braille version - and I'm not being facetious). It's this, and it's true:

"My dream is to have people working on useless projects. These have the germ of new concepts."

From play comes work. The whole experience surrounding Color Zen - from the process in which the game was made to the playing of - is a heady source of inspiration. If you've made it this far down the page, regardless whether or not you think I've been creative, the fact that what you're reading right now exists only because I play Color Zen, goes some way to prove a point.