Warning: Specimen is addictive.
Specimen is a highly-addictive smartphone game that turns colour perception into a competition. The concept is two-fold: it aims to be attractive, competitively engaging, and available to the masses, while also using its audience as test subjects to help further society’s understanding of how humans perceive and interact with colours.
“Having never designed a game before, I wanted to at least stick to an audience I knew well: designers,” Erica Gorochow, Animation Director and co-creator of Specimen (and The Creators Project alumnus), tells The Creators Project. “Focusing on colour helped us draw constraints for what gameplay could be as well as explore a subject that felt endlessly curious. We wondered: if a lot of people played, what could we learn about colour on a huge scale?”
Gorochow spent one year in the New Museum’s New Inc. program developing Specimen with Sal Randazzo, a motion design director. She designed the interface for the app, while Randazzo was responsible for the programming. After the prototype for Specimen took shape, they enlisted another artist/programmer, Charlie Whitney, for the visual mechanics and patterns. The three of them produced a visually engaging app that utilises basic competition to aid the world of design.
First, players work within a time limitation to identify amorphous blobs of various shades and hues with matching backgrounds. With every level, the intensity increases as the shades of each colour become increasingly similar—harder to match with the background, and harder to distinguish from each other. After successfully navigating a level, players are awarded with Chrome Coins, which can be traded in for pragmatic prizes, such as an ad-free gaming experience.
The fact that Specimen is free only helps its cause, and the data collected from its users will hopefully shed light on various colour perception patterns in society at large. For example, “Is there any indication that the US sees colour differently than China or Germany or Brazil? Is there any specific colour dominance or weakness when you compare men and women?” Gorochow asks. “I’m doubtful that the app can reveal a dataset that’s pristine enough to be conclusive, but I think with a certain volume of players, we might be able to find unexpected correlations.”
Specimen is also fun to observe. Players invent different ways of distinguishing the patterns and shades presented to them, like covering other shades with their forefinger in order to focus on one shade at a time. “It’s fascinating to look at who has a natural aptitude for the game," says Gorochow. “I really enjoy watching the light bulb go off when players realise first, how to play and second, how something so simple can be so tricky. Some people have told me they must play with the lights off, others say they blur their eyes. One of the most satisfying things is watching people discover deeper levels of play, particularly when it comes to how people strategise using the patterned power-ups.”
There were two other prototypes that were scrapped before Specimen came to be—mainly because they were boring, which Specimen is most certainly not. In fact, it’s sparking rivalries on Twitter and beyond. Download the game here to join the competition, and click here to learn more about Specimen.