Another competition entry that was only narrowly edged out of an award, Jewel Drop by Nick Redmond of Iowa, USA, consistently received high marks from each of the four reviewers.
This ear-training, color-layering game features a clean and appealing interface and a luxuriously rich soundtrack that together create a unique and original game play experience.
The objective of the multi-level puzzle game is to identify the three (3) colors and notes that make up the composite sample given at the top of the circular game window. The sample is made up of three (3) different colors layered one on top of another, and three (3) different notes played simultaneously. Just mouse over the sample to hear the resulting musical chord.
There are five (5) colored disc-shaped "jewels" from which to choose, with each one containing a different color and a different musical note. Simply mouse over each disc to hear its note.
Once you have identified the constituent notes/colors, you must next decide their order. Remember that you are layering colors on top of one another and not mixing colors as with liquids. The last jewel on top will be the dominant color of the trio.
Drag and drop your choices, one-by-one, onto the center circle. Guess the sample within the number of tries indicated to advance to the next level.
Analysis: Before I say any more, I really want to say that I love this game. It is elegantly simple, unique, and creative. The ear-training component is an area that I have longed to see explored in a game since the Music Theory courses I took at RIT. I love the sound samples Nick has integrated into the gameplay, as well as the smooth and seamless layering that occurs when playing multiple sounds in succession. Being able to choose between guitar and piano is frothy icing on this already richest of cakes. On the surface it's an amalgamation of sensory stimuli bordering on the self-indulgent; decadent.
However, dig a little deeper to discover the game contains a great idea with a slightly flawed execution. On the one hand, the player is given a single chord made up of three notes that must be identified where order does not matter. And on the other, the player is given a single color combination made up of three unique colors that must be identified, and yet order does matter.
While the player will likely grasp the concept quickly of identifying the three notes of a chord and even the three colors of a color swatch, many will likely be confused when they discover that layering three colors in different orders produces different results. This is because there are many more examples familiar to us in which color mixing is not dependent on order. For example: mixing RGB light of a computer monitor (additive color), and mixing dyes in ink or paint (subtractive color). I am not learned in color theory, but my intuition tells me that neither are most casual gamers.
From the usability heuristics of Jakob Nielsen we know that a human-computer interface should provide a match between the system and the real world, using words and concepts familiar to the user and following real-world conventions. Requiring the player to think in layered colors, which I believe will be a foreign concept to most, is where this game breaks down.
The result will likely be a methodical approach by many players to guessing the correct order of the target color, which doesn't turn out to be much fun once this is realized.
The other and more obvious problem, of course, is the game's accessibility issues: it is simply not playable by anyone deaf, hard-of-hearing, or with any form of color-blindness.
While it's easy to sit here nitpicking it apart, it's not so easy to come up with ways of addressing these issues. Accessibility issues aside, I believe there is an exceptional game design here if the usability issues are addressed first and foremost. Otherwise, it's just a great game idea with significantly unrealized potential.
John: Jewel Drop requires something most of our other competition entries don't: a good ear and a sharp sense of color. It's unusual in that it tricks your brain into fighting itself for dominance: the left side tries to solve the puzzle while the right side digests the color and sound. I won't pretend I didn't have a tough time with this game at first, but finally I got the hang of it. Jewel Drop is a great game to crank up the speakers and relax with at the end of the day. It's also perfect for playing with more than one person at the computer. It's a little light on the "puzzle" aspects as compared to our other entries, but what it lacks in logical challenge it more than makes up for in elegance and beauty. A fantastic creative accomplishment by Nick Redmond!