Editorial: Super Hexagon and lessons in game development

Game: over. Begin. Game: over. Begin.

This is the sound of the average non-seasoned, non (but possibly soon to be) addict playing Super Hexagon. Interspersed of course, by musician Chipzel’s headbangingly-good Gameboy rave soundtrack and framed in anything between a four and six-sided claustrophobic canvas of pulsating colour. The thing about Super Hexagon, and the one it’s notorious for, is that it is tough. The kind of difficulty that sees a player’s heart pound and their breath held; expectantly surviving the relentless assault of continually-compressed spaces and erratic rotations to find that a perceived herculean marathon run lasted the sum total of four and a half seconds. Game: over.

“Triangle” you say? That is clearly not a triangle!

Begin. I have of late been thinking how the gameplay of Super Hexagon represents what I imagine to be my experience with entering the independent game scene as a seller of games; I am roughly 75% through what will be my first title with a price tag, and am almost pessimistic in my expectations of its performance. Simply put, I am not imagining it to be a runaway success that will make my millions, but rather the kind of forever-slow seller than nets a couple of pounds sterling every month or so at best. Some may call this kind of thing a ‘failure’, but to me that’s pretty short-sighted.

When playing Super Hexagon for the first time, I spent 45 minutes basically finding out that I was terrible at the game. My best score amounting to something like 17 seconds on the first stage “Hexagon”, I dared not try the other more difficult stages of “Hexagoner” and “Hexagonest” due to my appalling showing on the slowest and easiest stage. Game time averaging around seven or eight seconds, I had already played hundreds of times without success. That best time of 17 seconds felt like an achievement I would never surpass; the game was too twisty, too hard, it would be a fun distraction every now and then and I would forever ‘suck’ at the game. I thought.

But the thing with Super Hexagon is, as a player each successive game plays its part in building up to the eventual success that is finally beating the level. Muscle memory is acquired in tandem with the pattern-recognition of each of the game’s “gauntlets”, as reactions sharpen and eyes learn to discern between the walls and the safe spaces through which to progress. I had amassed two hours of game time, so Steam’s interface tells me, before I had even bested the first of six stages.

N.E.O - Near Earth Objects
N.E.O – Near Earth Objects, my first game with a price tag

I do not expect my first released game with a price tag to be anything even close to 17 seconds; more like two or three. The very point is, it will be an attempt that will add to the eventual aggregate that is the not-quite-but-close Super Hexagon highscore reminding me as a player how far I am away from completion of the current stage. I have beaten Hexagoner now and managed 26 seconds into Hexagonest. Right now, the game spins too fast and the screen’s aspect ratio is cheating me out of seeing future patterns if the safe openings are to the top or bottom. I play windowed so I’m not relying on my peripheral vision and with my right hand on the arrow keys as those are the fingers with which I react the quickest. 26 seconds today might turn into 30 in a week or two and I’ll be closer to another stage beaten. And then the whole shebang will start again.

Similarly. I may not find the market fair or the expectations of gamers to be in line with my output. I will adapt; very much like making the decision to stop playing Super Hexagon in full-screen; so that I can better cope with the challenges ahead. Subsequent releases may fail like hitting the first wall, but a restart will never be far away. I can try again, and either the market will be more receptive for my next title or I’ll change tack and something new will work. And if it does, maybe I won’t be able to match that highscore/success for a while, but damn it, I will get there in the end.

I’ve not even started to play the game of selling my games yet, but this is how I’m mentally preparing for the challenge; by likening it to the challenge of a sadistic game that has me compound-swear and ragequit but ultimately return time and time again to retry despite a mountain of failed attempts in my wake. Super Hexagon inspires me to keep going, and I will with my game development, even if it appears to be game: over.



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