Having enjoyed a brief pseudo-launch last week, yesterday Super Hexagon finally arrived proper on the Apple App Store.
And if your Twitter feed is anything like this author’s, last night was abuzz with chat about the title. And for every ‘Wow this is amazing’ there was a common caveat.
“I feel like Super Hexagon needs a subtitle to better convey what it's all about,” US games writer Jeff Gerstmann stated. “Something like ‘Super Hexagon: Fuck You’ perhaps.
Which is part of the title’s brilliance, of course.
But creator Terry Cavanagh, famed for cult indie hits such as VVVVVV, At a Distance and Don’t Look Back, insists that Super Hexagon is not designed to punish the player.
“There's a particular idea that comes up again and again when people talk about hard games that I don't think really applies to anything I make – the idea is ‘Why does this game hate me so much?’,” he told MCV.
“The game doesn't hate you. That's not what it's about. The only ‘devious’ pleasure I got from this game is the same one I hope everyone who plays it feels; the feeling of satisfaction when things start to click, when the timing and the wave progressions start to feel right, when you get into it and the game becomes second nature.
“Also, I think challenge gets a bad rap. People often confuse it with inaccessibility, but it doesn't have to be that way – a difficult game can be very accessible, like Super Hexagon is.”
On the face of it the game is very simple. A typical play session can last as little as three seconds. But while it may on the surface appear to be a more basic release than Cavanagh’s past successes, he describes it as the game his whole career has been leading towards.
“I basically see Super Hexagon as the culmination of a particular approach I often taken when making action games,” he explained. “That is, these super fast, random, chaotic experiences that I often end up making at game jams. I love working on them, because they feel like they come much more intuitively to me than anything else I make.
“I've made a bunch of small things along these lines in the past – the main ones being Self Destruct, Bullet Time, and the Super Gravitron mini game for VVVVVV. I think the cool thing about this progression is that I'm not expanding the concept – the concept is actually getting simpler, purer.
“When I made the original version of Hexagon for a jam earlier this year, it felt like I'd finally reached the end point of this journey. This is why I wanted to take the time to explore the idea properly.”
It’s also interesting to note that Super Hexagon started simply as a barebone gameplay idea. Yet the final release is also very strongly defined by the infectious presentation – the pulsing visuals, the fantastic chiptune track. It’s almost hard to believe that these secondary elements of design were not integral to the plan from the outset.
“I didn't really have much of a sense of how it would end up looking when I started – I just had gameplay ideas,” Cavanagh revealed. “The visual and audio stuff came later.
“Graphically, for the original prototype, I actually started out with vectors, for as stupid a reason as because I hadn't made a game with vector graphics before and I wanted to give it a try. Everything iterated from there – changing things until I found something I liked. That basically sums up my entire approach to creating this game, actually. I followed my intuition.
“For the audio, I was just listening to some chiptunes in the background while working on the original prototype for the pirate kart, and one of Chipzel's tracks came on, and it felt like it could be a really good fit. I listened to a lot of Chipzel's music over and over again while working on this before finally deciding on what tracks to use. Listening to Chipzel's music had a huge influence on the game's pacing, which is why I think it matches the game so well.
“And of course, the voice acting: I originally had a text to speech robot announce your progression, but just as I was finishing up the jam, my flatmate Increpare suggested I ask for a voice actress volunteer on twitter. Jenn's voice really makes the game feel complete - I can't imagine the game without it.”
The net result of this design is an game that really gets into your head. If you’ve ever experienced the ‘in the zone’ gameplay offered by games such as Rez or Frequency, then you’ll have some grasp of exactly how exhilarating that feels.
“It's an experience I really hope people have with the game!” Cavanagh admitted. “The idea is that the game has enough set pieces for you to start to recognise everything that can come up, so eventually playing it well becomes this mix of reaction speed and pattern recognition, somewhere between a very relaxed, tuned out state and a very alert, quick to react state. I guess you could call that ‘in the zone’.”
Super Hexagon is available as a universal app for iPhone and iPad right now. It costs 69p in the UK.