Last week, Terry Cavanagh (VVVVVV) released his first iOS game, a brutal arcade game called Super Hexagon in which you play as a triangle trying to survive oncoming waves of relentless, colorful polygons. A thumping synth soundtrack pumps through the speakers while you muddle between the only two controls in the game: left and right.
The first time I played, I think I lasted about 2 seconds. I wish that were an exaggeration. I’ve since improved quite a bit on that because the game is stupidly addicting. I also think there are lots of design/life lessons to be learned from Super Hexagon, which is the point of this post. Here’s what I’ve discovered.
1) Hesitation is the seed of defeat. The moment you pause, even for just a fraction of a breath, you’re toast. Everything you do in Super Hexagon is about forward motion and you can’t afford to ever lose sight of that.
2) Focus is paramount. Interruptions and distractions are the biggest killers in Super Hexagon, far worse than anything actually in the game (and the game has some crazy stuff to throw at you). Every time I tried to talk, I lost. That may seem like an obvious lesson, but the interesting part to me was that not only would I lose the current game, but it would take me several tries of losing in the first few seconds to get back into any sort of rhythm. Like John Cleese says in this video, distractions are deadly.
3) Never second guess yourself, even if you’re wrong. If you start moving in one direction and even momentarily move in the opposite direction because you think you’ve done something wrong, you’ll lose every time. It’s sometimes possible to salvage a mistake if you just go with it and hope for the best, but it’s almost never possible to salvage a time where you tried to go in two directions at once and failed at both. Commit to a path and then strike with no thought. It is impossible to do well with anything but an empty mind.
“It’s sometimes possible to salvage a mistake if you just go with it and hope for the best, but it’s almost never possible to salvage a time where you tried to go in two directions at once and failed at both.”
4) You will get better. When I picked up this game I thought, “No way. No way. This game is way too hard to do well at.” I have just a few hours under my belt now, mostly in 5-10 minute play sessions everywhere from waiting for something to print to waiting for my prescriptions at CVS, but I’ve already gotten dramatically better at the game. No matter how difficult or impossible it looks, it’s not nearly as bad as you think it is.
5) Relax. When I thought of Super Hexagon as this crazy, whirling game that just flings colors, shapes, and sounds at me and expects me to respond in the time frame of milliseconds, I was overwhelmed and I was having trouble making progress. When I made a conscious effort to keep my pulse down I immediately started doing better. When I started thinking of the game as a dance game for my fingers, my score skyrocketed. Even losing repeatedly to silly things, suppressing frustration and agitation was paramount in getting back on my feet and improving.
6) Exercise restraint. Being overzealous is just as deadly as second guessing yourself or taking the wrong direction altogether. The trick is finding the place you need to be and getting exactly to that spot. There’s a little bit of room for leeway, but consciously trying to avoid using too much of it is very helpful. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve lost because I overshot my goal and ended up at an edge where I didn’t want to be, waiting to get mowed over by the next wall.
Super Hexagon is available for iPhone and iPad here , on sale at the time of writing for $0.99 (normal price $2.99). Watch a trailer for it here and visit Terry Cavanagh’s website here. You can also download the soundtrack by Chipzel here.