Probably the most appropriately titled game I found was What The Hex? (though an even more appropriate would have been DUDE WTH?). This was a game that gave you a hexadecimal colour – #41F6B8, for example – then gave you a choice of three or four tiles to choose from. Your job: pick which colour is generated by that code. Whee! I mean, okay, maybe there’s bragging rights to this in some offices (like cracking a font joke at the pub and seeing who laughs), but I really hope no one quit their job to follow their dreams with this one. Furthermore, What The Hex? isn’t your only option in this “genre”… you’ve also got Hexaguess, Hexer and HexGuess. Spoilt for choice! Yeah, I know it’s not about hexagons, but I just had to say something.
Worth an honourable mention was Neuroshima Hex. The reason I give it an honourable mention is that it’s obviously got huge production value, high-quality graphics and sound, and looks like it could be exciting… if I could figure out what the hex I was supposed to do in it. It’s like a character-driven turn-based path-finding territory-invading strategy board game that likely has a huge following somewhere on the planet for someone to have spent this much time and effort on this game. Personally, I prefer a game I can pick up and go, and this one had me utterly lost by page 15 of the tutorial. Not for the first time this year, I reserve the right to pass judgment; if this sounds like your thing, be my guest, but I can’t imagine anyone knowing about Neuroshima hearing this from me first. Chances are you’ve already got it.
Also worth a mention is Hexbee. It’s an über-casual five-in-a-row path-finding pattern-matcher which, of all the games listed above, I came back to a few times because it was simple, satisfying and relaxing. At the same time, there is such a thing as being too easy; after still clearing flowers on my first game after fifteen minutes, I did start to get the itchy feeling that I needed to be getting on with other things. But, if you’re the sort that finds discomfort in challenge and conflict, Hexbee should help you wile away the blissful hours of solitude until your next dose of medication.
One of the big buzzphrases in the game industry these days is “tight core loop”. If you’re an up-and-coming game developer, you’ve either heard this phrase hundreds of times before, or I’m about to save your game bacon. If you’re not a game developer and thus have never given much thought to business models, market strategies, or even why you like a game outside of “lots of ‘splosions”, well, take a seat, because I’m about to pull back the curtain.
The “core loop” of your game is the time it takes for you to play, win, buy stuff, and play again (‘stuff’ means upgrades – armour, ammo, extra lives, skins – and is of course optional depending on the nature of your game, but it’s part of the loop). Studies show that, contrary to conventional logic, the shorter the game (tighter core loop), the longer people play it.
It’s weird, I know, but it works like this: People will play a 5-minute game once or twice, but they’ll play a 1-minute game twenty or thirty times. Why? Reason one is people like to win, and if it takes one minute to win, upgrade and play again, they’ll want to keep winning and winning and winning, rather than play other games that only allow you to win once every five minutes (or, god forbid, lose!).
Reason two: less chance of interruption. Nothing sucks more than having to chop a game short. It’s frustrating. Even pausing sucks, because you lose your mojo and you can’t ever get it back. A game that takes twenty minutes to play becomes frustrating because it’s taking twenty minutes to play. You might not have twenty minutes, so you’ll skip that one given the choice. If the game is only minute long, it’s easy to say, “yeah, I’ve got time for one more.” Pretty soon that twenty minutes you didn’t have time for has been taken up by forty-five 1-minute games in a row, and you’ve missed your bus.
It’s not a hard and fast rule by any means, and it of course depends on having an enjoyable game in the first place, but if you look at most of the big casual games out there these days, you’ll notice a pattern: they’re simple, and they’ve got a quick turn around. Angry Birds, Jetpack Joyride, Cut The Rope, CSR Racing, all take around a minute to finish a round. So, when you’ve got a minute, these are the games you keep pulling out. One more… just one more… Got time for—yeah, go on, one more… I’LL BE THERE IN A MINUTE! Yeah, one more…
Super Hexagon has an average core loop of 10 seconds (for me, anyway. Maybe I just suck at it). You may say “How great can a 10-second game be?” but you see if you don’t play it for forty-five minutes at a stretch. The beauty of a 10-second core loop is: you’ve always got ten seconds to spare.
Honestly, the only thing that might get to you is the number of times you hear the lady say “Game Over… Begin.” But trust me: after a few hours of solid hexagoning, you’ll hardly notice it anymore.