Road to the IGF: Super Hexagon

Terry Cavanagh tells us the origin story behind smartphone hit Super Hexagon, which could take home the prize for Excellence in Design when the 2013 Independent Games Festival takes place later this month.
As part of our Road to the IGF series, Gamasutra is speaking to each of the finalists in the 2013 Independent Games Festival to find out the story behind the games. Today we speak to Terry Cavanagh, whose Super Hexagon is nominated for the Excellence in Design award this year.

What is your team's game development background, if any?

Well, the team is just me (made the game), Chipzel (wrote the music) and Jenn (did the voice acting). Jenn's a videogame journalist, Chipzel is a musician, and I make games. We don't work together usually, we're not a company.

What game development tools are you using?

At the moment, C++ and a library called openFrameworks. I also use Flash.

Where did the concept come from?

It started out as a jam game I made for the GDC Pirate Kart last year - I'd made small action/shooter games for jams like this before, and for this one I set out to try to make something less cluttered and noisy than things I'd made in the past. I ended up making a game called Hexagon, which is basically the game that Super Hexagon grew from. I kinda see Super Hexagon as the culmination of a particular strand of action games I generally make at jams - specifically, as simplifications of things I've made like Self Destruct or the Super Gravitron from VVVVVV.

How long have you been working on the game?

I started Super Hexagon a few months after the Pirate Kart. From there, it took around six months to complete in total.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any standouts?

Yeah, quite a few of them! I started playing Starseed Pilgrim last month when Bennett Foddy was talking about it on Twitter, I love it. I played an earlier version of Samurai Gunn at Fantastic Arcade in September, I love it too. So many awesome games are finalists this year, I honestly don't know where to start or stop.

How do you define an "indie" game developer?

I don't care.

You've said more than once that Super Hexagon's success was a surprise. Has this changed the way your next games will be?

Yeah, it was! Success is always a surprise, at least for me. It was really important to me that Super Hexagon was as difficult as it is, because mastering that is kinda what the game's all about. At the time I believed this would limit the game to a very niche audience, especially on iPhone, and I was ok with that - I'm very happy to have been wrong. I don't think this has changed anything about how I might approach games in the future. I guess that's not really how I think about games.

Why doesn't every game let you restart immediately after a failure?

I don't think any approach to game design works in all cases or is universally true - some games have very good reasons for not restarting instantly! Some games don't, though, you're right.

Would you option the movie rights to Super Hexagon if the right buyer came along? What if it was with a director you really hated, but they offered you way too much money?

Sure, why not.

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