In my last post, I broke down my (admittedly novice) skills of perception discovered while playing Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon. This time, I’m focusing on how things can go wrong.

Let’s dive in.

Execution (finger flub)

The most basic of errors. The touchscreen requires a certain level of contact to register a rotation. Too little and the game doesn’t react, too much and you might find yourself over-rotating. Getting to know the screen and its latency leads to simple execution errors.

Input (eye position)

I found that for many of my failures, I was simply looking at the wrong parts of the screen. While first learning the game, my peripheral vision wasn’t trained well enough to clue me into trouble. I might be looking at the bottom left when a glimpse of the only exit spins through the top right corner. The missed milliseconds would be my downfall.

Deduction (pattern recognition, elimination)

Similarly, in those cases with few exits, I am often forced to make assumptions about an exit’s location based on what I can see and my knowledge of the patterns. Using your higher brain to navigate this spinning maze is already not ideal; the lag between “I should go over there” and thumbs hitting screen is just killer. To make a cognitive error while you are already on your back foot just adds insult to injury.

Recognition (identifying pattern)

There are times where I see the initial walls of a pattern, and misjudge which pattern it is on an instinctive level. Muscle memory kicks in and I supply the wrong inputs for the pattern at hand. Similar to deduction errors, but this one comes from the gut. Errors like this would happen just as I was beginning to see the board pattern-wise, and happened less and less as I grew accustomed to it.

Planning (finding shortest route)

There’s a particularly fun pattern in Hexagon where you are thrown a series of pentagons with a single exit. In the worst case (which seems to be every time!) the next exit is as far from the prior exit as possible. To get to the next exit, you must choose between the short path and the long path. I often find myself choosing the long path erroneously. At this point I find myself desperately twisting the pad as if motion controls were implemented to get that extra boost of speed.

Registration (misjudging your position)

I think this is the most disappointing type of error. Everything about my game is in great shape - I’ve got a good grasp of the current hurdles, and I’m planning ahead for my next moves. However, my cursor simply isn’t where I think it is. Perhaps this is an Execution error wrapped inside an Input error, but arising at more advanced levels of play. Here, something about the synergy between eyes and thumbs has broken down.

Giving Up (assumed dead, stop planning)

This is a real head-slapper. You narrowly miss an oncoming wall, but your experience tells you that you ran right into it. You all but take your thumbs off the screen in reaction. Maybe you scramble to regain control, maybe you don’t. Either way, precious milliseconds are lost and true death is inevitable.

Off Tempo (move too soon, into barrier)

Another advanced error, this involves settling into the wrong groove. As play advances, it becomes impossible to think and plan on individual walls. You must perceive patterns and execute the moves to escape them. I’ve found that although I know the moves, I still might execute them either too fast or too slow. Interestingly, these fails don’t feel too punishing. Maybe childhood drills with a metronome prepared me for this.

The Walls

I think of errors as the gateway to improvement. Each style of error in play is a wall beyond which you may or may not pass. Without gaining control of these errors and eliminating them, games of skill are only games of chance. What are the chances that the game sends you your weakest pattern &em; your own personal kill screen?

Super Hexagon makes this pass/fail aspect of skill building painfully clear. I believe that looking at errors as discreet problems to solve is the first step to expert level play. All I have to do now is prove it!