I was supposed to be writing this story 20 minutes ago. But I got buried in my own topic–the new iPad game Hundreds–and fell a bit behind schedule.
Hundreds is an iPad puzzle game by Semi Secret Software. There’s no tutorial, but smart design means you’ll immediately learn the premise: Tap on a series of gray circles until their sum totals 100. The catch? They move, bouncing around with real-time physics. And as their values grow, they turn red and balloon out. If a red circle hits anything else on the screen, it’s game over.
“Staring at my ceiling one night, I imagined this really simple game system of circles bouncing off each other in a closed system. The interesting part being: The only way to win was by growing them, but that was simultaneously the only way to lose,” designer Greg Wohlwend tells Co.Design. “It was a really elegant system that immediately got my heart pumping.”
Gameplay, of course, grows increasingly complicated. Every few stages, you’re greeted with a new mechanic. You’ll encounter saws, negative numbers, pause/play buttons, and tethered circles that can only grow in pairs. But ultimately, the core experience remains unchanged. The simplest of shapes are rendered in just three colors (white, black, and red) to create an intense arcade puzzle game that will shorten your breath and leave you cursing the most creative of profanities.
All of this said, if the game itself is so elegantly executed, why not aggressively pump up the visuals with more colors and cartoon characters? After all, Hundreds is being rendered on an uber-sharp Retina Display and the color palettes are limitless. In an App Store filled with Angry Birds clones and pixel art masterpieces, Hundreds went the direction of Tetris, focusing on simple geometry to tell its story rather than avatars just waiting for their own plush toy collection.
“I think that [minimalism] helps us a lot to stand out, and not look like other games. I think it helps us a lot that we don’t have to worry very much about, like, whether the art is gender-neutral or not,” puzzle designer Adam Saltsman writes. “And I think it lets us really push the gameplay to the very edge, since there is nothing distracting the player that does not also have a very functional or intentional purpose.”
The lack of artificial narrative also means something else: You start playing instantly. And when you die, you keep playing instantly. Because of this seamless speed of replay, a session of Hundreds becomes every bit as addictive as a Honey Boo Boo marathon. You know, like when you wake up hungover around 10 and flip on the TV. You’re watching just one episode when the next one starts without a commercial break. The next thing you know, the sun has gone down, you speak with a Southern accent, and you’re debating making sketti for dinner. But in gaming, quick replay has another bonus: You don’t just keep playing to win; you suddenly don’t mind dying so much.
“I like to think the best Hundreds players are those that let victory come to them, calmly. You have to let space open up and opportunities will present themselves. Don’t force it,” Wohlwend writes. “It probably sounds a bit ‘out there’ but that whole idea is really important to me in a lot of aspects of my life. I hope that some people arrive at that state of mind after playing Hundreds for long enough.”