All images in this article (and more) are available here.

Blackbox

Practice creative thinking without touching the screen.

Quick Facts

  • Over 4 million downloads
  • Apple Design Award winner 2017
  • Has ranked #1 in free games and puzzle games (US and UK)
  • Has ranked in top 5 free puzzle games in 32 countries

Featured by Apple

  • “Games that blow our minds”
  • “Indie games celebrate innovation…”
  • “Best new games”

Media Files


The Launch Story

Hey there,

I had a lot of fun telling the story of Gravity (the iPhone 6s scale app) on Medium, so I thought it might also be a good place to talk about the release of my next app: Blackbox. Gravity was never approved because of its strange use of a sensor; Blackbox is a game that uses just about every other sensor.

Blackbox is my most ambitious software/design project to date and will be my first published app. I hope this post provides some insight into both the design and development process while explaining why Blackbox is radically different than anything out there. Thank you for taking the time to find out more.

~Ryan

I’m reachable at @warpling or ryan@growpixel.com :)

⬛️

Why Make Blackbox?

I was frustrated with iOS puzzle games. So many were fun, but not stimulating; gorgeous, but not engrossing; rewarding, but not warranting greater fulfillment nor “ah hah!” moments…

The games that were most compelling to me were, in a good way, lazy: They let the mind do the heavy lifting and were satisfying without relying on artificial rewards. These games felt engaging because they were always leading me to think in a new way and use it to advance (Fez, Limbo, Machinarium, Monument Valley, Braid, and Portal all come to mind). If I wanted to do something on par I’d have to come up with a novel/insane idea of my own and implement it …or find an untapped simpler, yet still compelling, idea.

Our phones are brimming with advanced sensors and they’re crying out to be used for something other than simulating a steering wheel or rotating a YouTube video. Few games break the fourth glass wall and when they do, do so timidly. Games should shine with these new inputs but they’re usually left unused. I decided to make a collection of artful puzzles that would all be solvable without touching the screen.

This ridiculous constraint was liberating. There was so much I couldn’t do and from that a long list of challenge ideas formed: challenges that could be solved by rotating the phone, flipping its switches, plugging inputs, and waiting… Just when I would begin to worry and think I was close to exhausting all ideas I’d go on a run and come up with four more. Creative solutions abound around adversity. In the last year I’ve created over 50 challenges that can all be solved without touching the screen and there are many more to come…

Accessibility

So you think Blackbox may be hard? Have you ever tried playing with your eyes closed?

A recent update brings sonic interfaces to Blackbox. An entirely new dimension of clues and dynamic feedback that infuse new life into every challenge. But this is about more than replacing the previously scant sounds. New sonic interfaces, paired with careful haptic feedback, and countless accessibility enhancements mean that Blackbox is now accessible to nearly everyone regardless of vision or ability. Did I mention the sounds are also just wicked cool? (Thanks Gus Callahan! 🔊)

So what’s a sonic interface? Well for the last year nearly 3.5 million people have played Blackbox solely using their eyes. For the over 258 million people worldwide with visual impairments, including blindness, the game was more or less a literal Blackbox. The sonic interfaces paired with Voice Over and haptic feedback create an entirely alternative interface for Blackbox that doesn’t require vision at all. So now, whether you use dynamic type sizing to read small text, text-to-speech to to hear content, or are fully blind you can enjoy the same loving suffering that is Blackbox.

App Store: Preview Video

What’s Next?

I plan on creating and continuing to release level packs and hidden meta challenges as long as I can think of new interesting ideas.

Who am I?

It took me years to consider that I should have studied design; being labeled “the computer kid” makes applying to study computer science at an engineering school a certain kind of inevitable choice. At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo I learned how to be a strong software engineer while finding ways to satisfy a growing desire to design. This lead to internships at Apple and Airbnb doing front-end web-app work, which led to realizing that I didn’t really want to do front-end web-app work. I did really want to develop iOS apps so I began building Blackbox, learning along the way.

So you made a video game?

The first time I actually grasped the phrase “outside-the-box” was when I had been presented 6 toothpicks and asked to create 4 equally-sized triangles anyway I could, without breaking any toothpicks. (Anyone that’s attempted this is probably familiar with the stages of “This is impossible.”, “Are you sure I can’t break them?”, and “What if I only break one of them?”) Once I stubbornly committed to the idea that this was clearly impossible, my friend placed 3 toothpicks to form a triangle before he reached for a 4th… He held it in the air at a curious diagonal while reaching with his other hand for a 5th. The 6th toothpick completed the prism and in a moment of frisson I saw how boxed in my thinking had become.

Skills based in linear thinking, like engineering and math, A-to-B skills, are relatively straight-forward to hone and sharpen. But skills based in creative, circuitous, outside-the-box thinking are far more nebulous and hard to readily improve. There are rote methods that can help, like thinking from first-principles, but generally outside-the-box thinking skills are only expanded with practice.

With practiced creative thinking, breakthroughs form more easily around the smallest grains of inspiration, however and whenever they decide to strike. It’s my hope that Blackbox can be both a conduit for strengthening outside-the-box, creative muscle and just a fun game.

✂ — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Social Links

Media Kit

App Store screenshots

Gameplay gifs

“Brightness” settings-based challenge
“Lantern” light-based challenge

App Icon

(icons change from update-to-update but this is the default)

(color changes when new challenges are added) (un-masked version here)
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