Interview with Ryan McLeod the creator of Blackbox

“Think outside the box…” It’s a phrase used so often it can actually get rather annoying – especially when you realise you’re stuck fast and not making any progress…

But what if you don’t realise you were “stuck” inside a box? And what if the box just happened to be the rectangular screen covering the device you “think” you know so well…

Blackbox is a game that forced us to rethink everything we even knew about our iPhones!

Today we’d like to share with you, one of our most inspiring interviews of all time, our interview with Ryan McLeod, the developer of Blackbox.

Before we start, I’d like to thank Ryan McLeod for participating in our interview, and for spending some of his valuable time in answering our questions. Thank you very much Ryan.

Now without any further ado our interview begins.


Ok first up, why did you decide to make Blackbox?

Oh man, I just love cryptic puzzles and scavenger hunts, but I think Blackbox slowly formed as an idea after being inspired by several games and apps: first there was the Inception app (apparently it’s still on the store!!) which would make these trippy, live “dream” soundscapes by blending in and stretching audio from the microphone, but the more compelling part was that you could unlock new soundscapes by opening the app during a rainstorm, late at night, or by traveling to Africa among other things!—that kind of blew a hole open in my mind of what was possible. Then there was Clear (the todo app) which has easter egg themes that you can unlock (often by surprise) by using the app at certain times, or by doing certain things in the app …then there was Hatch (the iPhone pet) that would dance if you were listening to music or yawn if your device was nearly dead… It brought the phone closer to you in a way. I think when I saw that trailer for Hatch might have been when I put it all together and thought, “Woah, there’s actually a lot going on here under the surface that most apps are not tapping into …enough to make something compelling.”

I love games that take over your mind after you walk away from the computer (Fez, Braid, Machinarium come to mind). They all require genuine outside-the-box thinking and provide so much self-satisfaction. I loved the idea of making a game but lacked any real game development experience myself; what I did have was some iOS knowledge I wanted to expand and a couple years worth of reading about animation and user experience. I made a little demo app of what I thought Blackbox could be like and the few friends I showed it to were a bit mesmerized and wanted more. The rest is development history I guess.


I see, so what programming language and or software did you use when making Blackbox?

Blackbox is pretty tightly woven into iOS and its APIs so I used Objective-C (I still really need to learn Swift!). I’ve rarely had to fight Xcode—it’s an awesome and powerful IDE. Coming from web development, iOS development is an absolute joy and is really rewarding; I feel like I can put my ideas to code much faster. Still, it’s tough maintaining a large-ish app like Blackbox by myself. I really wish Apple would make the low-level audio APIs more approachable; audio issues alone probably caused 85% of the headaches in developing Blackbox. 


Ok, here is a mean question. What was the hardest problem you needed to overcome when developing Blackbox?

Hah—hmmm I’m regretting not making the app universal from the start (iPhone/iPad) but I really wanted it to be a very personal game to be played on your most personal device! Crashing or frame-rates, while issues, were not what I really lost sleep over. The hardest problem was balancing the puzzles (or making the decision to pull a puzzle last minute even!) so that they weren’t too hard or too easy, didn’t lean on the hint to be solvable, etc. I had some fantastic beta testers that helped with this 🙂 


Last question. Where do you get your inspiration or ideas from?

For the challenges themselves? I’m pretty familiar with what APIs are available now—they’re like a toolbox to me—so when I think of an idea it’s a lot of fun to think through what tools I have at my disposal to come up with ways to build what I want. Sometimes I’ll see an app do something and get stuck working through how they did it and an idea can come from that. Most of the time though I’ll just be on a run and they come to me. I get a lot of great ideas from friends. Often I’ll sit on an idea for months not because making the challenge mechanic is hard but because I haven’t been able to craft a satisfying visual that can complement it yet.


A few words to Blackbox fans on Edamame Reviews.

Don’t use the hints unless you absolutely need to! And there are definitely more challenges coming :]

It’s my hope that Blackbox continues to bring people satisfaction (and frustration) and that I can continue to design more challenges (because I’m definitely not out of ideas yet and players keep sending me new ones)! I’d like to release as many as possible for free but am trying to do this full time and hope to release at least one more paid level pack for very advanced players that need an extra challenge :} Keep an eye out for new hidden meta challenges as well 😉


Lastly a few words on how you feel about Edamame Reviews and our service.

It’s fantastic to see a review site doing interviews with indies like this! I’ve had a lot of fun reading other interviews so it’s great to take the seat on the other side. Can’t wait for more!

Thank you for following Edamame Reviews!
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