Bouncing light looks unbelievably beautiful in new puzzle game Lyxo

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Lyxo
Halfway between a physics puzzler and a psychedelic light show.
Photo: Emoak

Lyxo is an ultra-realistic game about bounced light. It’s also one of the most aesthetically beautiful games to arrive in the App Store for quite a while. And, yes, it’s possible to be both at once.

“I first had the idea while lying in bed one morning,” Tobias Sturn, the one-person development studio known as Emoak, told Cult of Mac. “I saw a beam of light falling beautifully into the room, and cutting through the shadows. Immediately, I thought of a game where the player uses mirrors to guide a beam of light through a completely dark room.”

Jump forward a little over a year, and this week Lyxo launched on iOS. Sturn took us through the game’s creation, including opening up his sketchbooks, and explained his crash course in physics to build the game engine.

An innovative puzzle game

In the unexpectedly gorgeous puzzle game, the player directs rays of light through a dark room by drawing lines that act as mirrors. The goal is to hit a target by drawing in the mirrors needed to reflect and refract the light to get it from one point to another.

While it starts off simple, as Lyxo‘s 87 levels progress, the game introduces new obstacles and mechanisms that make things harder and more head-scratching. At its most complex, when you’ve moved beyond the monochrome of early levels, it looks like a laser show at a rock concert or — perhaps more appropriately — the light-splitting cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album.

Lyxo
“And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too…”
Photo: Emoak

“I wanted, on the one hand, to give the players as much freedom [as I could], and, on the other hand, make Lyxo as simple and minimalistic as possible,” said Sturn, a 37-year-old developer living in Vienna, Austria. “Therefore, only simple geometric forms are used throughout the game — like lines, boxes and circles. Also, I wanted every level to be unique, and every puzzle [to offer] something new to the players. Before actually programming the levels, I made many sketches in my notebook, and only used the ones in the game which I liked best.”

The end result is a brilliant-looking game.

“I think that all facets of Lyxo are fascinating in their own way, but I especially like the fireflies,” he said. “Their levels might be a bit more challenging, but they are also among the most beautiful, in my opinion.”

A look into one of the many sketchbook pages that resulted in Lyxo.
A look inside one of the many sketchbook pages that led to Lyxo.
Photo: Emoak

Building the physics engine for Lyxo

Sturn is an accomplished developer and game-maker, having previously created successful titles like the striking 2015 iPad game Paper Climb and 2019’s machine-based exploration game Machinaero. He created every element of Lyxo, from graphics to gameplay, with the exception of the soundtrack by musician Johannes Johansson.

Despite his extensive experience, Sturn said he faced a steep learning curve when it came to implementing Lyxo‘s physics engine.

“Every beam of light consists of thousands of rays of light which are reflected and refracted exactly as they would be in real life,” he said. “It took me a while, and also a lot of trial and error, to get it just right. Creating a ray tracer where every light ray is just traced is not difficult to develop. But to get it to run interactively also on older mobile devices was quite a challenge. One way I solved this [was] to dynamically adjust the number of light rays which are cast, based on how fast the hardware is.”

The game "Lyxo" was created by 37-year-old Tobias Sturn.
Tobias Sturn created the gorgeous game.
Photo: Tobias Sturn

Lighting up the App Store?

Can a game about reflecting light become a hit? Sturn said he has no set expectations for Lyxo, although he obviously hopes people will enjoy it. At this point, it’s too early to know how it’s doing. (It takes a few days before App Store stats become available.) Nonetheless, early responses online — and my own experience playing it — suggest Lyxo is a winner.

“It’s simple enough that less-experienced players can enjoy it, yet still challenging enough that it takes a bit of puzzling to solve all levels,” Sturn said. “One of the main design goals in Lyxo was that I just wanted to provide a playground for the players in which they could freely experiment with light and that the players should be rewarded for being creative. Therefore, I tried to create the levels as open as possible so that there are endless ways to solve a level.”

Download Lyxo

Price: $2.99

Download from: App Store (iOS)