The Play’s the Thing

Alto’s Odyssey’s cocreator on why games—and beauty—are vital. Tap to read.

Alto's Odyssey

Discover the endless desert


Alto’s Odyssey is a 2018 Apple Design Award winner. This award celebrates the creative artistry and technical achievement of developers who set the standard for app design and innovation on Apple platforms.

Nobody expected a snowboarding game to be therapeutic. But after releasing Altos Adventure—a cinematic game where you glide through a constantly shifting snowscape tagging llamas, pulling off tricks, and picking up coins—developer Snowman started hearing from fans.

“A nonverbal autistic kid was able to play with her mother to cope with hard times,” said Snowman cofounder Ryan Cash. “There were people with severe anxiety, people who told us about the death of a loved one and the game being a moment to escape to a happier place. We never set out to do that, but maybe deep down it was some of what we were shooting for.”

Cash grew up about 30 minutes north of Toronto, across the street from his best friend and Snowman cofounder Jordan Rosenberg. Playing Tony Hawks Pro Skater late into the night, they started to dream about making a bigger game—one that would be artistic as well as entertaining.

With artist Harry Nesbitt, Snowman launched Altos Adventure to rave reviews in 2015. Three years later they unveiled its sister game, Altos Odyssey, moving the action to the desert while staying true to the original concept. Here, Cash talks about the challenges of making a sequel, the importance of failing as fast as you can, and how having your team scattered around the globe can boost creativity.

Ryan Cash receiving an Apple Design Award at WWDC in 2018.

What problem were you trying to solve with Altos Odyssey?
The game Tiny Wings first opened my eyes to the idea that games could be art and not just something to pass the time, but even then I still believed the stigma that games are of no real value other than fun. I’ve since learned that’s not true—and that there is value in pure fun. So the goal was to make something artistically moving, even to someone who doesn’t like to play videogames. That’s sort of become a Snowman ethos: We want to make things that you could print a screenshot of and hang on a wall.

What were your biggest challenges—and how did you overcome them?
A lot of the time when people make sequels, they end up ruining the thing that made the first one so good. We wanted to keep the core values intact. We weren’t calling it Altos Adventure 2. We set out to make another game in the Alto universe. We hope that people will discover both games and not know which was the newer one or the older one.

What turned out to be easier than you expected?
It was surprisingly easy to work remotely with our team. We had one guy in Vancouver, we had our core Snowman team here in Toronto, then we had Harry and Joe in the UK, and Todd Baker, who did the audio. In some ways the situation helped improve the product, because a lot of what we tried to explore in Altos Odyssey is going outside of your comfort zone, and the idea that home is who you’re with rather than where you are.

“We want to make things that you could print a screenshot of and hang on a wall,” says Cash. Done and done.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Some of the advice I give to other people is don’t be afraid to fail, and take risks when you can—but it’s easier said than done. The classic saying is that you always learn more from your failures than your successes. The sooner you can fail, the better.

Whats next for you?
At Snowman we are busy working on three other games: Where Cards Fall, another called Distant,and a skateboarding game called Skate City. On the Alto front, in the same way as the first game, we don’t want to jump to any conclusions and pick a new location and slap together another sequel. We’re taking a step back and letting our creative juices flow.

    Alto's Odyssey

    Discover the endless desert


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