It’s taken a few years, but the sequel to the beloved iPhone game Alto’s Adventure is coming very soon. After a few delays, Alto’s Odyssey is launching on iOS devices on February 22nd, and you can preorder the game today. (There’s no word yet on an Android version.) For the team at development studio Snowman, it’s been a long process of building an experience that can live up to the lofty expectations created by the original Alto. When it first debuted, the artsy snowboarding adventure joined the ranks of iPhone games like Monument Valley and Sword & Sworcery as the rare premium-priced experiences to garner both commercial and critical acclaim.
Because of this, the team spent a lot of time ensuring that Odyssey would live up the expectations of fans and the development team. This led to the game’s delay into 2018, though the team is now happy with the experience they’ve created. “If the goal is to make perfect,” says producer Eli Cymet, “it’s never going to ship.”
The original Alto’s Adventure made waves in 2015, thanks to its smooth endless snowboarding action, coupled with gorgeous visuals and a laid-back style. It was a quiet, beautiful world you could explore for a few minutes at a time or lose yourself in for hours. With the sequel, the team is moving the experience from the snowy mountains to a new desert region. According to Snowman, one of themes of the first game was exploring home, as Alto ventured into the wilderness around him on a snowboard. For the sequel, the idea is to take Alto — and players — outside of their comfort zone.
That’s one of the reasons the game takes place in a desert, but the theme also helped the studio figure out where to expand on the original game. For one thing, the world itself is much more diverse. While it takes place in a sandy region, Odyssey actually features three distinct biomes, from desert dunes to ancient temples to mysterious canyons. There are real-time weather effects that add a depth to the world; you’ll see fog and rain roll in and the wind blowing plants around. When you’re in the midst of a sandstorm, the world turns dark, with bright flashes of lightning crackling in the background. And while the iconic llamas from the first game are gone, there are new animals to interact with, including colorful birds that will follow your snowboarder around.
This expansion of the world was created in part because of the feedback from fans of the original game. “We never expected players to fall in love with specific places,” Cymet explains. “We often had people telling us, ‘I love it when I get to spend time in the forest,’ or ‘I really like the lanterns that dance around the village at night.’ We never thought people would contextualize them as a space they’d want to revisit in the game. And I think that is what probably influenced the concept of biomes.”
Similarly, the game continues to build out the mythology of the world and characters. It’s not overly explicit in this regard; the team describes the games as having an “implied narrative,” heavily inspired by games like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, which hint at a complex world and story, but never overexplain things. “In the background of Alto’s Adventure, you see this purposeless geography — bridges that go to nowhere, monuments that are half-formed — and as a player, it always created this feeling in me of wanting to go into the background,” says Cymet. There are also brief descriptors for each of the characters you can unlock that tease their motivations and personalities. “We want to tell you a story about someone learning to redefine their concept of home — but we don’t want to hit you over the head with that,” Cymet explains.
While it’s technically a sequel, the team at Snowman approached Alto’s Odyssey as more of a companion to the original game, as opposed to a direct follow-up. “We knew we didn’t want to call it Alto’s Adventure 2,” says studio co-founder Ryan Cash. (The original working title for the game was Alto’s Adventure: The Endless Desert.) The idea is that the two games will sit alongside each other, so that if a new player discovers the series through Odyssey, they can jump back into Adventure with no problem. This meant designing the game with both audiences in mind; Snowman couldn’t make Odyssey too similar for fear of scaring off existing fans, but they also couldn’t make it so complex that newcomers would be scared off.
Alto’s Odyssey introduces a number a new mechanics, but the core — snowboarding across an endless, procedurally generated world — remains intact. This time around, you can ride on walls and bounce off of hot-air balloons, two seemingly small additions that dramatically expand what you can do in the game. Meanwhile, the more detailed world provides a greater sense of surprise: with all of the different areas and scenarios, you never quite know what’s coming next.
But this wasn’t always the case. During the development, the team toyed with all kinds of ideas to expand on the core gameplay, like adding a grappling hook that let you grab onto ledges and other objects. Ultimately, these additions not only made the game too complex, but they also took away from the distinct, laid-back feeling of the original. It turns out that Alto’s Adventure with a grappling hook no longer feels like Alto’s Adventure. Considering the success of the original game, the team didn’t want to mess with that formula too much.
Since the release of the original Alto’s Adventure, Snowman has expanded in new directions, adding new team members and turning into something of a collaborative studio, partnering with other creators on games like Where Cards Fall and Distance. (The team insists that this expanded focus isn’t the reason behind Odyssey’s lengthy development cycle.) Over that time, the team learned a lot about the constantly shifting world of mobile gaming. They experimented with a free-to-play release on Android, responded to fan feedback by adding zen and photo modes, and even launched a line of Alto-themed merchandise. But despite all of the changes, they say that the process of making the sequel was actually quite similar.
“A lot of the decisions we make are based on what we want for ourselves,” says Cash. “With Alto’s Odyssey, it’s been the same. We now have to think, ‘Well, what will existing Alto players want?’ But I always fall back on, ‘Well, what they would want is the same as what we would want.’ That’s been our design philosophy all along.”