How Canadian indie hit Alto’s Adventure was inspired by Tiny Wings, Ico and Journey

Snowman’s Alto’s Adventure is an interesting anomaly, one that hopefully continues as smartphone and tablet gaming grows in popularity.

The game falls into the endless runner category, hardly a groundbreaking genre in the video game industry. Players take control of a character bound to a snowboard, performing backflips, frontflips and grinds across a variety of objects, all while attempting to complete Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater-style goals.

Its gameplay is simple, tasking the player with timed screen taps – perfectly suited for mobile devices – but also means the game lacks the depth of more complicated titles, even when compared to other mobile games.

Additionally, rather than create a new type of experience that shifts significantly from what many people expect from mobile titles, Snowman did something few people realize often results in better and more enjoyable gaming experience (especially on mobile platforms). The studio took an established gaming concept and improved almost every aspect of it, dispelling the notion that an original idea is necessary for a great video game.

And this formula has also helped Alto’s Adventure skyrocket to the top of the Canadian and U.S. iOS App Store charts. It built a buzz around what has become Snowman’s first significant release, with enthusiast gaming websites like Polygon showing it some love.

“The response has been incredible. We’ve been featured all over the press, and have had a crazy number of requests for interviews, to be on podcasts, etc. If you search on Twitter for Alto’s Adventure you’ll see there are still a ton of people talking about the game all the time,” said Ryan Cash, Toronto-based Snowman’s co-founder.

Cash also explained the simplistic nature of Alto’s Adventure and its visuals were inspired by Tiny Wings, a game that shares striking similarities with Snowman’s latest title in a variety of ways, especially when it comes to art direction.

“The idea was to make an indie game in the first place. However, it came when Jordan became addicted to Tiny Wings, in the fall of 2012. After he got me into the game, we kept discussing the idea of doing something like it ourselves – or at least trying to. We were both really blown away by the emotion and magic that [Tiny Wings] conveyed. We’d never seen anything like it in a mobile game before,” said Cash.

Cash also explained that Alto’s Adventure fills a gaming void he felt was missing in the mobile gaming space: a truly good snowboarding title. Though it’s easy to forget your character is actually riding a snowboard when you finally land that intricate double backflip while hurtling down a slope though a forest. Alto’s Adventure is more than just a simple snowboard game.

“The idea to make Adventure came when Jordan Rosenberg and I (my longtime childhood friend that I started Snowman with) weren’t satisfied with the snowboarding games available in the App Store. As snowboarders ourselves, we felt like they all just missed the mark,” explained Cash.

One of Alto’s Adventure’s biggest draws, especially the first time most people see the game, is how fluid the game’s animation is, and how this mesmerizing motion meshes perfectly with the title’s minimalist presentation. In short, the game’s hypnotic quality makes watching someone else play the game a superb experience.

“Harry Nesbitt, [the lead artist and developer on the project] drew inspiration from other indie games like Journey and Ico. I think during the project we all had different sources of influence, even including things like Red Bull’s “The Art Of Flight” snowboarding film. It was great to see games like Monument Valley and Threes! showing that the premium indie game market is still alive and well, and that people are willing to pay for quality experiences. It was games like these that inspired us to stay as a paid game,” said Cash.

Small scale Canadian indie developers often run into difficulty when it comes to reaching a wider audience, but Cash says this wasn’t the case with Alto’s Adventure, and friends in the local Toronto video game industry provided crucial advice during the game’s development process.

“We have a couple friends in the city that have provided us with great guidance along the way, most notably Matt Coombe from Get Set Games. He’s a really great guy and had a lot of solid advice for us throughout development. Check out his company’s games too – they’re awesome,” said Cash.

When it comes to a sequel to Alto’s Adventure or the possibility of releasing some sort of additional downloadable content, Cash remains tight lipped, but hints that something is likely in the works.

“I don’t want to comment on anything too specific at this point, but let’s just say that there’s more to the adventure than you’ve seen so far,” said Cash.