Thanks for sharing and detailed production breakdown
i thought there wouldnt be anything better than akeytsu for creating easy animations. im happy if i am proven wrong.
Keith, I just wanted to stop by and say: Thank you.
Ryan Cash from a small indie game company Snowman had talked to 80.lv about an incredible mobile game Alto’s Adventure, which is rightfully named by our humble website as the best mobile game of 2015. He talked about the production, the choice of style and theme and the biggest problems of indie game development.
I started Snowman in 2012 with my longtime childhood friend, Jordan Rosenberg. We’d both worked together before a few times back in high school, and had always wanted to work on something again. We had tossed around the idea of making an iPhone app for a while, but never quite had a solid idea we wanted to run with.
Finally, in mid-2011, I had an idea I really wanted to see through. I was using Apple’s Reminders app during the iOS 5 developer preview, and fell in love with location-based reminders. I quickly learned that the creation process in Apple’s Reminders app was quite cumbersome, and that it could be done a better way. I remember when I had that “lightbulb” moment. I was driving and immediately pulled over and called Jordan – said we needed to meet. I picked him up and we chatted about it, and then went back to my place and started sketching out ideas. And that’s how Checkmark, our first app at Snowman was born.
The Story of Alto’s Adventure
We started working on Alto’s Adventure back in late December of 2012. Jordan and I were tossing around the idea of making a snowboarding game after he had insisted I played Tiny Wings for a bit. At the time I wasn’t into gaming at all – I had left that behind to be a “grown up” for the last 7 or 8 years at the time.
Tiny Wings showed me that a mobile game could be beautiful – it could be a piece of art. Jordan also got me into Ski Safari, which I really enjoyed playing, but felt the emotional style and actual terrain/physics left much to be desired. Since Jordan and I grew up snowboarding together, it was a natural theme to explore.
I had an artist in mind that I’d spoken to a few times and had been thinking of in the back of my mind. That artist was the extremely talented Harry Nesbitt, who, luckily, was interested in working with us on the project.
I wrote a pretty in-depth article about the story behind Alto’s Adventure on my personal blog here.
The style the game
It was actually Harry who did all of the visuals. Jordan and I definitely had a vision for a minimalist and almost “moving art” kind of look that we wanted for the game – otherwise we wouldn’t have pursued it – and Harry’s art style seemed to fit exactly in-line with what I was picturing deep within my own imagination. We gave Harry full creative control. When you’re working with someone as talented and as passionate as Harry, it just works.
After playing Tiny Wings, I realised that video games (especially mobile games) didn’t all have to have this almost typical cartoon-y kind of look. You know – the kind of thing you see in Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, or Subway Surfers. Nothing against those games whatsoever – they’re extremely well-done and polished, and set the standard in a lot of ways for mobile gaming. I just felt like we could do something different. Something that felt different.
Creating a living breathing world
I think this was something we set down to do from the beginning. We wanted to make something that you could really sink into and enjoy. Not just something to play for a second or two while you’re waiting in line – but something you could enjoy with a nice cup of coffee on the couch, like a good book. Something that you could almost get lost in. We wanted to make sure you could enjoy the game even if you’re not trying to make progress in it or compete against other players. Something you could really just play to relax.
We spent a lot of time on little details – almost a year actually. Things like the dynamic lighting and weather, and subtle things like rainbows after it rains, go a long way to creating this kind of world.
The best example is actually the fireflies. I was doing an interview with a gaming website shortly after launch, and they wanted to know about some of these “little touches”. I was talking to Harry and he mentioned the fireflies. I myself didn’t even know there were fireflies in the game, and I’d been staring at it for over two years. That kind of thing speaks volumes to the little details. We also spent a lot of time on sound design with the great guys at Kpow.
Alto’s Adventure took just over two years from inception to launch. About 27 months in total.
A Piece of Advice
Everything matters. You can make a killer game, but if everything else isn’t on par, it’s not going to be a success. Just look at companies like Apple or Starbucks – companies that make sure every little piece of the puzzle – your interaction with the brand – is “perfect”. For games, this includes gameplay, art, marketing, sound design, music, proper hardware/software support (and leading edge compatibility for the latest and greatest thing, such as Apple TV or iCloud, etc.).
Oh yeah – nothing ever happens on time. To figure out how long your game is going to take, map out the number of months you think it’ll take. Then add 5 months to it. Then double it.
Going vs Premium
We really just wanted to make something we ourselves wanted. We talked about going F2P for a while, but it just never sat right with us. I think games like TwoDots and Crossy Road have shown there is a nice way to do freemium, but at the time we just felt more comfortable going premium.