Meditation In Motion With Alto's Odyssey

Meditation In Motion With Alto's Odyssey

How the newest game in the Alto series makes the most of its broadened horizons.
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After a brief reflection on the newest Monument Valley installment, I was recently introduced to another mesmerizing mobile phone game: Alto's Odyssey. It's actually a follow-up to another Team Alto release, Alto's Adventure -- a collaboration between Canadian studio Snowman and lead artist/programmer Harry Nesbitt -- but my entrance to the series starts here. I'm discovering that I might have a certain taste for cerebral games; both are minimalist in character design but striking in their color palette and sense of environment (a picture says a thousand words is a pretty apt metaphor here), but that is where the similarities end.

The game opens on raspy, meditative chords, not dissimilar to the opening notes of Trevor Morris's theme for Bioware's Dragon Age: Inquisition. The association alone had my breath catching in my throat and tugging at my heartstrings. The title screen is set against a horizon awash in dawn and speckled with hot air balloons as the sun slowly rises to scorch the hills upon hills of sand. If I wait long enough even the text fades away, and I am alone in the middle of a vast desert. But, with a tap, a blur enters from the left side of the screen and Alto is there, sandboard slamming onto the slopes.

My choices are limited -- jump or not jump, flip or don't flip -- but that doesn't mean the experience has to be as well. I guide Alto through countless biomes in a never-ending cycle of day and night, of wind and rain and dusk. There are sets of three goals at a time -- such as "Discover The Canyons", "Break a pot using a lotus flower", or the easy-breezy "Backflip off of a hot air balloon" -- that string me along and give me a concrete reason to play. I collect glowing coins along the slopes, which I can trade in at the Workshop for stronger helmets, extra lives, and special items. The scarf trailing behind Alto grows longer the farther I'm able to go or the more combos I'm able to land in one run, and after a certain amount of time I can even spot brightly-colored Birds of Paradise hovering over Alto's shoulder, curious at my progress. I quickly sink into the rhythm of the game, calculating the time and distance of my jumps, distinguishing between rocks and plant life, and cringing when I overestimate the number of flips I can accomplish in one go. But the game doesn't seem to mind my many failures: it promptly tells me to dust off and try again. "Don't worry, crashes happen!"

The more goals I accomplish the more levels I ascend, which gradually allows my boarder to progress further into entirely new zones, with new platforms and abilities and characters to spice it up a little. When I find myself getting too incensed (usually because I can't shake a pesky lemur off my tail) I can return to the title screen and swipe to the left, activating what I'm calling Zen Mode and leaving me with only the horizon and a simplistic, rotating drawing of the sun. I focus on the sun and the swaying cacti as my breathing levels off, and I'm ready to try again or go about my day.

I know Alto's Odyssey has so much more to offer me -- hours of smooth gliding, new areas, contemplative tunes, and more characters to test out on the slopes -- but the game makes it clear that I must work for such simple pleasures. I have to fail many times before I can accomplish menial goals, each one taking me further down the slopes than the last. It knows exactly what kind of game it is, and excels in all quadrants: it has gorgeous graphics, runs smoothly, doesn't overload me with objectives or abilities, and is overall one of the most meditative games I've played just to pass the time. Perhaps the best way to wake up is with Alto in your cup!

Alto's Odyssey is now available for download on iOS devices in the App Store.

Cover Image Credit: Team Alto

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Sorry Not Sorry, My Parents Paid For My Coachella Trip

No haters are going to bring me down.
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With Coachella officially over, lives can go back to normal and we can all relive Beyonce’s performance online for years to come. Or, if you were like me and actually there, you can replay the experience in your mind for the rest of your life, holding dear to the memories of an epic weekend and a cultural experience like no other on the planet.

And I want to be clear about the Beyonce show: it really was that good.

But with any big event beloved by many, there will always be the haters on the other side. The #nochella’s, the haters of all things ‘Chella fashion. And let me just say this, the flower headbands aren’t cultural appropriation, they’re simply items of clothing used to express the stylistic tendency of a fashion-forward event.

Because yes, the music, and sure, the art, but so much of what Coachella is, really, is about the fashion and what you and your friends are wearing. It's supposed to be fun, not political! Anyway, back to the main point of this.

One of the biggest things people love to hate on about Coachella is the fact that many of the attendees have their tickets bought for them by their parents.

Sorry? It’s not my fault that my parents have enough money to buy their daughter and her friends the gift of going to one of the most amazing melting pots of all things weird and beautiful. It’s not my fault about your life, and it’s none of your business about mine.

All my life, I’ve dealt with people commenting on me, mostly liking, but there are always a few that seem upset about the way I live my life.

One time, I was riding my dolphin out in Turks and Cacaos, (“riding” is the act of holding onto their fin as they swim and you sort of glide next to them. It’s a beautiful, transformative experience between human and animal and I really think, when I looked in my dolphin’s eye, that we made a connection that will last forever) and someone I knew threw shade my way for getting to do it.

Don’t make me be the bad guy.

I felt shame for years after my 16th birthday, where my parents got me an Escalade. People at school made fun of me (especially after I drove into a ditch...oops!) and said I didn’t deserve the things I got in life.

I can think of a lot of people who probably don't deserve the things in life that they get, but you don't hear me hating on them (that's why we vote, people). Well, I’m sick of being made to feel guilty about the luxuries I’m given, because they’ve made me who I am, and I love me.

I’m a good person.

I’m not going to let the Coachella haters bring me down anymore. Did my parents buy my ticket and VIP housing? Yes. Am I sorry about that? Absolutely not.

Sorry, not sorry!

Cover Image Credit: Kaycie Allen

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4 Ways A Beginner Photographer Should Get To Know Their Camera

We all know someone who has a camera, but do they know how to use it?
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With winter coming to an end, (way too late if you are in the northern mid-west) pretty soon families all around will be preparing for the end of the school year and all that it entails; prom, graduation, family getaways, school performances, and every other photo-worthy occasion. Normally these cameras come with the quick start guide which gets you to shoot in a fully automatic way so you can just focus on capturing your memories.

There is more to your camera than the automatic mode which you can soon have complete control over your images so your amazing memories will look even better. This can also translate into using your camera for more recreational use along with taking your family pictures.

There are three main functions that create the image and they are ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. These three functions are the key pieces of how a camera creates an image. Back in the film days most manual cameras

1. ISO

ISO is an acronym for the International Standards Organization. This setting is what controls how sensitive your camera sensor is to light when taking an image. We start with this setting because it is out of the three the least important as most cameras do well in automatic ISO mode but it is still ideal to learn why it is there.

Those who know a little about film photography know that film comes at different ISO or sensitivity. The lower the number of ISO means the less sensitive to light your camera is going to be (ISO 100 least sensitive, ISO 1600 very sensitive).

Most cameras have a base of ISO 100 and will produce the best quality images at this setting producing way less grain on the image. This, however, requires there to be quite a lot of light and is best used outside on bright sunny days.

Now moving up to around ISO 800 which is a good indoor setting can produce grain if there isn’t much light inside but with overhead lights or a window it will be just fine.

In low light, you need a higher ISO but that sometimes comes at the cost of image grain or “noise.” When compared the higher ISO loses some clarity when side by side with something at a lower ISO setting.

From left to right ISO 100, 800, 12800. Notice the how a slight haze goes over the image.

ISO is less important because of the automatic setting on cameras now being able to detect what to focus on. If you want to make a minor adjustment (maybe the grain is getting in the way of the image or you need to shoot in a darker area), it is an effective choice.

A place that ISO control is great for is at late night sporting events, darkly lit events like school dances or restaurants, and overcast days where the light can be deceiving to your camera.

2. Shutter Speed

It may come as a big shock but a lot of a camera’s functions deal with math. Boring (I know), but it isn’t the type of math that requires a lot of thinking. It’s time measurement, something that everyone is acquainted with.

The cool thing about this function is that most higher-end cameras have a mode called shutter priority. This mode is also an automatic mode but allows you to manually control just the shutter speed. On Canon cameras (which I will be using for an example) this mode is Tv. On other cameras, such as Nikon or Sony cameras, it will be an S.

The shutter is what allows light into the camera to take an image and how long it is open is depending on what you have your shutter speed set at. All the speeds your camera can shoot at are in seconds and they can range from 1/4000 of a second to 30 seconds.

The faster the shutter speed the less light is let into the camera which freezes the image. This is great for fast-moving subjects like athletes or cars. With these faster shutter speeds, however, the less light is let in so just like the lower ISOs there needs to be more light.

Motion blur is not always a bad thing. They can add amazing effects to your images.

Now slower shutter speeds help out in lower light but since the shutter is open longer there can be motion blur so holding the camera steady or using a tripod will help out when doing this.

This function is very useful for sports as well as fast-moving kids and pets, you will be able to catch them in the middle of the action with the whole world seemingly moving around them.

3. Aperture

Probably the most confusing aspect of the camera, the aperture actually on the lens of the camera. The aperture is how big the opening the lens makes when a picture is taken and how much light is let in.

Apertures are read in what is called F/stops so you will almost always see the letter F next to that number. Just like the shutter speed, there is also an aperture priority on cameras which set everything automatic except the aperture. On Canon cameras, this will be marked with Av and on Nikon and Sony cameras it will be marked with A

The thing that makes aperture the most confusing is that the way aperture is measured is the larger the opening the smaller the number is used to signify that. Kit lenses that come with cameras have an average largest aperture of F3.5 so that is the largest the opening can get and F22 is the smallest for most kit lenses.

The reason you would change the aperture is so you can let in more or less light without losing your shutter speed. If you need more light but don’t want to add motion blur to an image you would “open up” your aperture.

Another thing aperture does is it changes how in focus your image is. This is the depth of field. This refers to how much of what you photograph will be focused. When trying to focus an image if you have a larger aperture (meaning the number is smaller but the opening is bigger) then less will be in focus. And in reverse the smaller the aperture the more things will be in focus.

This allows you blur out something in the background if you don’t want it distracting from what the main focus of your image or make sure everything you capture will be in focus enough to notice it.

From left to right aperture F3.5, F8, F11, F22

This setting works best for family photos or landscapes; you are able to get your subject (your family) to be the main focus so everything else is blurred out and not distracting or you can adjust it so everything can be in focus so all the detail can be seen.

Fun fact, most photojournalists back in the manual focus days tended to shoot with their aperture set at F8 because that was a nice middle aperture that kept most of the photo in focus while able to easily get their subject in enough focus to be able to be used in the daily paper.

**One thing to note, if shooting in manual mode there will be a bar that goes back and forth. If you get the bar to stay as close to the middle as possible that is the camera’s saying that the image will be perfectly exposed.**

4. Go out and shoot!

Now all three of these are the main controls of your camera and they can all be used cohesively to great effect. If you feel a little intimidated by full manual mode then try out the shutter and aperture priority, they are a great start to get you comfortable using the camera out of fully automatic mode.

Having shot photography for six years now I will admit I usually find myself using aperture priority more often so I can focus on my subjects more than the controls of my camera, but the knowledge why it is working that way is the most important, not what mode you are in. Get out and shoot some images!

Cover Image Credit: Amber Tilley

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