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Temple Run 2 dev stays small, builds bigger sequel

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

When the three-person team at Imangi Studios released Temple Run in August 2011, the developers had no idea it would become one of the most popular mobile games ever made, a veritable phenomenon.

"Temple Run's changed our studio in so many ways," co-founder Keith Shepherd told Polygon last week. "We really kind of dropped everything else we were doing."

Today, nearly 18 months and over 170 million downloads later, Imangi launched a sequel to the infinite runner on iOS, Temple Run 2, with an Android version to follow shortly. It's a "much more ambitious project in scope," according to Shepherd.

Aside from the obvious reasons to make a follow-up to such a popular title, Shepherd said the developers had plenty more they wanted to do with the original game; in fact, he said, they came up with the first concepts for Temple Run 2 "almost as soon as [they] were getting close to releasing the original."

According to Shepherd, the three people who made Temple Run — him; his wife, Natalia Luckyanova; and artist Kiril Tchangov — took a conservative approach to development, building the game in five months and hoping it would become a hit. That didn't leave a lot of time for bells and whistles, although one could argue that Temple Run, like many mobile games, struck a chord because the core experience is so easy to grasp while being addictive.

"Temple Run's changed our studio in so many ways"

Imangi experimented with tweaks to the Temple Run formula in a spinoff: Temple Run: Brave, a tie-in for last summer's Pixar movie, Brave. The game featured the film's protagonist, Merida, dashing through the Scottish highlands, and brought in a new mechanic, archery.

However, said Shepherd, "At some point, you reach ... the limitations of the original system that you built." So Imangi began development on Temple Run 2 last March with a desire to "re-architect the game, rewrite it from scratch" and address fans' requests.

The Sky is the Limit

Temple Run 2 is still about running, jumping and sliding through a randomly generated world modeled after an ancient American civilization, and collecting coins along the way. But Shepherd said Imangi "didn't want to just do the same thing again," and the sequel builds on its predecessor with new mechanics and a new setting.

Temple Run 2 takes place in a temple floating in the clouds instead of a thick swamp in the jungle, evoking the Inca of Peru rather than the Aztec of Mexico. The new locale feels much more open, if only because players can see the sky. Thanks to the altitude, the sequel also includes some aerial gameplay, with zip lines used to traverse large gaps. In these segments, the player merely tilts the device to perform actions, since it wouldn't make sense to do something like jump. Imangi also implemented another mainstay of Indiana Jones films and their ilk: mine carts. Movement in carts is controlled just like regular running, with touchscreen swipe gestures.

"I think there's just so much more that you can fit into a game world like this," said Shepherd.

The world also feels more rich and real, according to Shepherd, because there are no longer straight paths that intersect at right angles. In Temple Run 2, roads curve and roll along with the hilly game world; players will still have to take turns, just not at 90-degree angles. Shepherd explained that the verticality of the paths organically adds some challenge: Players who jump off a hill at the right moment may get enough air to access a new area, or perhaps pick up extra coins.

In the original Temple Run, the coin meter merely gave out bonus points. The available characters only varied cosmetically, since Imangi had trouble finding a way to differentiate them without unbalancing the game or leading users to play favorites. While Guy Dangerous and company are back for the sequel, this time around, each one has a unique special ability that doesn't become usable until that character is unlocked. However, players can mix and match characters with powers; the game doesn't force them to stick with one avatar over the other.

Staying Indie

The team of three that made Temple Run ballooned only to five for the sequel. "We've had the opportunity to grow a lot, but we value our independence and ... the small size of our studio," Shepherd told Polygon. Imangi built a custom iOS-specifc engine for the original game. When the company wanted to port the title to Android, the developers decided to use the Unity engine. "It was more efficient for us to focus on using an already established game engine," Shepherd explained.

Temple Run launched on Android last March and became an instant success, but for some users, the Android version was plagued by issues. Shepherd said Imangi learned a lot from the initial porting process, and to prevent problems from cropping up with Temple Run 2 — and facilitate porting to other platforms — the studio chose to build the game from scratch in Unity.

"We designed it to be cross-platform from the get-go," said Shepherd. He added that "Unity's a really powerful tool," especially for indie developers, because it lets them put the same game on a variety of platforms relatively easily. For example, Shepherd said, a Windows 8 port of Temple Run is in the works.

Shepherd hopes Temple Run's fans will take to the sequel, especially since Imangi spent about twice as long developing Temple Run 2. Considering that, it may seem surprising that the studio didn't announce the game before its release to allow hype to build. But Shepherd is glad Imangi launched the game the way it did.

"Nobody really knows about Temple Run 2 yet," he said last week, sounding happy and proud at being able to spring it on the company's fans and give them a genuine surprise. It sure isn't the corporate way to do things.

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