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Imangi surprises with Temple Run 2: interview with developer Keith Shepherd

Imangi Studios is one of our favorite game developers: Keith Shepherd and Natalia Luckyanova are a husband and wife team that have made some great titles for iOS, including Harbor Master, Max Adventure and the company's biggest hit, Temple Run. Since going freemium (and getting extraordinarily popular), Temple Run has turned Imangi into a very successful company, both with the original game's in-app purchases, and with a series of ports and spinoffs, including the Disney-powered Temple Run Brave.

Now, without any previous announcement, the company has released a full-fledged sequel, Temple Run 2, on to the App Store, available right now as a free download. "It's going to be sort of a surprise announcement," says Keith Shepherd, who chatted with TUAW earlier today. "Being a sequel kind of gave us the opportunity to start fresh and use what we'd learned."

Shepherd says Imangi wanted to "level up the look and feel of everything" with the sequel, but of course the couple was also dealing with the success of their first game, and the arrival of their first child at the same time. "We have a baby now in the house that's impacted our own time," says Shepherd, "and we decided if we were going to do something bigger that we'd need some help from other folks." So they decided to two add two more people to the core team of three, joining forces with another developer called FuzzyCube software. FuzzyCube hosts a few developers who've formerly worked at Microsoft's Ensemble Studios, and Shepherd says having their expertise around definitely makes Temple Run 2 look better than ever before. "It takes place in an all-new world and environment, and I think you'll be blown away by how great it looks," he promises.

The game's look and feel isn't the only big upgrade: There are also new powers and abilities to encounter in the endless runner, and Imangi decided to accept some fan feedback and fill out the game's characters a little bit. In the original game, characters were only cosmetic, but in the sequel, each character has their own ability that players can power up and use at a certain time. "It adds a little bit of a strategic element" to the action-based gameplay, says Shepherd.

Those abilities can also be powered up by the game's new currency: gems, in addition to the coins players earned in the original. Temple Run started out as a paid app, and Imangi only switched it to freemium to try and shore up some flagging popularity. But of course once the game went free, Temple Run found some huge success, and Shepherd says Imangi has decided to start out free with the sequel. That extra currency is designed to keep players playing -- "We are using the gems more for some of the consumable type things," says Shepherd -- but Imangi also wants to make sure that the freemium aspect of the game doesn't get in the way of players enjoying it. "What happened with Temple Run 1 from a gameplay standpoint is that we really ran out of things for people to spend their coins on really fast," Shepherd says. "But we followed that same path of being really generous with coins in Temple Run 2."

Fans of the first game should love the additions to the second, but even if not, Shepherd says the original title won't be far away. "We're keeping it on the App Store," he says. "It's a classic at this point, and we don't want to remove it for folks who want to continue playing the original. We do have some plans for some things that we want to add to it still, and obviously we do have some plans for adding things to Temple Run 2." Imangi, like a lot of successful app developers, has known for a long time that updating a game post-launch is a great way to keep it popular, and Shepherd says that "with Temple Run 2, we completely rewrote the entire game so that it would be easier."

Finally, Shepherd tells us that while this Temple Run sequel is the current focus, we'll still see some more original titles from Imangi in the future. "I think in the short term, we have a lot of work still to do on Temple Run 2 and Temple Run, and we're probably going to have most of our focus on that," he says. "But I think we're really itching to work on a new game too. That's why we got into this business: To really enjoy making games. We always have ideas that we're kicking around," he promises, "so you'll see some more things in the future."

Temple Run 2 is now available on the App Store for free.



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Gaming iPhone

Imangi Studios is one of our favorite game developers: Keith Shepherd and Natalia Luckyanova are a husband and wife team that have...