March 20

Temple Run

One of the most exciting places to be in the games industry space with now is the iOS market. Literally hundreds of thousands of apps are available to purchase and development overheads are so low that pretty much anyone can publish onto the App Store. The App Store is an interesting place, with content ranging from the truly awe-inspiring such as Infinity Blade by Chair / Epic to scores of Farmville knock-offs, to blatant scams such as Pokemon clones that crash on loading.

Amongst this crowded room of titles, it’s hard to stand out, but once such title, Temple Run, has become a massive success. What is particularly inspiring about Temple Run is that it’s a great game, it is not solely built around micro-transactions and that it was created by just three people. The folks over at Imangi studios consist of a husband and wife team along with one artist.

The 3 man team that make up Imangi, Kiril Tchangov, Natalia Luckyanova and Keith Shephard.

Temple Run is a very simple game, but has a number of excellent design decisions and choices that make it incredibly addictive and fun to play. The game is a traditional running style game such as early iOS stalwart Canabalt. The player plays as an intrepid explorer, much in Indiana Jones / Lara Croft / Nathan Drake vein who is trying to escape an ancient temple whilst being chased by some rather grotesque and evil looking monkeys. No time is used to explain any sort of plot, it’s all left to the imagination of the player, and the title instead focuses on it’s quick and punchy gameplay.

Our intrepid explorer, being chased down by the dreaded Monkeys.

Temple Run moves the running style gameplay to 3 dimensions. The player is constantly running forward, and a series of obstacles block his path. The player must therefore swipe the screen in order to navigate these obstacles, allowing our hero to jump over obstacles by swiping upwards, slide underneath low obstacles, by sliding down, and to turn in either the left or right direction 90 degrees by swiping left or right when coming to a junction. Very simple to understand and very intuitive. The user can also use the accelerometer on their device to move the hero slightly towards the left or right, which is used to help the user collect more coins and power-ups that are littered around the game world. The tile controls are used very subtly, meaning that the user only needs to tilt their device a little in order to move our hero, making the game very playable even when holding a device in just one hand, a nice touch.

Difficulty increases over time as our hero starts to speed up and the obstacles start coming thicker and faster making for a very traditional twitch based game. If our hero is caught by the monkeys chasing him, or falls into the water below the temple, the game is over and the user is informed of their high score and can start again.

If this were it for the game, it would still be a great title and a lot of fun, but almost certainly nowhere near a success as it has become. But luckily, Temple Run has a few other killer features up it’s sleeve that make all the difference. The first is the use on an in-game shop, that allows the user to purchase more content. What is unique about the shop is that the user earns currency for use at the shop in-game. So every time they collect a coin in game, that coin can be used for items to purchase at the shop. If the user wishes, the user may also purchase a bulk load of coins via an in-app transaction, however unlike pretty much any other game on the app store, all content in Temple Run can be unlocked without spending a single penny. Considering that the game is completely free to download, this is a massive surprise and is a decision to be admired.

The in-game store, with a plethora of power-ups, utilities and extras can be purchased using in-game drops.

There is a wide range of content that can be purchased via the store. Some of the most useful items are power-up enhancers. These increase the effect of in-game power-ups, such as increasing the distance the boost power-up takes the player upon collection, or increasing the amount of coins the user collects from a mega-coin. There are also new player skins, allowing the main hero to be changed to all sorts of weird and wonderful characters, as well as wallpapers. There is also a set of items called “Utilities” that can also be purchased. These are one-shot items that have effects like allowing the user to resurrect themselves in-game after death, or boosting ahead a certain amount of meters before the game starts. Both are very useful power-ups and add a lot to the overall game design. Frequently when playing a game of this nature, a player will have an epic run where they manage to travel a very long distance and earn a high score. However, after dieing, they have to start again, where the pace of the game is far slower than at a higher distance. This can be a frustrating experience for the user as the fun and tension of running at a higher speed is lost. These power-ups therefore allow the user to skip back to the fast speed again, so they can retain the fun factor. However, by making these items one-shot, and expensive to purchase, the game retains balance as the user won’t be able to use these effects every time they play, unless they are willing to pay for it. Thus the game has a method to monetise nicely, but also offering the flexibility of allowing free users to have an almost similar game experience.

This is one of the aspects of Temple Run I really appreciate. Too many games on the App Store and deliberately designed in such a way that users get addicted and are put into situations where they are more likely to spend real money. Such mechanics include withering / resurrection of crops / items, build times and energy based systems that prevent a user from playing a game more than a certain amount of times in a day unless the pay. Although these mechanics do result in generating more revenue for a developer / publisher, there is no doubt that such mechanics are sleazy in the sense that players are deliberately targeted for their wallets as opposed to catering to their sense of fun. That’s why Temple Run is a breath of fresh air in the top-grossing list of iOS titles.

The last mechanic Temple Run features is a series of mini-objectives. These are seen in many games, but work really nicely in this title. Such objectives consist of running a fixed amount of distance, performing X amount of jumps, collecting X amount of coins and so on and so forth. Completing one of these objectives ramps up your score / coin collection multiplier, making it in the player’s best interest to complete these objectives. From a game design standpoint, this adds extra longevity to the title, as users are encouraged not only to play the basic game, but are given reasons to achieve certain goals and missions. It also means that users are rewarded and congratulated throughout the game, and not only when a new high score is achieved. This keeps the game fresh and fun which is incredibly important for an iOS title. Add to this Game Center scoreboard leaderboards and Temple Run is an awesome game as it allows you to compare scores with friends and players around the world.

Some of the objectives to complete in Temple Run

While Temple Run cannot compare to a multi-hour Triple-A console razmattaz, the game is an excellent example of gaming on the go. It’s a title that provides short bursts of twitch based gameplay that is fun to play and rewarding to keep playing with. If ever you are waiting for a bus, a girlfriend who is late for a date, or waiting in the queue at the shops, Temple Run is an excellent go-to-game to help you waste 5 minutes of time, and an excellent example of great iOS gaming.