If you could take the word rhythm and add freestyle, dancing, and retro into the mix, what do you imagine? Do you imagine something as simple as the space around you or would be on a more massive scale such as a world or worlds? If you could add some music into your experience, what do you envision to sound like or even look like? Would the space or worlds that you imagined be full of colors and just have the right amount of volume so you could feel the rhythm? I imagine an immersive experience where it could feel like you could rule the world while having the right mix of music and rhythm to bring the fun of it all. So when I heard that developer Kluge Interactive was bringing their hit game to PlayStation VR. So I reached out and the CEO, Creative Director, Marketing Director, and Product and Community Manager, Arturo Perez, Abraham Aguero, Pawel Gajda, and AnnMarie “Wirrel” Bartholomaeus, was happy to talk about Synth Riders and Virtual Reality.
Interview with the CEO, Creative Director, Marketing Director, and Product Community Manager, Arturo Perez, Abraham Aguero, Pawel Gajda, and AnnMarie “Wirrel” Barttholomaeus
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you introduce yourself and what you do at Kluge Interactive?
We do so much as a team here, so we’re going to share answering your questions! We have:
- Arturo Perez, CEO of Kluge Interactive.
- Abraham Aguero, Creative Director for Synth Riders at Kluge Interactive, one of two original creators of the game.
- Pawel Gajda, Marketing Director for Synth Riders at Kluge Interactive.
- AnnMarie “Wirrel” Bartholomaeus Product & Community Manager for Synth Riders at Kluge Interactive.”
Kluge Interactive has some sayings that really jumped out at me, “Lead with Creative” and “Execution is Everything”. When it comes to making content for VR, what do these sayings really mean to you?
Arturo: “Kluge is a creative-lead company that happens to work in technology. When Synth Riders was first conceived by our Creative Director, its retro-futuristic aesthetic was in his mind at the same time as the game’s rhythm concept. It’s just how we are wired. We think deeply about these things and believe that the creative process is what gives our products and services firm intention.
In terms of “Execution is Everything,” this is acknowledging the fact that you can have a great idea in your mind, or even in a rough sketch, but it’s only once you see it through to the end that you’ll really know it. Synth Riders took a lot of iterations to become the game that it is today. At every step, it could have faltered. We know that even the best of our creative ideas is only proven once we’ve actually built something out of it. We think by making.”
Your game, Synth Riders has been out on PCVR for a few years and is now coming to PlayStation VR on August 10, 2021. For those who may not be aware, what can you tell us about the game and how excited are you for releasing the game on this platform?
Pawel: “I like to call Synth Riders a freestyle-dancing VR rhythm game. In the game, you will find 54 licensed songs with hand-crafted maps that will make you catch notes, ride the rails (follow beams of light) and avoid walls for the unique feeling of becoming one with the music. While playing the songs, you can travel through 13 diverse Stages. You will choose from two main modes (Rhythm and Force), five difficulty levels, and use tons of modifiers to spice up the gameplay, each coming with separate leaderboards for the competitive fun.”
Wirrel: “Releasing the game on PlayStation VR has been a very long time coming for us, and just getting to this point in the process is a major milestone and a huge learning experience for us. We’d always intended to release on the platform, and like so many other developers we are delighted to hear Sony’s renewed enthusiasm for an update to the PS VR experience coming with the next generation of PS VR.
As a pioneering “turnkey” system, PS VR puts fantastic and immersive VR experiences within the reach of anyone with a PlayStation 4 or 5. I think this system has had an important role in the way VR has grown in mainstream popularity and has such a dedicated and enthusiastic following that we’re looking forward to getting to know better.”
So the game really is a combination of freestyle dancing and a workout experience?
Pawel: “Indeed! The game’s mechanics combined with careful mapping make for a really active experience with a wide variety of moves and freedom for exploring your own style, hence the freestyle aspect. And since you have to move your body a lot, it’s also a good workout that is so fun that you don’t even notice it! We love how the players say that the game is not only good for their bodies, but also for their minds. The sense of immersion and becoming one with music seems to help many players to find the inner balance, and some even call it a cathartic experience!”
What can you tell us about some of the music, artists, and genres that are in the game?
Arturo: “20 years ago Kluge was a music magazine. Abraham and I have always bonded around our love for music. His nickname, “Aben,” actually comes from his days as a techno DJ. So music has always been in our DNA.
The game is obviously inspired by the ’80s, and synthwave was all we were listening to during its creation. This is its core music choice and we’ll always strive to expand our synthwave catalog. As the game has grown, we have added other genres, such as electro-swing and punk rock. These have come from a combination of listening to our community coupled with music we know and love that would work well with the game.
We are really proud that the game features songs from bands such as Muse, The Offspring, and Caravan Palace. Bringing music onto the game is a process that involves Abraham and I talking to our mappers, listening to community feedback, and having a lot of discussions with the team before something makes it in. It’s a process we all enjoy as music fans and we intend to continue to push the boundaries of the kind of music that officially makes it onto the game.”
How many tracks will be available for the PlayStation VR version?
Pawel: “The PS VR version of the game will bring the entire music collection that has been previously available on PC and Quest. That means 54 licensed songs available with the base game, and five Music Packs available for purchase with 25 additional songs.”
Are there any future DLC music packs planned and if so any surprises that you can tell us?
Wirrel: “If we could tell you, then it wouldn’t be a surprise! One thing you can guarantee is that we are always working on music packs and amazing Experiences to go with them. But not only DLC, but we are also committed to adding more free music into the game on every platform too. We love music, it’s very important to everyone who works on the game – we’re always sharing playlists with each other.”
I know with the PCVR version of Synth Riders, players can add custom songs. Do you see this feature coming to PlayStation VR and if not, what about the possibility of players using songs that they already own via USB drive and playing that way?
Wirrel: “The platform restrictions are incredibly tight for PlayStation, and we have to abide by all the rules of the platform. So native custom support for songs you map yourself with the editor is something we just can’t bring to the platform at this time.”
Will the Multiplayer Mode be available at launch or maybe in a future update?
Wirrel: “While it won’t be available at launch, it’s a high priority for us to bring it to the game as a free update for the PlayStation Plus members. Multiplayer means a lot to our community, and it’s a great social experience to play with friends and hang out in the lobby. Besides, PlayStation players deserve to have Power-Ups thrown at them while trying to full combo songs, just like the rest of us have had to suffer for months!”
Will cross-platform support also be coming so players can play against Oculus and PCVR players?
Wirrel: “Our aim is cross-platform, but that naturally brings with it more complex challenges for our team! Nothing that I think we can’t achieve, of course, but we have heard comments from PlayStation’s management in recent times about wanting to make cross-platform play easier for developers, and I’m hoping that this could be easier for others in the future.
Multiplayer, and particularly cross-platform multiplayer, is very important for us. Our emphasis on social play speaks to the way in which we think of our Synth Riders Community as a whole, no matter where they play. We host regular community multiplayer sessions that are streamed live, launch events and Play With The Devs events and it’s such a big part of our game’s social, fun experience that we want to make sure PlayStation players are invited to the party too!”
In a game like Synth Riders, the sound is obviously important as part of the immersion. Was there anything that surprised you when working with sound in VR that normally was not thought about?
Abraham: “We did explore the idea of 360-degree directional audio! Sadly, we found that it brought a lot of issues with latency when playing – so sometimes these experiments don’t always take us where we thought we would be.
Visually, the neon colors really pop when it comes to VR. Were there any challenges that you found when creating the graphics for the game?
Abraham: “I feel like one of the main challenges initially was to find just the right references from sci-fi and fantasy movies from the 1980s as an inspiration, and then to transfer some of those ideas across to our stages.”
Wirrel: “I’m always amazed by the way our visual and development teams handle the constant push and pull between “performance” and “fidelity”. The challenge of trying to squeeze Abraham’s amazing creative vision into the performance footprint available on each platform. All while being mindful of accessibility and choice for players to configure their experience for comfort and performance.”
What are the top three things that you have learned when creating for Virtual Reality that you make sure are carried over in future projects?
“1. Make it accessible and simple for anyone to play your game.
2. Optimize your assets as much as possible for best performance.
3. Make sure your main mechanic is fun when prototyping before you keep going down the path of that development.”
“1. “Follow the fun” – Kluge has always lived in tension with process. When building Synth Riders, sometimes we thought we needed more of it. But what makes Synth Riders great is that we started with one idea and we let the execution of it guide us to the fun. As we grow, we are needing to put more process, but we understand that “following the fun” of what we are making is the #1 priority above what any design doc can provide for us.
2. It’s the community! – Synth RIders is successful thanks to our community. We came literally out of nowhere, connected with a few users, and these few users turned into our champions who helped us all along the way. As the community’s grown, we’ve been careful in nurturing it, nourishing it, and most importantly, listen to our users. We can’t never not do this in my opinion.
3. “Don’t be afraid to experiment – this is a core value for us and we’ll never choose to do what’s safe. We think our best ideas come from our gut and the fact that we aren’t afraid to act on something that sounds interesting. This is why Synth Riders was born to begin with.”
If you stepped through the door of THE VR DIMENSION and could be anyone from any time period with the only caveat of never returning, who would you be and how well do you think you would do in the world of Synth Riders?
Abraham: “I’d love to be Marty McFly from “Back to the Future”, I’m sure he would ride anything around any VR metaverse pretty well!
Arturo: “I’d go back to the Oxford of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, whose literature still awakens in me much more presence than the best of VR has yet to do. Imagine what it would be like to have the kind of storytelling in VR that made such legendary classics such as Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia? How I would love to see the land of Narnia in all its splendor in VR! Though I am not sure how either one of these writers would feel about entering the cyberpunk world of Synth Riders, I’d imagine it would awaken tons of ideas in them!
Pawel: “I would become a surfer living on one of the beautiful islands in Indonesia. Being great at riding big waves, I’m sure I’d have no problem riding the rails in Synth Riders!”
Wirrel: “I would definitely want to be a Timelord from the Doctor Who universe – with a life as long as my scarf and the whole of time and space to explore! For me that’s the beauty of VR, it behaves like a Timelord’s TARDIS, packing a universe’s worth of potential into something that’s definitely “bigger on the inside”. As a Timelord in Synth Riders’ version of the future, I would probably have to foil some complex plot by the Cybermen to enslave the Earth, using nothing but a sonic screwdriver and my wits!”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Synth Riders?
Pawel: “Synth Riders is just like VR itself – you have to try it for yourself to understand how amazing it is! The game offers a combination of visuals, sound, and movement that results in a pretty unique experience that I believe is worth everyone’s time.”
Wirrel: “I can remember the exhilaration of my first foray into the world of Synth Riders, the retrofuture aesthetic and wrapped around this potent combination of music, movement, visuals, and haptics – and the rush you get from riding the rails. It was incredible! That feeling returns every time we create new content together for the game. There’s such a creative drive in our team, we’re passionate about music and love to explore the feelings music evokes in us, and then reflect that back to the players through the maps and the visuals.”
I really want to thank Arturo, Abraham, Pawel, and Wirrel for taking time out of their busy schedule and for giving us a closer look at Synth Riders, and for also talking about Virtual Reality.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.