Sensory and Synth: The Evolution of an Immersive Experience

In this exclusive interview with Synth Riders co-creator, Abraham, travel back to the beginnings of Synth Riders and peek behind the curtain of our creative process with answers to burning questions from our team and the community.

Tell us about how Synth Riders went from an idea to a playable game? When did you find that the development process started to take shape? 

The goal when we started was to find the right kinds of mechanics that would really suit Synthwave music. We realized that the rail mechanic in particular was such a perfect match for this style of music from the moment we finished the first iteration of the prototype.  After adding some extra polish to the prototype and taking it into testing, we were just so excited by how much fun it was to play that we had to start proper development of the game straight away.

The prototyping began in 2017. We were surprised with how well the basic mechanics worked and knew we were on to something special!


Can you describe how the Synth Riders team evolved over time? What impact did the growth of Synth Riders have on your life?

We started with a team of two, just Jhean (shogoki) and myself, working together in our “Kluge Lab”, an in-house incubator for these kinds of passion projects.  After its release, the game has grown significantly and the team has grown with it.  We’ve expanded into different areas like marketing, product and project management, music licensing, mapping, designers and development,

Around the time of the launch, I became a new father which was a huge challenge to balance the pressures of launching a new project alongside family!  I have always been very closely involved with the game and its community, but working from home with a new baby (now a toddler) brought its own challenges and rewards, but without the help and support of my amazing wife Eli it would have been impossible.  These days I am able to have family time each day, and I find I can work better in the quiet of the nights.  Conveniently, with a game a lot of the most exciting action happens overnight – things like people streaming, sharing designs, music and ideas with the team – so there’s always something happening around the clock.

The game has grown and changed dramatically since the Early Access release on Steam back in July 2018.


Question from @Vpicone: I was wondering if you have any insights on developer/designer feedback loops or maybe some helpful insights into your creative process.

From the creative perspective, which is the area that I really work in, I like to find inspiration in the world around me.  So I build references – visual mood boards, color palettes, pattern studies, sometimes even formal storyboarding. These types of structured exercises help us to pre-visualize what will fit within the Synth Riders universe before we touch a design tool.

I am a very visual person, and when it comes to directing the development team I often produce simple visual prototypes in tools like Figma, Photoshop, Cinema 4D to communicate my ideas (which are sometimes static, but sometimes kinetic) in a way that’s clear and unambiguous.  The development team take those prototypes and produce in-game prototypes and we then iterate through playtesting and refinement.  Being able to communicate initially in a visual way really helps that communication process for such a visual medium as VR.

This simple 3D concept helped us to visualize what we were going for.


Question from @Misnowolf: Just wondering why you picked 80s style music?

When we started out, we were listening to a lot of Synthwave music in the office!  With many of us in the team born in the 80s we have a genuine affection and personal connection to that era. Retrofuturism is just such a perfectly natural space for us to explore, it gives us room to express playfulness, nostalgia and optimism, and of course who doesn’t love neon?  These days we are no longer just confining ourselves to Synthwave on the music side, but we do always try to fit everything within that retrofuture theme.

When it comes to adding music to the game, we have a process of picking a genre or an artist of interest, then we put an inspirational playlist with a bunch of songs which we start shaping it as a team by culling that list into a top 20 and then a final top 10. That forms the basis of our conversations with record labels where we evaluate all the potential choices for any difficulties that will come from the licensing perspective.

Our affection to the 80s era and retrofuturism expressed itself in the creation of the game’s iconic “Room” that was a big focus of the initial game design.


Question from @ThatAdamGuy: If you could have a celebrity endorsement from anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?

I know he’s fictional, but as a child of the 80s I always dreamed of having Marty McFly of “Back to the Future” riding his hoverboard along the rails in Synth Riders.  That would be one amazing endorsement to have!
Is there any untold story from the early development years of Synth Riders that you want to share with the player community?

I have told this story before, but not in a long time and it’s too good to pass up the opportunity to share it again!  Did you know that originally the mechanic that we created for picking a song was for the player to physically grab a record, slide it out from its sleeve and put it onto the turntable?  After that to pick a stage you would grab a video game-style cartridge (like those seen for the Nintendo SNES or N64) and drop it into a special “Blade Runner meets Nintendo” style console in the game.

In the room, players would pick vinyl records to select songs and then pick a stage and start the game.


What’s your favorite part about playing Synth Riders?

I like so many things about playing the game that it’s hard for me to pick just one favorite mechanic, but I definitely enjoy playing in Multiplayer and hearing first hand players having fun with our creation.  At the moment, I’m really enjoying playing in the new Spiral Mode because the mechanic gives me a great balance of challenge and a great feeling of speed that reminds me of skating, one of my favorite hobbies!

We hope many players will enjoy the Spiral Mode, it adds an interesting twist to the VR rhythm genre and feels pretty unique to play.


Question from @ThatAdamGuy: What ended up being surprisingly hard to do with Synth Riders?

Multiplayer.  The first iteration, and then adding the Powerups and most recently updating the Multiplayer lobby for new spatial behaviour including 10 players with custom Oculus Avatars.  Each of these steps has presented new, complex challenges, and were a lot harder for us than it would appear on the surface as we work across many headset platforms which really ups the degree of difficulty.

Multiplayer was very difficult to develop but absolutely worth the effort. I love meeting the community of our players and interacting with them!


Were you surprised to see the community of players grow organically? What was it like to watch it grow and interact with players? 

I was – and I am still very surprised! I can’t believe how many people like to play, connect and share the game and the experience of playing it with others, the Synth Riders Community always surprises me with something new every day.  I love interacting with players: watching them stream on Twitch when I can, chatting with players and sharing memes with them in our discord and hearing from them about what our creation means to them.