Behind the Code: How a Rhythm Game was Born

The second interview in our Synth Riders series is with Synth Riders co-creator, Jhean. Learn about the development process in a conversation that gives insight into our powerhouse lead developer, how he got started, and some of his inspiration. 

You are quite the enigma in the Synth Riders community! We know that you’re half of the original development team for the game – can you tell us what your role was in that process?
Basically, I’m in charge of translating all of Aben’s ideas from the design board to the game, and trying to keep them grounded in practicality, otherwise we will probably need to wait for a tenth generation VR device to implement some of his ideas!

How did you come to be involved in the games industry and with Kluge?
I had made some mini games in the past with Aben, so when there was an opportunity for a new gaming branch within Kluge I was approached and asked to join, so it’s been almost 6 years since my adventure at Kluge began.

So with your background before coming to VR development in working on those mini-games, how did you make the transition from 2D to 3D development?
With more minigames! Before embarking on Synth Riders, Aben and I worked on some 3D mini games and AR Experiences that eased the transition. Luckily it wasn’t too hard for me to make the transition, as the Unity environment makes that transition from 2D to 3D as painless as possible.


Trailer for “Max VR” one of Kluge Interactive’s early productions in 2017

What’s one thing you wish someone had warned you about before you started working in the industry?
That working in the game industry actually reduces the time you have to play games. Now I have the Steam library that I always dreamed of, but not the time to play it!

So what was the first game you ever played?
Duck Hunt, It was Christmas Eve, I remember waking up to my first console, a Nintendo and the Duck Hunt game. It was glorious!

Interesting! So then what is your favorite game of all time, either flat screen or VR?
If I must choose one, then it would be the Monster Hunter franchise. I started with the PSP’s Monster Hunter Freedom 2 and since then between all the games I must have at least 5000 hours of playing.

So which video games or experiences inspired you as a developer when creating Synth Riders?
I’m a huge fan of rhythm games but for Synth Riders the inspirations were mainly Hatsune Miku games, especially my favorites, “Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone” and “Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd”.


The Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA series was an important inspiration for Synth Riders

A rhythm game featuring a Vocaloid! Rhythm games are notoriously difficult because timing and feel for players is everything! What’s been the hardest part of making a music rhythm game for VR?
The hardest was getting across to the player a feeling of the rhythm of dance and sadly many of the ideas we had initially never made it to production. However with every new update we get closer to the complete vision.

It’s hard to believe, I know – but not all developers are great at playing the game they make! However, we hear you’re pretty good at playing Synth Riders – so what’s your favorite song, mode and modifiers to play with?
I play pretty vanilla, with no modifiers and in Rhythm mode. My current favorite song is “Gave You Everything” by The Interrupters.


“Gave You Everything” played in Synth Riders by the amazing performer UpbeatVR

One area that you have spent a lot of time working on recently within Kluge is porting Synth Riders to multiple VR headsets. What have been the kinds of challenges you’ve faced when doing this, how have you overcome them and do you have any tips for other developers for porting
Porting to PS4 was the hardest so far, and although the PS4 is a great machine sometimes the CPU became a bottleneck. This made it very challenging while trying to port as much of the PC and Quest versions to it as possible. When porting, when trying to work out what to drop it was important that I always preserved the essential core of the game and its mechanics, which must remain the same no matter what the platform.

What would be your advice for someone looking to get into the games industry, and VR development in particular?
When I started development on Synth Riders and throughout the first 2 years of development, I had neither a good PC nor a VR Headset! It was really hard, especially trying to imagine how things will look within the VR environment, or fixing bugs related to VR functionality – but that did not stop me from finishing and launching the game.
So my best advice is to never be discouraged by setbacks, because seeing the game you put so much work into being played and enjoyed by so many players is one of the best feelings ever.

That must have been incredibly tough developing without a headset! What sort of things did you do to help you develop this way?
I used a simulator that basically lets me use the mouse like the headset or the controllers, pretty fun to use as you can see:


The simulator allowed Jhean to test Synth Riders with just mouse and keyboard

So what was it like when you played the game in VR for the first time?
I went, “Oh!, so that is how it’s supposed to look!”. Making the transition from the 2D of the flat desktop screen into Virtual Reality was a big and pleasant surprise.

What’s your favorite thing about working in the industry?
The community that was born around the game, I think the Synth Riders community is one of the best. I’ve met a lot of great people, and it really made all the work that’s gone into the game worthwhile.

Check out an interview with Aben to learn his side of the Synth Riders’ development history!