Interview: Synth Riders Dev plans continuous updates

Synth Riders recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, but what’s next for Kluge Interactive? Discussing the history of the rhythm game, Final Fury, and more, read on for our full interview:

Not a huge number of games can boast five years of post-launch support, especially in VR. Some just don’t need it, being a unique experience, but rhythm games are a common exception. Beat Saber recently turned five if you count the Early Access version, while Pistol Whip is slated to enter 2024. There is genre resistance that extends beyond DLC music packs, Synth Riders is no exception.

Screenshot of Synth Riders

CEO Arturo Perez tells me Kluge started as a design studio in 2008, transitioning to VR eight years later.

“We started building mobile VR and made a little game called Max, which had about 100 players,” he explains.

Three prototypes followed which led to Synth Riders, influenced by creative director Abraham Aguero playing synthwave “over and over” in the office. In 2018, the Synth Riders arrived. With such stiff competition for VR rhythm games, especially with the high-profile success of Beat Saber, Aguero focused on listening to community feedback as the game progressed through successive updates.

“The first couple of years was basically me watching people play games on Twitch for hours,” Aguero said. “I was jumping into their stream, listening to their feedback, asking them questions.”

“It’s a completely different game,” says Perez. “We really built it from the ground up with community feedback.”

Screenshot of Synth Riders

Updates include 120Hz support on Quest 2, cross-platform multiplayer, Spin and Spiral modes, crossovers and more. Will support drop once Final Fury comes out or will Kluge support both games at the same time? Perez says “we’ve had success in music licensing, it’s all in-house and we have great relationships with the top three labels. There’s no reason not to continue content updates for Synth Riders.”

He then explains that part of the team’s strategy is to port Synth Riders “wherever we can”, in 2023 only, including the Pico 4 and PSVR 2 ports. I’m told this helps the team study the ins and outs of games like Final Fury, so I wondered if future plans would include Apple Vision Pro. “We’d love to, but we’ll see. We need to see how that translates,” Perez replies.

I also asked about potential hand tracking support for Synth Riders. “We’re working on it, but Synth Riders is difficult. On Quest, we’re playing with the Presence SDK and everything it has, seeing how much of that we can bring to the game,” Perez advised. “[Meta’s] the technology has been widely demonstrated, it’s better than a year ago, so we might be able to fix it,” adds Aguero.

Final Fury

Final Fury

We also discussed Final Fury, a fighting game described as Aguero’s brainchild.

“We saw an opportunity to be there, nobody was doing anything like this in VR,” Perez explains. “With Synth Riders, people saw our DNA in it, but there was this perception of ‘oh, you copied someone.’ We didn’t want to go through that.”

I’m told they have both played fighting games for many years, Killer Instinct being Aguero’s favourite. When asked about the challenges of adapting fighting games for VR, Aguero jumps in.

“It’s so complicated. We did over a year of prototyping to get the feel we wanted.” Perez tells me that giving players free will while also controlling a fighter was “a lot of work.”

Aguero also emphasizes the importance of connecting with characters. Final Fury has eight fighters with differences such as increased speed or range of attack. Note that players often stick with the same character for years. In VR, there’s a greater visual aspect to that. “With some moves, your character will detach from your body, do the move, and come back. It’s not just the hands you can see from your character and that’s it.”

Final Fury

Right now, Final Fury is confirmed for Quest and PC VR, and I asked Perez if we’ll see it appear elsewhere. It will eventually happen, but the details remain unconfirmed. “It needs to be decided if we’re going to do a larger release on launch date, but ultimately we’re going to pick all the major platforms. For now, Quest and PC VR are our starting points.”

What’s next?

Where does Kluge see the future direction of VR? Perez says the studio is currently involved in a work-for-hire project in Horizon Worlds. He says the team has learned a lot from this experience:

Horizon will eventually come to mobile and PC, I think that’s where I see VR going. Rec Room, for example, is more successful on 2D screens than VR itself, but it’s a VR experience. With Apple Vision Pro, they don’t say VR but it has a VR component. We have entered the middle because it has the maximum potential of what we want to do… the future is spatial and virtual reality is its most immersive form. For us, VR first doesn’t just mean VR.

Final Fury

Perez also confirmed that the studio has been toying with other mediums for Synth Riders. “Some of them translate really well, better than you might think.”

“Hand tracking is a good thing because you don’t have to put on headphones, turn on the controllers, and then realize my controllers are out of battery,” adds Aguero. “The faster we can get into mixed reality, the better.”

Synth Riders is now available on most VR platforms. A Final Fury release date remains unconfirmed, though you can sign up for a closed beta right now.

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