Retro Revolution: ‘Synth Riders’ Adds Spin Mode, New Track With Free Update

Oculus Blog
July 16, 2020

We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of Synth Riders, a freestyle dancing VR rhythm game. And today, Kluge Interactive is back with its biggest free update to the game yet—introducing Spin Mode, Play Profiles, and a brand new track. Check it out today on Oculus Quest or the Rift Platform.

Spin Mode introduces 90, 180, 360, and 360+ overhead spins to every song and difficulty in the game. The intensity of the spins range from mild to styled and wild, and thanks to a unique spin algorithm, spins are never random, so you can master specific maps and compete on the leaderboards or in multiplayer mode.

Today’s update also adds Play Profiles, which let you easily access your favorite combinations of modifiers for the perfect play experience. Players can choose from a selection of predefined profiles like Dance, Force, and Spin, or create and share their own unique combinations. Play Profiles can be played in the Multiplayer Mode, and each comes with its own scores thanks to a brand new filterable leaderboard system.

Last but not least, get ready to move to a new free track, “Star Fighter,” from synthwave and retro-electro artist Wice.

We sat down with Product Manager AnnMarie Bartholomaeus, Creative Director Abraham Aguero, and Developer Justin Dopiriak to learn more.

What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this update? How did you overcome those obstacles?

Justin Dopiriak: Surprisingly few; many of the problems I anticipated early on never materialized and the core mechanics came together rather quickly, which was fantastic in that it allowed us to spend a lot of time iterating on the design. There are other games in the genre that have implemented similar 360° modes, but they all share the same limitation of sticking to a small number of preset lanes, so I assumed there must be some major, unavoidable hurdles when attempting a true 360° implementation, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case after all.

That’s not to say there weren’t challenges—just that the big ones weren’t really technical in nature. The design challenges stand out for me, since when we first started, nobody really had any idea what conditions or context would make for a satisfying and entertaining spin; it was only through countless collaborative playtest sessions running several hours each that we were able to slowly chip away at the problems until everything felt right.

Testing was massive as well: with 90, 180, 360, and 360+ modes, each with three challenge levels, and each applying separately to all four to five difficulties of every official track, you’re looking at thousands of combinations before you even consider the infinite possibilities offered by custom songs. I’m glad I didn’t do the math on that before we started or I might have fallen into despair.

There was one surprising technical challenge, though: determining whether two rotated rectangles overlap. It’s just so simple to look at them and just know, but it turns out demonstrating it mathematically is a little bit more involved. A few lines of code will have hundreds of objects translated and rotated 90 times a second, no sweat, that’s cool, but are these two squares touching each other? There goes the weekend.

Abraham Aguero: Making every song work great for Spin Mode was hard work. We did a lot of different tests that didn’t work, trying out different filters of where the patterns of a song had the best chance to spin. Ultimately, we created the entire system from scratch, and it was a lot of back and forth. Our lead dev Justin Dopiriak was the mastermind on this. He was incredible at hearing our feedback and tuning it as much as possible to the point where the team, and our tests, felt happy.

AnnMarie Bartholomaeus: Translating every single piece of content—particularly cosmetic/non-standard walls and the rails—into the new playstyle has been a great technical challenge. Our QA and Dev teams (especially Justin on the Dev team) worked hard at balancing “playable” with “crazy,” working out where the fun is to be had. The end result is such that this is not just a novelty, but a genuinely challenging and interesting option which players will come back to.

Testing introduced more challenges, as Spin Mode introduces 12 new, distinct ways to experience each of the five difficulty levels in our 45 OST tracks, there’s been a huge volume of testing required to try and make sure the experience makes sense in as many of the 2,700+ new combinations as possible! We’ve enlisted a team of community beta testers who have been an invaluable part of this process.

On top of this, we’ve also undertaken a huge change to our core system for gameplay modifiers and leaderboards, which presents to players as the new Play Profiles system and unified leaderboards. This provides a framework better able to meet our objectives around balancing competitive with accessible play and should make future developments more straightforward. But as always, it’s challenging to deliver and test on so many threads with what is still a very small core studio team of less than 10 regular key personnel.

Which song is your favorite to play in Spin Mode?

AMB: It has to be “The End Of The Night” by Robert Parker. Always one of my favorite songs from the original Synth Riders’ “Synthwave Essentials” pack, and it has some truly beautiful 360+ spins.

AA: Definitely “From Hell” by Dance With The Dead, especially because of how well this map handles all of the spins based on its nature. You’ll feel that it was actually hand-crafted and not procedurally-generated.

JD: I must grudgingly say “The End of The Night.” You get these long, slow spins on the chorus that you’d swear were scripted (the slow spins get me every time), but we tested quite a bit using that track, so there were more than a few days when I absolutely could not get it out of my head.

What kind of response have you seen while demoing Spin Mode?

JD: Overwhelmingly positive, which is deeply satisfying. Before Spin Mode had been announced to anyone not directly involved with the project, Abe would sometimes invite mappers to the test stream as if it were just a standard test play of the map they were working on, and their reactions when they first saw it spinning were my favorites. Almost always in all caps, that was nice. You know you’re onto something when rational, professional adults are compelled to react with caps lock.

AA: At the beginning, most of the beta testers got a little bit intimidated, especially because the Spin Mode adds at least 60% or more difficulty to each map compared to the linear map. When they got used to it, they started having so much fun.

AMB: I love seeing those who have experienced other spin-type offerings before at the exact moment they have their first 360+ spin experience. The moment the notes elevate, they have this, “What the heck?! Aaaah!” moment that is pure joy to see. We’ve been delighted by just how much fun they’re having with it and how, once they spin, they really do want to keep trying it again.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

AMB: Often people seem surprised that repeat plays of the same song twice generates the same spin experience, but that is completely by design. There’s no randomization factor to the spins, and it’s all procedurally-generated, which means players have the opportunity to learn the spin just as they would learn a map. We wanted this to be more than just a novelty or gimmick—we wanted a fun, different experience which people would want to pick up and play again, and that our competitive players would enjoy vying for top spots on the spin leaderboards!

AA: Something that we enjoyed a lot while testing the Spin Mode was the amount of things that we could do by generating or manipulating the songs in this way, so that also brought out a lot of other crazy ideas that we’ll explore in the future.

JD: This is not the 360 mode you already know, but it is the one you always wanted.

Take Synth Riders for a spin on Quest or the Rift Platform today.