By: Xander

On: October 25th, 2007

How Darwinia got it's groove back

Synaesthete is the work of four DigiPen students (Zach Aikman, Joseph Tkach, William Towns and Andy Maneri), and to use their own words:

Synaesthete creates a harmony between player actions and in-game music, in a way that each influences the other. The rhythm and flow of the music is expressed in every detail of the game, so that the visual and audio are not two experiences, but one.

To use mine, it mixes elements of Robotron, Rez and any number of Bemani titles, swishes them into an isometric angle and sends the player on a psychedelic trip through an abstract existence suffused with sound. Probably not as snappy as their explanation, but hopefully it’ll give you some idea of the gameplay. In Synaesthete you play a grey protagonist who leaves for different worlds from his hub world, which for one reason or another features a fountain. Once there, you have to extinguish all enemies from the area, using your beat attacks. Instead of having a gun, ammo, or even the ability to aim, you have music. In play, three beats fall from the sky, as Low, Medium and High beats. You simply time your button presses to the music, and you attack the enemy automatically, which leaves you free to mostly concentrate on running away.

Points and combos are awarded for accuracy with timing, and whilst you can simply concentrate on a single beat-style to kill the enemy, you can try to get a little more complex and involve the other beats in your attack chain for extra points, a faster chain growth and more attacks to defeat the enemy faster. Of course if you flub it trying to show off then you can end up completely wrecking your combo forcing you to try and catch up to the peak of your musical maelstrom. It’s a risk-and-reward mechanic that really pays off, although maybe there aren’t enough risks to outweigh just mashing the beats and hoping to fire lasers across the world, but at least it doesn’t scare you off from trying to keep up with the pace.

(Basically at this point you should just start downloading it, it’s worth the size/wait, but hit the extended if you want to keep reading! It will please me…)

You progress in a fairly linear fashion, unlocking extra levels, worlds and spells as you progress. Spells are basically power-ups you can take into each world to help you complete them easier. Some help you boost your chain, others cause you to increase in size tenfold ignoring the whole Bemani style of attacking to a more traditional head-stomping approach. Whilst playing with the keyboard is perfectly viable, I would recommend using a gamepad if you have one. The reason being not only so you aren’t restricted to simply 8-directional movement, but if you’re using one with rumble/force-feedback, then it actually jolts in-time with the music, which helps you keep to the beat a little easier. It’s interesting, really, since your pad doesn’t just feel like simply an input device, but rather it pulses with the game, becoming an extension of the experience, if you’ll pardon the overly enthusiastic exaggeration.

I do still have a couple of gripes with the game. Apparently every game lately that fuses music in with action gameplay needs to punctuate all break periods with somewhat pretentious/philosophical dialogue. It fits the mood of the piece sure, but I also find it a little tough to take seriously, as if someone just decided to interrupt my combo chain with random musings on life, the universe and everything. Also, a place where I could just blast away enemies to an ever increasing beat and baddie count would be nice without all the walking between areas. But as it stands, at least, it’s already a great game and well worth checking out. The download stands at a rather weighty 80mb, but with a game so focused on music that’s well to be expected. Enjoy!

  • Hunty

    Uh, the doors, and more importantly the enemies, don’t show up on my computer.

    Another E for Effort game from Digipen!

  • Shih Tzu

    Hunty: Silly, those are unlockables!

  • raelz

    i played it with my father in two, he was moving and i was pressing j,k,l its amazing game :)

  • Ilia Chentsov

    Benami? Sounds like some Jewish game.

  • Xander

    Apparently they’re called ‘Benamistyle’ games, beatmania and such. I thought it was ‘Benami Style’ so benami could be used on it’s own, but apparently it can’t. Language is fun kids!

  • Ilia Chentsov

    I think you meant Bemani, Japshort for Beatmania. A common mistake, though.

  • Dominic White

    I really enjoyed this back when it was in beta, so I’m downloading this with much gusto.

    Interesting hybrid – Robotron + Bemani + Rez. Hopefully it’ll provide as much as a challenge as the first two games suggest, although the second public beta went down more to Rez difficulty.

    Either way, I want this bad.

  • Guano Project


    I made a animation video with GF for a competition.

    I’d like you to watch it and post a comment with your opinion!!


  • haowan

    It’s not isometric btw. Unless that screenshot is from some other game.

  • moon_rabbits
  • Michael Tucker

    Agh, this game crashes as soon as I start playing a level.

    There is nothing worse about Vista than its compatability, specifically the lack thereof, with indie games.

    From the few seconds I can actually experience of gameplay though, the game seems especially promising compared to other, older Digipen offerings.

  • Derek Poo

    What a semitically messy game.

  • Xander

    Ah, thanks for clearing up my GROSS misunderstanding of Bemani etc! Though it looks like Derek secretly corrected it under the cover of night. Sneaky-and-awesome!

    Sorry, most of this post was fairly awkward. Expect less gibberish next time..

  • wormguy

    I enjoyed this game greatly. Sure, the interface is a bit wonky, but it oozes style and when you get into it, you can’t stop.

  • Pita

    Can’t see any baddies or doors either, I’m afraid.

    Seems like it would be quite fun, though. (considering that I’m playing it anyway)

  • Bobo

    Same problem as Pita and Hunty, but i can at least see the squares targeting nearby enemies, makes it somewhat pretty playable… any word on a fix though?

  • Zach Aikman

    Whoah. This is the first I’ve heard of that particular glitch. We used to have a problem with the terrain not showing up for people using certain video cards…this *could* be related.

    Off the top of my head, I have no idea what could be causing this. I don’t know if the people who post to this comment board will check back on this, but if anyone is having the aforementioned issues, could they be so kind as to post what video card they’re using? Synaesthete requires shader model 2.0 to run (which is supported on virtually every graphics card made in the past six or seven years), so it’s possible that some shader model 1.0 cards are lying about their compatibility…that’s been known to happen.

    I’d love to fix this as soon as possible so those of you who are having problems can play it correctly.
    If you’re having this bug, it would really help if you could send an e-mail to feedback at, including the model of your video card (Start->Run->’dxdiag’ should bring up the DirectX diagnostic tool, which will have information about your video card in the ‘Display’ tab) and a summary of the problems you’re experiencing.

    And while I’m here, a -huge- thanks to Xander for taking the time to check out our game and review it. All of us on the team really appreciate it :)

    ~Zach Aikman
    Producer/Programmer – Synaesthete
    [email protected]

  • Mischief Maker

    Let me just say that I am always interested in games that incorporate music into their gameplay and I really like this one. It might even replace Global Defense Network’s place on my hard drive. My one complaint is the isometric perspective sometimes makes it hard to gauge where the enemies are.

  • roj

    It works perfectly for me, and it is awesome!

  • MisterX

    Playing this game is a sweet experience, as I already noticed when playing the beta demo, I just still had problems really “coordinating” my keypresses with the music. Using only one beat mostly works and I can actually hear the rhythm which this beat displays, but as soon as I go for more my keypresses are either pretty random or I at least try to line them up with the beats shown, not with what I can hear.
    I also find it interesting how I can basically only concentrate on either the beat or evading the enemies, as when I try to get the beats right I just barely notice anything of what’s actually going on in the “arena”. Only when I really just try to get the main beat right, which is perfectly synchronized with the music, I am actually able to concentrate on both :)

    I’m not sure if that’s actually a personal mental problem or not, but this way I can’t really see Synaesthete as being a great “game” in itself. Still, as said before, it’s a very nice experience and definitely a pretty innovative concept, merging the already known basic gameplay ideas into something new and rather unexpected :)

  • Andrew Maneri

    It may not be a mental problem, MisterX. One issue we have noticed with the game is that certain keyboards will have bus problems or delays when trying to hit many keys at once. For example, the dell usb keyboard I’m typing on right now has excellent responsiveness and simultaneous key-presses. I can pretty much combo indefinitely on this. On another ps/2 keyboard I have, I end up having to play the way you described.

    Possible solutions to help out;

    1. Turn on isometric movement in the control menu, you should be pressing less directional keys then.

    2. Use a gamepad instead – the game is specifically designed for a 360 controller, and gamepads don’t have bus issues.

    3. Get a different keyboard – the keyboard bus problem plagues a lot of different PC music games and first person shooters. There are guides on the internet about choosing a good keyboard for these types of games.

  • MisterX

    Thanks for the reply, but the problem isn’t really the keyboard not recognizing combos, the problem is that I don’t :) For me playing through Synaesthete was fairly easy, but I just wasn’t able to hit the beats so that I would really get a satisfying feeling of pressing the keys according to the rhythm, I rarely got this, mostly when there was a simple rhythm and only one key to be pressed.

    Oh and by the way I even got and used my Xbox 360 Controller, but I found using the keyboard a little more comfortable as the lines for the beats on screen are aligned the same way the keys are, while this is not the case with the gamepad buttons. Still I mostly used the pad because of the Force Feedback, so apparently it still worked out :)

  • Petri Purho

    Synaesthete is amazing. For me it’s been the most interesting game I’ve played in while. I haven’t played Portal yet, so be prepared to lose that title soon :)

    Best of luck to you Andrew and to the whole team. I’ll be betting some money on you guys, so make sure you’ll make it to the IGF finals :)

  • Petri Purho

    Sorry Zach I didn’t see you there :)

    My only complaint about the game is that the rooms are too quick. Just when I start getting into a good flow the room is already done. It feels like a downer every time the beat ui is faded away.

  • Karzon

    I’m not sure how they programmed their joystick support, but it doesn’t recognize ANYTHING I press on my gamepad (which uses standard directinput interface) at all. I guess I’ll have to use joytokey.

  • ryan

    First off: I absolutely love this game. I love Rez and this game really has brought the Rez feeling back to me. I agree partly with the article – the words, they keep popping up – but I, on the other hand, find what they say to be a nice touch. They seem to fit in rather cleverly with the theme of the game.

    I have an issue. The issue is, if I ever change the controls, or the video settings, my settings aren’t kept and when I reload the game, everything is back to default. I also have to re-beat any levels I already beat. Why would this be?

  • http:// Zach Aikman


    I have to apologize for the issue you’re having with your progress being lost. It’s a bug that we discovered recently and have fixed and worked into a new build, which will soon be posted on the project’s website. We’re hoping to have the fixed version up by tomorrow evening if you want to regrab it :)


    Thanks a lot, man. And best of luck to you as well, with Crayon Physics :) I love the concept and I’ve been wanting to play it, I just haven’t had the time to sit down and do so yet. Hopefully this weekend!


  • Pita

    I found this game really easy, even without being able to see the enemy. The targeting squares helped, but you can beat the whole thing (even on the hardest difficulty) just running about aimlessly while concentrating on the beats, and still suffering very, very little damage.

    Obviously I’ve had an altered experience of the game, because of the graphics problems, but I can’t help but feel the game is a rather flawed. It aught to be more focused on the little dude, and how you control him should be a larger factor. Like it is, it’s really just a simple, flawed (due to the constant fading out), bemani game. But it could be so so more.

  • deadassassin

    I love the game, but I have a major issue with the lack of a save file, or anything that could record your progress. if I wanted to play a certain level randomly, i’d have to beat all the ones before that to play it, which, quite frankly, sucked.

  • Dominic White

    deadassassin – it sounds like you stumbled upon a bug. Every time I go back to the game, everything I unlocked previously is still there.

  • Zach Aikman

    @deadassassin & ryan

    Good news! We’ve actually fixed that bug and now have it available for download in a new release. I apologize for the inconvenience it’s caused =[

    @Petri Purho

    Thanks a lot man! And the best of luck to you as well! I’m hoping to download Crayon Physics this weekend to play through it :)

  • krizzl0r

    does anyone have an alternalink?

  • companda

    Not sure if anyone reads these, but here’s my deal with the game:

    I am personally interested in games that try to be a visual/sound integrated experience. I have a Dreamcast setup in my room and play Rez a lot. In fact, Rez is one of the most amazing games I have ever played; but it has so much room to be more. Unfortunately, “Synaesthete” does nothing new and is really quite boring.

    The game itself does not really deserve the title. There is very little synesthesia actually going on at all. The real deal is that the player has no control over any musical or sound aspects. I mean, I don’t even remember if there is a sound for when you shoot. The fact that I can’t remember this is probably not good and suggests that there is not. Also, there is absolutely no audio response or feedback to tapping any of the jkl keys. So, I just randomly press those buttons and hope I get them right without know if I do or not. And it is hard to even get those jkl keys right. I play a lot of DDR/Stepmania and I still found this harder. I’m not saying it’s a hard game (rather easy), since you can just press those keys randomly and get it to work.

    So much of the style is a copy of Rez its scary. But, I mean, almost any game with the Rez feel will have a lot in common, so that’s not all that bad. But the philosophical b.s. sprinkled through… wait, I’ve seen this before: Rez. When it comes down to it, this games is just nothing really new. It has the potential, it really does, but misses the keys aspects. I’m waiting for the game that really connects the sound/music to the players actions and experience throughout the game.

  • Theon

    The link be dead, yo.