Syzygy: Go Faster — The Making Of
What is Syzygy?
When I first started working at Subnation, my first project was to co-create the cyberpunk storyworld of Syzygy to further engage consumers with Atari Hotels. Scott Bernberg, Tyler Ford, and I were given the creative freedom to tell our story through short Instagram posts, each featuring a new chapter of the Syzygy story and an original digital piece of artwork.
Our first story in Syzygy is “Go Faster,” an action tale about two sisters — Aurora and Yaz — who love hovercycle racing but love each other even more. They are destined to better the lives of everyone in their home city, as they face off with the Jin — Syzygy’s criminal underbelly. They are in for the race of their lives.
Syzygy’s next installment is coming in 2022 and will live on and off the screen. You can read Syzygy: Go Faster here.
Syzygy Creators In Conversation
Alex: So, I wasn’t a part of Syzygy at the very beginning, right?
Scott: No. I think you were just coming on when it was still a detective story in Atari City.
Tyler: Yeah, and before that Scott and I had been riffing on various ideas for different stories to bring into the world of Atari hotels and unfold them on Instagram. We had several different ideas, most of which are pretty cool, actually. And then one of which was the detective story that we were doing when you came on.
Scott: One of the original ideas was also something that you need to get pitched on sometime Alex, it was about these animals that lived –
Tyler: — No, no no, don’t don’t, edit that out haha.
Alex: Haha, well when I came on, it was still a noir detective story. And I wrote the first few entries of Syzygy as a detective story.
Tyler: Yes, and before that, we got on the phone and talked for like hours to figure it out. I had a lot of those story beats in my head, and those calls were how we got to know each other. We all talked, and we all defined the story. Then, Alex, the first thing you did for us was that you went off and made it sing. I remember that you very quickly found the humor and tone.
Alex: Do you remember why we changed it to our motorcycle story?
Tyler: I do. When we were going down the path of the noir detective story, we thought — this might just be a little bit too much to handle. It was getting very meta. We had callbacks to Nolan Bushnell in there, and we had also come up with an idea for a “Fast and Furious of the future, but on motorcycles with strong touches of Akira.” And we pulled that one out of the hopper and started talking about that. And, from a story perspective, it really sailed.
We definitely all figured out where we wanted the beginning of the story to go pretty quickly, the characters came easily, and then, from a world building perspective, tonally, it easily synced up with Atari Hotels from a narrative standpoint, because although some of the story is set in the underworld, Syzygy was still an exciting city to live. It is still a cool vision of the future, whereas, in the detective story, the city had fallen apart. It was like Gotham before Batman, and we didn’t know if we wanted to go there.
Scott: Yeah and the detective story was going to be the prequel. I’ll tell you an anecdote. We were doing one of those long calls, and I was getting pretty mad because you guys weren’t listening to my notes, and I was talking, trying to get my notes across.
Alex: Oh sorry –
Scott: — I was on mute. Had no idea.
Alex: Haha. Yeah I feel like we were pretty much on the same page for most of the story beats, and I feel like it got to a place where we were all happy with it by the end.
Tyler: I think there was a single plot point that we didn’t all agree on, which was whether or not a certain character would make it or not, but we made the right choice.
Scott: I’m going to disagree with you there. There was one conflict around the story.
Tyler: What was it?
Scott: It was me talking you out of serving mashed potatoes at the Korean restaurant.
Alex: Yeah! Wait there was another disagreement –
Tyler: Well, I actually acquiesced to Korean culture very easily though. So that wasn’t a point of contention. The question always is — can you convince others of your point of view. Sometimes you have people pushing you to make a decision that you believe is wrong, but we didn’t have any of those. Sometimes there are two right answers and you have to just make a decision. But we didn’t have any of that either because we always all agreed at the end of the day. We would always convince each other before moving forward. We would always talk it out. Thus, mashed potatoes were the right call.
Alex: I remember there was one more argument that took place the first time we met while we were working on the pulpy noir detective story. It was when I wrote the line “That cop was as crooked as a joystick, that is to say not crooked at all and not crooked enough to get anything done in this city.” And I think Tyler didn’t like it because he didn’t like the use of the word crooked.
Tyler: No. I liked the use of the word crooked, but you are right, it was me who didn’t like it, but it’s not that I didn’t like the line. The line was great, but it made a fundamental shift in the architecture of the story pretty quick. All of a sudden we were establishing something with the police force that I wasn’t sure we should do so fast.
Alex: Yeah, I remember that at that point I wanted to make the police force or, I wanted to make the character being described, who was named Officer Matthews, and we kept the name when we transitioned into our new storyline, a good cop in a crooked force.
Tyler: And we did that eventually. My concern at that point was ultimately the same concern that made us move from the entire detective story. We needed to find some redemption pretty quickly. And we also needed the city to have a lot of hope too. Just a complete tonal shift.
Scott: Where was Gravitar street?
Alex: That was in the detective one. Wait, no, we put it in this one too.
Tyler: Yeah, no, you did a great job with the callbacks.
Scott: I also think it’s pretty funny that now when I hear Upper East Side, I think “UNS.” That was clever naming right there. Good nomenclature.
Tyler: The fun thing about Syzygy is that it’s a great amalgamation of Atari stuff, but it’s also a mashup of all our favorite things. The Matrix films are obviously some of my favorite films, probably top sci-fi for sure. We’ve got a lot of that in there. We’ve got a lot of Akira, we got a lot of Ghost in the Shell
Scott: And Tron.
Alex: Blade Runner too.
Tyler: Serious Tron. Serious Blade Runner. And what I’ve always liked about The Matrix is that it’s also an amalgamation. There is that great speech Keanu Reeves gave at the AFI where he just rattles off all of the things that the Matrix is. It’s Kung Fu movies, Nietzsche, it’s a supurb monologue. And I loved that they just created this world with everything that they love in it. This was a really cool exercise in that degree because we got to make up a lot of fun stuff but also pay homage to all of the great stuff we grew up on.
Alex: And it was crazy when the Kotaku article came out about Syzygy. We totally didn’t expect that. They picked up some of our inspirations.
Tyler: Yes, and this is really like an experiment, and they picked up on that. It was great that the Atari Hotels folks let us loose on this because it wasn’t going to be an instant audience draw. It sets up something like that can be a really great audience draw because when we start to build this into interactive worlds and launch the larger elements, it can turn into this really exciting thing that I think people will come to love and partake in. And this initial story will be the foundation of that. But at the same time, it was, with the spotlight off, just a little bit of a creative playground for us. And the guy from Kotaku picked up on that.
Scott: Speaking of which, what do you guys think about the whole Instagram format we chose? We broke the mold a little bit there. Would you do it again? Would you do it differently? Would you use another platform?
Tyler: I don’t really think about the distribution. I was just thinking about the story and the way we needed to tell it, but it was definitely a really cool idea that Doug [Subnation co-founder] had, and it was an interesting experiment. But, at the same time, I think a more traditional digital graphic novel is probably the best next step. And I think we all feel that way. And then certainly taking it into some kind of interactive animated series and installations would be next.
Alex: Totally agreed. I think we should close this on why we named the story Syzygy.
Tyler: Syzygy was actually the original name for Atari. Doug found that out, and in fact, it really has a beautiful and touching astrological meaning as well.
Alex: Yeah, in astronomy, syzygy is when three or more celestial bodies line up.
Alex: And I feel like it worked very well with our naming conventions, like the character of Aurora, with the astronomical angle and the colorful city lights. I always imagined that the neon lights coming from Syzygy look like the aurora borealis when someone is looking at the sky above the city from afar.
Scott: Plus, there’s a ton of fan fiction romance on Wattpad that’s named Syzygy!
Tyler: There you go!
Alex: There you go haha.