Classical musicians, jazz lovers and punk rockers don’t often agree on much. But they won’t have to when playing the newest video game from Fuquay-Varina studio, Solanimus.
The game, called “Signal To Noise,” lets the user pilot a spaceship to the music of his or her choice. Along the way, players have to shoot down enemies, dodge spikes, avoid lightning bolts and defeat bosses. The background music determines the layout and intensity of those enemies and obstacles.
“Signal To Noise,” released in November, already has landed partnerships with Nintendo and Durham-based record label ReverbNation. An early version of the game was given the “No. 1 Coolest Thing” award at Durham’s Escapist Expo, a 2013 convention.
Not bad for a company led by a 23-year-old on a shoestring budget with just a handful of employees.
But Solanimus founder David Klingler said he hopes his company can help put Fuquay-Varina on the map.
“The whole company has been bootstrapped by me,” Klingler said. “I’ve borrowed money from family and done Amazon re-selling on the side. I go to yard sales at 5 a.m. and buy all the old Nintendo games, and sell them for what they’re really worth. That’s actually the majority of our funding.”
“Signal to Noise” was in the works two years before its release, and it’s too soon to tell whether it will make a profit.
But the fact that this is the second game Solanimus has brought to market through Klingler’s unorthodox financing methods is a sign of the growth of indie gaming companies.
“It’s a lot more accessible than it used to be,” Klingler said. “That’s why you see people like me. It used to cost millions.”
Many major games, such as the newest versions of “Halo” or “Call of Duty,” have budgets in the tens or even hundreds of millions. Klingler said he’s trying to keep the budget for “Signal To Noise” in the tens of thousands.
The relatively small budget belies how far the company has come in just a few years.
Risk is at the heart of Solanimus. Klingler, a Harnett County native, started the company in 2011 after dropping out of college.
He was attempting to earn a degree in video game programming, he said. Even after dropping out, he still wanted to make a game. He made the game, and then incorporated Solanimus.
It was a solo operation until Daniel Prince wandered in. Prince, then a senior at Southern Wake Academy, needed an internship for school. He walked in unannounced one day and asked for the chance to work.
“I liked that,” Klingler said. “If he had just called I probably would’ve said no, but I liked his drive.”
For a while, there only was room for one desk in the tiny office, so Prince sat on the floor. But now they’ve made enough money to hire several more employees and rent a space at Fuquay Coworking with enough desks for everyone.
Room for growth
The company has made two more games and has plans for more games in the future, although Klingler said he said he couldn’t discuss them yet.
Despite the long hours and a potential lack of stability, Klingler’s team said they love working at a startup rather than for a large developer.
“We don’t have to go through layers of management,” Wells said. “There’s more room for innovation and big-picture discussions. You can create games more quickly and take more risks.”
However, the growth of indie studios also means more competition – and the need to come up with different versions of the game to reach the widest audience possible.
“Signal To Noise” is only available on computers through the popular Steam marketplace, but Klingler said releases are planned for handheld game devices, mobile phones, tablets and video game consoles.
The Solanimus team also is working on a patch to allow users to play along to live music and streaming services, such as Pandora.
“We have an algorithm that takes into account how ‘difficult’ the song is and how long you played,” Klingler said. “Instead of only analyzing the volume and beat, like most games do, we analyze pitch (and other factors).”
That means that on the online leaderboards, where players compete for bragging rights, polka lovers and metalheads can be scored and ranked equally.
On a recent day, the staff took a break from planning future projects to show off “Signal To Noise.”
The 3D games takes place as a ship flies through a wormhole-like tube. By letting players use whatever music they want, the game becomes highly customizable.
“It can get very frantic,” Prince said.
“We trust our players,” Klingler said. “It’s hard, but you can figure it out. Some people are already really, really good.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran