One of the best reviewed musical video games of the year so far was born in Baton Rouge. And that game stars a tadpole.
Through a combination of brotherly teamwork, musical inspiration and sheer pluckiness, Louisiana natives and video game developers Michael and Matthew Taranto have created "Tadpole Treble."
"As kids, we grew up designing games, but this is actually the first time we’ve sat down and created a project together," Michael said.
The first time turned out to be a charm for the brothers.
The PC version is charting at 90 (out of 100) on the aggregate review site Metacritic. In the game, you play Baton the tadpole. The player navigates sheet music, avoiding enemies while hitting the right notes. The game is available for PC and Wii U.
The idea for "Tadpole Treble" came while listening to their father play the piano. The brothers knew they wanted to create a character that the player would navigate around sheet music, but narrowing it down to a tadpole took some extra thought.
“You have to move up and down the staff so we determined you would either be flying or swimming, and we wanted a character that was vulnerable," Michael said. "Through the game itself, we wanted the player to experience a sense of growth, and we couldn’t think of any famous tadpoles."
Setting a game underwater gave Matthew and Michael a chance to pay homage to another of their loves: Louisiana. From the French lyrics of “Midnight Bayou” to the snapping crawfish that endanger the player, "Tadpole Treble" oozes with Southern charm.
“Growing up in Louisiana, the culture has infected our bodies,” Michael said, laughing. “I don’t think we could have made a game without showing our Louisiana roots. Louisiana has a great community here, and we wanted to represent that.”
The Taranto brothers premiered the Early Access version (an in-progress build that players around the world can play) at the Red Stick Animation Festival’s Video Game Symposium this year, months before the full release in August. The brothers' company, BitFinity, and game represents a new generation of local game development talent.
“There is a nice indie scene," Michael said of area video game makers. "There are a couple of developers that we work with at the Louisiana Tech Park in the Level Up Lab. For us, indie festivals are very important for developing ourselves and our game. There are a lot of local events where we like to go and show the community our progress and say, ‘Look, this is what’s going on in Louisiana and Baton Rouge.' ”
Though the means by which the Taranto brothers funded and created "Tadpole Treble" are modern, the game itself feels timeless because of an all-ages aesthetic and simple but engaging gameplay that feels like it would have been at home on the Super Nintendo.
Going into business with a family member can sometimes be a risky proposition, but Michael felt that not only did the brothers bond work to their advantage, the process actually brought them closer together.
“We both know our strengths and weaknesses, so going into business you can determine who should handle what a little easier," Michael said. "I think Matthew and I are closer as brothers because of this event. It was difficult and trying at times but we got through. I think we’ll make another game together.”