Louisiana Technology Park has attracted six gaming clients to its nonprofit Baton Rouge incubator, and two are polishing video games for release this summer or early next year.
First up is BitFinity, owned by brothers Michael Taranto, 32, of Prairieville, and Matthew Taranto, 30, of Sorrento. They plan to release “Tadpole Treble” in August as a combination musical video game, educational tool and platform for art and music composition.
Separately, 15 college students and a pair of professionals are collaborating to create and market a “Space Shrimp” video game by spring 2016.
Their efforts and those of the four other companies are a result of Tech Park officials’ decision more than two years ago to try to attract video game producers to the business incubator at 7171 Florida Blvd.
Tech Park officials soon discovered that while video game production was growing in other parts of the nation, it was in its infancy in Louisiana, said Stephen Loy, executive director at Louisiana Technology Park.
He said two of the biggest problems facing the industry in this state were lack of facilities and equipment.
“We started Level Up Lab two years ago with a $75,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority,” Loy said. “It’s kind of an incubator for video game companies.”
The lab also is available for development of mobile apps and other digital products, he said.
Congressionally chartered Delta Regional supports business incubators, job training and infrastructure and industrial development in distressed areas of Louisiana and eight other states — an area that is home to approximately 10 million people.
In Baton Rouge, there also appeared to be a lack of experienced professionals who might be willing to serve as mentors for newcomers to the growing video game industry, Loy recalled. What they’ve found is camaraderie among those who are tech park tenants or users of Level Up Lab or both.
“The people at Pixel Dash (one of the incubator tenants) have been great,” Loy said. He said that firm’s professionals are generous with their time and frequently help people at startups utilizing the equipment and facilities at Level Up Lab.
Pixel Dash Studios specializes in video game development, mobile application development, 3-D animation and other interactive media. Co-founders Evan Smith and Jason Tate started at Louisiana Technology Park and successfully held a $187,000 Kickstarter financing campaign. Pixel Dash has developed training simulations, apps and games for Web, Facebook, iPhone and iPad, including their most recent title, “Swap Drop Poker.”
Other Level Up Lab users include Crow King, which is working on a prototype for a strategy game. It plans to release three titles over a three-year period. The company was founded by Cody Louviere, a self-taught programmer who has worked in several technology-related fields or companies, including EA’s North America Quality Assurance Center in Baton Rouge.
Star Blade Games is a Baton Rouge-based video developer working on “Nefarious,” a game in which the player is a bad guy intent on kidnapping a princess and thwarting a hero.
Jetstreame is a mobile application and video game developer. The firm developed “Crush Hour,” available in the Android app store. Now, it is developing the puzzle game “Drag N Drop” for mobile platforms and the Wii U.
BitFinity, the company that is about to come out with “Tadpole Treble,” started about two years ago using a Kickstarter financing campaign and reflects the entrepreneurial spirit found at the tech park and lab.
“This is our first video game. We’ve got over a thousand backers for the game’s release,” said Michael Taranto. “The game itself came from our love of music and video games.”
While this is their first video game, Taranto’s brother, Matthew, was the writer and artist for a former 600-episode webcomic known as “Brawl in the Family.” That pun was an allusion to the 1970s television situation comedy “All in the Family.”
Michael Taranto said the new copyrighted video game was built on the free Unity game engine and will be digitally distributed through both Steam and Nintendo eShop. He said it can be played on Nintendo’s Wii U system or on Mac or PC.
If they wish, users from 7-year-old children to young adults can use the game to create their own artwork and music — complete with sharps, flats and a variety of instruments, including trumpets, pianos, cymbals and drums.
The game comes with 14 songs, all original compositions by Matthew Taranto, three with lyrics.
There is different music for different levels as a tadpole named Baton attempts to escape danger at such locations as Opus Island, Thunder Creek and Piranha Jungle.
“We’ve invested a lot of man hours,” Michael Taranto noted. “I would say 15,000 to 20,000.”
Both brothers are musically inclined.
Michael Taranto, who also works as general manager at a Baton Rouge restaurant, Jasmines on the Bayou, plays trombone and guitar.
“I was in Tiger Band at LSU,” he recalled of his efforts on the trombone.
Matthew Taranto plays piano and saxophone, composes music and works as a piano player at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Prairieville.
In fact, music is a big part of Taranto family history.
Vernon Taranto Sr., the brothers’ paternal grandfather, was a founder of the Baton Rouge Concert Band and served as its lead conductor for 26 years. He also served as band director at East Ascension High School for many years.
Paul Taranto, the brothers’ father, serves as instructor of instrumental music and band director at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge.
Michael Taranto does not discuss “Tadpole Treble” and BitFinity without mentioning two other people — head programmer Dane Caro and senior programmer Kevin Cherry.
“Without our programmers, we would be nowhere,” Michael Taranto said.
Cherry, coincidentally, was a local instructor for an LSU course that inspired the collaboration among 15 students involved in the “Space Shrimp” game that’s about to emerge from the tech park lab.
Thirteen of the students attend LSU, including lead developer W. Craig Jones, who was inspired by a class assignment during this year’s spring semester, which involved team creation of an unrelated video game.
Additional class instruction was streamed from Mark Tulewicz at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“We’ve done video game development in class,” Jones said. “Now, we want to do professional game development.
“We actually stole a lot of people from that class,” Jones added. “This is going to be a fun game.”
“Craig came up to me last semester and said: ‘How would you like to build our own game?’ ” recalled fellow LSU student Michael J. Morgan, who became the game’s lead designer.
“Michael was the first person I thought of,” said Jones, who formed After Hours Lab LLC on May 13 as the business vehicle for “Space Shrimp.”
Death and destruction are not a part of this game, both Morgan and Jones noted.
While there may be some tense moments in the action, Morgan explained, “You can’t die or get hurt in this game.”
“Craig said ‘Come up with a story.’ So, I sat down that night and wrote it all down,” Morgan said.
The group of LSU students then persuaded professional Josh Riley to come on board as senior sound designer. Another professional, Andrew Pinion, was hired as systems developer.
“We wanted a dynamic sound engine,” Morgan explained. “You can listen to this one for hours and not hear the same thing twice.”
LSU student Tylar Spencer sketched 20 characters for the video game, which revolves around efforts by Grub, a space shrimp, to navigate past space obstacles to reunite with his sweetheart, Shwil.
Grub’s journey covers several space worlds in which puzzles must be solved to continue his search.
Sophie Crane, a student at the School for the Visual Arts in New York City, is the game’s animator.
“My job is to give Grub life,” Crane said. “The same goes for the movements of all the other characters.”
“It’s not meant to be hard,” Jones said. “It’s meant to be satisfying. It’s a happy story.”
“Little kids can go to these platforms. Adults can go there to ponder deeper issues,” he said.
The group revealed a few more details from the plot lines.
“The space shrimp live in space,” said Morgan. “They’ve always been there. They’re a space-dwelling species.”
“This isn’t a shrimp-only universe,” Jones noted. “This is a lively universe. There will be manta rays and jellyfish, maybe an octopus.”
Most shrimp interactions are with frogs, crawfish and hermit crabs, Jones said.
Other LSU students working on the video game include Cameron Braff, Kristin Hudson, Gaelan Harrington, Robert Pohlman, Blake Capel and Marlou De Guzman.
Also from LSU are Matthew Higdon, Micah Theriot, Joshua Collins and Ryan Hoff.
Mac Carter, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is senior developer for the project.
Members of the large group seldom are in the same spot at one time. They keep in touch with cellphones and laptops.
Lacking some of the professional tools needed to transform their ideas into smooth video scenes and sounds, they make use of the Level Up Lab at the technology park’s business incubator.
Jones said use of that space and equipment is granted by Louisiana Technology Park in return for a $150 monthly fee and 10 percent of the game’s gross sales.
As for those baby steps being taken by the students of After Hours Lab, Loy, the tech park director, said, “I think this is great. This is what they love to do. If it weren’t for LSU and Level Up Lab, who knows what they would have done?”