(Photography by Don Kadair: Brothers Matthew and Michael Taranto are set to release Tadpole Treble for Nintendo’s Wii U)
Baton Rouge natives Michael Taranto and his younger brother Matthew Taranto acquired their experience for developing video games by playing video games—lots and lots of video games.
Combining years of yelling at the screen in frustration with the knowledge of what makes an exceptional game and a shared love of music, the brothers jumped headfirst into developing a game two years ago while still maintaining their day jobs. At some point in the next two months, their work will culminate in the release of their first game: Tadpole Treble for Nintendo’s Wii U.
When the game hits store shelves, it will mark the first of five games scheduled for release during the first half of 2016 by a group of developers in the Louisiana Technology Park. Four developers work in the tech park’s Level Up Lab, which focuses on fledgling digital media and high-tech firms, while the fifth plies his trade in the tech park’s incubator.
Tadpole Treble is a side-scrolling game that weaves together components of musical adventure with the classic “gotta get home” storyline to tell the tale of Baton, a young tadpole lost in treacherous waterways. The player must navigate Baton back home through rivers and streams using musical notes to create songs, some with lyrics, to complete each level.
“We really wanted the players to have fun with it,” Michael Taranto says.
Godric Johnson, a Scotlandville High School graduate and head of Jetstreame Studios, is another developer at the tech park with a project that’s about 50% complete.
“I feel we’re pioneering the new digital age of game development right here,” says Johnson, who, with designer Derek Scott, is developing Cyberpunk Casanova, a tasteful dating simulator set in a Blade Runner-like dystopian future in which every in-play decision affects the game’s outcome. The game could be ready for release on PC and mobile gaming platforms around March.
“The independent scene, game development scene is huge, and it’s just getting bigger and bigger,” Johnson says.
And with game developer EA Sports housed on the LSU campus and tech giant IBM settling in downtown Baton Rouge, the scene could very well grow in the next few years. Louisiana Technology Park Executive Director Stephen Loy says such companies are huge assets to the local game-development community because they expose people to new technologies and ideas.
“I think that helps lift up the whole technology region in Baton Rouge,” Loy says.
Other games in development at the tech park with tentative 2016 release dates are:
—Quest of Souls, a ’90s throwback game developed by Cody Louviere and King Crow Studios that will combine old-school pixel graphics with 360-degree camera angles to create an arcade-style shoot-’em-up game with role-playing and action elements. The game features three playable characters, including Louviere’s Pembroke Welsh Corgi as a dragon hunter, and could be released in May or June. “We went from a somewhat similar to a Lord of the Rings-style world to something that anything is possible,” Louviere says. “We’re not limiting it to fantasy. If aliens show up at some point, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
—Limit Theory, an open-world procedural sci-fi game inspired by Star Wars in which algorithms create a realistic environment with elements of randomness where nothing is ever the same twice, allowing gamers to theoretically craft a story that never ends. Developer Josh Parnell says he hopes to beta test his game in six months and release the full version soon after. “When you can build a game and still be surprised by the experience it gives you, I think that is tremendous and that’s what I hope to get out of Limit Theory—what I know I’ll get out of Limit Theory,” says Parnell, a Baton Rouge native and Stanford graduate.
—Road Redemption, developed by Pixel Dash Studios, an ode to the iconic Road Rash games with updated physics and realistic graphics. Players race down long stretches of blacktop, rooftops and deserts on motorcycles while using whatever they can to knock their opponents from their motorcycles. Jason Tate, co-founder of Pixel Dash, says early versions of the game are out on Steam, a gaming platform on computers, and the full version is expected to be released around March on PC and Mac. “We thought there was a fan base out there for it,” Tate says.
GROWING UP GAMING
The Tarantos’ story of growing up playing video games and now wanting to develop them is a common theme among the group.
Tate says a love of video games led him to earn a degree in computer engineering from LSU in 2005 and begin a career in game development. Louviere grew up on role-playing classics like the early Final Fantasy games and Breath of Fire 3, games he says he hopes to emulate a little in Quest of Souls.
Parnell, developer of Limit Theory, was driven to create his game of unlimited scenarios because he was frustrated that he knew everything about the games’ storylines after conquering them the first time. Johnson, owner of Jetstreame Studios, is living a childhood dream of owning a game development company after playing all the classics like Mario and Sonic as a youth and earning a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in game design and digital art.
While the developers at the tech park may all be competing for the same dollars in the gaming market, there is a camaraderie among them because each developer knows the struggles the others are enduring and they all share the same passion. They also lend their respective talents to each other, working on several games besides their own in various capacities, and act as a sounding board for ideas and frustrations.
“My game is only [at the point it is] because I have every other video game company helping me create it right now,” Louviere says.
It’s a camaraderie that Loy, head of the Tech Park, says is natural, and not manufactured.
“I don’t know if its inherent in this industry or what it is,” he says. “The people in there, they just sort of gravitate toward each other to help.”