Interview: Tadpole Treble Encore creator talks about writing memorable songs & working with Nintendo

BitFinity’s hit indie music game Tadpole Treble Encore splashed its way onto the Nintendo Switch eShop just a few days ago, and in light of this release, we caught up with one of its creators, Matthew Taranto, for a quick interview. Taranto discussed the inspiration behind his cute yet unconventional game, how difficult it was to write the songs for it, the technical aspects of porting the game to Switch, the game’s sales potential, and BitFinity’s relationship with Nintendo.

I would like to publicly extend my appreciation for his time and being so willing to share his thoughts. Tadpole Treble Encore is a great little experience that stands out in the myriad of indie games on Switch, and as per my glowing review of the game, I would highly recommend you check it out for yourself. With that said, here is what Taranto had to say.

Nintendo Enthusiast: What was the inspiration for Tadpole Treble?

Matthew Taranto: I got the idea for this game when I was a teenager. My dad’s a composer himself and would write out various parts of songs using programs like Finale. I remember thinking when I watched the little playback line scroll across automatically, the right-to-left action reminded me of a platformer! From there, the idea of a game using its own soundtrack’s notes as the level design began to take shape.

Since I wanted to take advantage of the full staff [the lines on a sheet of music] and not being dragged down by gravity, that’s how I decided to have swimming be the main mechanic for moving through the stages. And the humble tadpole was picked as the star solely because I couldn’t think of any well-known tadpole characters!

Lastly, our Composition Mode was heavily inspired by my first composition program: Mario Paint! I always greatly appreciated how intuitive yet flexible it was to make songs in the game, so we wanted to balance that user-friendliness with a few extra options for musicians (such as adding sharps, flats, and octave changes).

How long did it take for the game to go from concept to a full project?

Taranto: A very long time! A lot of this game was simply a set of paper drawings that my brother Michael and I would work out until around 2010, when we learned of the Louisiana Technology Park starting an incubation program to assist indie developers.

After a time, we had a small vertical slice, which was enough to launch our Kickstarter in 2013 and eventually the game in 2016. As many passion projects go, TT was developed “on the side” while we worked other jobs to pay the bills.

How hard was it to create songs for such an oddly specific theme?

Taranto: We knew going in that we wanted every stage to feel unique, so individual songs were a must (especially since the melodies were determining the level design)! I found this aspect kind of liberating, though, and helped keep me from falling into compositional patterns or what have you.

A ‘50s-style crooning number is going to be markedly different from a chiptune song, after all! It was a little challenging to stretch myself in this way but also a lot of fun to learn about different genres and their instrumentation. Eventually, the game started to take on a secondary South American and American Southwest sound to it, between the map theme and the music for stages 2, 8, 9, and 10, and I think that element helped musically give the game a bit of consistency as well.

What tunes are your favorite?

Taranto: Pretty hard question since I feel difficult to distance myself from the game and look at it objectively. I’m probably most happy with the lyrical songs since you so rarely hear those in games, at least in the sense of a character actively singing to the player, musical-style.

“Thunder Creek” would probably be my pick; it’s one of the first songs we wrote for the game, and we hired a local actor (who played Jean Valjean onstage!) with a great country voice to cover the lead. I’m also quite happy with the new stage’s sung song (“Aisle Isle”); I think it hits a good balance of being fun, ominous, and a tad emotional.

Which stage is your favorite?

Taranto: I think of all the levels, Midnight Bayou best hits that “animated musical” feel we were shooting for. I also enjoyed doing my Frank Sinatra impression as crooning tadpole Sonata in that stage!

What stage(s) were the hardest to come up with for Tadpole Treble?

Taranto: The final boss gave us some difficulties in every regard — the music, the programming, even the balance. It’s one of the stages we’ve adjusted a bit for the Encore version of the game because so many players were having issues figuring out how to win. We want it to be challenging but not indecipherable!

Any plans for a sequel… like Frog Forte? (Haha!)

Taranto: We’ve also had “Bullfrog Bass” suggested to us! I can see a sequel to the game working and I’d have a number of ideas that would expand on the ideas present, but right now there are no plans for a follow-up.

We’d like to first try our hand at something that doesn’t involve such precision and timing with all the stages! That was definitely one of the toughest aspects of getting the game to work for us.

How does Nintendo Switch compare to the Wii U in terms of ease of development?

Taranto: Since both systems run Unity, the porting process went mostly smoothly. The biggest difference in terms of performance is that the Switch is quicker and more powerful, meaning the game looks better, runs better, and has pretty much no loading times this time around.

My only regret with that was that we had to lose the between-stage loading animation of a tadpole metamorphosing into a frog, which I always liked. But since the transitions are basically instantaneous, players would never be able to see it now!

Was Tadpole Treble a good seller on Wii U, or did it swim under the radar? And are you expecting a big turnaround on the more popular Switch?

Taranto: Considering the launch window and somewhat tricky-to-market nature of the game, I think we did okay. But August 2016 on the Wii U wasn’t exactly a prime time to hit a system which was already struggling to get a massive audience.

I think it’ll do better on the Switch, but there’s always that double-edged aspect of more success equaling more competition as well. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of indie games available on the eShop, so I hope we don’t get lost in the shuffle!

How long did it take to port Tadpole Treble to Switch?

Taranto: Like before, our programmer was working on it between other jobs (and so were we in terms of fine-tuning things and adding the extra stage, etc.), so it took a couple years.

Thinking back, it would’ve been nice to launch a bit earlier during the time everyone was rushing to get their game on there, but the system is still doing very well and has a few years in it yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

Nintendo has seemingly been extremely inviting to indie games of all kinds these last few years. Is Nintendo easy to work with?

Taranto: Working with Nintendo has been a fantastic experience. The whole process of publishing a title on a major console system can be an overwhelming experience.

Even though we’re a smaller studio, our contacts were always available and helped us along the way, step by step, to guide us and make the best decisions for our game.

[This interview has been edited for clarity.]

Looks like good-guy Nintendo’s strong relationship with indie companies remains true! And it’s certainly better for it, as Nintendo’s strong support of indie games is what has led to there being such an influx of unique and dynamic games like Tadpole Treble Encore.

We thank Matthew Taranto again for taking time out for this interview and congratulate BitFinity on the release of on Nintendo Switch.