Straight from the Source: Michael and Matthew Taranto

Brawl in the family

Hello! We got a chance to interview Michael and Matthew Taranto from BitFinity! Matthew is famous for his work on the Brawl in the Family webcomic within the Smash community. I decided to rearrange some of the questions into different themes. Let me know what you think of this format in the comments.

Also, I included a lot of video of Tadpole Treble. This is because I really want you guys to see Tadpole Treble in action. I sincerely enjoyed the game, and have put in about 10 hours into it on Steam so far (it’s out on Wii U in America) and will probably try to get 100% once the patch drops this Friday. If you like action games, you’ll love Tadpole Treble.


Brawl in the Family:

Has your thoughts towards Brawl in the Family changed over the last few years?

Nah, I’m happy with what I’ve done with the comic and I look back on it fondly, but I don’t miss the heavy work and stress involved in making jokes week after week.

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When playing Smash for Wii U/3DS were you ever inspired to make another Brawl in the Family comic?

There have been a few times where something would strike me as funny and I’d think it’d make a good comic, but I can’t remember any specific examples offhand. The newcomers would probably inspire a few fresh strips, although I did try to work several of them in (like Pac-Man, Mega Man and Little Mac) before BitF itself ended.

Any plans to create a new comic series?

Not at the moment, but I’ll never say never. That said, I do still regularly make comics for NF Magazine, which gives me an outlet whenever I think of a new BitF-style idea.

You also started doing a podcast! How has that been?

It’s been fun! I’m still a big Nintendo fan, and being a Nintendo fan means an entertaining roller-coaster of emotions throughout each year. There’s plenty for Chris and I to chat about regarding our favorite (and least-favorite) games, so it’s been a fun outlet to do on the side. We’ve also mixed it up by adding a few extra segments.


Smash and Nintendo:

You mentioned in a previous interview, that you drew a lot of Nintendo characters, even as a child. What consoles did you grow up with? What was your go-to game growing up?

We grew up on the NES, and like most kids who played games in the late-80s, it was all about Mario and Link for us! Those characters were sort of the “face” of Nintendo, inundating not just our game cartridges but TV shows, cereals, and even the big screen. I remember that Super Mario Bros 3 in particular was the height of Nintendo hype at the time, the kind of game that every kid just had to have.

What are your favorite things about the Super Smash Bros. series?

It’d probably comes down to three things: the large roster (which makes them immediately appealing), the simple-yet-deep gameplay (which gives the games long-term appeal), and the huge amount of presentational detail (which makes the games feel extra special, like a love letter to Nintendo).

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What are your thoughts on Masahiro Sakurai?

I think he’s great at coming up with ideas that are completely out-of-the-box, then wrapping them up in a super-detailed presentation that feels respectful to the characters. Super Smash Bros. and Kid Icarus Uprising are two great examples of this–games with unorthodox control schemes but end up completely working thanks to the level of dedication involved in their development. I also think he’s a bit of a workaholic; take a break every now and then, buddy! Your wrist will thank you!


Question from Just Awesome — What are your thoughts on the current state of the Metroid franchise?

I think Nintendo’s not quite sure where to take it right now. After three Prime games, they wanted to shake up the formula, but I’m not sure it’s really caught on with Metroid fans yet. While both games have their strong points, Other M overplayed the narrative at the expense of the gameplay while Federation Force focused heavily on multiplayer. II think a new HD sidescrolling adventure would be just what the doctor ordered.

Tadpole Treble:

For the menu style in Tadpole Treble, where you inspired by Sakurai’s approach to menu design?

I actually hadn’t seen that article before, and it was very enlightening! But to answer the question, absolutely. I looked at menus for Super Smash Bros. Melee and Kirby Air Ride in particular when designing TT’s menus; I think Sakurai’s GUI design is very clean and attractive.


Tadpole Treble has changed quite a bit since it was first shown. What prompted those changes? In an interview with GameXplain you mentioned that you wanted to make the waterfall section playable, and have a reference to Little Pet Shop of Horrors. Was there any other ideas that were dropped because they didn’t end up working?

That’s mostly a result of art evolution. Everything initially looked a little too flat so we spruced up Baton a bit and redid the HUD to fit the feel of the game more and make it look less sterile. Although since that demo, the game design elements–notes, bamboo, cymbals–were all in place and good to go.

Midnight Bayou was modified heavily before its final form. It was originally a 50s doo-wop snail song called “Escargot in Love!” We eventually replaced it with “Love Note” because we wanted it to be more directly about Baton.

We originally had an Eel’s Belly level right after Barracuda Caverns, where Baton would swim through the innards of an eel to make her way out of its mouth. It ended up being replaced with Chiptune Lagoon a bit later, mainly because it was the least-developed level idea of the ones we had. Otherwise, most of the changes have been refinements of gameplay ideas (our very first demo–non-public–was ridiculously difficult due to a ton of environmental hazards and the camera was zoomed in far too much).

Tadpole Treble is a one button game. Was there any particular reason why you wanted to make the game very easy to control, or did that just happen as you were designing the game?

I think there’s some Miyamoto quote floating around out there about him praising games that only use a joystick and a single button. In addition, TT is a pretty different sort of game, and less buttons means a quicker learning curve and smaller barrier of entry. We figured the tail smack move could be context-sensitive for all sorts of things in the game.


Every level seems to have a unique element for it. Was there any point where you came up with a level idea that might have felt too similar, and so you had to find ways to differentiate it?

Yeah, this was an element we had to be aware of all throughout the level development phase. That’s how a lot of the game’s smaller touches–Trout Tributary’s bear, Snowfall Lake’s hills, Turtle Pipes’ little spotlight, Chiptune Lagoon’s “underground” section–ended up coming to be. We’d think, “Hey, this stage could use another unique element to make it stand out” or “The visuals are getting a little repetitive, maybe a different environment is in order in this spot” to spide things up a bit.


Was there any plan to have Sonata return for another song, or later in the game?

Sonata was actually a late-game addition because Midnight Bayou was one of our final stages (from a development standpoint). As such, he probably stuck around the bayou lamenting the “one who got away”…


What was it like working with your brother on this game?

Pretty fun, actually. I guess your mileage would depend on how your own brother acts! But Michael and I have always gotten along reasonably well and we entered the project on the same page regarding expectations and who does what. Naturally there’s a bit of crossover involving talking shop during family events but it’s otherwise been fine.


How do you feel about the positive reception that the game has been getting so far? Did you expect it?

We certainly hoped for it! I’m excited to see so many people appreciate the work we put into the game; after working on it for years, it’s impossible to really look at it with objective eyes, so it was definitely reassuring to see those 8s and 9s coming in!

If Baton was in Smash, what role would she play (fighter, assist trophy, etc) and what would she do?

We did play around with the Smash Voter stuff going on last year with this image (See below) but as you can see, Baton might not be fit for the battlefield!


I do think she’d be a killer Assist Trophy though. A player breaks the trophy, releasing Baton, and a musical staff suddenly stretches across the screen! All of a sudden, notes and food come flying in from the side as Baton lines up along the left side of the screen, dodging them. The notes play a brief refrain from Tadpole Treble, and any player who gets hit by them (or Baton) would take damage and knockback. On the plus side, you can grab the food for recovery and hit the Cymbals to be launched above the notes into safety!


What kind of nods to Brawl in the Family did you leave in Tadpole Treble?

There are a few tucked away in there. One of Etude’s “Let’s Talk” monologues involve him having a “brawl in the family” at his froggy family reunion involving his cousin Kermie (“I’m gonna get you, Kermie.”). Another involves an Easter Egg where you hit a secret spot in Thunder Creek; a photo of Michael and I pops up with a Spanish translation of Thunder Creek and a sketch of Dededoo and The Ugly Thing. The last is in one of the sample songs in Composition Mode called “History of N,” where you can play through the music of The History of Nintendo! I also mention the comic once or twice in the game’s Commentary tracks.


You mentioned in an interview with GameXplain that you might work on a Metroid-like game for your next project. Have you decided what platforms to release it on?

Nothing in stone yet, but we’re eagerly anticipating news on the NX…!


You’ve come a long way, first with Brawl in the Family and now Tadpole Treble. What would you say has helped you grow your content and become such a well known name in the Nintendo community?

I really think that being a Nintendo fan at heart was a big advantage. People could look at BitF and see a perspective that matches their own, how it comes from a place that loves these games and characters (instead of just, say, making dirtygorey jokes with Mario or whatever). With TT, it’s pretty much the same way–a Nintendo fan making a game that attempts to recapture the elements of Nintendo games he already enjoys. I think people can relate to that, especially when it seems like Nintendo gets a lot of ire thrown its way at times. I’m glad to see there are so many people that enjoy their output as much as I do.

Thanks for the interview!

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  1. This was a nice interview. After recently getting the Kickstarter books for Bitf, I really like how well he creates some background to most of the characters with some humor and references that only true Nintendo fans can enjoy.

  2. What a neat interview!
    I actually didn’t know there was a patch coming this Friday, I will be looking forward to that.

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