Fascism Fighters 4000 dev interview: Andrew Smith, Spilt Milk Studios

Tango Fiesta: Fascism Fighters 4000 aims to fight fascism both on and off-screen. We talked to design director Andrew Smith to learn more.

In October last year, Spilt Milk Studios launched its first DLC for its indie shooter Tango Fiesta (Steam), titled Fascism Fighters 4000 (Steam). The DLC was inspired by last year’s protests against racial inequality and injustice, which originated in the US, but also soon spread to many parts of the world.

What is unique about Fascism Fighters 4000 is not only is the game committed to fighting fascists on-screen, but that all of the developer’s earnings from this DLC will be donated to Black Lives Matter organisations.

Design Director Andrew Smith has written at length about the development and aftermath of Fascism Fighters 4000 in his dev logs on Gamasutra (Part 1, Part 2). We’ve gone further to quiz him about his experience with the game and what he took away from it.

Tell us about your history in video game development. How did you arrive at Tango Fiesta and Fascism Fighters 4000?

I won’t bore you with the full story but I started out in AAA work for hire studios straight out of university, and eventually life led me to found my own studio. Spilt Milk Studios has been running for over 10 years now, and we’ve done a little bit of everything in that decade. We like to think we’re battle-hardened and very experienced. We’ve survived our publisher going under in the same quarter that our game launched. We’ve built and cancelled an MMO and come out stronger for it. We’ve endured stuff that would kill a developer!

Tango Fiesta itself was born out of our passion for game jams, and very specifically one that was a competition held live on the show floor at EGX in 2014. Over two days we built a mad little shooter on the theme of ‘The 80s’, fell in love with it, and despite not winning the competition we landed a publishing deal to develop it into a full game. Fascism Fighters 4000 was something we never envisioned back then – we absolutely had grand plans for extra characters, modes, DLC and expansions, even sequels and all that good stuff, but over time – and without the game being a smash hit – we weren’t able to see them realised.

But then 2020 happened, and we were able to (sort of) make those dreams come true, with a brand new DLC for our scrappy little shooter, more than 5 years after it first came out!

Fascism Fighters 4000 screenshot

What were your inspirations for Fascism Fighters 4000? What would you recommend the game’s fans to check out?

Fascism Fighters 4000 is entirely inspired by the political situation in America last year, specifically the riots and protests around the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. That was the spark that kindled our intent to make the game. From a creative point of view, we had a challenge to match the tone and content to that of Tango Fiesta – 80s references, action movies, tongue firmly in cheek – but through working with our wonderful team we were able to bring in references from amazing black actors of the era like Carl Weathers. For gameplay, we just wanted to refine and diversify the top-down action from Tango Fiesta, fixing bugs and adding features that make the game faster-paced, more entertaining, and focused on high score chasing over all else.

The biggest addition we made was the ‘squad up’ mechanic, which was a perfect combination of the political intent, and the need to make exciting gameplay. By doing well, you’ll summon more people to your cause, and they act semi-independently, moving & shooting alongside you and helping you get even bigger scores. The protests that inspired us obviously built their impact around the number of people involved, making sure the voices of the oppressed are heard, and growing in power as more people joined – so somehow representing that element in the game itself in a respectful manner was of paramount importance.

I’d recommend it for fans of old school shooters like Geometry Wars, or more modern classics like Bro Force and Enter The Gungeon.

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You hired a more diverse team to help develop Fascism Fighters 4000. In your personal experience, what impact did this have on the project?

It was just the best. It goes without saying that more diverse teams lead to better working environments, better products, and that’s regardless of the industry. For us to make this game the right way, we knew we had to find, hire and actually act upon the experience of Black developers, so bringing Lillian and Jason on to help out in really key areas was a fantastic experience. The writing, cultural sensitivity consultancy, designing the logo of the game which then informs so much the game’s identity and how the game is seen by the public – all of these elements are crucial and defining. We couldn’t have made the game on our own, and their expertise ensured we delivered a game that was leaps and bounds ahead of where we would’ve been without them. Not only that but we’ve grown as people. It’s one thing googling or researching your topics, but in our case we were able to work with people who lived the very topic we were engaging with, and I’ll never forget how meaningful and impactful that was.

Keeping in mind your experience with Fascism Fighters 4000, would you be interested in making another game that is unapologetically political in spirit?

I’d personally love to. Games have more power to change the world than any other medium and we should be making use of that power. As a company we have to balance that desire against commercial realities and paying peoples’ wages, but it’s reassuring to know that politics are imbued in everything we do in the modern world, in every aspect of our lives. If you decide to make something that is ‘not political’, that in itself is a political stance. By not doing anything, you’re saying you’re ok with how things are.

Yet by virtue of being educated, aware, and responsible members of society every story we tell, world we build, and character we bring to life will have a political angle, a message of some kind, or an element that is unavoidably about the human experience. The question of how unapologetic we’ll be – that will depend on the tone and audience we’re making it for – but knowing us, we’ll hardly be able to stop ourselves!

Fascism Fighters 4000 screenshot

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What advice or heads-up do you have for other indie devs who want to develop politically-minded games?

Do it! Get stuck in and change the world!

Not enough developers are trying, and not enough of the games that do get made get the kinds of exposure or success that they need to help nurture the opportunity we have to build change. But it is really tough. For example, during our PR and marketing efforts, we encountered a lot of people and companies unwilling to touch the game because of its political content. Which is absurd, insulting and frankly borders on the complicit. It’s incredibly heartbreaking of course, it was depressing, it was all of those things. But it makes me want to champion doing it even more! Because that kind of reaction is part of the very problem we’re trying to help solve by making the political content in the first place.

So for anyone wanting to do it, I’d say expect the worst, plan for the best (this is Game Dev 101), and do not make the mistake of thinking that being a Political Game is in itself enough of a hook, regardless of how current the event or how hot the topic is. The game needs to be excellent first, for all the usual reasons.

What is next for Spilt Milk Studios?

We’re incredibly excited to have hired a few more people on to a partially-funded project which we’re busy prototyping right this very moment, and which we should be able to share soon! It’s not overtly political-with-a-capital-P, but there will absolutely be Things Said and Stands Taken. It’s a dream project for us, and we’ll be sharing more about it – and several other games we’re releasing in 2021 – over on our very friendly Discord.

For more information on Spilt Milk Studios, check out their official website here.

For more interviews and articles, check out our Features page!

This Article was written by: Rahul Shirke

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