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The 1980s inspirations behind Spilt Milk's Tango Fiesta Exclusive

The 1980s inspirations behind Spilt Milk's  Tango Fiesta
February 24, 2014 | By Mike Rose

UK indie publisher Mastertronic Games announced this week that it will bring Spilt Milk Studios' Tango Fiesta to Steam later this year.

The story of how this top-down co-operative shooter inspired by 80s movie culture came together reads like a series of fortunate human collisions, as original Spilt Milk founder Andrew Smith bumped into Ewan Brock, Andrew Roper and Gavin Harrison through various different venues along the way.

While Smith was the Spilt Milk Studios founder, he came across audio guy Harrison many years ago through an out-of-the-blue email, and has been working with him on every project since then.

Meanwhile, Tango Fiesta coder Roper first shook hands with Smith back at the GameCity Festival three years ago. Roper showed Smith some of the work he'd been doing, and Smith gave him some cake. It was meant to be.

Most recently, artist Brock was introduced to Smith via LostWinds and Joe Danger Infinity designer Steven Burgess, completing the Tango Fiesta team.

"The four of us first worked together as a group at a game jam that the Royal Society was running," Smith tells me. "We all enjoy cheesy 80s music blaring out of speakers to make the eight hours really intense, so that became a fundamental part of our jamming strategy, and we had such a blast we vowed to do another one."

When the foursome applied for the Rezzed GameJam in 2013, a wonderful coincidence occurred. While the team was queuing up its 80s soundtrack in preparation for the jam, it was announced that the theme of the jam was... the 80s.

"We couldn't believe our luck!" laughs Smith. "We instantly knew what to do, and it all just fell into place. Just fantastic. For us, the 80s is best summarized by action movies, and what could be more fun than basing a game on that bit in Predator where they empty their guns into the jungle?"

tango fiesta 1.jpgThe idea behind Tango Fiesta is to take the best 80s over-the-top action movies and pile them all into a four-player, overly-referential co-op action game, with each level a homage to a different 80s movie.

"If you can think of it and it's got big men or kick ass women saving the world using nothing much more than explosions and one liners, it's in there," says Smith. Hilariously Tango Fiesta is dubbed a "true story," the idea being that each 80s movie is apparently based on a real-life tale that Hollywood has then spun into fantasy.

What's really interesting is that the Spilt Milk team is aiming to inject some Spelunky-inspired action into the mix, with procedural generation coupled with carefully designed prefabricated elements.

"Each time you play a level it will be similar in theme, tone, content and challenge, but different in terms of layout and pacing," Smith explains. Characters will also have light RPG leveling during play, with upgradeable stats that can be used to build whatever sort of 80s action hero you want -- although progression will be reset when you die, and you'll be thrown back to the start.

For us, the 80s is best summarised by action movies, and what could be more fun than basing a game on that bit in Predator where they empty their guns into the jungle?"

So how did the Mastertronic publishing deal come about? Says Smith, himself and Roper have been working on an iOS shooter called Lazarus for a while now, but it's been clear for a while that Tango Fiesta was going places.

"After the first jam at Rezzed went so well, we decided as a team to see how far this could go," he notes. "We did three more eight hour game jams on new features for the game in our own spare time, and the response from players at every stage has been really encouraging."

At this point, the team decided to go for the big push -- could they get online multiplayer working with the concept? The answer, it would appear, is "yes," since it was this feature that really sold the game to Mastertronic.

"They're very trusting, hands-off, and have no interest beyond making the game a success for everyone," Smith says of the publisher. "They're a smart bunch, and part of what I think is a new wave of publishers who see the developer/publisher relationship for what it is. Something that only works with respect on both sides."

Tango Fiesta is due to launch on Steam Early Access in April.

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