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Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.


By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

Sectors Header

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

DXHR Open area

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Heat Signature Natural Numbers

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Pharma Header

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Make A Game Tutorial Thumbnail Featured IMage

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

Her Story banner

What Works And Why: Nonlinear Storytelling In Her Story

My Idea For An ‘Unconventional Weapon’ Game

From Gunpoint To Heat Signature: A Narrative Journey

The Cost Of Simplifying Conversations In Videogames

Invisible Header

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Super Game Jam Header

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

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What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Heat Signature Talk

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX


What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

Murder, She Wrote

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Wide 2

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Heat Signature Floorplans Header

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Steam Workshop

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance Header

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

The Magic Circle

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Blog Launch

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Floating Sine

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point


What’s Your Fault?

Hoplite banner

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Gone Point

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature Thumbnail

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

GRappling Hook Thumbnail

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

Alien Swarm Heroics

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

FTL Story

One Desperate Battle In FTL

Spelunky Banner

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Game vs story graph

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Breakdown

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Max Payne 3

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

This is how you die

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection


Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Skyrim Diary - Frostmere

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

Mainstream Games

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault


A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

Dark Messiah

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot


Arguing On The Internet

Stealth Games

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?


E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

Suspicious Manifesto

The Suspicious Developments manifesto


GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole


Listening To Your Sound Effects For Gunpoint


Understanding Your Brain

What Makes Games Good

What Makes Games Good

Seat Quest

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Beneath Suspicion

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

Open Worlds

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

Level Up

A Different Way To Level Up

BioShock Ending

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

Meet the Spy

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Football Manager

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE Assassins

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

GalCiv 2

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary


I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

Machine of Death

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection


A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

Second Life

First Night, Second Life


SWAT 4: The Movie Script

Locks and keys

Generating Locks And Keys In Heat Signature’s Ships

My summary of where we are after the last ship-generation post would be:

  • The Drunk Snake is probably the best algorithm so far, for generating the amount of branching and length of critical path we want while looking fairly pleasing.
  • But! There’s a lot of room for improvement.
  • But! Improvement is getting harder: we don’t have a huge amount of control with these types of algorithms, so we can’t fine-tune things precisely without a big rewrite.
  • And! We don’t know enough about our requirements to get really fussy yet – maybe some things that seem bad now will be good when we have certain security devices or guard patrols in.


Thoughts On Fallout 4 And Invisible Inc’s Contingency Plan

On the latest two Crate and Crowbar podcasts I talk about what I’ve been up to in these two games, and what I think of them. Here are the bits where I do that, Fallout first! Continued

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Laying Out Heat Signature’s Ships: Snakey Vs Branchy

Last time I covered how I taught Heat Signature to build ships out of sectors, join those sectors together, lock some of those doors, then place keycards in the right places to ensure they’re all openable. I’d got the algorithm generating layouts like this, which is great: Continued

Sectors Header

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

I haven’t talked about the way I randomly generate spaceships in Heat Signature since this post – before it even had actual art. That’s partly because I’ve barely touched it since then. I showed the game to developer friends and the press in LA and SF a few weeks ago, and got lots of great input and ideas, but the main thing I came away thinking was: the on-board game needs to be more interesting. And I think better ship interiors are the foundation of that. Continued

DXHR Open area

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Deus Ex’s appeal is often boiled down to ‘lots of options’, but obviously that doesn’t quite cover it. Right now I’m looking to redesign the ‘sneaking inside spaceships’ part of Heat Signature, so I need more than a vague line about what’s cool about Deus Ex – I need a practical understanding of specifically why it works, and why similar games don’t. So I’m replaying Deus Ex 1 and 3, to figure out what it is I want to steal. And I think it is options, but it’s not just number. They have to fill a certain set of requirements, and this is my attempt to nail down what those are.

I’ve been mostly playing Human Revolution so far, but I’ll also use some examples for DX1 since there’s so much overlap. Continued

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The Martian (The Book)

No spoilers

The other day I really wanted something to do that would give my eyes a break from focusing on things right in front of them. So I looked for audiobooks, and remembered that I’d been planning to read The Martian – mostly because of this comic and its hover-text:


MGS Driving

Doing Your Job In Metal Gear Solid V

This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.

A lot of the time, MGS V is just a very good stealth game. You have lots of tools to distract, evade or take down your enemies, and they’re all very satisfying to use – just like Deus Ex 3. Its levels are encampments dotted seamlessly around a huge open world – just like Far Cries 2-4. Its layered systems turn failures into new challenges rather than end points – just like Invisible Inc. But none of those things are new, and MGS V sometimes feels like something that is.

Those times, for me, are not during some particularly great mission, or when some unexpected chain of events creates a cool story. They’re after: when the guards lie sleeping or dead, the cargo containers are ballooning skyward, I’m scampering out with the target (too weak to be similarly ballooned) slung over my shoulders. Continued

Heat Signature Natural Numbers

Natural Numbers In Game Design

In maths, ‘natural numbers’ are the ones you might use to count observable, whole things: eg. there are six people here. Anything that doesn’t work in place of ‘six’ there, like 3.4 or -2, is not natural. They’re kind of ‘numbers you can see’.

I’d like to use the term in game design to mean specifically that: numbers you can see. Things that are represented so simply and wholly and countably that you don’t need to display an actual numeric figure to tell the player how much they’re seeing. They can just see. Continued

I Made A Taskbar Timer To Keep An Eye On Wasted Time

I definitely waste more of my time than I’d like. Mostly on Twitter, but also just with this mysterious business of general internetting. I’ll sometimes catch myself switching between 7 open browser tabs, each containing something I want or need to do, and doing none of it. And none of the productivity plug-ins or apps I’ve found do quite what I want, because my requirements are incredibly specific. What I needed was: Continued

MGS V Killing Decision 03

The Killing Decision In Metal Gear Solid V

This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.

Almost every game that lets you take people out lethally or non-lethally presents it as a choice between pragmatism and ethics: killing is easier, but tranqing is nicer. That’s true in MGS V too, but it adds something else to that choice that solves a problem I’ve had with these games for ages. Continued

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Being Someone Else In Metal Gear Solid V

This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.

If you have keen eyesight, you might have noticed that the person in my screenshots is not straggly-bearded horned male Venom Boss Big Punished Ahab Snake. She’s Amber Fox, a low level support officer I think I extracted on an early mission [update: Andy tells me you get her by importing your Ground Zeroes save], along with another Fox with the same tattoo who might be her brother. She’s not a story character, just one of hundreds of recruits I have milling around my base.

Once you unlock the ‘combat’ bit of your base, you can choose to play as anyone you station there instead of Big Venom Punished Ahab. This is bizarre for many reasons. Continued

MGS V Hide

Metal Gear Solid V’s Failure Spectrum

This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.

Being an outsider to the Metal Gear series, I was only cautiously optimistic about V. All I heard about the last one was that it had 90-minute cut-scenes. I watched enough of one of them on YouTube to determine that it was… not my cup of tea. Of V, I’d seen some fun stuff in videos, but I was half-assuming the story would barge in and ruin it.

Well, the story does barge in. But only for the intro and a few brief intrusions, spread out over the vast, ridiculous amount of time I’ve played the game for so far – at least thirty hours, I think. That’s a ridiculously tiny fraction, and the rest is extraordinarily good.

So many things about it are surprising or different or interesting and I want to write about all of them. So I think I’ll do that, one post at a time, starting with this: Continued

A Hollow Victory In MGS V

Just pulled off the most amazing performance in a timed destruction mission in Metal Gear Solid V, galloping from one tank convoy to the next, destroying them and calling in supply drops at my next position with perfect efficiency for 13 minutes straight.

2 minutes left, sprinted to put myself between two tanks and a guard-infested checkpoint they were trying to reach. De-roaded one, nearly killed by the other. Scrambled to cover, lay on my back headshotting 8 incoming dudes through choking smoke, then, close to death, pulse pounding and soaked in my own blood, crawled back out into the crashed tank’s line of fire to finish it off with the last of my rockets – and destroyed it with 15 seconds to spare.

Spent them lying in the grass, praying no-one else would find me, listening to my character gasp for air through her own blood.

Game’s grade for my performance: C
Video: came out with a black screen throughout

GRade C blood

Pharma Header

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

I’ve been playing Big Pharma, a game where you design production lines to manufacture cures to sell for maximum profit, or to genuinely help people, as your fancy may dictate. It’s excellent and I have become hopelessly addicted to it, but my favourite part is having to come up with names for the often double-edged drugs your imperfect process has produced: Continued

Pedestrian-Cyclist Tensions Reach A Flashpoint On The Canal Path

Today I cycled along the canal, which is neither a cycle path nor a footpath but a Resentment Path: one where both types of traffic are permitted but each feels the other is rather overstepping its bounds. Pedestrians resent the bike’s speed, its hard metal frame, and act like making way for it is a much bigger imposition than yielding to a jogger of equal pace and width. Cyclists resent the habit of pedestrians to expand – like a gas – to fill whatever sized vessel they find themselves in. In this way two people can entirely block a four-person-wide path, and even when they grudgingly accept the need to compress to allow something to pass, will immediately re-expand thereafter, maximising the number of times this huffy dance is necessary. Continued