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TOM FRANCIS
REGRETS THIS ALREADY

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.

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By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

Hitman header tunnel

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Snowball jack header

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone and Bladestorm

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

BAFTA Featured

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

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

Shadow of Mordor Header 2

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Heat Signature Talk

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX

Projects

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

Fault

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

Clouds

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-Rock-and-a-Hard-Place-Trio-Jan

A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

Dark Messiah

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot

Arguing

Arguing On The Internet

Spelunky

Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Stealth Games

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?

Violence

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

Suspicious Manifesto

The Suspicious Developments manifesto

GDC

GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole

Crosslink

Listening To Your Sound Effects For Gunpoint

Happiness

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

Gnome

I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

Machine of Death

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood money and sex

Blood Money And Sex

AOL

A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

Second Life

First Night, Second Life

SWAT 4

SWAT 4: The Movie Script

Hitman header tunnel

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

They’re releasing the new Hitman game bit by bit: one mission a month, set in a new and sprawling location. Good Hitman missions have always been replayable, but this time the whole game is built around it: a Challenges list tells you of the dozens of different ways to take out the target, an Opportunities system highlights little tricks they’ve designed to let you get the target alone, and a Contracts system lets players challenge each other to take out other targets in particular ways.

And it’s great. It takes a bit of getting used to: the levels are much higher security than Blood Money’s, so you pretty much have to use the Opportunities provided to get your targets alone, but there’s still lots of scope to mix that in to your own evil plans, and the levels are so much bigger, richer, and more complex.

But each of the big systems I mentioned does have some shortcomings, and their strengths suggest an even better way to embrace what makes replaying Hitman missions so enduringly fun. So first off, here’s where I think they fall a little short: Continued

Testing, Wishlists, And A New Video

As promised on Twitter, I recently sent everyone on our mailing list instructions on how to get in on a new alpha test of Heat Signature. Keys went out to the first 2,000 people to do so, but I’ll also be keeping the testing list active and inviting people to future alphas from there, so you can still get on it now if you haven’t already. Clarification: this says you can still get on the list, not you can still get in on this alpha test. That test is over and there’s no date for the next one.

If you’re in the alpha: Continued

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Heat Signature Will Be At Rezzed 2016 Next Week

Hello! I’ll be at Rezzed in London next week, 7-9 April 2016, and you can come and play Heat Signature while I watch, panic, and frantically patch it on a different PC. Saturday’s sold out, but Thurs and Fri tickets are still available. Our artist John Roberts made this fantastic piece for our booth: Continued

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Postcards From Far Cry Primal

I was not at all ready for how gorgeous Far Cry Primal is. I walk around it in a daze, gawping at god rays and moon beams and frantically switching weapons and HUD elements* to get them out of the way long enough to take a screenshot. Even twenty hours in it’s still staggering me on a regular basis. Here are some of my favourites so far.

* This was often made easier by a Cheat Engine script Duncan Harris made for it. If you know what that is or are prepared to Google, you can grab his script here. Continued

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The Witness

The Witness is a very pretty island with hundreds of puzzles on iPad things. Some of those puzzles are brilliant, most are decent, many are repetitious or boring, some are aggressively irritating. Luckily none of the good ones are locked off by bad ones. That’s my review, I’m mostly making this post to put up all the best screenshots I took. These are pretty spoiler-free, they only reveal that “There is a place that looks like this”, although a couple have solved puzzle panels in them so don’t look too closely if you have a photographic memory.

After the pretty shots, and a warning, I’m also gonna dump the scrawled-over shots I used to solve some of the trickier puzzles, in case that’s interesting. One of the game’s stranger quirks, to me, is that despite having 523 draw-a-line-on-an-iPad puzzles, its interface for doing this is not as good as a standard paint program, so I often fell back on one of those. Continued

Snowball jack header

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

What’s snowballing? In XCOM, if your troops survive the mission, they get stronger, tougher and get more abilities, which makes them more likely to survive future missions and get tougher still. If they die, they’re replaced by vulnerable, weak rookies, who are likely to die and be replaced by vulnerable, weak rookies.

If you’re finding the game easy, it gets easier. If you’re finding the game hard, it gets harder.

That’s bad. And it’s not just theory-crafting, that’s exactly how my XCOM 2 campaign played out: early on we got crushed repeatedly, then a few lucky missions got us off the ground, and after that my people became almost unstoppable for 35 missions straight – even after I upped the game difficulty.

Any game with persistent resources will have some snowbally tendencies: success has to get you something, or failure has to cost you something, otherwise it’s not really persistent. And some parts of XCOM’s snowballing are too good to lose: unlocking cool abilities for my favourite troops is why I play XCOM.

So you can’t scrap that, but what could you do? Here are some ideas. Continued

Kill Zone and Bladestorm

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

I took on a ‘Very Difficult’ mission in XCOM 2 earlier, to protect some device from attacking aliens. I was determined to do it because the reward was a Scientist, and they’ve been impossibly rare in my campaign so far. We immediately ran into two groups of very tough enemies, and though we had good position and lots of explosives, some unseen, extremely powerful enemy was attacking the objective every turn while we fought. Once they were mopped up, we had no time to be cautious: my two rangers had to sprint to the petrol station housing the objective just to distract the aliens there, with no moves left to fight them off. Continued

BAFTA Featured

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

I just read Zach Gage’s post proposing some changes to the IGF. My summary of his problems with the current system would be:

  • For ‘best audio’, it’s not clear whether jurors should a) prioritise audio alone, or b) take into account the quality of the rest of the game and how important audio is to it.
  • Currently jurors usually go with b), which “leads to games that are very well designed making it into multiple categories”, reducing the number of distinct games recognised.
  • Medium-length single player games also get disproportionately recognised because they’re easier to judge than huge or multiplayer games, and feel more significant than tiny mobile games.

Generally I think b) is fine, but I do agree that over-celebrating single games is needless, and I think the categories themselves are a pretty rigid and inadequate way of capturing what’s worth celebrating in games.

Zach’s suggestion is to change the categories to reflect game length/type, and have developers choose one category to submit for. I’m not wild about this because a) the categories are still rigid and don’t capture gaming’s diversity of form, and b) a developer could screw themselves by miscategorising their game, which is not the skill we are trying to evaluate or award.

As it happens I’ve been thinking about a different kind of award ceremony I’d like to see ever since the BAFTAs in 2013, and I think it would address a lot of this. Continued

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Heat Signature: Infinitely Scaling Vapour Layers

Excerpt from an e-mail I just sent to artist John: Continued

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Rey (Daisy Ridley)

Ph: Film Frame

© 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

Star Wars VII (Spoiler Safe)

I enjoyed it a lot! It sounds like all my bigger-Star-Wars-fan friends did too, which is great. I’ll keep this spoiler-free and then let people who’ve seen it click the spoiler buttons for what I’m specifically talking about.

It alternates a bit between three different ways you could approach making a Star Wars sequel: Continued

Help Me Structure Some Code Better In Heat Signature

Update: Solved! See bottom of post for details.

Hello, more experienced programmers than me! I could use your advice. There’s a code-pattern I’ve been using for a while and I’ve just discovered a problem with it, but I can’t see a great alternative either. I will explain by example: Continued

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A Tale Of Arabian Nights

I just played my first full game of Tales of Arabian Nights, with my friends Chris and Pip. It’s a board game that’s very story driven: each turn you have an ‘encounter’, and choose a vague verb for how to deal with it: aid, pray, rob, follow, avoid, etc. Then another player looks up and reads out a more detailed account of what happened, and how it affects you. These chain together into a journey, and you win by accumulating Story points and Destiny ones. This was my character’s story: Continued

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.

Continued

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