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.
I was too nervous to read Heat Signature reviews for two weeks after launch. I was relieved to see the scores were great, and after 3.5 years of work, that was all I wanted to hear: I didn’t want to know what their caveats were.
Once I calmed down and read them, though, I was delighted: they were not only very positive, but they told entertaining stories and made intelligent points. And almost every critique I read I thought was a fair point. Hence this:
5 new features and 3 new items, in direct response to review critiques, designed to round the game out and make it more fun for more people.
We also added a gun that fires acid money to melt the flesh from your enemies and leave only chemically bleached bone. No-one asked us for that, we just kind of did it, and now here we are.
This post goes into all the design logic, critiques and features – if you’re only interested in what’s been added, the Steam Announcement covers only that. Continued
I reshuffled this post a bit so I can link this part more easily:
It’s been great to see how much people are loving this very silly weapon, and how excited people are to send us shots of them finding it. One thing I didn’t forsee was that for a small number of people, it could cause anxiety: the fear of missing out, or even when they have it, the fear of somehow losing it. So we’re going to simplify it:
I hope that allows it to still be a special thing for everyone who was part of our launch, without causing anyone worry. A few more details if you need them:
Three things to know about finding it as a random drop:
Heat Signature has been out for six days, and my God. It has been a storm. The good kind. It took three and a half years and I spent about £200,000 on it, making it probably the biggest risk of my life. And by the time it was done, the chance for any given indie game to succeed had dropped enough that the term for this trend ends in ‘pocalypse’.
I knew I wouldn’t have another Gunpoint-size success – that came out in the sweet spot for indie, when demand was high and supply was low. So my best-case-scenario was to do half as well as Gunpoint did in the same timeframe. Continued
Or you can buy it from the Humble Store.
There’s also a Supporter’s Edition, which comes with a bunch of fun extras:
Heat Signature will be out on Steam 21st of September 2017! At time of writing, that’s Thursday of next week. It’s for Windows PCs, other platforms will depend on how this one goes.
We don’t do pre-order bonuses because I don’t want to pressure you to buy before reviews are out. But I am super grateful to those who buy at launch, because our whole future depends on how we do that first week. So we’re doing a few special things to celebrate it and thank those of you who are joining us:
For the first two weeks, there’s a ship carrying a unique weapon passing through the galaxy. It’s called the Everything Gun, and if you steal it, you’ll also unlock it as a random drop in this and all your future games. More info below.
Heat Signature is all about the stories that emerge from what you get up to in game, not our pre-written lore. So for Steam Trading Cards, we want them to be about your stories. We want to see GIFs or short videos of crazy situations you’ve got into or clever tricks you’ve discovered, and we’ll turn the best into trading cards with your name on! You’ll have the strange sensation of being traded, sold, and perhaps broken down to make a badge. More info below.
How do I find the shipment?
You’ll come across it randomly (about every 30 secs) as you fly around, quite frequently, and you’ll know it by a big golden light flashing on it, like in the video.
Does this mean I have to be online to play?
Haha, God no. It’s a single player game and we’re not assholes. This is just a bit of fun.
What happens if I board the ship but fail?
That’s fine! The ship will still be flying around until the date it’s due to leave, so you’ve got as many chances as you like, with whatever characters you like.
What if I buy the game after the date the shipment leaves?
Same, you won’t get the Everything Gun, and it won’t drop randomly for you.
If miss out, will it ever return?
Yes, though we haven’t planned when exactly.
Is the ship hard?
Nope! See the video.
What kind of clips are you looking for?
– Clever or ridiculous: my favourite are ‘I was in this impossible situation and here’s the mad thing I tried to solve it’
– Less than 1 minute in length, preferably less than 30 secs.
– GIF, GFY or very short YouTube clip. You can also link to a particular timestamp in a longer YouTube or Twitch vid if you like
– Cut, or link, straight to the good bit, or at most a few seconds before. No lead-in – if it needs that it’s probably not what we’re after.
– Tell us in the Tweet what is happening, as best you can in the character limit.
How do I submit one?
On Twitter! But!
– Do it as a normal tweet, not a reply to us – we’d like people who don’t already follow us to see it. That means don’t start your tweet with @HeatSig.
– Instead, mention @HeatSig at the end! You can say something like “I just did X in @HeatSig [link]” – that way we’ll see it.
– Upload or link your clip, obviously. GIFs uploaded direct to Twitter are the coolest, but I know they’re more hassle to make and if they’re more than a few seconds they won’t fit in Twitter’s 7Mb, so links are fine.
I just used a Glitchtrap to teleport a body into space and then Swapped with it to escape the ship in @HeatSig https://youtu.be/zGRddCgdKPQ
What’s the deadline?
We’ll start looking at entries September 28th, but we’ll keep accepting them until we have enough that we love!
How will I know if I’m picked?
We’ll reply to you on Twitter.
How will I be credited on the Trading Card?
We’d like to make the title of the card your name, but!
– If you prefer an alias we can do that (caveat below).
– If you’d rather we used the name of the character you were playing at the time we’re very happy do that (we can still credit your real name in the description or not, your choice).
– If we’re using your name or an alias it’ll be subject to our approval: we don’t want anything that is or sounds like a joke name or something that’ll clash with the fiction.
– We can discuss this if you’re picked.
The description on the card will probably be our summary of your cool moment.
How do I capture videos or GIFs?
If your PC has an nVidia card I like nVidia ShadowPlay. It’s included in the GeForce Experience (unfortunately you have to make an nVidia account) and you can set it up to always be recording, then hit a key to have it save the last 5 minutes. Amazingly it seems to have almost no performance impact. That’s what I do.
Otherwise, OBS is your best bet. You’ll want to go to Settings > Broadcast Settings > Mode > File Output Only to make it save to disk instead of streaming live. I think it can do a similar always-recording thing but I haven’t used it for that myself.
For editing, I like Avidemux.
For sharing, I suggest YouTube. In theory it’s possible to upload videos straight to Twitter but it’s never worked for gameplay videos for me.
To make GIFs, first make a video as above, then I recommend GIFCam for capturing the bit you want.
You just watch your video back and put GIFcam on top of it and hit Record. I’d say 16 fps is good enough for this, and you’ll need the file size to be under 7MB to upload it on Twitter, which is the best way.
Failing that, you can upload small videos to GFYCat and it’ll both GIF them and GFY them – GFYs are better quality equivalent of GIFs, but they don’t embed natively in Twitter.
The start of Prey is one of very few narrative-based game intros that really worked for me. And it comes not that long after one in the same genre that especially didn’t: Mankind Divided. So I thought it might be interesting to replay both and compare what works and what doesn’t. Not to pick on Mankind Divided – I loved the game after the stumbling start – but just because you can be more specific with praise if you have something to contrast it against.
I talked through my thoughts on both intros as I replayed them in the videos here, and I’ll summarise and add some conclusions through the magic of text. Obviously both parts of this post spoil the intros to these games. Continued
I released Morphblade last week, which is a game I made in direct response to Michael Brough’s Imbroglio. They’re both games where you move around a grid of different tile types, and the one you’re standing on determines what you can do there.
I’ve also been playing a lot of XCOM 2 lately, and dreaming up my own indie equivalent to solve its clarity problems. So I started to worry: am I less original now? Have I gravitated towards building on other people’s ideas? Gunpoint was derivative, but at least it was derivative of many things rather than any one game.
But it’s OK, because like so many unoriginal people I found a way to rephrase this to make myself sound good. This is not unoriginal game design, it’s playable games criticism! I used to write about where games went right or wrong, now I actually try fixing their problems and find out if I’m right!
That’s bluster, of course, but it’s reasonably true of Morphblade. It started as a private experiment: I hate getting screwed by the corridor generation in Imbroglio! Couldn’t I just remake Imbroglio and fix that? Can I fix that? Am I right that it would help?
Along the way, I realised I had opinions about almost every other part of Imbroglio, and tried doing each of them my way to see if it worked. Not: “The game has these flaws, I will fix them!” – Imbroglio is hugely successful at being the game it wants to be. More: “I wouldn’t have done it this way, how would my way have worked out?”
So here, specifically, were the main changes I was interested in trying: Continued
This is the game I started last year, when I needed a break from Heat Signature, and I’ve continued to tinker with it on the odd weekend or evening. It’s crystallised into something I really enjoy playing, so I asked testers what they thought it was worth. The average answer was $5, so $5 it is! It’s out now on Steam, for Windows.
Morphblade was heavily inspired by Imbroglio, so I asked Michael Brough’s permission before developing and selling it, and he was kind enough to give his blessing. The core idea that your location determines your weapon is straight from Imbroglio, but along the way I changed pretty much everything else.
So you move around a hexagonal grid slicing, smashing and bursting waves of nasty red bugs. Each hex you move to turns you into a different weapon: on a Blades hex you can kill things to your sides, on an Arrow you can fire yourself through two enemies in a row. And between waves, you choose how to build out the grid to your own design.
If you’re subscribed to the Humble Monthly Bundle (on 3/3/2017), you already have it. If not, grab it from Steam for $5.
Here’s a video that explains it better!
These are all suspiciously recent so this is probably only the best three moments of the last few months, but that does at least mean I could get clips. Until they’re taken down. I put them on Streamable in the hope they’ll stay up longer, which has the side-effect that they loop when they’re done. Shrug emojii.
These are not spoilery except for The Crown, in which nothing really happens. Continued
Here’s the new video, which also shows what teleporters and the What Now? screen add to the game:
If you haven’t already, put it on your Steam Wishlist so you hear about it when it comes out. Also, if you were in on a Steam beta, it was probably taken off your wishlist because Steam briefly thought you owned it, so check. And if you want to be in on future tests, make sure you’re on the mailing list (top right). Continued
As well as the update above, I’ve been putting up some day-by-day logs of what I’m working on in Heat Signature. I’m only doing them for my own benefit, so they’re not mega interesting and I don’t do one every day I work – only when I think it’ll help.
I’m in a cabin in the woods in Sweden for seven weeks, with 20ish other game developers, all working on our own games. This is Stugan. None of us have finished yet, but we have successfully developed the following non-digital games along the way, and I release them to you now: Continued
I got an e-mail today from a developer who’s having trouble making any of their prototypes fun. I’m posting my reply here in case it’s of help to anyone else. This developer was writing because they liked Gunpoint, so that’s why all my examples are from that.
I would suggest three things to bear in mind: Continued
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