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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.

Theme

By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

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

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

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX

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

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

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

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

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

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

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

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point

What’s Your Fault?

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

One Desperate Battle In FTL

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

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

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection

Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

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

A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot

Arguing On The Internet

Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?

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

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

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

A Different Way To Level Up

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary

I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood Money And Sex

A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

First Night, Second Life

SWAT 4: The Movie Script

What Works And Why: Prey’s Intro

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

Morphblade And Imbroglio: Making A Game To Test A Critique

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

Morphblade Is Out!

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!

Great Moments In Television, 2016

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

Heat Signature Factions Trailer, Working At Valve

Surprising news!

  • I made a new video showing off John Roberts’ excellent new art for the game’s four factions! (Not that surprising)
  • I’m looking for a programmer in the Seattle area to help me finish the game! (Seattle part seems surprising)
  • … because I’m moving to Bellevue to work on the game at Valve’s offices! (Extremely surprising but now the Seattle thing is less surprising)

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

Heat Signature: What I’ve Been Working On

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.

Games Successfully Developed At Stugan 2016 So Far

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

What To Do If Your Prototype Isn’t Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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