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Game development








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.

Heat Signature’s Launch, And First Player Legend

A Leftfield Solution To An XCOM Disaster

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



The Basics
2D side-on non-scrolling platformer in which you control a tiny black ninja. Unlike regular ninjas, this one is not all about flipping out and cutting people’s heads off – instead, he his about avoiding stuff, collecting gold (to extend his lifespan) and getting to the door to the next room so he can play air guitar, dance, punch the sky, run on the spot or simply collapse and raise one victorious arm. In his way are an array of instakill obstacles: mines, drones, seeker-drones, sniper turrets, laser turrets, machinegun drones. These things have proper in-game names, and I know them because I am cool, but these are more descriptive.


The Appeal
Moving is fun in N. It’s physics-driven, so factors like momentum and friction affect your trajectory. Picking up speed, bouncing off walls, hitting jump pads and surviving huge falls is just pure joy. You can feel the weight of the ninja, thrill at his velocity and scream as you feel the inevitability of his demise, then sob as his limp ragdoll corpse is tossed cruelly around by the objects you so carefully avoided – with one important exception – in life.

The fact that the game gets extraordinarily hard before its five hundred levels are up means that you’ll get stuck and have to redo some levels many, many times. For reasons I’ve only just recently come to understand, it doesn’t get boring. Part of it is that moving is, as I say, fun, and successfully avoiding things even more so. But what counter-acts the repetition is that you keep getting better at these early obstacles.

It’s not like normal platformers where you just jump at the right time, wall-run for the right bit, spring off and you’re done, 10/10. In N every move you make affects the angle and speed of your next, and your weak air-control means even simple jumps are organic, fluid things in which where you want to land is constantly changing in reaction to the circling drones, the focusing cross-hair of a sniper turret, the pursuing rocket. The defense systems you’re dodging are all automated, but their reactions are never the same because your actions are never quite the same. Even if you were trying to exactly replicate your previous performance, it’s not humanly possible.

And you’re not, of course. You’re instinctively trying to do it faster and more stylishly – if you pay attention you’ll actually feel yourself getting cockier. Deservedly so – you rock. Your route through these obstacles is not merely reliable, but also embued with flair, arrogance and hurtling, blinding speed. You’ll dance effortlessly through these nerve-wrackingly hazardous spaces you know like the back of your hand, carressing walls as you fly up them, stroking the tops of deadly drones as they zoom angrily past, hugging laserbeams and bullets like old friends. Nothing can touch you and nothing can stop you, except the obstacle you’re currently working on. Which will electrocute, crush, shoot, burn and explode you again and again.

Pit Of Despair

The Essential Experience
Hitting a jump-pad and, on your way up, brushing the side of a bounceblock with a gentle touch – you don’t wall-hug long enough to lose your velocity, but you do jump from it, which gives you an extra boost on your already extraordinary ascent. In N, being a fatal distance from the ground is a universe of possibilities rather than certain doom. Gaining height is both scary and exciting.

Graham Smith: Have you completed N? All the levels?

I just got beyond this level: .../33742068/. Took me ages to do that one, but mostly because I kept killing myself deliberately so I could start over. Such a brilliantly designed level, and there's a grace to your movements across it that really does encourage perfectionism.

But then the next one, or the one after, annoyed me so much I quit in disgust. Bah.

Tom Francis: Nope, not even nearly. I've just now done two columns, meaning I have my second ninja flavour for the first time. In the past I've completed another, different column, meaning by rights I ought to have three ninja flavours. But I am so many millions of years from completing the whole game. It's mammothgantuan.

The one I completed before but then lost my saves, is the one with The Pit Of Despair in it, so I'm never, ever doing that one again. That's the only one that didn't get really frustratingly hard towards the end of the chapter - after that level I just shot through the final ones effortlessly. I was at one with the ninja. Nothing could stop me short of another Pit Of Despair.

Jason L: Thanks for linking to N. I believe at one point it was a bare Flash file - in any case, I tried it way back when and couldn't see why anyone would play it; everything seemed ridiculously clumsy and slippery. The modern version's demo loop fixes that, by showing the player how that little guy is supposed to be moving. I've been playing it daily for a week now.

I'm barely in at all, of course - currently stuck on the FGCSiaCSwFADP in the first-column level with a three-hatch floor guardian tunnel -> ineffectual sniper -> laser drone annulus -> floor guardian-camped switch in a constricted space with frequent aware drone patrols. I will figure it out. I will.

Graham: Oh god. I just entered the Pit Of Despair. If I finish this stage I have the first three columns completed, but jesus. Even if I DO get out of the starting pit, I know I'll just get blown up in the second and will have to start over.

Graham: Okay. Done it, and finished the episode. The first three columns are now completed.

Jb: What is a "Ninja Flavour" and what effect does it have on the game?

Tom Francis: Colour, and none. Hot pink is awesome, though.

Tamama: hey. i just recently got on to my 4rth flavour. (blue) u r wrong. hot pink is lighter

Domingos: Everyone why dont you shut up, ive completed 6 columns. You're such a noobies!

Martin: I completed the game in 3 weeks 86 number 4 was the hardest though pit of despair has nothing on that.

j!nx: i completed the game, i must admit it was hard and took 56 days!

Joe: Is there a secret to getting out of the damn Pit of Despair? I can't get out!

Jason L: Don't despair.

Jamie: hey i finished 6 rows and got 6 of the flavours and lvl 5 or higher in each row my flavour atm is white =)

rob: hey does anyone know all the colours you get for each column? id really like to know ( i just got hot pink - love it!)

BEG: Im confused boy the NED thing, I need help

Billy Oeck: Pleezi need help whenever i unlock a new flavour itshows the glowing ninja with the color Iunlocked. But whenever I exit and go to configure it doesnt have my new color on it. What is wrong???

Joel: i have only 3 flavours. black, pink, and a weird green colour :S

Andrew: YOU ALL ARE BIG LOSERS!!!!!!!!!!


Tom Francis: James commenters are best.

Andrew: HI

Tom Francis: HI