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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.

  • RoboLeg: this game would be PERFECT for mobile, and I’d happily pay 10 bucks or so for it.
  • Jepp: 1) Please keep critiquing games by building new ones :) 2) The non-hand holding, simple systems integrating...
  • Jack: Are you going to release Morphblade for iOS or the Nintendo Switch? I would really like to play this on my...
  • Spaceman Moses: One-eyeing this on my phone from the depths of my covers I lazily ask: what do you mean XCOM2 clarity...
  • kripto: For what it’s worth, I also like Morphblade more than Imbroglio. Although, to be fair, I’ve also...
  • Hitman header tunnel

    Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

    Far Cry Primal Thumbnail

    Postcards From Far Cry Primal

    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


    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


    Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

    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

    Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

    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

    Blood money and sex

    Blood Money And Sex


    A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

    Second Life

    First Night, Second Life

    SWAT 4

    SWAT 4: The Movie Script



    The opening spiel summarises the background rather concisely, so I’ll quote it for anyone who’s never seen it (which is potentially a high percentage, because it’s only in the first run of its first series in the US, and has never been aired in the UK):

    Narrator: The Earth got used up, so we moved out and terraformed ourselves a whole new galaxy of Earths. Some rich and plush with the new technologies, others not so much. The central planets, them's formed the Alliance, fought a war to bring all the worlds under their control. Some idiots tried to fight it, among them, myself.

    Notice no mention of aliens. There are no aliens. This is a stroke of brilliance – one that I’ve always been poised to paint myself, were I ever spontaneously commissioned to write a sci-fi series. The new galaxy is comprised of countless planets – the human population must be hundreds of billions – but no aliens, and not even anything in the way of separate evolutionary lines taken by remote cultures (it’s only three hundred years in the future). Who needs aliens? In other sci-fi shows, they all play human roles with a few crudely applied trends common to each species, which could as easily occur as traditions within a cut-off human society, of which Firefly’s universe has plenty. And you don’t have to lamely pretend a human in elaborate but wholly superficial make-up is from an alien race whose evolution shares nothing with that of ours.

    Another piece of intelligent sci-fi on the part of the creator is that there are no sound effects for the space-scenes. I keep wanting to say they take place in perfect silence, but in fact gentle guitar music usually plays over them, but the point is that this makes sense – even when giant laser cannons destroy a whole ship in a massive fiery explosion, no-one who wasn’t aboard the target vessel would hear a thing – no air in space! No sound! Listen to a space-scene in Star Trek, and you’ll notice even the noise of the Enterprise drifting by is a deafening roar.

    This intelligence is carried to every part of the vision, but there are other things that make Firefly great. The characters and their relationships in particular are wonderful – Mal is a funny and inoffensive captain (sounds like mild praise, but it takes some doing), the enigmatic preacher manages to be witty about being a Christian, and tough-guy Jayne (yeah) manages to be stupid, evil and arrogant in an enormously likeable way. The doctor, like virtually every sci-fi doctor, is brilliant, but it’s hard to characterise why – he’s just inappropriately civilised and doesn’t like Jayne. The pilot Wash is the true star, though – one of those meek, witty characters Joss Whedon always crafts more lovingly than the rest, like the blond geek from Buffy. This was meant as a list of my favourite characters for people who knew them, but it’s about 80% of the crew, so it might have been easier to specify the few I don’t find especially interesting. I’m not wild about Inara. That’s it. Oh, and the mysterious ‘hands are blue’ guys are easily the freakiest, most unsettling bad guys in TV. I hope that even if we find out what The Alliance did to River, we never get told why their hands are blue.

    Lastly, it tries to be funny and is. This – and the captain’s slight resemblance to Angel* – is the only link I can see between it and Buffy: Firefly is firmly funnier, but the humour is kind of the same vein, and I have to admit it’s a vein to which I’m receptive.

    * I now find out that he was actually considered for the part of Angel in Buffy, and in a series that hasn’t been on in this country yet, plays some other guy. In other cast notes, Zoe is a bad guy in Alias.

    Series Notes: there’s only one series, and the last three episodes were never aired. Also, the two-part pilot was aired after the rest of the series, or rather what of the rest of the series they aired, and however much we all may despise Fox for this and all their other many, horrible crimes, I think we have to admit that the people responsible for all the fantastic programmes Fox has inexplicably cancelled would have gone with a different network if they could. In other words, they are the only ones prepared to show this stuff in the first place, so they’re doing something, they’re just doing it very badly. Anyway, more importantly the whole series, unaired episodes and everything, is now available on DVD, and hence on file-sharing programs. The DVD is around £20, $35, which is a total steal in my books, so I actually bought it.

    Oh My Fucking God

    There’s a film, the trailer is here, and it’s out on 30/09/2005. I’ve never been this excited about a film.


    (Mal has inadvertantly been given a wife as part of a trade, and she wants to sleep with him)
    Preacher: If you take advantage of her in any way whatsoever, you are going to a very special hell reserved for child-molesters and people who talk in theatres.
    Caylee: Hi shepherd. Captain was just telling us about his kiss with Saffron.
    Preacher: Oh, how… special.

    Jayne: We can’t change that. We’re getting all… bendy…
    Wash: All what?
    Jayne: Got the lights of the console… keep you… lift you up….. they shine like… little angels! (grabs at air, falls over)
    Wash: (stares at unconscious Jayne for a moment, then looks up) Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?

    Wash: A mind-reader, though? That sounds like something from science fiction.
    Zoe: You live on a spaceship, dear.

    Preacher: I just feel such a fool.
    Jayne: Yeah, all those years of priest training… taken out by one bounty hunter.

    JohnMid: Nathan "Mal" Fillion played Caleb through series 7 of Buffy, and Gina "Zoe" Torres played Jasmine through series 4 of Angel. Maybe Joss kept them on for Firefly based on that, especially when you consider the Caleb character had a lot of similarities with Mal, in terms of vocabulary and mannerisms (albeit Evil).

    Tom Francis: "E-mail :" Hey! I don't remember doing that!

    JohnMid: Indeed, but when you do, I'll know you did it.

    JohnMid: In fact, I think you have. What with putting my valid email on the front page of your site for all the bots to hoover up. So cheers for that.

    Tom Francis: That's your real e-mail address? What are the chances?

    I've editted to mess it up now. Unless that's still a valid e-mail address for you. In which case, eat spam!

    JohnMid: It's one of my not quite infinite real email addresses, so thanks for obfuscating it. Still- handy info on Firefly cast, eh? Now I think on it, I wonder if Nathan and Gina's appearances in Buffy and Angel were some form of extended screen tests for Firefly.

    My favourite piece of humour in the whole series (and there's a lot to choose from) was this (without too much spoilage):
    One episode is entirely centered around the struggle to get a piece of gubbins to fix the engine- much pathos (and blood) is expended to do so.
    In the very next episode, while on a junkyard rummage for some other reason, Wash picks up an identical, shiny piece of gubbins and tosses it into the piles of junk.

    Jason L: Let's make me look stupid! My DVD set arrived last Friday and I spent most of the weekend watching it. It just occurred to me that I never saw or heard that "intro." Was it only on broadcast...?

    Tom Francis: Yeah, now that you mention it I haven't heard it on the DVDs. It's a succinct backstory, but like most exposition the series does work better without it. As I remember, that intro played at the start of every episode for a while, then they changed it a bit later on in the series. Or maybe they shortened it, and the one I reproduce up there is the shortened one.

    Tom Francis: The 'Narrator' was Mal.

    Jason L: Of course, I would never dare to question Whedon's judgement. I will say that it's a shame that the scene where Zoe fills in Simon about the name Serenity had to be cut. Most of it is, as they said, ably replaced by the actual battle sequence. The non-threat was redundant in the first place. But that one line - "Once people reach Serenity, they never leave; they just find ways to keep on livin' there" - haunting. In a perfect world, I wish that could have been reshot as a shorter scene.

    DKMFan: Yay, another Firefly fan! All I have to do now is find someone who likes Dropkick Murphys and my life will be complete.

    Anyway, my favourite line is in the pilot:
    Wash: Yes, this is a fertile land and we shall thrive. And we shall call it...This land
    Wash (In a different voice): I think we should call it your grave
    Wash (In his original voice):Aah. Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal
    Wash (In the other voice):Haha. Mine is an evil laugh.

    You know, it kinda loses something in translation though. Another favourite is on the rocket space station thing and:
    (Mal is fighting, and Wash cocks a gun. Hehe cock)
    Zoe: No this is something the captain has to do himself
    Mal: No it isn't!
    (Everyone fires off about 200 shots)

    In the same episode
    (Shepherd picks up a gun)
    Jayne: Hey, you're a preacher. The bible says don't kill
    Shepherd: Yes, but its a bit fuzzy about the teachings of kneecaps.

    I'll stop quoting now I think, and if the HTML stuff doesn't work, I'll leave the site alone.

    SenatorPalpatine: The Foundation books, by Isaac Asimov (brilliant author), only have humans. He explains it too, very complicatedly at some point.

    But yeah, I should very much watch this series.