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.
Absurdly slick isometric action-RPG with real-time combat (clicking) and a bewildering array of spells (right-clicking).
It’s clear that the guys designing Diablo 2 were world experts on how to make character progression exciting, satisfying and an inspiring driving force to a game rather than a miserable dragging one. It’s also clear that they left Blizzard before World Of Warcraft. In Diablo every level-up brings a paralysingly tricky decision – every new skill is carefully hand-crafted to sound wildly exciting in text and have real use in combat. And you only get one per level.
Having whittled down the nonsense trappings of the RPG – story, quests, NPCs and the like – to virtually nothing, it proved that ‘grind’ is only a problem when your levelling system sucks. You suddenly realise other games are just trying to distract you from their uninspired mechanics when they ply you with a rich plot and a fascinating world. If your game’s actually good, you don’t need any of that – no-one feels like they’re grinding because they’re actually looking forward to getting that next level, and they’ll get there, and when they get it they’ll get something they want, and when they try it out it’ll be fun. All of this is achieved with the simple combat system, brilliant sound-effects, and perfectly judged skills. Roll on Hellgate London.
The Essential Experience
Corpse Explosion chain-reaction. The central dynamic here is that blowing up a corpse usually kills people, since it’s an extraordinarily powerful spell (the blast is proportional to the creature’s hitpoints), and that means more corpses. It gets to the stage at which the first casualty triggers a staggered apocalypse of bloody showers that annihilates everything on-screen. I remember in the blurb for the Necromancer class used in the manual – which I read about six months before release on a website – it said “While many shun the Necromancer for his ghoulish appearence and strange ways, all fear his power – for it is the stuff of nightmares.” You never really believe sales blurb until you’re blowing up corpses three times a second.
My highest-level character in Diablo 2, and functionally my favourite character in any game, was Pentadact the Necromancer. I started him with Bitchard the Barbarian (flatmate) and we played through the whole game and expansion pack over the course of a weekend. By the time we were finished, Pentadact was genuinely the stuff of nightmares. Skip past the giant skull he wore over his face, he was accompanied at all times by a hulk of rotting flesh and exposed bones, and carried a long, undulating, bright orange dagger called Pentadact’s Screaming Cinquedeas Of Pestilence – a single stab from which would send huge enemies scrambling away in fear, but infected with a poison so virulent that even if they escaped the inevitable corpse explosions, Poison Novas and Bone Spears, they faced certain death. I lost him and my characters in all games beginning with letters earlier than ‘q’ in the great ChkDsk error of 2005, so if you ever read about Microsoft employees being stabbed to death with a knife matching the above description, by a man holding a mop adorned with butcher’s offcuts, remember that I was always a quiet boy who kept himself to himself.
DemonDoll: It astounds me how much of this fun they ruined with one of the later patches that added synergies. Now instead of a balanced and flexible character that has several clever solutions to immunities and bosses, the only route that makes sense is to get one skill and all its synergies which will obliterate any boss. It also means that your character is planned out, and by level 30 you will be using the one or two skills your character will ever care about and after that it does become a grind to boost synergies point by point because all they do is give a 5% or 10% or whatever damage boost and don't make it more fun in any way.