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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

State Of Things

I’d just like to say, this comments thing has been awesome. Thanks to everyone who’s added words to this page – they’ve been consistently clever and well-spelt. I knew you were all awesome, of course – I looked at my stats very carefully before deciding to have comments on the main page. According to the percentage of you using Firefox, James readers are approximately 1800% cooler than the general populace.

To celebrate I have worked out how to make Firefox realise I have an RSS feed, so that little orange broadcast icon should appear down the bottom. You can add it at as a Live Bookmark, or cram this link into a feed reader. You can even feed that feed to your personal Google page.

I am excited. We are about to get hit by a tsunami of amazingness, and I don’t see it stopping before the end of the year. Next month sees the return of Lost and The OC – the two most addictive programmes ever – and finishes off with the release of Serenity, the film of the third-best series ever, and a pretty much guaranteed entry into my elitist top films list. October is FEAR month, and given that I’ve now played the bizarrely early demo through about thirty-six times, I see myself getting lost in that pretty hard. Somewhere in that interim Hitman: Blood Money and Call Of Duty 2 are both due, but take that with a pinch of salt until you hear it from someone who knows anything. Contracts left a bitter taste in my mouth, so excitement over Blood Money is running low, and Call Of Duty 2’s promise is basically that it’ll put you through living hell, but both are bound to be an experience. I feel like I am owed Dreamfall fairly soon, but I don’t know where that’s coming from.

Let’s hope all that happens before mid-November, because in all probability subsequent events will be rendered irrelevant. I will not be playing other games for a few months. For the purposes of that claim, ‘reality’ counts as a game. I am waiting, of course, longing for sweet, sweet Oblivion. Which has Wonder Woman in it.


craigp: Just a few points: I thought Season 2 of Lost starts in November? And Blood Money got bumped to 2006 (as for excitement, Suzy W. visited the devs and says it looks awesome).

Tom Francis: I used to think that too, but it's the 21st of September according to here: ...8;season=2

I read her preview, but it still didn't get me fired up. I actually want fewer melee weapons, fewer special deaths, puzzle poisonings and set pieces. I just want Hitman 2 over again, with a better first-person mode, the ability to jump, climb and dive, and no lame priest friend.

Tom Francis: I think my problem is that I just don't trust the devs to know what's good about their series anymore.

Jason L: Readers: All Three of Them...? :)

Apropos commenting, just a note to potential posters that basic HTML tags work. I know I'm not going to be the one who borks James by playing with tables etc., but at minimum a hrefs, brs, ps, bs, is and HTML character codes work. Just put them in your commentary text, and they get interpreted.

craigp: The official site concurs: Sept 21st. ...time/lost/. Now I'm officially excited about stuff again. If only I still had my projector.

The Lost magazine, eh? It's becomeing something of a juggernaut.

Graham: 24 starts in November I think, so they can run it non-stop without breaks like last year.

Colin Cobb: Ooh, I thought the FEAR demo was hilariously rubbish derivative imagination free tripe. But whadoooiknow.

Tom Francis: Clearly NOTHING.

Jason L: Wow, we're a chatty bunch. This comments thing is starting to get a little ridiculous on some topics. I don't know Wordpress, but maybe there's a way to push some comments onto their own page, or switch between a truncated and full display in PHP? If you implement something like that, I do have a request: Most blogs show the first few comments. This is extremely pointless. Please, bloggers, either show the most recent ones (in whichever order you like) or don't bother.

Tom Francis: I'd agree if either a) it was hard to see where the comments stopped and the next post began, or b) the comments were just dumb stuff diluting genius blog entries. As it is, it's pretty easy to jump past them, and I think they're great. Blogs are always best in a conversational style, and now mine is actually a conversation. In which all the people are awesome. Woo!

Jason L: If you're happy, fair enough :)

Jason L: This is entirely my fault, but whenever someone mentions Oblivion to me, I think they're talking about Project Offset and get excited.

Pentadact: Dude, you should be way more excited about Oblivion. Offset right now is a pretty cut-scene to illustrate what they want their game to look like. The fact that they think it's the 'first ever epic fantasy FPS' should tell you how much they know about games.

Jason L: Oh? The "how much they know about games" is a cheap shot - they mention Hexen and Heretic on the G4 interview, and let's give them the benefit of the doubt and insert a "good" somewhere in that statement, shall we?

I do agree, though, that it's iffy whether the thing'll ever hit retail; that's why I get so excited at any hope of progress. But they've demonstrated the ability to run scenes with significant numbers of characters on current-gen hardware, and while I couldn't care less about the number of points on the troll's upper left second bicuspid, the ambience provided by the lighting and physics looks astounding.

More astounding is the fact that they're not just hacking together a short-term movie, but building possibly the first truly artist-friendly FPS engine. Did you see the effect-piping IDE interface shots in the videos? Even Source requires a lot of abstruse tuning for a level or model to look good, and its HDR, while an admirable experiment, is nothing but a kludge in implementation. An engine like Offset gives the designer the freedom to be largely art-limited, and that lovely set is the product of three guys and nine months. When I think of what Valve or Trauma could do with that engine, I get weak in the knees.

Now let's talk about Oblivion vis-a-vis Morrowind. When I was at university, my roommate was deep into it for roughly 6 months. Here's Morrowind and, with different skills, Daggerfall.

Boinnng. Boinnng. Boinnng. Swish. Boinnng. Swish. Boinnng. Swish. Boinnng. Swish.

"Dude, what in the world are you doing?"

"If I don't keep jumping and swinging my sword, the skills atrophy and I'll get killed by the guy I'm headed out to fight."

"Ah, yeah. I read about that skill practicing system. I guess that explains why you're able to jump about ten feet in the air, huh."


Fwoosh. Fwoosh. Fwoosh. Boinnng. Swish. Fwoosh. Boinnng. Fwoosh. Boinnng. Swish.

"Fireballs too."


"How much longer to the guy?"

"A few miles, I think."

Boinnng. Boinnng. Swish. Boinnng. Swish. Boinnng. Boinnng. Swish. Boinnng. Boinnng. Boinnng. Fwoosh.


Yes, this is blatantly unfair of me. I very rarely find any interest in RPGs, Patrick Stewart +1, and for all I know, it's dispensed with all the silliness of Morrowind - but all I see is Morrowind 2 + fight some animated skeletons!1! + more attempted first-person swordfighting that is neither Jedi Knight nor Revolution. So myeh.

Tom Francis: Heh. The practising skills thing did encourage some odd behaviour, but I should point out that you skills didn't atrophy if you didn't use them - they just didn't improve until you did. Some were sensible - sneak only improved when you used it in company, and weapon skills only improved when you used them on an enemy. But it's harder to put equivalent restrictions on jumping and running.