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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


It was pretty dark when I left work tonight. It felt odd because it’s summer, and I left as early as I could (six) (after a quick bout of Ragdoll Kung Fu) (/self-important brag). Clouds – that’s what I blame. Absurdly the guy walking out of the building ahead of me immediately turned back when he reached the door, nearly knocking me over, and waited with what I suddenly realised was a small crowd of people apparently unable to cope with the outside world while it was raining. Some of them had coats.

I’ll tell you what’s good music for this: Sketch Show – Chronograph. One of those from-nowhere gems John Peel used to unearth, brush off and show to us proudly. It is pointedly headphone music, a willful disconnection from your surroundings – which should ideally be modern, wet and sickly with electric light.

That is atmosphere. It’s weird how long you can go without experiencing any atmosphere to speak of, and without noticing that you’re comparitively numb during this period. The second a mood like tonight’s early storm wakes me up, everything becomes interesting, refreshing and promising. Today was completely different to yesterday, it had its own feel. Consider the following exchange from Seinfeld:

Kramer: What’s today?
Newman: It’s Thursday.
Kramer: Really? Feels like Tuesday.
Newman: Tuesday has no feel. Monday has a feel. Friday has a feel, Sunday has a feel.
Kramer: I feel Tuesday and Wednesdays.

Today is a Wednesday, and I felt it. I’m not sure anything but Fridays have a feel for me normally, and it’s a shame. You remember days with feels. I remember lying on my back with a friend from uni, listening to Seymour Stein with the windows open on a summer day on which we had one lecture each. I remember turning up to those same lectures on another day, late, in winter, biting my gloves off as I locked up my bike and bustled into the orange lecture theatre with an aura of unwelcome cold air. The difference between these days and forgettable ones is not what happened, just the weather. Sometimes it’s memorable, and everything is interesting.

Last night had atmosphere too – walking home from a meal made uncommonly cheap by a combination of special offers and the plastic prong of a salad fork found in Rich’s lettuce. Bath at night, like any British city of a certain size, is usually post-apocalyptic with pockets of angry, red-faced public druggies. But when it’s a warm, still night and all you can hear is the dark, sinister serenity of Coaxing Méche from the Grim Fandango soundtrack, it’s suddenly the soft stone of the ancient buildings, the park by the river and the wide open spaces that you notice.

The short story is that an MP3 player is necessary to slow the passage of time. I suggest an iRiver of some description, but only ever buy the international versions of their players from now on – the American ones are crippled by the forced introduction of ‘MTP’, a Microsoft protocol the device has to use to connect to your PC, designed to support Digital Rights Management (file copying restrictions to enable new ways of paying for downloadable music). The problem with it, apart from that, is that it’s sickeningly slow, bans you from copying file types Microsoft doesn’t understand – even if the player itself supports them (most notably the wonderful OGG) – only works on PCs with Windows Media Player 10, won’t let you open files straight from the device or even Explore them in the normal way, hides the directory structure and the firmware from you, frequently hangs when copying files to the player and occasionally corrupts the ones it does claim to have copied successfully. The international versions still use ‘UMS’, which means they work as a fast, restriction-free removable hard drive. And there’s virtually nothing you can throw at an iRiver that it can’t play. Just so you know.

You also need to stop eating so much. I think I was even putting on weight as my existence became comfortable. This is no way to live. Everyone should spend at least half of their life hungry and listening to music. Comfort is a bit like death, you just exist and decay. There’s nothing wrong with improving your situation to a satisfactory level, but you can’t just stop once you’ve done it – you need to keep exploring, feel like you’re traveling whether you go anywhere new or not. We are all pretty stuck in our geographical ruts, but with new music for when we’re in the world, and new everything else for when we’re not, we ought to feel like we’re at the frontiers of human experience. All the time.

Another good one for rain – anything by the Postal Service. Ben Gibbard – the common factor between them and Death Cab For Cutie – is the only person writing romantic things that don’t leave me cold. Plans, the new Death Cab, is wonderful. I’m kind of a neophile with them (and music in general), in that Transatlanticism was the first album of theirs I wholly loved, and this is frequently better. Marching Bands Of Manhattan is the one to try if you get the chance.

Let me clarify something rather suddenly and unnecessarily: we regularly have great conversations at work. Our business is a ridiculous one, and so consultations with colleagues tend to be about other-worldly matters or puns. I intend to write some of them down. But since we’re not all philosophy students, looking back at one exchange I transcribed at university still induces mild pangs of nostalgia.

Andrew: Does anyone want this last piece of cake?
Ben: Nope.
Andrew: Well, you’re wrong, because I do.
Ben: Then I misunderstood the nature of the question. I thought you were calling for each of us to say whether or not we wanted it.
Andrew: Ha! I knew you’d think that!

Me: If you wanted him to think that, that’s what you meant by it. What you mean is just what you want the other person to understand by your words.
Andrew: No it’s not! If that was true, how could anyone lie?
Me: Well, you can mean something you know isn’t true. Like, if I said my face was blue, I’d mean that my face was blue even though I knew it wasn’t.
Andrew: But I had mental pictures…
Me: You can’t go the mental pictures route. Rob doesn’t even have mental pictures.
Katy: Yeah, that’s weird.

Andrew: Who said I wanted him to think that, anyway?
Me: I guess we got that from the way you were shouting “Ha! I wanted you to think that!” whilst jumping up and down and pointing at him.
Andrew: I didn’t say that!
Ben: Yes you did.
Andrew: No, I said “I knew you’d think that.”
Me: Yeah, he’s right, actually. So are you saying you didn’t want him to think that?
Andrew: Yeah.
Me: But you knew he would, and you said it anyway.
Andrew: Yeah.
Me: So it was with a heavy heart and a deep sadness that you said this, knowing you’d be horribly misunderstood.
Andrew: Yeah.
Me: And that was why you were jumping up and down and pointing at him?
Andrew: I was angry!
Me: And laughing?
Andrew: With anger!

Lithilk: I like your bit about comfort. I agree.

Jason L: A big thanks for the heads-up on the iRiver, by the way. I've liked iRiver since I decided on one for my brother last Christmas, and I'm thinking about one of their flash models - primarily to eliminate the DRM nonsense I have to put up with from my emergency bargain-basement MD player. I would have been pretty shafted if I'd bought a US version.

Jason L: Another "idly and much later": It's tough to find either of the good iRiver flash-based players in a non-US version. It appears that iRiver stopped producing both, and they've been bid up to reflect their greatness. I wound up buying a Samsung YP-MT6Z from Amazon, of all places, a couple months ago (~October 2005). Except for lacking iRiver's famous large, robust construction it is Awesome in all respects: AA battery, minimalist screen, OGG, UMS, long play life, line-in and FM w/ MP3 recording, 1GB, ~$100.00

Tom Francis: That sounds ideal except for the AA batteries and 1GB capacity. I need to be able to just plug it in to charge it, and I routinely need to record massive amounts of audio on top of my music collection (which I could probably get down to 3GB).

Tom Francis: God damn it. Their newer players are all MTP-only, and don't feature voice recording.