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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

This Month In Awesome

1st: New PC Gamer Out

My contribution to this one was the Long Play on Darwinia, in which I essentially beg people to buy it. The weird thing is, it seems to be working. I still play Darwinia regularly and it remains my favourite strategy game of all time, and it genuinely hurt to find out hardly anyone bought it. I’m happy to discover that plenty of them just needed a bit of friendly cajoling from someone with strong feelings on the matter. It also feels surreal and wonderful to have an effect – it’s not good to get used to the idea of having your words in print, and realising that people actually read them and pay attention jars you out of that nicely.

I’ve had a chance to play the new Darwinia demo they’re working on – a level not seen in the game – and it’s incredible stuff. Doesn’t just blow the last demo out of the water, it’s actually one of my favourite levels ever. I’ll link it as soon as it’s finished and up properly.

3rd: Tim’s Birthday

This one’s in the past now, and it was great. I discovered Chicken Tikka Taka Tak, sang Dandy Warhols in some kind of demonic kareoke console game (I believe the game scathingly classified me as a ‘hopeful’. Jon Hicks, however, said only my “Woo ooh ooh”s needed work – my baritone lounge crooning was fine. Damn straight) , dehatted a Nintendog and swung another around the room on the end of a rope. It seems there may have been other people present too.

The Present

8th: The OC

Yeah, everyone is straight out of an advert for one thing or another, but Seth is wittier than some of the best Whedon characters, and the constant sunshine is oddly addictive. It’s melodrama, it’s trash, but it’s frequently very funny and prominently features astoundingly good music. I am genuinely looking forward to its return.

9th: Discs Finished

Sweet, sweet release. The monthly deadline gives this job a kind of rhythm that builds to a kind of wild panic right up until the envelope containing the masters leaves my hands. Then I suddenly lose thirty kilograms and go and have a Carrot Cake Milkshake. I’m actually going to miss that when I stop being a Disc Editor. The pains of being wholly responsible for a big, important thing do pay off when it’s finally over.

12th: City Of Villains Beta

Some months back now, I accumulated so much experience debt from repeatedly dying on my way through a high-level area between me and my mission that I realised it would be quicker to start a new character than continue with this one. Experience debt is a huge, hideous, gaping wound in the otherwise unbroken awesomeness of City Of Heroes, and I felt pretty okay about giving it up until someone told me they’ve halved it now. Issue Five just went live, and now I’m longing to get back in and see what else has changed. Unfortunately my account has expired, so I’m not sure if I should re-register so soon before getting to play what is in effect the sequel.

Anyway, the point is, I’m pretty excited about City Of Villains now. I’m not expecting it to be massively different to CoH, I’m just expecting it to work.

Sometime: Fahrenheit

I can’t imagine I’m going to like this as much as its reviewers have so far, but there’s no doubting its perfectly pitched atmosphere and tactile control tricks. I intend to enjoy it as pulp – a sort of scienceless CSI.

21st: Lost

Will we find out a damn thing about anything? Craig says he heard we will, but it seems almost too much to ask. My main hope from the new series is that The Others will regain the sinisterness they had when all we knew of them was the super-human, super-unsettling Ethan. The last glimpse we had of them was too ordinary – we need to find out something namelessly horrifying about them to make them scary again.

I’m also hoping for more on the response to Boone’s call for help just before he tumbled off that cliff. If you haven’t listened to it carefully yet, do so now. It is interesting stuff.

23rd: Winter Assault

Dawn Of War was great. This will have new stuff. It will be great. END PREVIEW.

23rd: Fable

People keep telling me I’ll find this interesting, so I will play it. The voice-acting seriously risks ruining it for me, though – I found it unbearable in Black And White, and from what I’ve heard it’s the same mockingly insincere stuff here. In other respects, too, it looks a bit like a child’s drawing of an RPG rather than one made by RPG lovers. I don’t mind some streamlining, but it looks like it’s lost all the character of an RPG, leaving everything generic and placeholderish. I haven’t played it for even a second, so this is just scepticism.

Various Times: Other Birthdays

Mark, Ross and Beast all have birthdays (apparently on the same day) this month, as do at least two friends from outside of work and my gran. Literally fifty percent of everyone I know was born in September.

28th: My Birthday

I might like to go up in a balloon. Seems like a birthdayish thing to do. I also like the idea of silent flight. Engine noises ruin travel for me.

30th: Kieron‘s Birthday

I am quietly hoping to just do whatever other people are doing for this, instead of doing something sociable with lovely Gamer people for my birthday (short of working with them, if I go to work). You’re kind of responsible for people’s enjoyment if they’re out because of you, and that’s the kind of pressure for which mere Disc Editing cannot prepare you. I’d feel better if I wasn’t the main event, more of a niche side-show.

30th: Serenity

The spectacular finalé to what is sure to be the best September ever. If you haven’t seen Firefly, see this. If you have, you’re already going to see this. If you’ve already seen it through ‘connections’, I hate your face.

Jason L: Overruling counterexample: Gabe and Tycho hated Fable (as did he two guys I know who played it). Apparently it has exactly the same vices (quote adaptive freedom end quote, but none really), with none of the redeeming character or toy value. Shrug. We're (in the case of PA, arguably) not professional games journalists. Maybe it's good.

Dabs: "If you haven’t listened to it carefully yet, do so now. It is interesting stuff."

Can I just confirm now: it's difficult to hear over Locke's shouting but does the responding voice say (spoiler) "we're the survivors of flight 815?" (/spoiler) If so, whoa.

Jason L.: Good grief, I promise I will be more careful proofing comments in the future. s/he/the, and "the same..." refers to Black and White.

I also wanted to chime in on the demo - I'm also in the betas, though sadly I've only had time to play enough for a couple of obvious bug reports. Everyone with an interest just needs to know that the new demo will Rawk. That's with a capital R, son. It's a much better introduction than even the full game, and all that keeps it from being a Perfect Level is the absence of any Ants - but I guess one needs to hold something back for the full version.

Tom Francis: Dabs: yep. I've hidden your text for the sake of anyone who hasn't got to that episode yet. Some people thought the reply said something else, so when they did a recap episode later on, they re-recorded the message to be clearer. Now everyone thinks it's a conspiracy to cover up the original message. Sigh.

David: You've made me feel very guilty about Darwinia. Not only did I wait for it to reach £20 before I bought it but I also bought it from Game. I'm sorry, Tom. :(

Also, your music is startingly good.

Lithilk: In your Long Play article it says 'Multiplayer: Not yet - wait for a patch.' Where have you found this out and is it true? If it is, I really am going to start playing Darwinia more.

Tom Francis: Actually I didn't write that - I wrote something long and complicated explaining the nuances and uncertainties of the situation, and it got cut to that by someone who actually realises how big a page is.

Tom of Introversion said this in that thread I linked, though: "With any luck in around 6 month's time we're then going to release two very cool shall I say... things Wink before something totally new in 2007!"

Smart money's on one of those non-'totally new' projects being Multiwinia.

Lithilk: Meh. I was all exicted and everything for Darwinia multiplayer.

Tom Francis: That's what Multiwinia means!

Lithilk: Ok ok. I'm just stupid. I see now.

Jason L: New demo's out

Lithilk: Ive bought a sexy Darwinia poster for my office wall now.

Pentadact: Woo! I have one somewhere, but it won't stay up and we're not allowed to mutilate the walls of our flat. This reminds me, I must do a new version of this post saying how everything was. Pretty awesome month huh.