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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

Introducing: Brain Storm

Brain Storm

She’s an Illusion/Storm Controller, meaning she gives people headaches then makes it rain. Actually her powers are bizarre and extraordinary, the kind of wonderful exuberance you’d never find in World Of Warcraft. Long before she was even in double-digits, level-wise, she could turn any enemy – even ones a level above her – against his friends, from a huge range, without aggro’ing him or the mob, even if it misses and even once it wears off. Before that she already had the Gale power, which sends a whole mob flying backwards to land on their respective asses. To this day it remains the perfect escape skill, and also the most impressive and quickest way to save a civilian from a gang of muggers too low level to be worth killing. Her main attack, though, is probably the most satisfying of all: Spectral Wounds. It makes the enemy think they’ve been seriously wounded, and for reasons the description never adequately addresses, if they believe they’ve been fatally wounded, they die. Since the damage is so high, to compensate for the fact that it eventually wears off, most enemies simply expire immediately – meaning the damage never wears off. Best of all, the animation for the power is a dismissive wave of the right hand. I simply gesture to a thug and he hits the ground dead, clutching at his chest. Magic.


Oh yeah, I’ve started playing City Of Heroes again. It was partly the new Issue (whose effects I have yet to spot), partly the imminent Villains beta (not sure why that’s a reason – seems like I should hold off since I’m going to have to start again anyway), and partly Jim’s feature in the latest PC Gamer. Irregardless, it’s probably my favourite MMORPG. Eve dizzies me with its potential, but I still feel like I’m cut off from it, unable to get at the good stuff without phenomenal effort and organisation on my part – not things I enjoy. City Of Heroes is sometimes called unambitious, but I think people under-estimate the audacity of the ambition “Make a Massively Multiplayer game where you really feel like a hero and combat is incredibly fun.” A goal is only modest if someone else has actually achieved it before.


So Brain Storm is a heroine, and fighting with her is incredibly good fun. Her bio, which I wrote while drunk, refers to a degree of ‘sass’ – it’s actually more like bravado. Most of her powers are long-range, and as a Controller she’s weak and ought to stay back. But over the last few levels I’ve given her powers from the Combat pool – basic melee abilities any hero can choose past level eight. Although the infighting ability doesn’t draw any aggro, it does mean I’m usually the furthest forward in my party when someone blows it and opens fire. However it happens, I end up scampering back down the tunnel we came through with a horde on my tail. I turn around and Gale them, of course, and then the other heroes sink their weapons in, freeze them in blocks of ice, smash them with fireballs. But there’s always one still on me, and as I cast my mind-altering hallucinogenics, I always needed just one more thing I could do to them while my main powers recharge, or one quick move to shave off that last sliver of health once I’ve Spectrally Wounded them. The answer: Kick. It’s called Kick. You kick them. Kick!


It sounds feeble, but the simple addition of this ability to her powers changes the feel of the character completely – there’s suddenly attitude there. I intentionally designed her appearence to be just a woman – an especially fragile one, in fact. When she uses her extraordinary mental powers to decimate a horde of rock monsters and the survivors all come charging toward her, it’s absolutely brilliant that she can give the nearest one a good hard kick, usually knocking it back several meters. It says “Fuck you. I am not a wuss.”


The combat was always brilliant, as was the powers system. I actually had trouble getting my head around the idiocy of World Of Warcraft’s after CoH – why doesn’t my level 3 Shadowbolt just replace my level 2 Shadowbolt? Why have the upgrades for the skills I actually liked suddenly dried up? What always sucked, unequivocally and indebatably, was the moronic concept of XP debt. It’s still there, but it’s halved. That makes a huge difference, it’s still reprehensible, appalling, pathetic that the system exists at all, but ‘huge’ doesn’t even cover it. It makes all the difference. If XP debt was still full, the fun I had tonight – during which I died three times – wouldn’t have brought me out of the red and I would be irritated by the game, the joy sapped out by the grind, and preparing to go back to my System Shock 2 replay tomorrow. Instead, I’m buzzing, bursting to tell you about it, and looking forward to getting lost in it all weekend.

2005-09-07 23:16:40