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TOM FRANCIS
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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.

Theme

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

Flying

FLYING

I’ve got to level 14 before, with another character, and since he was agility-oriented and I like to be different, I went for Super Jumping. It now turns out that’s widely considered the best all-round transport power – fast, obstacles are no obstacle, and great for escaping tricky situations. Screw those guys. I chose Super Jump because I thought it’d be cool, and it really, really was. But Flying is cooler.

I’ve no regrets – the transport power you pick is a hugely important decision, and it has to make sense for your character. Jump was perfect for The Defenestrator, the man who could dodge anything. For a while Brain Storm was going to have Teleport – she’d already gone for Recall Friend as a pre-requisite to it. But the only connection between storms and teleportation is that Teleport and Phasing come under the Lightning skill tree in Diablo 2, so I realised I wasn’t bound to that. And that I might never get to level 14 again, and Flying is kind of an essential experience for a superhero. Besides which, what could be more storm-related than hanging out in the clouds?

2005-09-11 11:00:55

It’s unbelievable. I was standing with Ms Liberty when I got it, as I am when I get any skill, so the backdrop to my revelation was the extraordinary Atlas Plaza – dominated by a statue so huge it defines the sky of the place. I spied a blimp soaring as high as the skyscrapers, and instinctively took off.

There’s a reason we humans keep dreaming about this – it feels amazing. Flying is not a means to the end of feeling like a superhero – being a superhero is a means to the end of flying. That’s the real fantasy. Screw saving people, having power, making a difference or facing odds. Taking off is what it’s all about. That wonderful ambiguity of the action – is she being lifted by some invisible force? Does it pull on all her body equally? It doesn’t look as though there is a gravity-strength force acting on her, she looks serene. Is she simply lighter than air? How then would she be controlling it? Is it like swimming? She’s hardly moving, she just zooms. That she flies where she intends to is immediately apparent in her movements, but how the thought becomes action is utterly occluded. No bird can match this, there’s no mistaking Brain Storm for a plane. That is a person who is freaking flying.

Scanning Area

I soared to the blimp. I soared past the blimp. I landed on a skyscraper – switching off my fliability just as I approached its surface, knowing without ever having done or seen it before that my upward momentum would continue to carry me those last thirty centimetres to land elegantly, at a gentle trot, on its tarmac surface. I looked down at the blimp – which ought to be branded ‘Cloud Nine’ by the way – then threw myself at it. I slipped, of course, on its rubbery dome, and plummeted unspeakably towards the city below. Again, the activation didn’t seem to involve a keypress – I wished to slow my fall, and it just happened. My downward velocity arced beautifully into a swoop, came up into a steady rise, which became a magnificent soar.

City Tours At Dusk

I still haven’t played City Of Villains – the beta is on, but I’m not in yet. It hardly seems relevant at this point. I guess I shouldn’t recommend CoH with the new game around the corner (which will include Flying too), but the new one’s an unknown and this one is definitely great. You can reach 14 in two weeks without trying too hard – sooner if you get lost in it over a weekend as I’m prone to do. I maintain that the game would have 50% more players if you got your transport power at 10. So many people stop short of fourteen, and none of them would stop if they could fly.

Rossignol: I maintain that superjump is funner.

Lithilk: On my 14 day trial, I only got to level 13. It made me very sad when I learnt how far away I was from the Travel options.

Hitchhiker: I just this week got my first travel power after some 18 months of playing the game off and on. I've always stopped just short. this current character had been at 13 for around 2 months before I logged back in last weekend and finished it off.

I got Super Jump as that was the path I had previously chosen, but I'd always wanted to fly. I found it great fun, but respecced (using the free Iss 5 one) anyway, and now I can fly.

It's so boring. It's cool, yes, but just so pedestrian it's hardly a step above running there. The only advantage is that I don't get insta-killed in the hollows.

Now I've lost the motivation to play again. I'd like a cape, but it's a long way away and I'll have to fly there.

I'd prefer to jump.

(Cyrptic also need to add mega impact craters, as per the new Hulk game. Awesome!)

Tom Francis: FLYING.

JohnMid: Is it worth getting into CoH now, with CoV round the corner?

Tom Francis: Right now, I'm suggesting holding out. I think I trust them to make a better game, the moves they've made have always been in the right direction, if not far enough (in the case of debt). But for me personally, Villains starts at a disadvantage because I'm too enamoured with the playful optimism of being a hero in CoH to really want to be a villain. I also think the business of being a villain doesn't translate as easily into games as they currently work, so it'll take some masterstrokes of design to make it as effortlessly coherent as CoH. But, as I say, they know what they're doing.



Ask me again when I've played the beta.

Tom Francis: And I'll say "I'm under NDA."

Graham: NDAs are made to be broken.

Actually, no. But has any NDA ever been properly enforced, with lawyers and court orders and whatnot? I've yet to hear of a developer suing someone for breach of an NDA, although I suppose they might just stop giving non-public content to the person breaching, which is bad if you rely on such things for your job.

Mr Dan: Around January time i was part of the Euro CoH beta and with my main character i decided to get the super jump ability as well as the super speed ability. My reasoning behind this was that every sucker can fly. I wanted to be different from the average player. I wanted something unique, and i got something unique.



Jumping past buildings at a super speed is awesome, you don't have to worry about anything except the city limits. There is a feeling of reality in jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Watching the people on the ground quickly zooming in and out of your view. It makes you feel like you could actually do it, because it doesn't seem supernatural, it just seems like doing something you can already do but a hundred times better.



There was a lot of fuss about flying though. As i said, the average player chooses to fly and this put me off. Near the end of the beta i'd already made my mind up that i wouldn't be buying the game and i wanted to try out things i'd missed so i did a character swap with a friend. He tried out my character and i tried out his, a fat tank with his pink underwear on the outside and giant heart on his chest.



As soon as i switched to his character and flew around the city i knew i'd been missing a great part of the game. At times it feels like you could just fly onwards and upwards forever. It helps you see how big the game really is and makes you feel so small and yet so invincible. When you use the super jumping you feel extra ordinary, but when you fly you actually feel like a super hero and that's how CoH should be.



I could almost say the game is worth playing just for the flying and jumping but it isn't. The debt system constantly spoilt it for me, and once you get to level 20 the goal of your next level seems so impossible and so far away. It would have been nice to jump around with a cape though. But then again, i like to be different from the average player so would probably choose not to have one.

Tom Francis: Exactly, that's an excellent characterisation of the two. I love them both, and there's plenty Jump has that Fly doesn't, but Flying is just, whoa.



I'm not sure when you played, but debt was a huge problem for me too, responsible for every time I stopped playing for more than a day or so. But I have to admit that it just doesn't bother me now that they've halved it. They still badly need to remove it, but in practise I'm working it off within half an hour of acquiring it, and more importantly I'm always long out of it before I die again.



I can't see myself playing much beyond level 20 either - if every mission was in a unique setting, then sure. But since so many of them are in identical, often bland places, what keeps me going is the next landmark. Right now that's a second costume and a cape - I seem to have a free redesign at Icon already, but my current costume doesn't need tweaking or improving, it needs a complete alternative I can switch to at will.


After that, I'd love an effect, but I'm not ploughing through ten levels of repetition to get there. Maybe if I found a great supergroup, but really I'd rather just start again with a new character - there's more to discover in the different classes than there is in the world, at least within any given amount of playing time.


This all sounds scathing, but it only would be if you had to sign up for a year at a time or something. As it is, the two or three months you'll play for will only cost you what a normal game does, and it'll be the most consistently fun MMOG experience you can have right now.

Mr Dan: I have to agree on all points.



When i was playing the debt was horrendous. When i first started to play i never understood it, but when you're at the lower levels it does really matter because the ammount of debt you acquire is insignificant. Plus the game is easy enough for you to lose debt by yourself at the start.



The problem is the higher the level, the more debt you get and the longer it takes to get off. Even if they have halved the debt like you've said, it doesn't change the sheer annoyance of it.



It's a harsh punishment for dying, and after a while it really seemed to seep the fun out of the game. You get to points where you have no debt and you get tense incase you somehow die and get it back again. There's been occasions when i've been celebrating the loss of debt only to die a second later. Kicked back down to the ground for the long struggle up.



If you die multiple times it's even worse. Once you've died 3 or 4 times with a pile of debt you just don't want to play anymore as you know that it'll take you such a long time to work the debt off.



It wouldn't be so bad if the ammount of XP towards your next level later on in the game wasn't so much. Once you hit level 20 the next level seems so far off, if you have debt on top of this you feel like you're screwed.



In other MMO's like WoW the ammount of XP needed for the next level always seems obtainable, but in CoH it really doesn't.



You also get to a point where you think "do i really want to fight 5000 trolls in one building again!?" and you realise that the whole game upto that point has been exactly the same. You've said the same and i'm glad someone else noticed.



Another annoyance i found was that the further you get in, the more enemies there are in missions. You'll have to kill 300 trolls in a cave in one mission, this takes up a hell of a lot of time, and if you quit halfway through you have to try again from the start next time. For what though? The same mission again and a little bit more added to "the plot."



I was fooled into doing a set of Task Force missions after being told that they have "a great storyline and you get a special prize at the end" and the storyline was as bland as ever. The special prize at the end? A badge (struggle through a handful of tough missions stays in a team for a badge!?) and an add-on. It just doesn't sit well to me. It's a game that just doesn't reward you when it should.



Argh. All the bad points are really coming to the top of my head now. But i must admit it is still a great MMO. I've played quite a few MMO's and CoH has the most friendly community out there. I never had any trouble finding people to quest with and the game looks so bright and nice that it just makes it feel like everyone is smiling and happy.



I think the world itself is really great as well. It just all seems to fit perfectly. Like you've actually jumped into a comic world where giant cracks in the ground meld with skyscrapers without a problem.



The best part of CoH is your character though. The possibilities are endless and everyone is unique. Anyway i'm just starting to go over what Jim said in his PCG article now.



Sorry for ranting a bit.

Tom Francis: I'm against any death penalties, but XP debt is the most egregious of them all. It is a chillingly efficient way to transform your game into work. They even use that word, "You have worked off 8 debt" None of us get as much free time as we'd like, and MMOGs are huge drains on that. They have seriously got to respect the fact that we want to spend that time having extraordinary fun, constantly. This is an extreme case of preaching to the converted, but I'm just saying, I agree with the idea of debt as a reason to completely give up a game forever - it's not an over-reaction.



But! With my first character, I couldn't get past level 15 - 16 was just a universe away. With my current one, I'm already 18 and 20 seems within my grasp. A mission that's hard enough to kill me twice carries an XP reward large enough to completely pay off my incurred debt and more. They've increased XP rates across the board on top of the other thing. It's not a total fix, and the fix is glaringly obvious, but it's more than a gesture - it's a big step.

Mr Dan: Despite just slagging it off to high heaven i think i might give it a try again. It's dirty cheap and if they've fixed the debt and XP it might be a bit more hopeless.

Mr Dan: Less hopeless i meant. Obviously.

roBurky: Are you in City of Villains, Penta?

I've got the Unending Sickness made and spreading radiation problems to passers by.

Tom Francis: I've got it, but I'm playing Heroes instead. I spent ages creating a villain, then all the bits of his costume go through each other with awful clipping errors when he moves around in-game. With the amount of time and love that went into that design, this was basically tantamount to the game killing my dog, so then and there I was done with Villains. Character creation is half the fun, and I can't trust it to make the choices it gives me work. I also think Mastermind is the only interesting class, if you've played Heroes a lot, and even then only the minions are interesting. Why do I have bow skills mixed in with my ninja summoning ones? Nobody asked me what weapon I'd like, and bows don't even have much to do with ninjas.



So yeah, meet me in Siren's Call some time and I'll show you my Phantom Army.