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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.

Hitman header tunnel

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Far Cry Primal Thumbnail

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

Snowball jack header

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone and Bladestorm

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

BAFTA Featured

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Sectors Header

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

DXHR Open area

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Heat Signature Natural Numbers

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Pharma Header

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Make A Game Tutorial Thumbnail Featured IMage

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

Her Story banner

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

Invisible Header

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Super Game Jam Header

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

Shadow of Mordor Header 2

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Heat Signature Talk

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX


What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

Murder, She Wrote

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Wide 2

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Heat Signature Floorplans Header

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Steam Workshop

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance Header

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

The Magic Circle

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Blog Launch

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Floating Sine

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point


What’s Your Fault?

Hoplite banner

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Gone Point

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature Thumbnail

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

GRappling Hook Thumbnail

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

Alien Swarm Heroics

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

FTL Story

One Desperate Battle In FTL

Spelunky Banner

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Game vs story graph

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Breakdown

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Max Payne 3

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

This is how you die

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection


Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Skyrim Diary - Frostmere

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

Mainstream Games

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault


A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

Dark Messiah

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot


Arguing On The Internet


Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Stealth Games

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?


E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

Suspicious Manifesto

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

What Makes Games Good

Seat Quest

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Beneath Suspicion

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

Open Worlds

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

Level Up

A Different Way To Level Up

BioShock Ending

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

Meet the Spy

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Football Manager

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE Assassins

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

GalCiv 2

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary


I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

Machine of Death

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood money and sex

Blood Money And Sex


A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

Second Life

First Night, Second Life


SWAT 4: The Movie Script

Oh Screw It, I’ll Mention The Revolution

Revolution Controller

If you haven’t seen the curiously under-linked video, you must.

Now that our brains are synchronised, I’ll stop pretending I’m a news source. I’m just posting to say this: whoa.

Usually when people talk about making games easier to understand for non-gamers, they mean restricting your input so as to simplify the games themselves so that the poor luddites can get their tiny little minds around them. The engineers of this controller appear to have happened upon the idea of removing the stupid, awkward bits of a controller and replacing them with an elegantly powerful and precise way of moving that’s immediately intuitive to everyone. Because non-gamers aren’t stupid, they’re just not used to the conventions our control systems have come to rely on. And when they discover these conventions are mostly awkward, clumsy and idiotic, they’re understandably unwilling to invest time in learning them.

I’m the same – I have fingers and reactions, I could learn to be good at a console game or two. What puts me off isn’t that I’m daunted by the difficulty of doing so, nor is there a complete dearth of things I’m interested in playing – I’ve always fancied Ico, for example. But I won’t invest the time and money in getting and getting used to a console because I resent them. I resent being asked to wiggle an analogue stick, nudge it as little as I can to lurch my character’s aim in five degree chunks at a time. I’m not a caveman, I’ve seen the mouse, and anything less is an insult.

This thing, if it works as intended, is better than a mouse. It brings a tear to my eye to say that. Assuming there is a single proper game for it – and what the fellow pictured above is doing in that video implies there will be – I will buy this thing. I will become a gamer, not one who hastens to prefix ‘PC’ when someone calls him one. Meanwhile, I hope, many previously multi-platform gamers will become snobs like myself, unable to touch those batlike plastic lumps dangling from your ‘X-Cubes’ and ‘Play-Boxes’.

Oh God No What Are You Doing To It?

Revolution Controller

Heretic: It does indeed sound amazing. I for one can't wait, I was going to jump straight for the Xbox 360 (Which I probably Still will at some point) But seing this has reminded me what I love about nintendo. It's general crazyness that usually has some flashes of genius behind it. Now If only I had the money to buy a revoloution when it comes out.

Jason L: The thing I want to comment on is Nintendo's method for revealing the device. If they had simply announced that they were going to have a six-axis-sensitive wand, I would be much closer to the skeptics' side of the fence, worrying about floaty/slow/sloppy/painful control ala VR headsets and gyromice. As it is, they kicked right off with hands-on industry demos, so that we could hear from third parties that the controller is precise, is responsive, is intuitive, and isn't vulnerable to Gorilla-arm effect. I hope that was a deliberate choice, because it's utterly classy.

Oh, one other thing: I resent "ergonomic" stuff. As a rule, the more carefully sculpted a mouse, controller, or remote is, the harder I find it to hold. The old NES, SNES, and Genesis pads are great - I just went and checked. The DC's and N64's pads were monstrosities; I literally could not play my DC as much as I liked because my hands had to clench to stop the pad squirming to freedom. I can put up with the DualShock, the Dolphin or whatever is OK, but both generations of the XBox' pad are back to the same nonsense. I was excited when either the XBox 360 or PS3 went to two round sticks at a shallow angle to each other - and disappointed when they went back to trying to mold my hands.

The Revolution Remote Control? It's a stick that you wave and squeeze - possibly a tab in the other hand, if you want to be posh. I can hold on to a stick. Thank you for respecting my ability to hold on to a stick.

Net reaction? I'm primarily a PC gamer, with a select PS2 library on the side. Until yesterday, I was following the news, but utterly disinterested in the next generation of consoles. Now I am deeply interested in the Revolution. Well played, Nintendo, well played indeed.

Graham: I really don't want to be the guy who links his stuff on other peoples websites. I don't want to be THAT guy. But given that I just wrote a lengthy thing on this very subject, and can't be bothered repeating here the points pertinent to this particular avenue of the Revolution controller discussion...

http://www.whatinter... ...le/view/51

So just pretend that everything I said there, I actually said here, and if you care to read it, respond here. If you care to respond, that is.

Oh, and the picture of the old fashioned controller wrapped around the new fashioned controller? That's just an IGN mock-up, I think. I mean, there will be a plug-in like that, but hopefully it'll look less rubbish.

Tom Francis: Good stuff. Do I count two West Wing-inspired quotes?

"instead of being intimidated by a plethora of buttons, non-gamers may now simply be intimidated by the thought of looking like a prat instead"

Yeah, I guess that's why dance games never caught on. OH WAIT THEY DID. Honestly, I think we look more stupid sitting slack jawed spasming our hands on a plastic bat than we would waving a stick around. But we don't care, because either no-one sees us, or the people who do see us are doing the same thing.

For me, this is going to be all about beating the living hell out of people. I want a remake of Die By The Sword. I want Oblivion on it, with the optimal attack motions changing depending on what type of weapon I have equipped. Man, you could even swing a chain-mace with this thing.

Jason L: They'd have to simulate a face, though, so you could accidentally hit yourself in the face with it. I've seen LARP; that's what people do.

Graham: There's one West Wing inspired quote: "There go my people. I must find out where they're going so I can lead them." But in retrospect the "hats over the wall" line is also, I think, mentioned by the President when talking about Galileo 5. Since I heard it first in Kevin Smith's short film The Flying Car though, that's where I always steal it from.

As for the dancing games; did they really catch on amongst non-gamers? I did consider the comparisons to Dance Dance Revolution, but I'm betting that a whole lot of people opted out of playing it when the opportunity arose because there were other people around. No one likes dancing in front of other people. In MY world.

Waving your arms around in front of the TV can be a private thing, and that's good. But one wonders if people will be willing to jump in and have a shot at it any more than if it were just a regular old controller. Would more people be willing to fly if planes looked like toasters?

Of course, that's somewhat secondary to just how cool and awesome it might befor those who WILL try it, such as myself. But there we go.

Jason L: It pays to consider that not all its potential is in the realm of virtual swords, maracas, and so on. Despite the desperately exciting possibilities in that arena, I would suspect the majority of games are going to use the more "dignified" aiming, pointing device, joystick, and gesture control functionalities. Uptight people can still benefit.

Tom Francis: Gestures? Now there's an idea. This could be a whole new universe of inaccurately explained, difficult to perform, repeatedly unrecognised gesture-based spell systems!

I actually liked Darwinia's, but it did become a matter of working out the 'real' symbol - it would accept a horizontal line for rockets. Now that it's gone, I find it wasn't as integral to the experience as I thought - my perception had been that it counter-acted the freeness of your units by making them cost you physical exertion, but I can't say the gestureless demo made any less sense without that.

I hope you're wrong about how it'll be used, Jason. I'm sure it'll take years for developers to realise just how much they can do with this, but I hope they at least think in three dimensions from the word go. A pointer for menus, fine, but in-game I want the Z-axis to have some effect. Presumably it can't work as forward and backward movement in an FPS, but perhaps some kind of speed adjustment? Sprint and walk? Also, am I nuts, or could this be used for looking and quick strafing?

Now accepting other suggestions for what kind of nusto games we can make now that we have a 3D controller. Mario Knife Fight? A shooter Western where you have to toss your gun up and catch it by the handle again after every kill? A fairground Test Your Strength minigame where you have to whack it down as hard as you can? True 3D Frogger?

The only downside to all this is that the control system in the sci-fi novel I'm planning now seems less futuristic.

Jason L: Prescript, after typing this: If I want to talk this much, I should really get my own page. I'm sorry for co-opting your blog with my derivative opinions. I'll do so less in future.

If I turn out to be right, I said "the majority", not "the overwhelming majority" - nuance is your friend. :P And of course I'll be wrong, what do I know? You're the game journalist.

I objected to the gesture system in Darwinia for reasons of canon and "feel"; unlike the presence of the Centipedes, stickmen and Space Invaders for example, there was just absolutely no "reason" within that fiction why these Beowulfed consoles would interface with gestures. I accepted it as a means to the end of keeping the screen clear at all costs, but I felt and feel that the game should have used old-school shortcuts or just hotkeys more. .

I was unclear about "gestures". There are two points to be made there.

1. To date, pointing devices have only been able to access 2-dimensional positional data and through it, a very low-res picture of the first derivative, velocity. The RRC has direct, instantaneous access to position, velocity, and acceleration in six axes. a. Gesture commands could - could - not-suck under those circumstances. Who knows? b. With the kind of freedom Nintendo has created, the line between action and gesture blurs; gestures become things like "stroke up, then strong down over there to bring in the percussion section, twirl with varying intensity to continue the roll."

2. I'm probably unusually pro-gesture. Most of my daily-use programs have several macros mapped through StrokeIt and I have a separate gesture plugin installed in my Firefox. Despite that, I am no more eager to see them in mouse-based games than you are, for the same reasons. BnW is the only example I can think of where they fit the fiction, looked natural, and were convenient to use.

I was just referring to the very simple sort of thing Nintendo explicitly showed in its mockup concept reel, where a lady is controlling Mario with "swivel right to run right, swivel left to run left, twitch up to jump." I'd like to try playing classics like that - if it works anywhere near well, it beats bruised thumbs. As several articles have said, it's a natural thing you see kids do, even today - want to jump, pull up, oh yeah, it doesn't work that way. Now it can.

You should probably retract that suggestion to spam ideas - everyone's head is overflowing with them, I'm sure. I have at least enough willpower to not repeat ones I've seen elsewhere (Punch-Out Mwaaaa *ahem*). i. Star Wars - first way to actually play with a double-ended saber, anyone? ii. Music conducting - I'm one of those people who cluelessly "conducts" orchestral music while he's listening to it. The orchestral conducting concept interested me - but I also do it for other genres. I smell a new Frequency/Amplitude, though it would have to be called Phase or Polarization. iii. Heck, combine them: Star Wars music conducting. I think people would pay to be able to "pull" John Williams' brass up out of thin air over and over. Get a ten-man team together and throw together an applet. Lucasarts has sold less in the past! iv. I'm sure this is already in development, but the next WarioWare is going to be nucking futs.

Jason L: Tangent - I'm right-handed, but it's nice that left-handed people will finally have a situation where they're unshafted.

Graham: The more I think about it, the more I get excited about potential swordfighting. The tactile nature of the new controller should improve gun fights, giving you a greater sense of being there, and making the whole experience more fun and stylish. But there's something about the idea of having an epic melee fight that just makes me buzz. Melee combat is always more cool, and wouldn't it be awesome to - to quickly nab your suggestion Jason - kick some Sith ass? To get to the end of a fight and say, "I did that." To actually control the sword, block the attacks, and counter them in a literal fashion, rather than with some crude button combination?

I hope this lets us feel like heroes. Badass heroes.

I want to scream, "Yeah, IN YOUR FACE MOFO!" at a computer character as I unleash a can of whoop-ass upon him. The kind of in-the-moment aggression and adrenaline that the added physicality should provide.

roBurky: I think there should an important psychological difference in games that use this control system or the DS's touch screen.

When you give input to a game with buttons, controlling an avatar works well, because then you can see the direct effect your pushing of a button has. When you're poking/stroking the world with the DS' touch screen, then that action translating into something an avatar does is less natural. It works a lot better if you are, in fact, someone poking the world, and the consequences come from your poke.

I think it will be the same with the Revolution controller. Contolling an avatar with it will not work as well as /you/ doing something with it. Whether it's your actions being translated into the world like that Gametrak game, or DS-like world poking.

JohnMid: I always wondered how right handed people managed with all the existing pads being clearly left handed.

Jason L: Really! How odd. I can't imagine trying to hit buttons accurately with my off thumb. I won't even go into controlling a camera/aim stick because I avoid it as much as possible with my on hand.

Jason L: ♫ Look out! Here comes the Spider-man! ♫

Tom Francis: Ooh, how do you do those? I've always wanted to be able to musicify things I say.

Jason L: I don't know the Unicode/Windows charcode right now, so this'll only work in places that read raw HTML. Some fora may have switches for that. Thee HTML code is available from the best concise HTML character reference page I've found. (Save it as HTML-only to get rid of the horrible background.) In this case, character #9835.

Jason L: Oh fark. Fighting Games. Ragdoll Kung Fu aside, just wait till the first Guilty Gear hits for this.

Jason L: If Chronicles of Riddick isn't rereleased for the Revolution, someone's not doing his job.

Jason L: Idly, and a great deal later: On second thought, while a Star Wars saberfest is basically inevitable and will undoubtedly be fun, they're not especially well-suited to the controller. Too much clashing and holding. I'm confident that devs will find a way to make it reasonably good, but still.

Instead, give me Western fencing. Sensitive, fast, spacially precise, and if you're doing it at all right the rumble pack's all you need.

Also, wot a pity that there will never be a Deus Ex game on Revo, eh?

Anonymous: Asians rock at Wii

Vincent Dour: Asians have weird eyes

Nathan White: Asians have slits

Glenn Newbins: Asian are two small to make wii sticks

Tom Francis: Asians don't generalise.

You four, commenting within three minutes of each other on a very old post with very similar comments and no full stops, have aroused the suspicion of both Spam Karma 2 and myself. But I, like Spam Karma, have to admit that there seems to be at least one human behind the bigotry, so I won't delete it.

Let Them Eat Facts, by Pentadact, who is secretly Tom Francis: [...] trying to address those curiosities. In descending order of wantedness! wii controller Yeah. I was pretty wild about the idea, but I was dreaming of something more precise and reliable than this. Without those qualities this [...]