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TOM FRANCIS
REGRETS THIS ALREADY

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

Fahrenheit

Okay, I have five draft posts accumulated here, and I came on to write something about the gigs I’ve been going to this month, and even that isn’t the most important thing to say here right now – which is that you should go and see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang before it disappears from the cinema, it’s one of the funniest and cleverest films I’ve seen in years – and even that isn’t what I want to write, because I’m burning to gush about City Of Heroes (pointedly not Villains) because that’s what I’ve been doing in my week off. But it’s twenty to three in the morning, and this ancient draft post looks finished to me, so I’ll just post it. More, different, better stuff tomorrow.

Great Things About Fahrenheit

  • You Do Stuff: It’s amazing the difference between walking up to something and pressing ‘use’, and walking up to something and performing a small mouse gesture which very abstractly represents the motion you want your character to perform. That tiny trace of logic, that faint connection between what you do and what your character does, makes it a tactile experience that gets you into your character’s life in a profound way. Fahrenheit also takes every oppourtunity to make you do things, automating nothing and sometimes breaking actions down into almost painstakingly small parts, each performed in sequence. But the effort and intention that requires from you gives you a connection to your character that’s beyond normal control.
     
  • Private Lives: Since you have mental health rather than regular health to worry about, Fahrenheit has to let you do things that aren’t stressful (for your characters) to get it back up. So you play their lives, deciding what they do in their down time, manually performing comfortingly humdrum activities or basic life maintenance. Or swallowing the Little Book Of Calm. They’re welcome punctuation between the furious action bits, and that you decide how to while away the time means they’re frequently more fun. While bits like this work best as a backdrop to a dramatic story, it’s these you end up looking forward to more than what actually happens next. You get to see how every major character lives, talk to their friends or partners, know their apartment, sleep in their beds. It even gets unpleasantly intimate if you play your cards exactly right with the love interests in their lives, but apparently the American version spares you this realistically awkward fumbling.
     
  • Atmosphere: Fahrenheit depicts New York in a blizzard with loving artistry. The snow defines every scene, making indoors cosy and comfortable; the streets lonely or chaotic. It makes wonderful escapism, and means you don’t have to care about the plot to want to go back to this world when you’re away from it.
     
  • Music: Whoa, it’s like they got professionals to do it or something. It’s got both perfectly pitched incidental music, ramping up the spookiness or tension massively where appropriate, and actual songs for fun or quiet scenes. Carla’s apartment in particular is brought to life as much by the song playing on her hi-fi as the actual design of the place. Usually games fumble an awkward hybrid of incidental music and songs – it’s too featureless and watery to be songs, but it just plays mindlessly on a loop, rendering it irrelevant to what’s going on on-screen. That Fahrenheit does it the movie way, and gets it right, is a huge boost to your emotional engagement with it – one that dwarfs any excitement the actual mini-games might hope to introduce.

Awful Things About Fahrenheit

  • The Flashing Colours Minigames: Walkthroughs – which yes, I have used – refer to them as the Simon Says type; it tells you what to do, then you have to do it. In fact, you have to do it or it’ll kill you. That’s not a game, not even a mini-game, that’s slavery. Unlike the mouse gestures, it’s frequently at odds with the nature of the action, simply because they use the same system for every damn thing. It even ruins some of the Private Lives appeal, because as Lucas the most relaxing thing you can do – sitting down and playing your guitar – is made a galling chore. In the action sequences, Simon Says becomes a case of ‘keep pressing the right thing to keep watching the cut-scene’. But it’s even worse than that – they require you to concentrate intently on the colours, meaning you actually miss the cut-scene going on behind them almost completely. It’s like being forced to read a book in the middle of an action film or get kicked out of the cinema. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad at them – and I’m good now – they’re an ugly, pathetic, demeaning placeholder for a real game. They try some neat tricks to try to make up for it – matching the rhythm to that of the action, throwing some curveball colour combinations when your character does new things – but these are icing on an absent cake. There is no game here.
     
  • The Left/Right Minigames: These are actually worse than the Simon Says ones, but they’re not the game’s staple so they don’t take top spot. They are, however, crippling difficulty bottlenecks for anyone who doesn’t specialise in PRESSING TWO KEYS in rapid alternation. It’s the kind of thing an ape would refuse to do on principle. I love games, so I’ll do demeaning stuff to see the next bit of one I’m interested in, but it’s when these get harder that the insult becomes too much to bear. You fail, and have to start again, because the game finds your PRESSING TWO KEYS skill lacking. Worse, the metre conceals a secret time limit that has no relevance to the actual situation, so overcoming the natural decline of the energy bar you’re mashing up isn’t enough – you have to make it hit maximum before an imaginary countdown finishes, or it’ll act as if you let the bar hit zero. Worse again, that dirty trick isn’t understood by the game’s difficulty system, so it’s as annoying on Easy as on Hard. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am not good at these bits, because I do not take particular pride in my ability to PRESS TWO KEYS. The game’s guff about representing the physical exertion of your character would be a lot more convincing if what they were doing ever had anything to do with PRESSING TWO KEYS. The difficulty of these doesn’t increase the physical exertion anyway, and it’s their difficulty that makes them a problem.

Your Points Are Very Informative, Tom, But Is It Actually A Good Game?
No. There’s so much out there that’s a joy to play, and this is so often a pain. Doing something interesting and new is commendable, but Fahrenheit screws up so much of the basic stuff (like making the game part fun) that its novelties only outweigh its frustrations if you’re desperate for something new. More simply, if you hate games, you’ll love this. If you actually like games, and play good ones a lot, Fahrenheit grates. It’s still worth playing for the interest factor, or as a glimpse of what a good Revolution game might be like, but it’s potential rather than fun to me.

Defragged: The simon-says minigames were irritating. After lending the game to one of my flatmates and watching him play, I found that there were so many interesting bits in the cut-scenes that I was missing because I was too busy waggling analogue sticks. Also, I'm curious as to what your opinion on the keep-the-bar-in-the-middle minigames is. I prefered them to the others, as the reason for pressing the buttons (breathing) maps better to the action you perform than the other minigames do.

Can't really mention anything here without spoilering, but one of the major factions was utterly pointless, pointlessly forcing the story away from the main focus.

Tom Edwards: I quite enjoyed them myself, when the sequencing tied in with what was going on the screen. Lucas bashes on the lift controls at the end of the office chase and the whatsit goes beserk too, and there's often a "left circle, right circle, left+right circle --> action" pattern. Simple but still fun. It does make an interesting counterpoint to the intelligence of the game's plot and style elements though.

I think what really seperates me from the people who don't like the system is that I want to watch what's happening in the gameworldtoo, so instead of an abstract puzzle it becomes a struggle to keep up concentration while watching a fairly decent action sequence.

The left/right arrow thing was undeniably crud though.