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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


FEAR 2005-11-06 18-35-19-26

Wrote this back when it was relevant. I hope enough time has now passed that I can post it without pretensions of currency.

Central to FEAR is this idea of being surrounded by armoured grunts in a classy office, bullet trails streaking in all directions in slow motion, dust and sparks exploding all around, then blowing one of them in half with the shotgun and launching into a flying kick at another while he shouts a slow-mo deepened “Fuck!” They got that exactly right, and it’s one of the all-time top ten essential gaming experiences everyone should have before they die.

But it sometimes feels like they didn’t know what to do around that. Their attempts to deviate from that formula for variety’s sake – excluding the horror sections – are all rather awkward. The extra-tough enemies are dull, the turrets are a chore to destroy, the flying robots are desperately incongruous and almost impossible to defeat stylishly, and the psychic demons that can hurt you and be shot are a catastrophic midjudgement. Instead of being scary and fun to fight, they’re neither – that they’re vulnerable to bullets makes them mundane, and that they zoom mindlessly towards you makes them insultingly poor opponents.

The one exception is the stealth troop type – they’re both genuinely different and great fun. But even that gives rise to a further frustration – they’re horribly under-used. Especially given that they are both scary and fun to fight, and that’s clearly what they wanted from the later levels. Instead, they’re replaced by the aforementioned physical demon things in the last levels, and then and there FEAR drops from one of the best games ever made to merely something with a lot of potential. All other quibbles are barely that – quirks, more like; blemishes in a beautiful skin.

FEAR 2005-11-06 18-45-06-29

It still feels like a 90% game to me, despite everything, so I shall specify some of the things it does better than anyone else ever before. I hearby give FEAR the following awards:

  • Best FPS Combat – a big one, but well-earned.
  • Best Enemy ‘Barks’ – for ‘Fuck!’, “Shit!’, “Fuck, shit!”, “Shut the fuck up!” and “No fucking way!”. I honestly never thought I’d have to take this award away from Far Cry’s mercenaries with their twin classics “Yeah yeah!” and “I’m going to shoot you in the face!”
  • Best Costume Design – the grunts are all functionally identical, but they sport a range of genuinely stunning uniforms. They’re sleek, they’re formal, they come in tasteful colours (particularly the crimson/white/black one later on) and yet they look like they mean business. Sadly there isn’t a specific credit for costume design in games, since technically they’re not costumes (“These clothes are my skin!” – prize for placing the (mis)quote), but I’m inclined to credit these outfits to John Turner, Senior Character and Weapon artist.
  • Best Shotgun – sorry Half-Life 2, but holy shit this is a good shotgun.
  • Best AI – I know it has its flaws, but the deciding factor is that these are the only enemies that continually surprise me.
  • Best Explosion – and I mean ever. I’m not even restricting this to games. This beats Akira.
  • Most Arbitrary Plot Twist – for the one after the credits. “Er, okay.” I’m willing to be corrected on this one – I know there’s a lot of hot competition.
  • Best Enemy – for the grunts. If I have to be specific, let’s say one in a blue-grey/white uniform, using a shotgun. Cool, challenging and incredibly satisfying to beat up.
  • Best Enemy In A Supporting Role – for the stealth dudes. Creepy, cunning and brilliantly acrobatic.
  • The Sands Of Time Award For Worth-Copying Contribution To The Genre – for the melee combat. Take note, everyone: we need melee moves, they need to be powerful and we need to be able to do them without switching away from our regular weapon.

FEAR 2005-11-06 18-40-30-15

Mr Dan: I must agree that the shotgun in the game is the greatest shotgun ever. I spent pretty much the entire game using the shotgun as there was immense satisfaction when closing in on an enemy and blowing them away with a giant "BOOOM!"

Zeno Cosini: The (mis)quote is from Deep Space 9, no?

Craig: I have yet to experience FEAR (though given my love for Monolith (we do not speak of Contract JACK) I obviously will soon) so please don't spoil anything for me. But Jim's review in Format speaks of the best explosion in a game ever - near the end. How good is the explosion and is there any way you can tell me how good it is without spoiling anything?

Tom Francis: Hmm, let's see. How about this:

"Best Explosion - and I mean ever."

Tom Francis: Zeno: damn, it could easily be. I actually meant to refer to a sketch on the Adam And Joe Show featuring puppets in space. But Odo does say almost exactly that. I am forced to (come up with and) award you the prize.

Mr Dan: The explosion is so good that it literally made me say "holy shit! WOW!" out loud. Not alot of game have done that to me.