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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

Villainy Like It Oughta Be

That is a Ben And Jerry’s joke.

I’m playing City Of Villains more than anything else lately, and I hate it. Well, no, I just resent it a lot. I don’t know why my fellow Heroes-lovers rate it so highly. After Heroes, I thought Cryptic were prepared to do brave, liberal things to make sure their games captured their themes gloriously. Then when their next theme was, excitingly, the polar opposite of their first, they refused to change anything at all. They just did a search-and-replace operation on the word ‘hero’ for ‘villain’ and charged full-game price for it. It’s not that I didn’t love Heroes, it’s that I still love Heroes, and I can still play it, so what the hell is the point of this new thing?

I’m talking in degrees, of course – there are some small token additions in Villains, there’s one new class, one half-new class and three recycled classes. But it’s not nearly enough, and when Heroes’ instanced missions were already absurdly repetitive, to give you utterly indistinguishable ones in Villains – usually against the exact same villain groups you were fighting in CoH – is criminal. But I’m not here to bitch, I want to explain why this is so disappointing by describing what would have been great.


The new class in Villains is the Mastermind, who has minions to do his dirty work. Ace. I’m not playing as a Mastermind, though, because the power sets are absurdly limited. In their bizarre attempt to cram the whole rationale of villainy into a single class, they’ve had to make your primary weapon and your minion type part of one power set. In other words, if you want ninjas, you have to use a bow. What the hell? Couldn’t it at least be a ninja-y weapon, like throwing stars? Anyway, clearly all classes should have minions of some type, and clearly you should be able to choose your weapon separately from your minion type, and clearly you should be able to customise your minions’ appearence with the costume editor. In fact, let’s separate minions from class completely – you choose a primary power set similar to the existing ones, then your next choice is what type of minions to have, and all classes can have any type. Here’s what the options would be:

Mob: A steadily increasing gang of lackeys, dumb cannon fodder but nevertheless an intimidating presence. They don’t increase in power by as much as you per level. Each new power is a new lackey, and each lackey has somewhat different abilities, but not necessarily better ones than the last. If one dies, you can res him by activating that ‘power’, but it has a longish recharge time. By max level you could have nine of them. Each time you get one, you get to design his appearence. The default is the same as the last lackey, so you can just make few or no alterations if you like.

Posse: Right from the start, you’ve got three loyal servants. They’re weak to begin with, but every new power is an upgrade to all of them, giving them all a new ability or resistance. You never get more than three, and their abilities are always identical to one another. You design their appearence, but it’s a uniform for all three. You can res one at a time, but the power has a long recharge time.

Henchmen: You have two bodyguards, potentially with different abilities and appearence. Each new power you get is an upgrade to one or the other, alternatingly.

Lieutenant: You just have one trusted right-hand man, but he’s every bit as powerful as you. You even choose a class for him from the same options you had, so he can be designed to compliment your own abilities. Each new power is just a new power in that set.

Twin: You’re one of a pair, so your associate is identical to you in appearence and abilities. Each new power you get for yourself, he gets too. The actual ‘Twin’ powers are ways to help each other out: the ability to resurrect him, for him to resurrect you, synchronised attacks that do more damage than the sum of their parts, linked health, and eventually the ability to switch which one of the two you control. These make up for the fact that, unlike a lieutenant, your twin’s powers don’t compliment your own.


Again, they had one nice idea and didn’t use it much. Getting missions from the newspaper – carrying out personal vendettas, responding to false stories about yourself, building your rep as a bad guy – is all great. But so futile since none of these missions have any continuity, and the thing they build toward – a bank robbery – is the same each time. So you end up doing Contact missions most of the time, just like Heroes.

Paper missions should be the only ones. You’re not working for anyone, you’re a super-villain, not a grunt. The ability to rob a bank should stay, but you should – and I know this is going to sound a little extreme – get some money for it. As it is, you get a ‘clue’ saying “I scored half a million from that job – not bad for a days work!” No you didn’t. There is no money in Villains. There’s a currency called Infamy, of which you received a tiny amount, but the rest is all in your head.

You should have actual money. Infamy is an equivalent of Heroes’ Influence, which made sense because heroes don’t work for money. Villains do. I should be getting money, especially if I steal a load from a bank. I should also be able to mug innocents by hitting them a few times (I understand if I’m not allowed to properly kill them – it’s a kid-friendly game). Beating up heroes too low level to give me XP should get me money, too. I should want to beat the hell out of more or less everyone I see.

The instances themselves only really need two improvements: a logical random level generator and no missions against villains. At all. Currently ninety percent of all the missions I’ve done have been against villains – many of them against the very villain faction I work for. Which doesn’t feel like betrayal, since most of them attack me on sight in the streets anyway, even on my way back to their boss to be trained to the next level. Idiotic.

Missions against heroes should be a case of beating up cops to get to something to steal it, fending off small groups of powerful (NPC) heroes who enter the instance to stop you, or beating up innocent people to make a scene, baiting a specific hero to come out and be ambushed. Villainous things. Defeating the evil snakes because someone asked me to is a god damn service to society, not a nefarious caper.

That’s why it disappoints me. The reason I’m playing it anyway is that the Always Black forum has a supergroup, and I was never really in one of those for Heroes. And it’s fun, in so far as it resembles Heroes.

roBurky: I actually agree, on pretty much everything. I realised earleir this week that masterminds are just mini-corruptors with minions. Which leads me to ask "Why mini-corruptors?". All vilains should have minion options, I agree.

I wasn't aware the newspaper missions weren't in heroes, because it seemed like just another feature badly translated. The newspaper would have been a brilliant way to let you feel like your missions were your ideas, your evil schemes. You'd see something like "Enormous diamond exhibit opening in museum", and you could go "Aha" I'll steal them." Although the game is still giving you the mission, the possibility for the illusion is there.

And so many of the missions are, as you say, serving society. You're doing hero's work, but you're not allowed to feel heroic for it.

The use of fake money when I'm actually robbing banks and being paid for missions also seems slightly silly.

It does all seem like it would work better if I was a hero. I'm playing it because a new updated version of Heroes seemed like a good excuse to try it, and reviews had led me to believe it was improved over the original. I'm still playing because the basics are still fun, even if the villainous theme doesn't quite work.

Bobsy: Regarding missions, I just think they wussed out on presentation. You could quite easily "villain it up" by altering the nature of your contacts - rather than have you work for them, just make it seem like they work for you. They tip you off, you steal the loot.

Also, it'd be nice if they'd done something about rewards. If, as a magic Stalker, I'm tasked with stealing a particular Artifact Of Terrible Power, I'm going to want to use that artifact at some point. Temporary power? Yes sir! Even if it reduces the xp yield, I'd rather have the opportunity to see my nefarious schemes come to some sort of fruition as I unleash the Eye of Horus on an unsuspecting island community.

Tom Francis: Yeah, I avoid 'get amazing interesting awesome artifact' missions when I can, because they're never of any interest to the player whatsoever.

Best mission in 28 levels of City Of Heroes: kill a load of voodoo zombies. But! They're much higher level than you. But! You get a Holy Shotgun and seventy-five Holy Shells. Completely awesome. I killed eight zombies with one shot at one point.

I should add that I am, now, thoroughly enjoying Villains because of our Super Group. Never really been in a decent guild before.