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.
The issue of PC Gamer that’s just gone on-sale in the UK is the one with my eight-page review of Oblivion in it, so I’d like to a) encourage you to look at it and go ‘woo!’, and b) explain why it’s structured the way it is, and how it came about. It was a huge honour to be the one to review it, and I’d actually been looking forward to writing it almost as much as getting to play the game itself. But it turned out to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, up there with an eight-thousand word philosophy thesis on the morality of killing replicants.
I spent a week in Eton playing the game all day every day, with one other journalist (Ryan from X360 magazine) in the demo room with me. I wrote scraps of the review on a laptop in my hotel room each night, but generally fell asleep before I got much done, or changed my mind about what I’d said within the first five minutes of playing the next day. By the end of the week, I’d written around half the review’s length, none of which made it into the final piece. Cumulative wordcount: 2,500.
Back at the PC Gamer office, I wrote the whole review quickly, but wasn’t sure if I’d talked about all the important things. Graham read it, and suggested that I may have become hung up on the details a little. I re-read it, and I appeared to have written a manual. A step-by-step guide to what Oblivion is and what happens in it is all info I’d find fascinating if I hadn’t played the game, but as a review it was fussy, dry and missed the point. Cumulative wordcount: 6,000.
I’d been wrestling with the decision of which aspects to talk about, resigned to the fact that you couldn’t cover all the important ones in a small book, let alone a magazine article. I’d also been writing up some of the best bits of my adventures as little stories, to go in separate boxes throughout, but it became clear that these were actually making the one essential point. Oblivion is hugely complex and entirely free-form, so you can’t give an impression of what it’s like to play by attempting to describe it. The only way to give a real feel for how rich with possibilities it is, and why that makes it great, is with examples. So they’ve become a chunk of the main text, punctuated by the normal business of reviewing. Cumulative wordcount: 10,500. Final article: 3,943.
Feedback so far has been really good, and much more importantly I’m now officially mentioned on Wikipedia. What I’m really looking forward to is the game finally coming out. Apart from wanting to get back to it, I want to hear what everyone else gets up to when they play.
erdniS: Good for you, and thumbs up for what seems to be a great review!
Interesting to read how a game review comes to life too.
The_B: Firstly, congratulations on your second PCG cover story, and in a row as well...
Secondly, back on the internet I presume? If so welcome back.
Thirdly, damn you. Damn you to hell. The review has made me so damn impatient for the game now. I must play it, and I may have to cry tears of RPG joy when it is finally in my hand. But why so long? I must have it now!
In all seriousness though, the review really did make for compelling reading, I would hazard that I would have liked to view the full monolith version, should you ever be allowed to reproduce it, but the review really did give me a clear view on the game, and I felt the score seemed entirely fair. It was quite probably the best review I've so far this year - and far from being arse kissing I mean that in all honesty.
Captain Bassoon: Having enjoyed your review, I reread it and it was just as excellent the second time. I enjoyed it, although I wish you had covered system specs in something other than the "We recommend". Still, I know I can't run it at the moment, so no problem for me. Congratulations, well done, and keep it up (the writing too).
RK: Hi Tom, just thought i'd pop in to say congratulations on the TESIV review (and the whole PCGamer gig in general). Sounds like the game will be every bit as addictive as Morrowind was. All the best, hope you get many more cool reviews in the future.
Dave McLeod: Fantastic review. Read it plenty of times as a means of tiding myself over till I get a chance myself to play.
Fascinating to learn that my two favorite writers share academic interests with me (I'm shooting for Philosophy and Theology, you're the philosopher and John W's the Theologian). Can't be chance...
Where did the other 7000~ words go? More 'journal extracts'? Or just embellishment of various points? Wouldn't mind seeing the full monty myself...
Tom Francis: Three, actually - Mr Jim Rossignol also did Philosophy at uni.
The other words are basically just paragraphs from a less interesting review. Not much fun to read since many of them are about flaws that bothered me at first, but were forgotten as I played more.
The_B: I think I'm going to cry.
Here I sit, on Oblivion Release day, WITHOUT a copy that I've had on pre-order since your preview. But Sendit and the Postal Service have failed to get it to me in time for today. Why did I stray from Play.com? More infuriatingly, even if it does come tomorrow I'll be unable to play, as I'm out of the house all day.
And hearing everyone else rave is making me...
I'll be back after I've sacrificed something.
Zeno Cosini: There's a poster for Oblivion at the top of the escalator at Shepherd's Bush Tube station that greets me every morning on the way to work - incorporating a quote from your PC Gamer review.
Tom Francis: Excellent! I noticed happily that the regular edition of the game has a quote from my preview on it, and apparently they're going to sticker the next run of copies with one from the review.
Zeno Cosini: And you're on the side of doubledecker buses! You're saying (or at least PC Gamer is saying) in giant foot-high letters: "Destined to be mind-blowing."
Zeno Cosini: Actually "foot-high" doesn't really qualify as "giant," does it? Sorry, that giant was superfluous. Nevertheless: woo!
Tom Francis: Awesome! If only quotes came with photos of the reviewer's grinning face, I could cross off another Thing To Do Before I Die.
craigp.: *crosses of Agelina Jolie*
Badoom doom tisch.
craigp.: Who is of course Angelina's more attractive sister. Ahem.
Alex holland: Older sister, one presumes.
When in blazes are you going to be back online, Tom?
Alex Holland: Lower case h! Mortified. *sound of attempted self-defenestration*
Tom Francis: Heheh. I imagine that to be a kind of whunk!
I am getting kind of sick of this disconnection now. It was nice at first, having a life outside of work, but now I want my non-life back.
FinalSin: Having read the review and discovered Morrowind for the first time in the space of two weeks, I am looking forward to ordering Oblivion at the end of this week. Twas an excellent review, certainly. Though I had no idea they usually took that long.