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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

Episode Two Conjecture

So. This is kind of exciting. We don’t get cliffhangers in games usually, certainly not the kind the world can discuss the way we do Lost. I have some theories:

Alyx isn’t dead, obviouslyConfirmed!
It’s not that I don’t believe Valve would kill her – I think they will – but they wouldn’t give it away in a trailer. She’s hurt, and I’d guess out of action for pretty much the duration, so no more faux-co-op for a while.

There will be pheropods
I think you’ll have to go into the antlion tunnels seen in the trailer (there are grubs on the walls and ground) in order to defeat a queen antlion, and take her pheropod in order to send all antlions against the Combine, including Guards. So many people loved commanding antlions in Nova Prospekt, and the pheropod’s the only weapon that doesn’t feature in Episode One. Alyx’s presence throughout E1 was a response to the positive feedback about her, and I think they’ll use each episode to go to town on something people loved about Half-Life 2.

There’ll be a vehicle, probably a new oneConfirmed!
Your train is clearly crashing only a short way out of City 17, and the place is blowing up. You’ve got to get out of there fast, and we know from the trailer that you reach Eli and the others at their hideout, well out of the blast radius. No way are you walking. The obvious choice would be the jeep again, but it was a customised one-off vehicle, and there’s no reason it would be around (no-one knew you’d crash there). I’d love to think air, since they’ve done land and sea, but it’s more likely going to be a different wheeled vehicle. My gut says no to the Combine APC – too clunky and too familiar. I also can’t imagine it’ll be a civvie car – not interesting enough. But something

Odessa Cubbage will return, and betray the rebellionNew entry!
Raising The Bar mentions that Cubbage originally played a bigger role in Half-Life 2, and turned out to be a nasty piece of work. He was also Alyx’s father, which is referenced in a little joke Alyx makes in Episode One. That’s one of three times Cubbage is mentioned in Episode One, which I think is to refresh our memories of that character’s existence in preparation for a reappearence. He’s also an outdoorsy type, and Episode Two is going to be mostly outdoors. That’s science.

And some questions:

Where are the Advisor Pods going?
Not up, seemingly.

What information did the Combine send back to their home world?
We get no clues that I can see as to what that data packet contains, but I would guess it’s something Alyx and co don’t already know – i.e. more than just info on what the rebels are up to.

Where is Judith and what’s she doing there?
She mentions ‘what’s left of the project’ and something about information the Combine might have gathered about it. The fact that she’s in what looks to be a snowy climate implies, to me, that the Vortigaunt’s teleportation is the slow kind, like the one that skipped a week during HL2. This time you were ported a shorter distance and the time skipped was probably only six hours or so.

Will we ever meet the Hydra?
It was a City 17 thing, the only time we glimpsed it, and now City 17’s gawn.

Who’s in charge here?
Half-Life 2 made it look like a Combine Advisor was the big boss of the Combine, somewhere far off on an alien world. Episode One makes it look like there are dozens of them, all in the Citadel. It also shows us they have a weird psionic attack – it didn’t do any damage in the Citadel, but perhaps it has another effect. The Advisor pods don’t fly up to space when they eject from the Citadel at the end, they snake off above the ground. The commentary suggests that we’ll be fighting them.

Tom Francis: I tell you what: the first Vortigaunt I meet in Episode Two is going to be 'Use'd until I get some freaking answers.


... guess I better finish it quickly, before you reveal that Eli and Lamarr are lovers...

Richard Hamer: Probably *way* wrong... but maybe some sort of return trip to a ruined Black Mesa by Episode 3? Maybe there's something left there which can be used to fight the Combine?

The_B: Personally, I'd love for the veichle to be some sort of motorbike. And, although they didn't know where you were going to crash, what's to say the resistance didn't manage to smuggle a veichle on board the train you're riding?

Also, I'm thinking G-Man is going to make a subtle return in Ep2, he was way too quiet (realtively) about letting Gordon "go" in Episode 1, I stil expected him to make some sort of appearance, maybe as a quick flash on a TV screen, but then quickly pulled away by Vortigaunts...

The_B: OK, some information now from this SteamPowered forum post which in turn in alledgedly from PCGUS. Both that link and the following are hugley spoilerific, so there's your warning, Gril.


- *NEW* Release estimate: Spring 2007
- Gravity Gun will get new functionality
- Alyx is alive
- Vortigaunts backstory will be more fleshed out
- More details about GMan will be revealed
- New vehicle will be introduced made by some guys in the woods.
- You will cover the same amount of locales as in HL2 and the new locales will have a much more realistic feel to them since they are based off real locations (missile silo, mine shaft, etc.)
- Eli and Kleiner have set up base in the missile silo and you have to get the packet to them
- We'll see the most difficult physics puzzle to date in Episode 2
- New weapon known as "Strider Buster"
- Strider and Hunter now has a weak spot (could change)
- Big battlefield-esque combat engagements with lots of enemies and allies fighting. Woods provide plenty of cover
- And new yet-to-be-announced multiplayer game will ship with episode two...might it be TF2 set during the 7 Hour War?

So looks like you got some right there...

The_B: And I buggered up the line breaks in the list...

Alex Hopkinson: I hope they open out the action again (as it's at least partly in a woody area), resisting the urge to pen us back up in caves or bunkers as much as possible. It'll certainly be interesting to see whether they maintain the high quality without the crutch of City 17, which they're clearly total masters of. I've enjoyed the hours spent shooting in those streets but I look forward to the outside again.

Tom Francis: Sorry Grill - I assumed my Episode One post would have pre-spoiled everyone. If you're referring to the Alyx thing, that's not an Ep1 spoiler per se - it's a reference to something shown in the Ep2 trailer. Nothing untoward befalls Alyx in Ep1, unless you screw up that lift section.

PCG US has come out with a load of new info on Ep2, some of which confirms a few of my theories. The new vehicle is a new car, a two-seater.

B - agreed about the G-Man, I should add that. This trilogy is supposed to be about the G-Man being angry with you, and so far he's done nothing. G-Man versus Vortigaunts is going to get very interesting - two giant unknowns.

Alex - Gabe says it's all about the outdoors this time. People seem to forget that they've done the outdoors with finesse already: Highway 17 was a vast stretch of open coast. I'm ezpecting something similar in size, but very different in feel. I love the atmosphere of the sections shown in the trailer. One of the reasons I think HL2&E is so much better than HL1 is that the sense of place is incredibly powerful.

Tom Francis: Also: sorry B, your second post didn't get through because it contained a link. I get a lot of comment spam, so my filters are pretty vicious.

Defragged: Richard Hamer: I'm not sure a return to Black Mesa's possible. Didn't the G-Man nuke Black Mesa at the end of Opposing Force? Then again, it's possible that some of it's left, what with it being underground and all.

Alex Hopkinson: Yeah, I originally typed some stuff about some of the wonderful sections outside in the open in HL2, before deleting them for incoherence. One of my favourite sections of the game is that first fight with the rocket launcher, which ends with everyone collapsing in exhaustion, mirroring how *you* feel (assuming you're not playing it on easy or anything!). I hope for some equally excellent outside experiences in Ep 2.

Bobsy: Yeah, Black Mesa is a smoking ruin post-Opposing Force. But considering how much of the facility was underground, it's not far-fetched to say that some of it survived. But it does kinda rule out seeing some of the more iconic locations again, sadly.

And speaking of which: while I'm not a fan of OF, it'd be nice to see a return for Corporal Shepherd. He'd be great as a rebel, leading the army into a big final battle against the combine or something.

But the big bug I have with Episodes is the release date for Ep2. Do we know how long it's going to take? Because the only way I can see episodic content working is by cutting down the production time by a long way. Like, a two or three months between releases max.

Tom Francis: The release date's back to end of the year now - Doug Lombardi responded to the Spring date by reaffirming the original one.

Dave: only interesting plot point I managed to pick up one of the commentary pieces, they reference the map where Judith is specifically as an Arctic map. And of course, there's that story of the arctic level in Raising The bar, but that might have been rendered defunct by now, I can't honestly remember...

Tom Francis: I don't remember that bit of Raising The Bar. What was the gist?

Dabs: There's just a bit in there that mantions how "aircract carriers, shipbuilding yards and arctic research vessels" were originally planned for HL2 and that "some of this material ended up scattered along the coast during the second day of Gordon Freeman's journey, but much more remains ready to be exploited in further adventures." Implying strongly that some of the ideas that were "cut" from Half-Life 2, probably including this arctic research vessel, are merely being kept on ice for episodes. Exciting stuff.

Graham: To expand on what Dabs said a little, the game was originally meant to start with you on a boat. That was the arctic research vessel, but they opted instead for getting you into City 17 quicker. The boat ended up buried in the sand along the coast.

Early pre-release screenshots show it: http://www.hlfallout... ...s/boat.jpg

Graham: Was my message deleted because it had a link in it, or because it was totally rubbish?

Or did I forget to post it again, because that keeps happening too...

Tom Francis: Link - I have 365 comments awaiting moderation. I don't know why I can't whitelist certain posters.

Anna Harren: I HAVE COME FROM THE FUTURE TO TELL YOU that wildly-off-predictions are really cute

Tom Francis: OK, but SURELY Episode Three will be ALL ABOUT that classic character Cubbage.