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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

Team Fortress 2, Episode Two And Portal

Team Fortress 2

The team must have been working on this for a long time, they’ve kept it very secret, and they must have been nervous as hell about whether people would go for a cartoon look to a class-based tactical shooter. They must now be beaming, because virtually everyone seems to love it. The only whispers of dissent I’ve heard are people who love it saying “I don’t know why anyone has a problem with it, TF1 was never realistic.” I was a sceptic before they released this shot, but I see now that it is wonderful. I love their slim chunkiness, their sharp curves, even shading, their characterful but not charicatured expressions. And how cool the Spy:

Team Fortress 2

I still don’t quite understand why they’re giving it to us free with Episode Two, along with Portal – a fantastic-sounding Source-engine successor to indie gem Narbacular Drop (the best game name since Grim Fandango). My best theory so far is that it’s just to generate good will toward episodic gaming and Steam, and partially to ensure a large user-base for TF2. Maybe they were hedging their bets against the cartoon look putting people off, and ensuring that people would end up owning it whether they liked it or not. Of course, they did a similar thing with Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike Source. We’ll never know exactly how well that did, because they won’t release Steam sales figures, but I have to assume it exceeded what they would have expected for Half-Life 2 alone. Otherwise they wouldn’t be repeating the formula with TF2 and Episode 2.

Forgetting analysis, the ripe bunch of gaming fruit that your slim twenty-dollar bill is going to bag you now looks utterly irresistable. A hefty and exotic chunk of the most finely crafted single-player game ever created; a bold reimagining of one of the all-time greatest multiplayer games using a graphical style never seen in a game before; and a completely fresh and mind-fryingly inventive experimental game, put through the mighty Valve polishing machine. Maybe that’s the point – just to put together something wonderful and profoundly worth the money to everyone. Sometimes if I feel I’ve done something well, I spend an extra half an hour to make it extraordinary, just to see how someone reacts. To hear CEO Gabe Newell talk, the faceless collective grin of an impressed gaming public – expressed through poorly spelt forum posts – is what he lives and breathes for.


Tom Francis: Also, I can't wait to see what Chris Livingston does with this for Concerned. Making a comic out of a game designed to look like an animated film that's designed to look like a comic is surely too tempting a loop to leave unclosed. And that man is getting freaky good with the face poser - I can't look at the last panel of this strip without laughing.

The_B: There is a small niggling part of me that is saying "Episodic Gaming isn't doing too well, so they have to throw in two extra games to beef up the sales" -However, I'd rather they do this than charge three times as much for everything.

I myself love a bit of TF, and the new style seems to suit it really well. As you said, TF never really took itself seriously, and this "Incredibles" style could be something rather nice. I'm hoping though the style doesn't put too many people off. Look at The Ship - some people won't even try that because they don't like it's Art Deco stylistic approach, and would prefer it to look "realistic" - without even trying the gameplay.

Grill: I'm up for this - I loved Team Fortress Classic and played as a Spy for all the time I was uni. As a colour-blind person (yes, I always bang on about it), it took me that extra half-second to work out which team anyone was on, so being disguised as one of their corpses slumped in a corner gave me that chance. Now I'll be able to tell by their outrageously garish costumes! Thank you team fortress!

Dabs: TF2 will be awesome, make no mistake. And Portal was awesome - I played a couple of hours of it and it's extremely moreish, not to mention satisfyingly different to other first-person titles. You keep thinking you'll put it down after you've reached the next puzzle section, then you reach it, then you just want to finish that one off and leave it at the next one, etc. etc.

bob_arctor: Looking good.
Evil genius had that kind of graphical vibe though.
Steam seems to be winning. I like the fact if I format the PC I log onto Steam and it gives me all my games back through the power of the interet. How good is Steam eh?

Dabs: Can I also just say, because I'm seeing lots of comments about Portal ripping-off PREY on various gaming forums and it's starting to annoy me.

It's not ripping off Prey at all. I had this conversation with the people who made it (the same Narbacular Drop team). At the time, they felt it was pretty unfortunate for them that PREY was going to make it out onto the market before them. Fact is, they came up with this concept long before PREY had been re-announced and certainly before anything was known of portals playing a role in PREY. Furthermore, where portals are part of the game in PREY, portals ARE the game in this. This is totally unlike PREY as a gameplay experience, and this is coming from someone who's played both. Portal is more challenging, much more of a unique experience and arguably just much more fun. I still can't believe they're just handing it over with Episode Two though. If stuff like The Ship and Dawrinia can ask for $20, there's no sane reason why an arguably better product (certainly an equal) shouldn't be able to as well.

Pentadact: I think it can, but since it's made internally by Valve, they can also use it as part of their business strategy. That strategy seems to involve overshooting wildly on value for money, and packaging things together that would sell better on their own. I've already gone into my lame best-guesses as to why that might seem like a good idea.

As a not entirely relevant aside, if I were an indie developer with an experimental game like that, I would much rather have it distributed free with Episode Two than sold on its own. Since they're not, anymore, but are instead part of Valve, I'm hoping it means that they want to promote the Portal name more than they want to make a bit of money off it. Because that would suggest future Portal stuff, and having now seen the Portal trailer, that's an extremely exciting prospect. I cannot forgive you for having played it, by the way Dabs.

It doesn't worry me too much that people might think Prey thought up portals first, as though that's some kind of new invention to sci-fi, but I do hope people realise how different Portal is. Prey's spatial trickery is arbitrary, rigid and didn't make the experience any more interesting than Quake 4, for me. Portal and Narbacular Drop take a single strong concept and craft it into a completely original type of game, and I love Valve for noticing that, taking them on board, and rolling it out to the absolute largest number of people they could possibly reach.

The_B: Don't worry Dabs, look at how many people think 24 invented the split screen...

Jason L: Some time later, and just for the sake of pedantry (careful with the tags now...) Portals >> Prey, very different games, blah blah blah, but in fact Prey did come up with shoot-through/move-through portals first. Ohhhh, so very first; remember, Prey was originally supposed to compete with Half-Life. I still have the big PC Gamer (US) feature on it, back when it was using a heavily modified...Quake?...engine. In addition to portals, it was altered to do things like rooms over rooms that were connected, allowing stuff like traversable (horizontal) girders, catwalks and balconies!!! The portals are explicitly mentioned in the feature and may have been user-creatable as well, although probably just user controllable like they turned out; it's not especially clear.

It also had the rather neat idea of the protagonist being abducted for gladiatorial duty, and a "hexagon" of bosses embodying different warrior virtues and requiring different approaches to defeat. The explicit examples given were a big, fat Might guy who could squash you like a bug head-on and required lots of stealth, cover and careful shooting, and an opposing...Stealth, I think...boss who moved fast and was difficult to see and hit, so required profligate firepower and speed. It's a shame some of the good ideas dropped out along the way. And of course that they simultaneously named their protagonist, who had always been Native American, Tommy Hawk and tried to make the game have a story.