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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

This Next Test Is Impossible

I’d like to pretend I’m all nonchalant about Portal, because we’ve all played its predecessor Narbacular Drop to death, and knew a Source version was coming. Or that the trailer was old hat, since Graham procured it from Valve a few days before release. Instead, I’m still watching this thing an average of five times a day. The bit I love, apart from every line of the gorgeously wonky synthetic voice-over, is the trick the player pulls in the fast montage of whacked-out nutsoness, just before the plummet through the infinite loop before the end. And it took me a long time to work out what he was doing.

Portal 1

Here’s the setup. The player needs to get to the X, a lower platform that’s too far for him to jump. I think he takes a rather unnecessarily complicated route, but we’ll assume some hidden rules prevent him from doing it the obvious way. He’s about to cast two portals, the first at 1 and the second at 2.

Portal 2

He casts 1 first, close to the platform he wants to reach, then throws himself off and casts 2 beneath him as he falls. The reason for casting 2 after jumping, as near as I can tell, is that it’s easier to know where you’re going to land once you’re in the air. Also it looks more rock.

Portal 3

He plummets through 2, shooting him up through 1 with all the velocity his fall has given him.

Portal 4

At the apex of his climb, he turns to face the place he came from – 0 – and opens a new portal there – 3. Since he’s using right mouse rather than left, this new portal replaces 2, rather than the 1 he’s just come out of.

Portal 5

Here we’re looking at the ground – he’s falling back toward the portal he just shot up out of, 1, and through it he can see the same view as from his starting point 0, but upside-down – note the X is now on the ceiling.

Portal 6

His downward velocity is translated into lateral velocity because the portals are perpendicular, and he’s flung all the way across the chasm – automatically spinning in mid-air to realign himself with gravity…

Portal 7

…to land on his feet at the destination. Bravo, test subject!

“At the enrichment centre, we believe a highly motivated test subject can carry out rather complex tasks while enduring the most intense pain.”

Dabs: He has to take that route (or any similarly complicated alternative). You can't create portals against those metal walls.

Tom Francis: I don't see a visual difference between the metal walls at O, which he casts a portal in, and the metal walls just to the left and right of X, before the brown ones start.

I also don't see why he can't turn around at the start, cast a portal behind him, then cast one in the same place as 2 as he falls. His downward velocity must be the same in both cases - the topsy-turvy turret earlier in the trailer demonstrates that principle fairly clearly.

Dabs: You're right actually, the walls at 0 look the same. In which case, I can't explain how he cast a portal there - when I played, those metal walls were portal-immune. As for the second scenario, I can only imagine the reason why not being that you'd still lack enough forward momentum to make it to the other side. I don't remember that bit though, to be honest, probably because I didn't get that far or maybe my memory's showing wear and tear.

The_B: I blame me. For the last comment, thus creating this blog post. And for what's about to happen since I read the above post.

*Head Explodes*

Dabs: Sorry Tom, you're right, I just re-read your post and see what you're saying now. You're right, it wouldn't have made any difference had he "cast a portal behind him, then cast one in the same place as 2 as he falls". Like you originally suggested, I think it was just complexity for complexity's sake, showing how you can fiddle around/experiment with portal placement for fun in the game.

The_B: *Stump where head used to be explodes*

Tom Francis: I've been wondering if there's a way to modify this space so that the player's solution is necessary. If I'm visualising it correctly I think you could just move the starting platform further from the destination, and put a barrier hanging from the ceiling such that you couldn't see X from the start. You'd then have to use portals to shoot yourself under and up to the other side of the barrier, whereupon you could cast a portal into the side of it facing your destination, and fall back down to be catapaulted through it. They should do this. Or I should. Making custom maps for this is going to be genius. One of the main reasons I love games is that I get to use chunks of my brain that usually have nothing to do.

Dabs: Now you're thinking with Portals.

bob_arctor: It sounds like it will make people be sick, being faster and spinnier than ND, especially when showing off.

I hope it is like AVP as the alien, the expert player will be a mentalist whirlwind, spinning round, flipping, zapping, flailing. Yeah.

/cries for the lack of //real// sequel to AVP.

Tom Francis: Wait, you wouldn't even need to move the starting position back - the barrier would prevent a lateral launch from 0 anyway. I'm going to love this.