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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

A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

Somewhere between the recording someone made of AOL refusing to let them cancel their service and the story about the woman whose father AOL insisted on billing for nine months after his death – once telling his daughter to “shut up” when she protested – I missed the part where AOL released all thirty-six million search queries that five hundred thousand of their users made over the course of three months.

They replaced the usernames with numbers, but some people might have refrained from searching for their own name – and then ‘preteen lolitas naked’ – if they’d known their ISP planned to release their searches to the public. So far pretty much everyone who’s expressed disgust at this shocking a breach of privacy has also linked to mirrors of the data set or the searchable databases of it people have already put up.

But the privacy issue is far from the most interesting thing about the release of this data. That honour goes to User 711391. Every night for the three month period, when her husband’s snoring kept her awake (the very first entries set the scene), she searched for anything and everything that was on her mind. The four-thousand things she typed into that little white box over that period tell the story of her life in mercilessly candid detail, from the hard white pimple on her face she can’t seem to get rid of, to the extra-marital affair she has with a man she met online.

2006-03-04 how many online romances lead to sex in person

Like the huge majority of users, she has virtually no idea how to use a search engine, and ends up talking to it like a close friend or – more accurately – God. She never searches for terms that are likely to come up in the piece of information she’s looking for, she simply types her opinion or situation in. A huge proportion of them start with “is it ok to” – although sometimes she knows it isn’t, and just wants to know to what extent. As with God, we don’t get to see much of what the internet has to say back to her (the data names the domains of any sites she clicks on, but not the specific page she visited), but often her next search tells us what result her last one produced:

2006-03-26 can i wear makeup after cryosurgery
2006-03-26 best makeup remover

She’s religious, but frequently has trouble working out how the Bible relates to her life. She has children, and is worried Pop Rocks might be dangerous for them. A few times a week she has lesbian fantasies, always focused on cunnilingus. The male celebrities she’s most attracted to are all camp, gay, or in the case of Jake Gyllenhaal, play a gay character in a movie she loved but found unsettling and haunting. I’m not embellishing, she simply types everything she thinks or feels into that search box.

2006-03-01 how to kill annoying birds in your yards

2006-05-09 god cares for the sparrows

She agreed to meet a man she’d become friends with online. She was nervous about meeting him in person, and tried to obtain anxiety medicine to calm herself. She also feared that if she got her hair cut just before she met him, the haircut might go wrong, but she wanted to make it look fuller. They arranged to go to a concert together – she’d never been to one before, and didn’t know how long they usually lasted. They had sex. She was disappointed by how quickly he came, and he acted disgusted with her afterwards. She half-hoped he might have climaxed quickly because he found her very attractive, but he broke it off and she decided he used her solely for sex. The affair left her feeling incredibly empty.

2006-05-08 i met my cyber lover and the sex was not good
2006-05-08 online friend is horrible in person

2006-05-09 will ex lover contact me again
2006-05-09 i thought i could handle an affair but i couldn’t
2006-05-09 why would a man feel disgust with a woman after sex
2006-05-09 god can heal affairs

2006-05-12 i feel so damaged inside from an affair i had
2006-05-12 he used me for sex

Throughout this, the subplot of the pimple on her face obsesses her more than any of the sad drama of her love life. Every night she searches ten times or more for firstly what it is; then how to remove it; then how long the cryosurgery scar will take to heal; then whether her pores should be enlarged around it; then whether she can put make-up over it; and then – as you saw – how to remove the makeup it turns out she’d already put over it, since it now seems stuck on.

2006-05-15 how can you tell if your spouse put spyware on your computer

The weighted balance between this cosmetic concern, her infidelity, her children, and her fascination with female celebrities (she loves Neriah Davis but hates Brooke Burke, and cannot understand how they became friends) paints a painfully human picture of her neurotic, insecure, quiet, sad, desperate and probably entirely typical life. The irony is that she’s one of the users who never searches for her own name (unless she’s Hilary Swank, in which case she really has the hots for herself). I know more about her from the twenty minutes I spent invading her privacy before breakfast this morning than I think I have ever known about another human being, but I still don’t know who she is.

2006-05-16 so mad at myself for falling in love with someone and becoming so attached to them
2006-05-16 i got caught having an affair and the guy i got caught with is ignoring me now
2006-05-16 if he’s not contacting you he doesn’t want you in his life
2006-05-16 how to get him back

User 711391’s search history is funny, beautiful and intensely tragic, and the most incredible collection of words I’ve read in years. I’m hosting it here.

DTGumby: Just found your blog through Technocrati searching about 711391. Just thought you'd like to know that she's also listed as 1702904. I'm not sure if this is her husband's account that she accidently uses or another user name. She rarely used it.

Tom Francis: Cheers. I wondered for a moment if her husband occasionally uses the 711391 account, since there are a few stray queries like "should i confront my wife's affair partner", but these are very much in her style and made on the same night queries that are definitely hers, so I think she's just trying to get his perspective after he finds out.

Richard: What's amazing is how so many of her bizarre queries then ended in search results she was willing to click on.

But really I can't help but feel sorry for the poor woman.

Kieron Gillen: Telling much about myself, my favourite is:
711391 masturbation with turkey baster 2006-03-19
711391 masturbation with turkey baster 2006-03-19


bob_arctor: My God. I am tired and hungover and presented with this slab of humanity, like every American suburb film and book rolled into one. Like something Gibson would do, a pretentious story told through the repeated anxious searches of a naive middle aged woman, going through her crisis.
It's a piece of America, America under the surface, America online. Real people revealed and uncovered.

I hope this woman never finds out what happened. I hope she keeps on doing her misguided searches and never stumbles onto this.

She tries to stay close to God and raise her family, her face is conspiring against her, she types words into the search box of the rubbish AOL search because they listen to her, a form of expression, like a bizzare personal diary made public. The yearning for knowledge bringing confidence and advice, but in a way that will never lead to the right answers.

Has she got girlfriends who she can talk to? That would be better than AOL search.

And doctors who can discuss the various blemishes on her face.

Eager lesbian urges hidden behind a religious nuclear family.

Strange cosmos indeed.

Mr Dan: I think this is quite possibly one of the most interesting, funny and also depressing things i have read on the internet. It's so damn human, i've no doubt that there are many similair search histories out there, that's why it's depressing.
I think one of the most interesting things about this is that you can almost totally know the woman by reading her searches, you know what type of person she is (deep down) and i guess it shows you the real her. Her husband probably comes home everynight to a woman that is nothing like the woman that searches.

J3553: 711391 pentadact, AOL history, life in questions 2006-08-09

:O That would be pretty funny.

Mr Dan: I just read this a second time and all the stuff I've already said still applies. This is still so very depressing though. I think many people would see a part of themselves within this woman, myself included, that's what makes it so depressing. People don't often reveal their private thoughts to others, so when you find a person that also has these horrible private thoughts it puts you at ease, but at the same time makes you terribly depressed because we're all as bad as each other.

Oh and I must disagree with you saying "this woman doesn't know how to use a search engine" due to her "talking" to it. I use Google in a similair way. If I wanted to learn how to paint a fence I'd type in "how to paint a fence" not simply "paint fence" because "how to paint a fence" will return a better result. Internet sites are based around writing and language. So typing in a sentence is more likely to bring back results.

Abyss: 711391 lyrics to cheryl crow's this is home 2006-03-04:

"I woke up this morning
Now I understand
What it means to give your life
To just one man
Afraid of feeling nothing
No bees or butterflies
My head is full of voices
And my house is full of lies

This is home, home
And this is home, home
This is home

I found your standing there
When I was seventeen
Now I'm thirty-two
And I can't remember what I'd seen in you
I made a promise
Said it everyday
Now I'm reading romance novels
And I'm dreaming of yesterday


I'd like to see the Riviera
And slow-dance underneath the stars
I'd like to watch the sun come up
In a stranger's arms


I'm going crazy
A little at a time
And everything I wanted
Is now driving me away
I woke this morning
To the sound of beating hearts
Mine is full of questions
And it's tearing yours apart..."

Aldo: RE: Mr Dan

Search engine algorithms usually discard words like 'the' 'how' etc, unless it's part of a quote-denoted phrase.It's down to the way you index (and thus match) documents through the words within - these kinds of words are too common to be indexed as search terms. Although google does seem to do some intelligent matching - perhaps it recognises 'how to' as an important context phrase (you can do fancy stuff with indexing, like scoring words based on proximity to each other).

Also, I really shouldn't reply to very old posts. Sorry. (work is boring ;) )

P.R.I.S.M (google, microsoft, apple, facebook, and more caught spying for the NSA) by P Masta Flex – Page 17 – TribalWar Forums: [...] sums up the american public in a nutshell A Woman***8217;s Life In Search Queries, by Tom Francis [...]

Alex: Thought you wrote this yourself! Thanks for sharing the most inspiring storyformat I've seen in years!

Trevor: 711391 how to kill mockingbirds
711391 how to kill mockingbirds
711391 how to kill annoying birds in your yards
711391 how to kill annoying birds in your yards
711391 how to rid your yard of noisy annoying birds
711391 how to rid your yard of noisy annoying birds
711391 how to rid your yard of noisy annoying birds
711391 how do i get mocking birds out of my yard
711391 how do i get mockingbirds out of my yard
711391 how do i get mockingbirds out of my yard
711391 how to get rid of noisy loud birds
711391 how to get rid of noisy loud birds
711391 how to get rid of noisy loud birds

Gee, I wonder what the fuck was in her yard that night.

“intensely tragic” | Course MCM 0230: Digital Media: […] “User 711391’s search history is funny, beautiful and intensely tragic, and the most incredi… “I Love Alaska” is a piece of art. But what it did for me is give voice, body, and audience to a woman’s emotional and psychological trauma. […]