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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

Should I Hit The Weak Spot For Massive Damage Now?

Well, there drains my enthusiasm for the Wii. The footage of the actual games for it is deflating. Okay, those games were not handpicked to be ones I might like, but what kills me is that Red Whatever is clearly the sword-fighting game hinted at by that first Revolution teaser. And it looks simplistic, abstracted, toothless, phoned-in. I’d hoped the elegance of the controller would allow for more elegant games, but I think I missed Nintendo’s point. It’s just about making it intuitive, not about making it more precise or adding a dimension. In fact, the various reticules the motion sensor controls in those games lurch around just like a thumbstick. One was blasty and repetitive, one was basic and limited, and one looked like Virtua freaking Cop.

Still, I’m optimistic about the vegetable-chopping game.

The_B: I'm getting flashbacks to Konami's Police 24/7, which in a similar vein, had a rather unique (for the time) movement system. It was pretty good, but the game behind it wasn't that great once you took the movement system away, and was really just "generic Time Crisis Clone" So it worked well in the arcades, but arguably not so well on the consoles.

The thing is, about a year later, then the whole Eye Toy thing happened, and the rest is history. However, I think it's rather interesting to note that most Eye Toy games or even games with Eye Toy capabilty could be classed as "Gimmicky". Although for the most part, they were very fun gimmicks.

Nintendo are indeed stepping into dangerous territory with the Wii. They are risking falling into the same trap as Police 24/7 whereas the "gimmick" is fun, but the game behind is rather flawed. Now it could be as were just watching video footage here, and not participating that they don't look fun, but whether a console can survive on games which are, essentially mostly going to be gimmicky, due to the whole controller thing - I do think Nintendo are trying a very brave - but could be foolish - thing.

Of course, some of the opus is on the developers to make the games more interesting and less well, "phoned in" as you put it, but I guess it's hard not to take the easy route a lot of the time. On the positive side, I suppose it makes cursor -almost PC like- control easier on a console. But then, it is a question of whether it should be doing that.

Jason L: Rhetorical bombast aside, Nintendo still has and always will have trouble with attracting third parties. The Wii's probably going to "fail" just like the N64 and Gamecube - that is, make money from a small marketshare while delivering Nintendo's franchises - and we knew from about five minutes after The Announcement that most developers would fall into the gimmick trap. Really good games for it are going to be very sparse.

As for myself, I'm still holding out hope that Red Steel will be combination-FPS-and-lightgun-y enough to justify purchase; we saw during E3 that most people were holding the remote like idiots, right? My biggest worry is that I actually liked the original gesture-command system a la Jedi Knight; I think going to direct sword control might have been a geeky mistake. Then there's Trauma Center at launch, and Mario Galaxy later on. Elebits, Metroid Prime 3 and actually Pangya are also strong "maybe"s. For someone as jaded as I am, that's a pretty impressive score at launch. Of course, we'll see if they keep it up this time.

This is a much easier decision for me than for most folks, I expect, as I never got around to buying a GameCube - so for me, all the GameCube titles I'm buying up are Wii launch titles!

Jason L: Actually, my biggest enthusiasm drainers are the continuing reports of lag in pointer mode. If they're true and Nintendo hasn't ironed it out in newer builds, I'll have to abort; I'm primarily a PC gamer and mainly excited by the prospect of a console with a decent mouse/joystick replacement. ("This thing, if it works, will be better than a mouse. It brings a tear to my eye to say that.")

Peter Hopkins: I agree with the comments raised however, the lineup of games for release with the Wii are first generation on the console – this means that they are likely to contain techniques used within traditional console games for the imminent transitional phase.

Give it a year or so and developers will become a little more adventurous, remember it is quite a high aim to become a launch title for a new console – look at Kameo and Perfect Dark 0, Kameo was originally scheduled for N64 release up until MS Game studios purchased Rare, same deal with PD-0. Heck, I know development studios close to me that are scrambling for next gen title releases.

Take PS3 for example, roughly around 90% of the launch titles are already available for purchase on 360 – considering there maybe a price drop and/or tech additions to the 360 around November I know which one I would prefer to buy as a consumer – and its not the one with a $600 price tag.

I say give Nintendo a year and Wii’ll be seeing intuitive games being created and released. My bets are on Wario Ware onwards.

Peter Hopkins: Quote - Jason L: Rhetorical bombast aside, Nintendo still has and always will have trouble with attracting third parties.

Reply - Yes Jason this is a correct statement, one of the major factors towards this is the incredibly inflated Nintendo Developement submission fee to present a game concept. It puts a lot of developers off of supporting the format.

Jason L: Could be, but I actually don't include that one in the "always will" portion. Wii has a chance to change some of the traditional Nintendo turnoffs, including things like lackluster marketing, small installed base...and the fees as well. Certainly they've historically charged crippling fees and royalties, but there are definite signs of improvement on that front. They've stated publicly that they're attempting to lower barriers to entry. More importantly, they've done something about it with low DS dev charges, reported cheap Wii dev kits, and a tremendous (too late, but tremendous) GameCube royalty reform for low-priced titles.

I was thinking more about the trademark (diligent and thorough|paranoid and overbearing) quality control processes, (family-friendly|kiddie) image, and most importantly the intimidating fact that a Nintendo console is the only place where a developer directly competes for dollars and mindshare with Nintendo's own crushing talent and franchises. They're all fairly painful and I don't see Nintendo as we know it changing them any time soon.

Peter Hopkins: Trade marking/patenting has hit an all time high with its stupidity, I just don’t understand why the offices allow for these to be passed anyway but at the end of the day, every company wants to protect their intellectual property. I think that it should be allowed as long as it doesn’t harm, cripple or restrict the industry and if the idea is unique and intuitive then a company should have royalty payments issued to them for producing the idea. I disagree with allowing blatant attempts to claim money for companies that patent obvious techniques for financial gain, this ultimately leads to other companies finding alternate ways around the patent and perhaps not incorporating good ideas into a game. – i.e. mini games within a loading screen, done for many years throughout gaming history yet now can’t be done unless a large royalty cheque is written to Namco

Every console has its own image, yes Nintendo has a cutsie appeal but then it expand out to the likes of RE4, Metriod Prime etc. all with different visual styles.

Xbox - which ever iteration is release its always going to be a mediocre hi-spec PC in one unit at a relatively cheap price for the mass market. And PS3…. I know ~George foreman has definitely got a run for his money.

Each of these manufacturers has their own in house developers or 3rd party splinter factions, these all shadow small developers anyway I don’t think its just an isolated occurrence with Nintendo. I do however believe that the type of games that are produced for Nintendo consoles appeal to a select type of gamer, either younger more mature or in the industry itself.

Your mass-market appeal is going to buy a playstation or Xbox as we’re looking at a rebellious, adolescent audience who want to steal and mod cars, shot people general chav’tastic game mechanics. I’m not saying its bad cause I enjoy this genre of game too, your average 14-18 year old aren’t really going to show their friends the latest Kirby/daxter game (even look at Viva Pinata), it doesn’t have the same kudos as say StangleHold or Crackdown

I am impressed with Nintendo going back to their roots though, the original NES had many different attachments for it (Zappers, Rob etc), they started trying to be competitive with other manufacturers but ultimately now have stepped back from the horribly titled ‘Next Generation’ era.

I personally say good luck and hope that it works, I don’t want to see another Sega on the horizon.

Jason L: Though you're preaching to the choir on the situation with patent squatting, prior art(!) and software patents, I wasn't making any reference to Nintendo's trademarks. When used as an adjective, "trademark" just means "well-known", "famous" or "typical".

Everyone does some first- and second-party development. Indeed, it's the reason I'm someday going to swallow a pint of bile and purchase a PS3, as that darned Ueda and Co. are undoubtedly making something for it already. With Sega out of the picture, though, neither of the other two consoles is anywhere near the first-party domination of a Nintendo platform. If your product happens to come up against a similar Nintendo release, it dies, that simple. I feel the quantitative difference is so large that it's qualitative too.

Peter Hopkins: Point taken, I was unsure of the context to which you were using it, considering the company that you are applying the term to.

Peter Hopkins: Yes I believe I will be purchasing a PS3, but not at initial release, as with all PS models the first generation are packed with many technical issues. Something I'm not prepared to pay the hi price for.

I think I'll get myself a 360 first, when the price drops of these.

bob_arctor: Wario Ware.

God I hope not. Load of free-flash-internet-quality nonsense. The complete of opposite of what fun long-lasting games are about.

Jason L: Hey, WarioWare's great on the GBA and the Cube. I played both (one single, one multi) for a long time, and had fun; check and check.Touched! started sliding and Smooth Moves looks like stupid gimmicky crap, though.

Peter Hopkins: WarioWare: Twisted is also quite good, had a little play with it in our office. The only downside I would say is that it is axis restricted and you end up tilting the GB/DS in directions the mercury switch doesn't like.

Tom Francis: I love that my blog is one on which commenters say things like "Rhetorical bombast aside..."

Jason L: Just about every blog has its resident wittering pseud. I do my best.