All posts


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

Too Zune

My MP3 player has finally, inevitably broken beyond repair. It’s stuck on record, it won’t stop recording everything, so it’s just what you want lying around the White House Counsel’s office. And in an odd twist, Apple’s recent MP3-player announcements were more appealing than Microsoft’s. I say odd because Microsoft and Apple are sort of like Churchill and Hitler to me: I wouldn’t want to hang out with either of them, but there’s “not nice” and then there’s the holocaust. I could never buy either, but I really like that Apple have made each of their models dramatically better in at least three ways each, and reduced the price. I always like it when a company goes further than strictly necessary to maximise sales.

Microsoft’s MP3 player, apart from looking like a seventies TV set (update! Or a complicated biscuit, as Tom puts it), is a festering hive of digital rights-management restrictions. It has the cool-sounding ability to wirelessly share tracks with other Zunes (sans PC), but restricts the sharee to three listens of the track before it’s deleted. To do that, it actually infects your music with its DRM chastity belt, even if it’s an MP3 you recorded your damn self. Having grown up with computers, I’m afraid I’m one of these techno-hippies who regard data as sacred. It seems fine to me to offer services like iTunes where you buy music with restrictions built in, but my stuff is sacrosanct. Your seventies TV has no idea what it is, where it came from and what I’m entitled to do with it.

So I somehow found room to be offended by that even though I didn’t want the feature and knew I wouldn’t buy one anyway. The core reason I can’t use a Zune or iPod is that both insist on their own evil infection of your machine. iTunes is the reason I don’t flinch when comparing Apple’s products to the holocaust. The Zune, like anything that wants to support Microsoft’s DRM stuff, uses the Media Transfer Protocol to talk to your PC. That means it isn’t a storage device you’re free to use as you please; everything you transfer to it has to go through Windows Media Player 10. This is disastrously unreliable, slow and restrictive. MTP will actually stop you from copying a file type that Windows Media Player doesn’t recognise to your player, even if the player itself specifically supports it. MTP devices show up in Explorer, and are mocked up to look like storage drives, but you’re restricted to the default view, your right-click options are taken away, and you can’t open files directly from the device. Explorer is about the only part of Windows that still almost works intuitively, though XP tried its level best to obfuscate it and mollycoddle new users into misunderstanding their system, and they’ve specifically crippled it to be less logical and usable with respect to MP3 players. I will enjoy watching you fail, Microsoft, even if it is to a greater evil.

Some brands pointedly boycott MTP, or at least pointedly include a UMS option – USB Mass Storage, an older protocol from the days when things were built to work rather than monitor and defy you. Sandisk’s Sansa players have had an aggressively anti-iPod campaign, and bragged about their ‘just works’ driverless storage device functionality, but they do lose marks for also supporting MTP as an alternate mode (“I’m clean, but also support herpes as an alternate mode”) and only supporting video in Quicktime format. Their contempt for Apple’s proprietry restrictiveness would ring truer if they hadn’t co-opted Apple’s own grossly inefficient, poor-quality, bloated, slow and disgusting QuickTime format. More admirably but more cumbersomely, bovine-sounding Cowon make UMS-only players, proudly support OGG (an open-source music format, more efficient than MP3), and have a ridiculous 35-hour battery life on their larger model. My favourite musical gadget site Anything But iPod specialise in alternatives, and are good about specifying MTP or UMS in their reviews. My hope is that Microsoft having their own player to pimp will mean they stop putting pressure on once-cool companies like iRiver and Creative to cripple their players with MSDRM-friendly FFS-inducing MTP, and that Anything But Zune launches soon.

craigp: Thanks for linking to Anything But iPod. I've been looking for just that sort of site. Cowons. Interesting.

craigp: They do seem obscenely expensive, though.

The_B: I may now have to buy the Anything But Zune domain now you've given me the idea. Although I would have nothing to put on it...

Jason L: As with your other MP3 player post, I simply have to push Samsung's YP-MT6Z forward for consideration. AA battery with long playtime, radio, line-in, mic, recording from all three, MP3, OGG, and UMS with absolutely no proprietary software. It's slightly larger than my thumb and I got it for one hundred American dollars, a year ago. The only black spot for a serious enthusiast like you is the 1GB storage space, but for all I know they probably have an upsized model now. Samsung's actually been doing some pretty cool things in a lot of areas lately.

You may want to capitalise Holocaust

Jason L: Hey! The overzealous HTML parser took away my humourous pretend HTML tags!

craigp: ...p?ID=24418

A 20GB Samsung (refurbished) MP3 player for under £100. I'm hunting around for a coherent review if anyone wants to help me with that.

This is the closest I've come so far: ...83p,00.htm

Jason L: Here are a long and two shorts of fairly high coherency - I've found that for electronics, " buttons" is often a good filter. The commentbot rejects HREFs, so these aren't links, sorry. ...ew_5541348

http://www.alkenmrs.... ...layer.html

http://www.dukebox.c... ...eg4-player

Tom Francis: I guess the link-detector anti-spamotron works its techno-magic before the auto-linkerlator hyper-textifies the word-strings.

Jason L: So we can't have concise links. Well, that's an improvement...though it seems an odd distinction for an anti-spamotron to make. Then again, you're not getting comment spam so maybe all the spamming algorithms care about neat links. Huh. Considerate of them.

Jason L: Also, I missed an underscore before Review in that ciao thing. Sorry, I was in a hurry and a copy-and-pasteless environment.

Tom Francis: Fixed. Cheers for the links, and the recommendation Craig. That does actually look pretty much flawless, except that I'd sold myself on the idea of a flash player. The one you suggest, Jason, is great except for the 1GB and AA batteries - I actually prefer an internal one that charges from the mains. Messing around with rechargable AAs was the worst thing about my first digicam.

What were your humourous HTML tags? It ripped them out so hard I can't even see them in the source code.

Jason L: I loathe dealing with batteries, to the point that I don't use a wireless mouse, keyboard or game controllers. I'd pay, say, five bucks more for a dockable Wiimote, I hate them so much. However, I've found that with my NetMD (yes, I owned a NetMD, and I knew exactly what I was getting into - I was strapped and there was a Rush Limbaugh emergency) and now with my Samsung, accomodating the single AA doesn't bother me. I have a four-battery cradle, so I just carry a charged one in my pocket kit and every week or so when the player dies, that battery goes back into the rotation that night. Of course, the bigger, fancier players all have Li+ batteries, so that particular bit is a moot point unless you're minimalist like me.

As far as capacity goes, that's an area where the big (bad) names have always led. I'm not about to insult a fellow, more audiophilic technophile by trying to track down Samsung's entire range for you, so my quick check might have missed some 4GB jewel. The info I've seen, starting with the second of those three reviews for craig, suggests that worthwhile Samsung flash players top out at a couple of 2GB models (watch out for first-party firmware upgrades that enable UMS). This ignores a couple of 4GB models with idiot dealbreaking flaws.

My tags were {rave}/{/rave} and {pedant}/{/pedant}, encompassing the entire text of my first comment and placed such that I didn't look absolutely schizophrenic. Then the variable {product number} inside my "buttons" string.