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


I love Heroes, but most of the positive things I have to say about it are spoilers. These are spoilered-out in the proper version of this post, but just in case this has somehow turned up in your RSS reader: omg spoilers.

Mohinda: Hello, I have no interesting abilities, and quickly lose interest in my inherited quest to track down those that do, for reasons unknown. You should care about me because ERROR: REASON NOT FOUND AT LINE #93572. Mohinda and his father were the least interesting thing in the largely off-putting pilot. Here’s how interesting he is: I’m writing this now because he’s on-screen.

The Cheerleader: She’s kind of a dick, and she has some of the most cringe-worthy lines in the series (episode nine), but this is the most fun power ever. The ending of episode three just rams home how far they’re prepared to go with this stuff, and you know she’s got some even more wonderfully gruesome moments ahead of her. I liked that around the time you’re wondering what can possibly go wrong for an invincible character, she nearly gets raped. “Oh right, there is that.”

The Nurse Guy: his first scene, standing on a rooftop about to test his belief that he can fly, was a bit of a non-starter: if he can’t, this is going to be a very short and pointless plot arc. But wait! A twist! And then! Another twist in the opposite direction! And then! A third and final twist, that negates neither previous twist, but instead transforms Peter into a much more intriguing creature, one with probably the most interesting ability of them all! You know his is only going to get more interesting as the characters converge, too.

The Senator: a ruthless and amoral politician is a nice twist on the reluctant superhero stereotype, and I like that his reluctance makes perfect sense. All he can do is fly, what can you use that for? In his own words and best line so far, “What am I going to do when I get there?” And yet, the guy can freaking fly. Like most of them, his power is turned up to eleven, and a joy to watch. He’s becoming a likeable nasty piece of work, too.

The Cop: Way to fix the pilot #9: put this guy in it. He’s wonderful. The actor Greg Grunberg is an old favourite of mine from Alias, with whom Heroes also shares an exec or two, and his pragmatic nice-guy face works even better in this as a man tortured by his ability. His brittle relationship with his wife is heartbreaking to watch, as much when it’s going well as wrong. What I like about his power is his inability to conceal his reactions to the thoughts. He knows they didn’t say the things he hears, but by force of habit he instinctively starts to respond as if they had, and stops himself in the same instant. Even when he’s acclimatised to it within a conversation, he can’t concentrate because of the absurd contrast between what the other person is saying and thinking. I also love that they don’t try to make the thinker facially ‘act’ their thought in any way – the whole point is that he’s hearing the things that they would never let on in any way whatsoever, and a lesser director would ruin that to give stupid people more visual clues to what’s going on. So the wife’s smile seems genuine even as she panics that he’s onto her affair.

Hiro: I think Hiro may have been a nine year-old in the original script – it’s not just a childlike enthusiasm, he’s effectively a child. No bad thing, though, the actor (but apparently he’s not an actor) is so immensely likeable that you don’t notice it when he’s on-screen. His power, particularly in the pivotal episode three is visually extraordinary, and there’s something very refreshing about someone who embraces his quest with glee rather than heavy-handed self-importance.

The Stripper: Rubbish power. Her superpower is that she’s schizophrenic? Adding super-strength to that doesn’t make it much more interesting, and the actress isn’t capable of playing both personalities differently enough to make it remarkable to watch. That said, with the sister angle in episode ten she suddenly makes sense as a character, and I sort of dig that she just shot her husband with a sniper rifle. With one exception none of the Heroes are Superman, and this is the first of a lot of interesting ways someone with an esoteric power has to combine it with more mundane tools to achieve their goal. But the reflection teasing just doesn’t work, it’s too familiar and not used to do anything surprising here.

The Stripper’s Son: I’m sorry, his power is to repair telephones? Are we going to have a guy who can perform janitorial duties instantaneously too? How obscure are these powers going to get? Because I’ve discovered I’m always in front of the doors when a train comes to a stop at the station.

The Glasses Guy: I like that his creepiness is just creepiness, they don’t try to demonise him at every turn. In fact, almost all of his screen time is sympathetic or neutral, which makes him a lot more compelling to watch than every one of the eight billion onerous bad guy stereotypes.

The Obligatory Evil Black Guy: Actually I’m not sure he’s entirely evil yet, for the same reasons as Glasses Guy – I see the two of them as an amoral third faction between Sylar and the Peter-Hiro alliance. I love this guy’s power – to negate other powers (except for the flying dude? Wha?) – and particularly our introduction to it. The deathly, stunning silence from his brain as Cop scans the crowded bar picking up a cacophony of everyone else’s thoughts. It ought to be a relief – it’s a scene in which Cop is being tortured by his ability – but it immediately feels profoundly wrong.

Sylar: Yes! The first encounter with this guy was brilliant, and he’s one of the rare villains to get more fascinating and sinister the more we learn about him. Induced suicide as an attack is excellently creepy, and I love that Greg Grunberg shot him like fourteen times. If you’re going to have the bad guy get back up, don’t make it because the hero was too stupid to make sure he went down. The backstory in episode ten was so right: humanising but not sympathetic, setting him relative to the other heroes in both plot and theme. I love this trio of meta-heroes emerging: the sharer, the negator and now the consumer. One for each faction. We can already see the showdown between the Nurse and Sylar a mile off, in which the other heroes have to rally round Peter to give him as many powers as Mr Absorbotron here, but for me it’s with childish excitement rather than weary inevitability.

The ‘Previously, on Heroes’ Guy: Shut the fuck up. What the fuck. I understand the words of your intro spiel, but to me you seem to be saying: “Heroes, is for idiots. Here, is the sales pitch. That, is the bad guy. And now, the televisual program that you are watching will unfold as you watch, since you are watching it. Without, further ado. Now. Immediately. Right this second. That story, is about to continue. In real time.”

Norwegian: *Spoiler?*

Isn't the "Previously, on Heroes" guy the stud from India?

The stripper is weird and the look on her face is awkward. Bad powers too. They're not even powers!

My favourite is Hiro, definitely. After him I guess comes the mindcop.

The_B: If it helps, and assuming you're not adverse to installing more plugins:

http://www.navidazim... ...p-spoiler/

Cian: The 'Previously' guy is cut out of the decent versions, thankfully. I confess that I like Mohinda purely because he's not American. Even if the scenes in India have very dodgy backdrops, they're more interesting to look at than US suburbia.

craigp: Why did you miss out Hiro in your post? He's awesome.

Tom Francis: Aha, because what I wanted to say was spoilerific. I'll put it up on a separate page after I've watched last night's, I think.

Tom Francis: Cheers for the link, B. That'll be perfect, so long as it doesn't bugger up in RSS readers because of the dependency on CSS. I'll conduct a test.

Tom Francis: So with any luck we can use spoiler tags in the comments too. It's just <spoiler>spoiler</spoiler>

Jason L: ...and now my True Identity is revealed by sloppy habit, in the comments of a post about superheroes. Somebody's laughing.

Tom Francis: You're Craig Pearson?

Jason L: Ha-HA! My previous post, to which I accidentally attached my full name, never appeared for no discernile reason. I guess that's just how awesome James is - it can detect and block mistaken posts. I shall now repost my comment, semianonymously, like so:

In the last spoiler: "Trio", triad", or if you're feeling sassy "trifecta". If you please. *Twitch*

The_B: No, I'm an overused but still slightly homourous Spartacus reference!

Tom Francis: I think it detected that the same IP had given two different names, and held it in moderation along with your subsequent comment. I haven't approved the real-name one, but I suspect James has already submitted your real name to MI5 and dispatched agents. Well spotted, though.

CannedLizard: *Spoilers*

I don't know...the stripper isn't that great a character, but the super-strength is...very powerful. And since it's out of her control, and she doesn't know what happened afterwards makes it more disturbing. The fact that she just leaves shredded bodies behind...and the sound when Ando and Hiro were hiding in the side room...just terrifying.


Alex Hopkinson: The black guy who works with Glasses Dad has psychic powers doesn't he? Not power nullification? I thought that was implied by the scene in bar with the cop where he can't read him, Dad's subsequent comment that cop "won't remember any of this" (and he then leaves black guy in with him doesn't he?) and the bit in the hospital with the kid where black guy erases his memories and what not. Which just means that the Flying Petrelli escaped by just launching quickly.

Alex Hopkinson: Oh also - I've not seen this week's episode yet (maybe I need to switch my viewing day from Saturday to when it actually becomes available...) but presumably the kid has an affinity with machines or can repair/break them at will, which could be interesting. Kind of like Forge from the X-Men or Mayor Hundred from Ex Machina (both references may mean nothing to anyone other than me but what the hey) but different.

Thomas Lawrence: Yeah, the kid is like a technopath, I reckon. And Scary Black Dude/THe Haitian isn't a negater so mucha s a mind-blanker, which allows him to edit out Eden's complusions and Matt's mental scanning as wella s altering memeories, but doesn't do jack against flying Nathan. Still not sure on that one.

Tom Francis: He can erase memories, but it's clear he's got more going on than that. On two occasions he's stopped a hero from using their power on Glasses Dude, and I don't think mind-blanking explains his ability to protect him from Eden's persuasion. Like Hiro, he seems to have a set of powers that are related but not quite unified by one concept.

Thomas Lawrence: Holy crap, the most recent episode "Fallout" was awesome!

Jason L: I randomly ran into this again and it occurs to me that if you like Sylar's scene you mention, you might well enjoy Tool of the Trade, by Joe Haldeman. It's a short, pulpy, high-concept sci-fi novel: A comfortable but conflicted Soviet sleeper agent discovers an ultrasound frequency which utterly negates human will. The rest of the book is basically an exploration of verbal puzzles and logical stunts that result from that premise. It's hardly great literature, but I love it so.