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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


Mine ended with a series of four quite different parties:


The Future Christmas Party, in the same vacant museum as last year, added dodgems and face-painting to the de-facto chocolate fountain for entertainment. The theme was apres ski, which most people quite reasonably refused to acknowledge. What I usually love about Future parties is just walking across the room and talking to everyone I know on the way, which typically takes around an hour. Socialising progressively shuts down the rational parts of my brain, so after about ten minutes of talking to any one person, my mind is completely empty and I a) say nothing at all if sober, or b) say something absolutely terrible if drunk. So drive-by conversations with lots of different people in a short space of time give me the pleasure of being friendly with people without becoming too much of an idiot.

I suffer chronic schizophrenia, pathological mendacity and anterior-grade memory loss when drunk, which almost cancel one another other out: I don’t recall what a blithering prick I was, and I don’t want to. Only tee-totallers, elephant-drunks and digital cameras put a spanner in the works.

Despite the lavish accoutrements, it was my least favourite Future party so far. If I’m not in the mood for these things I almost always am once I get there, but this time I just felt like curling up in a dark place with something that made sense. Parties, people and dodgems do not, to my mind, make any kind of sense.


Large fluffy penguins do, to be sure. This is Peng, given to my by Clare – ahem, a mystery Secret Santa benefactor – and he is an entirely logical creature. This was at a Christmas dinner party with The Other Circle Of Friends For Whom I Have No Convenient Name. Most people there were drunker than I have ever seen them, which in some cases is a very good thing and in others is not. In my case it isn’t, but luckily I didn’t pass my Threshold Beyond Which I Am Insufferable. I was residually drunk the next morning, though, and carrying my penguin home through town in that state was dreamlike and rather wonderful. One in every two people I passed commented, pointed, laughed or performed some combination of the three. My route home actually involved a leisurely stop at Caffe Nero for breakfast, leisurely enough to then stop at the Jazz Café for lunch with Craig and Graham, both on their way to a flight back to Mother Scotland.

Interesting coincidence: the other day I’d just emptied everything superfluous out of my wallet except my Caffe Nero loyalty card, which I hadn’t used in seven years but which has been modified to read, simply, NERD. Something to bear in mind the next time you empty everything superfluous out of your wallet including your Caffe Nero loyalty card, then the next day find yourself in Caffe Nero for the first time in seven years, and are tempted to say “Isn’t it always the way?” Sometimes it is the other way.


The family Christmas, involving easily as many silly hats per person as the Future party. In fact my parents now have a stock of them to distribute to anyone who wasn’t specifically given one. I was surprised and moderately saddened to find quite a few people were dreading their own family Christmasses – I’m lucky enough to have a family who spend more time laughing than arguing at any given gathering.

We played the 3D equivalent of the drawing game in plastecine, table football, an Indian puck-flicking game, and kazoos. I gave people mostly edible or non-corporeal presents: home-made bread, special foods from Bath’s many special-food shops, a mango orchard for Indian farmers. I got a huge number of diverse things, from smart clothes from the pictured grandmothers, juggling balls with a klutz’s guide, a DVD writer, a tabletop pool table, a power-drill and a present I’m easily geeky enough to need but not nearly geeky enough to buy: day-of-the-week-specific socks. I’ve always felt there must be a more civilised manner of determining which of the countless identical black socks have been worn since they were last washed than the crude olfactory method.


New Year’s, last night, here at my house. It was a dark and stormy night. That is a mini-fogger – a Christmas present – inside an extremely sensibly proportioned mug – also a Christmas present – adding ambience to my already pretty freaking ambient kitchen. Interesting coincidence: two days after I reflected that one of the few things not to go wrong with my house for some time was the bulbs, three bulbs broke in one afternoon. The consensus of party attendees is that the storm, or a surge in power usage on that night of the year, was causing this to happen a lot.

I came to the conclusion this morning that I should just stop talking altogether. I don’t think I said anything of worth in 2006, and if people really need to communicate with me there’s always e-mail. Everything I say aloud I regret, and quite often my brain just loses interest mid-sentence and I find entirely the wrong words inserted towards the end. I think last night I announced to the room that always have trouble keeping everyone “fed with water” when I host parties. I seemed to be trying not to say “drunk”, when in fact that was precisely what I was trying to say.

I’m told I should talk slower – someone who doesn’t know me very well apparently said that I appear to be trying and failing to keep up with my thought-speed, but to me it feels like I’m thinking too slowly. Whatever the temporal disconnect, it’s circumvented entirely in text, and I really like writing and even reading what I’ve written. Particularly after an evening of almost entirely failing to talk coherently. Interesting aside: in case you missed the link in my sidebar a while back, the creator of Dilbert has a fascinating speech disorder that means he can still speak in front of huge crowds, which is part of what he does these days, but is incapable of talking in normal conversation. More interesting still, he may have found a way to cure himself – something no-one with it has done before.

And So

The year! A great one, though much more erratic than previous ones. It had a long series of incredible highlights, each of which will I’ll recount in its own post this week, but an unwelcome temporary change in my job description meant I spent quite a lot of time with an unpleasant drowning sensation. It was to manage something I don’t like even when it’s done well, and doing it well calls for precisely the skills I don’t have. I’m told I did a good job, but it never felt like it. But yes, more than made up for by many completely wonderful events and happenstances. MORE ON THOSE PLEASE TOM.

My major achievement for the year was to finally settle a matter I’ve been dithering about for at least six years: lots of stubble and crazy hair, or short stubble and short hair? The first probably sounds better on paper, but after extensively studying documentary evidence from parties and photo-shoots, the latter is the clear winner. It will never be long again. I’ve also lost weight and girth and gained muscle and stamina, and since that accounts for thirty-two percent of all New Year’s Resolutions I will impart the secret: exercise more and eat less bad stuff. It’s the secret fitness plan they didn’t want you to know. Seriously, instead of not doing it, do it.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions specifically – I make around three resolutions every day, so technically I did make some on New Year’s Eve, but they weren’t special ones. Shutting up was a big one, I guess. Another is to find an application that will pop up an innocuous reminder every forty minutes or so to tell me to get up and walk around a bit. The experts who say you should do this if you use a computer a lot probably know more about RSI than I do, and I don’t have it yet, so I should do what they say I should do to prevent it. And instead of saying this and not doing it, I’m going to actually do it. I’m also going to buy a lot of clothes that I like. I now know for sure which of my clothes I like a lot, and discover that it’s not enough. I loathe clothes shopping, but I’m going to bite the bullet… this month, I’ve just decided.

Stuff Of The Year!

This is so easy.

The Prestige

Best Film Of 2006: The Prestige. A period drama about two rival magicians, Hugh Jackman a masterful showman, and Christian Bale a gruff but ingenious trickster. It has a series of major twists, each of which you’ll see coming to varying degrees. But it’s not a film that needs to rely on the element of surprise to captivate you: one twist in particular is so chilling, so hauntingly macabre that working it out ahead of time is as enthralling as the grand reveal itself. Aside from that much of the fun, and screentime, comes from the vicious sabotage they commit on each other’s acts, starting with humiliating pranks and scaling steadily up to mutiliation and attempted murder. Link is to the trailer, and down the sidebar of that page you’ll find a three-part interview with Jackman and Bale, of particular interest to the ladies and gays since they are both freakishly, freakishly pretty men.

Cat Power

Best Song Of 2006: Cat Power – Willie. By a country mile. The entire album is a bassy, brassy, bluesy joy, so completely unexpected from the meek, stage-terrified front-woman Chan. It’s also album of the year, perhaps only by an urban mile, but this song is just… I don’t need to tell you anything about the song because I’ve uploaded it and you can download it and listen to it immediately, so I’ll stick to my New Year’s Resolution and shut up.


Best TV Show Of 2006: Heroes. Studio 60 is better written by a factor of seventy-one, Dexter is cleverer and 24 is more fun, but I’m all about the peaks. There have been moments in Heroes – many – at which I’ve wanted to know what happens next more than I’ve ever wanted to know anything about a TV show. When it comes together it’s in a league of its own, and it fills me with a warm substance I can only assume is glee.


Best Game Of 2006: Oblivion! Oh, you think? You think the thing I named as the best game of all time in the PC Gamer Top 100 might also have been the best one this year? You think maybe the game I’ve written forty pages about in print magazines, and a few thousand words more online, might be my kind of thing? Did the 93% give it away? I’d love to be a little bit different to the dozens of lists agreeing with me right now and name Hitman or DEFCON, but no. By a country – and I may have used this term already in this post, but it’s warranted – by a country freaking mile, it is the majestic, sumptuous, liberating joy of Oblivion.

erdniS: This was a great read, so thank you.

My mind also loses interest mid-sentence, which is probably why I never manage to hold the attention of the people I'm talking to.

Happy new year.

The_B: I wasn't a huge fan of The Prestige. Sure, it was quite clever (if you haven't read the book) and was a fairly entertaining watch, but it did feel in some places like it wasn't really sure what sort of movie it wanted to be and a little too clever for its own good.

I did like the use of Thom Yorke's Analyse at the end though.

bob_arctor: Nice post. Cheers for that. Personal.
I envy the fact you are not bored of Oblivion. It just got to a point with me where I saw through it, and didn't want to do the same actions again.

The fact both my charecters levelled themselves off into a dead end may have something to do with it. The first, a jack-of-all-trades, levelled up massively due to alchemy, and got killed by everything.
The second tried to be hand-to-hand. With amazing magic swords and easily obtainable potions about the place, this was a terrible move.

I see you share the trait I have of talking absolute rubbish when drunk. Then not remembering what you said, until someone tells you, or says "you were talking rubbish last night" and you put your head in your hands and go "please don't tell me"?

Jason L: All that cheerfulness, and here I am saying "de rigeur". Bah humbug.

The_B: Oh, and Bowie as Telsa: Genius.

Well, I now can't play Red Alert 2 as the Soviets without picturing Bowie as the Troopers...

Tombadil: Interested to read that you feel you think too slowly when you're talking. I struggle to think of things to say when I'm speaking, but always seem to be anyway - usually because I'm making a joke out of something, to the point where I'm sometimes the only person saying anything for ages, marking every little one of life's splutters and tics with a shit remark, only to review the situation later on and realise I would hate spending time with myself. Yay! Fortunately I've stopped drinking - I'm no less a fan of myself when I don't, but at least I'm less inclined to force myself upon life with a skip and a jig and a terrible pun, which makes things a bit more pleasant. Oh, and you seem to have put "Oblivion" when you meant "Viva Pinata". Horstachio, Tom. You don't even need to play it to see the logic here.