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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



I can honestly say that if I was going to spend SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS on a phone, I’d probably plump for this one.

All the quicktours there are worth watching, but my favourite thing rolled past in a still image that I can no longer find: ‘Slide to unlock’. A little place-marker on slider bar. I get the feeling this thing is going to seem a lot more futuristic and exciting once you get to use it.

If I didn’t know any better I’d be looking forward to what other people are going to do in response to this – how more affordable touch-screens or even just smarter interfaces will now take it upon themselves to also achieve such far-future concepts as scrolling to someone who’s name begins with m in under half an hour. But I have a feeling I won’t be able to enjoy such luxuries without snacking on the poison Apple – and paying SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS for the privelege – at any point in the next couple of years.

So I’d be happy enough if my 10MB phone was capable of storing more than FIVE KILOBYTES of text messages. I mean, proportionally that’s a considerable upgrade from the one kilobyte my last one had, but I’m not really feeling the ten thousand times more breathing room yet. I’d probably spring the SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS if I really thought Apple were design geniuses, but doesn’t it feel more like the only other people getting these things made are agonisingly, unspeakably dumb? I’m holding out for the day someone who isn’t evil gets a brain and a budget in the same lifetime, at least until the incompetent and malicious drop their prices a bit.

Dabs: Sounds good. How much are these things?

ade: No, not cheap but, yes, extremely impressive. I wonder how long it is until O2 are giving them away free with one year contracts. A while, I'd imagine...

Jason L: Yes, Apple's stuff is just as arbitrary as everyone else's. I was really enthusiatic about MacOS X until I used it as my primary work environment for five months of this year. Some of the most basic and common interactions are just completely lacking in underlying logic, in a way that's fundamentally different from Windows and the dozen or so X window managers I've used. It took my grandmother a year to learn to do stuff on her Mac, and her desktop is a sight to make a strong man weep.

I also help a guy do what he wants in iTunes, which to be fair is actually quite a good program - otherwise I wouldn't have him using it, right? Things like the undocumented and invisible playlist sort field and its handling of duplicate tracks, though, seem actively obstructive. I also happen to have had a converation with a coworker yesterday who couldn't figure out how to get his iPod to sync more than once with iTunes; I've never been impressed by the iPod, so making it the linchpin of their marketing and industrial design doesn't work on me.

I suspect Apple gets by on two things: first, as everyone's noticed for years, their purely visual elegance pulls in the doubloons from idiots. More subtly, I didn't use Macs during the pre-X days as they were completely irrelevant...but I suspect modern Apple stuff may be riding the reputation from a genuinely superior predecessor: See this essay by a former Mac industrial designer. ...Fitts.html

Alex Holland: Here's an interesting story. My fianceé has very bad RSI. She's tried various types of keyboard, but the only one she found that worked was the Touchstream LP, which allows zero-pressure typing. The whole thing is basically two wodges of graphics tablet, completely flat, with a keyboard drawn on them. It uses clever multi-touch technology to know if you're typing, resting your hand, using it as a mouse touchpad, etc. It also supports gestures - drag to scroll, pinch to cut, reverse-pinch to paste, etc. Technology uncannily similar to the multi-touch on the iPhone, actually...

About eighteen months ago, just before we were going to buy one of these keyboards, a mysterious unnamed company bought Fingerworks and their entire patent library, slapped NDAs on everyone down to the factory caretakers, and shutdown production. The prices of the remaining keyboards rocketed, and we eventually managed to get on Ebay for about £400.

So on the one hand, I think the iPhone looks fantastic. On the other hand, Apple are complete buggers for killing the only product that has allowed Pen and others to use a keyboard again, just for the sake of a little gadget that does neat stuff, and presumably gains them a hat made of money.

If they don't release some kind of iKeyboard soon (or integrate it into a laptop), I'll be annoyed.

Tom Francis: Heh. While he's right that Fitt's law isn't often given enough thought (Hitman: Blood Money's menus are actually designed to defy it), that questionaire degenerates into rather bitter renditions of "Explain in your own words why I am right and everyone who copied my stuff is stupid and ugly." I'm also not sure anyone who suggests 'sucking' the cursor toward the option they think the user wants should be preaching about usability.

I noticed Apple considered the number of patents the device contained as a selling point. It's a hint of that creepy marketing attitude, like references to 'shipping product' and 'SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS', that make you slightly uneasy to have been sharing these people's excitement a moment before. Like when someone mentions God a little too spontaneously, just when you thought they seemed sane.

Jason L: Well, though you can't see it in that article, elsewhere he's constantly admitting mistakes and limitations and encouraging (for various features) Apple to copy MS, MS to copy Apple, everybody to copy Be, Apple to copy themselves...I think he cares more about getting things right than political gain. The "sucking" idea applies not to the option the designer thinks likely but to the menu as a whole, and is immediately noted as potentially frustrating. On reflection if I'd wanted to give a more positive impression of him, I should have linked to his "Reasons the Dock Still Sucks" piece. I didn't because my attempted point wasn't Fitts' Law or Tog himself, but my suspicion that unbeknownst to the public Apple has shifted from a culture of sober UI design to a culture of immediate salable flash.

Science knows I abhor the idea of the big boys just stepping in an outproducing idea men out of existence, but I'm really beginning to wonder if the current patent situation isn't doing more harm than good - whether we should we go to a policy of nonrenewal, so it's just a head start and a chance to make a name. Bastard lawyers getting patents for decades on the idea of User Interaction To Prevent Boredom, Using Two Motors Instead of One or Round fucking Buttons makes my blood boil, and those are far from exceptional cases these days.

Alex Holland: So, plenty of patents, but not it seems the right to use the name.

I personally use OS X because it's a happy middleground between Windows and Linux; I've got a good CLI and free developy bits if I want them, but I also have essential bits of software (Office, Photoshop, Civ 3) and a system that doesn't need too much fiddling with. I agree that some bits of the UI are utterly broken though, and I don't even begin to understand the logic behind iPhoto's UI. My preferred commentator on OS X (un)usability is John Siracusa at Ars Technica.

Jason L: Alex Holland: A tiny attempt to be helpful if she's typing words - not many people know about Dasher ( http://www.inference... ). I've used it and it works.