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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 didn’t like 24 at first – it was exciting for a few episodes, but after three hours of excitement you start to lose interest a bit. There’s also something rather comic about the this guy having ordeals that last precisely 24 hours every few years, so I watched a bit of series five last time I was in the States to laugh at it. The show has a formula that’s easy to mock, because there are only a certain number of things that can happen within its parameters, and over one-hundred hours of programming they tend to happen quite a few times each. There’s a mole inside CTU! The boss of CTU is being a dick! Jack’s gone rogue! There’s a mole in the government! That terrorist plot was just a cover for a much larger one, involving nukes! The least interesting character’s been kidnapped! Oh no, a bomb!

But there’s a fairly smooth gradient from mocking something to enjoying its silliness without laughing, and from there to just enjoying it. And by that time, something truly extraordinary has usually happened. Every series of 24 has a handful of moments that make you take your tongue out of your cheek and just gape. They come from the fact that terrorist thrillers generally revolve around forcing the good guys to make impossible decisions, and in Jack Bauer they’ve lumped themselves with a good guy so unflinchingly logical and ruthlessly dedicated that such decisions are trivial. So to create the pivotal moments, the writers have to put him in absurdly difficult situations, in which he has to do everything short of shooting his own daughter for just the slimmest hope of stopping a terrorist plot that could kill thousands more.

Jack’s now so used to sacrificing himself or innocent lives for the greater good that he usually saves people the bother of asking him to do it by jumping in there and volunteering. At one point a terrorist leader calls an Amnesty lawyer to protect an accomplice CTU have in custody from the torturous methods they need to use to get the information they need from him in time to stop a warhead headed towards- I forget, probably Los Angeles. Jack’s solution is to release the prisoner, immediately resign, then break his fingers in the parking lot as a private citizen in order to protect CTU from liability. This has been read as advocacy of torture as an interrogation method in general, of course, but that’s over-simplifying. The reason not to legalise these methods is that you can never be certain that their use will save lives in any given circumstance. Jack is always certain, to an extent that doesn’t exist in the real world.

The truly horrible calls don’t come up too often, but that’s part of what makes them so much fun to watch. You’ve been watching Jack be almost effortlessly ruthless about so many tough decisions that seeing something make him hesitate – even if only for a few seconds – is incredibly powerful. There’s a moment at the very end of season three, which involves some of the nastiest thing’s Jack’s had to do (including one with a fire-axe and a close friend) when he’s sitting alone in his car, with no urgent mission for the first time in twenty-four hours, and just sobs.

This new series is off to a good start: he’s already had to do something that made him both throw up and cry, and- well, the thing that happens while he’s doing that, for those who’ve seen it. The aforementioned silliness of one man getting caught up in this many twenty-four-hour ordeals probably puts people off, but I’m hoping they’ll keep going for another five seasons. As it progresses it gets both darker and more absurd, making it more entertaining in diametrically opposing ways. Jack gets more interesting as he loses more of his humanity and his family feature less, and I have a feeling Kim’s going to cop it this series. The plots get more intricate as they try to avoid repetition and simultaneously up the stakes – though neither very hard; this is American primetime after all.

Season six also has one of my favourite actors: Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi – whom they somehow thought would be able to play a middle-Eastern character convincingly – normally speaks English with a perfect Received Pronounciation accent, so it’s always rather weird watching him pretend to wrestle with the language in his Arab roles. But he’s the main reason I like Star Trek – his Dr Bashir was the first truly likeable character I’d seen in any sci-fi, and the reason I gave it a chance. Here his role isn’t a terribly likeable one – he just has to look angry all the time – but I still find him endlessly watchable. If he turns out to be the series arch-villain I’ll be especially happy.

zeno cosini: Since 24 began, the number of novels landing on my desk featuring a gun-toting protagnonist called Jack has soared exponentially.

If I'm ever asked to pen a 24-style espionage / thriller series my main character is going to be called something slightly fey - Giles, perhaps, or Montague (Monty in an emergency).

Iain: "Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi"?

Now that's just being plain greedy. No-one needs that many names.

But I agree - he was one of my favourite characters in Deep Space Nine. He was also excellent in Syriana and in an episode of Spooks, where (bizarrely) he was playing an Arabian informant infiltrating a suicide bomber terrorist cell.

Last year he also played Genghis Khan in a (reportedly very good) mini-series that was on BBC, but I didn't catch that.

Tom Francis: To be fair, his parents did make some attempt to recycle.