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TOM FRANCIS
REGRETS THIS ALREADY

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.

Theme

By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

  • RoboLeg: this game would be PERFECT for mobile, and I’d happily pay 10 bucks or so for it.
  • Jepp: 1) Please keep critiquing games by building new ones :) 2) The non-hand holding, simple systems integrating...
  • Jack: Are you going to release Morphblade for iOS or the Nintendo Switch? I would really like to play this on my...
  • Spaceman Moses: One-eyeing this on my phone from the depths of my covers I lazily ask: what do you mean XCOM2 clarity...
  • kripto: For what it’s worth, I also like Morphblade more than Imbroglio. Although, to be fair, I’ve also...
  • Hitman header tunnel

    Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

    Far Cry Primal Thumbnail

    Postcards From Far Cry Primal

    Snowball jack header

    Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

    Kill Zone and Bladestorm

    Kill Zone And Bladestorm

    BAFTA Featured

    An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

    Sectors Header

    Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

    DXHR Open area

    What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

    Heat Signature Natural Numbers

    Natural Numbers In Game Design

    Pharma Header

    Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

    Writing vs Programming

    Make A Game Tutorial Thumbnail Featured IMage

    Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

    New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

    Her Story banner

    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

    Invisible Header

    What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

    Super Game Jam Header

    Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

    Shadow of Mordor Header 2

    What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

    Heat Signature Talk

    Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX

    Projects

    What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

    Murder, She Wrote

    The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

    Heat Signature Wide 2

    Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

    Heat Signature Floorplans Header

    Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

    Gunpoint Steam Workshop

    Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

    Distance Header

    Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

    The Magic Circle

    Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

    Floating Point Blog Launch

    Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

    Floating Sine

    Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point

    Fault

    What’s Your Fault?

    Hoplite banner

    The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

    Gone Point

    Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

    Heat Signature Thumbnail

    Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

    GRappling Hook Thumbnail

    The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

    Alien Swarm Heroics

    A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

    FTL Story

    One Desperate Battle In FTL

    Spelunky Banner

    To Hell And Back In Spelunky

    Game vs story graph

    Games Vs Story 2

    Gunpoint Breakdown

    Gunpoint Development Breakdown

    Max Payne 3

    Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

    This is how you die

    My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection

    Clouds

    Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

    Skyrim Diary - Frostmere

    Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

    Mainstream Games

    How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault

    A-Rock-and-a-Hard-Place-Trio-Jan

    A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

    Dark Messiah

    The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot

    Arguing

    Arguing On The Internet

    Spelunky

    Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

    Stealth Games

    Why Are Stealth Games Cool?

    Violence

    E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

    Suspicious Manifesto

    The Suspicious Developments manifesto

    GDC

    GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole

    Crosslink

    Listening To Your Sound Effects For Gunpoint

    Happiness

    Understanding Your Brain

    What Makes Games Good

    What Makes Games Good

    Seat Quest

    A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

    Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

    Beneath Suspicion

    Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

    Open Worlds

    An Idea For A Better Open World Game

    Level Up

    A Different Way To Level Up

    BioShock Ending

    How I Would Have Ended BioShock

    Meet the Spy

    My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

    Team Fortress 2

    Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

    Football Manager

    Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

    EVE Assassins

    EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

    GalCiv 2

    My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary

    Gnome

    I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

    Machine of Death

    My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

    Blood money and sex

    Blood Money And Sex

    AOL

    A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

    Second Life

    First Night, Second Life

    SWAT 4

    SWAT 4: The Movie Script

    Highlight Of 2006

    I like Wired. Working for a magazine you believe in, and having some influence in it, makes you a terrible magazine critic – you tend to regard other publications with a mixture of distaste and pity at how sadly unlike your own they are. That would be my verdict in almost every review if I reviewed magazines: 30%, “Sadly unlike PC Gamer”. But I like Wired. It seems to know my stereotype well – I’m not sure myself what my broader interests are, but if there’s a piece on it in Wired, it tends to be one of them. Malaysia’s national obsession with record-breaking. The guy who runs for days at a time without sleep, orders takeaway pizza to cities he’s about to pass through to scarf it on the go, and crazy-glues over his burst blisters to keep moving.

    Wow, that was barely relevant. I was just leading into the fact that this one was a party held by Wired and you got this whole thing about mag snobbery and blisters.

    This one was the Wired party after the first day of E3, which is sort of a game-journo Triathelon. I’d already been hugged for something I’d written that day, fallen in love with an American PR girl on the basis of a single conversation, and seen around forty-five unreleased games including the gapingly exciting successor to one of my favourites of all time, System Shock 2. Is it geeky that that one’s up there with the other two? Wait, relevance. I also hadn’t eaten all day, but my taste for food, breaks or rest seems to evapourate when there isn’t time for them. I’m a lot like Jack Bauer, in that and virtually every other respect.

    Ben Schroeder from Edge was there, and as we sipped something pink and free, he pointed out to me that one of the guys at the table over there with Will Wright was Robin Williams. Will Wright I knew would be there, since there was a Spore presentation later, and his celebrity factor was slightly diminished by the fact that I’d already interviewed him twice that day alone, but Mork himself made it kind of a tough table to go up to and say “Hi, is this seat taken?” Tougher still, all the seats were taken.

    Happily I didn’t have to. I was able to accost him on his way to the bar (a few weeks after meeting me he was re-admitted to rehab for alcohol addiction, but I feel like I tried my best) and exercise the most basic human right of all: the right to talk to a celebrity without needing any pretext, association with them or even anything particularly to say. They’re public domain, we can use them as we please. I’m going to be sending a link to this post to pretty much everyone who bullied me in primary school, and it’s especially for their benefit that I’m about to recount what Robin Williams said to me when I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Tom, I’m from PC Gamer,” I said.

    “Oh, great!” he said.

    See it? Because I can paste it again if necessary. It was “Oh, great!” I can use a bigger font if you like. I have that power.

    It was just a little undermined by the fact that my next words were “Oh come on, don’t pretend you’ve heard of us.” He explained that really he was just glad to meet a fellow gamer, evidently considering me a more kindred spirit than the many generic tech guys, multi-platform journalists and CEOs around us. He’s a big Battlefield 2 fan, and plays as a sniper. Had he seen the then-unreleased sequel? He had, and thought it was great. What did he think of Spore? He thought it was the logical conclusion of the lineage of God games started with Populous, and extremely exciting for that.

    For some reason I decided to steer the conversation toward the broader social impact of games, and possibly kids, because more or less the only thing I knew about Robin Williams was that the reason he started doing horror films after all that family comedy was because his kids were finally old enough to watch them, and he just wanted to make movies his kids could watch. This was a mistake. He started his answer with enthusiastic agreement to my hypothesis that Spore would make a great learning tool for kids, combining as it did science, silliness and a sense of wonderment at the universe, but then he wouldn’t shut up.

    That sounds rude, but I don’t know if you’ve ever heard him free-associate: it’s a hard thread to follow. I tried to concentrate on what he was saying, but once he veered off topic he didn’t stick to his new topic long enough for me to work out what it was, he just kept on veering. At some point I found myself thinking “This is ridiculous, I’m interviewing Robin Williams and I’m honestly not listening to a word he’s saying.” The man is mad, and possibly quite drunk. Luckily he also doesn’t stop talking long enough to discover that you have nothing to say because you can’t remember anything he was talking about, so when he did wind down I think I just said “Excellent, well, thanks.” and left it at that.

    Robin Williams

    I hit the booze pretty hard then, but the presentation started soon after. I’ve now seen it enough times now to feel a bit like a Will Wright groupie, comparing setlists from previous shows; that night we got the babyfication algorithm, but not as much on deep space travel. Then – and anyone who read gameblogs at the time will be have seen this plot point coming – Will said he wanted to demonstrate how easy the game’s editors are to use by getting a member of the audience to try them. He said that ideally he’d like someone with some experience playing an alien. My close personal friend Robin Williams bravely volunteered.


    Yahoo’s Kev Cheng evidently had a camera with more free memory than mine.

    My favourite part of his mostly excellent adlibbed stuff was the Jewish hands of uncertainty. During the presentation Ben and I got talking to a Wired writer whose hair was two different colours, who was also hugely impressed to learn that I was from PC Gamer, although it was again undermined; this time by him being completely floored that Ben was from Edge, his favourite magazine in the world. I could have taught this guy a little something about mag snobbery. He was nevertheless an extremely nice guy, and it was via his T-shirt (whose design I do not recall) that we got talking to the girls in front, who were film-makers there on behalf of some kind of… political… local… thing? Paper? I remember imagining something like a more radical Village Voice for LA, but I was pretty drunk and I know very little, about anything really.

    Robin Williams' Race

    I interviewed Will Wright again after the presentation, pointlessly. After about ten or twenty questions, you just want to prod him and tell him to “Say more cool stuff!” He clearly has no shortage of it, and in his nasal stammering way, he’s remarkably articulate at getting it across. Usually you pitch questions to edify murky areas of your understanding of a game, but with Spore you quickly learn that the most exciting complexities of it come from things you thought you knew, but were wrong about. I thought most of the universe would be computer-generated when you first played the game, and only mentioned this as a prelude to a better question, but he corrected me to say that the editors will be released long before the game, as a demo, and the creatures, buildings and vehicles people design with them will discreetly build up in a central database so that there’s a huge backlog of user-made content at launch. It’s possible that his absurd cleverness and absurd wealth are somehow related.

    Back at the party I ran into my other close personal friend Mark Wallace, an American journo who writes on occasion for the New Yorker and the New York Times, and, once, the best magazine of all: PC Gamer UK. I’d never met him before, and barely did here, but he was extremely nice, and had as it turned out been half-recognised me when I half-recognised him earlier. Mark got this blog a huge influx of readers when he linked it at the same time as scans of Murder Incorporated, my piece about the Eve Online assassins that also got me the hug that day.

    I lost Ben at some point, and ended up talking to the film-makers long after the other people from my hotel had shared a lift back. They were sisters, it turns out – a writer/director and a producer – and I cannot for the life of me remember what they were working on. We – I, they and a group of friends who would later turn out to be Persuasive Games – eventually moved on to The Standard in a car far too small for that many of us, where they knew how to mix a goddamn Caucasian. I say that like that was the reason, it wasn’t. I’m not sure what the reason was, but I can tell you that the other LA Standard, on Sunset, keeps a live woman with a laptop in a class cage behind reception. She just gets on with e-mail and stuff.

    VIP

    I also met – and I honestly don’t remember this, I’m just reading it from an e-mail I wrote later that night – a girl who was about to launch the LA branch of a chain of restaurants owned by the ex-Atari CEO who founded Chuck-E-Cheese, in which the tables are touch-screens on which you can play PC games. My point, really, is that interviewing Robin Williams wasn’t the reason this was one of my highlights of the year. It was that this was profoundly my kind of party, and I honestly didn’t think I had a kind of party. Just the right mix of important people, interesting people, friends, comrades in game geekery and new people who have nothing to do with my specific interest, but are nevertheless invariably interesting. As with their articles, Wired seemed to have a knack for cherry-picking people I like without my knowing the kind of people I like, let alone my telling them. My own invitation actually came to me third-hand, but once they found out they seemed pleased I was coming – they knew me from, dammit, the same wretched article Mark linked and CCP hugged me for. I think it’s time I wrote something better than that.

    bob_Arctor: Cool.

    Dunno what else to say!

    Jason L: This contains only the most tenuous links to creationism. I demand my money back.

    Alex Holland: Robin William's fondness of gaming is quite well known - he named his first daughter Zelda, as he was addicted to the game on the NES.

    I'm expecting any progeny of yours to be called Shodan or JC.