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.
It came from the den. Later I’d learn that it had followed a much quieter, “Oh fuck. Oh-“
My first thought was that it had broken. I was going to spend a lot of time, over the next five years, wishing that I’d been right about that.
He burst into the room, crunching the door hinges and smacking the handle deep into the plaster. He nearly fell over trying to stop. I didn’t say anything, just stared.
“391! He was on the train this morning! He was one of the victims!” He stared too. We just stared. “Look it up!”
I didn’t have to. I didn’t have all our test cases memorised yet, but 391 I did know: EXPLODED. He was one of the reasons I didn’t believe it was working, EXPLODED was a joke. He saw I wasn’t looking it up, saw me looking at him, and knew I knew, but said it all the same:
“It fucking works.”
We were eating.
“Okay, well, it’s on now.” I munched a chip.
“I mean, it’s on.” I pointed a chip at him for emphasis.
“I get that it is on.”
“Okay.” I put my chips down.
I fixed myself a drink.
He came into my office again, calmly this time, through the fucked door. My office, his house. We left all the doors open that afternoon, and just walked around doing small, unimportant things, occasionally meeting in the corridors of his big, dusty old house and swapping new thoughts.
“What’s the latest count? How many others died?”
“They’re saying two-hundred now.” I told him, underplaying it a little. “Some places are saying three.” They were all saying three.
“Christ. From one bomb?”
“Well, it was on the subway, so…”
“Yeah. Christ.” He slouched against the wall and looked up at the cracked ceiling. “This isn’t quite how I imagined it working.”
“You know we still have to publish, right? I mean, that was the point of no return, right there.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s just-” He looked at me. “It’s going to look like we’re profiting off of this.”
I laughed, then met his eyes. “It’s going to look like we’re profiting from it? Pete, it’s going to look like we did it. You don’t seem to realise how sceptical people are going to be about something like this. You’re the only person in the world who has any idea how this box works, and to the rest of us it looks a hell of a lot like a hoax. And when some small-minded prick with a pound of C4 decided commuters were responsible for all the world’s problems this morning, it became the most vicious hoax in history. We’re going to have protesters on your lawn around the clock, we’re going to get ripped to shreds in the press, we’re going to be hounded by cameras. We’re going to get mail bombs, Pete.” I sat down, and lowered my voice. “They’re gonna try and kill us. Nobody knows yet, but I promise you that at some point in the next eighteen hours, someone, somewhere, is going to check our predictions list against the victims list and our lives as they stand will be over.” I was realising most of this as I said it. I felt sick. We were fucked.
“We’re fucked, aren’t we?”
“We’re not fucked.” I thought about it. We were definitely fucked. “No, we’re not fucked.”
He shook his head. “We’re so fucked.”
I sighed. We were so, so fucked.
This is the first few chunks of my short story for the Machine of Death challenge, which was great fun to write. I gave it a go because I thought it would be a good test of whether I can enjoy writing to someone else’s spec, and it turns out I much prefer it to writing my own ideas. There was something breezy about this whole process – it’s a short piece to begin with, but also not having the burden of responsibility for the concept makes it even easier to jump in.
Update: My story got in!
Update: The collection is out!
Update: Now my story is a podcast!
Update: They’re doing another collection!
Update: I wrote a story for it!
Update: It also got in!
Update: These updates make it seem like things happened quickly but actually it took 5 years.
More Machine of Death
Tom Francis: A-Anyone?
Thomas Lawrence: I read it. I liked it. Um... yes.
Zeno Cosini: It's GREAT. Did I detect the influence of Primer? The Schrodinger-server is brilliant.
Zeno Cosini: Er, so - you had to launch yourself out of the path of a Death Race-style driver, causing him to total his car? And you lost a single tooth when you hit the pavement?
Tom Francis: Most of the skin on my nose, but no teeth thankfully. And no totalled car, sadly - if I'd stayed on course I would have mildly dented it, but my heroic kerb-dive left it unscathed.
Yeah, definitely Primer-inspired. One of the things I loved about that was the very authentic idea that major discoveries are almost all accidents, usually ones that occur when trying something far less ambitious. Shame my invention couldn't be as convincing as theirs, but that was out of my hands.
Grill: Primer with bombs! Awesome. 9/10 (only 9/10 because I like longer paragraphs with more pretentious words and cos I've got used to giving everything 9/10 these days.)
Oh. Y'all already said that.
SenatorPalpatine: I liked it.
SenatorPalpatine: Hmm, why didn't she get an abortion?
Tom Francis: They were outlawed in 2048.
DiscountNinja: Noooooooo! Broken link :( I really wanted to read the rest of that :(
Tom Francis: God damn Google Docs. Try now? http://docs.google.c... ...7_76fgp6qj
The URL hasn't changed, and didn't work for me when I clicked it in the post. But clicking it from Google Docs works for me, and now so does the direct link. Can't work out if it's fixed itself or it's lying to me.
DiscountNinja: Mr Francis - you are my hero :D
Actually, just want to thank you for your work at PCG all these years too. I was delighted to find you had a blog :D
Kazill: Wow, that was really good,
Waste_Manager: Very good, but I think the pace slows towards the end of the chapter a little too much. I have the full article pegged to read at home, and I'm looking forward to it.
Itrade: Cool story, I read it a while ago and re-read the ending just recently. What does the paper say if the person is going to die in their sleep of old age?
Tom Francis: Thanks. The book it's going into is now going to be illustrated, the editors have roped 25 different comic book dudes to do some art for each of the stories. I can't even imagine what you'd do for mine.
Craig Laycock: I really enjoyed that! Re: illustration I'm guessing a man looking pretty pissed off at a slip of paper would serve. Perhaps a speech bubble saying, "How do you even die from a sponge?"
Georgietowne Manburger: That was marvelous!
oscar: nice, should be in bed by now (exams tommorow) but i always have to read your stuff.
Jonn: I just thought of something; what if some guy fell asleep on his friend's couch or something, and his friend runs him through the machine, as a joke. When he wakes up, his friend half-jokes about telling him, whereupon our protagonist kills him to keep from knowing. As someone walks in on the grisly scene, he accidentally looks at the scrap of paper on which his fate is written; "ELECTROCUTION".
My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection - a post on Tom Francis' blog: […] My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection […]