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.
I have so many season finales to watch now, it’s like the end of the world. The only one I’ve seen so far is Heroes, which I will refrain from commenting on here until I’ve thought of a better way to deal with the spoilers problem.
This is why this is not the post about season finales. Instead, it is about these things:
Pirates of the Caribbean 3: Dead Man’s World Of End-Sparrow. In one of those things that didn’t really happen to me much when I worked in a warehouse building skateboards, I was taken to a preview screening of this on Wednesday in a stretch limo with free champagne, which I did my level best to pour on the editor of Disney Girl magazine. It is, I thought, ‘okay’. I would stretch to ‘quite good’ if this was the first one, but it lacks so much of the fun of the second that I find it hard to recommend. Particularly since everyone hated the second.
The first one was the zombie pirates one, and was good because it was breezier and funnier than you expected. The second was the fish pirates one and was great for its absurdly long, wildly overdone, bloody-minded physics-driven set pieces on gorgeous tropical islands. The third is about a big book of rules and some crabs that look like rocks.
None of them make a whole lot of sense, and I don’t recall what actually happened, plot-wise, in any of them (at the start of 3, everyone is alive and roaming around, so I assume nothing of import happened in the last two). But the third one doesn’t use its license to be absurd to do anything very fun. All the spectacular bits are just ship battles, which we’ve seen in some depth before.
I actually love ship battles, but they can’t hold my attention for long in dumb films. The reason they’re exciting is that they’re so physical – you can see the cannonballs, you can see which bits of the ships they smash, the damage is all evident and so the outcome is believable. In dumb films, such as this one, captains are idiots and the hero’s ship wins because it’s made of magic.
At one point a billion-strong armada retreat from two enemy ships, because they destroyed the flagship (because, for no reason, the captain couldn’t decide whether to fire or not). John, who loved it, argues that this is normal film logic, but the whole setup for the scene is “They can take this guy, but what do they do about the billion ships?” It’s hard to enjoy a dumb film about naval combat, politics and trickery if you’ve ever seen Hornblower, which was eight non-dumb films about naval combat, politics and trickery, with characters it is possible – nay, easy – to like.
Aside: Geoffrey Rush is still such a watchable pirate. While Depp’s drunken eyebrow-work on Sparrow gets tiresome, Rush can still just say “Arr” or a sentence of the form “X be Y”, and I am immediately happy.
The reaction to my Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary: which has been surreal. This is a ten-thousand word account of a single match of an expansion pack to a little-known turn-based strategy game with poor graphics, and no-one seems to mind. It’s not the hits or links that it got, surprising as they were, but the extraordinary comments. I just read someone saying- well, I’ll quote: “My brother and I would read the blog, then get together to discuss what he was doing right, what he was doing wrong, and what he needed to do to win.” This makes me feel amazing.
I like very much that I work on a magazine where I’m allowed to give stupid ideas like this a try. I did most of it at home or after work, but only because I love writing this kind of stuff so much. I had some New Years Objectives this year, one of which was to write something that got the same kind of reaction as my report on the Eve Online assassins – which has always frustrated me by being better-received than almost everything I’ve written since. This got a different kind of reaction altogether.
Facebook: it’s like social networking, except that I like it. I’m on everything – MySpace, LiveJournal, Blogger, Twitter, WordPress, Technorati, Tumblr, Flickr, Last.fm – but Facebook is the only one that seems really smartly designed in terms of how it connects you to people. It’s good at knowing what you’ll find interesting about what your friends are up to (almost anything), so the main news feed you get from it is incredibly fast-flowing and rich in interesting goings-on.
Now I have to watch TV.
The_B: Wave your hands about while you type the spoilers, then nobody will read them.
Otherwise use pig latin, I already read from John's that Lyarsay oesn'tday uiteqay Ieday, and Eterpay and Athannay lowbay upay...
Aside: There are a lot of Tom Francis' on Facebook.
Jason L: 'New Games Journalism' at its best. I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Tentaculat: New Games Journalism can bite me, and so can GalCiv 2.
How can it be that I enjoyed reading this (excellent) diary more than I did playing the game itself? As a pro writer, don't you cringe at the poor Douglas Adams-esque attempts at humour? "Space is really big, huge in fact" - er yeah, hah hah. I can't stand it. Is this game nothing more than a slightly shinier Master of Orion 2?
Why do I allow myself to be persuaded by these New Games Journalists into buying games that really aren't that great? Like EVE online; it has made for some great stories, and journalists seem to love writing about it. I bought that game immediately after reading about the Guiding Hand Social Club. And it's crap.
"Live that Iain M. Banks dream" PC Gamer UK tells me. I don't know what Iain M. Banks dreams about, but considering that his books have lots of sex and funny robots going on really daring adventures it's probably a lot more exciting than "WARPING TO STARGATE."
I can't help but view games journalism with anything other cynicism these days. Bring back Amiga power, that's all I have to say!
Tentaculat: Perhaps Tom, you will be kind enough to edit my hideous mistakes in that comment. Grammatically speaking of course.
Alex Holland: If you haven't already seen them, I should recommend two rather excellent Nautical outings. Firstly, Master & Commander, which like LA Confidential lets you forget Russell Crowe is a pillock and enjoy his acting, and secondly the BBC's underwatched To The Ends of the Earth trilogy, based on William Goulding's books, and starring future stuffy British actor extraordinaire, Benedict Cumberbatch.
The former is a thoughtful take on the same Napoleonic Wars turf as Hornblower. The latter is set in an old ship-of-the-line which has been refitted as a passenger transit to Australia, during the closing days of the Napoleonic wars. Both deal very well with both the superstitious, cabin fever mentality that infects all on board, the grim (and mundane) details of military warfare, and also the mind-crushing boredom of being stuck at sea for months on end. The narrator of the latter is also someone who understands absolutely nothing about masts and rigging, so it's quite a sympathetic introduction for the uninitiated.
Hopefully, one day Ioan Gruffudd will get sick of Hollywood (or vice versa) and they'll finish filming the later Hornblower books, when he's captain of his own ship. They're infectious Boy's Own stories of a variety that I always thought I'd be immune to, and my God, they're page turners.
Jason L: Someone else has actually made the same comment at one of the threads he linked. Both EVE and GalCiv generate stories which are more interesting to hear than to actually play.
Tom Francis: There are two claims here, and I disagree with one of them. It's fair to say that in a given fifteen minute period, these games are probably more fun to read about than to play. But it hasn't been true in my experience that the stories themselves are more fun to read about than live through.
Of course no one person has had an untainted experience of both, but I enjoyed that GalCiv game enormously, even more than I enjoyed writing about it. And I typically enjoy writing about such things more than I enjoy reading a good one by someone else. That's science.
I wrote about the Guiding Hand Social Club and didn't live through their hits, but the few story-worthy things that have happened to me in Eve were fantastic. The problem with that game is that it's so hard to get to them. Conversely, I think GalCiv gets you to the madness pretty quickly and reliably.
Al, is it possible Benedict Cumberbatch changed his name at some point? It's hard to believe someone could be born that British without actually being royalty.
The_B: I think I follow a similar school of thought as you Tom - I too find paricipation more enjoyable than a passive bystander, and I enjoy writing more than reading. I'm not sure if that's a comment on (and yes, it seems cocky, but given the response you've gotten thus far from the Gal Civ blog, I hope you don't mind me making this theory) -but I hazard to say that it could almost be something that marks out "great" games journalism from "good" games journalism, and I think this makes for better gaming culture stories overall, when it's from the viewpoint of someone who the event has actually occured to.
And thus we also have the inherit problem - the same stuff isn't most likely going to happen to someone else and almost not in the same way. Some people are likely to come away dissapointed. However, those whom can follow the game in the same way they read the article are of course, going to get the most enjoyment. In theory I'd say people whom don't enjoy it are probably the more 'casual' gamers, and those that do enjoy it the most are going to be those that are more dedicated gamers. In a way, I suppose genre will come into it as another factor too.
Apologies if I'm just repeating what you said in a different way.
bob_Arctor: Dunno about that. I don't really game enough to enjoy Eve but I love reading about it.
I prefer reading about MMOs than actually bothering play any.
Mind you I spend more time mapping than gaming anyhow.
Jason L: Much later, as ever - didn't the pirate fleet sort of spawn a giant angry woman, a howling tempest and a fleet-swallowing Charybdis during the duel? I can think of worse ways to demoralise an enemy fleet. On the other hand, I only remember five minutes of the latter PotC films with any clarity, so maybe that happened after. Blah.