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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

The Finale Post

I’ve been delaying this because I couldn’t get the Javascript needed to make spoilers togglable work. I’ve now got to the stage where the code is exactly right except insofar as it doesn’t do anything, so I’ve given up. So I’m afraid you’re just going to have to do it the old fashioned way, and not read them if you don’t want to read them. It goes Lost, Heroes, 24, in case you need to skip.

Lost: quite good
I seem to be alone in this, but I rather liked the end to this series. The complaints I’ve heard are all things I’ve long since come to expect from every episode of Lost – we all know it’s no longer Good, right? Given that, and pretty low expectations from everyone telling me how much it sucked, I thought this was one of the only really fun episodes in season three.

It was even semi-clever: episodes always begin and end with the present-day bits, and dip into the flashbacks in between. This one does too: it’s just that the series has essentially moved several years into the future, and is tying up the existing plotlines in flashbacks to the island. I think this may actually be the format from now on, which would mean a long-overdue end to the flashback stories that tell you nothing and make you like the characters even less.

Resolution: pretty good
Finding out for sure that they get rescued is a pretty big deal, even if the moment itself hasn’t featured. Recent hints at some of the more supernatural theories like hell, ghosts, and near-death hallucinations are all out: they’re just on an island, it exists, they get off it. Future Jack’s sifting of maps suggests that they escape the island themselves rather than being found by helicopters or boats, since it implies that the island’s location is still a mystery. More importantly, Charlie died. Ha!

Plot holes: moderate
Plenty of minor “Why?”s, but the only really irritating one was future Jack’s reference to his father as alive. It was obvious from the start of the first episode that it was a flash-forward and not a flashback, and this was a pretty pathetic ploy to try to throw idiots off the trail by flat-out lying to them. It’s an indictment of how predictable and cheap the writing has become that I thought it more likely they were lying to me than that I was mistaken about the twist the flashback was leading up to.

Excitement: none
It didn’t bother me, but yeah, no tension or intensity at all. War with the others? Don’t care. Mikhail gone? Don’t care. Dynamite detonators killed? Don’t care. iPhone girl evil? Don’t care. The excitement of Lost was always the bizarre mysteries, the polar bears and four-toed statues. The politics of The Others and the capture of major characters is mundane and tired. If there had been any exciting scenes, they would have been diffused by the endless cutbacks to the tedious Jack plotline, the only payoff for which was wasted by being too obvious too far ahead of time.

Irritations: moderate
Interminable Jack screentime accounting for almost all of that. Didn’t mind about Mikhail coming back to life, because I didn’t really care whether he lived or died, and we already knew Charlie would, so it only achieved the inevitable. Ben facing the survivors alone was dumb, and Jack not killing him was dumb, but again, don’t care enough to care.

Highlights: about six?
Survivors commit mass murder! Brilliant! Hurley runs some dudes over! Brilliant! Charlie drowns! Brilliant! Hurley brags about saving everyone! Brilliant! Evil new high-tech faction maybe! Brilliant! Jack is pathetic and doesn’t end up with Kate! Brilliant!

Cliffhanger: er
I watched it last night, and honestly couldn’t tell you how it ended. We didn’t find out who was in that coffin in the future (I thought Juliet, but Graham says it’s referred to as a ‘he’), but ‘someone dies in future’ is not exactly a revelation we’ll all be holding our breath for. What happens about the iPhone is about the only thing I’m waiting to find out, but I could die happy not knowing.

Heroes: fun but frustrating
The climax couldn’t help but be enjoyable, but the series really lost its nerve, heart and brain at the critical moment. I feel about this almost exactly the way people seem to feel about the Lost finale – I enjoyed it at the time, but the more I think about it the more angry it makes me. It was an utterly gutless and nonsensical finalé, and they’d spent so long building to a smart and spectacular one. At least Lost only ever promised a gutless and nonsensical one.

Resolution: fucking none!
What the hell have I been doing for these twenty hours of my life? At the end of it, both people who can cause the explosion are still alive. Nothing happened.

Plot holes: numerous, enormous
DL gets shot! Why didn’t he use his power? Sylar gets run through by a slow, screaming Japanese businessman. Why didn’t he use his powers? Peter needs to be airlifted into the sky by his non-invincible brother, even though Claire had a better solution. Why didn’t he use his powers? Sylar lies down after one stab, everyone walks away. Did they forget he had powers? Guys, if you’re going to make a show about superpowers, you should occasionally remember that your characters have them.

Excitement: high
But that’s a testament to the build up rather than the finalé itself. We knew, or thought we knew, exactly what would get resolved here, and we’d been waiting for it for a long time. Then it didn’t get resolved.

Irritations: vast
All others pale in comparison to how pathetically gutless, tiresome and moronic it is to have the main villain not really be dead after all the heroes assume he is. I literally couldn’t believe they were doing it. If I didn’t have a little faith that they’ll try to move onto a new plotline for the second series, I would have stopped watching for good then and there.

It’s not just that it makes the characters stupid, it balances a huge plot twist on the absurdly precarious notion that the characters within this world have no concept of how it works. You don’t just get frustrated with them for being so stupid, you cease to understand them as characters. Their actions are inconceivable. There’s no longer any way to comprehend this universe.

Highlights: three tiny ones
It sad to say, but the biggest revelation and best moment in the finalé of an extraordinary 23-episode series was finding out Mr Bennet’s first name.

Cliffhanger: kind of
The chapter two teaser was a pleasantly clean break, but I’m not sure what it was trying to tell us. Do they have to stop an eclipse in this one?

24: good
This season a nuclear bomb went off in California in the fourth episode, so it’s been a bit of a low-key second-half by comparison. They’re trying to avoid a diplomatic faux-pas with Russia by preventing their defense secrets being handed over to the Chinese. Even that’s resolved very near the start of this finale, and the rest of the episode is about trying to rescue a single, rather unpleasant person from becoming collateral damage in the military resolution of the larger issue. But it was more about the people you like doing unexpected and pleasing things, and for that it was probably the most enjoyable of these three.

Resolution: near-total, as ever
It even ties up a plotline started three seasons ago, in which one of Jack’s many screw-the-rules operations actually has enormously grave consequences.

Plot holes: just the one
So the Russians, whose insistence on absolute proof of the destruction of The Component has been the driving force for this entire plotline, are delighted with the Vice President’s proposed plan of just bombing the oil rig it might be on and assuming it’s destroyed? Even if you can believe that, it’s impossible to believe that the VP would even have suggested it, so far is it from the result they’ve been pressuring him for all along. I don’t mind them doing the whole “You can’t call in an airstrike, X is still in there!” plotline again, but contorting the logic of the premise so horrifically to support it is sad.

Excitement: dangerously low
I think most of us are hoping Josh, Jack’s 16 year-old nephew with the awful fringe, will die. But even then we don’t really care either way. Those are the only stakes here, and 24 is supposed to be all about stakes. After a nuke on American soil the writers didn’t seem to know how to keep upping the ante, and ended up doing the opposite. It’s become steadily more downbeat and less intense as the series has gone on. It’s not a fatal flaw, but it’s a shame; the reason I fell in love with the series in the first place was the relentlessly escalating horror of what they were prepared to inflict on the country and their potagonist.

Irritations: none
24 established its flaws very early on in its life, so everyone still watching them has long come to terms with every silly thing it can do. I actually enjoy waiting for Jack to go rogue again (as he does three separate times in this episode alone). The only irritating recurring theme was his family being repeatedly kidnapped, and they’ve mostly learned to avoid that one these days. Technically Josh is family, but he wasn’t kidnapped to get at Jack – the villain’s entire plan revolved around him, the grand kidnapping failed, and in the end the government simply handed him over.

Highlights: several, but one in particular
This was the second episode of the season to feature some really brilliant writing. The first being an exchange early on between ex-president Logan and his much-maligned ex-wife, long since mad.

“Martha, the last thing I wanted to do was hurt you.”
“You always managed to get to that last thing, though, didn’t you?”

Here it was the fantastic clash between Jack and Defence Secretary Heller, whose life he’s saved around four hundred times at this point. (And who we saw die, I seem to recall, but whatever.) Heller’s forbidding Jack to see his mentally ill daughter, his long-term girlfriend, on the quite reasonable basis that everyone Jack knows dies. Jack, also quite reasonably but incredibly uncharacteristically, flips out.

“How dare you? How dare you? All I did, all I have ever done, is what you and people like you told me to.”

All the best moments in 24 are when Jack’s had enough. He takes more than anyone reasonably could, but the writers just keep throwing the trauma and tragedy at him until he snaps. He goes the entire series expressing nothing but grim determination, so when he finally does flare up it’s spectacular and genuinely emotional.

In season three this also came in the finale: after hacking his own partner’s hand off with a fire axe, on top of everything else, he excuses himself to his car for a moment and just sobs. In season four it came earlier on, when he was forced to threaten a doctor at gunpoint to abandon critical surgery on his girlfriend’s ex-husband, shortly after said ex-husband had saved his life, and does so with a look of utter panic.

Here it’s that line, when he can no longer take the callousness with which he’s discarded by his superiors when his task is complete. For the most part they can be civil about it, and cite official guidelines about plausible deniability that explain why they have to fire him, credit his success to someone else, arrest him, sacrifice him to terrorists or hand him over to the Chinese.

But this time it’s literally personal: he’s lost so much to them and the job that he can’t be allowed near the only personal life he has left, as broken as it is. And he ends up saying more or less what I said about him the last time I wrote about 24: that he’s barely a person, just a grimly logical tool who methodically achieves the objectives set for him. Ironically, it’s his most human moment yet.

Cliffhanger: none

Graham: In the first episode of Heroes, an eclipse was used to link all the characters together in spite of their geographically disparate locations. In the finale, it was used to bring the season full circle.

One assumes.

Dabs: Just one thing: I don't think Jack's dad is necessarily supposed to be dead. Remember, his coffin was empty when Jack found it back in the 4th episode of season 1, and I remember reading that Lindelof and Cuse said, when questioned on the subject, that the whereabouts of Jack's dad, "is something you should be wondering about". So, ridiculousness of the whole island-brining-people-back-to-life possibility aside, it's not necessarily a lie that Jack's dead wasn't dead in those flash-forwards.

Tentaculat: Spoiler warning for those who haven't watched this stuff yet:

I still rather enjoy Lost. I don't understand why many people think it's no longer any good, when you have characters as interesting and geniunely spooky as Ben, or Locke, or as charming as Desmond.

You articulate really well the way I feel about 24. I was soo glad that Bauer didn't get killed at the end of it all. I wasn't sure if this would be the last season or not (it isn't), so I had a geniune fear that Bauer might die. The writers seem eager to kill people off. The end of the season was apt and good television, with only the slight hint of suicide - but nothing came of that.

We're spoiled for good TV today. Btw, no thoughts on Prison Break?

Thomas Lawrence: In partial, non-committal defence of your Heroes plot-holes:

DL deliberately didn't phase around the bullet because he was in front of Niki and wanted to protect her from it. Run it back again - he's stepping in front of the bullet.

The whole final fight was clumsily and slowly staged, but what I think we were supposed to get from it was: Sylar was meant to be too distracted to notice Hiro running to stab him; Peter was too overwhelmed by explodiness to use any of his own powers, including flight, hence the need for Nathan.

I don't get why Claire couldn't just have shot him, though. Except perhaps that shooting didn't work on Radioactive Ted? Or maybe Nathan didn't want Claire to have to go through that? Or perhaps everyone believed that Peter really would die if he was shot, in a non-recoverable way? I'm grasping, really I am.

As for Sylar's survival - I'm reserving judgement on it for now, although I will say I liked the character too much to have him die that way.

Tom Francis: Good point about DL. Sylar does seem to see Hiro coming at him from quite a distnace, though, and he's exhibited more resilience than he needed there on many occasions before. The reason it irritates me is that I'd been waiting for the explanation of how Hiro manages to slay him the way we see it foretold, and it turns out there isn't one.

I can see that Peter could be too overwhelmed to use his powers, but the other nine saner alternatives to what they went with are still kind of nagging. Apart from anything, how was Nathan even able to get near Peter without dying? The whole reason Claire needed to be the one to kill him was that her invulnerability made her the only one who'd even be able to get within shooting range of Peter when he started to go nuclear. Yet Nathan is able to physically hold him in late stages of explodiness - seconds from detonation - without even exhibiting discomfort.

Tim Kring said in an interview "You're not supposed to be thinking about that." I get the feeling we're not supposed to be thinking at all.

Anonymous: "It was obvious from the start of the first episode that it was a flash-forward and not a flashback."

Oh dear, then shame me on me for this never once crossing my mind. When Kate met Jack at the end, all kinds of conspiracy theories whizzed through my mind until I realised it was actually, er, the future.

I put towards my defence the fact that Jack's flashbacks were always the boring ones. Never was that much interested in his past life.

Overall, it was a pretty good season even though there were a few clunkers. While there wasn't as exciting a buildup to the finale as one or two, I think it answered a lot more questions than those series did (and cracked open a whole bunch of new ones, natch).

Tentaculat: Ahoy there. I have a suggestion regarding spoilers, though I'm not sure if it's possible with the rather restrictive and poncey Web 2.0 nonsense of today, Jim-lad.

I'm sorry, do you mind if I call you Jimmy? The site is called James, you see, and you have pictures of pirates here, you see and Jimmy has hilarious connotations.

Ahem. LOST: It wasn't obvious from the start that it was a flash-forward, the writers intended it to be that way. I don't know how you worked it out, but then I can't figure out how to put italics into comments, so perhaps I'm just stupid. Or am I? Or AM I?

Apologies if this comment annoys you, Jim-lad. There is madness here, but it is a purely benevolent madness. Btw I am not a dissonant element, I am a resonant molecule. Please don't ban me. LOL!

What? WHAT?

The suggestion is as follows; imbue the spoilerific paragraphs with the color #ccd8e4 (which coincidentally is your background for your blog). It's cheap and tacky, just like PC Zone, except that isn't cheap, and is actually bound together quite well - but isn't as good as PC Gamer, natch.

Thank god for that, I've been trying to shoehorn the word 'natch' into this comment the past 3 paragraphs. I re-read your Oblivion review today, and I decided I liked it more than the game itself. Perhaps I'm just crap at roleplaying, I mean come on; this was supposed to be a piratey concept comment, yargh!

Screw it.

James Lyon: Oh, and Anonymous was me, if that matters.