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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 Completist: Tribes: Vengeance

Tribes Vengeance - Julia

What I thought at the time: Great, but merely great. It got eighty-something in our mag (Tim reviewed), and I remember thinking “God, I love eighty percent games” as I jetted and ski’d around the enormous levels. The Grappling Hook level annoyed the living fuck out of me, though, to the extent that I stopped there and didn’t play it again for three years.

What the world thought at the time (paraphrased): The world was unavailable for comment since no-one in it actually bought Tribes: Vengeance. It went vritually unmarketed, so only the Tribes hardcore actually bought copies, which was kind of a shame because, by putting enormous effort into a lengthy, complex, story-driven single player campaign, it was very obviously designed to court everyone but the Tribes hardcore. They hated it.

What the world thinks now (paraphrased): The world is unavailable for comment as its populace have either a) never heard of it, b) forgotten about it entirely, or c) intentionally erased it from their memories to preserve their fondness for the original games.

What I think now: I liked it a lot more this time through, admittedly because I wasn’t above using a level skip cheat to avoid fiddling around with the dismal grappling hook level, and to retain my sanity when I lost yet another hour’s progress due to the COMPLETE FUCKING LACK OF AN AUTOSAVE. The ludicrous thing is, the reason I keep losing masses of my progress is that I like the game so much. I’m lost in it, so I’m almost never pulling back and thinking “This is a game, I need to save”.

It doesn’t even have a quicksave key. Instead, you have to pull out to a menu, select save, then select “New Save Game”, whereupon – I kid not – it asks if you want to overwrite “New Save Game”. It’s not really an option, it’s a dummy savegame they put in there that gets recreated when you save over it.

Tribes Vengeance - Mercury

The thing I wish everyone would copy: Skiing! We have games with jetpacks – though not enough by anyone’s count – but we badly need more that combine your short-lived skyward thrusts with the ability to curl that gravitational potential round into blindingly fast lateral motion by angling your descent along inclines. It’s a thrilling, elegant and endlessly satisfying mechanic. Even on the last level I was amazed by the dizzying speed I could pick up by playing off the shape of the land.

Best bit: It’s partly that, but more specifically what that leads to in the context of a single-player shooter. Because the levels are enormogasmic, you have some time and distance to plan your attack. But the main thing you’re planning is not which weapon to use, where to throw a grenade, but the rollercoaster undulations of your blistering route through the area.

“If I jetpack over that ridge, I can land on the incline and ski all the way down to the facility, and hit that lip at the bottom to launch over that water-tower, take out the turret, and still have enough jetpack juice to blast up to the mountains on the other side of the valley to ski back for another pass.”

I got to the stage where I could execute all this without hitch almost instinctively, leaving my higher brain functions free to handle the shooting as I shot by. The centrepiece weapon is the Spinfuser, which is like a lightweight rocket launcher except that your missiles inherit your own velocity. That means that you have to lead to compensate for both your own movement and that of your target, so nailing five guys as you slide by at eighty miles per hour does genuinely need some brainwork.

I don’t think I’d like a game that forced you to conduct that kind of mathematics in the middle of an N-like momentum manipulation across a 3D landscape, but I love that there’s a game which lets me, and rewards me.

How cocking hard is it? Not too bad, but the challenge has its minor frustation factor magnified a billion times by the no-autosave thing. There’s the odd inordinately tough boss fight, some of them unexpected, and the prospect of repeating the entire preceeding level in order to take another whack at one of these caused me to level-skip to the victory cut-scene once or twice. I am not ashamed of this. Irrational should be.

Tribes Vengeance - Ship

How long is it? Long. It feels super-epic, but in fact it’s merely long. It’s an utterly absurd structure – at various times you play a princess, her daughter at six, her daughter in her twenties, her daughter’s boyfriend, her daughter’s boyfriend’s killer and even your own killer. By the end of it, even though precious little of the dialogue and precious few of the characters have been even remotely good, you’re so exhausted by the sheer amount of plot you’ve lived through that you can’t help but feel rather satisfied.

Jumps the shark: Guess what? The grappling hook level. But not just because of the grappling hook. This is a level where you play a six year-old girl, piloting fighter jets and mowing down legions of trained soldiers. The problem with the grappling hook, by the way, is that their coders weren’t clever enough to work out how to make it wrap around obstacles that get in the way of the line, so when you grapple onto the ceiling or a high ledge, the challenge is to make sure your lifeline doesn’t brush some light fitting, skirting board or defect in the wall, or it will instantly vanish and you’ll plummet. It’s all the less tolerable because an Unreal Tournament player modded in a grappling hook with this feature implimented beautifully, and it took him all of a few afternoons. That’s the same engine.

What’s the end like? The penultimate level is really good, as mentioned, and entirely true to what made the bulk of the game great. The final one is a boss fight with someone who seemed to me to be a fairly minor character, and it’s pretty unremarkable. But it wins big points for a) not being at all frustrating, and b) being set above the clouds against a spectacularly beautiful sun. It’s one of the few games that ends in a place that feels like an appropriate place to end. It’s a game about flying, and you finish it higher than you’ve ever been before.

What’s the ending like? Surprising, actually. You never get to kill the real villain of the piece, she gets away scott free. It would almost be noir if the characters involved weren’t such hammy irritants.

Tribes Vengeance - End


The_B: I convinced my brother to buy this game soon after it first came out.

He barely played it at all (I don't think he even got past the first mission) and then never played it again. More infuriating was that he never let me play it, even when he wasn't, and he wouldn't give me it when I moved out - again even though he'd never played the thing, and clearly had no intention to.

The git.

Still, I did manage to play it a few times when he wasn't around...

Tentaculat: Interesting! I'd always imagined this game as a Quake 3 clone; balls to the wall multi player with a shallow single player mode tacked on. I certainly would not have expected 'super-epic' to be used to describe it. Shame on me then for never trying it, super-epic sounds like my cup of tea.

The PC Gamer pod cast makes more sense to me now. Jolly good show! Salivating over obscure(ish), under-appreciated games is something I approve of far more than unknown music, probably because I can get excited about it knowing at least who or what the hell you're talking about. Good stuff, lets have more of it! Exclamation mark.

BabyBoy: This game absolutely rocks my world. I've played it every day for the past...three or four years. The community is really small right now, and not very warm and welcoming by the majority unless you jump in as the best player in the server lol.

Kevin: damn im still stuck on the Grappling shit but otherwise the game so far has been awesome

TidyJ: Quite frankly, I loved this game, and it will forever remain in my top ten, if I could just stop forgetting about it.