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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

BioShock Review Review

The issue of PC Gamer with my BioShock review in is now on-sale in England. I wrote it mostly with lunatic fans like myself in mind, so I don’t spend a lot of time saying what really should be the first thing you say about BioShock: holy shit! Someone made a game about a subaquatic capitalist utopia for the intellectual elite! And it’s going to sell? This is a game in which you have to know some of the history of Versailles to understand one of the villain’s insults to you.

There are ways in which BioShock does more with its subject matter than any other game I can name, but mostly it’s just amazing to have something to sink your brain’s figurative teeth into. It has ideas. There are themes. I think I even saw a paradigm.

I’ve started capitalising the ‘S’, you’ll be riveted to hear, because a) it’s correct, and I’m a fan of correct, but also b) it’s very System Shock 2. You can even draw a line from each of Rapture’s districts to each of Shock 2’s decks. They might not be able to say so legally, but there is a Shock series of games and this is one of them. The best, in fact.

I was slightly bemused when I first heard that they wanted to make a game set somewhere “more interesting than a spaceship”, because Shock 2 did such an extraordinary job of making that ship a vast and exciting place to explore. But yeah, I get it now. This is an order of magnitude more artistically exciting.

I’m not talking about the bits where you kill children, because they’re not very good and they don’t need to be. Everyone will fixate on them forever and ever and it will be boring and terrible and that’s a shame. They’re not important, either emotionally or mechanically, and the game has so much more going on that is provocative and brave and weird and brilliant.

Bioshock Gatherer's Garden

The lunatic fans seem to be satisfied, by the way – although they frantically crave documentation of every microsecond of the infanticide. And one called me a ‘filthy worm’ for giving it a score as low as 95%. While I was away in France last week, the first copies were delivered to subscribers, and one guy on the official forums got to be a mini-celebrity for a few days by being the only person who’d read the first ever review of their holy game. People grilled him for info and implored him to type in the first few sentences. I love being a part of something that inspires that level of excitement, even if I’m just riding Irrational’s coat tails.

There’s a line in my review that starts “So kindly avoid any…” I would just like to say, for the record, that this line originally read slightly differently, and you will probably be able to guess precisely how once you’ve completed the game. It was a very obvious and weak in-joke that hinges on something enormously spoilerific but invisible to the uneducated eye. I couldn’t ask Tony to make sure he kept it intact when he was sub-editing my review because it would have entirely ruined the game for him, so I’m just going to have to ask you to come back here in a month, sneer slightly at my failed attempt at a bad joke, then switch your neural interface back over to whatever Zero-G Hyper Sports event the future will presumably be full of.


DuBBle: Regarding your third-from-last paragraph: I've tried to guess and I can't. I tried to stop myself from guessing but I couldn't.

Splendid review. If you wanted me to think that Bioshock is a very special game and fully deserving of my credits, then you have succeeded in mental manipulation. That's a lie actually, I was going to buy it anyway. Now I'll TOTALLY buy it in the XTREME, I'll buy it whilst double-ollying a molten vesuvian nobleman, right after I pop into Body Shop before it closes because I'm almost out of dolphin-shaped dissolving bath oil capsules.

I think it was Doug Lowenstein who called for professionalism and a higher quality of games journalism. You, sir, have done us both proud. Keep it up! If only every game could warrant the critical faculty of a 'high-art' review.

Tom Francis: Heh. I just discovered today that there's a whole thread over at the official forums about what these three words might be - http://forums.2kgame... ...php?t=2484

The guesses are all wildly off, but one person has managed to guess something that's actually true, although it's not the twist I'm thinking of. I was going to remind them that if they did guess it, they would of course have ruined the game for themselves. But there's no chance they'll ever get it, it's just not the kind of thing you can see coming.

Tom Francis: Cheers, by the way.

DuBBle: Do you mean your second paragraph's outset: "So kindly refrain from reading any forums"?

My guess: So kindly drown any aspiration to read forums ;)

Rob: " It has ideas. There are themes. I think I even saw a paradigm."

Ah, but did it *shift*, Tom, did it *shift*?

(I'm too afraid to use any formatting code in your blog :) )

Tom Francis: Nope. I'm liberating the word 'paradigm' from its shifty prison. Those two words are so commonly conjoined that it's become freakish to use the first without the second, which is a shame because it's a nice one.

Dan Gril of official Xbox, Steve Hogarty of PC Zone and I all made this same weak in-joke in our reviews, and all of them were taken out by our respective prod eds. I guess it didn't sound as natural as we'd hoped.

The_B: Can I take this opportunity to hold a thought of rememberance for Irrational now T2 have announced their Borg-erisation. I know it's only a name, but I really am sad to see "Irrational" go. It was a name that when mentioned always brought find memories.

Bloody suits. :(

The_B: And by find I meant fond. My late night typing is getting worse...

Well that and I think I made a sentence that doesn't really make sense, I mean; "Hold a thought"?

Again, I'll just blame tiredness.

The_B: Finally got my copy - Excellent review Tom, and kudos on the refraining from spoilers, I remember how some people were a little iffy on that in your Oblivion review.

Only problem I now have is getting enough money to upgrade my computer to run and play it. Stupid single core, less than a GB RAM computer...

M.: "Someone made a game about a subaquatic socialist utopia for the intellectual elite"

I guess you either didn't read the review very closely or the review didn't mention it, but Rapture was actually created as a capitalist paradise. A free market one at that.

Please correct this post.

Tom Francis: I read the review pretty closely, since I wrote it, but you're right of course. Slip of the speech center of the brain, now fixed.

DuBBle: Ah, yes, completed it, I know what a kindly old kidder you are now Tom :)

Jim: BioShock is one of the most dissapointing games I have ever played. System Shock 2 is head and shoulders above it.

The controls, 'dumbed down' nature of the game (thankyou consoles... you f**ks), and gameplay suck. Its a game for morons, and I'm not at all surprised at the reviews - 95% of the human race are morons after all

The Deleter: Jim unlocked the Achievement "Good is Bad".
Complain about a game that everyone else has stated to be excellent.

Jim unlocked the Achievement "Damaged Gene Pool".
State explicitly that you think 95% of the human race is stupid, whilst failing to give the impression that you don't belong in that 95%.

I played the console version, but I enjoyed this game immensely. It had a richness, a creepyness and a sense of despair and brilliance that no other shooter could match - it beats Gears of War in the atmospheric states hands down, and you relish any special moment, like when you make a Big Daddy's corpse fall in such a way that he looks like he's working a vending machine. Hats off to 2K/Irrational for making me feel bad about bludeoning a wireframe model to death.

Jason L: A friend of mine is nearing the end and says he's sick of the game arbitrarily 'fucking with him' - taking away ammo, making plasmids go wacky etc. I think he may be missing the point of survival horror a bit, but it is interesting that in all the bouillabaise of Bioshock backbiting I've never heard that particular complaint anywhere else.

Tom Francis: You don't have to be sick for long - those two things happen a matter of minutes from the end of the game.

Jazmeister: Oh shit I forgot about that plasmids bit. I stuck with like, one plasmid through the entire game (I was so focussed on the plot that I tore through the combat sections) and that was the only section where I found myself trying new ones.

In Rapture's world, plasmids are products, right? So these were like demonstrations, free samples - I instantly fell in love with the tornado thing, and the telekinesis.