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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.

Hitman header tunnel

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Far Cry Primal Thumbnail

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

Snowball jack header

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone and Bladestorm

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

BAFTA Featured

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Sectors Header

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

DXHR Open area

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Heat Signature Natural Numbers

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Pharma Header

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Make A Game Tutorial Thumbnail Featured IMage

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

Her Story banner

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

Invisible Header

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Super Game Jam Header

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

Shadow of Mordor Header 2

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Heat Signature Talk

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX


What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

Murder, She Wrote

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Wide 2

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Heat Signature Floorplans Header

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Steam Workshop

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance Header

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

The Magic Circle

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Blog Launch

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Floating Sine

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point


What’s Your Fault?

Hoplite banner

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Gone Point

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature Thumbnail

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

GRappling Hook Thumbnail

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

Alien Swarm Heroics

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

FTL Story

One Desperate Battle In FTL

Spelunky Banner

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Game vs story graph

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Breakdown

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Max Payne 3

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

This is how you die

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection


Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Skyrim Diary - Frostmere

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

Mainstream Games

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault


A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

Dark Messiah

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot


Arguing On The Internet


Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Stealth Games

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?


E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

Suspicious Manifesto

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

What Makes Games Good

Seat Quest

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Beneath Suspicion

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

Open Worlds

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

Level Up

A Different Way To Level Up

BioShock Ending

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

Meet the Spy

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Football Manager

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE Assassins

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

GalCiv 2

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary


I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

Machine of Death

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood money and sex

Blood Money And Sex


A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

Second Life

First Night, Second Life


SWAT 4: The Movie Script

Weirdly, You’ve Been Tanned – Suspicious For The Winter

This is mostly about the new Architecture in Helsinki, so I’ll get the other new albums out of the way quickly:


Rilo Kiley – Under The Blacklight: Okay, well this album has a statutory rape apologist song on it, so that’s hardly fair to the others in this round-up. It’s called 15, and you can pretty much take it from there. The trouble is, like all Rilo Kiley songs with slightly unpalettable lyrics, it’s incredibly good. It makes me worry about what Jenny Lewis could convince me of if she sang it well enough, because the “only, only, only fifteen” refrain here is so sweetly intoned that you find yourself thinking “Yeah, how could he have known?” Next up: The Manslaughter Blues.

There’s masses to love about Blacklight, and somehow its biggest appeal is that much of it doesn’t sound like Rilo Kiley. More like a Rilo Kiley inflection on a few of their favourite bands. I’m not well-listened enough to name any, but Give A Little Love sounds like nothing else on this or any other of their albums. And Silver Lining has a soulfulness that is at once theirs and also teasingly someone else’s.


The Go! Team – Proof of Youth: Now that I’ve given it a fighting chance, their second album has stopped irritating me and switched to just being slightly weak and noxious and flat, like week-old coke. The title’s unfortunate – they sound more tired and strained than on Thunder, and there’s just less life in the output. This album’s Bottle Rocket is clearly the jubilant Wrath of Marcie, and Universal Speech has the same electrified schoolyard chant feel of The Power Is On. But neither really recapture the velocity or glee of the first album for me. Grip Like A Vice and Flashlight Fight are just trash; dour self-aggrandising recited with no hint of irony or fun.


Architecture in Helsinki – Places Like This: I haven’t listened to an album on such a relentless repeat since Come On Feel The Illinoise. This has nothing to do with that, and it’s a terrible point of comparison, but I was attempting to illustrate the point that this is awesome. It’s what happens when the geeky indie kids try to be cool, when a huge band forget to bench anyone, and a group with more styles than songs forget to pick one. And like Lister’s triple fried-egg butty with chilli sauce and chutney, the wrongness of the ingredients is what makes it so right.

Like It Or Not explodes into what feels suspiciously like ska, Feather in a Baseball Cap’s descending synth-beep intro is almost seek, and Hold Music is outright sexy. These are (mostly) the same guys who did the chocolate-sweet What’s In Store and the kitten-soft Like A Call, but something’s happened to them. But if you’ve never subconsciously wanted the sweet-voiced girl from Architecture in Helsinki to do a song that calls for her to sing “Give it to me, baby give it to me,” a lot, you’re a better or less imaginative man than I.

The shift does feel like the logical combination of the opposite directions Frenchy I’m Faking and Do The Whirlwind hinted at, and in fact Heart It Races pulls a strand directly from the latter and writes a new song around it. That would be a problem if it wasn’t so much better: electric with force, bristling with hooks and almost offensively quirky. I’ve heard people say the exact opposite, and I just can’t work out what these people are doing with their ears. It doesn’t seem like this sound could possibly fail to tingle the brain if it gets there.

They can’t even manage every album’s Obligatory Three Boring Tracks, screwing it up each time by adding a ridiculous twist like the “Ay yah yah, woo woo!” chant toward the end of Lazy (Lazy), and livening it up irreparably.

Their demented frontman has always let his vocal affectations get the better of him at their songs’ most energetic twists, but here it’s easier to look at it the other way around: in Places’ quietest moments, he sometimes slips back into what could almost pass for a normal human voice. By the spastic climax of album highlight Debbie, the sounds he’s making seem like they wouldn’t fit through a mouth. It irritated me at first, but now I can’t see why I ever liked them without it. Getting carried away and sounding silly is what Architecture in Helsinki is.

Oh, scores? B, C, A; 8, 5, 9.

John Walker: I really really don't like the new Rilo Kiley. And I love all their other stuff an unreasonable amount. It feels like Lewis used up all her folk in the solo album, leaving nothing but the pop for this one.

In fact, most the album sounds to me like Paula Abdul trying to sing Motown. Which is about as insulting as I think it's possible to be.

Also, why does every song seem to feature a different 1980's Casio keyboard demo tune?

Tom Francis: I should probably give that another go. I liked Born Secular, but nothing else on that album did much for me first-time through. I think it was the shortage of 80's Casio keyboard demo tunes - did it even have any?

bob_arctor: Ugh bugger, already ordered Proof of Youth, at least the Oi va voi might make up for it.

Tom Francis: Let me know what you think - you might completely disagree. The reason I don't normally bother with negative reviews is that I'd hate to cause someone to approach something with more scepticism than they otherwise would. I have no idea why I waived this rule here.

Tom W: Yes, yes, I know this was forever ago, but Places Like This is still very very awesome. That is all.