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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

Hellgate London Thoughts

It might not have been Bill Roper, but there was someone who worked on the Diablo games who had a direct line to the pleasure center of my brain. World of Warcraft suggested to me that he had either left, or was working on something else now: it could hook me with its grind, but never excite or enthrall me the way a few tiny gold letters could in the Diablo games. Hellgate London clinches it: he must have left Blizzard and gone to Flagship. And started drinking heavily.

HellgateDemo_sp_dx9_x86 2007-10-19 00-30-44-86

The exciting stuff is there, it’s just adrift in a very messy, empty, grey game. A very repetitive one, too – this is only the demo, and even in the short time it took me to exhaust its sliver of content, I got incredibly tired of the identical warehousey tunnels.

It’s a myth that Diablo was about grind. The environments and enemies were diverse, even in the first game, and though you repeated interactions, they were interactions you wanted to repeat. The comedy clunk of a blunt object stoving in a zombie’s skull, nailing a scampering monster with a single arrow at twenty paces, pulling fire from the Earth and streaming it through your hands. It wasn’t grind, it was caress.

Hellgate is rather vague – nothing has to connect to hit, and though the sounds are satisfying, the interactions aren’t clear or physical. One-hit kills still feel right, because the soft ragdoll enacts an appropriate response to your blow. But against tougher enemies, you’re either waving your sword back and forth or holding down fire to make a health bar go down, and there’s no other visible response to your attacks. It’s not an interaction I want to repeat, and that’s fatal for this type of game.

HellgateDemo_sp_dx9_x86 2007-10-19 00-30-4-86

The exciting stuff is that it’s clear they’ve developed the best concepts nascent in Diablo 2: slotting and Horadric Cube recipes. Slotting is more sophisticated, and integrated with a crafting system, and the Horadric Cube’s magical recombinatorics have evolved into a device that can keep re-enchanting your favourite weapon to keep it up to your level.

But the loot harvest is made a lot less interesting by the abundance of class-exclusive items, something Diablo 1 & 2 had no concept of whatsoever, and even Lord of Destruction had the good sense to hold off on until later levels. Most of what I find is junk that I can neither use nor understand, and again, that’s fatal to this type of game. The loot harvest is the intravenous drip of dopamine here, you can’t afford to stem anything like as much as this.

So Diablo is dead forever, I fear. The genius who can tweak the equations to make me smile has left to join a team that don’t have the art talent, coding precision or design focus to let him shine. And the people who can still do that at Blizzard don’t seem to appreciate what it was that endlessly delighted me about Diablo, only what addicted me to it.

Has anyone played and liked this yet? I’m interested to know if it has charms I’m missing – I’m entirely guilty of not taking it on its own terms.

cullnean: Shame really I was looking forward to this as me and a few guys from work were gonna get it.

maybe they can take criticism from the demo/beta and turn it around quick sharp or take a leaf out of blizzard/valves book and hold on to it until its ready.

jonwilles: The demo is a lie. I have NO idea why they put that demo out into the public because it absolutely fails to highlight its better points. Gameplay past the first four levels picks up quite nicely and the forays into hell and the various buildings provide nice variation. Once you get into the first really frantic fire fight it feels just like when you wanted to pally jump out of a bad spot in diablo. In terms of the looting not being quite right, the stuff that isn't class useful can be scrapped and used to make stuff that is useful to your class. I couldn't agree more with you're initial assessment of the game from the demo but the demo is a far cry from what the actual game is like. Why they would shoot themselves in the foot like that i have NO idea. Anyway there's my two cents.

pxd: Tested and tested through ~ what you have experienced is true and ... it's really hard to fall in love with HGL. It's rough. D2 is a HELL lot better in any sense ... sigh. (Yeap, the 1 hit kill slash is precise, and then it's boringly swinging without impact, it doesn't even hamper the opponent gosh.)

uncklekk: while diablo 1 and 2 were awsome i belive you had a too deep connection with them.. i hate to break it to ya but they both were a giant grind just like 95% of games toady.

Tom Francis: Sorry. I will have less-deep connections with games in future, and deem them all equally bland.