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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

I Played Through The Crysis Demo Holding A Surprised Korean Guy

There’s no achievement for this, but as a nod to the two and a half thousand people who came for the gnome post and stayed, I gave it a go. It’s much, much harder.

1 Crysis 2007-10-28 14-09-01-98

This is Surprised Korean Guy in his natural habitat, roaming the beaches for things to find surprising.

2Crysis 2007-10-28 14-09-07-87

An invisible dude came out of nowhere and picked him up by the windpipe. He found this pretty surprising.

3Crysis 2007-10-28 15-20-37-14

I was surprised at how high I could dial up the pixel shaders, specular mapping and high dynamic range lighting without the framerate dropping unplayably low on my fairly old PC. If Surprised Korean Guy was surprised by this, it didn’t show over his normal level of surprisedness.

4Korean Guy 2Crysis 2007-10-28 15-50-46-89

Oh God, they’re firing at me! They’ve gone crazy! They’re going to hit their surprised comrade!

5Korean Guy 2Crysis 2007-10-28 15-30-34-79

Hang on Surprised Korean Guy, I’m going to have to hold you behind this tree for a sec while I save you from these psychos.

6Korean Guy 2Crysis 2007-10-28 15-29-15-14

I’ve been told, too late, that Half-Life 2’s garden gnome can be jammed between the back of the seats and the roof. After extensive, noisy experimentation, I have concluded that Suprised Korean Guy cannot safely be jammed in any part of this car.

7Crysis 2007-10-28 14-53-31-85

Oh God, he’s blacking out. Maybe I can set him down on this bed for a second, and he’ll be surprised all over again when I pick him up?

8Crysis 2007-10-28 14-53-34-23

Oh right, Strength mode.

Crysis 2007-10-28 15-26-37-46bkaw

Er, this one must be from a different album, I don’t know how that got in there.

I think I actually got through about five Surprised Korean Guys in the end, mostly because their friends love to shoot them, and you can’t duck or go invisible while you’re carrying one. But in a strange way his ceaselessly alarmed face is a more comforting presence than the gnome’s smug grin. Anyway, five things about Crysis!


1. Some of the graphics settings eat your framerate. Post-processing isn’t a particularly good thing anyway, so lots of free frames per second turning that off. Shaders is the big one, both in terms of performance cost and visual fidelity. No use having it high if you can’t afford high-res textures, but having both on high is worth turning everything else down for – it’s truly beautiful. Shadows are the other big hit, and look virtually the same on Medium as on High. Objects is the one you want to crank up to minimise the pop-up of rocks and the like as you approach them.


2. Pretty much all the DirectX 10 stuff works in DirectX 9 under XP. Crysis was the only thing that seemed like it might justify Vista and DX10, but its exclusivity turns out to be just another big ball of sellotape and lies. Just renaming the Very High configuration to High means it’s no longer locked off in the Options when playing under DirectX 9, and lo, it works fine and looks amazing and, by most accounts, runs better than it does under DirectX 10. The tweak is easy to do, but it’s even easier to just download the modded config files and dump them in your Crysis/Game/Config folder.

This was the one game that truly was designed for DX10 and Vista from the ground up, famously so, and even it can’t offer a single compelling benefit of either. It’d be funny, if millions of people hadn’t paid four hundred dollars for it.

Crysis 2007-10-28 15-22-59-70stealth

On a more positive note:

3. Holy shit this is incredibly good. Despite the above screenshots, I’ve spent very little time shooting trees and throwing tyres at chickens. I was expecting Crysis to be a messy playground, but it’s far too good a stealth shooter to spend your time just screwing around. With only one silenced weapon and a couple of night levels, Far Cry was still one of the best stealth shooters ever. This time they’ve had the sense to take that aspect and run with it, and the result is like the game of Predator.

I also expected it to be a little drab – we’ve seen some very washed out dense jungle scenes that just look a bit too realistic. But this level, at least, is gorgeously exotic and exciting. It has such a profound sense of place, I just want to hang out in these coastal shacks and swim to sandy little islands, climb mountains and admire the view. Just like Far Cry at the time, Crysis is a free holiday.

Crysis 2007-10-28 14-58-36-09throw

4. Play on Delta difficulty. Regardless of your skill level. It’s a fun game on Normal, but on Delta it’s truly extraordinary. It’s not about nerfing all the damage you do, they’ve actually done difficulty modes right. There’s no crosshair so you have to use iron sights aiming, enemies speak entirely in Korean so you can’t comprehend their tactics talk, there’s no grenade warning or enemy glow, the AI is more perceptive and dramatically more accurate, and health regen in Armour is slowed from a sprint to a crawl. Oh, and bullets kill you. They really, really kill you.

So the game becomes entirely about engineering the situation, stalking your prey in Cloak mode, waiting for one man to stray far enough from the pack that you can abduct him and toss him quietly off a cliff. It actually requires less twitch skill than playing normally, because you simply can’t win uneven firefights. You’re forced to strategise around them, and the interestingness of your options goes up dramatically as a result.

Going back to Normal afterwards is just embarrassing – the enemies are like comedy B-movie goons, the red glow on enemies who’ve shot you is like putting stabilisiers on a bicycle, and Armour mode might as well be called Invulnerability. Worst of all, it encourages just hanging back and taking pot-shots at long range, which completely misses the point of the game and all the really fun stuff.

Plus, Craig tells me that in the game’s config files this is referred to as ‘Bauer’ mode. Are you really going to play on something other than Bauer Mode?

5. It’s nothing like Far Cry.


More shots up here.

roBurky: It's a shame most internet discussion about the demo is mostly centred on how hardly anyone can run it, so any actual discussion of the game is drowned out.

I had absolutely no interest in this game before the demo. Now I'm a complete convert. It's fantastic, and that's entirely ignoring the graphical shinies. This is stealth combat done better than anything else I've ever played.

I also agree with you about the 'delta' difficulty. I rolled my eyes at the suggestion that everyone should play on hardest, at first. Then I tried it and understood. It doesn't really make it harder, it just stops you from playing it like a typical shooter and missing the unique fun this game offers.

Chis: Completely agree with your assessment of the gameplay, just spent an hour scouring what I could of the map simply because the game is so FUN. A stealth shooter that isn't entirely linear and is fun, at last. However, even on delta difficulty I had few troubles dispatching enemies.

Sold, will be buying this as soon as it is released.

The_B: The angle you've gone for: Best Angle Ever.

No seriously, bloody brilliant. I actually lolled. Hard.

Jason L: Well, now I don't know what to believe. I hadn't read anyone whinging about the system requirements, but people were saying that buildings fall over if you brush against them and enemies in khakis take more bullets than you do in your Armour-O-Suit...? Fortunately I don't yet have a respectable machine, so it's not yet relevant to me.

The difficulty thing is amazing, though. Full marks, gentlemen.

Ben: In the comparison shots, Far Cry actually looks better.
Looking forward to installing the demo to see just how wrong i am...

Tom Francis: I've seen a few people complain about the Koreans taking more bullets than you. I have a few objections to this complaint, the least of which is that it's openly untrue. You take more even when you're not using your suit's Armour mode, and with it you're a tank.

I think people just aren't realising when they're missing. You fire four times, the guy doesn't die, you get hit four times, you do. That doesn't mean you hit four times or that they only shot four times.

I'm pretty sure the game even does you the favour of treating all incoming hits as bodyshots, whereas your enemies have no such luxury. If you're actually aiming and you're within the effective range of your weapon, no-one takes more than two shots with any weapon on any difficulty. I'm pretty sure that if you hit the head and not the helmet on the most heavily armoured opponents, they go down in one too.

But the spirit of the complaint is obviously that the Koreans take too many bullets and you take too few, whatever the respective figures. Crytek had the audacity to discourage you from taking more than ten or twenty guys on at a time in a straight firefight with no cover. You're challenged to win on the strength of your strategy and versatility rather than the inherent invulnerability of the character you play. Imagine!

Gabriel: The complaints are so many cause Crytek CEO lied about the hardware needed to run it SMOOTH.No hardware atm can run it smooth unless you drop visual settings to "medium" on high end machines (8800 graphic card) and "low" on mid-level machines.
Game is good but if you almost can't have it at a playable framerate it's unuseful.And under settings like "High" for shaders and medium for the rest the game looks fine but less good than many other games around like CoD4 (that can be maxed out and runs smooth).

Gabriel: Playable framerate means that it NEVER DROPS UNDER 25 FPS..

Gabriel: And,unfortunately,on almost every machine Crysis drops often under 25 fps.This is why ppl complain about the graphic part.Game is too heavy,period.

Archonsod: I'm running it on full, with an FPS of 40 - 50 even when it gets crowded, and the only thing my rig is likely to have that's still fairly unusual is a quad core CPU (2.6 Ghz Intel). I've only got 1Gb Ram in there too, plus Vista.

From what I can tell not all the DX10 effects are enabled with the XP Mod, but who cares about graphics when you can master your parking a jeep in a shack skills.

Jason L: Yeah, wah wah. My brother finally got this on his new not-quite-cutting-edge gaming laptop (equivalent to a not-quite-cutting-edge desktop rig from six to nine months ago), where it's running beautifully with only a couple of the least noticeable postprocessors turned off - per one of the many excellent Crysis performance guides that are already available. You know - the things with words? That tell you what to do to get what you want? I guess you could complain that Crytek doesn't give us a slider with 256 levels of fidelity vs. performance arranged in order of personal preference, but continued disappointment has made me pretty mellow about software developers who fail to invent machine clairvoyance. And of course, even out of the box on Medium Crysis looked stunning - with no invisible walls or perspective scripting.

In terms of the actual game:
1. I found out why people are bitching about weapon power - they're still using the silencer from the tutorial. My brother's comment upon reaching the first beach fight with a boat: 'WTB assault rifle that works.' When we got around to taking the silencer off it was a revelation. In retrospect this is actually kind of impressive, at least if Testosterone Force's rifles are using the M16 round; that derives its killing power from unusually high velocity, so its subsonic rounds are pretty bad. I once read an autobiography of a Vietnam SEAL who used early ones and told about repeatedly shooting a guy who didn't even realise he was being shot - just kept swatting at the impact points and looking around quizzically. Of course, we're also supposed to believe that the rifle changes normal rounds to subLALALALA... and would it have hurt to mention this disparity somehow?

2. Holy cow, these guys are smart. Well, not smart enough to steal a HMMWV and flee when they see an invisible monster tearing their friends apart, but plenty smart all the same. That same first big beach fight was a wonderful shock for my brother, who's a sniping CSS twitch god. From the horse's mouth, while tagging guys with the binocs: 'Wow, I'm going to be such a running little bitch in this game - normally I can't stand that, and normally I just move faster. These guys are going to turn me stealthy!' The pressure just never lets up - they're constantly finding new angles, so you only have a few seconds to think after any violence. Pity they don't seem to think about their cover at all, but I guess they'd be less aggressive and you can't have everything. Glorious. Nine years later, we have successors for the Half-Life Marines. I can't wait to see the nano guys in action.

Geraint: Hi guys. I'm really looking forward to Crysis. Methinks my new system will be good enough to play on it with Medium settins at a playable framerate