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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

Episode Two Death Maps

No-one seems to be reporting it, but Valve have now released stats for how players behaved in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. This time they’re more in-depth, and my favourite part is the Death Maps. They’re heat-map visualisations of where most player deaths occured in each level. This is the Death Map for the huge freeform Strider battle near the end of the game:

Death Map

Loads of people died trying to defend the Sawmill, and the place to the East with the antiques, but very few near the Westernmost building. Whether that’s because it’s easy to defend or because no-one bothered to save it isn’t clear to me, but I remember it being one of the easier ones. I never managed to save the Sawmill – I’m always busy with the Hunters when the Strider takes his shot. But it’s always worth losing it just to hear the rebel shout “Oh God, not the Sawmill! Is nothing sacred?

Soberingly the stats again reveal that less than half of all players completed the episode – 44%. That’s a slight improvement over the shorter Episode One, which confirms my feeling that Valve were much more wary of difficulty spikes here than in previous games – perhaps because of the Ep1 stats.

Because Valve are the only guys making their stats public, we may never know how this compares to the number of people who completed, say, BioShock. But you’ve got to figure games so short, so propulsively scripted and balanced for new and casual players have better completion ratios than almost anything else. So you can see why a lot of major games last less than ten hours these days.

This is my other favourite Death Map. It’s the place where you get the car – the car itself is on the upper right there. Looks like lots and lots and lots of people didn’t make the jump.

Death Map 2

Update: just noticed there’s also an ‘Achievements’ tab. 1.1% of us got the Gnome one, making it officially the second hardest. Top is, of course, Get Some Grub – the 0.4% of players who actually earned that one probably see phosphorescent maggots when they close their eyes now.

SenatorPalpatine: I'll get the Gnome achievement eventually.

That's pretty sad how few people finished the game. Though to be fair, a lot of those were probably people who bought orange box for TF2/Portal and not for Ep. 2.

Also, if you press the question mark next to completion percentage for ep 1:
Games Completed (38.81%)

Our data indicates that while 50.63% of the players have reached the final map (as noted in the Highest Map Played graph below), only roughly half of those players have completed the game. This leads us to believe that either players are quitting before they see the credits, or there is a bug in how we collect this data.

Looks like more people finished in Ep. 1 then 2.

Tom: It's quite common for me to get to the last level of a game and then give up without ever completing it. In my head I think of them as completed I just can't be bothered with the final push, or sometimes I don't want the game to end so I keep a bit back so I can go back to it (i pretty much never replay anything once the credits roll).

The_B: I was quite suprised that less than half the people managed to get the Gordon Propelled Rocket acievement, given it was what I thought a very obvious puzzle, espcially with the huge scorch marks on the floor.

Perhaps logical thinking isn't as easy as it appears for some.

Tom Francis: We're not trained to see scorch marks as unusual or suspicious, since a lot of HL2's world is burnt or destroyed and we're not required to extrapolate why. We're also not trained to look up, so the body in the rafters is not a huge tip-off. And again, corpses in weird places are the norm anyway. The grenade crate, on the other hand, is a pretty big tip-off.

None of which explains why I did solve this puzzle, but didn't get that you were supposed to use grenades. My first through was to do a Gravity Gun jump off the loose panel, which worked beautifully.

Anyway, I suspect the majority who didn't find it just never went into that room - it's off the beaten track, and you get an RPG later anyway. I know Alyx nags you about it, but people have an amazing ability to ignore or miss speech cues. Myself included.

Tom - don't you cheat to the end, if you get that close? I do. If I've decided the final boss is not the type of challenge I'm interested in overcoming, I have no reservations about making myself invulnerable to see the end cutscene.

The_B: I will say re-reading my comment makes me sound more than a little arrogant than I meant to come across.

But I dunno, I personally found myself going through that particular section (and indeed puzzle) as if I was going through the motions, so to speak. I thought the puzzle itself had a rather cool outcome, but for some reason it just never really felt as if it stopped my flow at any time, unlike say every Hunter battle. Also, it did pop up on the car radar - but then given it seems even less people than those that managed to get that RPG got all the crates, then I suppose it's a bit of a moot point. Maybe I just know what clues I should be looking out for too well.

Rockeye: I haven't completed Episode 2 yet, mainly because I've been enjoying TF2 and Portal too much. I have started it, but the game hanging while loading a new area when I first sat done to play it and a stupid death the second time that made me quit in annoyance have meant I haven't got very far into it.

I might tackle it this weekend, but then I might play TF2 instead. I will complete it at some point, I just haven't had the time to sit down and play through it which is how I think it should be played. TF2 and Portal are more suited to short sessions where you can jump in for a few rounds or tackle an advanced level.

roBurky: I didn't get the rocket launcher cache until my commentary playthrough, when I'd been told how to do it.

I saw the corpse in the rafters, but you see corpses everywhere, I didn't see it as at all significant. I don't know if I noticed the scorch mark, but if I did, they're pretty usual everywhere. I noticed the grenade box, but I would never have thought of standing on top of my own grenade. Even with a piece of metal in the way, I would have assumed it would kill me.

I did like that Alyx made a comment when I left empty handed to recognise that I hadn't solved the puzzle. how is my Blood line