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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

GalCiv2: Still Genius



ImperialCreed: Nice to see the Spectres of Agony are still alive and well, flipping off every sentient species in the galaxy as they go :)

P.S. Did you ever get that email I dropped you Mr. Francis?

Tentaculat: I loved Master of Orion 2, and Civilization 4 but I simply can't get into GalCiv2. I want to love it, I really do. Do the expansions improve the game considerably? I've only played the first edition - which just seemed to drag on with no real structure to the game.

Like I said, I want to love it, so what am I missing?

Tom Francis: Are you playing the campaign? I'm not a big fan of that. The sense of progression is kind of undermined when you have to keep restarting, and it's the complexity and depth of that sense that makes GalCiv great in the first place.

I'd much rather play one twenty-hour match from random parameters than a tighly-plotted, mission-based story made up of smaller matches. Apart from anything else, a random game ends up having a better story.

In fact, GalCiv works so well for the former, that I wonder if we'll soon get to the point where people are happy for that to be the 'campaign', so to speak. Quick tutorial, then here: win this one, vast, enormously complex galaxy.

bob_Arctor: There is a campaign?
Madness: 4X games never needed a campaign before. Just start a large random map, sorted for 30 hours.

Tom Francis: The idea is to give new players somewhere to start - a custom game screen is super-intimidating if you've never played before. People want a button they can click to play the game in a way that'll lead them in gradually, not requiring advanced knowledge from the get go. That's what 'campaign' says to most people.

But a mission-by-mission progression doesn't suit this type of game at all, and that's one of few things I hold against Dark Avatar. Expansions ought to be tackling this instead of just repeating the mistake with slightly more care and attention.

I think my solution would be to combine a preset small-galaxy match with a tutorial, so that the tutorial explains the basics then lets you play an easy little game, offering help and commentary throughout. Then the 'New Game' option would launch you into a somewhat randomised Huge or Immense sized game as a race of your choice or design, with every other race present, default settings, and a simple choice of AI difficulty.

You'd still have a Custom Game option below that for anyone who wants to play differently, but you basically come down and say: this is how our game is meant to be played, this is how we think you'll get the most fun out of it. So that players without a preference will actually try the type of match that best shows off the game's traits, and get a huge amount of playtime out of it.

Right now, timid or modest players probably never try getting stuck into a really huge game, they likely stick to the campaign, which really doesn't show off the game well.

ImperialCreed - did your mail or e-mail address mention your handle? A Gmail search for it turns up nothing.

ImperialCreed: I fired it at your Gmail account, and my e-mail is imperial.creed[at]whatever, so that's curious it didn't materialise. It had an attachment too, a piece of music I thought you might be interested in.

I agree the campaign in both versions of the game is a bit rubbish, that part never gripped me at all. May I ask what difficulty level you play at, as I seem to get my ass handed to me on all but the easiest levels?

Love the game though, even if it does swallow huge chunks of my life.

Tom Francis: Nope - all I've got is a Kane and Lynch review you sent to the Uncensored address a while back. Resend?