All posts


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

Der Uberdoktor

Uber Grimace
Medic Unlockables announced! Discussed! Condemned? Perhaps!

Incredibly Important Update: The second unlockable weapon for the Medic is called the KritzKrieg, not the Critzcrieg as it’s spelt in the screenshots and, like, every website ever. See the end of this post.

Chris Livingston‘s been inadvertantly sappin’ my TF2 posts from this blog, by posting interesting stuff about the game regularly enough on his own that I invariably end up composing a 500 word comment over there and then feel like I’ve said my piece.

Chris’s blog’s ad banner: too awesome not to use.

But there’s lots to say about the latest torrent of news. The first batch of unlockable items have finally been detailed in full, and those long-leaked Achievements you’ll need to earn to get them are now concrete and specific. If you already know all the juicy details, skip the next three paragraphs – I’m just going to run through them quickly.

About a third of the achievements are easy: they’re things we’ve all done if we’ve played Medic for any length of time, like building an Ubercharge before the gates open during the Setup time. And after achieving a third of them, you’ll be able to switch out your regular Syringe Gun for the Blutsauger – a Syringe Gun that drinks enemy blood to give you 3 health for each hit, but which never scores critical hits.


A further third of the achievements are tough, but worthwhile pursuits. I don’t think I’ve ever used my Ubercharge at the same time as two other Medics, and I probably never will accumulate ten million healing points. Once you have done two thirds of the achievements, though, you get the KritzKrieg: a healing ray that whose Ubercharge gives the patient 100% critical hits instead of invulnerability.

The other third of the achievements are silly things, jokes – some sound like they were made up specifically to fit the name. Consultation, for example, is the award for healing another Medic while he kills five enemies in a single life. There’s one for building up an Ubercharge and not using it, instead attacking the enemies and managing to kill five of them without dying. When you rack up all the Medic-specific acheivements, you can has the Ubersaw: a Bonesaw that gives you 25% Ubercharge every time you hit, but hits 20% slower.


So, there are a lot of awesome ideas in there, but also a lot of obvious concerns. Like:

Once you’ve got the Ubersaw, why would you bother healing chumps anymore?

This doesn’t worry me much. To get the Ubersaw, you need all the achievements. One of them is to heal 10,000,000 health. Others are so hard that you’ll probably end up doing that just in the course of trying to get them. Valve reckon the ten-mill-heal alone is three months of playing nothing but medic, doing nothing but healing. My point is that if you’ve got all these, a) you’ve earned the right to take a break from healing, b) you probably understand the fundamentals of the class by now, and realise that injured people sure appreciate a bit of beam love, and c) I’m just guessing, I don’t know you, but I’m thinking you like healing.

If one Medic Ubers someone, and another Kritzes them, don’t they become an unstoppable killing machine?

I don’t see it. It’s not like when an Uber comes in, currently we all just stand there thinking “Eh, he’s not critting, I’ll probably survive.” We run. An Uber already is an unstoppable lethal force. I don’t know about you, but when my Uber wears off, the only people left alive are the ones I couldn’t get to. To me, Ubers are mainly for breaking otherwise impenetrable nests of Sentries, and crits do exactly the same damage as normal shots against Engy kit. If you’ve got an Uber and a Kritz ready to go, the strategy I’m scared of is sending in an Ubered Heavy with a Kritzed Soldier pumping in fire support.

Hold Still

Doesn’t tying practical benefits to achievements encourage – almost mandate – the worst kind of achievement whoring?

Yeah, but where the achievements are good, that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if a dozen people pile on a private server somewhere and try and game the system instead of playing properly. That’s never going to be the mainstream, and so long as your achievements are for things that class should be doing, the net effect is going to be a bunch of people doing what they should be doing.


Should you really be incentivising bad tactics like Ubering a Scout?

This is a problem. I’m not a fan of panning a change before it goes live, but in this case not much prediction is needed. I want the KritzKrieg, I’m going to be Ubering Scouts. I’m going to be asking friends to go Heavy and punch people while I Uber, instead of actually doing something useful for our team. I’m going to set up a tit-for-tat with another Medic so we can both get our Consultation on instead of tending to the dying around us. I’m guessing a lot of other people will too, but I don’t have to rely on that prediction – this system bribes me to screw it up for my team. Most of these things sound like fun, but that’s probably no consolation to the eleven people who just lost because of me.

More Medics!
I could write whole essays on the genius of TF2’s lighting. I won’t.

The only mitigating factor is that, since one class is getting three new weapons and thirty-six achievements while the others remain unchanged, we’re going to have enough Medics on each team for the first time ever. So losing a few to stupid japes half the time isn’t always going to be crippling. It’s just going to be, you know, stupid.

Unlocks aren’t always going to be tied to achievements, but to me that’s not really the problem. Achievements are fine, but the silly ones shouldn’t be compulsory – they shouldn’t even be incentivised. Call them something else, or hide them from the interface so people don’t know to try them, but get recognition if they stumble upon the idea themselves. Just make the useful, informative, beneficial majority of the achievements the only ones that count toward the useful, desirable, beneficial unlocks.

Still, I’m not half as anxious about this now that the Overhealer‘s out. I’m actually not going to play Medic for long after the update – I want to exploit the inevitable glut of doc-jockeys to a) get some serious Heavy on while the healin’s good – he’s one of my favourite classes but for some reason among my least-played, and the least played among all TF2 players. b) get some serious dressing-up-as-a-Heavy on while the healin’s stupid. I’m assuming the many, many healing-related achievements will outweigh the few Spy-killing ones to manufacture a net gullibility boon that I can exploit for maximum backstabbery. Which brings me to c) be standing right behind them, knife glinting, when they finally activate their first KritzKrieg. I don’t need an unlock to crit, nurse.

P.S. Does anyone know enough German to figure out why they’re spelling it ‘Critzcrieg’ when it’s presumably a pun on ‘Blitzkrieg’? Is there some convention I’m missing? Critzkrieg looks so right.

Incredibly Important Update: After two actual Germans testified in the comments that this spelling made no sense, I could bear the confusion and mental anguish no longer, and e-mailed Robin. He writes back to say that there was a miscommunication with the guy putting together the info that got given to these sites, and the real name is in fact The KritzKrieg.

That precise spelling and capitalisation is pulled directly from the game’s source code a mere 17 minutes ago, so it’s pretty much gospel – and at least 300% righter than everyone else on the internet. This post has been changed. The world has been changed.

J-man: I'm as worried as hell about these achievements. The butslauger and ubersaw combined will make the medic more of a soldier than... y'know... a medic. And why are only the medics being updated, huh? Everyone always discriminates against the snipers...

Tom Francis: Robin Walker keeps talking up how 'soon' the other classes stuff will follow - he reckons this stuff is easy to make, much easier than maps. To do the Medic stuff, they've had to create all the framework for storing the info about who's got what - they won't have to do that for the rest.

That said, I'm willing to bet Snipers are one of the last classes to get their unlocks. I think perhaps Heavy or Pyro next - new weapons bring a lot of new players to the class, and I think those two are under-played but good.

Man Raised By Puffins: "Once you’ve got the Ubersaw, why would you bother healing chumps anymore?"

I can't say that worries me at all. I have a hard enough time getting four hits with the standard saw let alone one which is nerfed (but then I'm crap at melee), and as such I think it accentuates the risk/reward of having at the opposing team with your saw quite nicely. As a side effect, so long as your uber isn't full, it does a nice side-line as a Spy checker (same goes for the Blutsauger).

treY: Well, I am from Germany and i have no idea why they spelled it with the "c" instead of the "k". Maybe it was too, you know ... special to put it in such a fun and humorous game with almost right spelling. Just some oafishness :P

So well, finally someone will play medic. Like ... EVERYONE!
Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising Valve for their new ideas, but I'm afraid that it won't be possible to play the game like we're used to, after the release of the new achievements. The enthusiasm about the new stuff will keep many people off healing the ones, that really need it, like you already said. And I know myself long enough to predict that after the 5th time I died as Heavy in the front row, watching nearby Medics in the deathcam playing Rambo and chasing some stupid Scouts, I will quit the game, totally pissed off.

Chris Livingston: I dunno. A single player having both invulnerability and all-crits just feels like too much like the humiliation round to me. "Oh, you can one-shot kill us and we can't hurt you? The match must be over. Oh wait, it's not. Well, *now* it is."

Yeah, you'll get basically the same thing if you have two players, one invulnerable and one critted, attacking together, but at least it'll be a little harder to coordinate -- four players instead of three.

It just seems like, the same way you can't uber someone who has the intel, you wouldn't be able to uber someone who was already being critzerkrieged.

Anonymous: I think it'll make medics a much more pursued target and encourage offense when people start unlocking these. Want to know how to kill an uber/critz Heavy? Kill his medics before they uber, or in other words: go out and get some kills. It'll also make medics a much much more pivotal role to any team. Need to defend a point? All-Crit Soldier will wipe out the whole team.

Christoph: I am from Germany, too. I think they spelled it with c to make it look better in combination with the C at the beginning.. Makes the word more 'fluent', at least that's what I think. There's no other reason I can think of.

I see the Blutsauger spelled "Blutsaugher" sometimes, and it's wrong! (Spelled without h)

Sam: "Also, for much better writing and thoughts on the new Medic Booster Pack headed our way, see Tom Francis’s great post here. It mentions me, making it even better than great."

I love the little circle-jerk you've got going on here ;)

Lukasa: Call me jealous, but I'm definitely not a fan of this particular change. Both the achievements and the new weapons are fine things to have, but tying them together annoys the hell out of me, and it's for one simple reason.

I tend to think of myself as a medic. For that matter, several of the regular Javaserver players think the same. But, Medic is languishing in the middle of my 'hours played', despite my best scores coming from it, and this is because I feel awful when playing medic if we don't need it. If the rest of my team are spies, scouts and snipers, I'm not going medic, because I won't be helping. Instead, I'll switch to Soldier or some other damage-dealing class.

So, my worry is that I'll log on to a server to find 3 medics on a team of 12, and I won't be ABLE to play medic because the team doesn't need them. Let me stress that I think the team-based aspect of this game is fabulous, but it's exactly that aspect that will cause problems, at least for me.

Anyway, enough of a rant, and now for a hope: I hope that some of those achievements are retroactive, as my highest healing in one round is 11000. I'd really like to not have to get that again. =P

Lack_26: It'll be good fun, I'll take my sniper rifle or flamethrower and makes those there medic's lives a living hell.

ImperialCreed: Some of the achievements are quite ridiculous, but I suppose that tempers the potential deadliness of something like the Ubersaw. I've already resigned myself to never being able to use it because I've got better things to do than clock 10,000,000 heal points (!). I suspect it'll be pretty damn rare, even 6 months after the update. I just hope the Engineer is next in line for some new gadgets (your catapult tele idea is an awesome one Pentadact), and that something is done about the plague of 100% lethal Demomen I seem to encounter on every server. Is it just me or is that class now stupidly popular, and making the life of an Engineer even more miserable?

Charlie: Has Valve mentioned whether or not the taunts going to remain the same for the new weapons?

Tom Francis: No! By which I mean, yes they have, and the answer is no. All-new taunts for every unlockable weapon. There'll also be new lines of dialogue, including some super-rare ones, last I heard. Can't freaking wait.

The crazy few who manage to unlock the Ubersaw are going to be taunting with it like mad. I hope the animation's something really dirty.

Tom Francis: Playing a lot of Medic tonight - stupidly. Wondering if I'm being a bit uptight about the silly achievements: I did some pretty stupid things in some of these rounds, and it didn't destroy my team. I even ubered a Scout, shortly after having loudly mocked the enemy for doing precisely that.

I was hurt!

Zealot_Guy: But what about the PS3 and Xbox360? Will there be an update for them? Cuz I know that you can get patches, I just must know if there will be one!

Iain “DDude” Dawson: these sound awesome... now we just have to hope they arrive in time...

Ballisticsfood: I just played on goldrush, my favourite class being medic i thought this update would be a good thing. It ain't. Until we get some other achievements to balance out the medics we'll be seeing a lot more of what I saw, which was a pair of medics who DID have ubersaws running round, contantly invincible because one of them was ubering while the other charged his uber with the aptly named ubersaw. When one persons uber ran out, they switched roles, and the death continued. Not only that, but there were THREE pairs of these invincible medic pairs running round, and the rest of the team were also, guess what, medics. Oh, actually, that was a lie. There was one scout as well.

So, due to the glut of medics, I was pyro (my second class) most of the round, causing havok among the medics who hadn't quite got their ubercharge yet.

I was not best pleased.