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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

A Slice Of Fried Gold Rush


Having played about ten rounds on TF2’s shiny new map today, it remains enormous fun. It’s mostly the game-mode rather than this specific map I love: that your progress is so plainly visible, and related to a physical object in the world, gives it a drama and immediacy that control points and capture tallies don’t come close to.

Splitting it into sub-maps like Dustbowl is also very smart: the map is cleverly designed to make that very last stretch to the final checkpoint of each map mercilessly exposed and close to the defenders’ spawn, and fighting for that last stretch makes the match feel close, even when it’s really not. A few times as attackers it’s felt like we were inches from victory just because we had the cart so close to the final checkpoint on the first of the three map segments. In truth, even if we’d made it we’d have been utterly screwed on the next two much tougher legs without any spare time in the bank.

goldrush crocket

Which raises the other main point: we’re really not very good at attacking. The game mode sounds like it would be impossibly hard for the attackers, but our playtests at Valve showed almost the opposite: more often than not the cart tipped into the final cap and blew the shit out of the place. The game was harder for attackers back then, too – the cart gave neither ammo nor health to those near it.

This leads me to the conclusion that it’s going to get progressively easier to attack and harder to defend, until it’s about even. I’ve learnt from experience – if I hadn’t already predicted it – that initial “omg so imbalanced” reactions to Valve stuff are generally disproved with time. I was dead wrong about the last cap on Badlands – now that players have learnt to defend it well, it’s a mercy that it’s so fast to capture if you do manage to break through. Hopefully once we all know the routes better, formulate counters to killer Sentry positions and learn to have fewer than nine medics per team, attackers are going to have a chance. For now, though, I’d just like to see that cinematic physics explosion once.

goldrush backdrop

Update: After some disastrous Demomanning this lunchtime, I gave up trying to be a team player and went back to Spy. When you’re a defender disguised as an attacker, the cart heals you, so you can actually survive as much spy-checking as the attackers are likely to be able to put on you with all the fire they’re taking elsewhere. Then if they reach it, you can reveal instantly to block the push.

In my experience so far, they tend to be extremely surprised by this and take several revolver bullets to the eyes before they competently react to the situation. Since their life-span is usually limited at this point, what damage you take from the encounter is then regenerated by the cart when you re-don your disguise. At one point I stood on top of the cart, disguised as an enemy Heavy, yelling abuse at my ostensible team: “ENTIRE TEAM IS BABIES!”. It’s not really applicable versus concentrated attacks, but it lets one player completely halt the trickle of lucky breaks that can otherwise inch the thing forwards and prevent rollback.

Once things heat up, of course, I go rogue and surgically remove the Medics from the team. More than most maps, Gold Rush has a very clear frontline, which lets Medics hang safely back round the corner from their patients. That’s a bitch for the damage-dealing classes to deal with.

goldrush healfest

roburky: I've been on the winning team as attackers several times now. You don't get to see the explosion. You die instantly, along with everyone else, and then the freezeframe goes to the bloody flying head of the person who last damaged you.

FunkyLlama: No, you only die if you stand right next to the point. So I advise that you don't.

Andrew: You die if you fall in the pit. I celebrate as red, when I am not dead, but jumping to my doom :D

Great map, but can be frustrating since it is too slow for the thing to move with one person, leaving you stuck if your team decides 3 engineers and 5 medics with you as the only offensive class is a *good idea*.

I've been victorious 50/50 so far, the boom at the end is sooo satisfying to see!

Lack_26: I was on the PCG server, during the PCG steamgroup Goldrush 'event'. Amazing fun, unfortunately I wasn't doing to well at first, but after a couple of mass-connection-losses there was only about 8 of us. Did far better then, best/2nd best on server.

Lack_26: Sorry to double post but, I've got screenies of earlier (they had partymode on)

Pentadact 'pwning' my arse:
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Me doing a bit better as a sniper:
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WeakLemonDrink: Gold Rush really is excellent. As much as the new mode is a great part of why this new map is so much fun, I think the actual map and its design is completely spot on - probably the best they've done. I've never been lost (I was hopelessly bad with Dustbowl at first) and all the buildings and various spots fit together so well. It all flows so well. It was a fantastic idea to split it up like Dustbowl, too.

That explosion at the end is lovely, too. I didn't realise it was a physics explosion until I stood back and took a good look.

Jay: I was a bit dubious about the unlockables - I was more excited about the map, and it is quite good. What I like most about it is that it increases the importance of different classes, meaning that if the game should stagnate, a switch to Goldrush is a good idea. Snipers for example, are actually a lot more useful for offense as there are A LOT of flanking opportunities (eg Area C, CP 3, right of Red Spawn). Heavies are also a lot more useful too, owing to the many chokepoints and flanking opportunities; same with spies. On the other hand, engineers are having a harder time on offence and defence - the only effective defensive Engineer place I can think of is, again Area C, CP3, Right of Red Spawn.

Or course, all this'll change when the medic spam subsides and people learn the map better. A lot of Blu players still don't take the left gate in Area B CP 1, which is a lovely place to flank

Punjabi Fury: Oh my God, you made a Spaced reference. I think I love you.

Wossname: I have to chime in as well that this is an excellent map, and, like WeakLemonDrink, I've yet to get lost. A STARK comparison to Badlands, in which I find myself running around in circles quite often, or Hydro, where I keep missing the stairs in the radar dish area.

Maybe it's the additional visual cue of the cart tracks that helps so much. Yet I've gone pyro quite a bit to take advantage of the back alleys and still seem to know exactly where I'll come out. It's great fun to double back on an entire enemy team and introduce them to the cleansing fire.

Kudos to Valve on this map, whatever they did. And the bomb design itself is hilarious, especially with "cry some more" scrawled on the front -- a huge improvement from the portable fax machine thing that was in the originally distributed concept art.

ZomBuster: I normally don't play the spy that much, but when I read that tip avout standing on the train I just needed to try it out.

It was great, they didn't think of everything when I was sitting there as a pyro. After 2 minutes I jumped off and backstabbed 3 medics and a heavy.

Alex Holland: By far my favourite map in my, ooh, roughly 20 hour career of playing TF2. The attacking team has one in all but one occasion, when the cart was 1 unit away from the drop point, but we were held off, which was probably more exciting and abstractly satisfying than if we'd won.

It's the tracks that make this level work - they let you orientate yourself easily, and also ensure that there are some cracking pinch-points at which all fire will be concentrated. Great for Engineers/Demos to set up some monster fortifications, and good for Ubered-Heavies too. In the meantime, all the spies and scouts can hot-foot it down the other less regarded tunnels and attack from behind.

Having a spy thin out the Medics is vital - every win I've seen has ended in an ubered Heavy rush. I find remote pipe-bombs scattered around the cart work nicely, though - cowardly medics sticking close to some health are quickly turned to lamb tikka.

Tom Francis: Crazy, I've still only seen the attackers win twice, and both times I missed the kersplosion.

It makes my geek heart (weak, fatty) swell with pride to hear you use the language of my people once again, though.

I'm [PCG] Pentadct on Steam - add me but let me know your name if it's not something obvious. I have to do a mass decline-a-thon every now and then.

The tracks are good, but I'd like to see them taken further - blue sparks on the track where the cart's already been. I sometimes find myself dropping stealthily down on to them with no idea whether it's ahead or behind. Also, we had a palm-face-interface moment earlier where my team successfully pushed the defenders miles back, were charging victoriously to the checkpoint, but forgot the cart. I had to run up to them and cough politely.

High Mementic 80s Hero: I really enjoyed playing with you that lunch, i even dominated you at one point. :D