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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

In One Thousand Two Hundred And Ten New York Minutes

Everything Can Turn Around, Except Roman’s Taxi


The critical adoration of GTA IV has been really interesting to me, because I’m sometimes one of the critical adorers. There’s always this period when half a dozen journos have played the game, the rest of the gaming populace has not, and a war breaks out where the few desperately try to convince the many that it really is as good as we’d all hoped it might be, and the many insist that it is not.

The many, with no actual information to fight with, must use the journalists’ own words against them: “You said there were pop-in and framerate issues, therefore it cannot warrant a ten for graphics!” “You mentioned flaws! How can you give it a perfect score?”

Some of the many are fighting on an entirely different side, a sort of religion for whom the game is a necessarily perfect deity, and all criticism is dangerous lies. When reviewer Rob Taylor mentioned he completed the main storyline in 24 hours, you could almost see the tears well up in a million fanboy eyes as the e-mails stammered: “But I thought it would be at least forty!”

That interview aside, the few remain mostly silent after their opening salvo of reviews. The real assault comes when the game is out, and they become solely responsible for every technical, personal and emergent flaw nine million people experience in this digital playground.

The reason this is particularly interesting this time is that I’m a proper outsider – I never read a preview of GTA IV, only saw one trailer, and had no idea about its key features (Euphoria physics, the mobile phone interface, the new Wanted system) until a few days before release. I wanted to know if coming to it fresh like that, and playing it semi-casually, leaves you with a different opinion than years of trembling previews, ravenous info-consumption, and one intensive week-long binge.

Terrible screenshots brought to you by Taking A Photo Of My Screen imaging technology.

I was trying to guess, before release, which of the many tiny problems the reviews mumblingly dismiss would be the one that caused banshee shrieks of rage from the playing public. It seems that – apart from a lot of retaliatory ‘0/10’ user reviews from score-terrorists incensed either by imagined bribery tainting the official reviews, or an equally imaginary quality chasm between the two consoles – the slippery handling is the source of most angry noises. This is interesting because it’s almost certainly the result of a difference between how reviewers played the game and how consumers usually do.

Playing all day every day for a week is intense, and a publisher with any doubts about their game at all wouldn’t want critics to do it: recurring flaws are inescapable and frustrations magnify. But it does mean that any problems limited to the early sections are on your mind for only a day, and soon pushed out by whatever delights the real meat of the game holds.

The handling thing, by all informed accounts, is a problem with the early sections. I can vouch for that – I’m not halfway through, but already I never have to settle for anything that steers like a cow. And I also get the impression that the main storyline does something really special later on. But the early sections are incredibly long, and even if you play for three hours a day, they’re what you’re going for almost all of launch week. And I’m pretty sure that’s all there is to this disparity of perspectives.

You could take that as a condemnation of the way expansive games are reviewed, but personally I think it’s a strength. If the handling was bothering me to the point that I was considering giving up, I’d want reviewers to dismiss it as a droplet of gripe in an ocean of awesome. I want the after-it-all perspective, not a horoscope prediction of how I’ll feel the week I pick it up. One of the most useful things a review can ever say is “Bear with it,” because that’s something very few gamers do.

It’s not a big deal to me, perhaps because I’ve always found a perverse pleasure in steering GTA’s most unwieldy vehicles. Would I score it as highly as the pre-release reviewers did? Not yet. I’m twenty-one hours and 25% in, though I would guess at least halfway through the main plot. I’m stuck on two really irritating missions, but I’m going to bear with it because people I trust have told me to.

I doubt I’ll end up with exactly the same opinion as them, though. It would have to hit a crescendo of BioShockesque proportions to completely wipe my current complaints from my mind. What are those complaints? That would be a very dry, whiny and technical discussion, so I’ll devote a whole post to it.


Lukasa: I have to say, I'm intensely looking forward to this game, but it poses a problem for me. Namely, I cannot afford to sustain two gaming habits. I choose PC or I choose a console. I've chosen PC, and my punishment for this is the fact that I need to wait at least 8 months for me to see if it's as good as it is trumpted to be.

Oh well. Twilight of the Arnor will have to fill the void. =D

Iain “DDude” Dawson: Thanks. Now I cannot wait. I need a console and GTA, and I am poor, with approaching exams. Hmmmm.

Grill: Personally, it feels closer to Saints Row than it did to GTA - and curiously, that sense of psychopathic glee I got from GTA and GTAII seems to have been replaced by po-faced nonsense.