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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

Field Studies 3: My Pretties

With a game as flexible as Spore, experimental gamers like me have a really hard time getting past the stage of “Ooh, can I do this? What do you do about it if I do that? Won’t it break if I try this?”

Spore endures this process with increasing weariness: “Yes, you can do that. If you do that it will look weird. Yes, you can break me. Yes, if you really try, you can make a creature that clips through itself and can barely walk. Are you happy now?”

Then the question becomes, “What’s the most unusual thing I can make without breaking it?” Leafing through other people’s creations is a good cure for that: some of them are so inventive and ingenious that you start to realise you’re probably never going to be recognised as the Da Vinci of Spore, the game’s defining renaissance God whose creatures display a perfect fusion of art and science.

So my creatures start out defiantly unconventional but rather lacking in personality, and gradually the emphasis shifts from freakish limb structures to more expressive faces, configurations that animate interestingly, and pretty colours.

Palm Face
Palm Face

CRE_Palm Face-067a3673_ful

Who says limbs have to be on the body and facial features on the face? After making the Palm Face, an ambulatory tree that grows features instead of leaves, I do. To strangers in the street I say it, shaking their shoulders and frothing.

To try any of these in-game, right-click the small image and save it to your My Documents\My Spore Creations\Creatures folder.



Let’s try a really thin body! No, boring, let’s try a really fat one! No, boring. Okay, how about fat, then thin, then fat, then thin. Then each fat lump could have a single, giant feature dangling from it. And the whole thing could bend dangerously forwards, and be supported by a million increasingly huge legs.

Horncrested Bristlefrog (1)
Horncrested Bristlefrog


What happens if you make a creature with a spiral spine? And distribute its face across disparate lengths of the curl? Then add a load of spikes? This guy didn’t really come together until I made his front paws hand-like, which gives him a puppyish scampering gait. It’s quite hard to give non upright creatures arms that look like they’re part of them, and that didn’t really work until I made his biceps as thick as his back leg thigh, so that the three limbs look like trunks from the same stem. The ‘stripe’ pattern option in Spore’s paint mode really did me proud, too.



This time I wanted to make something jungle tribes might have legends about, and which sort of stalked about the place like a walking bat. It didn’t really look imposing enough until I discovered you can have really fucking huge spikes, and once Eyestalker was done that inspired a flurry of aborted creatures who had nothing going on conceptually except a lot of really fucking huge spikes. None, predictably, were worth saving.

Malevolent Stomptrunk
Malevolent Stomptrunk

CRE_Malevolent Stomptrunk-0680d744_ful

This started when I tried just inflating a thigh until it resembled an epic banana, then wondered if it was possible to make a creature that would suit. I also wanted something that never smiled, frowned or laughed; that would only survey all before it with a nameless besnouted malice. This pose doesn’t really show that off.

Once I’d finished, I was suddenly struck by the fear that I might have subconsciously copied a creature I’d seen somewhere before to a shameless extent. Does anyone recognise it? I’m thinking something from Star Wars or Futurama, but it’s not coming.

Goggleshark (1)


The eyes-as-hands notion didn’t really work with the Eyestalker, but I thought I’d see if it worked better as the whole focus of a creature. Finding the slider that created that enormous drooping rictus of dismay immediately made the face work, but I actually abandoned the whole thing when I couldn’t come up with an inventive leg system. I only just came back to it, now more or less relieved of my fixation with making pointless overcomplications of conventional limb structures, and tried just giving him comically puny legs at the base of his lean abdomen. The resulting gait is hilarious and fits his excitable face exactly.

Like Malfunctioning Eddie, Gogglesharks are easily astonished.


Previously: Sporepedia, Best creations.


The_B: Were all these created in the trial version, or did you splash out for the whole caboodle?

I'm very tempted, even if I will only be able to play on it for three days before being unable to for nearly three months.

Tom Francis: Trial, we're still waiting on a copy of the full thing from EA.

Chris Livingston: These are great, Tom! I love Stomptrunk and I will download him and make him walk around for me. I made one with a similar nose (well, neck, technically), but he doesn't look like he wants to party as much as your does. I love the coloring on yours, too.

This is so much friggin' fun, even if a) what it ends up like is nothing how it looks in my head before I start, and b) four out of every five critters I start get deleted before I even finish because they're just too dang ugly to live.

Jason L: Hah, the Stomptrunk's great. What a wonderful color scheme! I don't know about 'shameless extent'; are you sure it's not just a false positive from Zoidberg? It has his eyes.

Jason L: And, obviously, it looks very very much like a Pyro.

Sindre: I looked through your "Spore-folio" and I see potential! Pan's Nightmare was a favourite, beaten only by the hummingbird

I find the online services lacking though. The server is incredibly slow, and things seem to be double-posted so to speak.

And there is no numeric rating, nor can you subscribe to other users. The idea of a public "gene pool" is amazing, but the interface belongs to a pre-school mathematics game, which is a shame.

Pod: The full CC comes with a proper shark's mouth and an anteaters nose. You might want to try them out and see what they look like!

Field Studies 1: Sporegasm, by Pentadact, who is secretly Tom Francis: [...] Best creations, My creations. Link   Comment     Calaros: Thank you. Thank you so very, very much. I [...]