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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

Pyro Flare Pistol Thingy Shown In Meet The Sniper

Chris spotted one of the two remaining unannounced Pyro unlocks in the new Meet The Sniper video. Which is awesome, by the way. For the Demoman’s reaction, the slowly filling jars (also featured on the title card, I notice), and “Yes, yes he did.”

You see the gun fire once, but the muzzle flash is unspecific. There’s a better pic of it over at Chris’s. The shape resembles a flare pistol, but then there are plenty of more exotic devices that you’d probably make like a flare pistol if you had to model them in-game.

Update! clever people were right, it’s a Flare Gun! Full unlockable details and the shocking truth about the big Pyro change blogged over at PC Gamer, plus a few tidbits from Robin Walker on how it’ll all work. I rudely interrupted his game of Defense of the Ancients before breakfast this morning, intending just to say “This sounds ace!” but ended up asking a lot of annoying questions.

WeakLemonDrink: I'm hoping this'll be a Shotgun replacement. Possibly a flare gun that extends burning time, or something. I really don't want it to be anything grenade launcher-like...

Chris Livingston: Whatever it is, tt better have it's own taunt!

Chris Livingston: Er, it better.

Tom Francis: Yeah, hopefully mimed suicide by Flaregun wound to the temples. That's taunting, right?

Chris Livingston: Maybe he could fastidiously clean out the tube with a little wire brush. Intimidating!

Alex Holland: Here's my speculative take: shotgun replacement, only holds one round in the breach and takes a very long time to reload. Fires a small, arcing shot which is extremely fast. Does not huge amounts of immediate damage, but causes 5-10 seconds of burn. Shot maybe splashes off walls for burn damage?

That makes it significantly worse than the shotgun for everyday scrapping, but great for stirring up a hornet's (or engineer's) nest from a distance. Reload would be too slow to make it a consistently effective long-range weapon, thus not breaking the Pyro play style.

Imagine one-two combos with that and the Axtinguisher!

Lukasa: To take a different tack from everyone else, I reckon that Meet the Sniper was epic. As an Australian, I appreciate the character (although the accent feels a bit off), and the "Yes, yes he did" is one of the best scenes I've ever had the pleasure to witness. I forgot how good Valve are at this. =P

ZomBuster: Apparently there are some rumors on shacknews about the 3rd unlockable weapon being a jetpack...

The_B: Apparently not ZomBuster. And yup, it is a flare gun.

Thomas Lawrence: So here's the thing for me: I bought the Orange Box when it came out, played Portal and loved it, but at the time I never really started playing TF2 because i was busy with uni work.

Uni work is now over, and now I find myself intimidated out of even beginning with TF2. I envision servers rammed to the gills with people who have been playing for half a year, which coupled with my poor FPS skills generally would lead to frustration, torment and despair.

Am I right? Do people know of servers where the standard of play still has the endearingly amateurish quality I heard so much about in the first few weeks where no-one knew what they were doing?

Jason L: Well, I would guess today's your lucky day, given that they just shook up one of the classes and everyone's going to be running around chaotically trying to change up their gameplans.

BullDozers: Thomas: I know where you're coming from. I usually play on random pubs and I can tell you that the skill level of other players varies by almost infinity. But I think Valve did a pretty good job of making TF2 much more about *fun* rather than skill level / reaction times -- the random crits alone break the causality between skill level and winning a fight.

So you should be fine. I think an Engineer is the easiest to start with (you don't even really have to know how to aim ;) )... pyro's are pretty easy to play too... spies and demos are really fun.

Tom Francis: Yeah, there are also two new maps in this update, so most people are going to be blundering around them with no idea where they're going - just like you.

Because the classes are so different, there's always one you can play with some success no matter what your skill level. The Medic is a great starting class, because you can be genuinely really useful to your team while hanging around and watching what's going on, learning how the game works. It'll be a particularly good class to play after today, because everyone's going to be on fire all the time and you're the only one who can put them out.

Alex Holland: As someone who started relatively recently, I'd normally recommend kicking off with the Scout on rapid spawn servers - you'll die a lot, but your speed will give you a good chance to explore the levels, and the rapid respawn means frequent death won't matter. Also, the Scout is nice and simple - two guns that fire, and one bat that boinks.

However, Scouts hate Pyros, and there are going to be a hell of a lot of Pyros about. As such, I'd second Tom's recommendation of the Medic - it's a very easy class to get started and be useful with (although it's also very deep when you get into it). The Engineer is a bit complicated for beginners, I think - it took me a while to understand the whole build/destruct/repair/metal stuff.

Tom Francis: I still don't understand the Engineer. Every time I spawn, I just stand there holding my Sentry box, staring blankly at the map, thinking about each possible placement and why they all suck. Until setup time ends, a Heavy rounds the corner and mows me down.

BullDozers: yeah, good point about having to know the maps to be a good engie. There's a bit of a medic shortage sentiment right now too thanks to the post-medic-craze fall-off. As for me, FIREEEEE!

The_B: It's weird. For me, the Engie was the first class I ever played because it meant I could learn the nuances without having to worry about letting my team down quite as much. The lonely exsistence of only caring about my toys, rather than my teammates was actually quite helpful, in that I could learn more what the enemy was doing, and how to counteract it. At least until Spies start coming along.

The only class I still can't get into these days is the Soldier. He's just so boring and difficult to play for me at the same time. I doubt I'll ever give him a serious look until the inevitable unlocks. I have a similar feeling to the demoman actually - while they may be arguably the best all round classes, I find playing as them either too similar to other FPS in that unless you're good, you're terrible, and it always feels like other people playing as them are doing better than you.

Tom Francis: Agreed about the Demoman. I think he's both wildly overpowered and absolutely useless - in other people's hands and mine respectively.

Soldier, though, I enjoy more the more I play him. He deals avoidable damage in survivable chunks, so the key to the whole class is staying alive long enough to build up a good crit-rate. Almost no-one playing him seems to realise this, or keep an eye on their health, so they die too frequently to ever become truly effective. If you play him cautiously, settling for damaging groups of enemies rather than securing kills, you ironically become a crit-spewing death factory that can rampage through the entire enemy team.

The other thing that makes him satisfying to play, for me, is that he has no nemesis. He's a great Spy hunter, a great Heavy slayer, a great Sentry tackler, and Snipers tend to aim poorly if there's a rocket coming towards them.

Alex Holland: I killed a soldier yesterday by compressed-air blasting a crit rocket back at him. One of the finest moments of my short TF2 career.

On the subject of Soldiers, not sure if everyone noticed a subtle change in the update notes - they no longer get a 40% damage reduction off their own rockets, except when rocket jumping. Presumably this was brought in to make bounced rockets nice and lethal, but it should also reduce the fruitless death that occurs when meeting a Soldier in a narrow corridor - at present he'll just fire rockets spastically until you're dead, then walk away with barely a scratch. I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more soldier-killed-self reports in the top right.

roburky: I loathe the existence of the Soldier. I don't know what you mean about him dealing damage in survivable chunks, Tom, because in my experience if I round a corner as anything other than a heavy, and find a soldier, I'm dead with no chance to escape. They only need to fire one rocket, anywhere downwards, and then you're immobilised while he finishes you. The bastard doesn't even need to aim.

Although maybe the change Alex Holland mentions will change this.

Tom Francis: One on one, at close range, he's definitely got a lot of control. I'm talking about the more common situation of being up against a huge concentration of enemy players at medium-long range, any one of whom can dodge your rockets and most of whom can survive a direct hit. The fire output of a bunch of guys is enough that you can't afford to wait around and plant a shot where your last victim will land, and at reasonable range it wouldn't reach him in time to ensure a hit anyway.

These are the situations where a lot of Soldiers think they should charge forward to start getting some actual kills, but my experience suggests it's more effective to be content with scoring occasional, partial damage on a few people to build up your crit chance, which is when you start really causing carnage in the awkward, dangerous, sub-optimal situations you spend most of the game in.