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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

Blizzard Announce That Tom Francis Is Right

And, as a trivial side-effect, they had to make Diablo 3

diablo in diablo 3

I look forward to the people who said we were kidding ourselves calling this announcement ‘inevitable’ and then ‘obvious’. I say ‘we’, but actually even the most zealous posters at were crying into their forums on Thursday – Blizzard were called both ‘cockfags’ and ‘fucktards’ for so obviously gearing up to announce Lich King beta signups instead of Diablo 3. One Diablo fan pronounced that they would ‘not survive’, by which I’d love to – but cannot quite – believe he only meant their company would go bust.


The Evil Penguin and the Lost numbers were both kind of funny red herrings, but to be fair to the huge number of people who got it utterly wrong, Blizzard’s teasing of this announcement turned out to be pure nonsense. Those eyes meant nothing – they just changed them on the final day, then replaced them with something completely different. The Diablo face in the game’s logo doesn’t look anything like the illustration of Diablo on the official logo for the event, and it doesn’t even look like the eyes we saw on Thursday. They kept most people guessing by simply lying to them.

Luckily, since I am Sherlock freaking Holmes, I was able to piece together the fact that they bought, advertised for people who like Diablo 1 and 2 to work on an unannounced project, arranged their annual event for the day that the last two Diablo games were released, then put a huge picture of Diablo towering over the other characters in their logo for the event, then let slip that they’d be announcing a new game, and by an arcane leap of logic come to the conclusion that they would announce Diablo 3 there.

Diablo 3

Oh, right, the game. I was distracted for a moment by how right I was. Now I can move on to being seriously excited. There’s a full-res movie of the whole presentation they showed at the event on their site, but it insists you use the astonishingly shitty Blizzard downloader to get it, so try Softpedia.

Diablo 3

I initially had mixed feelings, watching the live stream of this: it really doesn’t lend itself to blurry, laggy, rubbish footage narrated by an insufferable twat and repeatedly disconnected by an unspeakably crap bespoke streaming protocol called Octoshape. That’s why it’s so essential you watch the high-res version: the insufferable twat* is still on there, but everything else is immeasurably improved.

* I think it might be Diablo 3 lead designer Jay Wilson, who before that was Dawn of War lead designer Jay Wilson, and before that worked at Monolith on Blood, where he had to suffer regular e-mail exchanges with me about stuff they should do in Blood 2 (and look how that worked out). If this is the case, then he’s an insufferable genius twat.

Diablo 3

You need to see it high-res because Diablo is all about crisp, satisfying interactions. The combat actually looks superb when you see it properly: not only are the blows connecting in hot spurts of blood, the camera rocks subtly to ram home the impact of the most forceful strikes. It also pans too far when the Barbarian uses his Charge ability, and has to nip back to center on him when its done: a classic cinematic trick to give the impression of extreme speed that turns out to work beautifully in an isometric game.

Diablo 3

I also couldn’t make out the new interface properly in the shit-stream, as I shall now call it – get over any WoWificiationophobia, it looks ace. You have a four-slot hotbar to instantly activate skills with the number keys, plus slots on 5 and 6 that look to be dedicated to scrolls (of Town Portal and, presumably Identify). Then next to that, as with Diablo, you can put whatever skills you like on your left and mouse buttons. There’s another, smaller slot next to those two, which I think corresponds to your middle button. Best, you scroll through your right-mouse skills with the mouse-wheel, so you don’t need to touch the keyboard to use everything at your disposal quickly.

Diablo 3

My main concern, and this will sound silly, is the noise when hitting a few of the enemy types. To be clear, the noises when you hit stuff in Diablo is the defining feature of the game: loot and skills pale in comparison to the importance of feeling like every blow really fucking smacked that thing. Against the fat things that blow up into Lampreys, and the ghost things that sap your whatever, the Barbarian’s axe makes a pathetically wimpy noise. Seeing a big burly man swing a huge axe with all his might to no audible effect is just disastrous for game feel, I hope they realise that before they’re done.

Diablo 3

The Witch Doctor excites and saddens me in almost equal measure: on the one hand, his abilities are fantastic, on the other, they clearly demonstrate that he’s intended to replace the Necromancer, my favourite class not just in Diablo, but in gaming. The Witch Doctor can do scary stuff, sure, but he doesn’t look scary: he’s a quivering little heap of fancy dress. My Necromancer was a walking nightmare, a vision in bone that ten-foot demons ran scampering from as he spread poison and blood raging across the room. Maybe I can sort that out with armour. I certainly want to strip people of their flesh, make zombie-fences and blow up my own pets.

Diablo 3

Oh yes, nerdy but really kind of cool news: gender choice! I actually think Diablo 2 was pretty good at avoiding the more offensive RPG gender conventions – it rejected the notion that healing is woman’s work – but a lot of players, particularly girls, don’t like to gender-bend, and that restricts the classes they can like. Personally, I only like to gender-bend, so it’s good for me too.


Once they get outdoors in that video, the art is magnificent. They’ve got for a subtle smoothing of the scenery that makes it look like watercolour concept art, and makes the characters stand out strikingly. I’m also appreciative of the fact that they’ve gone for exquisitely detailed, high poly-count monsters: WoW‘s artists worked wonders with that game’s simple, pointy models, but Diablo demands smooth curves and complex shapes.

My friends and I had a LAN party when Diablo 2 came out just to play it. Ross sounds quite excited about it, and Tim’s a big Blizzard fanboy, so we may be able to do the same thing in the office with this one. That’s the main reason to be excited, I think: just that there’s a new and shiny game of this type coming out. Of Blizzard’s three big series, Diablo was always my primary vice, the Greater Evil. It was by comparison to that game that WoW fell short of obsessing me.

So it’ll be nice to have it back.

Diablo 3


Lack_26: Wow, just seeing the screenshots of the Hi-res version makes me want to watch it in Hi-res rather than the streaming one on the site. After Dr. Who I shall go and watch it, also I'm glad to hear of a new Diablo game, but I'm a bit unsure about it, but I also trust Blizzard enough to get it right.

Dave McLeod: Alternative to the Blizzard hosted (and overloaded, I hear) video at

http://www.gamevideo... ...o/id/19701

Dave McLeod: Gameplay stuff anyway. I think the rest is on there too.

Dante: I've never really understood the whole gender bending thing, it all seems a bit... suspect to me.

Mind you, I'm notorious for 'racebending' so I can't talk.

Sentry Gun: Fuck yes. Now hopefully they retain the same offering of free online play that they did with the first two. Being able to lump a bunch of people together to play was what made Diablo so god damn great to me.

Fat Zombie: I've never played any of the Diablo series before. But these shots make me want to buy the present games, then buy the new game when it comes out. It looks FANTASTIC.

Also, congratulations to Tom for being right.

Thomas Lawrence: Dante re: gender-bending play - an entire article could be written about this. (and probably has been - in fact, Tom, didn't you do something along these lines once? Or am I just remembering a few lines from that "get a date in an MMO" article you did?).

But in my case, and in brief:
1) Female characters are usually more interesting in the kinds of roles you get in videogames (i.e. professional killers). A man who kills stuff is dull. A woman who kills stuff is at least interestingly subverting gender expectations.
2) As a straight man, I find women inherently fascinating. Hence, in a roleplaying game, I'm more interested tin getting to know the female characters than I am the ale ones. This probably gives rise to my subjective impression that female characters in roleplaying games are usually better written and more likeable than the men.
3) There's something to be said for the "if I'm staring at my character's ass for 99% of the gamepaly, it should be a nice ass" argument.

Seniath: I was there, woohoo etc. Regarding the necro; someone asked in the Q&A which of the previous characters would be returning. Jay suggested they would be starting from a clean slate. Someone also raised your worry about the witchdoctor replacing the Necro. He said that the presence of the class wouldn't impact whether or not they would include the Necro at a later stage in development.

No more typing. French keyboard ftl.

Tom Francis: Nice! Front-line reporting. I also heard they said there weren't currently any plans for the Necromancer, though - did you hear that?

Thomas: I probably mentioned it in that feature, and it was also Best of the Forum once. I did an interview that'll be in the next-but-one issue where I was asked by my interviewee why I played women, and made most of your points. The key one being, in these environments, a woman's story is automatically more interesting. I probably cut this bit from the interview, and if I didn't I'm sure Tony will have.

Fat: Thanks.

Sentry: I'm reasonably confident they won't charge for the new incarnation of It's a huge turn-off to players, and I think Flagship only did it with Hellgate because they were a startup and would desperately need the cash to stay afloat. I think it's worth Blizzard's while in sales and expansion packs to run a good free multiplayer service, just as it's worth ArenaNet's to run Guild Wars and Valve's to run Steam.

Dave: Yeah, but that's not the lovely high-res version, which I insist everyone see. I also didn't link Blizzard's own page because a) I forgot and b) their embedded player is fucking horrible and c) their downloader is, as I say, fucking horrible.

Hey, wait, long-time James commenter Dave McLeod is probably the same person as the work experience Dave McLeod who was with us in the office all of last week. Who knew! Hopefully you did.

Alex Hopkinson: I have to say that it's totally Titan Quest's (+expansion) fault that I have any interest in Diablo 3.

Dante: Hmmn, I'm not sold on the woman's story being more interesting, I've never really noticed a massive difference either way. Well that's except for KOTOR, because romancing Bastilla is much more interesting in relation to the plot. And KOTOR 2, because the Handmaiden is way cooler than the other guy. Or Baldur's Gate 2, because women only get one romance option, and he's a prick. Huh, maybe it's more slanted towards men than I realised, although on the other hand women have a way more interesting decisions on the romance track in Mass Effect (I assume) because Kaiden's actually a nice guy, rather than a giant bigot like Ashley.

But mostly I suppose I avoid the gender bend because my natural instinct in games, given the choice, is to shag everything that moves and I'd rather my conquests be female.

However once again, all my characters are black and I'm white, and that has zero impact on the gameplay (although wouldn't it be interesting if it did?) so who am I to judge?

Sentry Gun: I figure that will be free as before, but it's still a major worry in the back of my mind... It'd be more than a major turnoff to have to pay for online play, it'd be a complete turnoff.

Thomas Lawrence: Dante: it's precisely because there isn't much actual difference in what happens that the woman's story is often more interesting - i.e. that the woman does exactly what the equivalent man would have done. Subversion of gender roles, see?

It does, however, suck that in general, the options for female character romances aren't as interesting as the male ones (I'm thinking mostly of BG2 here, and haven't yet played Mass Effect).

Dave: Red Herring, gotta love it.

Dave: It's a good thing that I think before I hit "Submit".

Pod: The guy made a big deal out of using the scrollwheel....but you can do that (or at least: that's how mine is set up?) in D2 anyway... It's a bit of a pain, actually, as there's always crap skills in between the one you're on and the one you're scrolling to. Fkeys for the win.

Rob: I get more excited about the scroll-wheel action than the gender choices, I don't know what kind of geek that makes me.

RE: gender bending in games, I don't know whether the games development community has really progressed beyond 'nice ass to look at' Croftian Syndrome.

Rob:'s a good thing I think before hitting Submit, too, what would that be like if I didn't!

"Thomas Lawrence: [...]Subversion of gender roles, see?

It does, however, suck that in general, the options for female character romances aren't as interesting as the male ones (I'm thinking mostly of BG2 here, and haven't yet played Mass Effect)."

The trouble is, whilst ideally it would be as interesting as Deus Ex's option to play as black-JC (and as amusing, with the religious debate connotations and all that), I think that there's very little progressive role-play options in terms of gender (far less than race), and it mostly amounts to fan-service at worst, and at best, a brief exploration of 'women in a man's world'.

I'm trying to remember how games like N.O.L.F. handled it - I think I'm right in saying it was an ironic response to Lara Croft, and played up the whole gender thing for laughs. Games like KOTOR and Mass Effect (the latter of which I don't have much time for) make gender-swapping more a case of male players getting kicks out of playing through straight (hetero) storylines from a female perspective (ie, a straight-male-lesbian approach), which aren't entirely helpful.

There's something to be said about online play and male players 'losing themself' in female characters - but that's a bit of a complicated issue.

Grill: This is the best Diablo 3 merchandise I can find out there: ...038;sr=8-3

I am lose.

Captain Bland: "And KOTOR 2, because the Handmaiden is way cooler than the other guy."

It's strange that you didn't mention Kreia, a character i found so interesting i unintentionally ended up doing exactly what she said in every situation.

Jason L: Another facet - in voiced situations I tend to find female characters less annoying. I don't know whether it's just the Bitching Betty/Natasha effect, or whether it's just more difficult to give a female voice actor a two-word stereotype to assume (gruff marine, sociopathic murderer, whiny coward...)

Tom Francis: Especially true in Mass Effect: Jennifer Hale gives one of the few compelling game protagonist performances I've heard, despite having sounded rather like a damp cloth as Bastila in KOTOR.

Interestingly, Chet at Valve was saying that the opposite phenomenon is more generally true: you can write bitchy, griping, arrogant dialogue for male characters and players take it in their stride and sometimes even find it charming. But if you have a female character say the same lines, they loathe her and complain bitterly about the constant nagging. So there's a grouchy old man in Left 4 Dead, but the girl is all sweetness and light.

Broadly, men suck.

Chris Livingston: This does not appear to be about Team Fortress 2, and thus, I do not comprehend.

Tom Francis: You should counter-act this by posting about TF2 on 1Fort - that aborted post makes it feel all sad over there now, like a dead fetus. Okay, not that sad.

Dante: Since you bring it up, I think you undersold the male Shepard in your Mass Effect review Pentadact.

The voice acting is very good, specifically they've done well to pick a voice that nearly always feels natural coming from your character, regardless of the look or ethnicity of him. Except when I created a Ming the Merciless clone, then it didn't work at all.

And you certainly aren't restricted to them all looking like 'vacant', shaven headed Calvin Klein models'. I'd put up a picture to illustrate my point, but unfortunately I played it on the Xbox.

Tentaculat: QUILTED PANTS.



muffin: The best 1st person shooter ever.......

Half life 2...this is the most amazing game ever...
it has the perfect balence of great graphics, physics, and ragdoll animations.....
The guns are well ballenced making the game hard but not impossible...the story is gripping and interesting.

there is a wide range of enemies...antlions, zombies and combine....
and each 'species' needs to be delt with in a different way.
It is not the most scary game...but it doesnt need to be...

Most importantly...its a hell of a lot of fun!!!