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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

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

After proudly announcing a return to normal programming, I studiously wrote the first line of eight different posts and then watched Futurama until I passed out. I’ve been working for fifteen consecutive days at this point and I don’t sleep for long, so you might have to bear with me a bit.

This needs blogging about urgently, though, because it’s an online televisual event that will happen at an actual time! Tomorrow! Written by Joss Whedon and some other people, starring Nathan Fillion, Neil Patrick Harris and my close personal friend Felicia Day, it has two things in common with Firefly, and it’s about a supervillain, and it’s got Felicia Day, who is interviewed in the issue of PC Gamer on-sale in two weeks. Run, don’t walk, to your newsvendor. But run slow enough that you get there around the end of July.

It’s also a musical, and admittedly I haven’t liked one of those since Dancer In The Dark, but still. The three acts go up Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and stay up till Sunday, but I’m particularly keen on watching it as it comes out, because I am as mentioned in love with the idea of international premieres.

The premiere is something the internet’s sort of destroying and recreating at the same time: movies are splattered across the release schedule as people pirate them early, wait for the DVD, or wait to pirate the DVD. TV is Tivo’d and DVD sets are Netflixed bit by bit, but increasingly significant things are getting put out as webisodes. And in that, we’ve got the communal excitement of every fanatic devouring new content at the same time, world-wide instead of country-wide.


Update! Spit! This thing is the exact opposite of what I just said! It’s being broadcast via the evil Hulu, which is US-only. Way to defeat the whole spirit of the thing, jerk-wads!

Nevertheless, it is live now, and if you just grab Hotspot Shield or another sneaky proxy service of your choice, you can disguise yourself as an American and watch. Think of it as a baseball cap and a few extra pounds for your browser.

Update! It’s good! But doesn’t get very far in its 14 minutes. I now advise waiting till it’s all out on Saturday and watching then, since someone blew the whole worldwide premiere idea. Felicia suggests non-US people wait ‘a bit’, and adds a smiley face. Make of that what you will.

Update! As Iain and Graham note, the US-only restriction seems to have been removed.

Update! Act 2 is out and even better! Also, the whole thing is getting crazy popular, which is awesome. Provided they can refrain from fucking up the region thing, more of this sort of thing!

Update! It’s over! What did you think? Spoilerific comments below. I thought it went from good to great and back to good. The end seemed to be leveraging an emotional investment that I didn’t really have. I was there for the lols.

Dante: I once comment to Ludo that the nigh on omnipotent Superman having 'smart kid' Lex Luthor as an arch enemy was essentially bullying. Joss Whedon seems to have had the same thought, and naturally immediately produced a musical video blog on the subject.

I guess I missed a trick there.

Tom Francis: I hear you. I was just about to start a short story about a fururistic courier who carries sensitive data on portable storage media because all forms of electronic transfer are compromised, then they released a new trailer for Mirror's Edge saying it's about a futuristic courier who carries sensitive data on portable storage media because all forms of electronic transfer are compromised.

Seriously, any month now I was about to write the first line.

Of course, my story didn't revolve around your sister getting framed, because that's lame. Yes, Rhianna Pratchett, I said it!

Also my guy could fly.

Iain “DDude” Dawson: Great.. I've been looking forward to this fanatically since I first hear of it. That week long anticipation still builds becuase we are outside the US! Grr-arghh!

Iain “DDude” Dawson: Yaaaay! It's alive!

Chijts: Pentadact, if that's the story behind Mirror's Edge, then hasn't that already been done before too? Granted it is not exactly the same but Johnny Mnemonic was a film about an illegal courier dude who carried electronic data on his body (namely his brain) to keep it safe?

Jason L: ...not to mention granddaddy Snow Crash's action courier Y.T. - who was in turn no doubt based on myriad non-cyberpunk sci-fi from at least the '60s. Heck, I think some Heinlein I've personally read had action couriers versus compromised networks.

Originality is not necessary for excellence, and thank goodness.

Lack_26: Hmm, the website won't load. That sucks a bit.

Tom Francis: Yeah, I'm not bothered that it's been done - everything has - I'm groaning that it's being done simultaneously. And I'm kidding of course. I start three of these a month, they never get beyond the first paragraph.

Alex Holland: I'd hardly call Snow Crash the Grandaddy - the short-story of Jonny Mnemonic (far preferable to the film, but then so is herpes) by William Gibson was released in 1981, a full 11 years earlier. But I suspect we're missing the point here.

Jason L: Sorry, totally my bad. I have a mental block with mixing up Gibson and Stephenson, despite enjoying one a lot and the other not much. The one datapoint that comes through is that Snow Crash was somebody's breakout work, so if I don't pay enough attention I mentally reorder everything after that while simultaneously recognising that it worked within a genre Gibson established. Holographic memory isn't all they cracked it up to be.

Dante: I was going to write a lovely little follow up piece to my earlier comment here about how I was rewriting an screenplay I wrote two years ago only to realise the villain was called Andrew Ryan, but I just checked and it turns out it was actually Edward Ryan.

Anecdote fail. :(

Tom Francis: Ken Levine's face must have been red when he realised he'd inadvertantly given his protagonist the same name as (BioShock spoiler) this guy.

Tentaculat: I misunderstood the purpose of all of this, thinking it was meant to be a pilot of sorts for a real upcoming series. One that I was really looking forward to. It was stronger than most pilots I've ever seen, and I'm feeling rather glum now that I realize it was a one-off.

I miss Buffy and to a ever-so-slighly-lesser extent, Firefly. Dr. Horrible reminds me soo much of both of those shows. Of course it helps that it shares cast members from both and of course Joss Whedon.

Sad face.

Thomas Lawrence: The final act is up now.... are we ok to discuss spoilers here, Tom?

Tom Camfield: @ Pentadact: http://doctorhorribl... about the international release:

DBB: [...] you had intended for it to be available internationally from the start, is that right?

JW: We don’t like people who aren’t American [Joking] we were trying to think of everything and that was the one question we didn’t ask when we were talking to Hulu about the actual hosting of the video, we didn’t even think to ask it but as soon as we launched and the first blogs were “why can’t I see it” and we went into panic mode and the people of Hulu were up that night re-writing the code and getting it in order and it opened up some time in the night but no it definitely wasn’t planned and we were extremely sad that the launch was tainted by sadness and disappointment…

Tom Francis: Aw, we forgive you Joss. This explains a lot, actually - I was sure Hulu was US-only, so I wasn't sure why it suddenly started working here. Turns out they changed the whole site for this.

Tom - yes, but be aware that the first 50 characters of your post will come up in the "Latest Comment" box for a while, so try to avoid starting with "omg cpt hamer = dr horobel lol". Tell us about your day, first.

Tom Francis: Uh, Jed. JW is ambiguous!

Tom Camfield: There are at least three Tom's in this comments thread which makes me want to refer to Tom a lot. I too, Tom, made the Jed mistake, even though it sounded nothing like Joss and he kept referring to "Joss's fans" which I thought was some strange use of the third person, but I let it slide.

Spoiling things: really surprised by the ending, kind of typical Whedon, but so untypical of anyone else. I liked it. Also: "the hammer is my penis", kudos. Not sure how easy that would be to follow (Jed's plan seems to be to open up the world to new possibilities) because not everyone is Joss Whedon (high geek cred + links with plenty of talent), but I guess it did show that with good writers and actors you don't need a big budget to make your own take on Iron Man / Heroes.

Thomas Lawrence: So, I need to write around 50 characters to avoid putting the spoilers at the top of the page, eh? Maybe I'll do it in a self-referential way, like by talking about how I need to type this sentence in order to have 50 characters of text to fill up the space.

Right, spoilers for Dr. Horrible's Sing Along blog coming up:

* Act II was the best.
* My, but the Whedons love to kill their characters, eh? This wasn't Dr. Horrible's redemption arc, it was his origin story. Syke!
* The construction of the thing isn't sturdy enough to support an ongoing series, methinks, especially if it would be a musical throughout. But then I don't think that was ever the intention.
* More of this sort of thing! Although how'd you monetise something like this? Just DVD sales?

Tom Francis: Luckily, I seem to have broken my Latest Comment box so that it shows nothing at all of the latest comment.

Tom: agreed. I applaud the venture, but I imagine some hard-up creatives are whistling through their teeth and saying "Wow, you've certainly showed us all what someone with a lot of money, fame and connections can do!" In a lot of ways Felicia's thing, The Guild, is a more inspiring template: it's more professional than we've come to expect from the web, and now funded solely through fan donations. Once the DVD goes on sale, she might actually be able to pay the cast.

Tom: agreed. They're selling it over iTunes right now, then the DVD comes later. I suspect iTunes is the way to go, but I also think that route's probably more efficient if you're starting a series that can build a following and reuse assets and equipment. Which this is not intended to be.


"And sometimes there's a third, even deeper layer, and that one's the same as the surface one."

"Apparently the LAPD and Captain Hammer are among our viewers."

"There will be blood! It might be yours!
So go kill someone! Signed Bad Horse!"

"The thoroughbred of sin?"
"I meant Gandhi."

Act II definitely where it's at.

Thomas Lawrence: Waitasec, I just noticed it's back up for free in it's entirety. How.. huh. Ok. Anyone know why that happened?