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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

Mirror’s Edge

Mirror's Edge 03

I don’t often dribble about unreleased games here, except when they’re by Valve or a cool part of them has just been released or I’ve played them and can’t tell you anything useful. But I am in love with Mirror’s Edge.

The first trailer is a thing of wordless and tinglingly scored beauty. The DICE team have shown only hints of this artistic muscle before – both of the last Battlefield games were crisply depicted, but even 2142 only had a few properly striking scenes. Mirror’s Edge is fearlessly clear in its art direction, dazzingly stark and bleach-clean throughout. Like only the best oppressive dystopias, I want to live there.

It makes me laugh, and then feel sad, when people say that Gears of War 2 looks good. It looks like an ashtray.

Mirror's Edge 04

GameTrailers did an uncharacteristically excellent recut of that first footage, halting to extrapolate the implications of every detail shown. I hope they eventually do the same for the new Leap of Faith footage (which isn’t the same as the stuff shown in the developer talkthrough).

Together, the three suggest an energetically tactile, flexible and powerful mode of movement. I love, love the notion of being able to cling onto something, then look freely around behind me and leap in the direction of my choice. It’s the antithesis of the hopelessly vague dictionary of airy, hands-free movement verbs we have access to in every other first-person game.

Mirror's Edge 11

All three show combat in some form, and for the most part I really like the quick, linked series of light blows you can use to disarm or incapacitate people. But I don’t see how you get to them. In the demos, the player simply lets herself get shot to hell – they’ve got God mode on, so it has no effect, but it raises a pretty big question.

My answer to it, which they clearly haven’t gone for, would be a system of automatically triggered bullet-time. For the most part, you’re dashing around in real-time and bullets ping around you – your enemies should have Stormtrooper Aiming Syndrome, of course.

But whenever a bullet is fired that’s on track to hit you, extreme slow-mo is activated and a line of air-ripples shows the path the bullet is on. The more accurate the shot, and the closer the range, the further you’ve got to move your body in the shorter the space of time. Realtime resumes the second you’ve moved yourself out of danger.

Mirror's Edge - Grab

Mirror's Edge - Hook

It would be redundant to argue that the game would be better off without a plot; no-one could put that argument more eloquently or forcefully than the first trailer itself – especially in light of the groan-worthy second. Look at her:

Mirror's Edge 12

She doesn’t have a sister. She’s too cool to be born.


Hermes: Is there any word on how the controls will work in this game?

roburky: There was something somewhere that there will be a button for upward actions, and one for downward actions. So the upward button would handle jumping, climbing, etc, and the downward would do dropping, sliding and landing with a roll when falling from heights. I haven't seen anything other than that, though.

Tom Francis: Yeah, it takes GameSpot 676 words to say that:

http://e3.gamespot.c... ...ks;title;2

Lack_26: I've been excited by this game since I first saw it, I'd love to see this work on PC with the controls properly configured, I can't be having with any of the controller nonsense.

The_B: Are we taking bets yet on whether the sister will not actually be dead but be held prisoner/recruited/turned into one of the enemy style twist yet?

Tom Francis: Wait, she's dead? I thought she was just framed? For a crime she didn't commit? The worst kind of framed?

Dante: Time for my standard comment on any Mirror's Edge post ever:

I still don't see how this is going to work. First person platforming is horribly frustrating in every game that has ever involved it (granted I suck at platformers, but I'm sure I'm right on this one). So I can only imagine that this will be either a) equally frustrating or b) so on rails it's essentially just moving around normally but with prettier animations.

Ludo: But look at the pretty!

The big reveal will be that her sister has in fact had her legs removed, and her upper half has been grafted onto the body of a huge alien, which you will have to defeat in a dramatic boss encounter, just like the end of Prey.

... spoilers for Prey there people.

Tom Francis: Heheh. Post-script spoiler warnings: classy.

They are going to be linear, constrained levels, Dante. But apparently with multiple routes. You can see a lot of level furniture in the footage that resembles the stuff she climbs on, slips under, tightropes across, etc. So it's not hard to imagine how all that could be usable.

Ludo: Apologies. Prey's canon doesn't really need preserving, but I didn't really mean to ruin that comedy moment.

More seriously, the body-awareness evidenced in the trailers is the most appealing part for me. The sense of motion is great, created cleverly by the camera movement, and by being able to constantly see your arms and legs interacting with the environment.

But the difficulty with platforming in first person is that you can't always see where your feet are, which makes gauging jumps difficult. The environmental colour system seems like a reasonable attempt to counter this, but it's hard to see how much direct manual control they'll allow the player. It could end up with the Assasins' Creed system of 'hold the freerunning button' and 'press direction'.

The_B: Dagnabbit!

OK - rephrasing:

And when are we taking bets on the plot twist that the sister has actually not been taken but joined the enemy and become sympathetic to their side?

I think I might get away with that...

Tom Francis: My current plan is to select the wrong language during install. After cringing at the dialogue in the Jedi Academy demo, I played the full game entirely in French. It made the plot seem intriguing and the characters rather likeable.

WeakLemonDrink: See, this all looks lovely but I'm really, *really* unsure about all this red 'runner vision' stuff. It seemed ok at the start when it was just for poles or ramps, but in the building when almost the entire staircase is red seemed like massive overkill. Is this just the next step up from Thief 3 or Bioshock treating the player like a mindless cretin by making important items light up like the sun?

Tom Francis: You can turn it off.

WeakLemonDrink: Ah, excellent. In that case: BRING IT ON.

Jason L: That is reassuring. It's still upsetting to know that some of the levels are going to be One True Path, whether it's beaten into your head or not. A moment's reflection reminds me that it's never bothered me in Mario, so I don't have too much right to bitch about it here. Even Crackdown, the urban jumping freedom gold standard, has plenty of one- or two-route climbs. So yeah, as long as we can turn off the noserings I'm back into full enthusiasm mode.

Tom Francis: DICE say there are several different routes through every level, and Runner Vision highlights the most obvious rather than the fastest. But speculating about the extent to which that's the case at this point probably isn't worthwhile.

Lack_26: I really hope there is a multiplayer mode where you set the runners loose onto a map and objects (like a briefcase) spawn at a area that everyone is a roughly equal distance away, then either the first person to grab it gets a point, then another spawns, or...

after grabbing the package the runner has to get to a specified drop of point (selected so that the runnner will get intercepted but people cant camp points), then they have to avoid the other runners and make it to this point,

say a runner has grabbed the package, they're running along a pipe when another player leaps from a crane dragging the player to a roof below, where a duel breaks out, the runner is neutralised and the attacker picks up the case and starts running.

Tom Francis: I wouldn't be surprised if making all this stuff look right in first-person means that it wouldn't look at all right in third-person, which would preclude multiplayer.

Combat would be funny: each player repeatedly knocking the shotgun out of the other's hands.

Jason L: Nah, you just need to implement aikido, hapkido, muay thai, sambo, la savate, judo, shotokan, and a few others in first person for when people meet without guns. Assign it in some way to left bumper, job done.

Rob: The developer walkthrough was beautiful, I hope they can realise this into something more than the sum of its parts, as good as the parts already look.

As far as linearity goes, I would argue that in a free running type game the onus is on them to make it as absolutely flexible and non-linear as possible without breaking their plotting. Sort of Crackdown levels of 'I can basically get to anywhere by climbing wherever I want' (only that was a slightly broken illusion because a lot of areas were obviously boxed off), mixed with Valve's knack for hiding the bleeding obvious fact that you're on-rails on a linear narrative.

That's not going to be easy.

muffin: I really think the art work and graphics are amazing....however i think the gameplay is not...why did they put it in 1st person???

it means that you cannot see where you are going!

if they had made it a bit more like Prince of Persia then i think it would b amazing....