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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

Film Catch-Up

In Bruges

Despite being an English word in front of a Belgian placename, the title manages to make this sound like ponderous French arthouse cinema. Really, they should have called it: In Fockin Bruges? Wit You?

Because it’s very much not ponderous. It’s a comedy thriller about two hitmen forced to bide their time in a quaint European city while awaiting further instructions. It’s fantastic. The funniest film I’ve seen in ages, including Wall-E and the last Futurama one.

Situational comedy apparently means unfunny, often grave situations with gags inserted forcibly into them, but In Bruges exmplifies what the term ought to mean: comedy that derives almost solely from the volatile absurdity of the situation. There’s one scene in particular where you have no idea if you’re about to witness a murder, a suicide or a manly heart-to-heart. And later, one of my favourite mid gunfight conversations between antagonists, taking the crown from the bit in Grosse Pointe Blank where Dan Aykroyd offers to sell John Cusack an ammo clip.

I think the film’s a little mean towards its short guy, and the ending felt just a tiny bit too inevitable before it happened, but the latter is more than made up for by the last line. Colin Farrell’s an unexpectedly adept comic actor, but Ralph Fiennes steals it utterly as the frothing London crimelord.



I didn’t believe the people telling me this was incredible, was wrong yet again. It is. Not so much for Wall-E himself, as the bizarrely affecting romance between him and Eve (or Eva, as Wall-E seems to say it). I don’t find robots cute and I almost never like romance, so the story had some serious work to do to win me over, but it accomplished it within about thirty seconds of the pair first appearing on screen together. Eve blows things up! That’s all I need to see to get invested in this love story. Some scenes just made me beam.

It’s my favourite Pixar film, beating the Incredibles partly by being about robots, and partly because I’ve always resented the message of the Incredibles. You know that central line, where the kid complains that at school they’re always being told that everyone’s special, “But that’s the same as no-one being special at all.” Oh yeah, you’re right. People who aren’t genetically superior aren’t special. And it’s about time normal people were seen for the interchangable, expendable drones they are compared to you mighty ubermen.


The Dark Knight

I enjoyed this a lot, but I did find myself sitting there thinking “Why aren’t I more invested in this? Why don’t I care?” I cared throughout Batman Begins, and that had a lot more flaws and downtime than this. I think it’s because, while they’re both ideas movies, the first film just had one idea: fear. Batman’s origin is all about fear, the plot was all about fear, and the villain was the embodiment of fear. Dark Knight is about whether people need a white knight more than a dark one, but its main feature, the Joker, doesn’t have much to do with that, so it doesn’t feel as focused.

I’ve heard a few people have mention that it feels stretched to include the two villians, usually with the caveat that they do realise it was necessary. I don’t think it strictly was: I think there could have been a movie entirely about Batman and Two Face, with the Joker just an unseen spectre in the background, teasing for a film of his own to crown the trilogy. Of course, this is the worst suggestion ever, given the circumstances regarding one of the cast necessary to enact it.

The other thing I liked about Begins was that it explained Batman to me, because I honestly didn’t know what he was about. And I thought the Dark Knight was explaining the Joker to me – because again, I’ve never felt I got him – with the line “Do I look like a man with a plan?” But then every caper he pulls is a masterpiece of proposterously convoluted planning. The bit that did paint an evocative picture of him was the best scene of the film, with the line: “I enjoy dynamite, gunpowder, gasoline. You know what they all have in common? They’re cheap.”

The Beast With A Billion Backs

I give your film the worst grade imaginable: an A minus minus! Futurama will probably never be bad, but this lacked spark in exactly the way Bender’s Big Score didn’t. There’s a difference between fan service and what plays more like fan fic. The plot is entirely about a single, weak conceit that doesn’t really work as a joke, and makes no sense as a serious plot element. The drama is lazy, mean-spirited stuff that falls back on the character’s clichés, then takes them to out-of-character extremes for the sake of laughs that never come. A highly spoilerific example will appear if you hover over this image:



The_B: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD do not go and see The Love Guru. It is an exercise in nothing more than childish humour which should entertain no one other than those who still giggle at the word 'penis'.

Even the fact I didn't have to pay didn't help.

Mr. Brit: Did you post this at 2 in the morning??

Hermes: That was an excellent point about 'The Dark Knight' lacking focus. I enjoyed the film immensely but 'Batman Begins' was a more engrossing film. As great as his performance was it would seem Ledger's departure led to some questionable choices in the editing room. The joker appears more often than intended in Nolan's original concept

Jason L: Oh come now. I know I got really pissed off by compulsion to recognise everyone in every arena when I was a kid. 'No, as a matter of fact I can't run very fast. I know it, you know it, everybody knows it, and everybody's fine with it including me, but don't you make me come up on stage to collect a medal for stepping across the starting line. You've gone too far.' You don't have to be in the elite to be a cheerful elitist. Besides, the film ends with Dash learning to put harmony before competition anyway - hardly a reinforcement of that supposed thesis.

I'm still waiting for my copy of BBB to arrive and I'm not sure why. Please let it have fewer musical numbers!

Zeno Cosini: I didn't love the Dark Knight. Too much exposition. I liked Heath Ledger a lot - he looked like a cross between Marlon Brando and Robert Smith. Maybe too much - I wanted him back on screen whenever he went away. I loved the sequence where he's taunting the cop about how many of his friends he's killed.

Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow is still my favourite movie supervillain of recent times.

Tom Camfield: May contain Batman spoilers.

I liked the Dark Knight, and I was really taken with the idea of living in a city where a guy forces the population to get involved in big ethical questions, a kind of macro (if that's the right word) version of the Saw movie baddie.

I didn't like the original, I thought it was a bit laboured with all the umming and aahing about becoming a vigilante, and then the ridiculousness of being trained in the mountains, with swords and everything. I think Year One worked better as a slow movement from learning judo, wearing a scar as a disguise and taking it to the streets, then going full on Batman mental and taking on the mob.

Jason L: Pretty much echoed here. I too like Dark Knight, though I too use the word 'like', and I too didn't like Batman Begins much in a nihilist mountain philosopher ninja monastery with flipping out and swords and explosive barrels in the living quarters? Really? But then I already got Batman. I don't understand the seismic ticket sales, multiple viewings and rapturous reviews for Dark Knight. I got an email from a friend saying that after seeing Dark Knight other superhero movies have a lot to live up to. Well they do - it's a superhero renaissance - but that's thanks to Hellboy, Iron Man, The Incredibles...

I picked up the 'man with a plan' dissonance as well, and the other thing that bugged me is that at least twice the Joker tells Batman that he's not trying to prove that people are inherently evil, he just 'wants to see everything burn'. The former is obviously true and the latter false, otherwise he'd just be bombing places instead of unsing his psychic powers of prediction to force people into doing evil. Now obviously, nearly everything he says to anyone in the film is a lie or misinformation, but in these scenes he's played and filmed as if he's really trying to be understood. He seems almost indignant at the misunderstanding, and not in a 'doth protest too much' way.

I was laughing a little during the last scene. 'I'm glad you asked what's going on son, because it oh-so-conveniently lets you stand in for Joe Sixpack who's already forgotten the other six times we philosophised about the dark knight/white knight dichotomy and Gotham's need for a symbol of hope. You see, we just discussed in front of you how we were going to have Batman take the fall for Dent's murders because we needed Dent as a symbol. Then we watched Batman running away from my police force, taking the fall for Dent's murders because we need Dent as a symbol. And now you've asked why the police are chasing Batman. The police are chasing Batman because we're going to have Batman take the fall because we need Dent as a symbol. Do you understand son?'

Anyway, I criticise because I love, well, like. Oldman's Gordon and Morgan's Fox continue to be marvelous, the 'blackmail Batman' and 'billionaire absconds with ballet troupe' scenes are hilarious, and the Joker is if not consistent or properly written then at least inventively monstrous.

Jason L: 'Freeman's', there. I am not on a first-name basis with Morgan Freeman.

Chris Livingston: Yay! Someone else saw In Bruges! I've been recommending it to everyone. We recently rented it and absolutely loved it. The last twenty minutes were a bit heavy with coincidences, but overall it's most enjoyable film I've seen in probably a few years. Great performances all around. And I love that the crime boss has to go to a special dealer just to get a gun, instead of films set in America, where he'd have twin rocket-launching chainguns in his coat closet.

Honestly, Pixar's last couple films look amazing but haven't captured me much otherwise. I thought the one with the rat chef was boring (didn't even finish watching it) and the WALL-E story was cute but I never gave it a second thought after leaving the theater, not even about the incredibly subtle and easy to miss message that we're overweight and lazy (O RLY?!?!?!). The Incredibles is still my favorite by far.

I liked Dark Knight a lot and would even go see it again in the theater if it wasn't so long. I think they could have saved Two Face's revenge for the next movie.

I don't remember a whole lot about the second Futurama movie, which I guess isn't much of an endorsement. Definitely the first was superior and had a much more enjoyable story.

Mr. Brit: I never bought into this superhero revival thing, the films tend to be cliched messes that butcher a lot of their characters. I thought the Joker was done well but I didn't like scarecrow. Venom (Spiderman 3) was a mess and Fnatastic Four is just terrible. I'd prefer some of the more obscure heroes. A remake of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that held truer to the original comics would be excellent. I think it's depressing that an animated superhero film can surpass the greats on the big screen.

Mr. Brit: Just found out that a Alan Moore's 'Watchmen' is getting a film adaption! Also a 'Spawn' film is in pre-production! A Flash movie would be good as well....

Jason L: Mr. Brit: That's cynical and therefore accurate as far as it goes, but cavalierly (deliberately?) ignores the good films whose coattails the bad ones are riding. If there weren't a tremendous resurgence going on, there wouldn't have been a genre for not one but two terrible Fantastic Four movies to parasitise.

My friend's 'a lot to live up to' was actually in reference to my passing along a link to the Watchmen trailer, so now it's been mentioned I may as well comment on that. There's a lot that's bad about the original. There are a lot of changes so far that make me uneasy. There's just no way it could be any good. But! If you look at the trailer, there are lots of faithful touches and stylistic decisions which would have been much easier to throw away. It makes me think that the people who are making the film actually like the source and want to remain faithful to it. My prognostication: It won't be any good, but it might still be great.

Chris: For me, WALL-E's Message really refined itself on second and subsequent viewings. On first sight it presents as OMGLOLufatties, but even after I'd gone in expecting that and seen it, on second viewing it suddenly flipped in my mind to something like 'do real things' or 'think about what's important'. I don't know why my reading changed. I wasn't trying to 'fix' anything in my head - I was fine with the film - but it has made it much more pleasant nonetheless. On the other hand, Message or no, if the joyful, wistful romance doesn't grab your stony heart there's no reason to watch the rest. It is truly the heart of the film.

I agree that Ratatouille lacks a certain something. I enjoyed watching it, but haven't since. It's a pity, since there's nothing wrong with it and I think Anton Ego's one of the more enjoyable characters in Pixar's history.

J-man: Personally, I really liked Beast with a Billion Backs, but I can see that it was solely aimed at fans, such as me. I thought Wall-E was also good and I completely agree with you about 'Incredibles.

Anyway, I guess this means I'll have to go see in Bruges. Damn you Tom Francis, with your good reviews!

DoctorDisaster: I like this depiction of the Joker for the same reasons everyone else here seems to dislike it. That dissonance you're talking about was definitely there, and I was conscious of it while I was watching the movie, but I instinctively accepted it as part of the characterization. Scarecrow is about fear, Dent is about heroism, but Joker isn't really used as a theme villain. Instead, he's presented as a sort of mythological nemesis. He's the fundamental opposite of Batman. Think about the "they're cheap" scene; those talkative moments about his past; his continually expanding roster of henchmen versus the one-man-army approach. So where Bats acts with a single-minded purpose that borders on obsessive insanity, Joker's MO is disjointed, schizophrenic, and impossible to square even with itself.

Only adding to the layers of dissonance is the fact that while Wayne's anti-crime fervor masks a conflicted mess of motivations (revenge for his parents, love for Rachel, the 'greater good' that drives the Dent thing, the 'any means necessary' of the stupid cell phone thing, etc etc), Joker's haphazard approach masks a single central purpose: to fuck with the Bat. He builds up power so that he can go to war with Batman; he wants to burn Gotham because Batman wants to save it; he wants to prove people are evil because Batman wants them to be good. As was hinted at the end of the last movie, Joker's entire existence is a reaction against Batman's. I'm a total sucker for that mythic angle and I feel like the dissonance in his depiction is an intentional way to reinforce that.

On the other hand, I'll agree the Dent thing was telegraphed a little too insistently. And the aforementioned stupid cell phone thing was utterly contrived. But at the end of the day, nothing in Dark Knight could even begin to compare to the colossal stupidity of "microwave the city to boil the water to burst the pipes to release the gas to make people hallucinate to make everyone kill each other BUT at least they'll suffer no ill effects from being MICROWAVED, amirite???"

Spoiler alert?

Fat Zombie: I too noticed this dissonance between the Joker's insistence that he doesn't plan, and his amazingly detailed and clever plots. But, then again, doesn't he also lie about the origin of his scars?
It could be that he simply tells Dent this in his efforts to push him over the edge. And all the stuff Doctor Disaster said.

Anyway, awesome movie. If simply just for the Pencil Trick.

J-Man: My thoughts on Madagascar 2 (subtle, eh?):

http://existentialis... ...agascar-2/

Jason L: I'm the best part of a year behind on this, apparently, but... More Futurama this summer! Without bizarre pastiche film/episode writing restrictions! Oplease oplease opleasebegood...