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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

Heavy Update Thoughts So Far

Badwater Basin
Love it.

I know it’s just because it’s early days, but I haven’t hit a single impenetrable Sentry nest, and the alternate routes are deliciously labyrinthine. It feels teeming with nooks and crannies to hide out in, recharge and take an unexpected angle from. And I love having a section of track that runs underneath the main play area. Tim and I skewered the enemy team repeatedly as they tried to escort the cart through that underground tunnel, he as a Sniper from the front, I as a Spy from the back.

tunnel o death

I thought at first it was just a superior Spy map, but I played it solely as Heavy for some time today, and it was among the most fun I’ve ever had as that class. In fact, for the first time in ten months, I broke my all-time score record. 36 points from 16 kills as a Spy defending stage 3 of Dustbowl, replaced by 37 points and 16 kills assaulting Badwater Basin as a Heavy with incalculable aid from Doctor Graham Smith. I think we survived the entire round, and were with the cart almost every metre of the way. Cap score grind plus plus.

I know, I know, you’ve got 48 kills as an Engineer and 39 as a Demo – shut up.

Arena Mode
Hate it.

Chris sums up a lot of what saddens me about this mode very eloquently at 1Fort – the lows are as low as Sudden Death, but the highs aren’t nearly as high because a two-minute victory doesn’t feel significant.

I’m not yet clear on the precise conditions that cause it to occur, but the system whereby a third of the players must sit out every round is bizarre and disastrous. I’m just not interested in spending my free time that way; impotently watching two teams of strangers blunder awkwardly into one another.

I don’t see why there can’t be two full teams. What is the presumably monumental problem that’s worth paying the exorbitant cost of boring a third of your players to solve?

If you want lower player counts, lower the player counts. If you want to scramble the teams, scramble them whenever one side wins three times in a row. Use the rescrambling to separate the highest scorers, and prefer to keep friends together unless they’re dominating.

With that system, Arena would be worthwhile to me because its format undermines the feasibility of Sentry nests, the biggest drain on my fun with TF2. Without it, I’m just not playing.

sandwich envy

Heavy Unlocks
Funny, don’t want ’em.

I am, of course, reserving judgement on all of them until I actually try them out. The Sandvich is a lovely idea, but the prospect doesn’t entice me particularly. I don’t die because I enter a fight with partial health, I die because I take more than 300 damage before I can retreat.

Likewise, the other unlocks don’t attempt to solve any of the reasons I avoid the Heavy, and don’t add possibilities that excite me on paper. The reason I avoid him is that his slowness and similar weapons make him tactically inflexible: he can only deal with one kind of situation, and he doesn’t have the tools to engineer it. If he encounters something unexpected and undesirable, he has no options. Boxing gloves, a slow-gun and a snack don’t sound like they give me more options, and I thrive on options.

I’ll update this if that impression is mistaken, but I think unlockables need to entice as much as perform, and this is the first time they haven’t done that for me. For others, too – I’ve only seen one Natascha and no boxing gloves, and there are rarely more than four Heavies per team. It’s nothing like the mono-class unlock fever that gripped Pyro and Medic week.

Pretty, hate Arena.

“The goal was to establish a clear difference between the two sides of the map. One side climbs up toward a large mountain peak, and the other dips down into a vast valley.”

Reading that, I pictured a glorious mountain-climb of a map, something Tim is always saying would add some much-needed drama to TF2’s struggles. The reality is a truly lovely place that I long to spend time in, but it looks to me an awful lot like a perfectly symmetrical square of entirely flat land around big square building. I guess he’s talking about the background.

Regardless, like a lot of people I’m in love with this new style and I can’t wait for them to make a map in it that I actually want to play.

roburky: My feelings are mostly the opposite.

Apart from the last one, as I haven't seen it yet.

Qazi: I concur. Timberyard is beautiful, but Arena really is irritating. I can't wait for the first batch of community Alpine maps.
I couldn't really bring myself to play much Heavy, because it is such a good time to be a Medic. The new 25% Kritzkrieg boost is phenomenal; snapping off a Soldier or Heavy's crit stream every 45 seconds is devastating, and tends to ensure the enemy Medic's death, before he can get an invulnerable über fully charged.
Bizarrely, I started with 5 second plan & Photostroika already unlocked, which is great! It means I don't need to do the worst achievement of the pack, whenever I finally feel like getting them.

spuzman00: Yeah, I'm also looking forward to being a medic- perfect time to get those achievements I've been to lazy to try for, like the "so much healing in 1 life" thing.

I really wish Timberyard was a map outside of Arena- I really want to play there, but I want long term games, not just short bursts.

Newt Pulsifer: I didn't like the Arena mode either...
It feels sooo.. good to win those games that takes 10min to cap the last point, and when you are almost there, the enemy captures their second point, than you cap it back and rush for the last and it's all cheers and woohooo r0xy team and so on.
On the other hand, winning/losing the game within 100seconds feels sooo.. shit :(
But, dude, this "Ravine" map is fuckin' awesome!!!!

Qazi: Ah, VALVe have managed to fix my achievements. Oh well, nothing of value was lost.

LaZodiac: How insightfull. Hopefully we will get to see a part two when it isn't 3 in the morning. Atlest, its 3 in the morning for me, not sure about you none Canadians and Trinidad people.

Idlehands: You don't sound overly impressed by this update. What game mode would you have prefered to Arena?

I thought Arena sounded like shite, but I got hopeful that it may cause players to work more closely as a team and create fun little moments (eg pushing enemies back into pyros with heavies). But how is it actually playing so far (I'm at work and have to wait to see the update in action)?

Can't wait for more Alpine maps, and to see heavies eating sandviches.

Jay: I was a bit nonplussed by the Arena mode too - it sounds a bit too much like Counter Strike, with all the problems it entails, particularly for gung ho people such as meself

Loving the new Alpine environments; bugger whether it fits the game, it just looks pretty

And the Heavy sandwich animation is hilarious

J-man: I mostly concur with your thoughts.

J-man: Just noticed this in the fixes section-

"Fixed a loophole that allowed players to pickup weapons of other classesW

J-man: Crap. Spelling error. That W is meant to be a "

J-man: Oh man. I'm spamming now, aren't I? Sorry, Tom, I'll shut up now.

DoctorDisaster: I had actually gotten all confused by the allure of the alpine environment, and was actually looking forward to arena mode.


It was terrible. It was frustrating, then boring, then frustrating again. It also locked our server into "arena mode" which apparently means screwing up your player limit and server name, then limiting voting options to arena maps. All you people who are talking about what a great time it is to be a medic are right, but you're also ignoring arena, which is the most anti-medic game mode ever conceived.

I can understand how some hardcore HURR SKILLZ people are going to like arena, so it's nice that it exists I guess. I even understand why they started alpine off with one arena map; that's the quickest way to get the tileset out there to community mappers. I just wish I could actually get some fun gameplay in on the sexy new environment.

You guys might want to reconsider one aspect of the update, though: Natascha is apparently pretty awesome if you're a good heavy. My clan's star heavy just won't put her down, and she's been the source of some really fun moments.

Mobba: I haven't played arena yet, but I've specced all the maps, and compared to cs, they are tiny. I can imagine its chaotic, after my experience with duel_duel and 2fort insta, I don't think I'm going to even try arena.

Glad steel is going to be more available to play, and badwater looks ok, I would really love a payload in alpine.

littleedge: Badwater Bains: Still gotta play it

Arena mode: It's alright. Only god ones are Lumberyard, Ravine, and Granary.

Heavy Unlocks: Alright, though I don't play Heavy often, so I won't really get the achievements, which is fine by me.

Alpine Environment: Frickin great.

I did play Arena_Well earlier today, and a heavy was getting damaged like crazy, while I was a scout coming from behind (Just havin fun, not trying, batting people to death, etc.). I notice him bring out his sandvich, and I ran up the hill, behind his back, and he started eating it. He had a mic, so when I started to bat him to death, he was yelling 'No! No! No! No! Get away!' but I killed him. Can't wait for more kills like that.

roburky: Reason I don't like badwater basin: That last point is a bloody maze, and none of it connects up in any kind of logical manner.

Reason I like arena: It's actually based around the kind of play that I love most about TF2 - where people are communicating and cooperating. If you and your teammates don't use your microphones, yes it will be shit.

First game I played, we had one very chatty scout who actually did some scouting. He jumped all over the map telling us exactly where each enemy was at all times.

Lack_26: I agree entirely with what you've said, also you and graham make a awesome heavy team, which were the bane of my life (death?) back there. At least on arena though being a scout has some use (less players), but yeah, Badwater basin is utterly uber.

Cossak: I've played a few matches of Arena, mostly on lumberyard and briefly on arena (haven't tried the rejigged well etc.) and I can understand why you'd feel the way you do about it. With more than 12 players on a server, the team rebalancing and the short rounds combine for a crap experience, but with the maximum number of players per team increased so there is no rebalancing except after a team wins, it changes altogether and becomes much more fun and exciting; very different to the long drawn out payload and control point matches.

Cossak: I meant briefly on Ravine, which I feel is a much poorer map than Lumberyard, which is one of the best Valve have released. I also spent a while on cp_steel, which I thought felt really balanced due to the huge number of paths around the map, but it's just a little too hard to navigate for my liking.

Tim E: We'll need to play it every day for the next three months to check, but I think Badwater might be the best map yet. Elevation changes make all the difference.

Jay: Steel. Is. Fucking. Awesome

Pixel Knight: I actually ran into a problem with Steel. I got the final version, "cp_steel", and now I'm having some issues joining games playing cp_steel.

Apparently the auto-updater didn't overwrite the map file, and now Steam says that I don't have the same version as the server and can't join. :(

Newt Pulsifer: @Pixel Knight:
Try backuping your cp_steel.bsp map file and than deleting it from the folder.
Join a game and let your client download the map. Worked for me :)

Sentry Gun: Pixel Knight: That shouldn't be a problem, seeing as to how every previous version of Steel had "_b#" attached to it, stating which build it was.

Aeneas: Its a good time to be an awful spy (which I most certainly am). Played badwater basin last night and got 10!!! back stabs on heavies and medics. Which is 8 more than my old old (I did say I sucked?).

Ten-High Charlie: I find Arena mode is inCREDibly fun if you playing with people you know. I played for a good two hours with some friends and friends-of-friends on an all talk server Patch Day and it was a blast. Its the perfect mode to play with people you know where you don't want constantly concentrate on pushing little kart or getting on that point, but want to relax and just maim.

I came to this conclusion because when I loaded up the arena server again without my friends today I did not have fun. All the fun was sucked out by what you wrote above (Pentadact). It just seemed like a hodge-podge of idea Valve thought would be a good idea together.

Fun casually, not so much competitively.

Inferno: I can understand why you wouldn't enjoy it as much, as whenever you're playing, you do it without mic on in the game.

TF2 wouldn't be half as fun for me with out all the of j-server and PCG chat peeps and arena wouldn't be fun at all with out it.

You HAVE to work as a team and stick together with scouts pointing out where the others are over voice and only going in once they're sure that a sniper or medic is on their own before getting out FAST.

Interestingly, I think valve developed this mode for the kinds of people who don't like TF2. I've seen numerous highly competitive FPS players who looked away from TF2 in disgust (something I just can't understand when it's made so well) actually enjoying this mode.

Then again I've loved everything valve have done in TF2 so far so I guess I'm just wierd like that :D

DoctorDisaster: @Inferno: Yeah, it definitely seems designed to appease hardcore twitch-shooter types. But do we really want TF2 invaded by Counterstrikers?

@the people who say playing with people you know improves arena: I have to disagree. Like I said, my first lumberyard run was on my clan server with a bunch of friends, chatting both in-game and on teamspeak. At the beginning, we were gushing about how amazing the alpine environment looks. Five minutes in, all but one of us were complaining about how crap the gameplay was, and the one dissenter was instead complaining about how arena had hijacked the server config.

Now, some people have since warmed to it because it's a more precise measure of their FPS e-peens, but I've got a league team for serious skill challenges. When I'm pubbing, I want FUN.