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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

Field Studies 5: My Spore Review


After some dillying, my Spore review for PC Gamer UK went up today. I went at it with more or less the opposite mindset to most of the reviewers I’ve read. Not:

“Okay, this is supposed to be a big deal, but does it really provide a long-term challenge as a serious game?”


“Ooh, what’s this?”


I didn’t give it a special license to not be a game, in fact I’m pretty hard on the ways in which it fails as one, but I bore with it as much as any other game that isn’t trying to scratch the normal itches. It seems mad to me to compare it to Civ, Diablo, Warcraft or any other Platonic form of the genres it borrows, because it’s so obviously not about those mechanics. The point of comparison, if you really had to make one, would be Second Life. And it fares rather well.


We have a little piece of page furniture in PC Gamer reviews that is widely resented among the writers, and often a pain to do: the Thumbnail Review. I thought Spore would be a particularly daunting one to summarise in a few words, but it turned out to fit easily:

“Simplified and misbalanced, but a jaw-dropping safari through the human imagination.”

fucking sackboy

I knew some mags and sites would damn it with the mild praise of a score in the seventies – in fact I thought more would than have. But to me, anything under ninety percent seems criminal and absurd. How could you possibly suggest this experience is optional, or merely decent? It is unprecedented, wild, hilarious and compulsory.

sunset encounter

A lot of people have the game now, so footage is cheap. But here are a couple of things not many people are likely to have yet:


Chijts: I thought the creature creator would appeal to me for a very long time, but I ended up spending about an hour with it and haven't gone back to it since!

I obviously understand what's going on in these videos, but could you explain what's the purpose of blowing up a planet or teleporting down infront of a giant thingymagig? It looks very interesting.

Idlehands: I brought PC Gamer for the first time in many years, just for your Plan B (which was excellent bravo sir), and heartly enjoyed your review for Spore. This build up to it has been unbearable, but now only 5 more hours until I can play. Does sound like a game to be experienced.

Out of interest will you do a Plan B style diary for Spore in the future? Sounds like it could be a hilarious piece.

Tom Francis: Thanks Idle, that's awesome. I hadn't planned on a Spore one, because it doesn't have the normal ingredients for those stories: stakes, challenge, recurring opponents. It might lend itself to a different kind of article along those lines, though.

Chijts: There isn't really a point to either of those actions. If I was at war with someone, blowing up a planet of theirs would certainly help, but those missiles are prohibitively expensive compared to just bombing the shit out of their cities with some of the high-level infinite-ammo weaponry.

MrUnimport: Pentadact, there is but one more thing you have yet to reveal to us!

Is it possible with the full game to create two Sporepedia accounts and upload creations to each of them?

Tom Francis: No, it ties your CD key to your Sporepedia account, so it's one account per copy of the game. Were you planning a secret double-life as a Spornographer?

Mr. Brit: Loved the Spore review, got me excited about all the little bits I had no idea about.

On 1fort, there's rather a cool link to a TF2 achievement generator, that allows you to do stuff like this: ...hp?a=Hot Lovin'&b=Kill 10 Medic/Heavy combos with the flamethrower&c=7&d=10&e=1000&f=2

And in the comments of that post a 'kill notification generator' which lets you do: ...cstasy.png

Achievement generator: http://teamfortress2... ...ts_eng.php

Kill notification generator:

(Knowing my luck none of those links will work, in which case ctrl+c)

MrUnimport: No. I have a little sister. Those MONSTERS!

Thomas Lawrence: Will Wright has a tendency to make games that are entertaining toys for a while but lack longevity owing to being inferior games.

Sim City for instance (I'm think here of the first two: Sim City 4 was as I recall, prohibitively difficult) - it was itneresting at first to get your little 'burg set up and installign all the amenities, but quickly you emnded up with loads of cash it it just became a matter of landscaping and town plannign rather than anyhting that really involved much economic thinking.

The Sims' actual gameplay (at least before the multiple expansions) basically involved optimising a daily routine, until you got rich enough that it scarcely mattered how your Sim spent their time any more as they'd always be super-happy due to their awesome stuff. Maintainign friendships was harder, but also unrewardingly grindy. This turned it into a game which was largely about the doll-house elements, or (for the more creative) about constructing elaborate love octahedrons.

It would appear that Spore has similar "problems" - if you could call the "problems" of the most successful PC games of all time "problems". The questions for its long term future seem to be these:

* Does the toy provide enough interesting behavioural permutations to be interesting on it's own?
* Can the game elements of it be rebalanced/patched/expanded to make them more satisfying?
* Failing one or both of the above, can EA churn out enough expansion bits (extra legs, news claws, shinier top hats, new lasers that go BEWW) to prevent anyone noticing?

Unless, of course, Tom is right that observing the creativity of others is more or less enough by itself...

ZomBuster: Hey your Stompwings pay good prices for my Spice :)

Tom Francis: I haven't got a proper copy yet, and my review code's expired, but I look forward to running into your civilised Antlion Workers:

Liam C.: Gah, now i read this review i NEED a copy of this game. Think i can get £30 trade in value for call of duty 4 and skate. Maybe halo aswell

The Deleter: Hah! I got the Creature Creator from Game! -5 quid for me! *runs off to purchase*

Lack_26: Well, Game is charging £45 quid for the game, as far as I'm concerned they can F of, I'll buy it on Amazon.

Liam C.: thats only the exclusive game edition. normal is £30

Seniath: I currently have very little desire to play Spore (and very little money too). I fear, however, that the more I am exposed to it, the more that desire will increase (much like that stupid car advert. You know the one). As such, I shan't be reading your review (or anyone else's for that matter) till next pay day; don't be offended!

My major concern is that the RPS chatroom will be full of Spore related talk for the next few weeks. Eeep.

Lack_26: @Liam C.

Oooh, I've got some important stuff to finish this weekend, but I'll buy it when I have time, and I've got the £5 discount for buying the spore creature creator, suddenly in seems a lot more worth it.

Bobsy: Question: in your review I think you said that the tribal stage only has one editor: dress-up for your people. Is there not an editor for your village huts? It seems like quite an obvious ommission.

Tom Francis: Nope. They save the building editor for the Civ stage, which is also when you get the vehicle editor, so you go a whole stage with nothing to create, then you're suddenly overwhelmed.

Bobsy: Hmmph. If I were a cynic, I'd muse that perhaps this was a semi-deliberate ploy so that it could fill out a later expansion. If I were a cynic, of course. I'm not.

Dante: I've just realised that Spore is released today in the EU, yesterday in Australia and in two days time in America.

Welcome to backwards land people.

Inferno: I was looking forward a bit to spore but your review really pushed me over the edge and I sit here right now installing it :D I can't wait to see all the random things turning up in the world. Looking forward to any awesome sporecasts you might have a part it (namely the PCG one?)

aberrate: Why is it that your screenshots look so much better than my game ever will? I have it on High on everything as well :(

Chijts: His screenshots look great for any game pic he takes!

Thanks for the heads up Pentadact, it sounds like the game has alot more to it then I first thought. Didn't even know you could create vehicles too!

Lack_26: Because Pentadact blatantly has some sort of massive giant steampunk computer, crewed by a 100 diligent dwarves and dwarvettes and runs from the heat of the earth's core itself. In his giant underground lair he sits and engineers untold numbers of Gogglesharks for his unspeakable armies. His writing skill comes from whipping a 10,000 oxbridge trained monkeys to write his stories for him.

You may know him as Pentadact, Tom Francis or any other alias, but this is only because his true name can not even be whispered, if you tried to pronounce it you would scream for the rest of eternity, as your insignificance in His grand plan is revealed to you.

Basically, that's why his screenshots look so good.

Chijts: Ok. Makes sense to me.

Ludo: Also Fraps, presumably. Though they do look really crisp - that'll be the Gogglesharks.

I want to take that baby Genestealer home. It would eat all my pets, but awwwwww!

PS: Tom, your wierd orange creature is a freak.

Tom Francis: Thanks. I thought he was the lamest creature ever when I made him, but there's something about the way he waddles, flails his arms, and eats things with his penis that becomes strangely endearing. Also, the game did a really nice job of colouring the later iterations - the ones with the leaf eyebrows.

I think he was at his best when he had the spit gland that looked like a mouth as his head - the version I actually took to space I'm not so wild about.

Tom Francis: As for screenshots, it's sort of my job. And I did have over 3,000 to pick from in the case of Spore.

Dante: I've just got it, played around with the full creature creator and am ready to start but there's a problem.

I can't find Ludo, despite the fact that I know he has and is playing the game (I was talking to him on steam at the time) in order to add him as a buddy.

This is really annoying, as we were looking forward to sharing creatures.

Ludo: To all who can't find friends on Sporepedia with the search bar: swap a creature picture, then drag and drop it into your 'everything' folder. From there you can click on the creator's name and add as a buddy.

If any of y'all have spore then put your Spore username up and share your creations! (LudoMVH for me, DanteMVH for Dante)

Deathspank: Sorry to interrupt, but i must point you to this video, showing an epic and amazing discovery: ...I_Pwyy-Mwo

ZomBuster: I see my antlion worker has conquered the comments as it will soon conquer the galaxy!

CloakRaider: I absolutely hate the space phase with a passion.
It just feels like a really shit version of Sins of a Solar Empire but with one UFO and achievements that give you weapons that actually match the AI's.

John: Just been picking through your PCG sporecast; some utterly amazing stuff in there, thanks for collecting it all!

Idlehands: After playing spore I understand and agree with your review. Though I have found something out;
If you play as a religous race the space stage becomes easier. Other races are more friendly to you and are unlikely to start wars. I mention this as if your anything like me you play as a military bastich the first time, wondering why other races dislike you (despite abducting their race and moving them to another solar system for yucks).

Anyway I think the most annoying part of Spore is that it is good, if the game was bad then I could put it aside and play some TF2. But because it is a good game it means I keep playing while the flaws crop up to annoy me (if that makes any sense).

roburky: I'm quite proud of this: I have sent a bear into space in a cardboard box. ...833980671/

Tom Francis: Okay, short of the Wheelchair, that's the best UFO I've seen.