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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

Plan B Is Complete

Thirty-five hours of play, six hundred and fifty billion people dead, sixteen game-years passed, fifteen thousand words written, a month and ten days in the uploading, and it is done.

Pew Pew

The game did right by me again, generating a story worth writing about, creating drama, and saving the toughest problem – and hence my most obtuse solution – till the end. The final clash really did last exactly seven turns, too, letting me add a Half-Life 2 reference to the Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Iain M Banks, Futurama, Douglas Adams, Eddie Izzard, Team Fortress 2 and Penny Arcade references.

The first thing I wanted to do after finishing that preposterous game was to play a nice and small one – just a couple of races, a dozen or so stars, only a few billion dead, no hard feelings. Playing on the Immense scale is like a mental gymnasium: there’s really no limit to how much there is to think about or how hard you want to go at it, except your own willingness to work your brain muscles out. Playing on a small scale after that, I felt like my ears were still ringing from the data noise of the galactic apocalypse.

It was kind of nice.

Roadrunner: Unfortunately that game is still fairly far down on my "List of games to buy before running out of money" list :|

Seniath: Boo, what am I supposed to read on my lunch break now?

Matt: Your entries in that blog kept me going each day. Now I'll have to go back to actually playing the game. Thanks for the entertainment!

Clint: I'll join the crowd of addicted supporters. I think I'll go pull this game back off my shelf now that my daily dose is once again missing...

peterd102: Read this in a free book with my copy of PC Gamer - It was fantastic, id love that as a feature in the mag. Pester Ross for that plz!.

One word that sticks in my mind - STARFUCKER!

I cant imagine what your like when you decide to be a warmongerer. I can see the death toll rising a lot higher.

Bret: He was a warmonger last time.

He won a tech victory.

Man, you'd think somebody would remember not to tick off the descendants of the most psychotic race in the history of the galaxy.

Dorian Cornelius Jasper: Finished reading the entire gamelog.


This is seriously Crowning Moment of Awesome stuff. Especially the "Nonagressive Space Treaty Catapult" ploy. Mr. Francis, you had me glued to my seat and actually cheering for the villain. That is, you, apparently.

Bret: Hey, they were nice guys until the Terrans started being total jerks.

And sometimes, you just gotta nuke a few suns.

ZomBuster: You got banned on spore for commenting on my creation D:

what have I done *cries*

Tom Francis: I know! It's a catastomasy. The PC Gamer Sporecast will be on ice for a week.

Let the record show that I was banned for "Extreme Language/ Racial comment". Apparently "Holy shit!" is extreme. These guys need to try skydiving.

Of course, they might be referring to the time I commented on a flying Sonic The Hedgehog with "This is great, unlike the Jews."

Jason L: 'Overlord! Overlord! We have found a way to turn politicians into a starship drive.'

Newt Pulsifer: Nicely done, Pentadact!
Patch 2.0 may be out soon.. :)

J-Man: I hope you're joking, pentadact.

J-Man: What was that whole CPU overload screen I just got when I tried to come on here?

Pod: I dont' remember GalCiv2 looking like this :o
It looks like Escape Velocity nova or something in that image...

roBurky: Very entertaining final half. Well done sir.

Matt: The third link is borked. ;)

Also, the plan for increasing speed was the greatest idea ever.

DoctorDisaster: Just wanted to say I absolutely loved Plan B. In fact, I used to do very similar "leader logs" back in my formative Civ 2 years. Not as funny, of course, but that's why you're getting paid for yours.

My only problem is a bit of cognitive dissonance: I downloaded the GC2 demo and was totally unimpressed. Others who tried the demo, help! Did I dislike it because I was railroaded into playing as the lame-o diplomatic Terrans? Was it the caps on all the galaxy options? Does disappointment with the demo mean I'll be disappointed with the game, or is the full version different enough that I'll get my fourecks fix?

Jason L: You may be like me. It's a really unpleasant phenomenon - on paper I should love GalCiv II, but I keep trying it; whenever Stardock does something especially awesome, whenever Tom writes a diary, sometimes just because I run across it, I reinstall the demo and give it another shot.

I've never gotten further than a few screens into the tutorial.

Just hitting the main menu fills me with a physical - tight stomach, tight jaw - wave of ennui and disgust, and it doesn't abate. The races seem twee, the numbers bare and complicated, the scale disjointed, the art lifeless. Last time, when Plan B started up, I found that I was literally averting my eyes from the screen - peeking out sideways at whatever toothpaste production slider I was supposed to be fiddling. This all comes despite eating up the much shallower and more flawed Star Control 3 and Sword of the Stars, and the much more forbidding Armageddon Empires.

This cycle has been ongoing for years, in combination with periodic temptations to just buy the game to 'support the devs' and never ever play it. I think it would be fair to say that GalCiv II has caused me more suffering than any other game. I love everything GalCiv II and Stardock stand for but hate the game for no good reason - and in some perverse way, I won't let myself settle the matter one way or the other until I love it.

DoctorDisaster: Jason

You complete me

J-Man: Aaaaawwwww.

Jackrabbit: I nearly pissed myself. you are a wordsmith.

Jackrabbit: A brilliant wordsmith, in case that wasn't clear

Jason L: So I'm a big fan of what Sword of the Stars does, 3D map, ONLY WAR and all that. Today someone linked from RPS' coverage of SotS II's nasty launch (at least this time it's not because they thought it was fine) to freeware one-man 4X Aurora. I don't want to trip the spam filter so there's a gumongous Bay 12 thread and a ridiculous wiki, but this annotated AAR from two years ago is the reason I must immediately try this out. Four megaposts in it still has me going at about .5 WHATs per paragraph. Listing features would be an exercise in futility, but compared to GC2 it seems to take character away from the enemies and universe and infuse them into your own subordinates and units.

Galactic Civilizations 3 & Emergent Narrative | Kemuel's Place: […] Tom Francis’ “Plan B” is the most famous example of the incredible stories that the series has produced, and of how the game’s mixture of complex opponent AI and intricate, multi-threaded gameplay can organically create sweeping narratives without the need for a scripted plot. Within the grand space-operatic tapestries that are woven, however, there are also tons of finer details which sometimes just happen to align in interesting ways and create narratives of their own. […]

Peace Through Tyranny: Is there any active link to this story? Everywhere I've looked is dead.

Jason L: Not currently. Someone says Wayback Machine works for the predecessor War Diary, but I don't know whether Plan B's on there. However, be advised that War Diary is now being republished on a weekly basis at http://www.pcgamer.c... ...-part-one/ . I'd be surprised if Plan B didn't follow. Sooo...sometime next year?