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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

Deadly Toads Of Death

Planet Diablo’s hands-on with Diablo 3. On the plus side:

Deadly Toads of Death

On the down side:

The most interesting aspect of the character screen is that the stats are automatically assigned upon leveling.

Jesus Christ, really? Why even have stats? This, and the fact that you could just buy all possible skills at every level, were the most despiritingly grindy things about World of Warcraft.

Meanwhile, back on the plus side:

When you level up in Diablo III, it does a massive damage area-of-effect skill.

Unrelatedly: This popped up last night, but I’m still not seeing a lot of linkage this morning – Eurogamer have reviewed Little Big Planet. Not quite the score I was expecting. Oli has an interesting thing to say about how it compares to Spore towards the end.

Updatedly: I no longer care about the stat stuff. The Skill Runes sound like they’re a much more meaningful way to customise your character.

You can slot skills with runes, the way you slot items with gems. There are just five or so different types, but any can be slotted into any skill, and they genuinely seem to subvert the skill’s effect rather than just altering its stats.

Seniath: <Obligatory "It's too colourful" comment>

Did I get them right this time?

Dante: Nice to see someone actually acknowledging the existence of Spore in relation to Little Big Planet. Honestly it's been bizzare reading all the hype for it, especially on console dominated sites, where they all act as if user generated content is a completely new and original thing that's never been done before.

Tom Francis: That always makes me laugh. Diablo 2 was spectacularly colourful, this looks muted by comparison.

Much as I like the dappled watercolour style, though, right now the models don't look like they're touching it. The idea is to make them stand out clearly, I know, but there's standing out and there's sticking out, and I'm not sure you want the latter.

Possibly they just haven't got to adding shadows outdoors yet.

Tom Francis: Yeah, though to be honest Garry's Mod is the more deserving point of comparison.

Seniath: For the record, I should've included <sarcasm> tags in that last comment ;).

Also, the little level-up shockwave present in Crackdown was a lovely touch, so it's nice to see other games doing something similar.

Tom Francis: Wait, I no longer care about the stat stuff. The Skill Runes sound like they're a much more meaningful way to customise your character:


You can slot skills with runes, the way you slot items with gems. There are just five or so different types, but any can be slotted into any skill, and they genuinely seem to subvert the skill's effect rather than just altering its stats.

Dante: Hell the mod market in general is the best point of comparison, what is Little Big Planet but a regular game with an extremely accessible map editor?

As for Diablo 3, Ludo is very enthused about it, I am not. I enjoyed Diablo 2 at the time, but I was young and stupid when it came out and I can't help but feel if we saw these trailers for a game without a history we'd think it looked rather rubbish.

Roadrunner: some RPGs are extremely boring and grindish- sure fun for the first 10 minutes, but bah, so boring.
But on a totally different note, do us PC people get a beta of CoD5 like the xbox people? Because that's another game which is fun for 10 minutes or so. :D

J-Man: I never actually played Diablo, I grew up as an FPS-er. Is it too old to try out, or should I just buy Diablo 3, bearing in mind the only RPG I liked has been Oblivion, and even then it had the shittiest levelling system ever.

P.S. The 'Thus spoke Zarathustra' button says 'Thus spake Zarathustra'

Lack_26: I grew up as an RTS-er, never got into RPGs' in a big way.

@J-man, Spake is a perfectly acceptable replacement of spoke, it means the same thing.

peterd102: I own Diablo adn a freind has Diablo 2. Sadly neither of them work. Diablo was good though, i got stuck eventually, i never could understand why the items you could buy from vendors were so crap and so expensive.

Dante: @Lack

Not quite the same, it has the same meaning, but it's far more... epic.

Octaeder: The comments thread on that Little Big Planet review is just horrifying. Worst advert for gamers ever.

Also: Ever since the LBP hype machine hit overdrive I've had an uncontrollable urge to dig out my old copies of Little Big Adventure and sequel.

Second Also: Diablo III... Woo!

Devenger: On LBP: Heh, I'll stick to my Garry's Mod where I have the power of the Lua scripting engine at my fingertips rather than being spoonfed capabilities by developers.

Diablo is one of those things I've missed! I think it's very probable I'll be giving D3 a test drive at the oonest opportunity - I like a shiny action-grind RPG as much as the next sentient being. I'm hoping character customization in abilities will be sufficient to promote long play with one given class.

J-Man: I only mentioned the 'spake' thing because the title of the book has 'spoke' and I thought it was an error.

Tom Francis: Well, the title of the book is Also sprach Zarathustra, because Nietzsche was German, but the first major English translation used 'Spake'. Nietzsche is mocking the style of the Bible, so the archaic language is truer to what he was going for.

Mind you, the standard of English translations of German philosophy in general is terrible, partly because our language is so wretchedly imprecise. I got so irritated trying to sort through the Schopenhauer text we were given in Continental Philosophy that I eventually gave up and just learned some German.

Devenger: Learning a language to be able to read German philosophy texts... man, that's dedication. O.o Sadly I am a monoglot (get it?) so no German texts for me...

Mark: I'm pretty happy about the D3 stat changes. I always felt like I was permanently screwing myself whenever I chose stats in D2 (and experience demonstrated that was usually the case.) If there are many "wrong" answers and failure is permanent but not obvious, I'd just as soon not be asked the question.

Tom Francis: Well put. That's pretty much their rationale for cutting stat choice, but I don't condone it. I think if freedom of choice is leading to some players to gimp their characters, you need to do a better job of communicating what the stats do and the consequences of upgrading or neglecting them - not just give up on the core concept of all role-playing games because there's a downside. Kotaku have a great quote from Diablo 3 lead Jay Wilson today:

"We have a saying at Blizzard when something looks like too much work. How about we pay you? You can work on it, and every two weeks we'll cut you a check."

Jason L: I'm pretty good at Progress Quest but Statbuilder's too complicated, so this is perfect for me.

Justice: Having missed out on the original Diablo and Diablo II, yet knowing the storylines of both, will it be worth me obtaining a copy of Diablo III?

Justice: Realised that's a bit vauge. I know the endings of both games, yet not any narrative during the game. I know Diablo III will be a worthy game, just wondering if I'll be able to appreciate it fully, story wise.

Dave: The comments from the Little Big Planet review are atrocious. My favourite one is probably, "Wow these comments are insane. And inane."

01d55: D2 stats were terrible: You got just enough str/dex to use the gear you needed to use and then put every point you could into STA. If you ever spent a point in energy you were WRONG, energy didn't do anything for you that you could do better with mana potions.

D3's stats are much more useful, and remove the game balance horror that is stamina-stacking.

I played the demo at blizzcon - took me a few rounds to finish before I got called off to make way for the next set, and I really like the new skill system. At blizzcon usable skills had 1 rank and passive skills had multiple ranks, one of the panels said that they're planning on giving the used skills multiple ranks in future versions. Being allowed to have more than 1-2 skills is a huge step up from D2. Also something that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere - the Barbarian used rage rather than mana, like WoW warriors. Also, you could remove runes from skills non-destructively, but only wizard runes worked in the demo (even though they demonstrated wdoc runes in a panel). Also awesome: The wizard trailer.

Try and find the panels on youtube.

J-Man: So, I'm 50 pages into Zarathustra, and I now believe Nietzsche is the greatest writer ever. We all know that incredible passage of 'god is dead', but I wasn't expecting every single page to be just as well written. I can't wait to finish Zarathustra and start on Beyond Good and Evil (book, not game).

On a side note, did you take philosophy at uni, Tom?

Tom Francis: I know, right? It's like philosophy, only not hopelessly dry, fussy or redundantly overlong.

Yeah, I did Maths and Philosophy. My dissertation was on the morality of teleportation.

Dante: I always wondered about that, if I'm being teleported, is it the same 'me' coming out the other side?

Ludo: No, it's the evil 'you'.

Half Loaf 2: On the subject of deadly fauna of death, I just saw a trailer for Dawn of War 2. OMFGWTFBBQ! Tyranids! The one thing that tom was asking for in a game of 40K. It showed that they were very powerful. However that may of been a slight modifying of the game to make them appeal if they are going to be a race you can play. That was my witty news anecdote.

PS: I think sacred 2 looks like a copy of Diablo 3

Ludo: I just figured out what's been bothering me about that picture. Those toads cast no shadows. I know they're probably made of magic or something, but still, it's a bit disconcerting.

Tom Francis: Neither does anything in that shot, that's what I mean about the models not looking like they touch the backdrops. Hopefully it's just early days.

CloakRaider: God, undecided whether I should get this game. I'm not exactly a fan of what it is trying to be.

J-Man: I like the sound of your dissertation, Tom. A friend of mine did his on presidential policies and their effect on the Die Hard trilogy (trilogy at the time), as there was a different president each time a Die Hard was made.

Continuing on an irrelevant tangent (reminds me of the PCG podcasts), just got to the one niggle in Zarathustra. Ol' Nietzsche wrote it in a time of incredible sexism (I think), so I just read a chapter where Zarathustra says women should be discussed only with men, and should stay at home while the men go out.

I was also reading an old PCG and noticed The Sun (eeeevviiilll) have a golden joystick award. Now the Daily Mail just need to sponsor the whole thing.

Justice: It's strange that this topic of teleportation should arise. I've long felt against it for the exact reason proposed by Dante: under our knowledge of quantum teleportation, then you are 'deleted' and an EXACT copy is reproduced on the recieving teleport.

Yet, while this EXACT copy retains every memory and every physical condition you had, so to all third parties would act EXACTLY like you, even believing that it had experienced a successful teleport, I can't shake the feeling that somehow it wouldn't be ME...

Tom Francis: It gets interesting when you consider cases like, what about a test version of the teleporter that just makes you vanish and reappear in the same place a moment later? What if it's instantaneous? And if that's okay, what's so different about it zapping you a few feet away? And if that's okay, what if the teleporter now has a 1-second delay after materialising the new you and before removing the old one? Does the moral status of disintegrating that original person change from "Eh," to "Murder!" because of that one second delay? If one day the teleporter you're used to using suddenly fails to materialise you at the other end, did it murder you? If one scientist designed the entrance pad, and another designed the exit pad, which one should your family blame for your death?

What if we haven't got a teleporter working yet, but we can use the same technology to rebuild any part of your brain should it be damaged in an accident? What if a car crash crushes a third of your brain, and the machine rebuilds it? Have you died and been replaced, or is it still really you? What if, on the way home from that operation, you crash again and the other two-thirds of your brain are crushed - rebuilt in an operation the same day? Is that entirely different from you being killed outright and rebuilt by the machine?

The Prestige is a good film.

Dante: What really gets me is what happens if the teleporter fails one day and materialises you several feet away without the original vanishing?

Which one is you? Is it the one on the pad? And if it is, wouldn't 'you' be dead if it had worked right? As Justice says, from an outside perspective you've got a man who remembers being teleported, but is that what it's like from the inside, or is it just lights out?

Disappointingly, no Star Trek transporter malfunction episode ever grappled with these issues.

Ludo: The duplicate would immediately start experiencing the world differently upon appearance, viewing the room from a different angle, breathing different air. So experientally the two would divide and become increasingly different people as time passes. Of course the urge would be to get rid of one of them because having two almost identical people in the same world seems wrong because, well, it's freaking wierd, but at that stage they are both valid and separate individuals and euthanising one of them would probably be murder.

It reminds me of a great scene in a Richard Morgan book where two clones of a man get drunk together, weighing up their relative experiences in order to decide which one gets to live on.

Jason L: Or Rimmer and Rimmer in Red Dwarf.

Star Trek transporters largely get around the primate moral issues by doing it atom by atom.

Ludo: And by making a funny noise.

Jason L: We underestimate the role of funny noises in moral philosophy at our peril. BOINK!

I imagine that Kant would have had serious trouble if Yackety Sax had been discovered at the time.

J-Man: Heh. And this was supposed to be a Diablo III post.

Bret: Too true.

The fart noise has undermined many once promising moral philosophies.

Roadrunner: Hey Pentadact do you like Boris Johnson?
Or are you a socialist/communist like many of the other hardcore gamers out there?
I used to until he refused to answer my questions I sent him. ...Which I made a blog post on my site about. Jerk.

peterd102: My Polotics:

Nothing is certain except death and respawns.

What if someone is standing on the tel exit? - IT counts a KILL with extra gloating rights (i dont even need to shoot you to kill you). ENGIS FTW

What the hell are we being existential for:
DIABLO 3!! RED ALERT 3!!!!!! LEFT 4 DEAD!!!! (and thats a years supply of excalimation marks spent lol. (damn should've planned ahead wanted a couple there as well))

P.S for some science to those who thought i might be a troll - we are all different matter to that which we were years ago, so a tel would just do what happens normally over a very short timespan.

Jason L: I'd hauled myself back from a complicated non-joke on things being 'undermined' by a fart and the expression 'hoist on his own petard', but now it works on more levels.

Hoborg: All of this is irrelevant, because if you are being teleported then you are in an episodce of Star Trek and, since you are not William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy, will be dead just a few scant minutes after reaching the planet's surface.

I reckon that's why they give the rookies red shirts - hides the blood stains.

Bret: Hey!
Scotty wore a red shirt and sometimes survived teleporting.

And there was a gray haired redshirt once.

He must have been a wily one.

The_B: Gratz. As they say.

Dante: Tom, are you going to be joining the PCG WAR guild anytime soon?

Ludo: Massive congratulations on your massively deserved award, sirrah!

J-Man: Gah! mmorpgs (pronounced m-m-pur-gurs) are the evil we, as gamers, must destroy, and replace with good ol' FPS's, that actually, y'know, require skill.

Jason L: Let's see you main-heal B'uht T'roqq and say that.

Dante: Well done on the award Tom!

Roadrunner: To Jason L:
I don't wanna go near anyone's B'uht T'roqq, sounds like a prescription pair of underpants.

What is it with MMORPGS and stupid names with pointless apostraphes? I mean, it makes it harder to type, and harder for me to complain while still spelling apostrohpes wrong.

DoctorDisaster: J-man, I think it's muhmorpuggers. I refuse to acknowledge them by any name that starts with the Campbell's soup sound.

TooNu: Gz Tom

Lack_26: Woo, one of my creations (The Hand of God. My sporepedia name is Lack-) showed up as a picture in one of Tom's articles in the new PCG UK, this has made me very happy.

J-Man: Ah, the joys of corruption.

Aeneas: Well done. You certainly deserved the award.