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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

Far Cry 2: What I’d Like

Fewer enemies (but not fewer people – some of the existing ones just need to calm down), more serious injuries (I’d like to perform awesome Jack Bauer self-surgery any time I take a major hit – right now it’s only in the rare event that I’m probably dead anyway), a stealth indicator (just an eye icon when I’m in good cover, and a faint one when I’m partially obscured), monocular tagging (of people – best thing about Far Cry, and your realtime map is already an omniscient piece of science fiction anyway), different mission rewards (intel on the Jackal), better buddy rewards (you help them, they’ll help you for a while), different briefcase rewards (something unique – perhaps weapons), a buddy who’s in some way helpful (man the gun!), a buddy who’s in some way likeable, a buddy who’s in some way tolerable (not trying to get me killed would be a start), and an ongoing mission to find and kill some guy.

Far Cry 2 - StabCam 7

Currently your ongoing mission is to repeatedly commit the atrocities you’re here to exact vengeance for, perpetuating the war you’re here to stop, while waiting for the man you’re supposed to find to instead find you, whereupon you will fail to attack or even pursue him and he will fail to neutralise or even discourage you. It’s not exactly the manhunt I had in mind.

Far Cry 2 - StabCam 3

I’d love to just be dropped in some fictional African nation with nothing more than a machete and a name. I’m talking about a game in which the Jackal would actually physically exist somewhere in the game world at all times, and the challenge is to find him. All those icons on your map, instead of being different locations from which to get the same boilerplate mission re-runs, would be unique leads.

A guy at the airport you can bribe or threaten for a list of all passengers coming in or out of the country in the last month. The owner of a run-down hotel who might know one of the Jackal’s aliases. The car-hire guy who can tell you what he’s driving, but only if you can show him a photo. The journalist who has such a photo, but won’t hand his notes over. Local police headquarters that would have intel on where the arms shipments come in to. And the untouchable gang leaders who deal with him on a monthly basis, but who won’t talk unless you can terrify them more than the Jackal does.

Far Cry 2 - StabCam 5

Each has only a scrap of knowledge about your target, each has people they’re afraid of if this gets back to them, or jobs they need doing in return, or they just want money that you can only raise by working for someone unsavory. Some have bodyguards, some travel in motorcades, some only pass through the region at 10am each day. If an irreplacable character with essential intel dies, the game invisibly adapts to keep your main goal viable: the journalist died? The car-hire guy doesn’t need a photo, he knows what the guy looks like. The airfield official died? The passenger logs are in his desk. The hotelier died? The police HQ has records of your target’s aliases.

Far Cry 2 - StabCam 1

Right now the missions follow one after another in a very long line, all received from two buildings in the same town (and later one other). It gives you no real choice of which mission to do next, and it gives the impression that there is no story, life or interest outside of those two tiny safe zones. Everything out there is just mindlessly firing generic bad guys.

Far Cry 2 - StabCam 2

This would be a more civilian world: open fighting between factions only where they clash, not everywhere and solely against you. If you’re working for them or in their vehicle, a faction will let you pass and their enemies will attack on sight. Both factions will let civilian cars pass unless there’s been an attack on their forces nearby – in which case they’ll want to stop you and see your papers, which you don’t have.

Getting to missions wouldn’t be the repetitious series of battles it currently is if you picked the right car and the right route, but if you’re on your way out from fucking over a faction, every checkpoint in the area is going to be on the lookout for someone like you coming that way.

Far Cry 2 - StabCam 6

In truth I don’t need a buddy system, I don’t need to be able to choose a silent protagonist from a lineup of Who Cares, I don’t need bonus objectives, I don’t need realtime weapon degradation, I don’t need a whole other game world right after the first one, I don’t need fifty hours of filler-rich main quest missions, and I don’t need malaria. Particularly not if it’s going to be Disney malaria that just makes you feel queasy until you pop a panacea from your magic pillbottle.

I just need a little more life outside the 2Fort township, and a little less death interrupting me when I try to explore the blazingly gorgeous world around it.

On the plus side: the M79 Grenade Launcher. It sits inexplicably in your pistol slot, and makes dealing with pursuing jeeps significantly less of a chore. Park, disembark, turn, fire at their tires. I’ve lost count of the number of times this thing has exploded an oncoming car at just the right moment for its flaming wreck to somersault over my head.

Also: it’s out on Steam in Europe too now.

Today’s screenshot theme: StabCam! What crazy face did YOU pull when I ended your suffering? You won’t believe the results! 7″ x 9″ prints available at the gift shop 3-4 hours after time of death. I added a new one to yesterday’s collection, to.

Far Cry 2 - StabCam 9


ZomBuster: How disturbing, the look of 2 hands holding something around a persons groin, who lays on the ground with on his face a look of.. pain,enjoyment,relief?

Anonymous: Wow, you enjoyed stabbing those people, personally, I'm waiting for mods (an a capable PC) to play FC2, I'm not sure that I like the idea of a gazzilion enemies every 20 meters.

Same with Clear Sky, not playing it until someone patches it, removes grenades from the enemies, reverts the anomalies back to the STALKER ones, remove the humour from the announcements and kill the Jamaican... (carries on listing problems).

Lack_26: *Sorry, that last comment was from me.

Anthony Blears: Awesome. Telling It Like It Is; a shame the major review sites (Gamespot et al) don't have this integrity.

spuzman00: Hm...
Don't think I'll be getting FC2. I wasn't getting git anyway unless it somehow turned out to be near-perfect or was given a copy for free. Still, it looks interesting.

BTW, love the photo themes.

peterd102: Alex in HL2 was definetly great as a buddy, she only on rare occasions got in your way and wasn't that annoying. However the rebel squads were highly annoying, mainly becasue I cared about them and wanted them to survive, and all i wanted to do was tell them to stay back so i could deal with the problem. Why couldnt they just stay in one position firing pot shots until you removed the obstacle and they would move forward to the next one.

Though i think the best buddies in a game were those in Republic Commando. They were witty intelligent and obeyed your orders.

I dont think ill get FC2, yes you can go anywhere but it seems more like same Sh*t slightly different place.

And the Orignal Far Cry was way to hard and annoying to play.

Im Glad I got that out.

mnt: I really liked the idea of the buddies - it would be cool to have someone you can rely on save your hide, and they can rely on you to save theirs. Especially in a world so hostile - it could be like fighting alongside friendly NPCs in STALKER, but with a bit more life and individuality. A shame that they managed to make all of them really annoying, then.

On a completely unrelated note, what's the little arrow by your thumb in the last picture...?

Mr Dan: I always think the games you think up or improvements you suggest sound good on paper but would be really shit within a game.

The fact of the matter is Far Cry is a shooter. You shoot things. If you expect gameplay based around intel gathering and complicated game mechanics then you're just kidding yourself.

Plus in your game the easiest way to get through it is to kill everyone to take their intel. It does sound nice on paper though. :-P

Tom Francis: I don't expect that, this post is "What I'd Like" rather than "What I Expected".

You're right, though, I just gave three examples that all incentivise killing the contact rather than helping him. I don't think that's automatically a bad thing; the player wouldn't know it, and it wouldn't necessarily be easy. These guys would be in towns, and in my game the dozens of armed guards enforcing the cease-fire wouldn't forget your crimes the second you leave their sight. One unprovoked murder could leave you with an entire town of people out for your blood, and you're going to need something from that town further down the line.

But the ideal situation would be where you know you can kill the dude who's got the intel you need, and it won't break the game, but you're not sure whether it's going to make life easier or harder. So let's say you really do need the journalist's photo, and it's in his safe. You can kill him rather than doing whatever spying/retrieval job he's asking you to do, but then you've got to pay the arms dealer through the nose for the equipment to break into a safe. And you can kill the car hire guy, but then all you've got to go on are his logs, and that leaves three possible vehicles the Jackal could be driving.

There are obvious gaps in all the ideas I set out on James because explaining them comprehensively would take hundreds of thousands of words and be very dry. So I just give a rough description of what I'd like to see, and if anyone has a specific problem with it I can elaborate in the comments.

Justice: And hence why he's an award winning jerk! Personally, I'd love to see a game developed by Pentadact. Why can't a game developer approach things from a new angle? These ideas are technically possible now, and I think that while most of the internet belies this statement, most gamers would be ready for the change.

mr. Brit: Is that the same player in the last screen? He appears to have changed race

Hermes: why does the comments section always turn into a big servile fawning love-in?

Tom Francis: Well, two of these 12 comments are compliments. One of the others suggests I'm tossing off corpses, one implies there's something psychologically wrong with me, another says my ideas would be shit, and the last expresses bafflement that anyone could like what I've done. That's what I like to see, of course, but I wouldn't exactly characterise it as a servile love-in just yet.

Joe Snuffy: I beg to differ, Mr Dan. Anyone here played assassin's creed? Even though it was full of holes, I loved the way assassinations went, picking bits of info from different people, sure you could choose to run in at anytime and be merciless slaughtered or you could go through the route that doesn't have a heavily armed army, that only washerwomen use and break through the roof and show them what for.

Lack_26: I personally think that Pentadact has some pretty good ideas, ones I would like people to try/make. Also I would love if someone tried to make that super-hero game where you couldn't die that he came up with at some point.

Chijts: Agreed.

I think it would be really cool if you perhaps actually bumped into the Jackal at some point and you and he had no idea who each other was. Then you could be like "Damn! if only I had killed everyone I saw in the beginning of the game, I wouldn't be stuck now!"

Or you end up chasing him down some alleys in a tense gunfight, only to lose him and have to carry on the search.

For replayability the Jackal could look different and be in different places each new game.

Graham: Going back to read The Invincibles pitch, FarCry 2 actually does a few of its ideas, albeit in different forms.

They two key ideas in The Invincibles were that a) you couldn't die, and b) the game would continue in spite of failure.

In FC2, you're usually rescued by a buddy when your health hits zero. You're dragged to safety before the fight continues.

Failure in The Invincibles was to take the shape of hostages dying, but in FarCry 2 it's the buddies. They can die in the midst of a mission and the game goes on without them. It's actually better than The Invincibles idea, because the hostages were many and meaningless, while the buddies have at least some influence over the story and the flow of the game.

SenatorPalpatine: Add my post to the compliments list. Your ideas are genius and would transform the game from mindless shooter to intelligence gathering, piece everything together, different ways to go about things (kill everyone, kill only who neccesary), awesomeness.

Tom Francis: Non-death doesn't quite feel like what I wanted for The Invincibles - for one thing it's limited, which somewhat defeats the point, and for another it still feels like death: it's still a zero health, fade to black, end-of-scene. It feels like Game Over - Continue?

I like it for this game, but it's doesn't have the properties I was interested in when talking about that superhero game.

Buddy death doesn't feel like failure to me. They're obviously free agents, with large guns, and their own agenda and their own problems. It never feels like my fault when they die, and that was the point of the hostages: they would absolutely live or die by your skill or choices. Their namelessness is intentional - when you know a character, as you do the Far Cry buddies, there's a ninety percent chance any given player will dislike them enough to be indifferent to their deaths. I wanted 'pure' hostages, people you could never know anything about ahead of time, so their life is just a human life in general terms, you never get any details by which to judge them.

Mr Dan: @Joe

You're using Assassins Creed as your basis for the ideas being good? Oh lord. Bad idea. I've played Assassins Creed and it was horribly repetitive and not that entertaining to play. Once you'd done one intelligence gathering mission you'd done them all, literally. The game never challenged you after the start.


Even if it's what you would like rather than expect, it just seems wrong to me to put down a game because of what it doesn't have when you know what to expect.

I wouldn't go to see a serious horror movie then afterwards go "hmm, that was a bit shit, it wasn't funny, plus I wanted them to break out in song in the last act, that would have been cool."

When you go to play Far Cry 2 you know what to expect beforehand. A shooter. It's marketed as a shooter, the first was a shooter. Yet you seem to be wanting something that isn't a shooter and blaming the game for this.

Your ideas, of course, would be great if they were implemented well into a game. But if they were implemented into Far Cry 2 then a load of people would be thinking "what the hell, I paid money for a shooter and I got THIS?!"

So in essence, the game you want...isn't Far Cry 2. Far Cry 2 is Far Cry 2. :-P Of course your ideas would have much improved Assassins Creed.

Mr Dan: Oh and I take back what I said about the ideas being shit. I didn't really mean that. I meant the ideas are good, but they'd be hard to implement making them shit. Ha.

Chijts: It looks to me like at first he's talking about what additions/subtractions could be made to the FC2, and then goes further using the game as a basis for what an ideal shooter would be for him.

Just because a game is labelled as "shooter" does that mean it has to be non-stop action all the time with continually respawning enemies, or can it drift off into subjects requiring more thought?

peterd102: I often think that most games are puzzle games - you have a problem, solve it. Some games require deduction, others shooting people in the face.

Graham: I know there are fairly key differences between FarCry 2 and The Invincibles, but it at least attempts to do something new within the same areas.

The problem I always had with the hostage idea was that I'm not sure I'd actually care if they died. Most hostages in games are insufferable, and even if they were to possess functioning AI and the ability to climb ladders, I don't know that this is enough.

The buddies in FarCry 2 are horrible people, but you spend enough time with them to get to know them a little. It's doesn't feel like a failure because, as you rightly point out, they're free agents for whom you're not responsible. But when they die, it feels like a person has died.

A nameless hostage wouldn't feel like a generic representative of human life to me. It would feel like a generic NPC, of which I've encountered thousands.

Still hating FarCry 2 for all the reasons you specify. But also loving it for lots of others.

Tom Francis: The point of the Invincibles is that your concern for the victims doesn't hinge on whether you like them or not, they're the sole objective - there's nothing else in the game but saving hostages. Lemmings doesn't try to establish a personal connection with each individual critter through character development, it just says "Here are some morons. Save 20."

I'm not interested in trying to coax a modicum of affection or concern out of the player the way Valve have with Alyx, because it's really hard and even when you do it phenomenally well, a chunk of gamers will always refer to her as "the annoying bitch". I'd rather make the victims the only goal, so you're automatically caring about them for gameplay reasons, then any emotional response from the more human demographic towards the notion of preserving human life is a bonus.

Ladders and AI are irrelevant - you'd never have to escort them anywhere, because that's not hero's work. You just have to eliminate the threat before they're killed.

This is not innuendo!: Sorry to barge in, but does it irritate anyone else when the player character in an FPS doesn't seem to be putting any effort into gripping his weapon? Far Cry Guy appears to have this problem - the machete looks like it's going to slip from his hands. See also the knife in Counter-Strike. Hacking someone to death just isn't as satisfying when you look like you're flailing the knife about, to and fro.

And in the game.

peterd102: Rather than clutter this up, ive blogged about my own greivances with buddies here: http://peterd102.wor... ...c-freinds/

Chris Livingston: Another idea might be to not have every guard post staffed every time. If you have thirty guard posts, but only twenty could be staffed at any time, it means sometimes you'd run into heavy opposition on a road, other times less, occasionally none. It would probably also encourage scouting: if you don't know for sure that there will be enemies at the next post, you might be more inclined to slow down and check rather than blasting through.

It would also let players learn the guards schedules. After some observation, they could learn that certain posts are never guarded at certain times, or discover when guards leave one post to staff another. Gives a lot more motivation to slowing down and scouting ahead, and learning about the world you're playing in.

peterd102: Good idea, how about also being able to attack one area to lure troops from another base allowing you to attack another with less resitance. Getting your buddies to do that for you would be a nice idea as well.

Itrade: So hang on, is it weird that I actually ended up liking some of the buddies? Michelle seemed okay to me, she's the one who asked me to kill some drug dealers and another mission that I've forgot, and Singh was also a pretty cool dude. I never really got to know Marty and Hakim too well, but it was always nice when they saved my hide and meeting them in the safehouse later was never annoying or anything like that. The only buddy I can say that I really dislike is the Chinese guy, because he's a jerk douche. And maybe Frank, because I spent the whole game trying to find him and when, almost two acts later, I find and rescue him, he starts swearing and never stops.

Chris Evans: I think that the points you raised at the beginning (in bold) are the most relevant to how to improve Far Cry, those are the things which in my mind keep this from being a game on the level of Half-Life, instead it falls just below that. If I were to use a % scale FC2 would get something in the high 80s compared to the mid 90s for Half-Life.

The second more detailed set of suggestions/points you raise are interesting, they would certainly make for a great game, but they wouldn't transfer easily over into what we currently have as FC2. If FC2 had been built up differently with some of the latter point you raised, then it would be magnificent.

DoctorDisaster: First let me say I haven't played this game or Far Cry 1. Thus I am talking through my ass when I say: the franchise seems a little too Rambo-tastic, thematically speaking, for the kind of cerebral gameplay you're suggesting. Nonetheless, that's the impression I get -- and, really, the reason I haven't played either installment.

But I should go on to say that your suggestions are exactly the sort of thing I'm praying to see in Deus Ex 3. (Note that I'm praying, not expecting.) An open-ended objective system like that, coupled with a storyline that responds to your style of play, rather than your dialogue choices (think Fable II or, more obscurely, Iji), would bring back the sense of immersion and consequence that made the original Deus Ex such a great experience.

Sam: I haven't read the other comments so someone may have brought this up but it sounds like you want a different game. I think their intention was to have a sandbox where you could have as many interesting skirmishes as you want. It's not trying to be a believeable world, otherwise there would be civilians. They're basically saying "Here's a world full of enemies, you know where their camps are, you can buys lots of different weapons, we've shown you the mechanics, have fun"

I'm not saying your suggestions wouldn't make a good game, but it wouldn't be Far Cry.

J-Man: Just bought it, and I'm gonna play it tomorrow. Does anyone know if it works with dual monitors?

RC-1290’Dreadnought’: In other words: release the full set of tools and code and let the community fix it(the only way I don't have to re-spend €45, hehehe).

usualroutine: Wow. Your game sounds simply awesome. I mean, I would pay full - double, in fact - price for that. Sight unseen. Being some kind of cold, methodical killer, or a homicidal maniac, just you, Jackal, and the rest of the world. That means a shitload of replayability. That's actually a perfect idea - just not a Far Cry idea. Although, who needs Far Cry when you've got your awesome game?

Tom Francis: Well, Far Cry 2 isn't Far Cry either, and there is no 'franchise' beyond the name.

The only thing they have in common is an emphasis on being able to choose how to approach fights in a large open area, which my changes don't alter. But yes, Sam, I do want a different game.

Doc, the first Far Cry didn't involve talking to anyone, but the second does. I'm not proposing any more talking, just giving it a purpose and spreading it out.

Roadrunner: I had installation problems and being ubisoft the answer is "Go fuck yourself." However, after managing to fix it, I played. I liked how I died but one of my buddies appeared from nowhere to kick some scrotum with me.

I think i'll fire up TF2 now, to brush off all the realism :D
Also, i've killed a few guys with the machete, but how do you do those finishing moves which you've done above?

Dave: Anyone reached the 'Ending' yet? Uuuurgh. Not exactly satisfying.

Tom Francis: They happen automatically when you stab someone who's dying on the floor. A single special stab - where they haven't seen you or you're very close, and you do one big slash - always leaves them dying on the floor. A non-special 1-2 swipe tends to kill them outright, though.

Fatalism in Leboa-Sako and Bowa-Seko | Five Players: [...] launch was very nicely covered and illustrated by PC Gamer’s Tom Francis in a trilogy of posts to which Clint Hocking himself responded with some explanations for the more radical design [...]

Jabberwok: Having now played the game for a while, enjoying it immensely while also becoming too bored to keep playing it, this sounds amazing. Like something I might want to complete, instead of just finding a few diamonds before uninstalling the game and moving on to something less vapid. It has low-level systems that I really enjoy, the weapon degradation being one of them. I kept wishing they had just used them to make a more typical story shooter, so I would at least have some meaningful reason to keep playing. Though obviously, a truly dynamic open world like this would've been much more interesting.