All posts


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

Far Cry 2: What I Do Like

Last one of these, I promise. For those who don’t follow the comments, something pretty remarkable happened in the Impersonation Of A Buddy post. The guy who actually made Far Cry 2, Clint Hocking, showed up to explain how some of this stuff works and how it came to be. I say he made it – more specifically he was the creative director of this vast team of people.

He was also a designer, writer and level-designer on the original Splinter Cell, and the designer, writer and level-designer of the best Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. For that reason, and for his excellent talks, I am a fanboy of his. So this is very exciting. I can’t even conceive of the good grace it takes to read criticism of a game you made and say something other than “Fuck off.”

Far Cry 2 - Badly Hurt 4

Anyway, I started this post first but it’s taken longer to finish because praise is always harder to nail down than criticism, and I’ve had no spare time lately. So here are the things I like next to screenshots that have nothing to do with them:

Convoy Intercepts

These could happily be the entire game as far as I’m concerned. Screw Far Cry 2, they could have made Convoy Intercept 2. There’d be convoys of thirty cars, convoys with tanks, convoys you have to steal without destroying, convoys where you have to kill one guy but not the other, convoys you have to scout without being seen.

I’m happy to just keep intercepting these easy three-car convoys the arms dealers ask you to, I’m just saying, I’m up for that extra Convoy Interceptin’ challenge should it arise. I like to make roadblocks, find vantage points where they won’t see me until it’s too late, or vantage points where I’ll see them from far enough away to snipe the drivers, or vantage points far enough away from the IEDs I’ve laid that I’ll survive the blast with most of my limbs.

Of course, a single hand-grenade can complete any of these missions with ease, but I like to make life difficult for myself. One time I found a tree that leant over the road I knew the convoy would pass through, and stood atop it to snipe at the drivers. I failed wretchedly because I’m what I call a Parkinson’s sniper, but I discovered on the fly that a well-aimed petrol bomb will burn out a van’s driver even if it doesn’t come close to destroying the van.

Far Cry 2 - Badly Hurt 2

Stay With Me, Damn It

Tim describes an amazing moment in his review where his best buddy is wounded, and he’s used up all his syrettes on himself, and so she all but begs him to shoot her – which he does. I was cocky that this would never happen to me – I started out on the hardest possible difficulty mode, then switched to Medium because stealth wasn’t working. So I’ve always got 4 more syrettes than I’m counting on.

Then, yesterday, my usually reliable friend Paul had already sent up a distress flare by the time I got to him. I sniped everyone quickly, hurried to him, and injected him with a syrette. Nothing happened. “It’s.. not enough…” he moaned. I used another. “I need another…” I used another. He didn’t say anything this time. I used another. My character, without my consent, stroked Paul’s unfocusing eyes closed, and laid him down. I… I had another! I could have saved him, damn it!

This part of the buddy system really works. I didn’t even like the guy, and it certainly wasn’t my fault he got himself killed, but the moment’s rendered so physically and handled with such a gentle and unexpected “Fuck you” from the designers that it managed to affect me regardless.

Far Cry 2 - Badly Hurt 6

Successive, Sustained, Spatially Comprehensive Causally Daisychained Explosions

I’m not talking about blowing stuff up, that’s great in every game. Every time a car explodes a little piece of me does a happy jig. I’m not even talking about when you blow something up, and that starts a fire, and that fire blows something else up. I’m talking about when, after setting that chain of events in motion, you throw three more grenades, then fire a rocket launcher at a three-car pile-up and petrolbomb a gunpowder cache. Not BOOM, but BOOM BOOM BOOM Ker-THOOM KRAKAKAAKAKA-KOOOOM phwooosh SKANG! That’s new.

Far Cry 2 - Badly Hurt 5

The Sun

This started out as a point about the scenery, but I realised I actually don’t have much to say about the scenery – it’s the baking, blazing, dazzling sun that makes it special. I’ve spent some time in Zimbabwe, and the sun in African countries is a different one. Far Cry 2 isn’t exaggerating: every time it sets, a spectacular explosion of orange light floods the world. And when it’s high, it’s all you can see, feel or think about. Somehow their tech guys have found a way to render this ubersun, it actually feels brighter, hotter, harsher than the sun in other games – especially Crysis’ feeble Maglite-in-the-sky.

There’s a river that runs through a mountain, steep rock on both sides, and every time I pass through it in the game, a part of me feels the blissful cool of the shade – the way coldness seems to radiate from wet stone in hot countries. I think one of the reasons I’m so often fawning about a game’s art and harsh on its design is that I truly don’t understand how it works. I don’t know how they made me feel that coolness, what arcane renderers or filters triggered that sense memory. But whatever they’re doing, Ubisoft, pay them to keep doing it.

Far Cry 2 - Badly Hurt 3

And Today’s Screenshot Theme: I’m Really Quite Badly Hurt

I’m always in awe of design decisions that solve a problem by not solving it. How could anyone build an underwater city, Ken Levine? “It was not impossible to build Rapture under the sea, it was impossible to build it anywhere else.” Wow. Doesn’t even attempt to answer the question, but it sure shut me up.

How does my guy survive bullet after bullet, explosion after explosion, burn after burn? Well, sometimes he has to stop to pull the bullets out, cauterise the wound or, in the case below, yank a rebar out of his own stomach. Doesn’t even attempt to explain my survival, but it sure shuts me up.

Far Cry 2 - Badly Hurt 1


cool: cool.

Gawker: I have to say I now really want to play this.

Dave: Oh YEAH? My guy was being shelled repeatedly by some unseen attacker with a mortar, when he was suddenly blasted by a near hit. So he reached down and saw a broad triangular piece of shrapnel sticking out of his thigh, grabbed it, and yanked. Turned out this was just the base of a long, needle-like shard, and it had to be dragged out of its entire length.
I cried out in horror at that point. I really quite like Far Cry 2

Okimin: I once fell off a cliff and had to rip my tooth out to save my life. It made no sence, but it was amazing.

peterd102: Clint did SC and SC3! Woah, i am in awe of him, thsoe 2 were the best in the series, verging on what id call 'perfect' stealth games.

Back to FC2 however, the ability to plan your approach to a mission seems excellent, and i really want to do some of those convoy missions.

I do feel that if i play it ill behiding in fear trying desperatly not to get hurt so i dont get to see these sorts of gruesome spectacles. Makes the little health bar seem so outdated.

Ben Abraham: I blew up a car with the secondary weapon grenade launcher, and I got hit with a piece of wire shrapnel that wrapped itself around my left hand. It felt like practically tearing my hand off.

darthpugwash: Earlier on I was given an assasination mission by one of my buddies, so I headed over to the locale and scoped out the target. A guy in a suit and tie, standing out like a sore thumb as everyone else was lugging around a gun and wearing a grimy vest of some sort. Sure, I could have sniped him, but why do that when he's within RPG range? The resulting explosion not only killed the mark, but set a fire going, which then caused an ammo cache to explode, taking out three more unfortunate guys in total. When this game is good, it is VERY good.

These Far Cry posts have been interesting BTW, thanks for posting them (really cool that Clint Hocking showed up)

Lack_26: This has changed my view from 'going to buy' to 'GOING TO BUY', capitals are important.

Another good article and I enjoyed the pictures as well. I've always noticed that people find it harder to complement than criticise, at least in this country, so well done.

J-Man: My full thoughts are here:

http://rustbowl.word... ...grammarin/

Anyway, I don't really understand the buddy system. I did 3 missions for a South American woman, and it's still Waren Clyde who saves my ass. I wish I could just tell them to tag along.

Dante: Christ, I've not seen that rebar one yet, that's really quite disturbing.

roBurky: I would like to add the shop system to this. For all of Far Cry 2's efforts at immersion and realism, it knows when it would be more fun to break away from it. The way buying a gun at a shop merely 'unlocks' it, giving you infinite copies of it for the future is great - it really allows you to experiment with your weapons, and try out the weird stuff even if you know it's not going to be as useful as the gun you were previously using.

And then the weapon degradation is actually turned into a fun mechanic, which is wierd. Because it mostly only happens to found weapons in the world, not your bought guns, it turns a scoped grenade launcher found in a safehouse into a kind of limited powerup. It's a preview of an awesome gun you'll be able to buy permanently later on.

The Poisoned Sponge: Convoy Intercepts are the best. I remember I set one up by leaving my dune buggy blocking the road at the tight corner in the forest, then I waited in a tree with my grenade launcher. The truck I was supposed to kill was right underneath me, so instead of blowing it up there and then I dropped an IED in it. Let it get around my blockade, drive off, then BOOM. Good times.

Chijts: Hey Tom, thought since you like the art in the game it might interest you to look at some of the enviroment concepts for it - maybe some can be recognised in the game?

http://www.conceptar... ...p?t=139979

J-Man: Regarding the whole 'rip bullets out of forearm' thing, I wish I had a little more interaction rather than just tapping H. If you ever did lockpicking in Thief 3, my idea is that pulling the bullet out with the knife would be a similar mini-game.

Roadrunner: I think you should be able to extract bullets similar to those Nintendo Games "Trauma Centre". In other words, anime chicks yelling "doctor!" in a seductive manner every 10 seconds to say you're doing it wrong, but offering no advice.

Or alternatively, there should be a german character who screams "I EM FULLY CHARGED!" and makes you shiny and red. Either way, visit my joint-blog. (Alright, that was a subtle way to get viewers. :D)

Sam: Convoy intercepts ftw!
That and boat fights.

darthpugwash: roBurky: Agreed about the gun shops. At first I didn't like them, especially as the whole infinite supply thing seemed to go against naturalistic feel of the game. However as I built up an arsenal, I really started to appreciate the choice and flexibility that the gun shops offer.

darthpugwash: Sorry for the double post, but in defense of the random jeep spawns, they do provide the player with transport. Useful for when you flip your own vehicle over half way to an objective and are stuck hoofing it.

peterd102: Lol as soon as i read the above post I thought, flip it over with the grav.... oh wrong game. Does this happen to anyone else? It also happens to me in real life, I see a church tower and immediatly think snipers. I hear the tiniest succession of beeps and insticntivly think to leap back, fearing an Sentry. FC2 looks so realistic that id probably take ages to get used to it, or get out of old gaming habits. Im going to be killed by a lot of grenades as I try to grav them back.

Tom Francis: You can right a flipped vehicle by using it in Far Cry 2. If it gets stuck on a rock the right way up, though, as it often does, you're boned.

J-Man: Shit. I got one of the best cars and flipped it. So I abandoned it, never to use it again...

Waste_Manager: Well I've got to say I love Far Cry 2. Yeah it has problems, but it's too much fun for me to care. Plus, I thought Warren Clyde was excellent (until he went and died on me). He was cocky and arrogant, but so insane it was hilarious.


Do you meet the buddies you leave behind in the first half? I have about 25 history points with Flora Guillen, and I would jump off a cliff if I found out it was all for nothing.

Tom Francis: (Act 2 spoilers:) When you had the choice to go to Mike's Bar or the church, which did you do? If you went to the church, I'm pretty sure you're going to have to jump off a cliff. Don't know about the other possibility, I haven't tried it.

ZomBuster: Strange thing is, you see your arms all the time while driving, shooting, healing etc. But when your car get's flipped, your character suddenly possesses freeman-like powers.

J-Man: (Act 2 spoilers:) I went to Mike's, Mr.Goody-2-shoes-defend the civilians-Francis. All the mercs basically fell over, and it says in my journal I abandoned them.

J-Man: 1fort is in danger of dying: ...ia-voters/

Thank god we have such dedicated comrades on the internet, who would happily post on their blog to support 1fort:

http://rustbowl.word... ...ort-1fort/
(yeah, it's my blog)

Simon: So Far Cry 2 is good, yeah? Tell me all about it, because my copy was stolen! http://roflmcclemcop... ...-to-sleep/

Tynan Sylvester: Paul died because he was mortally wounded and you overdosed him with morphine to put him out of his misery. Just like that scene in Saving Private Ryan in the field full of dead cows.

Sometimes that happens in FC2... they're unsaveable. Although I was annoyed the first time because it didn't really read for me and I thought I had screwed something up. I even reloaded my game to try to save that damn Cuban girl. Of course she was fated to die, it was a waste of time. They game should have telegraphed that her death was inevitable much better.

Fat Zombie: Warren Clyde died in my arms. I tried to save him with syrettes, but despite my best efforts, he closed his eyes forever.

This would have been quite emotional, except for two reasons:

1. I had to kill him myself. He had been antagonising some tanker drivers for some reason, and I assume that one of them was supposed to mortally wound him. However, I managed to take them down before they could: this was followed by ten minutes of wandering around the spot marked on the map, looking for anyone else.
After finding no-one in the area, I had a brainwave and shot Warren in the back five times. He struggled, coughed, I tried to save him, he became a sunbeam in the sky, it was all very sad etc. etc. etc. Hey! Mission Complete! Woo!

2. I have subtitles on, for some reason. And when characters ask for more syrettes, it puts it like this:

"[DEATH RATTLE] ...I need... more..."

Well, whoop-de-fuck. Thanks for that, subtitles team.

Still, I'm not going to fault the game, it's still a bloody marvellous thing to play. And I will miss Warren; although his additions to my assignments usually added hundreds to the list of People Who Are Going To Shoot At Me Today, seemingly without reward; I often found that the detours proved quite entertaining, as well as an opportunity to find many more briefcases, so they sort-of paid for themselves.

Still; Goodnight, Sweet Prince. Sorry about the shooting-you-in-the-back thingy.

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 [...]

MJ: I love the gruesome animations, but one play through has surely got to lead to the avatar needing re-constructive surgery for both legs... If you're like me, then that would probably happen before I've even left Leboa-Seka.

Poor Frank would be jealous.