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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

Left 4 De-

The Left 4 Dead demo is out for pre-orderererers, and it just sort of… stops.

The four campaigns are usually four missions long each, and the demo only gives you the first two sections of one of them. It’s like releasing the first half of a song as a single to promote your forthcoming album. You can tell from the first half of this campaign that it’s going to be a good campaign, but the first half isn’t one by itself.


I am baffled and saddened by this. To me the point of Left 4 Dead is that “just made it!” moment, the way the Director expertly builds difficulty, tension and drama over the four levels to an incredible climax. Even when you die, that finalé is the highlight of the game. I can’t think why, after spending more than two years years perfecting an extraordinary new system that masters the eternal design problems of pacing and balance, you’d release a demo that does neither well.

This demo is only for people who’ve already committed to buying the game at the moment, but it’s the same one going live to the public next Tuesday, and it’s the one from which the first player impressions will be posted on forums. Playing it earlier tonight was the first time in my five sessions with Left 4 Dead that we’ve survived easily, and the first time the answer to “Do you want to play again?” has been “Not really.”

It’ll do till the full thing comes along, of course, and it’s still great fun. Just don’t assume from the demo that the full game lacks drama, variety or a satisfying climax.


Lack_26: I didn't find the demo at all scary when I was playing it, I basically just beat every zombie to death with my melee, shouting phrases along the lines of 'Get down cracker', in my worst fake 'black' accent possible (I was Ironically playing as Zoe). I just spent the entire time pissing my self laughing. But when I was watching it was scary as hell, I wasn't in control and that made it a lot scarier.

Also the server function is poor at best, horrible most of the time. You can't choose what server you want to play on, it instead forces a console-ish 'match maker' upon you. It reminds me of a small, snot covered child scribbling on a piece of paper with crayons and sticking it over an expensive picture and screaming 'Looky! I made a picture! Look at it!'

I would like to see the option of using the ye-olde style of choosing a server. The lack of dedicated servers also means that you either have to play on single-player or on a (most probably) laggy LAN server.

As a demo, it's left me a bit empty. But some of those 'OH, SHIT!' moments make up for it.

Seniath: I don't think demo is the right word. Judging by experiences earlier, it's more like a server stress testing beta.

Which is, you know, fun.

Devenger: I think this matchmaking system is a fatal mistake, judging from responses. Still, I get to play the thing in what Steam tells me is 2 minutes 24 seconds. Going to try online, but probably then give up and resort to singleplayer.

Smurfy: I played a few rounds. It lagged like Jesus on a tricycle. When playing with strangers, I enjoyed completely defying the orders to stick together by running in from the opposite side of the building, guns blazing.

Playing with friends is better.

Idlehands: I was disheartened that it was only two levels, but still great fun for us that havent played it at all. Thought it might be interesting for Valve to slowly release more levels for the preorder people up till the release date, where versus would be unlocked.

The server browser thing has been fixed though;
http://www.left4dead... ...available/
don't know why it wouldn't be available straight off the bat though.

OllyUK: Valve has just implemented a server browser in the demo, you first have to enable the console in the options menu, then open it with ~ (or ` on a British keyboard) and type "openserverbrowser" without the quotes.

I've enjoyed the demo but its such a small section its hard to make a judgment on the game.

Lack_26: I discovered something fun, on expert with a bunch of randoms, join the server then agitate a giant horde(s) and run around and beat them to death by just holding down rmb. It was hilarious.

ZomBuster: To really experience it, you really need to play it on expert. it's intense.

Iain “DDude” Dawson: I can't wait to try the demo. Will be more helpful once I have done so.

dartt: 1. Find a good dedicated server (this is hard).
2. Play it exclusively on expert difficulty (this is really fucking hard).

A buddy and I managed to use the server browser to find a decent UK dedicated server playing expert. We were dropped in half way through the demo on the second stage with somewhat dead characters and that is where we stayed for the next 2 or 3 hours. We just could not beat it on expert.

Several bosses appear at once causing all kinds of chaos, the standard zombie can knock you down in 4 or 5 hits and the tank is nigh on indestructible. This feels like the way it should be played, every inch of ground covered felt like an achievement and the sounds of a boss zombie nearby had me jumping at shadows.

If Valve can get the server browser and match making figured out (I have every confidence they will) then this game will consume me for the foreseeable future.

Tom Francis: We had a nightmare with the matchmaking system, but I didn't mention it here because it's not the kind of thing it's worth judging after one very specific dalliance.

Tell you what I will judge after only a few very specific dalliances: the on-screen icons to highlight where objects are. WHAT THE HELL, ICONS? The thing isn't there! It's where you eventually drift over to after I've walked to where you originally said it was, looked through a wall, span round three sixty and jumped onto a table three times.

ZomBuster: Those icons are meant for the same people as that matchmaking crap, so i disabled them immediately of course.

The Poisoned Sponge: Yeah, I think you have to sort of take the icons with a pinch of salt. Much better to just wait for someone to find them and then call out, then you can see their outline and follow them up.

Oh, and Tanks are bloody ridiculous. On Expert they're like the f**king hulk or something. THEY CANNOT BE KILLED. (only, they can, after an absurd amount of bullets).


Ixtab: I found a witch but I didn't disturb her, I heard the sobbing and saw her right at the edge of my screen partially concealed by a pillar, I kinda wish I did wave my flashlight at her just to see what she would do.

I played it on normal first to get the hang of it and I had no difficulty at all, even when the tank came barelling at us down a narrow stairway.

Also I can't connect to any servers, either with the proper browser or with the matchmaking system so I was stuck playing with the AI, who were quite capable, but always made me go first or wouldn't follow me the way I wanted to go. In no way did they come close to fooling me into thinking I was playing with real people which is what I half expected with the high praise of the AI.

ZomBuster: One time I thought the witch was cornered, so I just drop down behind the minigun and start pumping lead at here, she jumps TROUGH THE WINDOW and grabs me from behind. D:

The_B: I'm still pissed off we only got one brief game on Normal before we were faced with the horror that is the Matchmaking system and server finding features of L4D. I fear if this isn't sorted before the demo gets opened up to everybody else then Valve are going to see the type of damage caused to their reputation not seen since Steam fell over during the launch of Half Life 2.

And these words coming from a long time supporter of Valve, it's Not A Good Thing.

ZachAttack: I found myself shooting the parked car and purposely messing with the Witch just for something to do.

I played through it 3 times starting at normal and upping the difficulty each time. Only saw 2 tanks and 2 witches. Never died.

Lack_26: I think I'll try playing properly, I have a feeling that my 'can't touch this' régime may not be the way it is intended to be played. Despite the hilarity of it, but I'll still occasionally corner a zombie corner a zombie and beat the living(dead?) crap out of it, that's just fun.

Ludo: Having played through a few full games of Left 4 Dead I can say that it does ramp up the challenge with each level. Expert mode can be perfectly manageable for the first few sections but it throws more and more at you later on. With the full game you'll probably be choosing the difficulty level based on how you're likely to stand up in the final areas.

Also, when you get there the hospital building itself is brilliant

Newt Pulsifer: Most of my friends enjoyed it.. but I felt like "I want my money back" :(
Hope you're right, and the full release being a VERY different game (not just 4x longer).

Baggie: I really liked the demo, however I have some horrible issue in that on expert, the tank NEVER dies. We've shot enough bullets into him that he should be composed entirely of bullets, melted down by the thousands upon thousands of degrees of fire we're inflicted on him, so he becomes some sort of metal, red hot muscle wall thing... However even though we loose it's a LOT of fun for some weird reason I can't fathom.

Roadrunner: I don't have the demo, i'm too hooked on the Call of Duty beta demo instead.

It's hilarious as all the characters are stereotypes.
The screaming Germans.
The ultra-imperialistic Japanese
The communist, united Russians
and the Americans who swear in every sentence for no reason.

HoW Jones [J-Server Wannabee]: Had a great time on the PCG Badwater Basin event, I was just sitting back, trying to learn form your play as I healed you. But the highlight was the UberKritz from me and Monty, you destroyed them.

Dr. Nerfball: Hang on, can I just ask, 'cause I really, really am exceptionally ignorant on most things gaming (and far to lazy to read all the comments on here to see if this question has already been asked) but is there gonna be a video like the "Meet the " from Team Fortress 2 for the characters from Left 4 Dead?

Tom Francis: They've talked in pretty vague terms about stuff like that, backstory videos. A more serious tone, I'm imagining. I'm not so excited about that because it's the humour I like in those videos, but I'd love to see mini-movies released alongside each new downloadable campaign, extended intros like the one the game has.

Jason L: The intro seems to establish the characters just about enough for me.

Justice: Absolutely loving this demo, cannot wait to experience it at a LAN with 3 other buddies... yet, while showing it off to a mate, normal mode, something strange occured. We heard a Witch. Did not search for Witch, did not disturb Witch, but WHAT WAS SHE DOING THERE? On normal. Did VALVe stealth that in with last nights update?

John Walker: Just to clarify, each of the four campaigns has *five* levels, not four. The fifth always ending in a giganto-stand-off.

The demo isn't even the first two. It's the first one-and-a-half. There's a whole chunk more to do after the stand-off in level two, and the room that's the Safe Room in the demo is just a break room in the full game, sometimes not even containing anything useful, depending on the Director's whim.

Tom Francis: Right, so it's like releasing the first 3/10ths of a single to promote your album. Bizarre.

Justice, I don't think I get what was strange. That there was a Witch on Normal mode? That's normal.

Justice: Well, thanks for the reply. All the sources I've seen state that on Normal difficulty there is no Witch.. so it came as a mighty surprise!

The Poisoned Sponge: As far as I know the Demo goes dead once the actual game is released.. so I'm a little baffled why they didn't just include the whole of the No Mercy campaign. As it is I know I'm just going to get a little annoyed when the true game is released and I have to battle through these first two levels for what (by then) will feel like the 1000th time. Oh well, it took us two hours to defeat the second part of the demo yesterday, so I guess there'll be plenty to deal with when it comes out.

That's the whole demo on expert, btw.

Lack_26: I'm sure we'll see a fair few servers just starting on the 3rd level of No Mercy, It's also really fun watching my brother playing the game, if I can't be bothered to play (it can get quite sapping on Expert).

Chris Evans: While I think that including the whole No Mercy campaign would be too much, I do think they should've concluded the second level.

As for the Demo going dead once the game is released? That is a bit stupid I think, people who haven't pre-ordered won't be able to get a taste of the game.

Still a great demo nevertheless, especially on Expert.

Rei Onryou: The only bad experience I had with matchmaking (only played 2 rounds mind you) was being matched with dummies. But that's to be expected even with a server browser.

My standout experiences so far are:

1) One of the aforementioned dummies upon reaching the 1.5 map safehouse, threw a molotov at me (I had 1 health left) as I was coming into the room. I died, someone ran into the fire, and died. I left the server.

2) On a different (matchmade) server, we could hear a Witch. It blocked the way through the train tunnels. I thought someone had got too close and spooked it. It turned to look at me with yellow eyes, I panicked, fired and saw "Rei Onryou spooked the Witch" in the corner: Guess I was the one that got too close. Fortunately, a Smoker immediately dragged me to safety while the rest dispatched the Witch, then saved me. I'll never forget that Smoker. Didn't even have a chance to say thanks...*sniff*

Lack_26: We managed to get to the last area on expert, only for a witch to be crying behind the machinegun, that was not fun. We died, predictably.

J-Man: Any news when it comes to the non-preorderer?

Lack_26: 11th of November I believe, for the demo anyway.

Lack_26: I've been playing the demo for a bit now, and I have a question. What is it with zombies and standing on tables? Every time I walk into a room there is a zombie standing on a table somewhere, I usually sneak up, if possible, and knock them off, didn't their mother ever tell them not to stand on the furniture.

Belcher: @Lack,

Alas, they spake only of brains! And none of love!

RC-1290’Dreadnought’: HAHA! It took me until now to understand that picture.

Jace: I rather enjoyed the demo actually, it's left me in hot anticipation of the full game.

I and three mates managed to play through on expert. In the subway tunnels we ran into the Tank, which we killed, leaving us all on red health. Just as we got our breath back, we hear, and shortly see, the Witch. We carefully edge around her - not carefully enough, as she goes psycho-bitch on us. We then kill her with no casualties, and carry on to the showdown. Now, we're all on really low health, so we're thinking, "This'll be fun, but we won't make it." Picked up the pills in the med cabinet, couple of is got a health boost, then we flipped the switch. And killed all the infected. Without losses. Then my mate shoots one of the petrol tanks, setting us all on fire, and a hunter and smoker come in :S Two of us still made it to the end!

Cmdt_Carpenter: I do not understand all your amazing fears of the Witch. She's too easy to sneak around, and she only kills one person and runs away. Sure, you're down one, but it's not that bad.

CreativeShadows: When I was at the PC Gamer Showdown I went and asked Chet if there were any "meet the" vids for left 4 dead, he replied saying those guys are doing a little something for us yes.

So back story shorts I think are very probable.

Rei Onryou: @Cmdt_Carpenter: Consider yourself lucky so far. You haven't seen anything yet.

Devenger: Matchmaking is sharpening up. After the first update to improve the matchmaking, apart from the odd 'This server can only be connected to via the Lobby' when I'm connecting having waited in a Lobby, it's served well. Hooray!

Oh, and game is fun too. Just need more levels and less friendly-fire oriented allies.

Jon Baker: How come the boomer always seems to slime me? He could be a train tunnel away and me in a tightly coupled formation with my group and without fail, he'll precision slime me before I can shoot him.

I guess I'm most upset because I crap my pants everytime that happens. I have to do laundry like every other day when I play this demo!

Roadrunner: Completely unrelated, all us small part-time bloggers should make a massive network linking to and fro each other, for the global world domination of blogging :D

....Just an idea :p

peterd102: Now thats an Idea, im desperate for veiws (dunno why) to my blog, so much that I have a habit of leeching off other, more popular blogs.

Jason L: No kidding? Sample size 1: If you guys invent a cure for cancer, and I actually have cancer, etc.

J-Man: I concur with Roadrunner.

Unrelated question for Pentadact: What do you PCG reviewers use to take screenshots?

The_B: J-Man: Mainly they use whatever is to hand. FRAPS usually, but for games that have their own dedicated screenshot function they may just use that. They're not forced into using any particular program, so most of the time it's just whatever works.

J-Man: I basically want a general screenie taking app, preferably something that doesn't use too much CPU power and can run in the background.

Tom Francis: I use FRAPS for everything, bound to a mouse button, saving as BMP, starting with Windows and on at all times. Turn off the frame rate indicator, obviously. It's fast enough that I can hammer the button without noticing any stuttering, whereas built-in grabbers tend to freeze the game for like a second.

Lack_26: One thing I've noticed about the matchmaking system is that... I never end up playing with native English speakers. Sure, I've met a lot of people from other countries (Spain, for example), and they're great people and we manage with what we know of each others languages (they mostly know a fair bit of English, though). It just made me wonder how the system works.

Matt: Dammit Tom. I just realized the picture was supposed to be that way. I've been refreshing it for 10 minutes.

Bobic: J-man and roadrunner, they're lovers....
I kid

Tom Francis: Heh, sorry. I made it too realistic. I should have had the post-background colour fill the gap. It even bothers me a little, now.

Matt: I don't know if the software you blog with allows for editing, but if it does, just give the image alt-text clarifying.

Killa-Ewok: 98%. Don't let me down, demo dear.

J-Man: Just downloaded FRAPS, but refuses to assign itself to my side mouse button.

Sheepye: I feel left for dead as steam for some annoying reason lacks settings to config it to connect through HTTPS and all my favourite blog sites are enjoying times of unmitigated gaming joy. Bastards. And I dont mean orphans.

Enjay: Eh. I was disapointed by the witch.

So far I've had 3 encounters with the witch, where she was spooked.

First encounter was my first time playing, playing with some friends. Nobody really got injured that bad, and we went along as normal. Second time was on Advanced with a few more friends. Witch waited in front of the switch you needed to use to open the final door. Managed to kill her practically where she laid.

Third encounter was the most intriguing. We were in the subway cars, my friend spooked her through the window. The roars, runs to the window, then turns around and runs down the escaltors. We decided to chase her down for the fun of it. We took different stairway routes, attempting to sandwich her, but to no avail. The witch ran away never to be found again.

The tank is also nigh indestructable on expert.

Rei Onryou: I just completed the demo on Expert. That included the Tank and the Witch. From that experience, I don't see how you'd be able to complete a full campaign on Expert with random people (this completion was on Expert). But I'd love to try still =D

I've only had a couple of complaints so far:

1) It'd be nice if the game would tell you who killed the Tank or Witch, although since it should be a team effort, I can see why it doesn't pop up.
2) If you reload while being revived, it can be interrupted because you immediately change to the primary weapon. Very minor, but in a horde situation, you can understand how precious time is.

Can't wait for the full thing...

DoctorDisaster: I wasn't much bothered by where the demo ended, but I would really, really like an option to carry more medpacks in exchange for reduced firepower. I am sooooooo much better at reviving teammates than I am at shooting zombies.

Of course, I'm best of all at shooting teammates.

Actually, the worst effect of my long stint as a TF2 medic is my instinct to dance around like a toddler who needs a wee any time I perceive the slightest threat. I can't tell you the number of times a buddy of mine has shot me in the back of the head because I spotted some movement and got spooked. Invariably it turns out to be a bit of dust or a small biting fly, of course.

Jason L: Well, they did indeed lock out the demo a day or two before I'd have had time to play it. Thanks Valve! Guess this is one buying decision that's gonna get bumped to next year then.

Jason L: Is it just me perceiving something different about Valve's handling of Left 4 Dead as a whole? This weird demo selection, the bizarre decision to stop offering the demo on release day, and trying to strongarm the hardcore Valve faithful into using a nutless beta parody of console matchmaking systems...this is not the iterative approach they've made famous. Are any of those things not boneheaded, and I just don't see it? What's going on?

Jason L: My Left4Dead story so far:
1. Downloaded demo. Didn't have time to play it that week. Demo turned into 'preload', should I decide to buy the game.
2. Waited with gigs of demo on my drive for Valve to open up the demo again or something.
3. Steam firesale comes along. USD35 is a bitable price for Left4Dead. I buy it! (Please Valve, may I have some more...)
4. Surely I'll have it in minutes, given that I've had gigabytes of Infected sitting around on my drive for a month. But no! The game starts downloading alongside its dead demo. 'Preload complete', says the demo cheerily. Great integration, guys.
5. Another day's downloading later I have it and it runs, the end.