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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


you've got red on you
After a Tank fight, on Expert. This was pretty much the last time we saw each other alive.

Update: title changed because it turns out Craig picked exactly the same quote for the strapline in his review. This post is now named in honour of the dark room we hid in for ten minutes last night to survive the finalé of Blood Harvest.

The first version of Left 4 Dead that isn’t pointlessly and inexplicably butchered is in the wild now, and by in I mean on and by the wild I mean Steam. If you’ve had the chance to play through to a finalé and you hadn’t before, I hope you see why I thought it bizarre that they would leave that out of a demo. If they feared that giving away something substantial for free might harm sales rather than drive them, I would cough in such a way that the sound could be construed as the words ‘Counter’ and ‘Strike’ one after the other.

The downside for me as a player is that half the public games I’ve joined are trying to play on Expert, emboldened by the trivial ease of the demo on Normal. This is folly.

Tensions rise on the PC Gamer quartet when it becomes clear that most of us are either
stupid or crazy.

The finalés are really something. The reason I think they’re the point of Left 4 Dead is that they showcase its most surprising and profound accomplishment: difficulty. Sin Episodes, like many before it, focused entirely on that problem. It not only failed, it did so with such aplomb that the players’ primary complaint about the game was the wonky difficulty.

Left 4 Dead’s campaigns, on Normal, always run to the final map, and are always close. In our game at lunch, Tim was being so utterly pummeled by the time rescue arrived that he actually commanded us to leave without him.
“Graham’s gone too, leave him, just run for it!”
“I’m not gone! Save me!”
So I did. Except that his main problem turned out not be a pesky Hunter so much as thrity-six zombies and a Tank. I think I got the Tank, but by the time I did I was being mauled from so many directions that I couldn’t move to save Graham, and we both died there.

In our first game after work, Graham, Tim and I made it to the boat but Craig got pinned in the water. I jumped in and managed to get him on his feet, but he was knocked down again on the pier before he could get to the boat. I’d badly hurt myself with the first attempt, so I jumped onto the boat just as it pulled away – and just as Graham jumped off to come to Craig’s aid.

Then in our last game, on Dead Air, through canny use of distractionary pipe bombs, sustained high vantage-point fire from Graham and Craig, emplaced heavy weapons support from Tim and shotgun-powered back-covering from me, we all piled into the back of the cargo plane and made it to safety.

tongue twister
So you see his tongue has been wrapped around several objects, twisted almost, to the
point at which he can no longer clearly speak. I guess you could say it was quite a mouthful.

I’m actually not a huge fan of the raw ingredients of Left 4 Dead: I love the animation of the zombies, but they always feel slightly hollow and insubstantial to kill, your weapons rattly and unexciting. But difficulty is such a hugely important variable, and the game nails it so utterly, that the final result is an endless thrill.


Chris Livingston: As much as I enjoyed the four hours I played last night, I'm already finding a lot of the gameplay repetitive. On the flip side, a single great moment, like some of the incidents you mention, make the previous 45 minutes absolutely worth the time spent. And most of those moments come during the finale, when escape is just feet away. They're moments you can't wait to tell people about the next day.

I also found the versus mode sort of clunky, with a real slapped-together-at-the-last-minute vibe, but it's so hilariously ridiculously fun it doesn't matter. Barfing on someone will always be fun, especially when they're being choked by a smoker and slapped by a hunter at the same time.

CloakRaider: Yeah, I can see what you mean. It seems like nothing special until you reach those final moments of desperation. Such as three people being left behind at the end of No Mercy and such.

Tom Francis: I've heard Versus Mode is the best, but haven't had a chance to play it yet. Three people are easier to summon than seven.

Thordain: GAH!! Why do you people have to keep tempting me to buy Left4Dead. It's driving me mad!

Wood: How much fun do you think it will be just on public servers, if you don't personally know anyone else who plays it? I'm jealous of having enthusiastic colleagues available.

MaybeNextTime: I've really enjoyed the Versus mode - at the moment it feels a bit like no one is really sure what to do with the boss zombies (except the Tank, obviously), and it can be frustrating being on the side of the infected when it takes twenty seconds to respawn, thirty to find a good position and then you're dead in four (actually, maybe it's just me that's horribly incompentent). But co-ordinated assaults by several infected at once are beautiful things to behold, and of course being the Tank is joyous. It also makes playing as the Survivors that bit more interesting - people might make more sloppy mistakes than the AI, but they have lots of terrifying ingenuity too.

spuzman00: Argh, I wish I didn't have to wait until Christmas to get this. Until then I'll just pretend I'm Tom and relive his greatest moments.

Chris Evans: If Tom doesn't write about that now infamous closet, then I will be gravely disappointed :|

The time we spent huddled together blasting and whacking anything and everything in sight will go down in infamy, it was great :D

The_B: And remember kids, if you miss the Witch with the Molotov trying to get the achievement, use the back of your shotgun to force her into the flames works just as well.

So long as you survive the horde summoned when Richard and Tom shoot a Boomer not five centimetres from your position when you drop down anyway...

ZomBuster: Normal is too easy, advanced is already too hard in some places , and expert is pure suicide.

I think advanced could use a few balance tweaks.

Niteowl: This game should really only be played versus. The infected are tricky bunch to figure out, but once you start using ye olde teamworke and using coordinated attacks... well, it's the most fun you can have with animated corpses with your pantaloons on.

On the other side, it's far, far scarier to know that a human is stalking you than the AI director. Humans are just naturally underhanded, backstabbing, conniving bastards. The AI director has to fake it.

I'm not sure if y'all know this, but when you play versus, you take turns being infected and survivors, that way everyone gets a turn vomiting zombie attracting pus.

Lack_26: We played on normal last night, but we couldn't find a server so we spent the entire campaign on one red bar and lagging like hell, it seemed very easy. Although I suspect that the AI was suffering from the lag just as much as us. The finale seemed quite easy, although when a tank got in the house (death toll) it made us jump, but we killed it. And chucking a gas can on the end of the pier made sure we we're fine for that bit.

Still, I'm going to try it on a non-laggy server if possible.

Waste_Manager: I got an email last night saying my copy has been shipped, now just an antagonizing couple of days wait.

CrabGuy: I know that guy in the first picture!
Oh yeah and good post and stuff muttermutter

LactoseTheIntolerant: Good lord this is incredible. Played two campaigns on Advanced last night - Blood Harvest and Dead Air. Each took literally hours to complete. The finalés? Incredible. Hard like rock, but incredible. I've rarely had so much fun with friends (except playing TF2, of course). Things did falter a bit when servers would go awfully laggy, but for the majority of the time things were OK.

Also tried out versus mode for a fair while.. Marvellous fun. In the 8-man game I was in, the Infected seemed to have a much easier time of things than the Survivors, who never managed to get more than about 30% of the way to the saferoom on any stage (this held true for both sides). Anyone else experienced this?

My main grumbles are that it takes forever to find a dedicated server. It would just search endlessly without result about 70% of the time when we were trying to initiate a versus game. And lag, when it strikes, can be a huge problem.

I'm itching to play some more tonight!

Punjab: Sweet reference.

Jon Baker: Well put, Tom. I'm going through the campaigns on normal (to see them all) and at no point do I feel "safe", like I would in many other games.

Hey, anyone else find out that the gas station near the lift in No Mercy can explode? Boy, I sure would have loved to know that when my whole team decided the gas pumps would be a good idea to corral the zombies. A few errant bullets later and 3 of the team were incapacitated instantly. The lone survivor had to deal with a horde, boomer and a witch blocking the only retreat route.

We got out of that by the skin of our teeth. I love this game.

Jazmeister: Oh God.

Which should I buy, damnit? Fallout 3? Farcry 2? Left 4 Dead? WHICH ONE?!

I crave the free-form rpg goodness, the sick humour, and slow-motion buttfucking; I want a proper shooter, though, where I have to plan every assault, and take a water canteen to my desk; but I want to play a good co-op game, by which I mean a co-op game which descents into "shoot the car as that dick passes it, that'll teach him to spray me when I'm inches from death".

I'm banking on everyone buying those for me at christmas. This is like banking on Half Life 3 popping up at the weekend, or waiting to buy Spore on Steam.

Actually, I've had an idea. I've just got into the habit of checking over and improving whatever I write before hitting that magical button, and I had an idea for Left 4 Dead. Maybe they could have 20 acheivements or so and each one would be puzzling and give no clues as to how you can unlock it. Then, mid-mission, you're lured away by a personal message, clue, or cue, and given a secret mission by some evil person. It might be that you need to prevent everyone from escaping at the end; you might be given a special item replacing your grenade that acts as boomer vomit, or somesuch, and in return, certain zombies like the Tank and Witch aren't bothered by you. It would be engineered to cause players to hunt for suspicious behaviour, like obviously having some sort of pipe bomb and never using it, etc.

Hmm! Although, in fairness, people do tend to find reasons aplenty to betray me. That was just the demo, with one car alarm.

peterd102: I have a policy of not buying till I read the PCG review, no matter how hard the pull of it is. I think id buy one for a freind too if its good enough.

Rei Onryou: Played last night and was loving it. 21 achievements so far and 1,600 zombies to my name. I've gotten annoyed with server choosing, since it seems entirely random. I started my own Lobby for a co-op normal Dead Air campaign. Instead, it placed us in a versus expert Dead Air campaign. When your in the server, you can't tell what mode its on (made no sense to us since there were no opposing bosses), nor can you vote for a specific mode (co-op/versus) or part of the campaign. Needs a serious improvement here I think.

In unrelated call-the-men-in-white-jackets L4D news, I've come to the conclusion that the survivors have lost their minds. In the hospital of No Mercy, we had just gotten into the elevator after several close calls. The doors shut, and it started its slow ascent. Zoey made a quick note about how the zombies were too fast, and proceeded to call "zombie bullshit" on the matter. I laughed in RL. It made sense to laugh in game, so I pulled up the radial menu, hit "laugh" and the most awkward laugh came out. I did it again. Bill chipped in. So did Francis. And Zoey. We were all spamming laugh as the lift climbed the last few floors, knowing our fate behind the doors. We'd lost our minds, laughter our only cure. Pure, demented, awkward laughter.

This game rocks! ^.^

The_B: Rei Onryou: We had similar troubles last night. We had a lobby up to try and find a four player co-op game first on No Mercy, then on Blood Harvest. It couldn't find a server no matter how many times we tried. Then we switched the lobby leader, and it worked first time, only problem being it put us on a server running it on Advanced when we'd asked for Normal. But the vote sorted that.

Chris Evans: Judging by your blog posts B, I don't think you have any luck when being a lobby leader looking for severs :D

I think you are best off letting other people do the server search :P

Inferno: Versus mode is simply incredible. Oh man just for the moments like on the finale of No mercy where the tank player has killed your entire team but you and there's a hunter and a smoker.

I ran for the chopper pad without the chopper there and firing blindly took out one of the smoker players AND the huinter whilst limping, span round with no ammo, whipped out pistols and killed the tank player just as he landed on me. I stood there breathing for a while as the chopper arrived only to be mobbed to death by a horde just as the chopper opened up. Then we all burst out laughing.

Devenger: Personally, the entire game or me is now the 'hit' twang noise you get for each 10 hit points of flesh you rip out of someone as a Hunter. Playing the Survivors is thrilling. Playing the Infected is not only a pleasant change of pace, objective and values, but also a thrilling experince in terms of teamwork and efficiency.

Go, Valve, go.

Devenger: NB: Maybe it's not a twang, but a ping. I don't know, I've never been taught my basic hit register sounds. Darn education system.

Alpha: My best experience wouldbe that time I got All 4 Dead.

Mwe he he...