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.
Tomb Raider Underworld just went live on Steam. There’s some absurd fuss kicking up about review scores that you can look up if you care, but one of the many reasons it’s absurd is that the game is extremely good. John Walker did it for us and gave it 86%, I did it for PC Format and gave it 89%.
It’s my favourite of the entire series, and the first Tomb Raider game that suggests its creators have some idea of what they’re good at. No bosses, no quick-time events, few traps, and combat that’s brief, sparsely spaced and often actual fun.
I’m not saying buy it – Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead make everything else an opulence at the moment – I’m saying ask for it for Christmas.
Format only needed three screenshots, but the game is exquisitely detailed and Lara’s face is one of the most smoothly expressive crafted outside of Valve, so I took several hundred. Here are some of the offcuts, click through to the full size ones to see what I mean.
Smee: I've been looking forward to this for such a long time. The Legend and Anniversary helped in a large way to help me get over my Prince of Persia addiction, and I pre-ordered Underworld in order to introduce an uncertain friend into the franchise with the free copy of Legend.
I will have to wait a bit though, since my computer can't actually run this thing. D:
Jon Baker: I could see myself getting into this game if they made a few tweaks.
-Shift the focus from exploration to first person shooter.
-Make it co-op.
-Make her fight hordes of zombies.
-Maybe change Lara's name to Zoey.
Then it would be perfect.
Actually, this game does look good, and I'll probably end up picking it up at some point... I just don't have enough time to play the games I'm ALREADY playing.
Tom Francis: To be fair, she does already fight hordes of zombies; Viking zombies; with a shotgun, slow-mo and flying kicks.
Roadrunner: So uhh... what kind of genre would you classify it as?
Also, is it stealth or what?
The only Tomb Raider I played was the original on PS1, and back then I was way too young to find her attractive.
Do people review it highly because it involves a women with too much mascara on in a tight swimsuit?
Jonas: That looks sweet!
There's a problem though. Not with the zombies, but the game has spiders, doesn't it? Giant spiders? PONY-SIZED spiders that you have to fight?
I believe so. And that's why I'm not getting it. Alas, I really want to, but giant spiders are a no-no for me. I know Cobbett's with me on this one!
Jon Baker: 1 out of 4 isn't bad, Tom. I find myself already warming up to the idea of John Woo'ing some cold, dead bodies.
Lack_26: Doesn't sound bad, it's not really my time of game, but I'll pick it up when it's out on budget release.
Blackout62: Holy Flurking Snit that's some good looking face. Whoever decided to draw each eyebrow hair deserves their own award.
Roadrunner: Blackout, you're the kind of guy who makes all us geeks and nerds look bad; you see one female character in a video game, and get aroused by her.
Now I know us nerds and geeks don't get out to see the bright harsh white lights of the real world often, but theres plenty of porn on the internet for us to peruse.
peterd102: Im sure ive made myself alergic to direct sunlight.
To be more on topic, Im weirdly tempted even though ive had no interest in the series before. If its anything like the skill based movements in the Original splinter cell or the mountain climb in Call of Juarez, then that sounds nice.
The Poisoned Sponge: I've been playing a lot of this today, and while I did abandon the beloved PC to play it (I feel it's more natural with a gamepad, and I don't have one for my PC), I'm having a lot of fun with it. I recently played through Legends and found it to be lots of fun, but hell, Underworld is bloody hard in comparison. I've been stuck a few times, and the path isn't always as apparent as I've wanted. Also, Mexico is a bloody brilliant level.
Jazmeister: My wife is really dying to get this. The reviews are helping along the decision too, but I'm always concerned because she's only been gaming for a year or two, and most of that was the sims. I only expose her to premium fps like TF2. I'm glad this looks to be less pressure and more puzzle, with a good taste of combat. This time of year, purchasing decisions are important.
I hate the numbers pissing contest! Grah! 75% is high! 60's... maybe not. The whole numerical-reviews-being-too-linear-and-simplistic discussion is outwith the scope of this comment, but let's say I'm open to alternatives. Maybe vectors?
Tom Francis: No, I think he's just saying it's a good-looking face. Which is what I was showing with that shot. Singling out the individual eyebrow hairs is a good tip-off that he's talking about graphical fidelity rather than sex appeal.
Peter, you do sometimes have to jump off walls like in Splinter Cell, but generally speaking the challenge is to work out how to get to where you want to go. Pulling it off usually isn't tough.
Lack_26: Games should be given a rating in the form of the equation of a curve. y=x^2 might be boring but y=x^3(35siny)+(cosecx^siny) might be very fun and interesting.
Iain "DDude" Dawson: Really looking forward to playing this. Not expecting something new, or especially pretty when I am forced to turn off all the fancy effects, but something fun.
Jazmeister: Tom, I was surprised to find you merely reporting on this filth, let alone condoning its admiration! I don't know how you can call yourself a Christian, gawping at those bushy eyebrow hairs and photographing women soaked with god knows what, holding a camwhora and everything! Why, it's almost as bad as that voluptuously finished dining chair my servant brought in. I had it burnt, of course.
My wife downloaded the demo, and it was all fudgy. Looked up the ol' readme, and yep, doesn't support her vid card. Bollocks! Still, she'll be able to play it on mine, it's two feet of a difference. Ah, married life.
Seriously, could you use vectors? A multidimensional score, addressing the bare minimum of opposing factors? Obviously, the one spectrum would involve how much it makes you feel like you rock at the game, while another might delineate how badly you wish you'd been on the design team to correct errors. Then you just have aesthetic unity and you're away. It could be like a co-ordinate. That'd mean you'd be forced into a graph at the end of every review. It could only be improved with a double-blind study using 100 gamers.
Craig Laycock: I also haven't bothered with Tomb Raider since the first one. The all-important question is: can you still swallow-dive off stuff and break her neck horribly?
Tom Francis: Yeah. In fact there's a level that reminded me of St Francis' Folly in this one - a dizzying descent that makes you want to plummet off it just to see what it feels like.
Dave C: Wow. I'm intrigued! I just read an overwhelmingly negative IGN review as well as a few others. Installing the demo now...
Chris Evans: Been playing some of Legend recently (like Spongey) and I must admit I have found it quite good. Great compared to some of the games after number 4!
Regardless I will try to check this out sometime, the PCG review made me expect good things from it.
J-Man: I trust good ol' Walker, but I'm not a fan of the Tomb Raider series. I'll try the demo, but I'm addicted to the latest Call of Duty right now.
Roadrunner: I don't understand how people can buy any game on any review, after all it's just one guys opinion :| Is John Walker the PCG guy who wears sandals and socks with a pony tail? Ahhh, cracks me up every time.
peterd102: I do, usually because game reviewers have played a lot more games and have more perspective, and i always wait for the PCG review before buying.
I may break that rule with wrath though - YOU B******s didnt have the review this issue. Like anyone cared though.
Tom Francis: Yeah, sorry about that Peter. We've said what we think of the beta in the mag, but it's just not logistically possible to have a review of the full, final, live retail version in shops at the same time as the game itself launches.
Jazmeister: I think if the review is well written and insightful, it'll give you an idea of how it challenges you, rewards you, etc. Buying based on the score, though, is a bit naive. The Hinterland review, for example, ended on a 61% note - a cruel blow to the developer, if they skimmed over the actual written talky party.
In truth, Alec Meer's review is quite flattering. John Walker gives Mark of Chaos 66% a few pages later, but opens with: "it's a mediocre [game], sat in the shadow of the completely fantastic Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War." Alec awards Hinterland the high honour of being, potentially, "one of those games where you glance up at the clock and realise you've yet again been sucked through a time portal to 2am." Reading a little further, I'm gonna get it. Why not? It's $20 on Steam, I love weird genre-hybrids even if they suck, I'm happy, Valve's happy, Tilted Mill are happy. Read the review, use your brain, and I think the system really works.
Tom Francis: Whoa, the rare reasonable point about reviews and scores.
Archagon: I tried the demo based on your recommendation. Quite fun so far, but the camera can be very annoying at times.
No I think the sandal with socks guy who has a ponytail is Craig Pearson. Walker is the ginger freelancer.
Jazmeister: I thought he was the texas ranger? Plus, Craig is that black dude with the tie.
Richard: Alec Meer's Hinterland review? Bah! Lies!
I'm the one with the sculpted features of a particularly handsome Greek god, incidentally. Any evidence to the contrary is merely a cunning ruise to avoid showing off.
peterd102: ty Pentadact, im glad you would rather have a accurate reveiw than an early one.
P.S. Your review for Red Alert 3 was very good, and you have convinced me to buy it.
Jazmeister: I never considered buying Red Alert 3, because I fall into the trap of thinking every new game has to advance the medium and change the way we play. The review reminded me of Generals, and my friend writing "JAZ IS A GIMP" all over my base with TWENTY space-lasers, is making me consider it.
Damn you credit crunch! If you even exist!
Ben Abraham: The pic of Lara climbing up the pipes... I know it's meant to be a water effect, but makes her legs look like they need a shave. =P
NEW to Tomb Raider Underworld - realistic leg-hair growth! Forget to shave before a mission and see Lara's stubbly growth turn into full fledged man-hair!!! Next-Gen!
dual_barrel: I agree with Tom that the game is good. I didn't expect such quality in terms of level design and puzzle. It was always more or less fresh. Good job, Crystal Dynamics.
craigp: I don't wear sandals with socks.
Waste_Manager: I find myself completely unable to get excited about a Tomb Raider game, no matter how much people rave about it. I've always found the series purely "meh".
Bobsy: I was utterly blown away by Legend, mostly because I, like so many others, had been brought up on Tomb Raider cynicism. But it suprised me in the best possible way, and I've been looking forward to this for a good long while now.
Grill: Woah, Walker is Ginger? Damn, they should make those people wear badges so we colour-blind know.
This is a terrible admission, but with a game like Red Alert 3, I'm probably just going to watch all the cutscenes on youtube and skip the game.
that swimsuit shot gives me wood!!! i normally take screenshots using fraps, and boy will i with this game.
Jazmeister: @Grill: I totally might do that for C&C. It depends on my situation. This can go two ways.
1) I find a way to hang with all my old friends, or make some new ones. L4D, C&C, etc.
2) I'm still stuck on nightshift with no friends. Fallout 3, Farcry 2, etc. Infact, I never played Bioshock or Mass Effect (I own the latter, won't run, parts on the way).
The second one is more likely for now.
Wow, Tom and Chris from 1fort are both suffering from "I didn't post, so I have huge comment backlogs."
heh, sorry. But you do have a ponytail!
holy shit, it's craig pearson!
Roadrunner: I also imagine Craig Pearson to be the kind of guy who lives with his beloved and well-adorned pet cat, mittens.
And you talk to your cat.
This is just how I imagine you from your tiny picture in the few issues of PCG I have read. :P
Roadrunner: Wait a minute, I just noticed above, that guy "Marios" comment. See?!?! This is the kind of moron who makes all us horny PC players look bad. Jesus christ, get a life. If that picture restores blood into your Chunk o' Love, I'd hate to know what happens if you see a real life women.
Inferno: Roadrunner. You have issues. Great big denial issues it seems.
I haven't played any tomb raiders since erm, I think it was the 4th one (the one with all the gods and set in egypt or something)? I might just try out the demo. I love the second game to bits when I was younger especially all the awesome little secrets that were stashed around. Has any of that carried over?
craigp: Pfft. My cat is called Dexter.
Jazmeister: My cat is called Mandark.
Jon Baker: @Roadrunner
They may be just a collection of 1's and 0's, but if someome took the time to animate them, I'll duly take the time to appreciate them.
What's the difference between lusting over a video game character and lusting over some fictional movie character again?
Roadrunner: Fictional movie characters are played by actors, and you can lust over the actors, who happen to be REAL. It's fine to appreciate the animated characters, but to openly admit you're aroused?!
lusting over a video game character is lusting over animated graphics; It reminds me of some stereotype nerd in an episode of Robot Chicken at the Star Trek Convention.
"Excuse me, my proton torpedo is in launch position, uh haahh aahh if you know what ah meean?"
and on the subjects of Cats and thier names, my cat is called hannah. It has a human female name, as opposed to the name of a popular dark humor-based TV show, or the antagonist of that show Dexters Labaratory. (But Mandark is a cool name.) Whats your cat's name, Pentadact? :p
J-Man: Time to show true PCG fanboyiness...
Craig is lying, Dexter is John Walker's cat. Or are you one of those PCG writers that shares the house with John, and the cat is in fact a communist cat that everyone shares?
Jon Baker: @Roadrunner
I get what you're saying, but I say live and let live. I mean, we're all basically on this site to profess our undyling love to Tom and yet we don't judge each other any less for that.
Roadrunner: The cat is communist because Tom has the left paw, while Craig has the right eyeball, tail and kidneys. Proceed to distribute cat among the proletariat in an equal here.
I have one more question for Craig Pearson, who seems to be now my favourite writer for a magazine I don't really read often:
As a man with hair, do you pay particular attention to the hair care products you use? And if so, what shampoo do you use? And my second question is: How would you react if one day you woke up completely bald? And to carry on from that question, completely bald but your cat was sitting in front of you wearing your ponytail and said "I believe you will find escape quite impossible, Mr Pearson!"
I'm going to draw a diagram to make this clearer. But I don't have it right now, I'll post it when i'm done, and J-man can randomly bring it up in the next "Annoy Pentadact Society" meeting. (Which i'm not a part of...yet.)
Jason L: Start to Douchesatchels time: 37 months. Not half bad.
John: Not sure why it's such a wild idea to you, Roadrunner; non-photographic depictions of women (and sex) have been have been in, erm, "use" since the Greeks were drawing naughty scenes on pottery. You could argue Lara Croft only really became such a cultural icon because of the stir her quite-intentional attractiveness initially caused.
peterd102: The existence of that said woman implies imperfection, whilst an computer genrated woman and be imagined as perfect. Thus attraction to her is greater than that of a real person.
Somehow, at least this proves that Lara is better than cats.
Jazmeister: She had controversially jagged boobs, and it was there to be pointed at by technophobes and members of "the past." I've never "primed the omega cannon" looking at Lara pics, but she is essentially a woman; I don't see polygons and textures, I see thighs and clothes and fingers. She has a name, mannerisms, history, etc. They're just made up, that's all. So is Tom.
Grill: @ Roadrunner Odd you should ask that, the absolutelovely former editor of PCFormat Adam Oxford once had lush curly hair until he woke up one day and *bang* it had all gone!
His cat was never found...
Roadrunner: To be honest for me, Lara Croft isn't even that attractive. Her lips are too big. And I wanted an answer from Craig Pearson :(
Birdoman: With all the discussion of the philosophy of reviews and reviewing, did anyone else notice this?
Not only do Eidos evidently think that numerical reviews are important, they actually "ensure the launch scores of Tomb Raider Underworld are in line with our internal review predictions over the launch weekend". Despite the attempt at euphemism the shit still shines through. Fucking ridiculous, imo.
I understand that consoles and console reviewers have more pressure placed on them, but have you ever had any of this overt pressure placed on your reviews?
Tom Francis: As I said at the start of this post, that whole thing is absurd for many reasons. To your question, we have never and would never alter a score in response to a publisher stipulation of any kind. Nor do I think anyone did or would have in this case.
It's utterly self-defeating. Do you get more readers if you have a review first? Sure. But if you change a score to get that, you haven't got the first review. You've got an advert with a made-up score on the end.
If you're prepared to do that, why not just review Diablo 3 right now and give it 96%? That'd get you even more readers, and it's exactly the same betrayal of their trust.
Jazmeister: Aren't the official magazines somewhat like that, for consoles? This was way, way back, some slur I read in N64 magazine about the official, or maybe it was a reader letter or somesuch. I certainly wasn't forum savvy, nor did I have friends at school, or a CD drive. In those days, I used to sleep on a concrete slab, etc.
With the advent of the PCGA, could there be an Official PC Magazine? I've joked about reading it in the past.
SuperNashwan: "It's utterly self-defeating. Do you get more readers if you have a review first? Sure. But if you change a score to get that, you haven't got the first review. You've got an advert with a made-up score on the end."
And more readers. And probably securer advertising revenue and continued privileged access to the publisher's code, PR materials, interviews etc. And it's pretty hard for the reader to know it's happening, reviewers are quite regularly completely out of line with how a game is generally received for any number of reasons.
Of course no Future mag would 3v3r compromis3 th3ir r3vi3w of a gam3 in ord3r to bag an 3xclusiv3 would th3y? As you say, that'd be absurd.
Belcher: "but to openly admit you're aroused?!
Female image = male mind = x
It doesn't take a genius to find the variable, especially with boobies like Croft.
That's right, Tom is obviously just too idealistic for this business. I mean, the writers are in Bath, and the advertising peeps are in London, but yeah, Tom is yet to discover the hive of corruption that is PCG.
SuperNashwan: Who brought PCG into it? Oh, you. I've accused Tom and PCG of nothing, I'm simply pointing out it's a little odd for Tom to call the TR:U rumours "absurd" when his own publisher does things like this: http://worldofstuart... ...ergate.htm
But yeah, it's a lot of fuss over a game that appears to actually be quite good.
Jazmeister: Sorry. It was wrong to be all shitty. Nobody accused PCG of anything, except me, with ironic intent. Maybe this discussion is better suited somewhere else?
Tom Francis: You're not reading carefully enough Nash. I said the fuss over Tomb Raider is absurd, that our mag would never change a score for such reasons, and that I don't imagine any other mag did or would for Tomb Raider. I didn't call the latter notion absurd or speak definitively for anyone outside of the magazine I work for.
Jaz may have thought you were referring to PCG because the point of mine you were rejecting was about PCG. If anyone's wondering, we gave Driver 3 23%.
SuperNashwan: Ah, thought you were making a more generalised point, thanks for clarifying :)
Anonymous: Dexter is allowed to do whatever he wants, including making me bald.
Yes, we all share the cat. Or more to the point: he owns four humans.
That was me, by the way.
roBurky: I didn't think any of the Tomb Raider review fuss was to do with people actually changing scores in response to publisher demands, but complying with the request to hold back low reviews.
Jazmeister: I think if you're an island of integrity in a sea of circle-jerking, and Only You can spare consumers the punishment that is, in your opinion, a particular up and coming game, you want them to read your vital information before they buy. It doesn't matter if nobody scored lower than 80%; they don't get to make demands of their critics. Right?
Although, yeah, they make great mention of the (true) fact that they aren't asking, in this case, for people to change the scores; just be quiet if they aren't high enough.
Oh, for a moment I thought you were Ross Atherton.
train gawd: Were all thinking it, nice boobs.
Bobsy: I've finally got my claws on a copy of TR:U, and, well.
Firstly if you have traditionally thought of yourself as a non-fan of Tomb Raider (that is, the franchise in particular rather than platformers in general) you owe it to yourself to give the reboot a proper solid go. TR: Legend is an almost perfect game let down only by some rubbish boss fights (happily absent in Underworld) and easily the biggest and most pleasant gaming surprise I've had in years. I LOVED it, and I've traditionally hated the Tomb Raider games for their shameless pimping of a polygonal pin-up over making a decent game.
Meanwhile, a couple of levels into Underworld and my biggest criticism is that the joy has been somewhat sidelined this time around. In the first level Lara enthuses passionately about the beauty of the ruins around her and the culture which created them. She's disapproving and bitter when she notices the mercenaries stomping around "Here come the tourists to muck it all up". Throughout the game she plays a wry mother hen to Zip and Alastair as they bicker in her earpiece. Boys!
So far there's been none of that in Underworld, and it's a shame. It's still a great game and a hella lotta fun, but even so, I can't help but feel there's been an unwelcome injection of "darker and edgier" to the story. Of course, if the wonderful Underworld is Crystal Dynamics's Angel of Darkness moment, we've got nothing to worry about.