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

Dear Sir

Ever since it got popular, Spore players have got a little squabbly over getting their stuff into our Sporecast. I have to delete most of the comments I get on my own creations because they’re just people begging.

I’ve also started getting mail from people who’ve found a knock-off of one of their creations in there. Usually I’m happy to add the original and – if I can find it – remove the copy. But somehow one message I got yesterday wasn’t entirely convincing:

“I am requesting that you please remove the mysterious blue box from your sporecast.

This is a blatant theft of my original tardis created 9/5/08 (blue box create date is 9/8/08)… original can be found:”

Henrik Hansen: Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but are you angry because someone made a look-a-like of your creation? And if that is so, do you then use your "popularity" to promote a boycott against his "copy" of yours?

He don't do anything illegal, he's just think that your creation is cool, and then he makes one himself because he think it's cool.
Imagine if you were a non-popular spore-creator, and you found this awesome creation. To improve your skills, you try to recreate his creation. But when he discovers that you've "taken" his creation, he push out a boycott against you! Do you think that you will try to make more spore creations, if some big popular blogger has the power to banish your creation if he want to.

So please reply, do you really want to spoil the experience for another spore-player, just because you think he "stole" your creation.

And since you are a so "popular" blogger and reviewer, wha would you say to a boycott against you?

Tom Camfield: I think, quite obviously from the post, Pentadact as part of his job for PC Gamer helps maintain the PC Gamer list of Spore creatures. On this list they have a Tardis, and he was asked to remove it by someone who made a blue suitcase with a light on top. This is an amusing post, not something that has, as far as the post alludes, annoyed or angered Pentadact.

Tom Francis: Uh. Yeah, I think you've misunderstood on a level so fundamental that I can't even really figure out what you think I said. It's probably my fault, so I've added quote marks in case the lead-in and the bold text isn't enough to indicate where the message I received starts.

Am- am I still boycotted?

Remnant: Well shit, if there was a boycott, I didn't get the e-mail, Tom.

Tom Francis: Oh, wait, I've just realised that a problem with the way Google Reader parses HTML from feeds means the bold doesn't get carried over to subsequent paragraphs, so in that form it might have looked like the second sentence was my response. My apologies if that's what threw you Henrik - I didn't consider it could be read that way. Fixed now.

Rei Onryou: I can't be bothered to read your blog in Google Reader. I miss out on the great comments section!

I'm pretty sure someone made a penis in a different game before PCG did. I shall now complain that PCG give full credit to The Longest Journey for having a penis first. Failure to do so shall result in complete boycotting of stupid commenters...You have been warned =P

Roadrunner: The second one is a Fridge, not a tardis.

If I actually had spore, I would try and make an original Dr. Who with the scarf and curly hair and everything. :P
But as it's Spore, i'm sure someone's already made it...

Remnant: ..anyone else really tempted to just slam a couple slices of bread in that thing?

Greg Wild: I can see it now. Lawyers specialising in user generated content copyright infringment cases.

"Dear Sir,

My client has requested you remove your "Nippleosaurus" from the Spore creature servers due to its clear copy of his "MONSTRONIPPLETHING" created 10th November 2008. Failure to comply with this notice will result in a court case with a maximum penalty of having your homeworld judiciously populated with large, walking phalluses."

Zorgulon: Spore community in more than one Tardis shocker!

Honestly, can the original creator (whose Tardis is woefully inferior) really be that surprised that someone else had the idea to recreated an iconic TV prop?

Jazmeister: You should all be sued by the dudes that invented doctor who.

And then they could be sued by whoever designed the first police box, or by a descendant most likely.

All we need to do then is get the police to sue them, then the Queen to sue the police, and then Scotland can sue England, and the resulting legal battle will bankrupt them both. Then Wales may rise to its true destiny.

Roadrunner: Wales can rise to it's destiny by other methods, for example stop providing delicious lamb chops to the rest of the UK.

Cmdt_Carpenter: I say it's a testament to my ignorance that I had to look up what a Tardis was to remember it.

I don't watch Doctor Who and I'm an American, that's why.

Pod: I heard a rumour that Wales would die if England bankrupted.... jus' saying, like.

Jazmeister: Maybe it'd get some sort of corporate sponsor.

Dan: He is boycotting you, Tom... he can't hear you apologising.

Roadrunner: I just suddenly thought, Has Wales actually invented anything useful, or put something or someone brilliant into the World?
Because I think Wales is just the country there so the rest of the UK can make fun of them.

Henrik Hansen: Tom Francis, you have my greatest apology. I re-read the post on your site, and know I understand it, funny.
And take it easy, the thing about boycotting you, wasn't meant seriously, it was more hypocritically, but now when I read it again, I can see that it could be understood in more ways than the intention was.

Anyway, I thought it was weird that a blogger like you, suddenly started to misuse popularity, it was this confusion that led to the anger.

So keep on the blog writing, and I'll stop believing Google Reader.

Dave_C: Awww. I love a happy ending!

Pixel Knight: ...And peace was restored to the kingdom of James...

Jackrabbit: Wow. Thats a hell of a fridge!

Aftershock: Naw isn't that good.

HTML is trying to break us apart, but we shall carry on together.

Remnant: Could you -imagine- what the world would be like if entirely comprised of nerds?

"Oh? Oh! I'm sorry, I thought you had a connection to these terrorist attacks, so I ordered an invasion of your country. I am -so- sorry, I think I misread what you said; yes, yes, I see what I've done. My apologies."

craigp: Tom once boycotted me so hard I travelled back in time.

Jon Baker: @craigp

Tom once boycotted the Germans. Only then were the Allied nations ever able to turn the tide in World War 2.

Niteowl: In all seriousness, how would someone share a cool spore creature they've made, not to get into a sporecast (is that like a podcast (yes, nub I am)), but just because you are a righteous bloke?

Rei Onryou: If the original creator redid his efforts to such a quality as the Tardis in the current Sporecast, and added a penis, then that may be reason to swap it.



Jazmeister: How did Craig manage that futuristic echo sound?

Waste_Manager: That tardis really is something. Shame I find the actual game side of spore so fundamentally boring that I boycotted it to the moon and back.

Henrik Hansen: Remnant: Ehh... what do you want me to do, bake a cake to James?


Jon Baker: ^ Sorry, I tried really hard not to write that. But as you can see, I am only human.

Roadrunner: Next time my school has a cake bake competition, i'm going to stick posters up everywhere saying The Cake is a Lie :D
I can't believe I didn't think of this when it was relevent


I should reinstall Spore.

Remnant: I have a friend who's nickname is Cake.
The "Cake is a Lie" jokes were quickly replaced by "You can't have your Cake and eat her".

Simpunzle: It's a modernized portable toilet version of the Tardis!

Jazmeister: @Simpunzle

It totally looks like a portaloo. Which time lord would travel in that?

LaZodiac: Obviously, the Poopsmith.

god, I don't know whats more disgusting. Me acknowleding the information from THAT sight, or the fact that I've read enough WMD pages on TV Tropes to instintly come up with a Tardis for specific time lords.

Nonomu198: Hey, I've painted a blue quadrangular once. It had some small white squares in it too, with black and grey stripes in them even.

Am I an art thief?


Spore is a waste of money.

Roadrunner: That's why sometimes it's useful to read a variety of reviews.
Yeah, the reviewers say it's a good game and rate it highly, but they're not proper consumers, (from what I know) Reviewers and writers who are payed to review and write tend to get games for free because they're reviewing them, and so they don't put in whether they believe it's worth the money we pay for it. Sometimes.
Meanwhile, us the consumers, who have to buy each game might have a hard time picking which game to buy with our precious and limited £30. I didn't get Spore because alot of people said it was boring and repetitive. That's why I like to read that 1fort guy's reviews, because as he's technically a fellow paying consumer, he has a concept of money ownership and can say from a paying point of view whether it's worth money or not. :P
But the main problem with reviews, is that it's always and only one person opinion, and sometimes people forget that..

But something else entirely, why can't the PC Gaming industry spread itself out throughout the year? I mean, all the good long awaited games seem to come out in the autumn, while we have to suffer out a drought of games during the Summer and the Summer holidays.

Jazmeister: I'd just like to say, reviewing a game isn't just sitting down, playing it, then saying "It totally sucked nobody on my team was defending and the other team owned me. 10%, don't buy it."
A review is a particular type of prose, like a discursive essay or a report or a short story. Like all of these, the writer has a lot of flexibility, but some strong guidelines too. A review must primarily convey the experience of the game. It's usually written by someone who has a soft spot for the genre (Ross Atherton reviewing Fallout 3 for PCGUK), and you're right, that person isn't playing it as a consumer.

A consumer spends £30-£50 on a game, plays it, and if (s)he hates it, they never play it again. A reviewer picks it up, tries again. Nobody ever reviews a game after picking it up, getting horribly owned, declaring it worthless, then submitting a pile of spleen to their editor.

Similarly: who didn't love team fortress within minutes? The excellent art direction, use of visual cues, lovely delicious phong, tight mechanics, pure class balance... I didn't think about those things. I just thought about how awesome it was to be a scout, running around pwning people. In ten seconds, I loved it.

A reviewer would then play what he doesn't like. Play every class, do as many things as possible. Spend a while looking at the characters taunting in spawn, try to cram 10 treasured years of play into maybe five hours. A reviewer can tell you if you'll like it in four weeks; if it'll frustrate you. A reviewer can tell whether or not some tweak or feature will be causing a riot on the forums.

These aren't just opinions - they're educated commentary, and they aren't designed to make up your mind for you. They're recommendations, but it's a poor game if the review doesn't mention a type of person that won't enjoy it.

In my opinion, anyway.

Also, games make more money this time of year. They save up the good ones for good big sales. Take me for example. If someone wants to get me a killer present, they just need to read my blog or facebook ramblings about Fallout 3 and L4D and Far Cry, and they know to get me one of those. It's the one time of year non-gamers splash out on games for us greasy chaps.

Jon Baker: @Jaz

I'm by no means a professional reviewer. Still, I think that was a pretty good summary of what I think it takes to review a game. I would just want to add, reviewers have the duty to put themselves in the shoes of the average Joe who would approach a game similarly. Stuff like:

What are the things they would care about? What will they enjoy? What are the frustrations that they'll encounter? Do the frustrations outweigh the good parts of the game?

Obviously, reviews will differ because this is by no means an objective process, but people will find out over time whose opinions they can trust. I repeatedly come to this and other game blogs because I trust the opinions presented.

Devenger: PCG reviews usually reflect my opinion so well, I worry that by reading PCG my taste in games has actually been changed by the mag. Case in point, Multiwinia was great, but I never loved it as much as Defcon (and I haven't played it as much, but then again there aren't enough people to play with). What do I know, PCG agree wth me, and give it a good, but lower, score than Defcon.

On this extremely flimsy evidence, I think Tom Francis is actually a ninja with psychic powers exploiting the soft, malleable minds of gamers. He must be stopped; with volume of fire, we can overcome his GMA perspex award shield!

Roadrunner: Readers of Tom Francis's blog but are not controlled by his thoughts unite! :P

Jazmeister: @Jon bon Baker

That's why EDGE magazine is weird, with its no-credit-given-to-each-article thingy. I saw Alec Meer contributed to one, so I looked cover to cover for his name it in. Aside from the mast head, it was totally Meerless.

Roadrunner: Actually, I think a magazine put together by complete randomers reviews would be great, not only would you get the average schmoe's reviews, but if someone was good enough it sets him up on the way to becoming a proper reviewer, rubbing chicken grease on his/her stomach while gloating that he doesn't have to pay for any of his games.

Jazmeister: It's called the internet.

Roadrunner: No, I mean a magazine so you don't have to trek around, clicking after links.

Jon Baker: @Roadrunner

Not sure if such a thing exists per se, but Twitter is a nice proxy.

Remnant: The way I do it is look at some official game reviewers, like IGN and GameSpy, then I balance that by looking around at forums (AustralianGamer), then a few blogs, including this and 1Fort. That tends to give me a pretty set of perspectives.

Then I throw down Zero Punctuation and listen for all the BAD elements and decide if such things would irritate me enough to give it away.

LaZodiac: One would think Pentadact would comment on this discussion. Considering its his job and everything.

Thomas Lawrence: He might do, but probably not right now as it is horribly early in the morning in the UK, where his brain is probably resident.

J-Man: Hey Tom, have you ever worked freelance? And if so, what's the best way to pitch an article? I just got rejected by the escapist, and I wanted to know how I could sell an article better.

Roadrunner: Leave it on the tube everywhere, or glue it inside leftover newspapers.
Sometimes I write inside leftover newspapers things like "I'm watching you..."
Because on the train, people just glance around for no reason, and sometimes they will fixtate thier gaze on you, and you alone.
So imagine reading that newspaper, and someone gets on only to take a seat and stare at you mindlessly.

Devenger: The only articles left on tubes that make stardom are secret government files, you silly. You need to inscribe your article on a wax model of Paul McCartney's head to get readership.

Kerotan: You know what this reminds me of?

a post made on garry's blog about emails he gets telling him not "to brake a boys heart"

here is the link. ...?p=683

Rob: Conversely, reviews aren't buyers guides. They're trip reports. They're personal recountings of subjective experiences, and they shouldn't attempt to appeal to the objective, nor the readership (which is anonymous, amorpheous, and probably destined to buy any old crap even if it gets a rubbish score).

Dante: Well that's the great debate isn't it Rob? Go totally subjective and you get crap like this:

http://www.rockpaper... ...nt-enough/

Where a reviewer who doesn't understand or care for the genre and so ends up giving it a terrible score, regardless of the actual quality of the game.

The_B: But Dante, surely that review was an example of modern art. Some of us appreciaters even decided to make my own tribute piece dedicated to it.

J-Man: @Rob,

Leave the NGJ to Mr.Gillen please.

Rob: Dante: that's not really a case of subjectivism being a bad thing per se, it was just a really bad review written by someone who didn't understand the genre. And 'sports editor', ye gads, you couldn't make it up. Now if you actually had someone who loved Football Manager write a subjective account of the game, then that would be fine - for the most part that's what it takes to really unpick the game for fans of the series, anyway.

I seem to recall Tom's own bemused recounting of his experience with Football Manager 2008 (roughly along the lines of PCG's infamous 'it's a spreadsheet' dictum), which was pretty amusing (and perfectly valid too, of course).

I don't really think there's much of a debate between whether you should write (art criticism) with personality, or write like a Reuters article, since that's really what we're talking about; state the facts, just as you see them.

J-Man: that wasn't said with a bent to NGJ, it was a general description of what good arts journalism should be about. As for leaving it to Gillen: as he himself would admit, he did not begat NGJ.

Tom Francis: I also think statements of the form "Leave the [type of games writing] to [the person who called for people to do more of this type of games writing]" miss the point a bit.

My reviews are meant to be buyer's guides. I recount subjective experiences because I think they help guide a buyer. And I take recommending a game in PC Gamer much more seriously than deciding to spend my own money on it. But we're not going to restrict ourselves to only giving one game a month a high score in case people can't afford the others. If there's a wealth of good stuff, we should tell people that and trust them to know what they can afford. We even rate them on an incredibly fine scale so you always know which of the ones you're interested in is the best.

If a reviewer doesn't leave you with a sense of whether a game is worth the money, they've failed you utterly. If a reviewer recommends a game they wouldn't buy with their own money, they've failed you utterly. And if a reviewer can't recount their subjective experience and still guide you as a buyer, they've failed you utterly. I'm sure I've failed a lot of people utterly, and most of the reviews I read fail me utterly, but this is a thing worth doing well, so it's worth keeping your standards high.

Roadrunner: If that's the case, PCG's review of Far Cry 2 failed me, because it didn't deserve anywhere near 94%. I guess it's one of those games which are fun an all but there are small unnoticable annoying bits, like the fact you have to drive for ages across your map to reach the objective, or everything attacks you for no reason, and cars will randomly drive into you trying to kill you, again, for no reason.
I thought that all these annoying tiny nuances built up and made the game much worse. It's still good, but not 94% worthy, atleast in my opinion anyway.

Dante: Er... but it was in Tim's opinion. That's what you just said you wanted people to do, you can't have it both ways you know.

Although you should, to be honest, because both subjectiveness and objectiveness have their place in games reviews. On the one hand whether the reviewer found it enjoyable or not is clearly extremely important, on the other hand not everyone is a fan of every genre, and you really should consider who the game is aimed at before you rate it. Practically though that's more a function of editing, making sure you've got the right person reviewing the right game.

Subjectiveness is only really useful when you know the reviewer's tastes, then again reviews as a whole are only really useful when you know the reviewer. Just one reason I'd prefer to chuck out scores altogether.

Roadrunner: Or perhaps I'm that much more stingy with money and therefore £30 on a game means much more to me then everyone else :\

Rob: "My reviews are meant to be buyer's guides. I recount subjective experiences because I think they help guide a buyer."

Tom: you're right, I sort of fudged that bit of my comment. I think I meant to say that they don't have to read like buyers guides, you know, shopping lists of features which they may or may not have, and so on. They can have a bit of wit and personality to them. There may even be a personal pronoun or two.

Yes, they are about telling readers what you thought of a game (and by extension: what they might think of it), so that will inform their buying choices.

But not everything you write about games is designed to help people when they're standing in GAME or browsing a website, even within a review. At least half of it is designed to entertain, or to allow the reader to empathise with an experience they haven't (yet) had. Personally I don't think all of that goes towards the question of whether or not they want to buy something. People read reviews for entertainment first, I think.

I guess it's a style issue, either how a writer writes, or how the particular publication tailors its copy.

Confused: It's probably been said but I didn't want to bother reading through all of this --- um, I don't see it as blatant theft of your creation. If anyone is stealing from anyone... you are both stealing from Dr. Who.

I suppose such responses would come from someone playing a game--

Tom Francis: *winces*

roBurky: Heh. I think you need to start using a clearer quote box type thing.

Jason L: There there, deep breaths. The polluted gene pool may be everyone's problem, but it's presumably not your fault.

EGTF: It's amazing how often people who put the condescending "um" before their statements don't really know what they're talking about.

"Um Left 4 Dead has no DLC coming out. Valve sucks."
"Um I think you'll find Fox news is totally unbiased source."
"Um 5133201 is not a base-2 Euler pseudoprime jackass."
"Um Ed, you might want to put your clothes back on."

Honestly, it's more than I can put up with some days.