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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

Keeping The Peace In Mirror’s Edge

MirrorsEdge 2008-12-16 02-21-55-84

It turns out that if you start talking about Mirror’s Edge in the Future offices, pretty soon a small crowd gathers to weigh in. In a group of editors and writers – one who gave it nine out of ten and another who thinks five was too high – it turns out we mostly agree. We all love to run, and we all get angry when we’re stopped by something difficult.

Most of my suggestions for the combat with cops would make it less difficult, and hopefully less awkward. But it can’t get so easy that you don’t feel threatened, and the grander issue is that it needs to be more avoidable. So this is about that.

The police choppers already work well as a propulsive force for the chase sequences that doesn’t often lead to death or frustration. But I’d like to change each of the three types of ground enemies, and how they’re used.

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Cops: Not allowed to fire until they’ve issued two verbal warnings (“Freeze!” – “Stop or I will shoot!”) giving you a window to take one out or escape. Obviously once you’ve attacked one, others in the area can open fire. When they do hit, damage is much more serious – two hits kill – but they’re still wildly inaccurate. It becomes more of a tactical puzzle about how not to get shot, and the way forward never depends on turning a slow valve, climbing a slow pipe or working out where to head.

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SWAT: Armoured and with two-handed weapons, these guys can’t be disarmed. But they’re only ever sent after you, so you never have to get past them to progress. They can be killed with stolen cop weapons, knocked out if you drop on them, or pushed into danger by a melee attack.

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Chasers: Right now these guys have tazers, which are just kind of annoying. I think they should have mace. They should be knocked back by any melee move – to their death if they’re on a ledge – but if they get right up to you, they grab you and spray a blinding teargas in your eyes, sending your vision haywire and making you scream. You can try to flee while blinded, but if you don’t get away your third macing incapacitates you, and it’s game over.

Being chased was the perfect way to escalate Mirror’s Edge, but the Pursuit Cops are just so lame in combat; dancing about, tickling you with electricity and mild punching. I want to be freaking terrified of these guys. It would help if they didn’t look like dorks.

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So one set is easy to deal with, another is hard to deal with but easy to avoid, and the last is hard to deal with or avoid – so do whichever you’re best at. I found lots of fun ways to lure Chasers into positions where I could knock them off a building, but bizarre rules meant that more often than not, I was the one knocked back by the crucial blow.

I was saying the other day that no matter how often the game explicitly tells you to stop and fight, the player still tries to run right past. Replaying the early sections at lunch today, I realised there’s actually a forced pop-up message in the prologue chapter that says “Always try to get away from enemies.” It couldn’t feel more like two different games that were code-merged at the last minute.

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The Poisoned Sponge: I wholeheartedly agree; Mirror's Edge should be all about the running away, not running through, or around, or anything to the police. Couple that with the ridiculous few sections where you're presented with a room that has a mechanism to get out of that you can't be disturbed doing and it just doesn't make sense. It's as though they had to appease the innate gamer bloodlust that we seem to have to have. Dice: in the future, please be braver. Half brave is good, but not great.

Dagda: I rather like their look- you've spent the game beating down on dark sunglasses-wearing cops and black-armored swat teams, and then you're confronted with these people in outfits that are just plain functional- the hidden face, the taser, the body armor and face mask are all things that would actually be pretty handy to have yourself. No posing, no "stop or I'll shoot", they know your game and they just might be better at it than you.

Roadrunner: How many singleplayer levels are there? Because although it was on xbox I played, multiplayer had no hook.
Too bad because it's EA it's completely mod-unfriendly.

Idlehands: I agree, there were moments in this game where I loved running for the exit hoping to not catch a bullet or not find a dead end. Then there were silly moments that required you to fight, or climb a pipe to evade them. They had a great game on their hands until someone said "Hey why don't we force the player into fisty cuffs with a SWAT team with automatic weapons."

Would you change anything about the snipers? There were moments when they kind of worked and others not so much.

Pentadact: OMG I have been caught!

ZomBuster: It needs more Dark Messiah! Kick people off roofs, kick people into electrified fences, kick people into helicopter blades!

Moderator Edit: This was James' 5,000th approved comment. Holy shit.

qwertylicious: Fighting was a bitch, but is it really needed to keep up the pace? Might environmental threats, such as the storm drains filling with water with a currant through it, be better and more inkeeping with the game? I can imagine a level navigating your way across a block of buildings primed to blow, with parts being gradually blown to keep the pace and mix things up a bit.

Multiple ways to go about the level might also give opportunities to avoid fighting, but might be hard to implement and balance (to stop there being the easy and hard/pointless methods).

MartinJ: Completely out of topic, I just noticed that in every single EA game, you can click away all the intro videos/company logos, except for the EA one.

I kind of found it funny and didn't know where to share, it's probably yesterday's news.

Jazmeister: I hate those videos. In the future, they'll force you to watch the credits first.

Pentadact: OMG I am Tom FracnsiS! You can totally tell!

Joe Russell: Uh oh, we seem to have someone imitating Mr. Francis. I hope we don't get any copycat bloggings...

Bret: Unless they're up to real Tom Francis's standards, in which case we should let it slide.

I mean, it'd be all the benefits of illegal cloning, but with less clone Hitlers.

And the less clone Hitlers, the better.

Formerly Cpt.Muffin: Well I've copycatted every blog out there atm with roleplaying-in-a-game-namely-fallout-three on mine, but I didn't call it "plagiarised" for nothing. And it definetly isn't up to real Tom Francis standards.

I dont know why EA wont release modding tools with their games, people still buy the offical expansion packs so I dont see how it'll lose them profit. Instead all we're left with is that hack for third person in the game which is hilarious looking. ...v7MnV1SrZg

Jazmeister: Well, I thought obvious lampoon was obvious, but I've no idea who that first guy is. Someone uninitiated into the Order of the Black Border with Rounded Edges, though.

Azzen: Excellent suggestions as always, Pentie. A few of my own adds to this, though:

Two-hit kills are a bit extreme, especially with several cops around. Perhaps make the hits body-part based instead? IE: two headshots kill. Three bodyshots kill. Six limb-shots kill.
This way, on easy mode, you could invisibly bias enemy aiming towards Faith's limbs. On harder difficulties, the bias becomes more and more towards the head.

You SWAT team suggestion is perfect. Make them a force to run from. So are the Chaser tweaks.

I think one of the ways they could make this game much, much better is to make it so that combat doesn't completely halt the pace. Change attacks from stopping and punching to something more of a running elbow swipe, and from a kick that rebounds off the enemy to a kick that effectively vaults over them. This way, the style of combat is changed from Stop-punch-restart to something much more fitting to the game. And it'd be way cooler if Faith disarmed somebody by running up to them and levering the gun right out of their hands without breaking pace instead of having to stop and execute a complicated kung-fu sequence.

Azzen: Sorry for the double post:

Another add is that combat would be nicer with an increased emphasis on the environment. Enemies will be more knocked back than directly damaged by attacks, and the objective is to push them into a hazard.

Tom Francis: Ooh, good point - perhaps if you've got enough velocity when you reach an opponent, his weapon turns red to indicate you can perform a running disarm. And if you instead run straight at them without pressing anything, she could step on their belt, knee them in the face and leap over them without breaking stride.

The advantage of doing a flying or sliding kick instead would be that it gets you out of the normal line of fire if you're being shot at, at the expense of slowing you down when you hit.

I like the logic of location-specific hits, and you're probably right that two shot kills would be too harsh. But it's seldom clear to the player where he's getting shot, so in practice it might just feel random.

So long as they're wildly inaccurate versus a moving protagonist - as the helicopters are - it should be okay.

Idlehands: Snipers are decent as they are, but I'd like them to be scarier. I'd like it if you knew the second that laser touched you, you'd get shot. It'd have to start out aimed far from you, and only focus its aim slowly.

I think they'd be a good vehicle for the mechanic I suggested before: the moment a bullet's fired that's on course to hit you, slowmo is triggered and you can see the path its on (the laser sight makes a good excuse for this: it could be green until fired, red then). At normal sniping distance you've got a second or so to get out of its way. 'On course to hit you' includes if it's fired ahead of you while running.

Azzen: I'm just afraid that the thrill of cop chases will be lost if the player's never hit (And doesn't care whether they exist or not). The choppers worked because the player could see where they were shooting; DICE needs to pull off the same effect with cops.

I think the best part of the game - movement - could be made deeper by reworking the controls. Perhaps re-map all four shoulder buttons to movement instead of just two. Re-map hand-to-hand attacking to the square button (X if you're on 360). Turning 90 degrees would be mapped to Circle (B), and the hint system could be remapped to X (A) when not interacting.
For example: When running forward, the upper left button jumps and the lower left button slides. Perhaps the upper right button could do a vault, and the lower right button does a dive. These could be named "Aggressive (direction) actions".
When having a gun, the right shoulder buttons are remapped to firing and reloading. Faith should be able to steal extra clips, I think; Shooting definately felt tacked-on in ME1, and if they did a sequel, integrating it better with the running could fix it.

J-Man: While I haven't played it, Mirror's Edge sounds like it needs a dose of the co-ops. Imagine 2 runners, performing linked moves to take down cops, throwing weapons to each other when one is unarmed, or needs to be more maneuverable but doesn't want to drop a good weapon...

If Mirror's Edge did have co-op, I would have bought it when it came out.

Post Maker: I'd prefer it if the hint button did something other than reorient you towards where you're supposed to be running. I'd like to be able to keep all my forward momentum while also getting an idea of where I'm supposed to be going; running forward, then abruptly spinning around and losing all that speed is a little aggravating. Since Runner Vision already exists as an in-game concept, perhaps a thin red line on the ground showing a potential path? If the sequel(s?) featured mutliple pathways it could get confusing, but if the line only pointed toward the next ramp, wire or pipe along the path you were on it would be easier to understand, and would allow for some of the more bewildered players to get an easy idea of where to run next.

It could work like the pathfinding in Dead Space, with that magic line that drew itself between the player and the next closest point on the ground.

Tom Francis: They already have a really neat way of presenting information like that too - if you play a Time Trial against a ghost, the ghost leaves red hand and footprints on their path so you can see where they went. The ideal system would show those leading from where you are to where you need to go. Next best would be just a pre-set trail following the default path that you only see when holding that key.

Post Maker: I'll have to give that a look then; the majority of levels were frustrating enough to play through once, so the idea of playing them while timed didn't appeal to me very much. If they have that ghost info though, I'm willing to give them a proper try.

The Combat In Mirror’s Edge And Why It Fucking Sucks – a post on Tom Francis’ blog: […] If some of this sounds like it would make the combat too easy, that might be because I think the combat should be easy. But I also think it should be used in a completely different way, and I think I’m going to have to make that post number 6. […]