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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

The Prime Minister Of Sinister

image001 (2)

The new unlock system -whereby players are awarded a random weapon they may or may not already have every few hours – is terrible. I love it. Because very suddenly, it awarded me the Huntsman. I certainly lust more fiercely after some of the Spy unlocks, but the bow and arrow is probably the newest thing in this update. I punctured a few Scouts on Arena: Sawmill before a friendly Pyro happened to run past flaming wildly, and caught my arrow on fire. Ace! I shot a Scout with it. Ace! He caught light. Ace! He burned to death. Ace!

The Huntsman taunt involves thrusting an arrow rather nastily upside an imaginary victim’s guts. I plan to engineer a situation in which this victim is not imaginary.

It really grates not being able to work my way towards the unlocks I want, though. It undermines the main driving force unlocks bring to the game: progression. Since it came up in the comments to the last post, my ideal system would let players pick an unlock to work towards, and tell them how many points they have to score to earn it – 500 for the Huntsman, say. Then there’d be a little toggleable bar on the HUD showing their cumulative progress towards achieving it.


The sneaky Spy buffs in this update make him worth spamming even without the new unlocks: dressing as an enemy Spy, now that you appear to be wearing a mask, genuinely fools most players right now. It won’t last to that extent, but it’s nice that only one of his disguises is truly fallible now. Even their health is beyond suspicion, now: he appears as injured as the person he’s pretending to be, so no more blasting team-mates for being conspicuously half-dead.

I’m looking forward to using enemy teleporters, though I’d still love an unlock that let me use them in reverse: jaunt from the exit to the entrance. Speaking of which, Doctor Disaster’s Spurious Sentry Spraypaint is still better than anything Valve came up with for the Spy.

It is a source of sadness to me that the Spy’s killing joke – his fatal taunt animation – is the swishy knife fencing one. I’d suggested his flicked cigarette should permanently ignite anyone it hits, because it just seems classier. It is a source of some glee, though, that his murderous fencing can be performed invisibly: I taunt-stabbed a Sentry, then its Engineer, without being revealed.


This, too, makes me beam. Taunt a few times with your disguise kit out.


It’s early to judge, but I’ve taken a powerful enough dislike to Pipeline that I’m actively avoiding servers running it. It seems to have some uncircumnavigable chokepoints and the open areas don’t inspire me somehow.


Arena, on the other hand, is not as hateful as I remember. I can still never forgive a system that asks anyone, ever, to sit out a round. But it’s only happened once, and so far I’m really liking the two new maps: Sawmill and Nucleus. As I said before Arena first revealed itself to be terrible, the map format fundamentally appeals to me: last man standing deathmatch, with a single time-release capture point to bring things to a head if they drag on. The server we played on at lunch permitted teams of at least 11, so no whole team had to sit out, but individual players still did, and the next time that’s me, my renewed tolerance for this nonsense will end.


Daily News About Doctor Who : A few links about Doctor Who – Friday, 22 May 2009 18:28: [...] The Prime Minister Of Sinister [...]

PD102: Yeh i think that would work - I spent a couple of nice hours playing spy to eventually find the friggin Razorback!

Earning points would be suceptible to servers dedicated but would takea while and as actually playing is more fun than trying to get those hard achievments - I reckon most people would go for that.

Dante: Yeah, pipeline 2 seems to result in nothing but a hideous clog in the tunnel, and pipeline 3 is just chaos, fun chaos though.

I'm kind of annoyed at the spy now appearing with a mask when disguised. Why? Because every damn time I've played spy so far, some idiot has kept checking me even though I'm disguised, and thus can't possibly be a spy. Now instead of them learning that, the game has vindicated them.

Upsilon: Valve has already fixed the taunt while cloaked thing.

The_B: I don't get the clogging in pipeline bit personally, although I fear my awesome place to pop up as a sniper would be given away if I divulge the alternate routes too much. They're there - just not immediately obvious, as it were.

Psycho-Monkey: I misinterpreted the idea of Payload races. I thought that the two carts would be side by side the whole time - the exception being the third map. However, when I saw that the two carts were actually opposite of each other I got confused. I like the idea of the "tug-of-war" like aspect but I would like to see the cart be pushed back, just like in regular Payload maps. This way, conflict would be more abundant - although I'm sure there will be plenty of flaws with this idea.

The third map is a blast. I honestly wouldn't have minded if Pipeline 3 was the ONLY map (maybe of course, a little more extended). The reason being is that the two carts are next to each other and its absolute chaos - but it's very fun at the same time.

Jazmeister: I'm due to be blue in the face from saying this, but I think the best way to award unlocks is to reward *wins*. So, mercilessly pursuing the objectives even if you have to switch a class you never played before. You'd get balanced, co-ordinated teams of secretly ravenous unlock-addicts.

We (were) running a map on our own (apparently now dead) server called depot. It had a pied red/blue cart that each team could push in either direction along the middle track.

What'd be cool would be switch gates you could activate to bamboozle the enemy.

Also, the unlock system has been explained, as you all now know. I just wanted to prove that I read it first, nyah nyah, etc. Most noteworthy is that they had problems yesterday with the new system, which is apparently designed to reward you with items for continuous play (tying it to time removes the ability to manipulate the system by altering what you *do* in that time, clumsily but effectively circumventing the reward for grinding) and "so that timeframe was not indicative of the system as it's designed."

Which means we saw launch problems, not design problems. We'll see those today.

LaZodiac: I think it should still be atleast an OPTION to do the achivement unlocks, and if you do, you get rewarded for easier drops (only of that milestone's specific weapon, of course. If only to help you get back weapons you removed to make room for new ones)

LaZodiac: Agh, forgot to mention the one reason why I think this is important. The people that toiled night and day to get their Ubersaw at the very start of the unlocking craze deserve atlest something for their hard work, so the final mile stone (in Medic's case, the ubersaw) should have just a slight bit higher chance of droping then the other milestones.

Nico: Even if the unlocks aren't awarded FOR a win, giving out them out at victory time would be briliant. Imagine if four or so people on the winning team all got their unlocks at once, and could compare what they got, while the loosing team looks on with jealousy.

Ludo: Firstly, I love the new Spy backstab death animations. Much more characterful than having your foe fly across the map.

Secondly: I want to give some sort of medal to whoever it was who came up with the idea of a) HUGE CIRCULAR SAWBLADES. and b) freaking basketball hoops on the walls to give you something to aim for when you throw yourself into the blades after a victory.

Lastly I think Hoodoo is a really great, well crafted map and is probably my favourite thing about the update so far.

Roadrunner: For the most part, the update is good. Especially the creative achievments, which do make you feel like you've achieved something for once.
However, what ruins it all is this ridiculous method of unlocking new gear. I have 20 spy acheivments (I also got the tauntkill one of 2fort, not farmed :D) and 12 sniper ones (and this is after the fact I can't snipe even if the target stands still) and yet, I haven't unlocked ANYTHING.
Random updates are a big bucket of failure.

Komaka: Have you guys noticed the new Kritzkrieg taunt? ...ktoberfest

TooNu: THis was a great read on a Saturday morning. I can't get PC Gamer so I am glad this website is alive :)
Have you emailed Valve with a list of ideas for TF2 at some point? Seems if they listen to anybody it would be decent writers.

Random: I know this system is a good way to stop achievement farming servers. But now I'm in the situation of having enough achievements that under the old system I think I'd have all three spy unlocks, I got these achievements playing proper games amongst friends, but now I sorta feel like I'm being punished for other people's wrong doing.
9 or so hours playtime yesterday, 3 sandviches (already had one of those :/) then finally a single new spy unlock (I must say the Dead Ringer is quite fun, but i'm not sure how useful it will be in the long run). I know for a fact there were people who played for longer than me who didn't get anything, not even old stuff they already had, and they were consistently ahead of me on the scoreboards, so were probably more deserving of something... but got nothing.
Maybe this system could work with more frequent drops or a higher chance of getting things you don't have already. But for the moment I think this is an unfair and unbalanced system, especially since I saw some people who were Spectating getting unlocks, they weren't even playing, the were watching, yet in some cases getting more unlocks than the people playing...
Sorry if this reads like a ramble and thanks for reading at all.

DiscountNinja: Yeah, I think it's wrong that spectators get them :S
Seems like it could easily turn into a new kind of farming - get on a server to spectate and leave the PC on while yo go to work - come back and you've gotten a couple of unlocks :S

Tom Francis: To be honest, nothing Erik says in the TF2 blog post explaining this system makes me like it more. It'll be mildly less irritating when they put trading in, but if trading is the reason for dupes, don't allow dupes until you allow trading. And my qualm is not with the frequency of the drops - which has been good for me - it's with the randomness. I don't feel like I'm getting any closer to my Cloak and Dagger, because I'm not. It's astronomically unlikely for that particular thing to drop, and it doesn't get any more likely with each new item I snag.

The D-Man: I have to disagree with you Tom and say I think Pipeline's a great map. The night-time setting looks gorgeous, and seeing a flaming Heavy wearing an American football helmet charging around made it all the more pleasing to the eye. I also had one of the greatest moments I've ever had in TF2 in it.
I was on BLU, and the RED cart was mere feet from the cap point on the second stage. As a scout, I took a shortcut through the rooms leading onto the balcony around our base and ran to our cart past the RED spawn. Alone, I ducked, double-jumped and weaved around the cart, inching it ever closer to victory. Dying, I respawned and attacked alone again. As the BLU cart was now past the entrance to the RED spawn most of the enemy team was oblivious to my capping, and when they finally realised I was about to cap the point it was too late! Alone as a scout, I managed to turn the tables. Ooooooh yeaaaaaah! Of course we went on to lose in the final stage but c'est la vie. I had my little victory.

I like Pipeline :)

ZomBuster: I got telefragged BY MY OWN TELEPORT
Damn spies.

Jazmeister: As consumers, we can either accept or reject the new unlock system. As discerning critics, we have to ask: is there a better way to do it?

Except you don't ask that question, any more than waking up to glaring orange heat and roaring conflagration causes you to update your blog with "Is my house on fire?"

Tom Francis: You talkin' to me?

If so, I don't understand.

HumFuzz: I think there are two SIMPLE ways to fix the achievement farming problem.

1. Give everyone the unlocks right at the beginning of an update


2. (my preference) Have the unlocks the old way, but how to get an achievement is NOT shown so you can't possibly farm it. The only way to get an achievement is through normal play.

Jazmeister: I guess I could have just said "'Is there a better way to do it?' is a very obvious question that nobody here even needs to ask," but I couldn't fit "conflagration" into that.

Tyshalle: Pretty sure other methods have been suggested, Jaz. Like Battlefield 2 style, with weapons being something you can unlock based on how many points you earn. It basically solves all problems, as you will no longer have people achievement farming, nor will you have 8 snipers per team because they're all trying to unlock the new sniper weapon, or whatever. You also won't have the new thing, which is to join a TF2 server as a spectator and leave your computer on overnight.

This actually works. And it's annoying.

WaLdO: Hey, seeing as you got a kick out of the spy crab, I'm not sure if you've seen this yet, but if you taunt with the kritzkrieg the medic takes a bong hit off of it. And it heals you too!

[VGN] Chronos[Ha-G]: Ahh - no wonder you didn't respond on our server when I asked if you wanted to see the cart race map - sorry man, I didn't realize you didn't like it.

Jason L: Well, Robin says in that post that they're hoping to put in a 'work towards specific unlock' function, and sooner rather than later. I suppose this way is a little better than waiting for a Valve Time total update. Also, haha - EVE Online meets TF2. Reality Vortex detected.

Jason L: Oh, and that flaming arrow trick truly is triple-ace. Full marks, Valve.

Tom Francis: Chronos - must have missed your message, didn't mean to be rude.

DizzlerD: While everyone is complaining about the unlock system, have any players found it enormously annoying to constantly end up on teams which are at least 50% snipers and spies?

It's pretty frustrating, as while those classes are useful, it's generally in a specific set of circumstances which don't occur when there's not a team of other classes backing them up. For the Sniper it's the ability to take pot shots at range (an advantage which you don't have for long with no team-mates to get in the way of the enemy), and for the Spy it's causing mayhem at the right moment with a backstab or sentry take-down (not very useful if there's no-one to take advantage of it).

I usually play a combat class (generally Heavy or Pyro), or as a Medic. Not fun at all to get totally steam-rolled by half of the other team while your buddies are sitting back looking through scopes or cloaked off in the shadows.

I also really dislike Pipeline, with the last section acting as my own personal hell. The narrow elevated rails which you need to push the cart up really don't allow for a group of your team to stick together or maneuver well. Too many people ignore the map goal, and being sniped constantly is painful. The above mentioned issues compound these. Ugh.

On the positive side, I'm looking forward to trying out a Commando Sniper role using Jarate and the Huntsman. I've unlocked the Jarate, still waiting on the awesome bow.

Going way up the page, Nico's suggestion of awarding unlocks on a win is a great idea. It avoids the skilled-get-skillederer(?!) issue with the achievements that Valve have tried to fix, while still presenting players with an incentive to work together as a coherent, winning team.

Dave_C: Dizzler D, when you're in a game saturated with snipers/spies, I highly recommend going Soldier, even if he's not a class you play often.

I was playing Hoodoo yesterday, as sniper, noticing all the support classes everywhere, and thought ''Man, this game could use some heavy firepower''. Switched to soldier and rocked my way to the top of the leaderboard, with the help of a kritzkrieging medic. Snipers and Spies can do little to counter that kind of awesome firepower. Great fun, too.

Jazmeister: So Valve haven't avoided grinding. They've also increased the carbon footprint of grinding, if that's something that matters to you. Why not include peggle in the game and do unlocks through that? There really is no way to prevent people from fulfilling your criteria artificially unless you're actually policing them.

Hoodoo as a soldier is great. As an engie, the inclement weather gets in the way.

By inclement weather, I mean Craig.

Atalanta: @DizzlerD -- I was on a payload map last night that was maybe 50% spies and 50% everybody else and it went significantly better than I expected expected it to. The hilarity of watching the spies crabwalk back and forth might have affected my judgment on the matter, though.

I, too, love Pipeline 3. There is nothing more satisfying than, through luck and timing, being able to waddle my pudgy Pyro body up the tracks behind the enemy team and gleefully set them ablaze before inevitably being reduced to confetti.

Cptn.Average: For my two cents I think the Battlefield 2142 unlock model should be used. Tie getting points purely to the points you get per round and disassociate them entirely from achievements (a shame, but there's no way to get around achievement servers), and let players choose their progressive unlocks. They could be tiered (all the unlocks have a 'level' already), or just pick from the list because when it comes down to it, no one new unlock is unbalancing. Alternately, you could save up points and spend/redeem them at a shop, with some items (like the ubersaw maybe) costing more.

You'll still have achievements and they'll still be fun - I don't know why more people aren't suggesting this though =(
Can someone give me feedback on this?

Cptn.Average: Also, hats are fine being randomly found ^^

Jazmeister: The problem is, you could make a map with spawns in the open or capture points right next to eachother and just farm kills and wins. This really is, sadly, the best weapon system in spirit. The facts are, any of the unlocks I've gotten could have been one I wanted, and weren't.

Now I just want the Fedora, screw the weapons.

DoctorDisaster: I love the new "achievement idle" servers. And by "love," I mean "lost my faith in humanity, thanks to."

In fairness, gamers are trained exhaustively to find the weakness in a system and exploit it. You can't raise a kid on Zelda bosses and not expect them to game your award mechanism.

Still. "Achievement idle"?

Cptn.Average: Oh yeah, I forgot the Battlefield system had the whole 'ranked' servers thing. Oh well ~~

Dante: @ Jazmeister

There are actually some very good engie spots on Hoodoo, I'm a pretty poor engie and I managed to top the server defending it once, despite the rain of spies. You just need a modicum of cover from your team and, most importantly, for them not to fold before you've put one up (sigh).

Ninja: Eww Battlefield.

I'd prefer they just give us all the weapons from the start, or tie them to achievements again.

I had fun farming achievements with friends. It was fun discovering how each one worked exactly, and the best way to do it.

And if the weapons are so balanced, then giving them out early shouldn't cause any trouble in the first place.

Jazmeister: So when the cart enters that long wooden house and comes out under this ledge? That there? Yeah, two lvl 3 sentries held us up for FOURTEEN MINUTES. It's just hard when you have all these snipers everywhere, and all you need is an ubercharged heavy and a pyro to protect the medic while he's building it up.

Then what happens is, you start a new map, teams are up in the air, and you think, "right, if I join an empty team and roll spy, I did it first." I mean, I'm a good spy. I'm not as good as some, but better than most. When you're alone in the spawn until four snipers join at once, though, you just feel guilty being a part of that. Soldiers, medis, couple pyros and a heavy; that's all a decent attack needs, in a way; everything else is thwarting skilled specialist opponents. Imagine fielding an army with 500 soldiers and 700 snipers from the SAS; it's just daft to have the bulk of your force be anything but all-rounder fighters. I do think the huntsman has vastly improved the standing of the sniper in the capping-and-pushing-forward stakes, though.

I had my defining why-this-new-system-is-obviously-rubbish moment last night; I was on a 2v2 on pipeline, last stage; I was a pyro, they were scouts, and my team mate was a spy. He had the ambassador and the C&D. He wasn't cloaking, he was just running at them shooting. So I'd come up from under them, set them alight, blow them off the edge, their cart would roll down, and he'd be doing what exactly? Getting bodyshots with the Ambassador. Standing away from the cart. That's why this system sucks, gentlemen, because if I had the ambassador, they'd be little dead scouts with a side of stabby paranoia. I assume.

I'm glad there's this here intelligent blog we can all hang out on the steps of, though, because I really wouldn't want to rely on the Steam forums for my discourse on this matter.

[VGN] Chronos[Ha-G]: Arg - I just got telefragged by MY OWN TELEPORTER recently. That's something I never saw I have to watch out for that.

On the plus side, if I see a friendly telefragged by a friendly, it's a dead giveaway to whomever just popped out...unless it was the spy that just got telefragged.