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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

All Books Found To Be Reasonably Or Very Good

The latest twenty book reviews on The Onion’s AV Club:

av club book reviews

And people think games journalists don’t use the whole scale.

J-Man: Hmmm... The Onion tend to be pretty harsh, or at least reserve As for only the best of the best. This perplexes me.

Smurfy: PC game journalists use the whole scale, it's just those damn whore- I mean console journalists.

Alek: It seems to me that AV club is the less sarcastic part of the Onion. I have a Chicago print edition of it on my desk right now, and the averages seem to be Bs, a D or two. No As, though.

Tom Lawrence: A big part of the reason for things like this is that reviews are oftne given to specialist or enthusiasts in that particular field/genre/subgenre. They obviously tend to be more charitable towards the kinds of things that are within their field of specialism/enthusiasm.

Compare movie critics, who often see everything and therefore offer more of a spectrum of opinions, to video games journalism, where you'll often see a staff where one person tends to review all the flight sims. Music journalism also notably has this specialist effect: here's Tom Ewing talking about it -

http://freakytrigger... ...etacritic/

Jason L: Maybe. But more importantly there's the selection bias inherent in the fact that most reviews are written for enthusiasts of the medium. Nobody bothers to review Valusoft FPS 12 or Her Uncorseted Passion because nobody gives a shit, but publications do include them in the notional grading scale because they do in fact exist. At the risk of Panglossia, it's an approach I've never felt is incorrect.

Bumface the Brave: Are those real books? I ask this because:

A) It's the Onion.
B) 'The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan'. Eh?

I wouldn't know if they were, because books tend to repulse me unless the cover has either violence, implied violence or Roald Dahl's name.

Roadrunner: Bumface: ...0670020540
Yes. Yes it is. O.o

Tom Francis: B+

Noc: 7/10.

Andy Baio: They only bother reviewing books worth reviewing, which is refreshing, though it makes a grade mostly meaningless.

Jazmeister: Mystery solved! So what about ultra-famous books getting lots of press that aren't very good, would they review that? Like imagine Harry Potter was rubbish. That would be failing to protect the masses, by jove.

Dante: What do you mean, if?

Jason L: Wandering back to games because I'm not as familiar with the world of book reviewers, then we hopefully get stuff like (if I infer correctly from the podcast) the PCG Prince of Persia review, where a high-profile reboot of a beloved franchise gets a 49%. Another situation where you see the full scale is at the other end of the size spectrum: little indies with intriguing premises that...don't work out. I believe a review of a 'game' called 'Noir' from back in the day still holds the lowest PCGUS score in history with a score of 6% - six points which it basically got because it does run without crashing when you double-click on the executable.

But that's a low-percentage occurrence in any medium, if only because past author skill is a decent predictor of future author skill and enthusiasts, surprisingly, have some ability to judge good books by their covers in proper context. I wouldn't consider a run of twenty non-craps to be statistically significant without info on their overall percentage of craps.

Dante: Correct me if I'm wrong, but the vast majority of book reviews don't bother with scores at all, correct? No wonder the few that do are a little lost without context.

J-Man: On a side note:

LEFT 4 DEAD TWO is here!

Tom Francis: Frying pan go SPANG!

J-Man: What's november in valve time again?

Tom Lawrence: That's Valve time for "too soon after the release of the last version".

PD102: Why don't Reviews just have a scale that goes:

With the pick of the week or Editors Choice replaced with "AWESOME" or suchlike. The grades and percentage systems give a air of accuracy to a subjective thing. I dont care weather its 85 or 86% - i just want to know how you think it is.

also WTF is the percentage based on? What is at 100? Sex?

Jazmeister: Some people think that 100% is the perfect game (and would never hand it out unfairly), and some people have half an idea that 100% means that all people will love it, and some people modify those conditions to include only fans of the genre, and some people think it means the game is just a good game that's fun to play and has good normal maps. Right?

Dante: I don't know, the two main competing theories are that it's a) worth 100% if it's the best at what it does, or that it's b) only worth 100% if it's so universally good everyone will want to play it.

Obviously these two are mutually exclusive, and both have their own problems. For instance if tommorrow I made the perfect... let's say... train simulator, theory a) would give it a hundred percent, which seems ludicrous, yet theory b) would mean that, by virtue of being a train sim it would never be able to get 100%, no matter how good it was, which seems unfair.

This is why I'd prefer it if we all ditched scores altogether.

Jazmeister: I mean, I like scores though. I see the idea. It's just the public reliance on them, like they don't get the 85% < 86% joke and will buy the 86% game. I think lots of people think they're just as qualified to review games as the people doing 6-page reviews every other day.

So you get this weird anger towards people who "should have given it xx%" from people who haven't played the game and just assume it's of a certain quality. It all gets a little too mad for me. The steam forums are this histrionic plague pit right now, all because Valve 1) made a mistake with their unlocks, and 2) are releasing a game.

If people would just read the review, the scores would be superfluous because it's just a way of adding a nonverbal conclusion, like a picture of a kitten or eleven bananas. I imagine it'd be more useful in writing the damn thing, telling yourself what impression you're trying to give. Plus, how do you summarise twenty game reviews without using a scale of how good they are?

You could use a good/bad system, but then what about Hinterland, or Peggle? What about Doom 3? I love a bit of D3. It's like white bread, you know? Delicious, not good for you, novelty soon wears off, but I always come back. Take that, weird-zombies-that-can-use-guns!

Dante: Exactly, the Angry Internet Men have proven they can't handle scores, so we should take them away untill they learn to play nice.

As for the rest, sure a good/bad scale doesn’t serve niche games, but then neither does a score system. You actually have to read the review to know they're cult, so why not force people to do it? We have a language for god's sake, that's what we use to efficiently pass information on, not arbitrary numbers or picture of thumbs.

Summarise if you're worried about the lack of attention. Here's how you explain Doom 3:

Very old fashioned but fun shooter, will make you jump.

There you go, it tells you far more about the game than a score ever did, it took me five seconds to write and you even less to read. Are you telling me you couldn't read twenty short sentences?

Ludo: Heh, me and Dante argue about this quite a lot. 100% should represent the perfect game. Something which completes what it sets out to to flawlessly. It would exemplify its genre even as it revolutionises it, and is so stinking good that anyone who has so much as played minesweeper should try it because at this time, in this dimension, nothing better ccould possibly made.

Which is why 100% should probably never be given out.

It's true you can't quantify what 1% means exactly, but over a series of reviews scoring creates a landscape of quality that's easy to assess at a glance, and in a publication like PC Gamer the way the mag scores becomes part of the magazine's identity. You can look back over the hundreds and hundreds of reviews and see scoring trends, and quickly identify the classics. Notably, Gamer actually uses almost all of the scale, from 3% to 96%. Many do not, which leaves thim in the 7/10 trap.

This is a good opportunity to link back to one of my favourite James posts:

PS: Must say that Steam Forum and RPS commenter reactions to L4D2 has been rude, arrogant and thouroughly unpleasant.

Nico: It has just proven the age old saying of "give people free TF2 updates and they will be angry if you try to make them pay for anything else ever again".

Jason L: I continue to lackadaisically agitate for the Angels/Devils system as the best scoring system to use if you simply must use one. It communicates enthusiasm and reservations separately, and it would still make the Gamesrankings algorithm wet its pants.

Bret: The TF2 saying is especially odd as Aesop had almost no idea of what Team Fortress 2 was.

In fact, in the one remaining story of his that directly relates to the topic, "The fable of the Sanvich and the Spy", it seems the only character classes he was aware of were the Spy, the Heavy, and the Medic, who for some reason was only equipped with Jarate and a "Laser Monocle".

Tom Lawrence: I have some of sympathy for the Angry Internet Men in this case, Nico. It's more like "create a brand based on the expectation of good after-release support for your software and people wil be disappointed when you do not fulfil that expectation".

Are those expectations ("entitlements" as others would have it) something that customers shouldn't have? Most companies would kill to have so strong a brand that they can motivate sales on the expectation of future excellence.

None of this is to say that Valve have any kind of moral obligation to their customers to provide more L4D content. I presume they're aware how this move is going to change hpow people view their brand (after all the forum furore, how could they not be), and either they;re going to do somethign to combat that or they;re content with it. It is fof course their decision.

But I can see why people feel a sense of betrayal. They were expecting one thing and got another, and I feel those expectations were legitemate.

Tom Francis: I think the point is that the announcement of Left 4 Dead 2 is not the announcement of no more Left 4 Dead DLC ever. I'll bet they bring out at least one more full campaign before L4D2 arrives, and I wouldn't be surprised to see two before we see any for its sequel. Free campaigns for the first work as promotion for the second.

Deacon Lowdown: I remember that when Nintendo released the Dual Screen, they promised that the Gameboy Advance would continue to be serviced and supported. As soon as the DS turned out to be a success, they reneged. It's games, not systems that we are talking about in this case, and maybe Valve is different, but I still feel that after one or two small token updates the original L4D will be forgotten.

Sean Holloway: I dunno, Valve and Nintendo are VERY different companies.

Alek: Who knows. Considering that this isn't usually what Valve does, I think any past assumptions don't apply (at all, or as well, whatever the case).

It stings because it feels like an expansion pack. I know it's a terrible example, but here's something I posed to a friend: What if, instead of free class packs for TF2, they just released a new TF2 with all those weapons in it, different maps, and instead of blue and red it was just green and orange with some changing of the character silhouettes? It doesn't feel right.

The only time I see it Valve's way is when people discuss the whole "why not just make this DLC?". I'd be all for that, but think in Valve's shoes. They have some 'new' ideas here. If you made this DLC, how (and if at all) do you segregate the content? Would you stick the frying pan in the old 4 campaigns? Or leave them for the new ones? And what about the characters? Do they just stay in their 4 missions? And what about new zombie types? Same deal there. And don't even get me started on possible new mechanics. Maps, maybe, but even then it's a stretch (Considering the daylight missions). It wouldn't feel right going into the original game like that unless Valve did some magic.

TLDR: L4D2 is the odd step child. Where does itgo?

Tom Francis: Actually that's not a bad analogy, and in some ways it makes less sense to roll out TF2's class-specific content in chunks than it does new campaigns for Left 4 Dead. What you can do in some new campaign doesn't have to interfere with the old ones, whereas giving one class new toys has all kinds of class-spam and imbalance implications.

I think there are pretty easy answers to the questions in your third para, but Valve's company line mimics your reasoning: http://www.gamasutra... ...tory=23911

I'm still pretty optimistic about new free stuff for Left 4 Dead, but the quote at the end of that piece does not sound good.

Dante: RPS has Doug Lombardi quoted saying:

"There’s more content coming for Left 4 Dead in the fairly near term"

Which could well sort this out. I think we'll see a downturn in furore over time, with it largely gone by the time it's actually released. This kind of thing works takes off more the less information there is, because everyone can paint a worst case scenario.

Alek: Hm, yeah. Reading that it doesn't seem well.

The least we can do is hope that Valve does its usually thing. As in, not screwing up and making a huge mistake.

qrter: The A.V. Club site is an offshoot of The Onion - they focus on disecting and discussing popculture in a more or less serious way, through reviews, interviews, etc.

That said, I've been calling it The A/B Club for years now, because of the same thing Tom noticed. :)