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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

Postcards From Point Lookout

I’ve been playing the inbred-hick themed Fallout 3 downloadable expansion. It’s the only one of them I’ve liked so far, but I haven’t tried Mothership Zeta yet – and it looks awful pretty.

Full set is here, full set as fullscreenable slideshow is here.

Fallout3 2009-08-04 00-20-19-00

Fallout3 2009-08-04 00-03-39-79

Fallout3 2009-08-04 21-52-12-18

Fallout3 2009-08-04 00-11-35-34

Fallout3 2009-08-03 21-48-49-21

Fallout3 2009-08-07 23-23-16-16

Fallout3 2009-08-04 23-23-19-48

Fallout3 2009-08-04 23-46-10-56

Fallout3 2009-08-08 16-01-38-75

Fallout3 2009-08-07 00-43-09-54

Fallout3 2009-08-04 23-54-51-15


Someursault: I like the guy with the axe and the Akira arm.

Tom Francis: Those guys are DICKS. I tried playing with a level 18 character and I literally emptied every shot I had for every gun I owned with eighty hours' worth of accumulated ammo and explosives and it didn't even nearly kill him. Had to restart as a new character and set the combat to 'Very Easy', and even then they take over a hundred rounds of point-blank minigun fire TO THE FACE.


But yeah, they look ace.

Rei Onryou: I lolled at your PCG podcast comments about those DICKS. Any idea if they should be that hard yet? You've tempted me in to actually getting the F3 DLCs. Now all I have to do is find a chump I can rob to pay for them...

roBurky: Fallout 3 has started reliably crashing after about a minute of wandering around outside for me, now. I'm wondering if Steam has done a stealth update or something that's conflicted with a mod.

But I was pretty tired of the annoying characters, so I haven't been making any efforts to fix it yet. I think I'd probably like the game more if it was just a hostile wasteland where nobody is friendly. I may investigate the modding stuff to see if that's possible.

The_B: Arrgh. When is that blooming GoTY edition out? I've missed Fallout 3 since I've no longer had access to a 360 to play my former housemate's copy.

Caribou: Where the hell did you find an enemy with one of those flamey swords?

I know what you mean about those "DICKS", I like the visual look of the new enemies overall but the amount of damage they can take just takes the piss. Nearly every single time I fought those new ghoul enemies they beat me into pulp whilst I emptied 5 different weapons into them, on easy. Considering the fact that they look nearly identical to the old ones makes it doubly unfair.

Mikael: @roBurky: That sounds like a post-apocalyptic Far Cry 2.

Redhawk: Did you start a bunch of different characters or did you find some odd character build that makes you effective in Small Guns, Big Guns, Melee, Unarmed, and Energy Weapons?

I've taken a bit of a break from Fallout 3, currently too busy being surprised that the writing in Saint's Row 2 is actually good. Also, having a Raider equipped with a Flamer run up and wreck my shit in all of about three seconds was a bit of a turn off.

Lack_26: Been playing with a few mods, like XFO, Fellout, Enhanced Weather and UPP. With the difficulty on very hard it really felt like a struggle, a few hours later I've made about 700 caps. Hardly enough to buy a stim-pack with the mods.

First day or so (a day now being 4 hours of in game time) I was really struggling to find enough food and was battling with the huge dose of rads I got after being caught in the rain.

Oh yeah, and get caught by a raider with an assault rifle and you die in about a second (all the weapons damage is about twice Vanilla. But doesn't increase with skill, only accuracy does). Lucky I had some grenades.
It's also stupendous fun.

This is probably the most interesting of the DLC to me, but I don't really want to have to use Microsoft funbux.

John: Seriously, people should pay you to just take screenshots of games... like some sort of 20th century hand model. They always look so appealing.

John: Though I guess it is the 21st century. I'm still hip!

EGTF: I'm always going to be depressed that my games will never look as gorgeous as Duncan Harris' screenshots.

Jazmeister: Your comment got me thinking, Ed. Is it possible that people have negative or mediocre opinions on the looks of a game because they're not playing Director of Photography as they explore it? I remember emerging from the vault in Fallout and turning off auto-run, performing and trying to express my initial awe. I did the same in Half Life 2 when you walk out onto the plaza: a slow pan up the length of the citadel and then a left-right pan to take in the details, before being on my merry way.

I watched my Wife play it; she spent her whole unarmed period throwing bottles and chinese food cartons at guards and civilians. The whole time.

I wonder if games like Bioshock and Portal are all so memorable visually because they're designed to allow the player to naturally glance at the level and be presented with a postcard?

Tom Francis: I wouldn't say Fallout 3 and Half-Life 2 were less visually memorable than Portal and BioShock. HL2 in particular does a great job of angling your exits into open spaces to frame the most picturesque view. Whereas Portal I remember for pretty much everything except its look.

Redhawk: apart from the metal-fist shot, these are all of the same character. She has no skill at Heavy Weapons, Melee Weapons or Energy Weapons (though I think the Gatling Laser is counted as Heavy, anyway), but those things are all still more effective than the Small Guns she's trained in.

Ronin08: This DLC was also my favorite...loved exploring the swamp, (especially since it's hypothetically in the same state that I live in!) One of my favorite moments was wandering in the southwestern part of the swamp, when all of a sudden the Blackheart Mansion just loomed out of the mists. Between the night and the fog I just stumbled right over it, so I nearly crapped my pants when it just appeared out of the blue. And I loved it.

Also loved the sidequests here, much more interesting, had that very trippy sequence in the swamp...and the double-barreled shotgun is my new favorite toy. Pity it breaks like a twig...

And Mothership Zeta is kind of eeeeeeeh. Alien guns are nice, but I got bored going through the (only) quest. The most interesting parts are listening to the logs of the people the Aliens have captured, and anything involving the prisoners they've taken...

Oh, the finale's cool too, and there are few other nice setpieces, but Operation Anchorage felt more fast paced.

Jazmeister: Tom: I agree, except for me Portal was very distinct visually, and I suspect it's a pretty personal thing. I'd just upgraded when I got Portal, and it looks so squeaky clean!

I guess what I meant was that even in a game like HL2, where players would often emerge and gasp at the gorgeous vistas lined up before you, players could still just look at the floor. Perhaps that needs more thinking to develop into a worthwhile thought-nugget.

Ronin: I love audio logs. Seriously. Audio logs are worth money to me. I love any game with them. I love Doom III for the audio logs. I have no idea why.

Redhawk: @Jazmeister: One of the audio commentaries in Episode One has really stuck with me. You encounter it at the very beginning after Alyx digs you out of the rubble and its one of the designers explaining that because Valve refuses to use cutscenes or control the player's view to direct them to something, they have to design their levels and setpieces around directing the player's attention towards certain things. Valve happens to be balls out amazing at this and I now notice the various subtle touches they do to direct your attention to the correct places every time I play through one of their games. By contrast, I also notice it when other developers that attempt the no-cutscene or camera control mechanic utterly fail at it, which happens all the time.

Tom Francis: Yeah, there's a bit in the Citadel when a Combine gunship comes crashing down behind you, and you're already looking in the right direction because there's one little Combine dude over there taking pot shots at you.

Jazmeister: I played through half-life 2 to the end almost to see everything, to hear everything. I'm so super interested in science fiction, especially in a game, and the videos leading up to release were so tantalising that I had to buy it and devour it in a few sittings.

(Crap, I'm really hankering for ep3 just thinking about this.)

I want to confirm that I broadly agree here; when I said "games like Bioshock and Portal", I didn't mean to exclude HL2 and Fallout 3, quite the reverse. Obviously, Bethesda have an eye towards that too with their memorable "emergence" sequences, for starters.

I guess what I'm saying is that it must be frustrating if you're used to designing sets for TV shows or whatever because you have to do every last thing for a game. I was reading a book about being a good manager once (don't ask, it was well researched and I was weak) and there was a great quote from some Director of Education for California:

"We have [so many hundred thousand] students currently in our public school system, and I'm ultimately responsible for what they're taught, and for their grades. And yet, every day, in thousands of classrooms across the state, there is a teacher, a class full of kids, and the door is closed."

(that was the worst quoting job ever because I lost that book a few years ago, when I lost most of my things, but the essence and that final line is accurate)

It's just interesting that games require you to design more. Not just the "fourth wall" that would be open in TV or theatre, but the equivalent in dialogue and mannerism, and even plot. The bits you wouldn't see in a film. What if John Connor had died in the third Terminator film? What if the hurt girlfriend had just checked Steve Martin hadn't been practicing his seduction speech with her before she rejected him as a two timer, in Dead Mean Don't Wear Plaid?

I mean, people are already doing this. I just wanted to highlight how a developer needs to let go almost and trust the player, like Tom and Redhawk said, to direct them gently. Movies have almost stopped trusting in our intelligence, and while games in some circles are getting dumber ludologically, they're reaching towards conveying something truly complex and adult through their unique blend of experiences. Bioshock, if you re-skinned it and made it as block and simplistic as possible, would just be a kind of easy min-maxer. It relies heavily on context (as it should) and provides something no movie ever could.


Lack_26: I was just flicking through the TF 2 blog, isn't it a bit suspicious that all the posts since the Sniper Vs. Spy have been done by the Soldier (Well, at least how he would say them). Just saying.

Jason L: The Eliza Effect, gotta love it.

Yes, it strikes me that interactivity is basically the next polynomial power of the challenges of animation over live-action. I think it was some Pixar guy who remarked that they spent X amount of man-hours getting dirt and wear to work right in a given shot, whereas if you shot on a physical set you got dirt for free.

Tom Francis: Caribou: forgot to answer. That's actually my Shish Kebab, but possibly due to a mod, a Tribe dude ran over and grabbed it. I'd ditched it because I don't enjoy fighting with it as much, even though it's more powerful than Fisto!.