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.
Is a sci-fi multiplayer shooter out this week, extremely like Battlefield 2142. Battlefield 2142 was awesome, and so is this. You literally dive into the battlefield from orbit, with no parachute, then pound each other with raucous guns and squabble over objectives.
I like it because you can design your own class in a powerful and elegant way, choose where to drop down and angle your descent, and the dynamic missions that pop up are clear, fun and varied.
Enemies get dynamic missions too, and in one round they were coming very close to capturing our intelligence. I’d died, so chose my custom Assault Sniper class, and picked their intel capture point to drop in on. I smacked into the ground just as the intel carrier reached the walkway leading to the capture point, and knelt there nailing him with sniper shots as he ran toward me until he buckled. It occured to me afterwards that I was the final boss in some AI dude’s epic quest to take our intelligence across this huge warzone. Sorry AI dude! Boss fights suck!
Aside: I got to see this game at an event in Texas once, and ran into the developers in the hotel the next morning, on my way out from breakfast. I asked them how they felt the presentation went, which is a stupid thing to ask developers because that’s exactly what they want to know from you. So they invited me to sit down and tell them.
Previously I knew them only as the guys responsible for a FEAR expansion so drab I openly mocked it on this site (sorry!). But after my oat bran French toast stuffed with maple banana cream-cheese with them, I was left with the impression that they were smart, fun guys who play all the games I play and have most of the same loves and gripes about them. I’m really pleased to see that actually comes out in their game.
Is a film released in the UK this week about aliens living alongside humans in Johannesburg. It’s unusual in that the aliens are powerless: only the workers survived their accidental arrival, and they don’t have the wit to stand up for themselves. It’s also unusual in that the protagonist is both dorky and unsympathetic. He’s a smiling bureaucrat who goes about his unpleasant task with equal parts relish, cruelty and incompetence.
The horrors that befall him, initially satisfying, soon become hard to watch, and the whole film threatens to become darker than its slightly flimsy premise warrants. Mercifully it stops short of that, and instead explodes in a giddy celebration of slapstick ultraguns and splattery comeuppance. The gritty unease of the first half sets off the geeky indulgence of the second satisfyingly, mixing moods and genres and smart and dumb in ways we rarely see, but should more often.
Aside: Mark Kermode said this week that all good sci-fi has to be a metaphor for something, make a point about reality. He’s an idiot. District 9 wilfully draws parallels to social rifts in Johannesburg, but like much good sci-fi, does it to add potency to its alien imagery, rather than say something about the source. You don’t need to replace black people with aliens for us to recognise cruelty and oppression.
Is Bletchley Park, which became known in wartime as Station X partly because it was the tenth wireless communications station established, and partly because if they went around calling it Bletchley Park people might realise it was in Bletchley.
It’s also where the war was won, a good two years earlier than it otherwise might have been, thanks essentially to mathematicians there being better at maths than the Germans thought anyone possibly could be. The ability to read communications they assumed were undecipherable was such an enormous advantage that the Allies had to pretend they didn’t have it. They’d send scout planes to locations they already knew contained German fleets, just to give the Germans a feasible explanation for why they were about to be destroyed.
Kim and I went there last weekend. It’s falling apart. They can’t afford to maintain it, and no-one’s willing to help. Some thieves stole a German Enigma machine from there a while back, wrongly assuming that the site of one of Britain’s greatest contributions to humanity would have government money to pay the ransom. They couldn’t. The thieves gave up and posted the machine to Jeremy Paxman, who returned it with what we must assume was an expression of some bemusement.
Aside: This week the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown capitulated to an online petition by coder John Graham-Cumming for the government to apologise for sentencing the man primarily responsible for breaking the Enigma code to chemical castration for being homosexual. I don’t follow my own country’s politics closely enough to be conversant in the many reasons I should hate Gordon Brown, but the slimy, repulsive way he or his writers attempted to turn that apology into an excuse to boast, bafflingly claiming that he’s ‘pleased and proud’ to have to apologise for our country’s mutilation of its hero, is officially one.
J-Man: That response from Brown is basically insulting.
Tom Lawrence: My dad played a small but significant role in seeing to it that Bletchley Park became a protected site and didn't just get flattened and turned into flats or something, which I'm proud of in a small but significant way. Well done, my dad.
I visited about seven years ago. Sad to hear it's falling apart.
Seniath: Going to see District 9 tomorrow with a friend from South Africa and a friend who likes to poke fun at the fact that the first friend has a slight SA twinge.
Much fun poking will no doubt ensue.
Soylent Robot: I find Brown is a rather drab goon. That's all I have to say, really.
Jason L: Section 8 came out of nowhere for me - I know there was some coverage on RPS, but it went dead for a while and at the crux, I was like 'Ooh yeah, I've heard of that, sounds inter...out in three days?!' I own a copy; haven't installed it yet due to PAX and brother's machine troubleshooting when I bought it, but I saw my brother playing it and played a bit on his machine and it does feel like a triumph. Most interesting is that it seems like a triumph of execution over originality - the editorial message I get is 'This, that and the other game have had all these good ideas but not quite caught on. What if we threw them all together and then really paid attention to polishing them?' So, we get a 2142 successor where everyone gets - which is to say, is, - a transit and vertical vehicle, where there is no RPG weapon unlock bullshit, with strong bot skirmish and coop support. It is very much My Thing.
Shame about the mysterious GFWL launch issues, really. What a lark when my brother couldn't play his Steam copy for a day until I manually deleted a few crucial files the uninstaller didn't catch! Ho ho ho! Having thought I'd seen the entire exhibition floor, I was surprised on the second day to see South Peak Interactive on the map. I thought I'd swing by to see their setup, have a go or two on Section 8 and how PR guys behaved when their game was having DRM launch issues, but it turned out the map was out of date and their booth was supposed to be where the mechanical bull ride was. I think that's a metaphor, but I can't see for what. Oh, and the shotty's inexplicably shit. Oh well.
It's just the weaselly style of the wording on the Turing apology that bothers me, not the substance; I think that if you're going to apologise to ghosts for the sins of people who three generations previously occupied some analogue of your elected public office, basically the only moral course available is to speak in terms of pride. If, for example, my government were to ever formally apologise for slavery, I hope the President's speech would also follow the form 'I'm proud that we've reached the point where I can apologise for this, and what's more be actively called upon to do so by you my constituents. To the best of my ability as an elected voice of the people, I apologise to the millions of people who were and continue to be hurt by this stain on my nation's honour. Let us never forget our institutional crime, and continue to work against it.'
Akirasfriend: Looks like they've got fookin' prawn mechas in Section 8, too.
Wikus is one of the best protagonists in a sci-fi film for ages. He's pleasingly fickle, and thus pretty human. Fookin' prawns though, eh?
Jason L: Hidden nerd stories: Akirasfriend, I had a half-sarcastic spiel on PBA versus mechas written here, then deleted it before posting after wondering if maybe you were referring to the Heavy Armour, then tried to determine whether Heavy Armour was mech or mecha, before finally realising that you were not referring to Section 8 at all but District, 9!
Redhawk: District 9 is an excellent movie and Tom's aside sums it up very well. A sci-fi movie with some thought behind it, but not out to change the world.
Section 8 is a glorious, perfectly natural evolution of the Battlefield series and the lack of press it has received is criminal. There are server stability and balance issues but they are minor twinges nibbling at the edge of the spectacular cake that game is. What I love more than anything else is that kills are almost non-existent in terms of score. S8 is a game about working together and accomplishing objectives, not jetpacking about and knocking each other off. It's sent more than a few "hardcore" FPS fans into a frothing rage on the community forums, but fuck 'em. If there were more FPSes like Section 8, the genre would be in a better place.
SIbilantjoe: HOLY CATS! Just when I thought I'd never find another large-scale, orbital-drop including FPS after Planetside and, to a lesser extent, 2142 (drop beacons are bugged to shit), here comes Section 8 out of nowhere, and it looks amazing. Orbital drops are a bit of a gaming fetish for me. There's just something about burning in from 50,000 feet...
Lack_26: I didn't think we could use the word gay any-more.
(Although I actually quite like the fact that you can be sent to prison for insulting people now. I know freedom of speech and all that, but the people the police actually prosecute under it are generally utter dicks.)
But how can you be 'pleased to apologise'? One dictionary defines it as an 'expression of regret...'.
I can't help but feel that watching the British Government [Sic] is like watching a rather more British version of Downfall.
Also, Section 8 is awesome fun; I thoroughly enjoyed the beta.
Pod: Was I the only one that hated Section 8? Maybe I just didn't give it enough time? (I only played 2 maps). I just seemed to be sprinting across vast, Halo style maps full of Halo style crashed ships, finding an enemy, shooting 2 clips into him from behind, until he turns around and kills me in a few bullets.
A lot of people played for 5 minutes and gave up, the game requires more time before it's finer points become clear.
Chijts: Hey Pod I'm with you on that one man, I think it's one of those marmite games. However I learned recently that certain guns have certain distances at which they can bypass shields, which is probably why you unloaded all that and he just got you in a few. I do think it's unfair to call it "halo style" though, are all sci fi fps' going to be "halo style"?
EGTF: I bought Section 8, I love it but it could do with some bugs ironed out and more people playing. As it is, I'm rather lonesome in the game. Don't suppose we could get a James reader match going?
I love hearing about little things like station 10. Humbling little bits of history, happening in incorgorus places that I never knew of before.
District 9 again was amazing for the way it combined dumbness with a little bit of smarts to provide something well worth watching. That and Wikus was a breath of fresh fooking air as a lead character.
Wood: Haven't seen District 9 yet myself, but wasn't Kermode's point that all good sci-fi has a metaphor, rather than having to BE a metaphor(as you summed him up)?
I suspect he would not have loathed the film if it was just brainless, superficial nonsense. But he loved because it had social commentary as well, not instead of. In other words, I belive you and he share the same view.
Jason L: I suspect Tom's read Necronomicon, but anyone who hasn't read it and can handle a thousand pages of Stephenson, should - both because 'cypherpunk' is a major theme and (semi-fictionalised) Turing/Ultra/Bletchley is thus a prominent section of the story, and because I found it a cracking good read.
James: I saw District 9 opening weekend over here in the colonies. The most refreshing thing about it for me was that the violence was disgustingly gory. After SO many movies that just left me feeling "meh" with the violence, completely desensitized, the spatter of D9 left me feeling a bit green around the gills. Which is how one SHOULD react to senseless violence, if you think about it.
Roadrunner: District 9 was absolutely brilliant. But I felt that the moment where [SPOILERS] Wikus hit Christopher on the head in a classic cliché act of betrayal after he finds out he'll be back to fix him in 3 years, was overly predictable and unneccessary. It was just too cliché. That one moment did make a severe impact on the film for me. Nevertheless, I would still reccommened it to anyone who likes sci-fi. [SPOILERS END]
As for section 8, I looked on Metacritic, and it got surprisngly average reviews :\ Although if it's on a steam sale which it probably will be this weekend, I'll pick it up as the demo was good stuff :D
James: Hmm, there's no way to edit that. I soon as I posted, I thought that "disgustingly gory" may be a bit misleading. It's nothing like a slasher film with buckets of blood simply for effect; I think "realistically gory" would have been a better way to put it.
I'm not telling: Hey Tom this will probably sound a bit silly, but can you tell Chris Livingston NOT to buy citiesXL, the game is shit.
Jazmeister: Roadrunner: Yeah, I know what you mean.
Overall, I don't think the gore bit was necessary, I just kind of accept gore in things like this. The body horror was a bit much for me sometimes, like when his nails come off. OMG OMG EW EW EW etc. I think it was a pretty great character showcase for the two leads, Wikas and Christopher, and the kid was so cute! I would totally have kids if they'd be super smart crustaceans with big eyes.
Ronin08: District 9 was fantastic for me--the action was tight, the cinematography impressive, and the themes just barely political and metaphorical enough to give some "umph" to the film, while still keeping a focus on how it's very much fictional.
Christopher actually gets chalked up as one of my favorite new characters of 2009, mainly because he was so damn smart. After watching the way the other prawns reacted to the MNU agents, and then watching how Christopher called out Wikus' slimy bureaucratic bullshit, I found myself honestly caring about the character, (especially when he freaked out at the threat of his kid being taken away.)
I also loved the fact that I thought Wikus was one of the biggest whole-hearted assholes ever to be placed as a protagonist in an action film, with his redeemable qualities almost only being that he's just a normal guy, with an otherwise normal life. At the beginning, my first thought was "I can't believe we're supposed to follow this guy," but by twenty minutes in I'd grown attached to him.
Tom Francis: Heh, I had the same moment. "Wait, we're actually sticking with this guy? But he's a twat!"
J-Man: I thought the first third of district 9 was good, if they had kept with the hand-held-but-not-annoying-shakey-cam-which-is-a-pleasant-surprise theme, it would have been one of my favourite films of all time.
But then it sunk into bio-horror with the generic extremities falling off. The [SPOILERS] idea of him being kidnapped by his in-law, and the scenes where they research the weaponry were interesting enough [END SPOILERS], but it then sank into the typical action film with the evil, evil sith efricken mercenary.
Oh yeah, and Wikus' wife was clearly acted by the producer's girlfriend or something. She was one of the least compelling reasons that he should try and save himself, and the main one as well.
@Roinin08, yeah Christopher was a great character, and in some senses more human than Wikus.
Jazmeister: He knocks out a bomb in 2 seconds! It's like "Quick these fookin soldiers is coming up the stairs! We have to prepare this meal! What are you doing?"
"[alien] making a blender and a microwave. K done."
Ludo: It's good to see a proper budget thrown behind an unusual premise. In fact they seemed so proud of their cgi that the mothership appeared in the background at every possible opportunity.
Thankfully it didn't go down the race division/social commentary route, the tribal African merc gangs who take advice from witch doctors and eat alien body parts to gain strength might have gotten them into trouble.
icassu: It's great to see you drawing some attention to Bletchley Park.
It's a fantastic place to visit, I've been maybe half a dozen times or so over the past decade. You mention that it is falling apart now, as inded it is, but you should have seen it way back when I first visited! They have done a huge amount of work to restore Blocks A & B. The Bombe rebuild was also an extremely interesting project put on purely by volunteers.
C, D & G of course still need significant funding, alongside many of the Huts. I still wish to try and visit and explore D & G at some point for photography purposes though, while they are in their current state.
It's worth looking out for their special event days where they allow you to visit the wireless station itself in the attic of the house.
I should also state that there is no word more apt than hero to describe Alan Turing. Educating people of this fact, and of his work, is the best way to honour his memory, not some half-hearted apology for the appalling way he was treated.
Sorry about that, I don't usually like getting overly serious, but in this case I feel it's justified. :)
TooNu: YeY!!!! more blog posting from Tim!! always a pleasure to read this blog and I would just like to add that Dr.Kermode has this ability to persuade you to his way of thinking...at least to me he does.
Jazmeister: Tom? Isn't it Tom? I was sure it was Tom.
Jazmeister: You just put a horrifying (but quite polite and very literate) image in my head.
EGTF: I could've sworn it was Tam Froncas.
Lack_26: Nah, it was definitely Tame Frog-kiss.
icassu: "Hot Tamale" Fragglekins?
Bobic: I found it funny that in the entire film there is only variety of swearword, which gets used hundreds of times. Also, did anyone else think it was stupid that they were drilling into his heart while he was still awake?
Nonomu198: Fogleg Hamilton?!
Jazmeister: James is a pretty cool guy. eh is a master of stealth and doesn't afraid of anything.
Inferno: I just watched district 9 and wow, the CG in that film is simply incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed the film too. Though, as you say, the stuff that befalls him and the populace of the alien district becomes harder and harder to watch. I was glad it changed into an overdramatic actiony silm with awesome special effects and alien technology. The best part was it didn't play out in the way I'd expected. It's also a LOT gorier than I expected it to be, just as a warning to anyone intending to see it.
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