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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



James was taken offline last week by my hosts, BlueHost, because something was spamming my database of posts incredibly rapidly with incredibly demanding data requests. It was using up so much CPU on the server that it was slowing down every other site it hosts.

I was in New York meeting a nervous walrus at the time, so I couldn’t do much about it. Now that I’m back I’ve looked into it, done some maintenance, taken some precautions, and asked them to put it back online. The upshot is that it seems to be fixed for the time being, but I’m going to have to keep a very close eye on it for a while. If it goes down again, I’ll post updates on Twitter here.

If you’re interested in the technical specifics, here’s what I found:

  • A few lines of malicious code have found their way back into my source code, despite my having changed my password and kept up to date with the latest WordPress updates since that last happened. I’ve removed them and changed my password again, to something ridiculous. Not sure if there’s anything I can do beyond that.
  • One visitor, presumably robotic, immediately started loading the same page dozens of times a second within a few minutes of James going back up. I’ve banned its IP, but I don’t know how to prevent that kind of thing in general, or why it would cause slow SQL database queries.
  • Something was accessing parts of the database that aren’t supposed to be public. After careful investigation I discovered that, on this occasion, it was myself: when I accessed the database directly to do some maintenance, it was taking 6 seconds or so just to display or select the tables. Further back, there are still calls to these private tables that I can’t explain. I choose to ignore both these problems.

Thanks for sticking around.


Jazmeister: Cute picture! Man, dicks on the internet are so not in short supply. We should all write programs to scour every corner of this website for dicks! All day, every day!

ZomBuster: It was the walrus, he just wanted to check if you had his bucket.

EGTF: @ZomBuster
I think it was the Eggman personally.

Amusingly I came across about a dozen pieces published in the week or so you were offline, all linking to articles from here.

Good to see your blog back Tom. Thanks for still taking the time to write interesting things for no real fiscal return on here.

Iain “DDude” Dawson: So, were you aiding the lolrus bukkit search, or are you a suspect?

vladh: Tom, maybe it's not Wordpress. Maybe there's a hole in some of the other files you have on the server, or maybe there's a hole in BlueHost's server. I wouldn't be surprised, why the hell are you signed up with them anyway?

Dr. Nerfball: @Iain: He's definately aiding said lolrus. Otherwise why would the walrus be nervous? It would be Tom who would be terrified. I mean, isn't several hundred (or whatever) pounds of blubber with GIANT TUSKS not the scariest thing in the history of forever when you are between it and it's bucket?

Also, what noise does a Walrus make anyway?

Dr. Nerfball: Dangit. *If he were a suspect it would be Tom who would be terrified.

Also curse my need to be coherent in my ramblings!

Ludo: @Dr. Nerfball:

Coo coo ca choo!

Dr. ROCKZO: Great to see you back!

Jonas: Good job finding that bad code. I've had stuff like this happen to me several times before, and if I didn't know a really competent and nice web developer, I would never be able to fix it when it happens. Who are these tossers, anyway?

Looking forward to more posts out of you.

Lack_26: I know, we make the server private to anyone who hasn't personally been vetted by Tom himself. We send him a request and he comes round for a cup of Tea and certifies our profiles. Perhaps even biscuits and a scone.

Jethro: Nice to have you back on the things people call the webs. :D

J-Man: Has Tom gotten over his fear of large sea life?

Lb: Try blocking the source ip subnet, not just the host. Find th subnet with a bgp looking glass. Might cause some collateral damage, but if the attacker has a dynamic ip from an ISP blocking one ip won't work. That's assuming they are attacking from their own connection...

Aeneas: I just assumed you had died and not paid your bill. But good to see you back.

The Nervous Walrus: I found my bucket now, sorry for attacking your website manthing. Any future attacks I blame entirely on my friend the Carpenter.

Mike Arthur: Glad to see the site back up. Don't know if you got my comments on Twitter.

As you're running Wordpress you really want to get yourself using the WP Super Cache plugin, it makes a huge difference to the CPU time and reducing the amount of SQL queries.

Also, investigate possibly changing your web server (if your host allows it) to nginx or lighttpd. Both perform a lot better when serving the static content which WP Super Cache provides than Apache does.

I assume you've always kept Wordpress fully up-to-date? If not, do so and if so then considering using an .htaccess file to put another password on your /wp-admin/ folder, this helps prevent some of the bots which crawl the web looking for Wordpress sites to attack.

Hope this is of some use. If you want a hand with any of it then contact me and I'll give you a hand. My contact details are on my website.

Tom Francis: Cheers Mike. I did see your Tweet, but thanks for reminding me now I'm back and able to follow up on it. Installed Supercache, don't completely understand the options but I put it fully on and unchecked the thing for 'VERY busy sites'.

I'll try that IP subnet mask banning thing if the problem recurs - so far, since the measures I took yesterday, there hasn't been a single slow SQL query. Compare that with about fifty in the first five minutes of the site going back online, or the one day last week when there were so many that the log files of when they occured came to over 100MB of raw text. I may be in the clear.

Mike Arthur: The problem with the subnet mask banning is if, for instance, someone in the same neighbourhood tried to hack your site then everyone on the same ISP in the same block will get blocked too.

The Supercache options are fairly good by default as long as they are set to "on". It basically means there won't be any PHP run or database queries done.

Looking at the footer of the page it looks like you might not have set up the .htaccess stuff properly yet. I could be wrong though.

Hope you're alright now though!

Rei Onryou: It's possible that some attacks were through SQL injections. By typing SQL commands into the comments box, an evil walrus could gain access to, or affect, the database.

XKCD does a better job of explaining the dangers here:

Chris R: Glad you're back up. Was missing the great articles you write!