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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

What’s Wrong With Just Cause?

Just Cause 04

I don’t think I wrote about it here much at the time, because it wasn’t publicly out when I was really into it, but Just Cause is one of my favourite games. Open world games don’t seem to have much trouble making a great open world – most of the big ones like Oblivion, Far Cry 2, World of Warcraft and GTA IV are all wonderful places I want to spend time in. The difference with the islands of Just Cause, which are as pretty and inviting as any of those, is that you can fling yourself at them.

Just Cause 03


I’d just finished a mission, one which left me exhausted and bleeding on a beach miles from anywhere. The next place I needed to get to was on another island entirely, and there were no boats or choppers nearby to hijack. So I called the agency to have them drop me off a motorbike.

When it came, airdropped unceremoniously in a heavy wooden crate, I ignored it and fired my grappling hook at the agency helicopter that had dropped it off. It’s one of the only things in the game you can’t hijack, but there’s no rule against hanging on to it. I reeled in and took hold of a tailfin as it thundered off – in completely the wrong direction.

It lifted me all the way over an inland mountain range, through a lashing storm, up through the cloud layer (the clouds you see in the sky can all be reached), and into a grey limbo where the island below was just a dark smudge. I let go.

Just Cause 13

Just Cause is the only game I know with a key for “I’m not falling fast enough, make me fall faster”. The heights involved are so sickeningly vast that even freefall can take minutes to drop you. So you can make yourself more streamlined, steer with your body, and choose when to open – and when to suck back in – your parachute. Mixing them to toy with your momentum vector gives you a wonderful freedom in that massive cold space, and I had so much height to work with that I was able to steer all the way back to the coast, then over it, then to the next island, and finally to my objective.

I like to come in fast: chute open, but angled downwards to drop through the air; then pull up at the very last minute and spin 180, toes whipping the shrubs. Finally I cut the chute and land in a commando roll, stand up and punch my boss in the face. This may be why he goes AWOL in the sequel.

Just Cause 15

And Yet…

People really didn’t take to it, not even most reviewers. EGM complained that it was ‘unrealistic’ (…), Eurogamer said the terrain was ‘uninteresting’ (!), and GameSpy claimed Saints Row 1 gave it ‘a wedgie in graphics’ (;). Other than the glitches (which seem minor on PC) and the rudimentary shooting (which would be a problem if it were a hard or large part of the game), most complaints seem to stem from the assumption that open world games are obliged to provide five to twenty times as much hand-scripted content as linear ones. Certainly some of them do, but the sense of entitlement baffles me. They don’t cost more, and they seem if anything to be more replayable rather than less.

Just Cause 06

What Actually Is Wrong With Just Cause?

I’m writing this because I’ve stopped playing it, and I’ve stopped playing it because a mission was pissing me off. It has some sublime ones, and the last may be the greatest final mission I’ve ever played, but quite a few fall into obvious scripting pitfalls. My excitement about the sequel due next year is getting me thinking about what precisely they need to fix, because it’s not the weird quibbles its press critics decided to mewl about.

Infinite helicopters. No good can come of infinite helicopters. If I try to concentrate on the objective, I’m constantly being shot at or rocketed and thinking “Fuck, I need to stop concentrating on the objective and do something about these infinite helicopters!” If I’m concentrating on the infinite helicopters, even perfect one-shot kills with a stash of limitless ammo doesn’t let me take them down faster than new ones arrive. Worse, it cheapens the value and significance of the most sacred bit of military hardware.

Health. When fighting infantry, a trivial task for which you rarely need healing, healthpacks spew from them like medicinal pinatas. When fighting vehicles, which rip through your health mercilessly, there’s no reprieve. In multi-stage missions getting too worn down on an early objective can leave you incapable of proceeding from the checkpoint immediately afterwards. The risible regeneration system takes nearly a minute of utter tranquility to restore a useless 10% of your total health, and will never nudge it beyond that.

Get on the gun, Rico! Hardly the only game to be guilty of these sections, but seriously, they’re so easy to avoid. It’d be great fun to grab a mounted weapon and tear through a huge army of pursuers if it were an option. When it’s forced, and the pursuers triggered by stage queues to show up in a convenient place for you to shoot, it starts to feel too much like a fairground ride.

Get the truck to the waypoint in one piece! No.

Just Cause 08

I’ll probably be back here adding to this list once I’ve got a few missions further in, but for the most part I’m having even more fun than I remember. If you’re tempted, it’s £9 on Steam and a Universal Resolution Changer lets you run it widescreen.


Phill Cameron: I adored Just Cause, and it's one of the few games I enjoy cracking open once in a while just to have a mess around with the crazy stunts. Driving motorbikes off cliffs while being chased by dozens of cars is always a highlight moment, as well as detonating buildings just as you are leaping away from them.

Cool guys never look back at an explosion. They just walk away.

Craig L: I loved this when it first came out. Re-installed it not long ago though and it fely horribly dated - just wrong all over. Really looking forward to the sequel.

Tom Francis: I'd read and written so much about Just Cause 2's new grappling hook that when I first went back to this one, I wasn't sure it ever had one. You don't have it at the start, and I kept awkwardly fumbling up to cars and trying to parachute off their roofs thinking "Was this it?"

Once I got it, and remembered it was a weapon you had to switch to, it all clicked back into place.

Davie: IMHO, Just Cause is awesome. I really appreciate the amount of freedom; it really feels like an open world. You never bump into any invisible walls, and that's a massive plus. It's incredibly fun just to drive around, and the car chases are great. My only complaints are visual: Poor physics (and no ragdoll! :O) and low-detail NPC models.
And I do agree with you about those escort missions. And infinite helicopters. And the fact that they can combine to create an impossible hell of a mission that's incredibly frustrating.

Anyway, there's my two cents. I'm just glad to see not everyone's forgotten about it.

VerdeFlash: Oh man, the idea of taking hold of helicopters reminds me of the good old days of Spiderman 2 on the gamecube. I just might have to buy this, once I can get a hold of some money.

Grill: Hated it. The open world was good, as were the freefall and parachuting elements, but the actual missions and plot were amazingly tedious, cheesy and repetitive, as was the combat. 6/10.

Ludo: For a while the demo of this was my go-to way of filling a spare ten minutes. You start off free falling in pursuit of a convoy and from there it's possible to plummet several thousand feet and land, perfectly poised, on the roof of a travelling car without ever deploying your parachute. That kind of reckless disregard for the rules of reality is pretty appealing.

Ludo: Also it has my favourite prompt in any game, it went something like:

'Press A to start revolution'

Smurfy: I still have one beef with open-world games. When you swim/fly/drive out to sea, you should come up on the other side of the map, as if the whole map is a small planet. That would be awwwwweesooooome.

Tom Francis: Morrowind had a neat way of looping the ocean outside its main landmass, so that you could swim indefinitely in any direction without ever being forced to turn back. You never run in to the island again though.

Dr. Nerfball: Seem to remember this being suitably awesome. Mostly because there's a mission where you need to kill some dude in a club at the top of a mountain or volcano, I forget which, and he's going up the hill in a convoy. Now if you want, you can blast through the forests surrounding the road and set up an ambush, or, for cool points, yoink a helicopter and blast him to smithereens and complete the mission 5 minutes flat. Or if your me fall out of the helicopter and get run over. But oh well! Still gloriously freeform.

And does anyone remember the drug runners? Or was that a different game? 'Cause I think they gave you a monster truck from the get go, once you unlock their first safe house. More game need to give you that kinda incentive for helping out the generico brand factions.

@Phil Cameron: Maaaan, guess I'm not cool then, anytime I see an explosion, I'm all like: "That. Was. AWESOME! Againagainagainagain!" Then run off to find a rocket launcher.

J-Man: I loved Just Cause, but there was some poor design choices. There's just not enough reward for exploration outside of the settlements, aside from the collect missions, and there wasn't much of a point to them since each item was shown on the map.

But in general, yeah, fucking brilliant and under-appreciated game.

Inferno: I never got further than the first few missions in this game. Not because I hated it. It was just that every time I played the game all I would do is fly up as high as I could and just freefall. I love falling through the sky. Then I'd leave annd come back again another time!

Lack_26: This game was just shy of brilliance, it needed more flying Jaguars.

Luckily, JC2 looks brilliant.

I remember one time, my brother took the C-130 up to the ceiling (max alt.), of course, I lent over the keyboard and pressed the jump-out button. We spent the next few minutes trying to catch up with it. Eventually we got a grapple on it, just as we were about to jump into the cockpit.


We hit the water, which honestly looked much further away. It was both excellent and sad as we plunged into the water beside it and watched it explode underwater.

Jazmeister: Seems like that's what AaaaA! was missing with the falling. Although AaaaA! was really cool too.

For this:

“Fuck, I need to stop concentrating on the objective and do something about these infinite helicopters!”

Ten points to Gryffindor!

Davie: @Nerfball: They sure do give you a monster truck. Unfortunately, it's at the ass end of a windy mountain road, and incredibly difficult to get down to the freeway where you can have some real fun with it. Still, it's awesome, as are some of the other hideouts, like the one on the peak of the highest mountain in the game.
It's just so awesome to have a game where you can move around at such high speed and never hit an impassable border.

Finn: I played Just Cause for about 30 hours and loved. I never got through the last mission and I'm seriously thinking about reinstalling and replaying the whole game because it was so much fun and ran smoothly and beatifully on my old machine.

Tom Francis: If, like me, there's you get stuck on some bullshit bit and just want to see the rest of the mission, there's a Trainer here that works with the Steam version that binds F1 to god mode: http://www.cheathapp... ...p?id=21645

There don't seem to be any ordinary cheats.