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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

War Were Declared


So the Demoman and Solider are getting three unlockables each next week, and there’s a seventh weapon that will go to whoever kills the other one more. They racked up 2.7 million kills of each other in the first sixteen hours of this competition, and currently the Soldier’s in the lead. I was trying to remember what I hoped the Demoman and Soldier unlockables might be, a year and a half ago, so I dug it out of the archive.

Both my suggestions for replacement melee weapons encourage and reward mid-air whacking after propelling yourself at the enemy with your explosives. I strongly suspect this seventh unlockable weapon, the one that could go to either class, is a melee weapon that critical-hits if used during or shortly after a rocket- or sticky-jump: it’s niche enough not to give the class it goes to a large advantage, and it’s one of the few areas of common ground between them.

My only suggestion for the Grenade Launcher at the time was its complete and permanent removal. I still hate it, but if I had to take a guess at a viable replacement, it’d be kind of cool to have one whose charges stuck to players and walls, detonating after a short delay regardless of enemy contact. Less useful for direct hits, but more useful for injuring pursuers while retreating. Here’s the others:



Wee Creepers: sticky-bombs that roll slowly towards nearby enemies, faster the closer they are. If an enemy’s close enough, they’ll follow him at Demoman walking-speed (very slightly slower than most classes). He can only lay four at a time, and they stop for a while if shot.

Why? Almost every situation involving these conjours an entertaining mental image.

Why not? This would allow players on your own team to screw you over by luring stickies towards you. It’s hard to say how much of a problem that would be, because to an extent it would require the enemy Demoman’s co-operation. If you’re close enough to them to lead them at walking speed, he’s probably just going to blow you up straight away.


The Good Stuff: alternate whiskey bottle which, if not yet smashed, temporarily adds 50 health when doing the drinking taunt – even if it takes him above his usual maximum. The boost decays over fifteen seconds, during which time the Demoman is also immune to fall-damage. The bottle always crits while the Demoman has been airbourne for more than a second.

Why? Bracing yourself for a good sticky-jump, whacking people at the end of it.

Why not… that swingy dynamite he had in the first trailer! I’m only guessing, but I would think that made it too easy to take out an Engy, all his kit and everyone defending him without actually entering line-of-sight. The swinging charge-up animation was interesting, though – I wonder if you had to stay still during that.



Last Ditch Digger: broken trench-shovel whose damage and attack-rate are proportional to the amount of health the Soldier has lost.

Why? Apart from encouraging unlikely comebacks, it makes rocket-jumping spade-attacks more effective. And fun things should always be made more effective.


Imploder: rocket launcher whose blasts suck people in rather than knocking them away. The actual damage radius is smaller than a standard rocket, but the ‘suck’ radius is larger than either.

Why? Lets the Soldier cluster large groups of people into a tight space for maximum damage, but sacrifices his ability to juggle enemies, keep them at bay or rocket-jump – though some wall-climbing and ceiling-sucking is doable by firing the rockets above you.


Skeet Shooter: shotgun which only and always crits on airbourne opponents. Can be drawn, fired and holstered by pressing Right Mouse, whichever weapon the Soldier is currently holding.

Why? If you manage that, you deserve a crit.

Why not… grenades! Hey, good idea! It looks like Valve completely forgot to put these in TF2, despite how fun it is to get killed by speculatively flung munitions bouncing arbitrarily around corners by trigger-spamming morons! Thank God we reminded them!

Why not… heat-seeking rockets! Because aiming highly explosive projectiles to hit within a few meters of a target is still too hard! Not only should the modicum of skill required to play a Soldier successfully be removed, but it should be removed by an unlockable weapon that only the most skillful players will earn. Perfect!

Why not… a rocket-launcher that’s more powerful but has to be reloaded more often? Reloading all the damn time is the least fun part about playing as a Soldier, and dying in one hit is the least fun part about fighting one. Let’s not exacerbate either.

The rest of that post was here. War Were Declared is from, apologies for shakeycam, this.


Jethro: I'm rooting for Demoman, meself. He's Scottish, Soldier is american. No offence but I'd rather a slightly British black cyclops win.

Jazmeister: I'm meeting this update with my usual groaning anxiety. They might break something. It was awesome last week, but next week it could be broken.

I might just stay the hell away from this one. I've already played on a few all-soldier servers where one demoman could easily clean up just by having more valid War targets than any soldier does. It makes me nervous.

Pattom: Curious. I haven't chosen a side just yet: I was tentatively rooting for the Demoman, but he's apparently losing by about 90,000. A lot of commenters on RPS were convinced that Demomen would win out by sheer nade-spam, but I guess they've forgotten Soldiers have the advantage in one-on-one combat.

Caleb: Jazmeister, the one thing to keep in mind is that for every server like that, there's one out there that's just the opposite. But yeah, I know what you mean. I'm going to be flipping support depending on which class is behind every day.

Peterd102: Oh God, The two most annoying classes to fight are going to have filled the entire servers.

I suppose id join soldier, just because rounding a corner to a camping demoman is slightly more annoying than being on shot by a unaimed rocket to the face.

Lack_26: Just read the small print on the Propaganda contest for this event.

"Each winner (or the winner's parent or legal guardian if the winner is a minor) consents to the use of his/her name, likeness, photograph in any and all media for promotional purposes in any manner by Sponsor, its designees and its advertising and promotion agencies without further compensation or notification, except where prohibited by law"

So Valve will plaster your face over everything and you're basically their bitch?

Dante: I think it'll be pretty close, there's more Soldiers, but some of the best players are Demos.

The Soldier is about 90,000 ahead right now, but as the kills are in the millions, that's not a big margin.

Jazmeister: Lack: They probably won't - this just stops you suing them if you send in a hilarious picture of yourself with a shovel and they put it on a huge banner in a new map and you decide you don't want it to be there.

I don't want demo to win really. I think they have enough tricks. But that's just it - we don't even know what we're fighting for. We should organise a movement to kill exactly the same number of each, maybe they'd give updates to both.

Then again, a draw is where everybody loses. Oh, I don't know, I just don't need this stress in my life right now. I'm going to play Wurm Online and let my wife take care of the war.

Nonomu198: This is not a popularity contest, this is a quality contest. The number of supportesrs don't count. If all bad Demomen (who have a neagtive score of death by soldiers/soldier kills) were to stop playing, the Demoman would win. It's simple. It dosen't prove much, only that, in the tf2 community as a whole, which includes very different sub communities, the chance of a Soldier to win a 1v1 with a Demoman is higher. That's so silly. You can't even use this statistics for anything, because the sub communities so differ.

Are any of you guys making a poster? I think it's worth a shot even if your graphical skills aren't top notch.

Nonomu198: @Lack_26
Actually, not if you are a minor, I think. It reads "Each parent or legal guardian consents to the use of his/her name, likeness, photograph in any and all media for promotional purposes in any manner by Sponsor, its designees and its advertising and promotion agencies without further compensation or notification, except where prohibited by law."

So, if you are a minor, you can use your face, win, get Valve to use your face, and sue them for cash.

Spotacus: @Nonumu
No, if you are a minor, your parent or legal guardian consents for your face to be used since a minor is unable to give consent for that.

spuzman: @Jazmeister
I find it funny that previous experience with updates actually makes some people want to STOP playing the game when an update comes out.

In general, the war is a strange thing. Its like a warped popularity contest, where the kill to death ratios (and not overall numbers) of the supporters are what really matter.

As an American, then, I must oppose you. Oh, and my own 200 hour difference in time played between the classes helps a little.)

icouldbeahero: I guess that is what Valve meant about stacking the numbers -- it would be easier to affect the score by playing badly as the opposite class. I wonder how they hope to curtail that?

Jazmeister: We've been playing counterstrike source this weekend. Then I've got the whole THQ pack to get through, still, and hopefully it'll have died down by then and I can just look at the new bits in peace.

n00bie51: Silly, you mean the sticky launcher, not the grenade launcher!

I want to type something interesting for the sake of discussion but for some reason Mozilla Firefox keeps crashing on Pentadact (and only). I must submit this comment before the browser crashes again!

Peterd102: /ponder

The Headline for the mock newspaper for the kills makes me suspicious of an engineer update. Though I dont know how much id want to play Engi when the servers could have a lot more demos and Soldiers :P, Though on the plus side its better than releasing the engi on its owm - the worlds most boring Dustbowl round ever would result.

BrianDawg: One nice side effect is that if you like playing scout, this update is awesome. Do you know how hard it is for soldiers and demos to hit a double-jumping scout? I got like 100+ points after 5 rounds on Koth Nucleus, and I'm just a decent scout.

Dan Pryce: This happens on the week my laptop dies. FML.

Soldier FTW. Although Valve should implement Wee Creepers just so they could do a Weighted Companion Cube style plushie that I would buy the shit out of.

n00bie51: Dan Pryce, you should have been me during the time my PC died and I missed out on the Spyper Update.

I could just type up what I want into Word and copy+paste it into here before Firefox crashes, or even use Internet Explorer to view this website and hope it doesn't crash, but I am lazy and will continue to complain in the hopes someone will address this issue for me.

Tom Francis: It's probably the snow. I'll look into an off button, but in the meantime you could try disabling JavaScript.

DemoFTW: I like the snow on your website. You should have red and orange leaves falling in autumn too (:

DoctorDisaster: Something good has appeared on the steam forums, which is incredible enough that I think it warrants a mention: http://forums.steamp... ...?t=1067540

Call it a counterpoint to the "OMG Valve is going to ruin EVERYTHING" crowd that seems to crop up around EVERY update in spite of all the evidence.

As for the war, it surprised me that soldiers did so well early on, but demos are catching up. I think the trend came about because soldiers are easier to pick up and play. The initial weekend crowd featured a lot more casual players who fared better as soldiers. The workweek has hosted more dedicated players, who can play the demoman to the full (slightly OP) extent of his potential.

So far the unlocks sound like good fun. I doubt, however, that the Eyelander will stand a chance against win-bombs in the long run. I worried when I initially heard about "crafting" being included, but the implementation as described sounds nicely unobtrusive.

spuzman: Congrats, Tom! A UNIQUE weapon! Please, please show us what it looks like when you get it.

Bret: I just hope you'll remember us little people.

Aw, who am I kidding. Abuse your new power to crush your lessers. It's what I would do in the same position.

Drewmeister: Congratulations, your soldier melee weapon made the game!

Spotacus: Congrats. Did Valve inform you that they would be crashing your website?

Nonomu198: Meh, Tom's special special weapon will probably just shine.

Flechette: Awesome chap! They credited you and some other un-important little person (I kid) with the soldier's unlock, the unlock name Equalizer inspired by the other dude Jibberish who had the same idea as you, although much later than your genius conception.

EGTF: Now everyone in the world is going to be asking you to play soldier and get killed by your Equalizer, overly critquing every time you play to a not elite standard or that you're overpowered when you do.

Still, to get one of only two exclusive items in existence in a game played by millions is damn cool. Here's hoping it's as absurd as Walker's Rocket Launcher.

Lack_26: Well done, you should make yourself a 'game developer of the year' medal and wear it everywhere.

Inferno: Well done Tom Francis! Can't wait to try out the equaliser.

Peterd102: Gratz to you Tom, in less happy news, you dont want to even see the next Demoman weapon....

nine: Congrats dude, you picked it!

PacifismFailed: Well done:D

ZomBuster: *applauds*

DoctorDisaster: +1 to Lack_26's suggestion.

Jazmeister: I like the new demoman weapon. It basically gets rid of the pipe bomb launcher as requested, and makes the sticky launcher more useful as a trap weapon. Notice it says you have to be looking at a sticky bomb for it to go off? That means you can't stick them on the control point and head off to the front lines, you gotta keep line of sight.

I can't wait to play with either of them.

DoctorDisaster: Actually Jaz, I'm pretty sure the nade launcher is the only slot that doesn't have an alternative. The targe is stated to be an alt for the sticky launcher, and the scots resistance must be as well -- unless they're going to let you get in the confusing situation of equipping two sticky launchers whose bombs have slightly different properties. Sounds like a recipe for confusion to me.

LaZodiac: Ten bucks says his special pickaxe is modeled to look like a burning bloody shovel called the last ditch digger.

Aeneas: You are so getting a gnome achievement named after you in episode 3

Jazmeister: DoctorDisaster: I had dismissed that possibility as I began to focus on a demoman with a purely defensive/trap laying sticky launcher and a sword/shield, but the way you put it, It's totally possible it'd just replace your sticky. Awwww.

Man, I wanted rid of that nade launcher too.

The Nate: Congrats!
I got all excited when I saw they picked your unlock!

Ninja: Congrats on the weapon unlock and mention.

My first time reading this blog was from the unlock post, and I've been a stronger supporter of your Shovel unlock ever since (And a pretty regular reader of your blog as well) glad to see you get some recognition.

More evidence that you should be a developer.

Dagda: I support the medal idea if the title on it is "Backseat Game Developer"

UberSprode: http://www.tf2items.... .../pentadact
I call shenanigans.

Tom Francis: Hee, that was for the PC Gamer Live event in Reading I just got back from. Everyone there, and anyone playing on the PC Gamer server at the time, got to see me and Craig commit warcrimes with the rapid-fire mega damage rocket launcher Robin himself has. Also it's on fire.

Thanks for all the congrats, chaps, I am slightly stunned by the mention and can't wait to try this motherbastard out. Will screenshot whatever special version they've given me, I suspect it'll be sparkles and a custom name.

Out Reach: My friend was playing at launch and played with tom and Robin. So sad i missed it :(

However he recorded it all here ...1vEb_F6crU


Qazi: It was very, very painful to be on the receiving end. Our enmassed Pyro airblasting tactic also failed miserably. Also, that Bonesaw; the encroaching HORROR of it.

Also, was the Community Scattergun meant to do anything special? I never noticed either of you use it. The stats on it are all debuffs too.

Jazmeister: Qazi: I'm not scientist, but I'd guess that the Community Scattergun makes you suck.

Qazi: Alas, I assume that too.
However, the "bombs explode on contact with surfaces" defuff has me puzzled.

Lack_26: Jazmeister: I am a scientist, through thorough testing (fancy guessing) I can conclude that the Community Scattergun does in-fact make you suck.