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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

My Favourite Films Of 09

11. Duplicity
Intricate corporate espionage con romance.

This might not even be the eleventh best film of the year, but it’s fresh in my mind so it’s going here. It’s a denser, more convincing version of the Mr And Mrs Smith premise: spies in love, associated trust issues. The corporate espionage theme somehow makes it cooler than the usual CIA/NSA/MEH, and the intentionally confusing time structure is fun to unravel. It also marks itself out as a superior con flick with its ending, avoiding both the ‘smug’ and ‘makes no fucking sense’ traps most of the rest of the genre falls into.

Having said that, for those who’ve seen it, once The Thing is acquired, why does The Person put suspicion on The Other Person, and how does the latter get out of it?

Supporting Role goes to Giamatti for a spectacularly frothing take on a very Ballmer-like CEO.

Where The Wild Things Are

10. Where The Wild Things Are
Violent, surreal kid’s fantasy.

I had kind of hoped that one of my favourite writers adapting one of my favourite children’s books might mean some kind of story or content would be added to it, but it still works for the same reason the book does. It knows exactly what a weird young boy wants to do, and supposes a place where it can happen for a while. The arbitrary nature of the conflict and turmoil feels a bit pointless in the new book, Egger’s novelisation of his own script, but on-screen it doesn’t especially need a point: it’s wonderful madness to watch, and the emotions are impactful even if their causes are randomised.


9. Fantastic Mr Fox
Animated Wes Anderson movie.

Every review I’ve read of this is entirely about whether it works as a kid’s movie, which misses the more important question: is it a good Wes Anderson movie? Yes! One of the best! The characteristic awkward pauses, wonky comic timing, lame heroics and quiet psychosis all work marvellously with the inherent creakiness of hand-made models, the shitty dancing and scary eating.

Supporting Role goes either to rat, for being amazing, or Michael Gambon for: “You wrote a bad song, Petey!”


8. Watchmen
Less idealised superhero movie.

Blessed with the advantage of never having read the comic, I was able to wholeheartedly enjoy this. It’s fun to see superheroes in a vaguely real world, where people are assholes and politics matter. The mask-off moment is tough to handle well with any vigilante, tougher still when he’s as vicious, gravelly-voiced and enigmatic as Rorschach. But here it’s done with a disarming lack of ceremony, and the casting of an awkward, freckly weirdo is perfect (says an awkward, freckly weirdo). More generally, that awkward freckly weirdo is perfect: when he finally gets his ‘face’ back, it’s almost a relief - he’s more terrifying without it. His quivering facial expression in the final scenes defies adequate description.


7. Coraline
Dark, surreal fairytale.

It was a traumatic year to be a kid. Four of my ten favourite films were kid’s movies with disturbing, disgusting, upsetting or inappropriate content. Coraline is about a girl seeking comfort in another dimension where she can have everything she wants if she lets them REMOVE HER EYES and REPLACE THEM WITH BUTTONS. Jesus fucking Christ. Happily, it’s disturbing in even more inspired and wonderful ways, and it’s one of the most deliciously weird films outside of the cult.

in the loop

6. In The Loop
British political satire.

“In Britain we have a saying… It’s difficult, difficult… lemon… difficult.”

District 9

5. District 9
Grim sci-fi action.

Just around the time District 9 is getting a little too dark, a little too painful and unpleasant to watch, someone flicks a switch and it transforms into a spectacular and fun action film. Some say that lets it down, for me it saves it. I have no interest in the allegory and I was about to genuinely not like this film for taking itself too seriously, and as if by magic it stopped.


4. Moon
Sci-fi mystery.

I’ll just say what I said earlier in the year: I thought it was going to be primarily about madness, and I’m glad it wasn’t. I thought it wouldn’t make sense, and I’m glad it did. I thought nothing would happen, and I was glad I was wrong. It’s not a twist film; the quirk occurs early and almost casually. But it keeps dodging expectations by straying close to clichés is has no intention of treading in. That makes it feel natural rather than contrived.


3. Zombieland
Comedy horror.

A film made specifically for people who, like me, get irritated with the protagonists of zombie films for not having seen any zombie films. The protagonist of Zombieland - a World of Warcraft player - has seen some zombie films. He knows how they get you, and has geekily sensible rules for how to avoid it. There’s that, and there’s a general sense of fun: the reason zombies are such a mainstay is they combine an empty-world fantasy with an acceptable-violence one, which are two cheap and exploitative ways to have irresponsible fun without becoming morally compromised. Zombieland actually gets it, and gears its whole mood around the guilty positives.


2. Up

You know when people say “I’m not ashamed to say I cried”? I’m ashamed! Of course I’m ashamed! It’s pathetic! My only excuse is that Pixar have some witchy way to key into my emotions in a matter of seconds. That didn’t trigger the waterworks, despite an early death: sad things never do. It was when, towards the very end, a private discovery puts the old guy’s whole quest in a new, happier light. They cynically stashed all that sadness in my headspace all the way back in the intro, just so they could pull the plug and immasculate me at the last minute. Twats.


1. Star Trek

I don’t actually like Star Trek very much, the original series. And this is the same characters even earlier, so not much positive bias going in. But I love this, partly for making retro sci-fi feel impactful, fantastic and exciting, but mostly because of Kirk and Spock. I never cared for the insufferably unstoppable alpha-male Kirk and the nothingy Spock. But by pitting the two as fierce rivals, they’ve revitalised both characters: Kirk’s still cocky, but he’s not always right and he doesn’t always get his way. Spock’s still dry, but there’s real steel beneath it now, and you feel like he gives a damn. [Spoiler warning] Ultimately in their struggle Kirk gets the command, and Spock gets - or rather always had - the girl. It’s a surprising twist, which is exactly why it makes the characters work: there’s no longer that dull inevitability.

Also I really like the way the phasers have a disc that swivels when switching between stun and kill.

Anyone see anything good I missed?


Half Loaf 2: You Missed 'Let The Right One In', A Swedish coming of age vampire movie.

Bret: Inglourious Bastards had some good moments.

Good, horrible, graphic moments only barely excused by the fact they happened to Nazis, but still fun moments.

And Sherlock Holmes was fairly fun, even if there was directorial excess at times.

But yeah. Star Trek, Up, Zombieland, District 9, and Moon were best. Saw Moon based mainly on your mentions, and the Kevin Spacey voiced robot proved even better than promised.

The Duuuuude: I think the biggest question for Fantastic Mr. Fox many people are now furries thanks to that movie?

Anyways. I've only seen a few on your list, but what I have seen definently are on my favourite films of 09.

Also, Avatar.


Phill Cameron: Synecdoche, New York is always worth a mention, because it's astonishingly powerful.

Black Dynamite is the funniest thing I've seen in ages, and does the whole parody-without-poking-fun-at-the-source-material thing perfectly.

Recently saw Brothers and The Messenger, two films about American marines, and both are really quite incredible.

Rodafowa: I really, really liked Star Trek up until the Slippy Slidey Ice World at which point the film fell apart a bit. Characters started doing things that made absolutely no damn sense and unlikely coincidences began to pile high enough that they began to overshadow the good stuff that was going on.

Also, let me be the first pompous geek of many to say that if you haven't read Watchmen, you should read Watchmen. Everything that was good in the film is done better in the comic, and pretty much everything that wasn't good isn't there.

Pheonix: Avatar. I'm sorry, but I think this was the movie of the decade.

LC: I literally just came back from seeing Avatar and I'm glad you didn't put it on your list. As pretty as it was, the movie is ridiculously lacking in many, many areas. I spent more time laughing at it than anything else, especially the horrible one-liners.

In 5 or 10 years the CGI won't be considered good anymore. All of the arguments for it will go out the window.

Bret: Well, Jurassic Park still looks nice.

Other than that?

You're probably right.

Alex Holland: Having been exposed to the graphic novel of Watchmen before the film, I'm afraid to say I thought it was a mess, only really redeemed by the spectacularly true-to-the-book casting/playing of Rorschach ("I'm not trapped in here with you. You're trapped in here with me."). Sign me up to the pompous geek charter.

If you want a genuinely good film about a world where Superheroes are outlawed, watch The Incredibles. I only saw this for the first time recently, and it's fried gold.

Moon is my personal pick of the year, but with Star Trek and District 9, it's been a bumper one for Sci-Fi. I'm seeing Avatar tonight, so no opinion there. Yet.

nine: Gran Torino?

nine: Oh yes, and Avatar. It's reignited my passion for giant epic adventure movies, because it's so amazingly realised.

spuzman: I agree with nine, Gran Torino was pretty fun to watch. But Sherlock Holmes being the freshest in my mind, I currently have the highest opinion of it.

Anonymous: Regarding watchmen, i think the best way to do it is watch the movie, then read the comic. That way you're not angry about everything the movie inevitably misses, it being intended to be viewed in one sitting. You're not angry that the movie wasn't everything YOU wanted it to be. The comic really is everything the movie is and more. It's just as pretty, but so much darker and more tangled.

The incredibles may not be as dark or intricate. But it is better. That is all.

Rasmus Widengård: I thought Watchmen was dreary, and poorly directed dreariness at that.
Yes, Zack, we get it. The last couple of scenes implies imminent doom and the upheaval of society as we've come to know it.
- You don't NEED Philip Glass to enhance that sensation as the material speaks for itself.
I also found that the key moments of the book, such as the disheartening climax of Rorschach's therapy-sessions, had been savagely butchered.
Probably in favour of a fast pace and those ridiculously gratuitous action scenes.
It was loud, shiny and utterly insubstantial on every conceivable level.
And usually I wouldn't mind that in a comic book film.
Hey, the majority of them are incredibly silly and bereft of any rudimentary depth.
But this is Watchmen.
And there is enough subtext crammed between those pages to cut with a knife.

Tom Francis: Not seen Avatar yet, was thinking of not bothering. Will see Sherlock this week. Liked most of Inglourious, but hated the delight in mutilation. The Incredibles is great but I think Wall-E is my favourite of theirs. And Gran Torino is excellent, nearly made the list.

Roda: the chance encounter on the ice world was definitely the weak point. The director's commentary says they had a scene explaining that which they now regret cutting, but it also summarises the explanation as the timeline trying to correct itself. No, idiots! The timeline isn't trying to change itself back to the one you came from, because it doesn't know who you are. Play Braid!

Lack_26: I just saw Star Trek last night, it was excellent. I brought Moon when it was out on DVD solely on your recommendation and absolutely loved it. I watched Inglorious Basterds and really liked that as well, but then I've only watched a few films released this year, so it would be in my top 3 of 3 new films I've watched this year (I think, I might have seen more).

Jazmeister: If you see Avatar, you have to think of something to say other than "It's really pretty and the plot's rubbish, 10/10" or James Cameron will die.

From your list, I didn't see Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, Zombieland, In the Loop, The Fantastic Mr Fox, or Duplicity. Crikey. I thought Coraline was brilliant. I'm increasingly liking these "children's films". I think I just like Neil Gaiman.

I liked Watchmen and I read the comic. Don't tell Craig though.

Ociee: Great list ;) Sherlock is very good, Downey does it well, and the deconstructions of fights and key events are pretty cool and conform to a detective style more than the typical portrayal of Sherlock... Totally agree with In The Loop too ;)

Joe!: Why isn't Let the Right One In up there? And I would suggest The Informant!, but the awkward and juxtaposed soundtrack over EVERY FUCKING SCENE ruined it for me.

For me, the film of the year was Up in the Air. Incredibly well written and George Clooney suits the role perfectly.

Ludo: The Watchmen was fun but had one of the most excruciating sex scenes I've ever seen. Hallelujah should just be banned from soundtracks.

Avatar looked incredible but did have some quite horrible writing.

"This is what we're here for: the Unobtanium." Unobtainium!

"But sir, killing the indigenous people looks bad." Yep.

"The Tree of Souls lies at the centre of the Flux Vortex!"

District 9 was three films rolled into one, but in a good 'more value for your money' way. It also had giant mechs, as did Avatar. Plus points for both.

Dave_C: Found Avatar highly underwhelming. I'd say the money paid AL MOST justifies the initial ''wow'' factor of seeing the 3-D effect for the first time. It's the closest thing I've seen to looking at a live performance, and really being drawn into the world. Then, after about 15 minutes, I got used to all that and could only focus on the plot, and the characters. The plot I found to be thoroughly predictable and never surprised me in the least. The characters I found to be bland.
Not many people mention this, but I could not stand the soundtrack either. I'm talking mainly about the Na'vi motifs that constantly punctuate every moment of their screen time. Heroic, noble tones and pan-pipes. OH GOD THE PAN-PIPES.

Sam: Terrible call missing out Let the Right One In. Beautiful film. For me, best of the year.

Joe!: Can someone actually explain to me what In the Loop is about? I've heard its bad from some people, but the AV club gave it a good review, and now Mr. Francis likes it.

LaZodiac: You forgot 9. I don't really know how to say how good it was for me.

To use a sorta in joke example, a friend of mine had a feeling all video games were slowly going down the tube. Then he watched some footage of Bayonetta, and that game, for him, made him relize that good games are still being made. 9 is my movie version of that.

Ludo: Joel: In The Loop is based on The Thick of It, Armando Iannuci's British political satire series. Stylistically it has a realistic documentary feel but it's a very well scripted comedy. It's mostly about very sweary, fast talking politicians screwing each other over. In The Loop is a thinly veiled send up of the process surrounding the start of the Iraq war. It's ace.

I would say Tom didn't do such a great job communicating what In The Loop is with that quote. But once you've seen it that really does sum it up quite well. I actually burst out laughing when I read it.

Dr. Nerfball: Dang, someone ninja'd me to saying 9, although I will admit it does suffer from the whole "very pretty, poor plot" thing. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but it just seemed to be a bare-bones linking fight scenes together thing. Weaksauce.

And I also want to say "any film with Tim Curry in it which came out this year" but honestly, Barbie and the Three Musketeers? That was his ONLY film appearance? Bloody hell. Ah well, Dragon Age makes up for it I suppose. Oh, and...maybe "Cramford", 2.5 hours of victorian garbage, then all of a sudden everything awesome happens in the last 30 minutes. And even in his 5 minute long appearance he still manages to be scary as all hell.

Jason L: is great, is good but could have been great if Snyder hadn't done his translation via a word-by-word lookup. But just wait until you read the book and see how stupid the film's modified ending isn't.

I'm usually charmed when films just come out and call their magic material Unobtainium. It was one of my favourite parts of The Core.

I saw Up in 3D, went in with good expectations but was anti-impressed by the effect. Seeing things as having an 'actual' size in real space always made them feel constrained and small to me, even when it was a twenty-foot-high face on screen. Even worse, they had to make sure we were getting our two bucks' worth at all times so they kicked in the stereo effect in situations where you wouldn't have stereooptic information in real life. Most conspicuous were the moments where they showed the house from a distance against the plateau; because they amped up the 3D it looked close and toylike and by contrast made the backdrop look, well, like a flat backdrop. The second problem is an implementation issue, but if Pixar of all people didn't have the restraint to avoid it I'm not sanguine about the future. The first problem seems endemic, at least to me.

Bret: Huh, Tom is right again. Wall-E IS the best Pixar movie.

And therefore quite possibly the best animated movie of ALL TIME.

Alex Holland: Saw Avatar last night, in 3D on a huge (non-IMAX) screen. The 3D is used with restraint, and simply adds depth to most scenes rather than trying to deliver "a lion in your lap".

As for the film? I think Damien Lindelof's (Lost, Star Trek) summary was best:

"Avatar hypnotized me. I’m not sure if it’s a work of genius or utter shit. Could it be BOTH?"

I'd certainly recommend going to see it - it's about the only film I can think of that warrants the title "Event Movie".

1stGear: @Bret: take "best animated movie of ALL TIME", remove the "animated" and you have what Wall-E is.

@Jason L: I first saw Up in 3D and then saw it normally and I'd say it gains nothing from being in 3D. And I'm enough of a Pixar fanboy that I'm going to personally think that no one at Pixar wanted the movie to be in 3D, it was just an unfortunate casualty of the fad going around.

As for Tom's list, I've only seen four of the movies but I agree with your analysis of each one. Star Trek had a marvelous "Fuck you, clingy fans" feel that made the movie wonderful for the rest of us, District 9 combined an intelligent plot with whizz-bang action perfectly, and Up was Pixar's usual standard of brilliance.

As for Watchmen, I bought and read the comic around the time the movie came out, do so roughly every three months and I still find stuff in it that I missed in the other readings. It is easily the best example of the source material being better than the movie because Watchmen works perfectly as a comic book. The movie was also good and worth seeing, but every person capable of reading the English language needs to read Watchmen.

Also, there's significantly less blue wang and overly long sex scenes in the comic, so that's a plus.

DoctorDisaster: Of the films I've seen, I agree with everything here! Except the aforementioned exclusion of "Let the Right One In." If you haven't seen it yet, you really should. Creepy, endearing, and layered in the extreme.

I didn't bother with Mr. Fox because the addition of clothes had me worrying that they would Beatrix-Potterify the story. But if it's actually good I'll certainly give it a look.

I read Watchmen and saw the movie and I think they both shine in different areas. The book is generally better, but unlike every other pretentious nerd in the world I'm going to point out that that's because the book is ALWAYS better. Whoever said "Hallelujah" should be banned from soundtracks was right, but I'll also point out that building-sized proto-hentai vagina monsters should be banned from comic books.

Bret: Hey, WALL-E is my top movie, ever, but I wanted to leave room for reasonable people to pick Serenity instead if they so choose.

Caleb: Oh my, I totally need to get my hands on Black Dynamite. Thanks for reminding me, Phill Cameron

Plumberduck: Sherlock Holmes and Avatar both bored me to tears. If all your movie has is spectacle, in lieu of plot or character, well, you made a bad movie, Petey.

Man, I love that line. My friend and I spent half an hour after we saw Mr. Fox, trying to figure out why it was so great. I'd seen the movie before, and it still made me laugh out loud, HARD.

The other movie that made me laugh out loud was In The Loop. Which is a fun trick, because it's also one of the most depressing movies I've ever seen. Malcolm Tucker is a god of creative invective.

I saw Let The Right One In the other day. Can someone explain to me what the big deal is? It seemed very pretty, very predictable, very slow. A much better (which is to say, weirder) for'n vampire movie this year was Thirst, which covers all of the same emotional bases as LTROI, AND features a vampire drinking from a comatose dude's IV like a straw.

Good list, Tom.

Ronnoc: Lists like this would be improved by a list of the movies you saw this year, in my humble opinion.
I'd like to join in yelling at you about what I want to see on the list, but maybe you just haven't seen movie X?
I only saw 3 movies this year, so I mostly stay out of these discussions :P

Sam: @Plumberduck: I really recommend you watch it again, I didn't find it slow at all, the young actors are just incredible. Not looking forward to the Hollywood remake.... cringe....
Oh and Thirst does sound great Park Chan-Wook's previous movies are brilliant - Old Boy!!!

Barotte: Watchmen's great and all (the comic), but Alan Moore's a cunt.

Jus' sayin'

Alonzo: Why has no one mentioned The Hurt Locker yet?


Also Slumdog Millionaire came out this year in the UK, and I haven't seen it but there's a lot of love around for A Serious Man.

Jason L: @DD: Counterexamples: The Bourne Anything. What Dreams May Come. James Bond?

I'm sad to say that all I got out of The Hurt Locker was the All Quiet On The Western Front moment in the cereal aisle, and I didn't feel it was worth the rest of the time. Great acting, but it just seemed like a disconnected series of sketches to me. I get the isolation/fucked-upness theme, but that's punched home with the one Hollywood scene in the film, where maniac explains everything poetically to his infant kid. Otherwise, all the screen time is there to tell you...that getting blown up and shot at in Iraq sucks...?

Bret: Huh. Forgot all about 500 days of Summer until just now. Surprisingly alright film.

And Barotte?

Maybe, but he's shown a good sense of humor about himself. Watch his Simpson's episode or read an issue of 1963. Well worth the effort.

Alonzo: @Jason L: perhaps, but the rest of the film was designed to take you inside the head of someone that does what Will James does; the macho-ness required for the job and when that can go wrong. Whether that works for everyone I'm not going to argue, but it's clearly a better film than Star Wars :p

Jason L: Well, of course, but Star Wars has lightsabers. 'I'd rather be lucky than good any day.'

Alonzo: Sorry, Star Trek. I was meant to mock Tom's choice of a dumb action movie at no.1 over genuinely good sci-fi films like Moon and District 9.

Chris R: Watched "Let the Right One In" last night with the g/f, and our thoughts on that movie are "meh." As Plumberduck says, it was very slow and not all that interesting. Oh well.

District 9 was all right, but annoying at the same time. So that Wikus guy? He gets put in charge of the whole "evict the aliens" operation, but then is going door to door himself? What? He had absolutely no authority in his voice, his body language, or his actions. I had no respect for him. It didn't make any sense, so the rest of the movie was ruined for me because of it. And he's a bumbling idiot to boot.

*SPOILERS* Two other parts that caused a disconnect for me: 1) Near the end, after Christopher and Wikus get the "fuel" container, and are going down into the basement, Wikus decides to knock out the Christopher Alien.... why?? To what end? Christopher is the only one that knows how to fix Wikus... why knock him out and leave him for dead? WTF, does not compute! 2) A few minutes laster, when Wikus is in the power suit, he walks past Christopher, who is about to be killed by the mercenary guys. Wikus leaves Christopher to die (AGAIN), then has a change of heart for some reason and comes charging back to kill the army guys. Make up your mind you dumbass!! It would have been a better movie if it flowed better, or if Wikus' actions made more sense I suppose. *END Spoilers*

Then again, he was turning into an Alien, and running on hardly any sleep, so I guess it makes sense for him to be acting crazy. Still... I wasn't buying it.

bob: Want to see zombie land so bad :P :)

Plumberduck: It's weird, because Wikus being a complete and utter tool makes the movie unpleasant to watch, but it's also sort of the point.

Christopher is the hero of the movie, objectively. He sets the action in motion, he's the one working to make things better, the one who shows compassion. But he's a Prawn. So we stay with Wikus instead.

Wikus, who is weak, who is reactive, who is cowardly, who is entirely self-interested. He is not a pleasant person to spend time with. Focusing on him is kind of brilliant, because it builds the film's racism into its very structure - Wikus is a human, so he's our hero - but it also reduced my enjoyment of the movie, because I hated the little whiner so much.

Interesting to contrast that with In The Loop, which has a similar disconnect between "protagonist" and "hero". Simon Foster is probably the protagonist, but he's so ineffectual and weak that you find yourself rooting for Magnificent Bastard (and "bad guy") Malcolm Tucker because at least he Gets Stuff Done.

DoctorDisaster: @Jason L: There are certainly exceptions, but they are few and far between. I'll also have to point out that many James Bond movies were just as bad or worse than the novels.

Jazmeister: I think Wikus needed to be a miserable scumbag to avoid the Mighty Whitey thing.

Alex Holland: I'm not sure I can silently endure all the badmouthing of the James Bond books - some of them are tightly written and fairly magnificent. Others are Doctor No. Try reading the short stories in For Your Eyes Only, or the original Casino Royale - great stuff.

@ChrisR You have District 9 very wrong. Christopher, the alien is very Humane. Wiikus, the human, is very Human. He's well liked at work, and clearly a loving husband. But he's also xenophobic, cowardly, elevated by nepotism (being married to the CEO's daughter), afraid to confront real power (the soldiers and the gangsters) and revels in the little power he has. Up until the final moments of the film, his actions are driven entirely by fear and self interest - he wants to be completely human again, to rejoin his wife. He knocks out Christopher because he can't face the idea of a 3 year delay and thinks he can fix himself at the mothership.

At the close, risking his life to give Christopher and avenue of escape, he quite possibly dooms the human race to annihilation by some future army of vengence-crazed aliens, yet we're rooting for him because he's finally acting humanely - the less human he becomes, the more humane he becomes.

Discuss the dichotomy between the reality of the human condition and our idealised model of it. Is "humanity" a concept that describes a set of behaviours rather than a strict biology, species, skin colour? 25 marks, recommended time 20 minutes.

DoctorDisaster: @Alex -- That was kind of what I was getting at (ineffectively) with my James Bond comment. Both the film series and the book series are mixed bags with high points and low points.

Arthur T: Avatar was the dogs bollox. A few unanswered questions and writing/plot quibbles (such as the much sniggered at 'unobtanium') were overwhelmed by the amazing spectacle and the great pacing. If you want something 'deeper' go read a fricking book. I can't recommend it highly enough. For me the naysayers went looking for negativity from the off. Ref: animated series "The Critic".

Plumberduck: @Arthur T Except for the part where NOTHING HAPPENED. It was just cliche after cliche after cliche, to the point where you could predict every single thing that was going to happen in the movie from about the 20-minute mark. And the action scenes? BORING. It's very, very hard to care about the fates of characters when they're just cardboard cut-outs. I came into that movie with an open mind, and left bored and pissed off.

PS: Seriously? The pacing? It's a three-hour long movie that could have been done in literally half that time without sacrificing a thing.

Flying Squirrel: @Plumberduck - James Cameron out and out said it was the plot from Dances with Wolves, so there shouldn't have been any big surprises. That's like being surprised that Boromir died in The Fellowship. It's one of the few movies in the last few years that really pulled me in from a purely cinematographic point, and also one of the few that didn't have any of the uncomfortably cheesy or grotesque moments that breaks the flow. I wasn't expecting much when I went in, and was pleasantly surprised. In this case the plot and individual characters come second to the overall presentation, and it works.

Plumberduck: At the risk of being snippy and pedantic, your example wouldn't be like being surprised by Boromir's death, it would be like watching a movie that blatantly, boringly ripped off The Lord of the Rings after having read an interview somewhere where the director said "Yeah, I'm ripping off The Lord of the Rings."

I'm of the opinion that spectacle for the sake of spectacle is pointless. I just got back from seeing The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, and I couldn't help comparing it to Avatar. Avatar is a tightly controlled, visually beautiful movie. TIoDP is messy, mumbly, weird. And yet, I loved it, because everything Gilliam was doing was in service of ideas, of making points, obscure though they may be. Avatar didn't make me think once, except thoughts like "I'm bored," or "Giant Robot Knife! Awesome!"

All right, at this point I'm just kvetching for kvetching's sake.

Jason L: Spectacle, spectacle, spectacle. I already play video games. If I'm going to sit down in front of someone else's CGI whizzing all over the place and going boom, it had better be in service of a story or character. See also The Matrix 3's exoskeletons: ludicrous, nonsensical, stupid, AWESOME, and utterly wasted on an overlong scene made deathly dull by nonexistent editorial discipline and lack of a foundation in story and character.

I wasn't slamming James Bond in general either, just kneejerk opposing an all-caps 'ALWAYS'. There are counterexamples there, that's all I was saying.

Tom Francis: Interesting stuff! I remain interested, but not quite interested enough to pay. I like spectacle, but 3D always looks very slightly flickery to me, which annoys me after a while.

Fixed the images. Dunno what broke, but I fixed it anyway.