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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

Some TV That Was Mostly Shown Last Year In Some Places

Last one of these – I won’t do a music one because I didn’t really get into much last year, and everyone’s heard Florence and the Machine. The Music Downloads tag has everything I liked enough to share.

Is this list in order? If you care, no. If you don’t, yes.


Curb Your Enthusiasm

There are far more episodes of this than I will ever have the constitution to watch, but this last series was well worth catching for the Seinfeld reunion. The actual episode of Seinfeld produced within the show isn’t shown in full, but the real payoff is better: having Larry and Jerry in the same show. You can immediately see why Seinfeld itself turned out so well: Larry’s darker, but funnier with a more positive presence to play off. And Jerry’s funnier when he has someone to take him to more absurd and surreal places. Best of all, the verite style of Curb lets them honestly laugh at each other’s stuff, which somehow makes all of it funnier.



It took a long time to build enough on to its unconvincing premise – brainwashable prostitutes – to convince anyone it was worthwhile, but this second season has really picked up pace. It’s started to show a surprising commitment to progressing the plot in drastic ways with each episode, and even the one-offs have cleared up major backstory mysteries. Perhaps it was a series that knew it would die soon, or perhaps there’s a huge masterplan we’ll ever see. Either way, I don’t feel like we’re losing masses of unexplored potential by ending the series now, but I’m enjoying the impressive rate it’s burning through what it’s got left.

Man-doll Victor’s been the other treat of this season – previously stuck in some pretty dull roles, he’s since been given three or four chances to mimic other characters when ‘imprinted’ with their personality. Each time, the performance has been creepily good. When trying to tot up how many times it had happened just now, it took me a while to remember that he’d ever impersonated Topher – I just filed that whole sequence as ‘the bit with two Tophers’.

Update: just saw the latest. Whaaaaaat.



I gave this a chance solely because it had Nathan Fillion – Firefly’s Captain Reynolds – in it, and happened to do so on the episode where his character dresses as Mal Reynolds for Halloween. “Didn’t you wear that like five years ago?” His daughter comments. “Don’t you think you should move on?”

It couldn’t pick a more worn-smooth formula if it consciously tried: a police procedural starring a non-cop ‘consultant’ who helps the department solve crimes by a) having some special insight into the criminal mind and b) projecting an aura that prevents ordinary cops from grasping rudimentary logic until it’s phrased to them in allegorical form. The flavour this time is that he’s a best-selling crime writer. And that it’s brilliant.

The twists are small but effective: Lady Cop’s disapproving relationship with him is complicated by the fact that she’s always been a fan of his trashy work, and there’s something almost cute about her determination to give him a harder time to compensate. Castle himself is a rockstar in the literary world, but a powerless underling in law enforcement – Fillion manages to be charming, funny and pathetic as both. And his profession gives him a boyish excitement for working with the police rather than the sneering smugness the genius character usually has.


His daughter, whose inclusion initially triggers a Pavlovian sense that this is where it’s about to jump the shark, isn’t used as a source of whiny teenage tension. Instead she’s just a bedrock for the character, convincing, likable and sweet. It’s so rare to see a father/daughter relationship on screen where they just seem to be friends, and neither of them is being an asshole – the highest compliment I can pay is that it reminds me of Veronica and Keith Mars. It’s only because all this stuff works that she serves the purpose most irritating daughter characters are trying to: she humanises a man who seems otherwise ghoulish in his enthusiasm for murder.



Speaking of men ghoulish in their enthusiasm for murder – yes! Link! – wow, Dexter was incredible last year. Seasons two and three both ultimately vindicated themselves, but each had a wholly annoying, dangerously predominant character who forever threatened to ruin it. Season four’s non-annoying equivalent is 3rd Rock From The Sun’s John Lithgow, and the wrinkly sociopath he chillingly portrays is one of the most compelling screen murderers I can remember.

Funnily enough, despite an exciting escalation from the worst Thanksgiving ever to an extraordinarily grim finale, the episode that stuck with me was an early one-off. A sleep-deprived Dexter completely loses track of where he’s stashed a body, and consistently one-ups himself by avoiding all the places even he would think to look. I think the core appeal of Dexter is that, whether or not we’ve killed anyone, we all remember how it feels to have done something bad. Even if it was as a kid, the consuming fear of getting caught is scarier than any monster or murderer, because no-one’s going to be on your side.

Flight of the Conchords

Loretta broke my heart in a letter
She told me she was leaving and her life would be better
Joan broke it off over the phone
After the tone she left me alone

Jen said she’d never ever see me again
When I saw her again, she said it again
Jan met another man
Leeza got amnesia just forgot who I am

Felicity, said there was no electricity
Emily, no chemistry
Fran ran, Bruce turned out to be a man
Flo had to go; I couldn’t go with the flow

Carol Brown just took a bus out of town
But I’m hoping that you’ll stick around

(He doesn’t cook or clean; he’s not good boyfriend material)
Ooh we can eat cereal!
(You’ll lose interest fast, his relationships never last)
Shut up girlfriends from the past
(He says he’ll do one thing and then he goes and does another thing)
Ooh, who organised all my ex girlfriends into a choir and got them to sing?
Who? Who? Mmm, shut up
Shut up girlfriends from the past

Mimi will no longer see me
Britney, Britney hit me
Paula, Persephone, Stella and Stephanie
There must be 50 ways that lovers have left me

Carol Brown just took a bus out of town

Love is a delicate thing it could just float away on the breeze
(He said the same thing to me)
How can we ever know we’ve found the right person in this world
(He means he looks at other girls)
Love is a mystery, it does not follow a rule
(This guy is a fool)
(He will always be a boy; he’s a man who never grew up)
I thought I told you to shut u-u-up?

Mona, you told me you were in a coma
Tiffany, you said that you had an epiphany
Mmm, would you like a little cereal?
Who organised this choir of my ex girlfriends?
Was it you, Carol Brown? Was it you, Carol Brown?

Carol Brown just took a bus out of town
But I’m hoping that you’ll stick around

state of play

Special Mention: State of Play

Not even remotely last year, but holy shit this was exciting. When I watch something this good, I sometimes get a completely inappropriate twinge of envy – why aren’t I this good a TV writer? Wait, I’m not a TV writer. Still, damn you Paul Abbott.

It’s the story of two murders, a mysterious death, an MP and the journalists investigating their connection. S. It gets complicated at a rate of knots, but never arbitrarily, and making sense of those complications becomes a compulsion. It’s a single six episode series, and if you can make them last more than a week you’re a stronger person than I.

I tried to watch the more recent film adaptation on a plane, but in trying to cram six hours of fast-paced developments into two, they’ve somehow managed to make it slower, less exciting and insufferably preachy. If you can watch the whole thing after seeing the series, you’re a more patient person than I.


Note: Glee

I don’t know if it was in my top ten or anything, but this series about the rivalry between a glee club and a cheerleading squad – two concepts completely foreign to me – starts on E4 in the UK tomorrow. It’s sort of hypnotic: glossy and mawkish, but aware of it and happy to throw a slushie in its own smug face every now and then. It was the Journey cover they do at the end of the first episode that convinced me that songs could actually work in something like this, so catch that if you catch nothing else. It’s worth sticking with for the surprising Sue Sylvester episode, and the irritating aspects of the plot’s main conflicts do get resolved.

Smurfy: I saw this earlier but there were no pics.

Tom Francis: Ha! I wondered if anyone caught that. I hit the Publish button instead of the Update Draft - luckily the RSS feed didn't seem to fire it out before I privatised it.

Nighthood: No "The Thick of It"? I'll just assume you don't watch it, as if you did it would be right at the top!

The_B: I got it in my RSS. I was wondering what you were going to put for Flight and Dexter. Good stuff though.

radomaj: No "Better Off Ted"? No "Community"? :( Completely agree with Dexter, Castle and Dollhouse. Somewhat agree with Flight of the Conchords. Will have to check out State of Play I suppose. Will think about checking out "Curb Your Enthusiasm". Will stop making this type of sentences.

Bret: Agreed on Community, but Better Off Ted and Glee just rubbed me the wrong way. No idea why.

And Dollhouse?

Yeah. The guy who plays Victor, Enver Gjokaj, is scary good. I think he'll go far.

Caught the latest episode, by the way? Twisty.

Tom Francis: Thick Of It was on the original version of this list, but I found I didn't have much to say about the first five beyond "It's good, watch it."

The rest I've not seen.

Bret: yeah, just caught it. WHAT. I wonder if there were any clues to that before now? I can't even begin to imagine how it's going to make sense.

Iain “DDude” Dawson: Community is nice, worth a look. I plan to check out Glee on E4, but I am afraid to say I have slipped behind on both Dexter and Dollhouse. And Caslte.

But it does not matter. As I seen Better Off Ted. And it is one of the most hilarious things I have seen in a while. Worth a look for sure. Very post-Arrested Development. Very, very awesome.

Tom Francis: Oh wait, I just begun to imagine how it's going to make sense. Still don't know why Orginsation X wants Person Y alive though.

Bret: Probably due to the running plot arc relating to person Y.

If person Y is who I think person Y is, and not the fellow with the unhappy thing happening a bit ago.

Dan: Curb your Enthusiasm is really brilliant, it's worth seeing the past episodes all through.

Joe!: Where is Community, Fringe, V, Flashforward, Family Guy, Cleveland Show, Entourage?

And Community is excellent, if only for Chevy Chase's character's barely concealed racism.

"I'm good with my fists, Abed (Asian guy) probably knows martial arts, and Troy (the black guy); you're probably good with a switchblade."

LaZodiac: I'm pretty sure Family Guy and Cleveland Show aren't on this list because they are horrible stains on humanity, but I agree with the wierd lack of V and Fringe.

Also, what is Community? I've seen comercials for something that has a similer name on Discovery Channel, but it can't be that because its a reality show about pretending its the apocolypse or something.

Tom Francis: Rather than just ask where stuff is, could you say a little about why you like it? Most of this stuff I haven't seen and know nothing about. Fringe I have been following - great start to this series but I've been losing interest as it's lapsed more into one-offs. Still much better than its muddled early days, though, Walter is becoming a really funny and sad character.

Dante: State of Play is truly immense, along with, probably the best thing the BBC have done in the last decade, although Life on Mars runs it close. I honestly don't know what to make of Glee, it veers between embarrassingly twee and sharp and sarky all the time, Sue Sylvester seems to be acting in almost a completely different show to the rest of the characters.

Good things I've watched recently not mentioned:

Burn Notice - Flashy spy show that keeps on improving, lovely use of voiceover to illustrate clever little bits of spy tradecraft.

Leverage - Kind of like a US version of Hustle, but with a really strong and funny ensemble cast and some really clever cons.

House - I thought House was really starting to get old last season, but the new series (especially the amazing opening episode) have really started to stir things up and tinker with the classic formula.

Bret: Right. Community.

It's a sitcom set at a community college. Stars Joel McHale from "The Soup" as Jeff Winger, an amoral attorney who, as it turns out, did not have a degree. To quote the first episode:

"I thought you said you had a degree from Columbia!"
"And now I need to get one in America."

In an attempt to get into the pants of a woman in his Spanish class, Winger forms a "study group". Unfortunately for him, people attend.

And sheer inertia keeps them together.

The whole cast is frequently very amusing, including Chevy Chase as Pierce Hawthorn, the elderly, racist, sexist, arrogant, somewhat insane moist towelette tycoon.

The show is self aware and fairly witty, keeps up a good pace of jokes, and generally nears 30 Rock levels of quality.

Plumberduck: Better Off Ted is great; it's a lot like the late, lamented Andy Richter Controls the Universe (which makes sense, since they were created by the same guy), except the protagonist is handsome, smart, successful and charming, instead of sad and sclubby (although still charming, because Andy Richter is great).

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia had a good season. If you're not familiar, it's basically Seinfeld is everyone was Chaotic Evil. There was a point a while ago where the show was sort of in a dilemma over whether the characters were realistic scumbags or cartoonishly monstrous, evil people, but the latest season has really embraced the latter, which is fun.

The Venture Brothers, on Adult Swim in the States, has also been fantastic this last season. It's amazing the level of humor and emotion you can mine out of the basic premise "Johnny Quest grows up, becomes a failure, has two extremely annoying Boy Adventurer sons".

Jason L: I rarely watch TV. Here's what I can say.

I have of course seen some episodes of Castle. My judgment of anything involving Nathan Fillion is unavoidably biased, but I do like it and I do notice that I like people who aren't Castle. More them than him, actually; Castle's great, but his daughter and his mom are both completely delightful, the kind of characters and performances that always leave you wanting more time with them. I would single out his detective partner as the only weak point in the show - the actress is doing an excellent job with what she's given, but the writing often seems to lack the respect accorded to everyone else.

Cleveland is precisely, down to the nth decimal place, More Family Guy, minus Stewie and Brian. Take that as you will.

I've seen one episode of Entourage, and it's like my experience with Bjork only more so: I don't really remember what happened, but I remember that I generally enjoyed it. What I do remember is that one of the guys' house had been broken into, leading him to buy a gun and accidentally shoot up the house, and one of the guys got assigned to acquire a guest-starring Bob Saget's talent contract, in exchange for which Bob Saget demanded the right to have sex in the company president's office. Summary impression: Callous, overprivileged but weirdly sympathetic people repeatedly establish that they deserve to suffer, then suffer mildly.

Plumberduck, I have to make sure you also know about Andy Barker, PI - another Andy Richter production starring Andy Richter, and from the two episodes I've seen so far another excellent but short-lived piece of work. It's - er - a police procedural starring a non-cop etc., in this case an accountant. There is also a chase scene in golf carts on a golf course.

radomaj: I don't know how to make words look nice, so here's John Walker on
Community: ...n-sitcoms/
Better Off Ted: ...-internet/

@Dante: How did I forget House?

Grill: This isn't fair. I stopped watching TV because I simply don't have time - now I want to watch everything on that list. Grr.

Dr. Nerfball: @LaZodiac: Good show old boy, good show. I honestly thought I was the only person in the world who thought Family Guy was terrible. Maybe it gets better after the first series, but it just seems horribly immature and very annoying.

Also, on the topic of not good TV, is it just me, or has Scrubs been getting succesively worse since series 6?

Joe!: Family Guy & Cleveland Show - Funny

Flashforward - Interesting concept, after several bad episodes, its really improved. About the what if situation of everyone in the world seeing the future and blacking out for 2 minutes, all at the same time.

V - Another interesting concept, friendly aliens arrive to help humanity, but are actually EVIL LIZARD MEN. FBI agent and a priest try to organise a resistance against the slick, smooth-talking alien front.

Community - Hilarious comedy about a community college, and a wise-ass lawyer forced to learn spanish. Most episodes follow him trying to cope with his new circumstances and the somewhat crazy people around him.

Joe!: Oh yeah, and I forgot Modern Family. It's about three small families, all loosely linked via siblings and parents. There's the two gay men adopting a baby, the childish parents struggling with their three children, and the old guy married to a beautiful Colombian, trying to instil masculinity in his camp stepson.

Lack_26: Anyone else watched Breaking Bad? It was on channel 5 USA at a really obscure time like 11:55pm on a Tuesday, I caught the first and second episodes and loved it, so brought the series 1 DVD for Christmas.

I heartily recommend it to anyone. It's not comedy though, it's really quite dark grown-up drama.

"Breaking Bad follows a completely average man named Walter White in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Walter teaches High School chemistry, has a pregnant wife and a crippled son; he is also diagnosed with terminal lung cancer despite never smoking a day in his life. Given only three years to live, Walter decides to use his knowledge of chemistry to produce and sell methamphetamine so he can have his family be financially secure after he dies."

It's apparently up to Season 3 now, but you can't even buy the second over here in the UK.

Oh yeah, almost forgot, new Season of the excellent Mad Men coming out soon here (on BBC 4, 21st of January).

Tom Francis: Cheers for all the info! It sounds like I need to try Community and Ted.

Dante - I did actually get into Burn Notice after it was recommended in comments here previously. It's great! I love the improvisational espionage tips, it's like the how-to video I would have most liked to see in school. Seems I'm behind with it, though, will catch up.

Ditto Entourage, I'm a fan but I seem to have missed the last two. Usually the lives of the rich and famous are insufferably whiny with no cause to be. I like Entourage because most of the time, they're all really happy and making the most of their good fortune.

Kodiak: To Jason L.
You can watch the entire series of Andy Barker P.I. on right now!

To Everyone Else
And so can you! I humbly recommend you do.

Jason L: Oh, I own it on DVD. Just haven't had time to watch. Thanks though.

I didn't talk about Modern Family, because I've only seen one or two intercommercial segments, both with the gay couple. I will say, though, that I really liked the gay couple. They actually feel like folks who are matter-of-factly in love and living together. Routines and trust bleed through. Credit to writing and performance.

DoctorDisaster: I thought that after the initial 20 minutes or so, which were awesome, V veered off a cliff and crash-landed in Craptown, USA, at the intersection of Preachy Street and Predictable Avenue. Where there was a pawn shop run by a gun-toting survivalist Birther, next door to a talent agency that took actors from ensembles renowned for charm and heart and casting them as emotionless pod people.

I will stop stretching this metaphor now.

The Family Guy guy has exhausted all his good ideas. Many times over. And most of his good ideas -- i.e. the ones that cannot simply be filed under "Stewie" -- were "copy this bit from South Park/early Simpsons." (The ones that CAN be filed under "Stewie," by the way, are mostly "copy this bit from Pinky and the Brain.")

Plumberduck: Eh, I avoided V. Plot sounded like something out of the 80s.

Alternate Joke: Eh, I avoided V. TV adaptations of Thomas Pynchon novels are never good. Except Gravity's Rainbow Brite.

Joe!: Family Guy is constantly changing e.g. Stewie has progressed from evil genius in the first season (a tired character) to repressed homosexual. And even in the episodes where there are only a few good jokes, those jokes are extremely effective.

Dan: @ Joe

I wouldn't call him repressed...

DoctorDisaster: I'm sorry, but I don't think either of those roles is less tired than the other. Especially when you tack on the florid pseudo-English accent and manic self-obsession.

And keep in mind we're talking about what I would consider the show's good character here. A show filled with characters of Stewie's caliber would be a good show. My issue is with the rest of the completely one-note characters (Brian being the other notable exception), the overbearing "this pop culture reference exists!" gimmick, and the pervasive sense that the show's creators have run out of ideas.

Tom Francis: Checked out Community and Better Off Ted. Ted is great! John's right that it couldn't have a worse title, it took about seven people recommending it to overpower the massive repellent force of that. But it's breezy, happy, fun. Linda is an actress I already loved from The Class, a series by the Friends guys I think I was alone in liking. The ginger guy of the gay couple in Modern Family was also in it, as was the cameraman's love interest in Cloverfield. All three are awesome.

Community I'm not really sold on, after the pilot. I don't like anyone. Should I like someone?

Tom Francis: Cameraman's love interest in Cloverfield was also Jason Stackhouse's main love interest in True Blood, actually.

Jackrabbit: That Flight of The Concords makes good reading music.

EGTF: I also happened to like the class, thought it was a crying shame it only lasted a season. I've fallen behind on so much tv I used to watch, for instance I still haven't gotten around to watching the 3rd season of Dexter.

My gf recently got me watching "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" which I've grown to enjoy. As for cartoons there's a new American one coming out on the FX channel called Archer that I'm interested in seeing, Family Guy reached its peak in seasons 3-4 and the Cleveland show is just too horrible to mention. I'm not a snob when it comes to tv, but I was very strained watching it whereas regular family guy is a pleasant experience to me normally.

With Flight of the Conchords the final episode of season 2 felt a little cobbled together and an unsatisfactory ending, especially now that they've announced they won't be coming back for a 3rd season.

Lack_26: After watching season 3 of American Dad, I find it really hard to watch Family Guy, I just tend to ignore Peter's plot-lines and follow the Stewie/Brian ones.

Anyway, after a slow-ish start American Dad has really picked up, it is really good now, and don't be put off my the seemingly generic characters (that's sort of an in-joke anyway).

Plumberduck: Man, I can't wait for Archer. Frisky Dingo was one of Adult Swim's best shows, and I'm very hopeful that Adam Reed will be able to recreate that.

Family Guy makes me laugh, but I'm not, like, proud of that. It's just a machine to make dumb jokes with. American Dad, surprisingly, considering how much I hated it when it started, is actually really interesting. Because it's not as married to the constant-gag format of Family Guy, they're actually able to do some interesting narrative explorations with it.