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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.

Hitman header tunnel

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Far Cry Primal Thumbnail

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

Snowball jack header

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone and Bladestorm

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

BAFTA Featured

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Sectors Header

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

DXHR Open area

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Heat Signature Natural Numbers

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Pharma Header

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Make A Game Tutorial Thumbnail Featured IMage

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

Her Story banner

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

Invisible Header

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Super Game Jam Header

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

Shadow of Mordor Header 2

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Heat Signature Talk

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX


What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

Murder, She Wrote

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Wide 2

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Heat Signature Floorplans Header

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Steam Workshop

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance Header

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

The Magic Circle

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Blog Launch

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Floating Sine

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point


What’s Your Fault?

Hoplite banner

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Gone Point

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature Thumbnail

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

GRappling Hook Thumbnail

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

Alien Swarm Heroics

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

FTL Story

One Desperate Battle In FTL

Spelunky Banner

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Game vs story graph

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Breakdown

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Max Payne 3

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

This is how you die

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection


Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Skyrim Diary - Frostmere

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

Mainstream Games

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault


A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

Dark Messiah

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot


Arguing On The Internet


Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Stealth Games

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?


E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

Suspicious Manifesto

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

What Makes Games Good

Seat Quest

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Beneath Suspicion

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

Open Worlds

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

Level Up

A Different Way To Level Up

BioShock Ending

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

Meet the Spy

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Football Manager

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE Assassins

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

GalCiv 2

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary


I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

Machine of Death

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood money and sex

Blood Money And Sex


A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

Second Life

First Night, Second Life


SWAT 4: The Movie Script

BioShock 2

What’s Wrong With BioShock 2 And Why I Like It Anyway

The second half of this post has end-game spoilers, but they’re hidden until you click to reveal them.

BioShock 2 - 01

This will sound bad, but the last thing I expected was for BioShock 2 to be worthwhile. It’s like making a Fight Club 2 – either you’re not gonna have that twist, or we’ll kinda see it coming. It wasn’t any lack of faith in the team – BioShock was very much Ken Levine’s gig, sure, but the prospect of a Jordan Thomas gig is just as enticing. But starting from a position of Least Necessary Sequel Ever, given too little time to both form a studio and significantly reinvent the game (MoonShock!), and committed to the obsequious inclusion of multiplayer – I could see fun, I could see interesting, I couldn’t see “I’m glad they made this.”

I am glad they made this. It feels like a remake, a ridiculous thing to do immediately after a great game, but some of BioShock’s systems needed it. By the last third of that game, you’d found enough interesting plasmids and tonics to develop some properly demented playstyles, ones very personal to your preferences. BioShock 2 is saying: what if that moment was just a few hours in, and you could just keep getting more bizarre, manipulative and powerful from there? Mechanically, it finishes BioShock’s clever sentence.

BioShock 2 - 16

Plot-wise… I guess my only problem with the plot is that I missed almost all of it. As a Big Daddy might, I grasped that I was after my Little Sister, but all the other voices in my head seemed like a very long list of names all angry at me for something I didn’t understand. After hours and hours of hearing her talk about it, I still have no idea what Lamb’s plan for Eleanor was, or even what she believes in – except that it isn’t ‘the self’. I thought doing philosophy at uni would help, but I think I need a degree in listening. I can barely process basic information in a game unless it affects the level in front of me.

BioShock 2 - 45

Both BioShocks often feel like two different game ideas, layered on top of each other but not convincingly connected. There’s the Ecosystem, this alien world of inhuman protectors stomping around with delirious gatherers, while packs of crazed aggressors try to steal them away. Then there’s the Backstory, a tawdry tale of fifties dames and johns doing the dirty on each other while high-minded well-to-dos carry on like they own the joint.

BioShock 2 - 38

I buy into both, and I even buy into the Backstory leading to the Ecosystem, as the failed utopia finds a physical outlet for its neuroses in Adam, and creates something monstrous. What never works for me in either game is that the Backstory is still going on. Ryan set these Splicers on me? Why, don’t they just attack everything anyway? And now these Splicers are working for Lamb’s Family. They came to see the fundamental validity of her ethos in the last ten years, did they? In between screaming “Semen! On EVERYTHING!” and scampering across the ceiling with meathooks?

BioShock 2 - 30Michael here feels disillusioned by objectivism, and is thinking seriously about his worldview.

It makes it hard to understand what’s happened in the ten year gap. Lamb’s seized control – of what? What does control constitute in a leaking city of lunatics and corpse-sucking drones? And it leads to a structural clash: you must find your child and stop the demagogue psychologist as soon as possible! WAIT: You have not harvested or saved all the Little Sisters on this level, are you sure you wish to proceed?

WAIT: The rest of this post contains ending spoilers, are you sure you wish to proceed? Show.

BioShock 2 - 24


Mikey Mike: Lamb is an interesting villain but not nearly as interesting as Fontaine. Lamb is a simple anti-Ryan where Fontaine was more another twist on Ryan's (and Rand's) philosophy - the logical ultra-selfish extension of Rand's bonkers obsession with I, me, and my. Fontaine was a walking critique of objectivism; hell, the whole of Rapture was, really, with Fontaine as King Selfish Bastard.

I get the impression 2K were shooting for Lamb to be the gutless James Taggart to Ryan's fucked-up John Galt - always championing the group over the individual - but her role in Rapture never came across as clearly as Fontaine's. Like you, I seem to have a problem with listening. Either that or the game doesn't explain itself nearly as well as Bioshock. It couldn't be that, could it? Surely not.

Where Bioshock seemed to be saying that objectism's end point is a society of sociopaths, Bioshock 2 seems to be saying... what, exactly? That's it's better to be out for yourself than to be part of a group? Why then do the Little Sisters have to work together to save the day? Perhaps that working together is okay so long as it's not under the command of a nutcase? Was Lamb insane? I don't know - I never caught anything she said.

In the end, on way or another, the living embodiment of all Rapture's people is walking around on the surface. Surely that's a victory for Lamb's philosophy?

I dunno. I still LIEKED SHOOTING DA FINGS, anyways. It's a better action game than the original, but it tells a weaker tale.

LaZodiac: Its all nice and good to talk about philosphy and game design and the like.

But the important part is, we have a drill.

Chris: I think what would have helped both games is a healthy dose of the original Half-Life: clusters of normal, resident NPCs around that you can witness dealing with the collapse of Rapture or even interact with, and government soldiers from top-side trying to invade Rapture and control the situation. Instead, the entire population of Rapture is comprised of insane splicers and the two or three normal people who only talk to you over the radio or from behind glass walls.

Having a population of non-crazies looking for help would give Lamb or Fontaine or whoever an actual reason to bother trying to restore order, and having interference from surface-world soldiers would give a good reason to go nuts with power and weaponry. (I mean, wasn't there something with a submarine in one of the original endings? What happened there? Ten years later, the Navy hasn't bothered checking it out?)

Gamegeneral: I agree about the bit with the little sisters. That probably was the most interesting part of the game since I drill-dashed through a crowd of splicers.
Though I think Bioshock and co have one of the best sountracks I've heard in a while.

Ociee: I finished BioShock 2 yesterday, with the good ending, and I can't remember fuck all of what happened outside of saving everyone. I enjoyed using some of the weapons- maxed out the drill straight away of course!- but the Rivet gun and machine gun did not agree with me. Oh, and I absolutely hated the research mechanic, the video camera was awkward, and I kept forgetting it was actually there to use- I think I used 3-4 times, before I forgot/ ignored it completely!

The multiplayer seems to be broken at the moment, and the game uses GFWL- coincidence? It's a shame, because ( when I have been on playable servers) it was enjoyable and interesting.

I got completely lost timeline-wise too :D

Like you said Tom, there are flaws, but it was fun- if a little unnecessary.

MartinJ: My biggest gripe with Bioshock 2 (and mind you, this relates to the original too a bit) is the reinforced feeling of a flying box with a gun. I have a problem with games where you don't see your legs after looking down, and Bioshock makes it ever worse.

Now, in Bioshock 2, you're supposed to be this huge-ass Big Daddy, stomping your way through Rapture like a killer-machine. But in-game, you tread lightly, make little to no sound, and walk the exact same way as in the first game. You're also very weak at the start which is very annoying.

I expected there to be some wobbly movement, stomping, smashing things out of my way with my drill. Instead, I can jump like a meter high as a BIG DADDY. At least, it should kill a splicer should I hurl at them.

That's something that's completely killing the atmosphere for me.

Peter: I found that the storyline needed a lot of work - but on your part, it took a lot of effort to try and figure out what was going on from the fragments you get, and I found it easier to just have the one motive - Get back my little sister.

Though there were times it felt padded out, obstacle after obstacle is put in your way, ending up like contrived game lengtheners, It became tiring to slog through it. It just felt so.....

.....And then I got THAT tonic, you know the one - Only a drill, a hack tool, the camera and cheap plasmids. I went from a cautious trap setter to a badass drilling machine, charging into splicers with a smile on my face

My Playthrough was shorter than I thought it was, but after slugging it out to the end I felt a wave of satisfaction, It was fantastic.

Multiplayer seemed devoid of both life and a server browser. Then again if you bought this game purely for the multiplayer, WTF were you thinking.

Ludo: (SPOILERS ahoy) The problem I had with the story was that I felt completely disconnected from Eleanor for most of the game. Her audio diaries and wierd psychic communications didn't really do the job of setting up the relationship that's supposed to represent the core motivation for everything you do. For me, things fell into place during the final sections when you're actually working with her. The little sister section was great, too.

On the other hand the combat reached the kind of improvisational madness I always hoped for from the first game. The weapons are great, expecially the spear gun with its alt fire rockets and the upgraded sawn-off shotgun with it's twin-linked revolver chamber loading mechanism (it's there in the last screenshot). The realtime hacking game was much quicker and even easier to bypass altogether with auto-hack darts and the right Tonics. Mind you, I could have really done with the pause button Tom mentioned on Twitter. You end up juggling so many guns and powers by the end of the game it's a bit too much.

DoctorDisaster: Sadly, I think the "why I like it anyway" bit is behind the spoiler wall. Why do you like it anyway?

Although I should probably just take the spoilers. While Bioshock never felt perfect, it certainly felt finished. I feel no urgency whatsoever about buying the sequel; I'll probably wait for Steam to mark it down to $20 or less. In that time, I'm sure I'll hear about whatever CRAZY TWIST© they end the second act with.

Tom Francis: It is, kinda, but to be honest I never got into any depth about the things that really make it great. I have about a million things to say about the game so I just tried to rein it in to a finishable length for this post. I also wanna do one about some ideas for it.

Anyone got any favourite plasmids/combos/tonics/tricks? I loved Drill Specialist, which restricts you to the drill but makes Plasmids super cheap.

I used Decoy for almost everything: protection, midirection, and ultimately damage and healing.

Ludo: I used the cyclone trap a lot in combination with other plasmids. Cyclone + Hypnotize in doorways for the defense sections was meant the first splicer entering the room was turned. I ended up using proxy mines judiciously because if they aren't set off you can pick them back up, same with the rivet traps.

Deliberately screwing up hacks (hitting the red bit on purpose) to summon sentries and then pegging them with autohack darts was a good way of getting some help fast before the summon sentry plasmid became available. If you set off an alarm by screwing up a hack you can turn the alarm off instantly by hacking that thing successfully.

I used a lot of autohack darts on those mini turrets the Rumbler fires as well, which made taking them down fairly easy. Otherwise I'd sometimes roll with the upgraded drill because drill dashing enemies is so satisfying.

And lots of rocket spears for comedy.

Plumberduck: The thing I find fascinating about Bioshock 2's plot is the contrast to the first game. The first game is about lack of choice, about the player being entirely confined by the game to the actions it allows. The only meaningful choice is what to do with the Sisters.

B2 feels like the player has way more agency (admittedly, it's actually only three more choices, related to whether you kill or not), but I really liked the way it reflected your choices through Eleanor's attitude, and her final choice about Lamb. I played through the game (maybe giving the designers too much credit by doing a lot of the role-playing in my head) with a very specific ethos of violence only in explicit self-defense, and it was extremely gratifying to see that reflected in Eleanor, and in the ending.

You could also make the argument that that focus on choice shows up in the gameplay, especially when it comes time to harvest with the Little Sisters. Setting up ambushes and figuring out where to fight from before setting your Sister down is one of the best parts of the game.

Crit Goes Where?!?: For the plasmid combos you mentioned, I decided to try out the trap plasmid late in the game. I found it to be one of the most hilarious aspects as you can charge it with other plasmids now. Dropping a bunch of telekinesis traps around turret guns and other security bots is great as the splicer will just float there helplessly while the bots take him out. Setting up ice traps near low ceilings will almost always cause the sucker to instantly shatter. Electric traps in the water will also allow you to get that damage bonus without having to monitor some puddle. I would assume the same would work for fire and oil slicks but I never gave that one a try. It really felt like they were trying to give the less appealing plasmids from the first game an overhaul to make them more potent.

Tom Francis: Wow, I didn't know Telekinesis Cyclone Traps made them hover - that's ace! The ice shattering thing is something I never thought to try, too, good tip.

Leman: About the splicers being these insane rambling maniacs scuttling everywhere, there are points in the second game where you come across such things as a pair of splicers dancing with one another, in another area you catch a male splicer asking "how much scratch" it would take for the female splicer to sleep with him.

The first encounter with the Brute sees him gazing out the window at the ocean floor, theres alot in the game that suggests that not all the splicers are mental. Then it throws all that away by having them all scream and run at you.

LaZodiac: The splicers just yell and scream because you are a threat and they've more or less reverted to instinct, while keeping a concious mind. They are unhinged, basicly.

DoctorDisaster: Sander Cohen et al. were actually pretty clear examples of "functional splicers," but I have to go with Tom — I can't consider people like that citizens of a society or adherents to any particular social philosophy. The whole point of the first game was that the objectivist ideal crumbled into anarchy and decay.

I do seem to recall an audiolog that suggested Ryan had introduced something to the Adam that gave him limited control over splicers, or some such. I suppose you might exert influence over them via their addiction to Adam, but contrary to the first game's "guv'nor" loading screen, it's actually Tenenbaum who seems to have taken over the Little Sisters operation and its Adam supply. (She gives you big gifts of it, remember?) Either approach amounts to slavery, though; it hardly seems appropriate to credit any agency to the splicers themselves.

Aldo: Offhand, I think the first game mentioned Ryan using pheromones to control the splicers.

Plumberduck: Also!

The achievement for killing x number of enemies with hacked security in Bioshock 2 is called "Look at you, hacker," which is the best achievement name I've seen since "Hey, it's-a-me!" for stomping an enemy in Mirror's Edge. I laughed out loud.

SatansBestBuddy: Lamb was all about "the Rapture Family," and trying to serve the greater whole rather than the self.

Personally, I saw it as Rapture looking for somebody to lead it; I mean, as horribly disfguired and mutated as they are, Rapture is still full of people, (people who can't die unless it's from natural causes, no less) and they've all been through hell, experienced death a few times, and are turning to Lamb to lead them to what they're hoping will be a better place.

It gets foggy at spots, though, like what Lamb's actual plans are and how Eleanor was going to fit in to it all. (it's implied that she was going to be another overseer type thing)

Dan: @SatansBestBuddy

They can die - I suppose you're referring to the vita-chambers but there's story behind that (stuff about genetic codes... in the first you could be revived because you had Ryan's DNA, in the second Eleanor does something to the vita chambers to make sure you come back to life.)

The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun: [...] are still chewing over Bioshock 2. Here’s Tom Francis, on what’s wrong with it and when he likes it anyway. If you’re waiting for my actual take, I direct you to Richard Cobbett chewing it over. [...]

Mechlord: The endings have two parts.
Saving the little sisters gives the happy blue sky part.
The sparing of lamb is caused by sparing one or more of the choice characters.
Killing them all results in Elanor drowning her.

Joey: ...M7iGZYLx4/

This isn't totally relevant to the post, but is a very interesting Bioshock related video. This episode of Batman: the animated series, entitled Deep Freeze, has a lot of Bioshock-esque qualities to it. And came out years before. This is particularly evident in the robot guards that guard the crazy capitalist's underwater city, and the black and white movie (with still images) explaining why the city is so great. To me it seems like Bioshock's creators might have been inspired by more than paradise lost, and ayn rand.