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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

PC Gamer Has Been Allowed Onto The Internet

We tried an experiment a while back, where we suddenly started putting our hearts and souls into our little corner of to see if a) we could do it, b) people would like it, and c) people would like something more. We could and they did and they would.

This information was then fed into a much larger and darker decision-making process that I had really nothing to do with, the first stage of which acts a little like a paper shredder, but it eventually resulted in us getting a site anyway.

pcgamer frontpage

We have wanted this very badly for a very long time and worked very hard to get it. So, thank you to all who responded to my thinly veiled call for you to express deep dissatisfaction with our previous web presence, and welcome to our new one.

Since Tim was away at E3, I was in charge of the site launch, and Graham helmed the magazine. It’s been a frantic… Christ, one week? Feels like a month. It’s been a frantic week in which we’ve put up over a hundred and fifty articles, so I thought I’d highlight some of the stuff I’m most pleased with so far.

  • Project Dust
    This was the first time I read news I did not know on our own site, and it happened to be the most surprising and interesting reveal of E3. It’s also great to see something exciting like that and not have the “But is it coming to PC?” anxiety. It’s on our site, so yes.
  • Gaming’s best cereal-based shooter
    Evan’s wonderfully uncynical look at a piece of Americana I’d heard of but really knew nothing about, and the bizarre surrounding culture.
  • 20 beautiful new Brink shots
    This just makes me happy because it’s just not something we could do effectively before, and it looks superb on the page. It was a personal quest of mine to ensure that whenever we showed off screenshots, you’d just have to click them to get straight to the full, high-res, clean, unwatermarked original file.
  • Transformice
    Jaz’s post is a great statement of the kind of free game coverage I’ve always wanted. To me, “Here’s a free game that’s mildly entertaining for thirty seconds” is not news – I can see ten of those a day on sites dedicated to that stuff. If we’re talking about one in particular, I want to know why, ideally in the form of a funny story about what happened while playing it.
  • Engineering victory in Supreme Commander 2
    After helping us out for two crucial weeks, Tom Senior surprised us all by writing his best piece (that I’ve read) on his last day. A great guide to a hilarious tactic with truly magnificent screenshots. I can always tell when someone’s writing about something they know and love, because it’s the only kind of article I can read through without wanting to change anything – the writing just clicks.
  • Microsoft’s shameful E3 PC showing
    This is why I like having Tim as an editor. At PC Gamer we’re lucky enough to carry some authority without being an official mag beholden to anyone, so when someone screws over our platform, we can say so in no uncertain terms. No-one more so than Tim. I’ve always been proud of PC Gamer’s history of eloquent indignation: I think we do a good job of standing up for gamers without sounding whiny or getting hysterical. Rants are commonplace online, good rhetoric is not.

Deus Ex Week

Controlling the launch madness means most of the really substantial stuff I’ve contributed is what I wrote ahead of time – namely a week of Deus Ex and Deus Ex 3 features. It’s been an interesting prototype of how we can provide really nerdily detailed coverage of a hugely exciting game in both the magazine and the website, without rendering either one redundant.

In both the UK and the US, the mag carries a six-page feature that has all the juicy information and probably the best summary of why Human Revolution is worth getting excited about. It has more screenshots and art than have been released online, and it came out well before anyone was allowed to say word one about the game on the web.

On the site, you get the full interviews it was based on, a blow-by-blow account of exactly what I saw and what I thought of it, some informal chatting about the art, and a reminder or two of what we loved about the original. It’s almost the opposite of conventional wisdom about the web versus print: the web’s supposed to be quick and brief, but I think it can be a place where people get to choose the level of depth they want. Print’s sometimes characterised as long-form and slow, but here it’s faster and punchier at presenting the juicy details.

The blow-by-blow in particular was really fun to write. It’s an attempt to address two of my most common frustrations with previews: “Stop wanking and tell me what you saw,” and “Don’t just tell me what you saw, tell me what you thought of it.” Writing it like a liveblog presented a really convenient format for getting facts and impressions side by side without a lot of structural wrangling to fit it into flowing prose.

Of the interviews, I think the one with art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete stands up best on its own. Knowing I’d also be talking to the game design and story people separately freed me up to ask some more wide-ranging stuff, and see where the discussion went. And I really liked how honest he was when I asked about the risk of going obviously futuristic when that was so badly received in Invisible War.

Big thanks to Lewis Denby and Jaz for their help getting the interviews into electrowords.

I am now profoundly exhausted, so please be nice. The feedback so far has been amazing, but what remains to be seen is whether people who like these articles will take the time to link them on their weblogs, forumhaunts and Facetwitters. We finally have the chance to live or die by the quality of our stuff, so now we work overtime to make it as good as we can – and see who notices.

The_B: There can be no bigger salute Sir, for the sterling work you (and indeed the team) have put into the site, especially with the double edged sword of having to launch during E3 week. I'm obviously heavily biased, but the new PCG site is so far looking like it's a huge success. A fist bump large enough to create a black hole in the Universe of Awesome right from me, especially with your constant promptness at tackling issues swiftly when they're brought up either by myself directly via IM or from others on the forum.

IvanHoeHo: Mmmmmm.... Project Dust makes my want to play Populous: The Beginning again. It's probably actually crap, though; childhood memories and all that.

Oh, and congrats on your website not being crap anymore! Makes a great RPS tribute blog.

Tom Francis: RPS? Oh, you mean the jaunty James tribute blog?

Thank you both kindly. I'm actually surprised we haven't had much trouble on the forums - I knew PCG readers were a nice lot, but I thought every new forum had a subculture of people who sign up just to bitch about it.

1stGear: Its worth noting that Transformice has been made entirely by two French guys as a hobby, had made fifty-some-odd people playing at any time until about a week ago, and that they are currently getting rushed by every Internet community on the web, causing their servers no small bit of strain. Please donate to them.

1stGear: Whoops, shame there isn't an edit or reply function. In addition, a SomethingAwful poster by the name of Gibbed wrote a script to force an English version of Transformice, if you can't read French or just have a severe aversion to it.

The devs has mentioned that they are planning on doing an official English site eventually.

Octaeder: New site's looking great! Plus, unlike the old one, it has an RSS feed so I don't have to remember to check it periodically.

It was actually a really good site to have around for E3 because it didn't delve too far into pointless minutiae, unlike every other gaming site.

Mikepants: "RPS? Oh, you mean the jaunty James tribute blog?"

Oooh. Buuuurnnned.

Fo' serious though. The new PCG site kicks arse. And being like 2 weeks old its already better than 90% of 'PC gaming news and games coverage' sites.

The other 10% being RPS and sites of that calibre.

Jaz: Transformice is in English! Nobody believes me!

Wesman: New sites much, MUCH better than the old one.

Still, I hate that you have to change pages on the articles. It's a terrible LOOK-AT-MORE-ADS, ploy.

TooNu: Hey Tom.
First I want to say that Deus Ex 3 IS going to be amazing, I'm saving my spending money for PC upgrades so I can run it on a new flashy monitor aswell no doubt.
Second, Deus Ex is amazing and 10 years old today. I hope everyone had a Deus Ex month or week or even a couple of days/afternoon whatever and played it.
Third and lastly, the new site is AWESOME. I appreciate the constant flow of updates and the articles have so far been interesting enough for me at least to read through.

Aftershock: can you only see it if you're a subscriber?

Tom Francis: Nope, it's open to all. Having any trouble?

Hell: Great! I have been bored with Gamespot and IGN for a long time.

So, Tom, I've this question: How is PCGamer going to earn money through this site, given that people get to read everything right off the bat?

SimonHadSaidHi: looks britching!! Good work!
keep updating and i'll make sure to read every article there!

Octaeder: "the jaunty James tribute blog?"

Truer than ever considering they've just posted that Deus Ex - Recut video.

dual_barrel: Best PC gaming editorial site ever. Thanks, you guys.

Could you guys please mention the developer name, publisher name and game engine name for each game in their respective pages?

It's a bummer finding these out from Google separately, every time.

EGTF: I love seeing PCG having an internet voice, plus Jaz and Senior's brilliance open to a wider audience.

Congratulations on the hard work!

Gentleman Jim: @Aftershock: I think you are having the same problem I am, the link is redirecting North American readers to the US PCG site, which is basically "subscribe now!"

Tom Francis: Yeah, one or two people have had that. It's actually not redirecting you, it's just a glimpse of the past - for whatever reason, you're getting the old DNS info. I don't really understand how that happens, but I think it can be your ISP's fault. The only thing you can try your end is flushing your DNS cache, like so:

"Sounds like you might need to flush your DNS cache. Click on the Start button, the click on Run. In the box that pops up, type cmd. A DOS window should open up. Type ipconfig /flushdns at the command prompt ( usually C:/)and hit return. Then try again."

Jaz: @dual_barrel: We try to tag the devs and publishers whenever it's applicable, but we've never done that with game engines. You mean like, Oblivion, Bethesda, Bethesda Softworks, Gamebryo, right? If it's something you want to see more, I can definitely start sneaking it in - why is it important to you?

dual_barrel: @Jaz,

I myself haven't seen the game-engine name in Gamespot, IGN but I see it in the wikipedia pages for every game. So, I thought that would be a nice addition.

Yes, your format is right.

And as to why it's important to me is because being a PC gamer I'm always concerned about the performance of the game rather than the shiny graphics. So, with the engine being the ultimate authority of the game performance, the name of the engine can give you a lot of idea (whether it's entirely a new one, whether it's licensed, how popular/how many games have used it successfully, the average FPS you can get from it, etc) of what to expect from the upcoming game.

I would like to see the projected release date (if it's not taken into account already, i.e.) as an addition to the above format.

Thank you.

EthZee: This new site looks pretty damn good. I stopped getting PC Gamer a year or two ago, sadly (I am no longer able to play the latest PC Games, and since I got a PS3 *gasp* I have been more interested in the more broad magazines like GamesTM or Edge), but I still do like to read about new PC games and I would not see a problem with adding this to my bookmarks.

And you've got a proper forum, as well!

Amadeus: Your piece seems suspiciously similar to those Guardian football reports. It works wonderfully, though.

Parody: Your title make it sound as if it was a bad idea.

Parody: *makes

Bret: Sorry to be unable to respond on twitter, but the original Engie is obviously the dude with the natty little mustache, Nick Tesla hisself.

Of course, the real one didn't use blueprints, but the real Lincoln used a rocket launcher instead of a flamethrower, so there you go.

Bret: Next to Lincoln, I mean.

Tom Francis: Ahh, they're blueprints? You're probably right. I thought they were newspapers, suggesting a courier and hence Scout. The guy sitting down doesn't seem to have any class-related features, so it all rests on the bag.

Bret: Think the guy on the ground is a scout.

Looks like a runner.

(I'll admit the only reason I figured out the engie is "Hey! Tesla!")

Dante: Yeah, that's what I was thinking, although the engie is actually looking at the picture in story, which makes it a little odd.

Tom Francis: It's the engy from 40 years earlier, so unlikely to be the same dude.

For everyone else, this is the pic we're talking about:

TF2 1850

EuGeNiOuS: pyro next to abraham lincoln engi, scout's chilled sitting down imo... he's almost holding a flame-thrower look-alike