All posts


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

Valve Steal Most Of Tom’s Evening

Engineer night was horrific. I haven’t seen this many stalemates since Hydro. Everyone’s desperate for the new unlocks, but the achievements that unlock them either require the unlocks, or are based around Engineering in the context of a normal game. Stuff like supporting a Heavy while he mows people down. When your friends and opponents are all just static installations of angry metal gun, there’s not a lot of scope for that.

Dead Engy

For the lucky few who got them, the new unlocks looked amazing. You can Wrangle a Gunslung Combat Sentry, so your damage boost negates its reduced damage output, your shield negates its level 1 hitpoints, and your beam gives it seemingly infinite range. It’s as ridiculous as that collection of words.

Wrangled Combat Sentry

In the end, none of the individual unlocks matched the specs of any of my suggestions closely enough to justify my mock accusations of plagiarism. But the set of abilities these give you – deploy small sentries quickly, move them, shield instead of repair, and direct their fire manually – is just what I wanted from mine. If I ever actually earn the damn things, I’ll be extremely happy.

Sniper Bow

More ,

Segnaro: Aha!

Caleb: I've actually found the achievements really easy to get. I was NOT playing engineer (I was owning face as a soldier, spy, and most notably, a homewrecker pyro (seriously, there's nothing like smashing a level 3 sentry to pieces that an engie has just moved and is still unpacking)), but i was lucky enough to get the Wrangler on a random drop, so i played that for a few 2 achievements :)

They're all pretty awesome, IMHO, though It'll be interesting to see how they work in a "normal" game.

More interesting than that should be seeing whether the wrangler makes for changes in how certain maps are played. Having essentially unlimited range is a bit crazy. I don't think it'll unbalance things much, due to the downsides Valve added, but i'm curious to see if and how it affects the flow of maps (and which maps!).

Speaking of maps, Thunder Mountain and Upward are excellent (I love Thunder Mountain's flourishes, both audio and final-explosion-based). Coldfront is fine (i'd allready played it quite a bit before it became official). It's Hightower that's the odd one out. So far, it looks like one hell of a stalematefest. That said, I found it very enjoyable, especially when sneaking around back alleys as a pyro or spy (again, hopping around corners to homewreck stuff is great fun). Surprisingly, I found demoknight to be very useful on thsi map in a few weird ways. There are a number of major pathways that have T intersections with little used sidepaths, and they seem to be perfectly set up for hiding in and then charging out, sword swinging into enemies. There's even one part where the far side of the intersection is another side path that contains lots of health...makes for fun ambushes.

Anyways...yay Valve! (though a bit of a boo for no meet the team video)

Caleb: Also, if you really want one of the items (and didn't craft your life away in the search for the golden wrench), it appears that 1 Scrap Metal + 1 Ambassador = Southern Hospitality, the spiked wrench.

Davie: Some Engie achievements are remarkably easy--I'm pretty sure the first one I got just required you to repair another engineer's gun while it was under fire.

Also, Upward is the best map that's been released in a while. Incidentally, it's unerringly similar to a concept I'd come up with for a map, but lacked the Hammerskill to make it happen.

A great update, for sure. I'm just sad we still don't have Meet the Pyro.

Von Epp: Yeah, achievements look like they'll be really easy to get in a real game by doing productive stuff (as opposed to stuff like the Soldier revenge kill with a shovel while in mid-air, having fired three rockets, one of which hasn't hit the ground, with exactly 4 health, and two shotgun shells left [May not be an actual achievement]). Even with the engie-fest it was, I still managed to get the the five achievements you need to get the first unlock quite easy.

Once we're past the inevitable everyone wants to play an engineer post update phase, it'll be interesting to see how this changes strategy and teamwork. For example, you can build your sentries up to level three by the supply closet and then take them through another engineer's tele to the front line and the wrangler engie working with a traditional turtling engie seems like a strong combo.

I'm already loving that this makes offensive engineering that much more valuable. Also, as someone who played engineer sparingly, this is looking like it will make the role more fun in general.

Newt Pulsifer: Tom, in the first screenshot the left engy is holding a slightly different wrench. What is it!? Is this a community weapon for the guy who invented the mechanical glove?

Tom Francis: That's The Southern Hospitality, a community-made Wrench they added as a little bonus. You can find it as a random drop or craft it by combining an Ambassador with 1 scrap metal. It does bleeding damage but makes you more vulnerable to fire.

And yeah, the first few achievements are easy, as ever, and I reckoned there were about 10 I could do even in the chaos of Engygeddon. But it takes 15 for the Wrangler, which is what I really wanted, so I crafted for it instead.


Neat side-effect of this: having the Wrangler makes it much easier to get a bunch more achievements. Had the Gunslinger in minutes.

LaZodiac: Thats the new wrench period. Southern Hospitality. No crits, I think its weaker, but it bleeds.

Joe!: Can someone clarify for me? The combat sentry or whatever its called.. can it be repaired by a different engy to the one who built it? And can you only build one at a single time?

Tom Francis: Nope, no-one can repair it, and you can only build one at a time. It also runs out of ammo, so you have to punch it to restock it - which costs metal.

To be honest, I'm struggling to justify the use of the Gunslinger. If it were the only type of Sentry with infinite range when Wrangled, or if it didn't have the damage nerf, fine. But infinite range, healable, shieldable, movable level 3 Sentries are just way, way too good for anything else to compete, however convenient.

MartinJ: I'm pretty sure I repaired someone's gunslinger sentry.

verendus: yeah, i've seen level 3 combat sentries.

Tom Francis: There's a glitch where you can build a normal sentry, then go back to resupply and get the Gunslinger. It turns it into an upgradable repairable mini-Sentry, but it's not supposed to happen.

"Cannot be repaired or upgraded" is one of the key attributes of the Mini Sentry.

http://media.pcgamer... ...linger.jpg

Jaz: The Gunslinger seemed really cool when I had no idea you'd be able to move your big sentry. You can do some crazy shit with that thing, I've never seen a sentry race until now.

Aftershock: Level 3 mini-sentries are so cute. They're exactly the same as regular sentries but half as big.

Additionally, on the update page it says that the Gunslinger replaces the pistol, which it doesn't....

I generally always use the Southern Hospitality over the regular wrench, because it's great against spies and you shouldn't really be going up against pyro's anyway...

Aftershock: It appears level 3 mini-sentries have now been patched out :(


verendus: I get the feeling the Gunslinger is going to be changed more often than the sandman.

Tom Francis: Oh, cool, this too: "Fixing performance spikes that occur at round start, and after each point capture, when TFBots are present in the server."

This was driving me nuts. Bot games are the only ones I can enjoy at the moment.

Phydaux: The engineer update is the first time I've enjoyed playing when an update has come out.

All the changes are great. I haven't been much of a fan of the engineer (not having perfect placement of the sentry has been a downfall of mine.)

The gunslinger is great for an offensive engie, it dies quick at the front line so if your getting kills (unlikely) or assists (quite likely) it tops up your frontier justice with revenge crits. There is nothing like lining up some poor sucker who sees your little sentry as an easy kill when you're waiting for it to die to pop a crit into them. I'm not sure if using the wrangler with it is always a good idea, the wrangler is like having a massive sign saying sentry here, and the mini-sentry is so small it can go unnoticed in the chaos of battle and rack-up those assists.

I thought the wrangler would be great to kill people from across the map, but it's not quite that simple. Not until they ban snipers that is. Snipers are still the kings of long range, and if your sentry is too exposed it can be rocketed to death from very far away soldiers (unless you pack it up and hide). It is great fun to take a hand in killing people and spy checking with your own sentry though.

Also, Hightower needs a time limit. I played a match that lasted an hour and a half with both carts waiting to go up the lift.

Joe!: Heh played upward yesterday, that is a great map. My team all became scouts, rushing out desperately to stop the elevator going up.

Nonomu198: Bot games, Tom? Why?

Tom Francis: You're right, actually, Phydaux. Getting the Wrangler and the Gunslinger without the shotgun made the Gunslinger hard to like, but now that I've got the Frontier Justice back it makes a lot more sense. The Wrangler's not a disadvantage, but I tend to spend all my time in a corner aiming at people, and needing metal, both of which kind of ruin the roaming combat Engy ethos. I still keep it equipped for special situations, but just learning to forget about it and use your shotgun for harrassment makes the Gunslinger style a lot more effective and fun.

Nonomu: I wanna play with my new Engy toys, but not on a team of 16 Engies against a team of 16 Engies. In fact, I'm starting to realise I don't like playing on any server with more than 16 players, whatever class they are. Got onto a great server playing only the new maps, 6v6 most of the time, and it was the most fun I've had in TF2 for months. So little Demo spam, Sentry nesting, and getting cut down in aimless crossfire; suddenly tactics work again.

Someursault: Something I ran into when I started using all three new unlocks at once was that I didn't have an all-purpose backup weapon. I was running around, throwing down quick tactical sentries with my Gunslinger, skittering away and putting up yet another sentry at an angle to flank and contain. These instant, disposable turrets had suited my purpose rather charmingly, and in the course of these high jinks, I was able to secure a cache of alarmingly fatal critical hits (each one more than capable of shredding a medic from full, at 180 damage a shot). Having made such convenient deposits to a bank of pure murder and then asked only to refrain from withdrawing more than thrice at a go, I brandished my Frontier Justice with a Doom Comic-esque glint in my eye: "well, here's me with my shining BFG9000, yet there's no cyberdemons in sight, just some misguided soldier who thought that killing my baby sentry was a trivial matter, of no significant consequence to anyone who may, for example, now bear the means of immediate lethal retaliation."

It was a happy moment, but after killing him and his disgruntled medic (who had expected better protection against enemy engineers, if nothing else), I realized something. I had to reload before firing any hand-held gun, since my pistol had been swapped for the Wrangler, and when I was finished reloading, I might want to keep those crits for situations just like the one so recently and satisfactorily concluded. What I needed was the pistol: it's a long-range spam cannon that doubles as a close-range backup, in case I've just got one crit left and want to make it count on a med rather than waste it on some errant pyro, and it's got effectively unlimited ammunition. I give up the Wrangler for this, but I'd been spending too much time on the move to make much use of that anyhow.

Quasar: I'm rocking the Frontier Justice/Pistol/Gunslinger combo at the moment... It's good fun throwing up a sentry to harrass an area, then charging in once it's killed and getting a revenge kill or two. Keeping the pistol means I've got something to fall back on if all else fails.

The independent Mini-Sentry is basically the opposite of the rather needy standard sentry, as it works best left alone while you go off to fight elsewhere, popping back to reload occasionally.

DoctorDisaster: I'm out of town this weekend, and it's kind of nice to hear these terrifying stories of engipocalypse from far, far away.

DoctorDisaster: I have not had the problems others have reported getting the engi achievements. After two evenings of completely ignoring the requirements and only slightly preferring the class, I've already hit two milestones. None of the ones I've picked up require any unlocks or oddball behavior.

Fatalcrash: Hi Tom! Dunno if you'll read this, and sorry for hijacking this post, but I wanted to point this out to you? ...r_embedded

It's basically a group of GW owners deciding to 'donate' their wrenches away for charity. They've collected nearly $2000 so far, and at least three Golden Wrenches will be destroyed. Check it out!