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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

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Update: found a new source for the stills that broke and added some clarification from the comments to the intro.

I rewatched Blade Runner recently, because it came up a lot when I asked for visual inspiration for my game. Almost everything about it is still brilliant, except the main character. I’m not sure how I’ve never noticed this before, but Deckard is an idiot.

He’s given all the information he needs on a plate, nothing bad happens unexpectedly, and every lead falls into his lap. He has photo ID of everyone he has to kill, he’s told about their physical strength, he has a gun, they’re all unarmed, and he’s legally allowed to shoot them dead in public. Yet in every case, he lets them get into a hand-to-hand fight with him that he can’t win, and the only way the film can even keep him alive is for his targets to suddenly stop fighting or get killed by someone else.

Here’s a summary of his encounters with all of the replicants he’s apparently the only one good enough to kill. Stills from FilmGrab.

snake lady27-zhora1

1. Snake Lady. He fails to convince her to let him check her dressing room, gets in a fight with her, loses and is nearly killed. The replicant stops short when she hears voices approaching, and runs away. Deckard shoots her.


2. Leon. He fails to recognise Leon until it’s too late, gets into a fight with him, loses and is nearly killed. Another replicant shoots Leon for him.


3. Rachel. He tells her she’s a replicant, forces her to kiss him, then helps her evade capture.


4. Pris. He fails to recognise Pris because she is sitting still, gets into a fight with her, loses and is nearly killed. Pris takes a break to do some acrobatics and he shoots her.


5. Roy. He fails to shoot Roy, loses his gun, gets into a fight with him, loses, runs away and nearly kills himself. Roy saves his life and then dies of his own accord.


Aftershock: I just studied Blade Runner, in a comparative study with frankenstein for school. Thinking about it this way sheds a whole new light on the movie, thanks.

Emily: Yeah, but still would though.

Gump: But the kids love him.

Tweets that mention Deckard, Blade Runner, Moron, by Tom Francis — [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by patrick h. lauke and Tom Francis, Brendan Caldwell. Brendan Caldwell said: RT @Pentadact: I watched Blade Runner again, and it turns out Deckard is a terrible idiot. Here is why: [...]

Tom Francis: Oh come on, Leon's the looker.

Mr Ak: Isn't that the point, though? The replicants are meant to be smarter and faster and stronger. The only one who Deckard kills is Priss, and she's the only one who's not a combat model.

Tom Francis: My point isn't that the Deckard is less smart than a replicant, it's that he's less smart than an tent peg.

Joe!: @ Mr Ak

I thought Deckard was a replicant though? At least in one of the fucking 721 endings they made.

Director's edition, Studio's edition, Editor's edition, Limited edition, Theatric edition, HD edition, Producer's edition, etc etc

But I must point out Ridley Scott is a self centred ass. Every single movie he makes is filled with stupid fake hollywood rain, smoke fucking EVERYWHERE, and slow turning fans in every background.

Pr3: @ Joe!

Even Gladiator?

nine: On topic: He's only as dumb as every other action movie ever, really. I mean, every action movie hero hesitates when given the opportunity to kill the bad guy.

Off topic: Just seeing those stills brings the movie back to life. What a visual feast.

Apropos: I was hoping you were going to mention Blade Runner in relation to Inception. I can't quite pin down why, but the movie Inception reminds me most strongly of is Blade Runner. The ambiguous ending probably doesn't help, but I think it's something more abstract than that.

Chris: Harrison Ford wasn't too happy with the role either. He described it as "A detective who doesn't do any detecting."

verendus: Yeah, this is what turned me off to the movie when I first saw it, some ten years ago; it seemed like the main character was the only one who didn't do anything.

Tony: To be fair, this is film-noir - it's practically obligatory for the detective to arrive at the solution by a process of getting (a) beaten up and (b) lied to by women. One of the reasons I love Kiss Me Deadly so much is because it takes the other option: Thuggish Detective Beats The Living Crap Out Of Everyone.

Mr Ak: Okay, he's not Sherlock Holmes, but what does he do that's actually actively stupid? (Except for missing Priss completely, I agree with you there.) Missing Roy through a wall, not seeing Leon and then losing the fight with him, not fooling Zhora... I suppose he is a bit useless, actually, but I still don't know if I agree about "stupid". He's got an impossible task with no resources - he can't bring anything to the media, the planet's half deserted, there's no manpower to call on. He's got two leads - the video of Leon and the fact that it was taken at the Tyrell Corporation. I mean, it's not like he could look up the inception dates and figure out their motivation... Um. It's not like the police department could just keep a watch on people with direct access to Tyrell, or murders related to geneticists...

(That's assuming they killed the eye man. People generally kill people they quote Milton at, I've found. Poetry lovers. They're murdering sorts.)

Okay, fine. A proper police force could get it sorted much more easily (and that's even without CCTV and facial recognition). But then again, a proper evil geneticist would take the Jurassic Park solution to engineering a slave race and have them with traceable dietary requirements. And come to think of it, a properly trained, murdering assassin type wouldn't leave a body at a crime scene to be traced back to the place he's staying at.

I suppose I'm arguing that within the limited stylistic confines of the narrative, Deckard's... alright. Clever-ish.

@ Joel
Yeah, in one of the Director's Cuts it's hinted at. By a unicorn. In a dream. Never made much sense to me, though, so I tend to ignore it and hope it goes away.

Chris: There are several clues that Deckard is a replicant. Deckard's collection of photos mirrors Leon's, his private memory of a unicorn that Gaff seems to be aware of (hence leaving an origami unicorn at Deckard's apartment) mirrors Deckard's knowledge of Rachel's childhood memories, and the most telling, a scene where Deckard stands behind Rachel, slightly out of focus, and his eyes glow the same way Rachel's do during the VK test.

The screenwriter originally had some lines in the script comparing Deckard and Roy Batty, pointing out that Deckard is as much a machine as the replicants, following his "programming" like a good little robot. When Batty catches Deckard as he falls from the roof, he even yells "Kinship!"

But in the script, this was all meant to be metaphorical. When Ridley Scott saw the references, however, he took them as literal and decided Deckard was a replicant, hence the glowing eyes and unicorns.

Graham: It's been a long time since I've seen Blade Runner, but it's a trope in noir or pulp fiction that the hero be basically incompetent. They make a mess, get beaten up repeatedly, but eventually succeed through luck and relentless determination. Deckard fits the noir detective bill, though I can't remember the specifics of his encounters.

This is why I like Indiana Jones so much. He fails relentlessly. Take Raiders of the Lost Ark, and run through it moment by moment. In the opening of the film, everyone on Indy's team betrays or abandons him; he sets off the traps when trying to clevely remove the idol from the temple; and he barely escapes with his life before being immediately forced to hand the idol over to his arch rival.

He then goes off on a quest to find the Ark. He meets Marion, who slaps him and successfully lies to him about the object he's looking for. The second Indy leaves, the Nazis turn up and steal it. The eventual conclusion of the film is: Indy and Marion are captured, tied up, and the Nazis succeed in retrieving the Ark. Indy's only saved by his eyelids.

This kind of failure is my favourite quality in movie characters. There's a great article about this somewhere, or at least a TV Trope page, but I can't find either.

See also: Brick. Brendan is a little cleverer than Indy or, by the sounds of it, Deckard. But the girl he's doing everything for rejected him, is dead, and he spends much of the film getting beaten up. He fights Tug and progresses in his investigation not by winning, but by continually getting up.

Tom Francis: Oh yeah, failure is both classic noir hero material and potentially endearing. Deckard doesn't fail. He just behaves stupidly, and the film has to keep rescuing him with clumsy plot devices. To me it's the opposite of what I associate with a great noir hero. They're all about quick thinking in the face of unexpected problems. Everything you cite about Indy, too, is unforeseen adversity rather than stupidity on Indy's part.

Deckard's given all the information he needs on a plate, nothing bad happens unexpectedly, and every lead just falls into his lap. He has photo ID of everyone he has to kill, he's told about their physical strength, they're all unarmed, and he's legally allowed to shoot them dead in public. Yet in every case, he lets them get into a hand-to-hand fight with him that he can't win, and has to wait for someone - or their own random stupidity - to save him.

Brendan in Brick is incredibly smart - I struggle to follow all of his thinking as he figures out the plot. He gets into fights knowing that even though he's no good, his determination will let him just keep on getting back up. Doing it for a girl who didn't love him is about emotional weakness rather than lack of intelligence. He loves her, and she begs for his help.

Man, I really want to see Brick again.

MartinJ: What is this Brick you speak of?

Bret: It's a Film Noir set in an American high school starring the kind from 3rd Rock from the Sun. The actors were heavily discouraged from watching classic Noir. Instead, they were told to watch comedies.

As you can guess from the description, an incredibly good straight up Noir film.

(No joke. It is good.)

MartinJ: Oh right I actually saw that just a while ago and just forgot the name and the main character. The movie was great, like a fresh breath to Film Noir, putting it in somewhat modern setting. loved it.

Mr Ak: Crap. It was Blake, not Milton.

Bret: Either way, Poetry lovers are not to be trusted.

Dr. Disaster: This might be nothing but my own unsubstantiated attempt to fill in the gaps, but I always had the impression Decker sucked at his job because his heart wasn't in it anymore. I haven't seen the movie in a while, so all these details are fuzzy, but as I recall, he was a star replicant hunter because of work he did years before the movie started. By the time the audience sees him, he wonders whether he's on the right side or not, just like they do. He keeps putting himself in situations where, if the replicants wanted, they could all just sit down and have a chat.

Of course, because of who he is, they react violently. This plays into the propaganda that they're mindless killers, or at least gets his blood up long enough for him to do his job. He coasts along in this way until he meets Rachel. Because she doesn't know what she is, she doesn't attack him, and his doubts finally have an opportunity to really take root. The rest of the film is him barely doing his job at all, because he's slowly realizing that he's just a murderer for hire.

Dr. Disaster: Decker? Deckard.

I'm dumber than he is.

Dejanigma: As correct as your analysis of his performance is, I think it misses the point of WHY Deckard has such dismal performance. If you read other PKD books such as Galactic Pot Healer, the hero is always an anti-hero, someone totally unlikely to be remarkable. When they are faced with problems there seems to be a divine hand that comes down and rescues them, not their own inner virtue that saves the day. This theme carries through many of Dick's works, the heroes usually can't even come up with explanations for why they succeed. I think this is one of the brilliant aspects of Dick's works, that no one, the author, the audience, the characters, has any explanation as to why things turned out the way they did.

SenatorPalpatine: You're being a little hard on Deckard. He's got a really tough job, cut him some slack.

Him doing a terrible job and barely succeeding is a big part of making Blade Runner what it is. If he was a brilliant detective and found and killed everyone easily, the movie would no longer be one of the best ever.

james: Bryant say's he is the best at what he does...doesn't inspire any confidence in the Blade Runner unit, does it.

If Deckard is a replicant, you think they'd give him some of the advantages of the combat models - given he is meant to be hunting them, after all. At least give him upgraded smarts, like Roy, if nothing obvious like Roy or Leon's strength.

Freakoftheuniverse: A great man once described Deckard as the "hero" who "Shot 2 chicks in the back and raped a dishwasher". And for all it's coarseness, it's strangly accurate.

Jaz: @freakoftheuniverse: lol

Bret: Huh. Pictures are gone.

Been that way for a while and I missed it?