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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

The Maths Of This Week’s Futurama

Futurama hasn’t been this good in years. It’s been very funny this season, and I think most of the movies had some inspired gags, but this week’s was the first time the plot’s been as good as the jokes since the good old days. It did what all the best episodes do: found the humour value in an old sci-fi concept and took it to ridiculous extremes.

Professor Bender Clowns

If you didn’t see it, Farnsworth invented a mind-swapper. He and Amy swapped bodies to enjoy youth and food respectively, but found they couldn’t switch back because their body’s immune response blocked the same switch being made again. They could still swap to other bodies, though, so Bender and the Professor (really Amy) swap minds.

Bender (really the Professor): Now then Amy, we’ll simply switch bodies, and then we’ll… no… I’d be back in my body, but then you and Bender would be switched, and the Amy and Bender bodies can’t trade minds again since they just did!

Professor (really Amy): Oh no! Is it possible to get everyone back to normal using four or more bodies?

Bender (really the Professor): I’m not sure! I’m afraid we need to use… MATH.

You can already tell the whole episode is going to be amazing at this point, but I had to pause and work it out before watching any more. You could call this an intentionally self-inflicted spoiler, but you kind of already know the main characters aren’t going to end up permanently switched, right? I just wanted to know if this was a way they could be restored, and if so how many more people they’d need.

It’s trickier than it seems as first, but not as impossible as it starts to look shortly after that. To be as clear as possible, I’ll refer to people as Person They Appear To Be (Person They Really Are). This is important because it’s the bodies that can’t switch back directly – there’s no rule about minds.

By this point in the show, here’s the story so far:

Professor Amy switchAmy and the Professor switch

Professor (Amy)
Amy (Professor)

Bender Amy switchAmy and Bender switch

Amy (Bender)
Bender (Professor)

Professor (Amy)

Bender (Professor) proposes switching with Professor (Amy) but doesn’t go through with it. It’s easier to think about if he does do that, though, because we’re back to just two wrong ‘uns to fix.

Bender Professor switchBender and Professor switch

Bender (Amy)
Professor (Professor) – Fixed!

Amy (Bender)

Now Bender and Amy need to switch, but they can’t directly. So we use Fry as temporary storage:

Bender Fry switchBender and Fry switch

Fry (Amy)
Bender (Fry)

Amy (Bender)

But that’s not enough. We need a somewhere else to put Bender’s brain so we don’t end up using the same storage person twice for the same trade. So:

Leela Amy switchAmy and Leela switch

Amy (Leela)
Leela (Bender)

Fry (Amy)
Bender (Fry)

Now we can get Amy’s brain back in her without putting Bender into Fry – we can’t re-swap that pair.

Fry Amy switchAmy and Fry switch

Fry (Leela)
Amy (Amy) – Fixed!

Bender (Fry)
Leela (Bender)

Similarly, we can put Bender back to rights without stranding Fry.

Leela Bender switchLeela and Bender switch

Leela (Fry)
Bender (Bender) – Fixed!

Fry (Leela)

So finally we can switch two people who both want to be switched, which is the only way you can ever finish this thing:

Leela Fry switchFry and Leela switch

Fry (Fry) – Fixed!
Leela (Leela) – Fixed!

That was my first attempt. Looking it over, I think there’s probably some flab there – I think I can see a way to save a move or two early on. But figuring out this much made the rest of the episode all the more fun to watch, because the switches get nuts very, very quickly.

It seems to be biting off way more storylines than it can chew, and more maths than it can resolve, but it does both beautifully. The Wash Bucket is one of those sublime minor characters we don’t see enough of lately, like the homeopathy-hating announcer bot in Crimes of the Hot. And although they seem to be glossing over the mess they’ve made by having the Globetrotters announce that any such tangle can be resolved with two extra people, that is provably correct, and they show they’re nerdy enough to do the legwork by doing a montage of all the required switches at the end.

If Futurama sometimes seems weirdly inconsistent, it’s probably because of the crazy number of writers. No two episodes this season have been written by the same person. This one was by Ken Keeler, also behind Time Keeps on Slipping, and I therefore conclude that he is awesome.


Moni: Ken Keeler is awesome because he has a PhD in Applied Mathematics.

He wrote and proved a theorem to solve this episode's plot. ...ofiles.cfm

Tom Francis: Awesome! I figured they'd done their homework, but I did not know that.

Tom Francis: Yep, as I thought, you can save two steps. Here's the most efficient method I can find - anyone improve it?


Amy and Professor switch


Amy and Bender switch



Professor and Leela switch


Leela and Amy switch


Bender and Professor switch


Leela and Bender switch


Cult of Jared: This is easier if you think spatially.
It takes three people to loop a person back to their original body. ...erama1.jpg

If you have a fourth person, you can perform a mirrored loop. No common transfers, except the first. ...erama2.jpg

After these transfers Amy and Professor must be in their original bodies. This leaves fry and bender out of place, who conveniently have not swapped.

It is not possible to accomplish this with 3 people: 3 people can only support 3 transfers, and restoring all bodies requires at least 4.

Rabbit: http://www.geekosyst... ...da-theory/
The writers of the show already proved it :P

Chris: Great episode! Also of note behind all the math, Fry has once again had sex with a family member. First, doing the nasty in the past-y with his own grandmother in the Roswell episode, now, nailing his great nephew (Leela in the Professor's body). I think he's officially the biggest pervert in sci-fi history.

Tom Francis: Yeah, that occured to me too. Though if you count Leela as the Professor because she's in his body, you sort of have to count Fry as Zoidberg rather than Fry. Well, we can all agree it was disgusting.

Also what did Zoidberg wretch up? A parasite? Ugh.

Jason L: Looking forward to it hopefully making up for That Darn Katz. I know it's the writers' job to break science for laughs, but... You can't find some spare rotational energy angular momentum in the universe? Nerd cortex dirty!

Jason L: Ok guys, strikethroughs don't work. We test dangerous half-permitted functionality so you don't have to. At least I closed the tags properly this time.

Tom: This season of Futurama has been underwhelming for me, although I agree that the most recent episode was the show at the top of it's game. Most of the other episodes have felt messy and convoluted, much like the movies did, and it seems like the writers have been told to focus the on cutting issues of today, with varying degrees of success. I don't watch Futurama to see a variation of something that's happening right now. The whole reason the show works is because of its limitless possibilities. It's set 3000 years in the future! If I want satire I'll watch South Park.

Jason L: I've been enjoying it. Despite my reaction to That Darn Katz I wouldn't even file that as a Bad Episode - it does at least (and at last) have some well-done character development for Amy - and nothing's felt as messy to me as the Frankenfilms.

I do wonder how well the 'they put satire in now it sucks' angle would hold up on a reviewing - I remember about half of all Futurama episodes as being 'about' one or two current events, with most of the rest being about three - though, admittedly, not the best ones. I forget where, but at one point I'd read that as early as the third season antifans were pointing to the show's reliance on cultural satire and heads-in-jars to dub it Pastarama or some such.

Tom: The best episodes of Futurama have been the ones that have embraced it's nature as a science fiction show that is set so far in the future that literally anything can happen. There have been some good satirical episodes, recently the Evolution one wasn't too bad, but I wouldn't count any of them as among the best the show can offer. I have a feeling that referencing events of today too much shackles the show to our boring reality, when it could be, and has been, so much more.

Whatever, I'll always watch Futurama, no matter how bad it is!

Tom Francis: Yeah. This season has been occasionally brilliant, and occasionally the worst Futurama has ever been. The Beast With A Billion Backs movie may have been weird, aimless and gross, but it didn't outright offend me. Proposition Infinity, however - I'd unwatch it if I could. I find it hard to like Amy anymore, and even Bender starts to seem less lovably evil and merely repulsive.

They obviously wanted to reference the girls like a bad boy stereotype so badly that they were willing to ignore Kif and Amy's relationship just for the sake of dragging the most obvious female character into it. They seemed to forget that they only paired those characters together in the first place to demonstrate that Amy didn't conform to such lazy stereotypes of women, despite her apparent ditziness. It was what made her a good female character, and they trashed that to demonstrate the world's weariest, laziest sexist cliché.

I know some people don't care about the characters, so long as the gags are good. And Proposition Infinity isn't the worst the gags have been - the EyePhone episode barely raised a smile. But the characters are one of the main things that makes Futurama better than the Simpsons, for me. That show is full of great gags, but because I don't really care about any of the main characters, it's just a sketch show. I like the sketches with Wiggum or Lenny and Karl, but any time spent progressing the story might as well be dead air. In Futurama, I actually get excited about what's going to happen - particularly when it's a very sci-fi themed episode. I've developed a Pavlovian love of those few bars of music they play over the establishing shot of Planet Express HQ, because it means cool things are going to happen to a cast I give a shit about.

Prop Infinity - and having Leela fuck Zap in front of Fry in episode two - degrade that excitement much more than the odd schoolboy level satire like Killer App. There were a fair few duds in the first five seasons of Futurama, as there are in five seasons of pretty much anything, but none of them really made me less of a fan. But before Prisoner of Benda, I was actually starting to feel unexcited at the prospect of another episode. And that's just weird.

EGTF: They've just so lazily broken all the taboos in the show. Amy has now fucked both Zap and Bender, Leela has also let herself get filled with love paste by Zap and technically done it with Fry. It's as though suddenly they'll forget midway through an episode that their female cast are characters too and instead define them by their posession of vaginas.

Still, this episode, the evolution one and Bender + Hermes' adventure were enjoyable and made up for the eyephone and proposition infinity ones. Infact I'd quite like another Hermes one, he deserves to be in story arcs more often.

Dante: I watched the first four episodes, which ranged from below par to utterly dreadful and just couldn't be bothered any more. Then someone said that the Time Travel one was 'a return to form' and 'as good as it ever was' so I watched that one. It was.... okay... very uneven, sporadically funny sporadically poor, it was clearly trying very hard to recreate what made other episodes good rather than making anything new.

So anyway I might give it yet another go with this one, but really, it was a terrible start to the season.

Tom: It seems to me that maybe the producers made a deal with some of the voice actors to give the lesser characters a greater role in order to secure their return. Amy in particular has been given a lot more to do this season than before, when to me she was always one of the weaker characters. It used to be a running joke on the show that the adventures would always fall to Bender, Fry and Leela (and maybe Zoidberg), with the other characters standing on the periphery.

But I agree with Pentadact that the characters are one of the shows main drawing points. The writers of Futurama have a way with character-specific dialogue that I'd usually associate with Joss Whedon (or at least they used to).