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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

Valve Steal Sixth James Weapon Idea, Sell It

You can now buy stuff for real money in Team Fortress 2. First thoughts:

  • The world has ended. No further world can be built.
  • Oh wait, you can still get everything for free.
  • This is fine, so long as they don’t make the free route slower.
  • Hey, they made the free route slower!
  • Man, now they won’t even want to make a drop system that doesn’t suck – one that lets me work towards what I want, or ever gives me a hat.
  • I’m glad crafting the new stuff is pretty easy, though.
  • Wait a minute: finding a load of stuff I don’t want, plus easy crafting and trading, wavy-equals working towards what I want?
  • Yes – very, very slowly, and with no hope of getting a hat.

So it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been. But I think it’s been mishandled: if the point really is to channel money to community contributors, only sell community items. Add your own when players demand it. And if you don’t want to make non-purchasers feel left out, launch with a few Valve-made weapons unlockable with achievements, and make them the focus.

Because that’s how I feel, as someone who doesn’t want to burn through a lot of cash on this. TF2 isn’t a game for me anymore – the only people who get to play it all are the ones prepared to pay. It’s nice that there’s a lot to unlock, but in practise, even the much lower crafting requirements are way too high for someone like me. It takes seven items I don’t want to make one that I do, and that’s more than I find in a month.

Black Box 2

Even after months of play, I won’t have the +25 health that Scouts who pay do. The chances of finding all the items required for a set bonus, particularly the hat, are negligible.

I do really like the Black Box, though – a vampiric rocket launcher with a smaller clip. It limits your aggressive capacity, but suits the calculating way I play Soldier: safe distance, medkit near, Equaliser ready, Buff Banner steadily charging.

The item that’s closest to one of my suggestions, the knife that rapidly steals your victim’s identity, is a total bust. The ability itself is a satisfyingly stylish flourish, but they’ve paired it with a wildly disproportionate drawback: the inability to disguise at will.

That’s such a massive, constant pain in the arse for an advantage that’s really only useful when facing exactly two people, both of whom are looking the wrong way, and even then only if the second of them looks round less than a second but more than half a second after your kill. And doesn’t spy check.

They should have actually stolen my idea, rather than independently coming up with their own that has just enough in common for me to make false accusations about it on my blog. My knife had some trivial drawback that would rarely hinder anyone – it’d sell even better.

More , ,

Hovercraft: A friend of mine got the entire Scout milkman pack without paying a penny via shrewd trading. But he really spent a LOT of time trading, learning what hats and items are in demand, and targetting people he thought were noobs. I can't be bothered with all that.

I've already managed to get all the Polycount weapons without paying for them: I saved up a spare of nearly every weapon in the two months or so leading up to the update, which gave me enough stuff and metal to craft about half of them, then the rest I got via trades, drops and more crafting.

The Polycount hats seem way out of reach right now though. Supposedly at some point they'll release blueprints for these hats, but who knows when that'll be.

And yes, Soldier is my main class, and I love the Black Box. Having been massively excited about the Tank Buster pack ever since LaroLaro started making it, I'm so glad they gave the stuff decent stats. Radio as reverse Buff Banner was a no-brainer, but the Black Box is a beautiful sidegrade.

Tweets that mention Valve Steal Sixth James Weapon Idea, Sell It, by Tom Francis -- [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Francis, Joe Russell. Joe Russell said: RT @Pentadact: This is my thought process about Valve selling Team Fortress 2 weapons: Brevity Week: The Weakening. [...]

Cheeetar: I actually really like the new knife as a spy, mostly because I suck at deciding what to disguise. As long as I can find a lone sniper by himself, I can then go around stabbing whoever I want without having to worry about sentries or constantly re-disguising.

nine: Wow snarky!

Andrew: Buying hats for sets is, yeah, pretty shit.

Jason L: It feels good, in a way, to not have to care about TF2 anymore.

Osbo: Here's the thing -

The new Polycount weapons should not be advantageous, especially since you have to pay for them. So if the payoff is awesome - instant disguise - the drawback should be equal in the opposite direction - no disguise ability otherwise.

I love the new knife, actually. It makes sapping a challenge.

It works terribly with the Dead Ringer - um - obviously.


Von Epp:

"TF2 isn’t a game for me anymore – the only people who get to play it all are the ones prepared to pay."

I'm a little surprised, based on how many articles you've written where you clearly enjoy the game for the game. I'd be in the same camp, if of the buy-or-grind-for weapons didn't have trade-offs (like, say, the pre-balance blutsauger). I'm not prepared to pay for the new weapons myself and don't play seriously enough to have weapon drops be of any real value, so I don't have any of the new weapons, but I've never encountered a situation where I feel that players that have all the new gear have a distinct advantage (although, oddly, I seem to get killed by a fish to the face more often than I'd prefer). I think the fact that I'm not bothered has to do with the trade-offs inherent in choosing that load out, as well as the fact that the counter for a class is generally a different class, so it's never really a head-to-head payed-for vs. non-payed for weapon match up.

Having said that, the new system does leave a bit of a sour note in my mouth. I'd love to be able to unlock all the weapons over time just by playing the game (a la achievements). If I was the type of person who had to collect everything, it'd be a deal breaker.

The other thing is, I think TF2 may have surpassed a certain threshold. It's no longer new comer friendly. I have a friend who is a gamer and plays with TF2 maybe 4 to 5 times a year at my behest. He always enjoys it, but the game has always changed so much since the last time he's played that I'm always taking a good amount of time explaining his WTF moments ("Why did that man throw a yellow jar at me?"). As a regular, I love the fact that they keep adding stuff, but I think it's got to the point where the choices are probably overwhelming to a new gamer. Originally it was a very simple game with a lot of depth, now you have to do a bit of research to know what's going on. For example, if I've been hit by "mad milk" a tear drop icon appears on screen. If I wasn't so into TF2 that I immediately read up on the new weapons, I'd have no idea what's going on. So I'm a little torn, I love and look forward to each new weapon unlock, but at the same time my greed is stripping the game of some of the beauty and simplicity of early game design decisions.

Tom Francis: When I say paying players are "the only people who get to play it all", I mean they're the only ones who get to try all the cool stuff. Apart from the +25 health for completist Scouts, which I think is an outright mistake, I don't feel like paying customers are killing me more easily than I can them. I just feel a bit left out of all the fish-slapping and milk-drenching. So to speak.

I didn't know that about Mad Milk - that's weird. That doesn't even seem like something you need to communicate to the player, because the upshot from it is: try not to get hit. Which you're probably doing anyway.

Osbo: I don't agree that the payoff is awesome, so I don't agree with the drawback being so drastic.

Osbo: @Pentadact

I feel that way about the Chargin' Targe, actually. Don't feel the payoff is awesome enough either.

As for the drawback on the new knife - well - consider the new Mini-Sentry. Trading an upgradable powerful sentry gun for non-random melee crits and faster building felt like a HUGE drawback for me, but I got used to it and learned a different playstyle from the experience. Same happened to me with The Eternal Reward.

Nonomu198: It's sad that the thing you've found worth mentioning is the new "micro" payments (more like macro), and not the new content. It's not your fault, it's Valve's. The content is bland!

I can't believe nobody saw the micro payments coming. I thought Valve's goal was clear enough with the introduction of the backpack and all the promotional sales.

As a long time complainer-observer and an overall cynic, I couldn't help but notice the steep, steep decrease in update quality and the raise in complaints from the community that started with the Scout update.

I hope Valve finally found the optimized amount of quality needed to be put into each update (which is in itself a part of Valve's optimal "community service" work for maximum profit) for maximum profit (yes, you just read it twice), just like how it took them a while to find the optimal amount of time and work given into each update (class updates were the solution for that).

Why do I hope that? As mentioned by others and obvious to all, Valve are not stupid. Like scientists, they like using trial and error experiments (to maximize profit, of course). Right now, they are waiting to see when they will reach rock bottom, where lowering the amount of work done in updates (which can instead turned to other, more profitable projects) is no longer worth the effort. Once they reach it they have two choices: Either starting to put more quality in their updates to the amount of quality they found most profitable, or call quits and apply the lesson in their next game.

I'm not scared of the updates stopping, especially not if they are going to be as bad as the Polycount update. What I fear is, if Valve's not done experimenting, the inevitably worse updates that will inevitably show up 'till they're done.


So, that's my two cents about that. Sometimes your blog gets the little, angry writer inside me, Tom. No offense! :p

Nonomu198: Hmm, I forgot to connect all my paragraphs and ideas... I look like a goddamned tin foil hatted person, do I?

Von Epp: has a good article on the case for loving the Eternal Reward.

@Pentadact Okay, that makes a bit more sense. It was the first part of the phrase that really surprised me, about it no longer being for you. One of the reasons I've got this blog on my feed reader are that your viewpoints are consistently well thought out and take into account the ramifications of game design decisions beyond the surface level. Kind of hard to explain, but if much of the game community got what they vocally whined for, they wouldn't be any happier. It seemed like there was probably more background to your decision than, I can't play with the new weapons.

Dagda: Nonomu, does the Engineer update fit into that "steadily blander" paradigm?

Von Epp: Oh, I forgot it was brevity week on the blog.

Tom Francis: That is a good piece (I dug it out and edited your link, since it wasn't going anywhere for me), and I'll probably give it another go. The author has pretty much the same conclusion as me, though - nice ability, not worth the drawback.

Nonomu198: @Dagda, first of all, let me congratulate you for being able and having the patience to read my wall of badly put together text. I appreciate that.

Do I think the Engie update was a part of the bad quality trend? That's not the point. If you hadn't noticed, the Engie update was a class update, a now dying (possibly extinct) race. Most of Valve's major updates now are of different nature, such as the Halloween update, the 119th Update, and the Mannconomy update for example. I think we are going to get a LOT of those, with a LOT of new garbage added to the game. Heck, Valve said they wanted to do that when they added the backpack. From now on, it's more hats, weapons that are merely minor stat changes from the originals, deletion of fun bugs (they even took taunting while switching weapons!), all made in poor attention to details (sounds missing, mostly. Very annoying) and performance hampering, of course. I'm not a pessimist, this is exactly what has been going on since the introduction of hats and community made items.

But to answer your question, yes, I found the Engie disappointing (it wasn't terrible), and inferior to the War update. Valve had 4 months to work on it since the War update, and all they came up with was one barely modified shotgun that provides nothing interesting gameplay-wise, a fine new sentry that adds some interesting gameplay to the Engie, and the Wrangler, which looks good on paper, but its only real use (that can't be done by simply using your sentry and your shotgun/pistol) is for some fun in maps with very big and open spaces, since all its pros are already covered by the wrench and shotgun, plus they work better against assaults from multiple directions.
You may say I'm a bit harsh on the Wrangler, but secondaries were usually Valve's most creative weapons that added the most depth.
And besides, we all hoped for more different buildings (new teleporters and dispensers), which Valve had admitted to fail to provide (the repair node).

DoctorDisaster: Without any prep for the update (other than losing whatever reflexes I had playing Civ V) and no cash forked over, I've got all the polycount weapons I want minus one. That is to say: I'm still missing the black box, I don't find the fish as amusing as some people do, and I have no interest in the sniper weapons because I have no interest in the sniper as a class. I think any drawbacks in the drop system are easily compensated for by the addition of trading.

I crafted the Shortstop; had the milk, the new banner, and the Powerjack drop; traded for the Degreaser and L'étranger; and I have no idea how the new knife ended up in my backpack but it's there. Trading also makes it much, much easier to get the hats you want, although I haven't really bothered with the set hats.

The thing about the set bonuses is that they carry the inherent drawback of killing customization. The only clearly beneficial set is the scout's, and even that involves giving up your invaluable Lugermorph for the gimmicky and unreliable (but, OK, fun) non-milk substance. Any "bonus" that requires you to give up the Axtinguisher or headshots or carry a banner is a dubious bonus indeed.

And, let's be honest, the only set hat I would willingly choose over the hats I already have is the fez.

Final thought: it's totally reasonable to debate the wisdom of adding this or that feature to the game, but listening to people bitch about the "declining quality" of TF2's free updates four years after the game launched is hilarious.

Jason L: I think those two events are identical. In a multiplayer game where all is mandatory, a "low-quality" update infects the whole thing. You can't just continue your third edition campaign; a sufficiently low-quality update to TF2 is functionally equivalent to turning off the servers.