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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

A Minecraft Diary And My Black Ops Review

The first entry of a Minecraft diary I’m starting just went up on PC Gamer – it’s just a short one to start with, but this might turn into a long-running thing. It’s about playing with a sort of permanent death rule: if I die, I have to delete the whole world and everything in it, then start again from scratch in a new one. It’s also starting from when I first played the game, so I know virtually nothing about how it works. The next entry will go up first thing tomorrow, and it’ll probably be every other day from then on.

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I’m not going to harp on any more about how good Terriers is – it actually had a bit of a dip around episode 9, getting too bogged down with its heroes’ personal problems to investigate any clever plots – but I am going to give you the full song the ridiculously catchy theme tune is taken from. It was written by the series’ composer Robert Duncan specially for it, but I like that he wrote the full song too.

My Call of Duty: Black Ops review also went up on the site this week. I reviewed both the Modern Warfares, and it sometimes felt like I might be the only one not having his mind blown by the unending B-movie combat.

Both those games had a saving grace: the first had a few really smart sections, and a level of dazzle that was new at the time; and the second’s co-op mode is still the best thing the series has ever done. Black Ops has neither, and its multiplayer is too glitchy to get much out of yet, so it’s the first time the score really reflects how much fun it is to aim-and-squeeze your way through a badly written action movie.

Amusingly, the only other review on Metacritic with a score close to mine calls it “Truly a magnificent single-player experience,” “the best single-player campaign that the series has ever had,” and “stunning”.


Chris: That theme is infectious. My wife has never even seen the show but I'll catch her whistling it. I got it on iTunes last week and was a little disappointed to find out it wasn't by some band with six albums, but by a guy who mainly seems to do music for TV shows. Great song.

Korolev: Oh absolutely the story is atrocious. Did you ever feel that the dialogue during the interrogation scenes was recorded separately for each character? Mason randomly flips out and starts being angry for no real reason, the interrogator asks the most pointless questions to try to push the timeline along, and then Mason will then interject with meaningless dialogue like "NO" and "I needed that F-ing dossier". The actual voice acting for Mason is abysmally bad.

Is the multiplayer still bugging out for you? They seemed to fix it for Australians about three days after launch. Occasionally I still find a laggy server, but it's rare. They patched it yesterday and it runs pretty much fine now. Server browser finally works. It doesn't excuse the initially bad state the game came in, but you might now finally get some enjoyment out of the game.

That is, before obsessive players get the entire game down to an exact science and it becomes as impossible to casually enjoy as Starcraft II.

dragonhunter21: That theme song is one of those that makes me want to go watch the show. If the show is half as good as that song...

Korolev, I gave it the benefit of the doubt during the interrogation cutscenes, because Mason is, well, being tortured. Most people aren't in the best frame of mind when they're having Needles-Full-O-Stuff injected into them, tied down in a chair, TVs flashing random numbers, being shocked intermittently.

That being said, I'm going to hold off on my final judgement of this game until I actually play it- I watched a friend play for half the campaign, a few hours of MP and a long night of Nazi Zombies (which is excellent). I get the feeling that people are playing these games looking for why they're good or why they're bad and not actually playing the game to play the game. When I play, unless something is REALLY REALLY bad, I don't notice it until I think about it later. Game developers don't build their games so reviewers can play them, they play them so [INSERT TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC HERE] will play them and enjoy them. I happen to in be the target demographic for this game (Teenage FPS gamer that likes lots of explosions), so it looked pretty cool.

MadTinkerer: "if I die, I have to delete the whole world and everything in it, then start again from scratch in a new one."

Step 1: Wooden sword.

step 2: Kill as many cows during the day as you can, craft leather armor.

Step 3: Look for easy sources of iron (shallow caves at or just below sea level) smelt as much iron as you can, make a full set of iron armor as fast as you can. Depending on where you spawned, this may be super-easy or a gigantic pain. The point is: you don't necessarily need deep caves or a big mine to get iron right away and you NEED iron for decent armor and you NEED decent armor for spelunking and you need to spelunk to "win" Minecraft.

Hopefully you'll take this advice

MadTinkerer: ...before you need to delete your world. (forgot to add that last bit)

Dagda: The game is a fantastic tool for showing people all the subtle aspects of CoD4's game design- and more particularly, level design- that made the gameplay so fantastic and engaging. Because Black Ops almost never does them. It parrots all the more superficial aspects of the game's design, but rarely gives you multiple ways to approach a situation.

I played Modern Warfare 1 and 2 on both Hardened and Veteran. It was frustrating! One of the most hilarious-in-hindsight moments was the time I *almost* beat the Ferris Wheel, only to confusedly bump up against the Spec Ops NPCs as they filed back into the helicopter and then watch the helicopter ramp raise right in front of my face, unable to jump since I was carrying my captain. But it was never actually bad enough to make me give up, because there were always alternate approaches to try. Maybe I'll grab a sniper rifle and use it to clear the roofs before I advance, maybe I'll duck down the alley on the right and carefully clear the building with a pistol using a back entrance to the second floor. Instead of going in the main gate, you can circle left and find a section of the wall you can blow in with C4, along with a number of RPGs that can be used to take out that pesky APC in relative safety.

Black Ops made me give up and switch to Regular in the middle of the prison break, way back at the start of the single-player game. Because when I died over and over in those sections, I couldn't try changing my strategy- tactics could be tweaked, but for the most part I simply had to replay the same sections, doing the same things, watching the already-unsubtle setpiece scripting until it was blatantly obvious and struggling to figure out the windows where I could advance another step down the one available level path without getting shot and killed.

The meat of Black Ops' levels, at their high points, is on par with the meat of COD4's low points- the sections where you can take cover & advance on either the left or right side of a single constrained level section, with the approaches distinguished by different-shaped bits of cover and the occasional one-room enclosure. The most depressing thing about Black Ops is. . .well, the cutscenes that make Half-Life's plot exposition look liberating. But the second-most depressing thing is that those high points of level design were the only thing that reminded me how CoD's core gameplay could actually be FUN.

Jaz: @MadTinkerer: There's something to be said for courting danger in a gaming diary. None of us read Living in Oblivion for the walking and making potions, did we? We wanted to see poor old Nondrick twatting wolves and trying to pretend he wasn't an adventurer.

Nonomu198: Yo Tom, once you think you can set up a base, set it near your spawn point, not so you spawn in it (obviously you won't benefit this), but for the compass to lead you to it.

I heartily recommend you to put a water elevator in your base ( ...xxq2JUf034 ), these work well without that wall in the middle. Also, a tree fort is fun as long as you remember not to burn it.

@Jaz You may be right (although poor Nondrick did resort to adventuring during his later days), but the game may get frustrating for Tom without proper strategy (by the way don't listen to MadTinkerer, not only is hunting cows boring but also unproductive).

Tom Francis: Haha - man, that could work in real life. I can't wait for the day I show up for a meeting, zip myself in an airtight bag in the lobby, and float all the way to the eighteenth floor.

Skusey: I feel sorry for the person who opens the bag and finds an oxygen-starved corpse. Why not wear the mask of your own face to really freak them out?

Urthman: You're missing out on one of the really fun parts of the game: dying then racing naked and empty-handed from your spawn point to the site of your death in hopes of salvaging your stuff.

David: You are not the only one sick of the never-ending B-movie popularity, I always figured I was one among...none that couldn't be bothered to take a stab at the game.

The Cheshire Cat: Any plans to do another Minecraft diary with the release of the new version? According to Notch's twitter, he actually just added in a hardcore feature that does the same thing you were doing - deletes the world when you die.

Your game diaries are always awesome.