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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

How I Feel About Team Fortress 2 In Graph Form

Lately, I’ve been playing and enjoying TF2 a bit. There was a time when I wrote about that game so often this site was virtually a fan blog, but it petered out a bit. It’s a combination of the natural drop off in interest in a competitive online game, and a drop off in the interesting differences the new content adds.

The latest update has bucked the trend a bit, but before I get into why, I want to explain what I’m talking about. I often wonder why my play time with TF2 dropped off even as the stuff in it got much better, so I have expressed the relationship in the only way I know how to articulate any feelings: through the medium of graph.

TF2 - Graph

Basically, I wouldn’t normally like a team-based shooter at all by this point in its life cycle, and that can’t help but have an influence. I don’t like competition because I’m too competitive, and I don’t like team games because I don’t like organising people. It’s a miracle I like TF2 at all.

The chunks of new content flying into the game have kept it fresher than it had any right to be, often because it genuinely made the game better, and the rest of the time just because it was new. That appeal ended with the money update: once they added a way to buy new stuff for cash, they no longer provided an easy route to get it for free. It ceased to be “Ooh, new stuff!” and became “Hmm, purchasing options.”

But the last update does have that kick of novelty: it’s a medieval mode where most classes are useless, since their high tech weapons are gone.

TF2 - Sniper Charge

Only the sword-and-shield Demoman and the bow-firing Sniper are great, and a few other classes can work if they happen to unlock certain new items, like gloves that make the Heavy tougher against ranged attacks, or a healing crossbow for the Medic. What I like about it is this:

1. It’s very, very different.
2. It’s so new no-one really cares about winning yet.
3. No-one can bitch at me for going Sniper when we already have five Snipers.
4. The only map for it is small, focused, and channels people into a beautifully designed chokepoint for the finale.
5. No sentries.
6. No stickies.

TF2 - Spy Stagb

I’m fine with getting skewered by an arrow, fine with having my head cut off, fine with being battered to death by a Heavy’s metal fists. Almost every other way to die in TF2, particularly by automated sentry fire, is just irritating to me. Nothing to do with the skill involved or lack thereof, it just feels annoying.

This mode pares back all of the ways to die instantly to a distant opponent, and so for the first time, my cause of death isn’t always “Walked round a corner, met three enemies”.

How long it’ll stay fun I don’t know, but variety like this is what I want from this game now. I think there’s as much value in taking things out as putting them in.

TF2 - Fists of Steel


DoctorDisaster: Interesting! I usually agree with you about new TF2 stuff, but ever since the money update, I have found the game less and less engaging. That's not to say that I'm one of the raging MOAR FREE ALWAYS hardcore -- not by any means. (Well, OK: crate drops are annoying as hell, but not that important.)

I've been having a totally different problem: the unregulated glut of new items has made the game really difficult to parse, even though I've been playing for years. I'll see a pyro charging at me with a rake or something and be unable to sort through my brain's TF2 arsenal section (which was already absurdly large) fast enough to remember what weird effects it has. The set bonuses don't help, nor do weapons whose bonuses apply even when they're holstered; you pretty much have to die and wait for the zoom-in to figure out what you were facing. And every time I think I've gotten up to speed, another update drops more community items into the game.

Hell, even the supposedly simple crafting system is no longer something I'm willing to face without the TF2 wiki open on the Steam overlay. Is this weapon an ingredient for a community doodad I want or can I turn it into metal? Oops, crafted it and then realized that it's an ingredient for an ingredient for that doodad. Damn, what a waste!

Hovercraft: I recently properly lost interest in TF2 after two years of not going a fortnight without playing it. Partly due to update fatigue: the class updates were all well and good, and I can't deny that all the new junk they've been dumping since the Mannconomy update at least provides some novelty. But under it all I've still been playing the same nine classes, with broadly the same weapons and abilities, on the same bunch of popular maps, month after month.

I've yet to actually try the medieval mode, but I'm not sure I can even be bothered. Flailing around in melee-only combat is probably second only to Engie-turtling as my least favourite type of TF2 gameplay. I've always enjoyed the Huntsman, but its main appeal for me is the fact that it allows you to get hysterically unlikely kills on much tougher, better armed classes. You don't get that if everyone else is either also twanging arrows around, or restricted to trying to bash your head in.

Also I'm the kind of stuck-up asshole who thinks that the more recent item additions have completely ruined the game's visual aesthetic. Words cannot express how much I loathe the Dr's Dapper Topper.

Neal Kenneth: Last night, I went on a 4-kill streak with the Holy Mackerel.

Jason L: And that's the lesson, kids. A traditional multiplayer game will usually die, or if you're lucky turn to a small pond, but a modern server-based multiplayer title they can ruin at any moment, even long before its death.

Dan: The unfortunate thing about TEam fortress 2 is that it's gotten way too complicated for me. I don't know if the MANNCONOMY had anything to do with it but I find it far easier to get into the Battlefield Bad Company 2 upGrade system. it's really unfortunate too because i loved and was good at TF2

Ronin08: Medieval Mode consumed hours of my life during the holidays. Which, in part, was honestly due to the double drop rate.

But let me tell you. The best part about medieval mode: Demoman, Charge'n''Targe+Headless Horseman's skullcutte+Red team=going to the top of the castle, using the charge'n'targe to fly down to a sniper, decapitate him instantly, proceed to run around and gather six more decapitations before they finally bring me down.

Also, was finally able to get decapitation-related achievements. YES.

Peter: I thought id lost love for it, but 3 years on from first playing it, i still love it. Its still the; think, point, shoot team game it always was. Just with the interesting bit of an RPG tacked on.

New years eve is my TF2 night. I bought it then 3 yrs ago on new years eve, and every new years after ive played TF2 on the PCG server. Ive no intention of stopping :)

Jaz: It's strange. I don't feel compelled to boot it up in the slightest, but when I'm playing it, it's just as fun as it ever was. I think I just want to move on with my life.

Stove: TF2 is still a constant for me. I'll be browsing through my Steam library for something to play, but part of my brain will forever think "Well, there's always TF2." I did end up taking part in some things that revitalised it for me, though (that ETF2L Highlander tournament, and a conscious attempt to get better at Scout).

And I agree, Medieval mode is fantastic silly fun. Except when I'm getting crushed on the gate or skewered on the way in by that fiend McCormick.

LeSwordfish: Medieval mode loses a lot of interest for me since all the interesting movement options- Rocket/sticky jumping, force-a-nature jumps etc. It would, for me, be so much more fun if ANY combat took place in the upper levels.

Crowbar: Tsk tsk, didn't label your axes. I'm afraid you have not articulated your emotions adequately.

MartinJ: I very much agree with DoctorDisaster. And I wish Valve would read this and do something about it. I just can't get into TF2 anymore because there's way too many items I don't understand. I can't be bothered with going through the wiki or the store to check each and every effect of every damn weapon, and I end up losing because of it.

Before, TF2 was always a case of "I want a quick game of something fun" - now it's "I gotta spend 30 minutes preparing before I can play." I've got ArmA2 for that, I don't need TF2.

LaZodiac: I'm sorry, but I hate TF2. Maybe its becauseI use a laptop and thus can't play it without lag, but I just really, really hate TF2. The learning curve is WAY too high. Even if I lacked lag, I wouldn't be able to have fun because everyone seems to be at the very epitome of skill, and nearly unkillable.

And don't get me started on bullshit melee combat. Even when I am in places were I don't lag, melee combat is and always will be worthless in this game. I was killed by an axe when I was way, way to far away to be getting hit by him. Meanwhile, I am simply unable to hit people, even if I'm right next to them. Melee just doesn't seem to work.

piren: lazodiac, play it on a decent pc, then players will be weaker, and you could also fight, also there is a reduced graphics mod which helps a lot.

Von Epp: As someone who's a big TF2 fan and is slowly losing interest, that graph hit a little too close to home.

In agreement with DoctorDisaster. Some of the purposeful early design decisions for clarity and ease of jumping in and picking up the game have been all but lost with all the new stuff (says the man who eagerly laps up any news of new weapon updates). This probably ties into Tom's happiness post: at a surface level I *think* I'm going to be happy by getting all the new toys and play longer than I might otherwise just to get the drops, but the pay-off, it's diminishing.

I haven't played in the new year, due to all my lovely Steam sale purchases, but whenever they release that new game mode they've talked up, I'll probably get dragged back in (assuming they weren't talking about medieval mode). Introducing new game modes and special event maps and achievements would be examples of how to keep a game fresh without losing out on ease of parsing the game. They seem to be trying that sort of tactic with L4D2 and the weekly mutations.

Jason L: That is the upside of a closed-server game or an MMO - the ability not to tweak it (and inevitably break it) over time, but to deliver timed and experimental events for a fixed duration. I increasingly think that's what people should think about when they yearn towards that long-illusory 'episodic gaming' wonderland. I can imagine someone flipping through the 'channels' and thinking, 'Hmm, I wonder what's playing on TribesWorld this week? Capture the Berserker Bot? That sounds fun!' Then, as with network TV shows, the unusually successful ones could be spun off into permanent mode offerings.

Chris: Tf2's learning curve is WAY too high to even be fun. Trying to get into that game as a new player is a nightmare. Everyone always says "just go soldier or medic and learn what other people do" but that doesn't do anything because you're getting killed with 1 of 10,000 little tricks that these veteran players do.

and don't even get me started on the stupid ass fucking market gardener.