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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

Better Spelling In Magicka

Magicka is great. You’re a wizard who casts spells by summoning any combination of eight different magical elements into your staff, then releasing them either as a quick blast, a charged shot, an area of effect around you, an enchantment for your weapon, or directly onto yourself. Accordingly, there’s a crazy level of player freedom, very few limits to your power, and a great, great many ways to instantly kill yourself by applying the wrong powers to the wrong thing.

Because you need to combine those eight elements so frequently, they’re on the WASD keys where movement controls would normally be. More specifically, they’re assigned like this:

Remembering what’s what is crucial and takes some time to pick up. So I can’t help thinking that, for the English version of the game at least, it might have made more sense to assign them like this:

Q – Cold
W – Water
E – Electricity
R – Restoration
A – Arcane
S – Shield
D – Dirt
F – Fire

Q and D aren’t perfect, but there’s enough consonance to make the association memorable, I think. You can reassign all of these manually, but because the game still displays them in the old order on-screen at all times, you’d have to relearn it while trying to ignore ever-present misinformation of their relative positions, so it isn’t worth it.

The fun thing about Magicka is, ironically, that there’s no concept of magicka or mana in it – however mighty a spell you cook up, you can cast it as quickly and as often as you can press the right buttons. It changes the concept of magic from what it is in most RPGs – fantasy guns, with fantasy ammo. Here it’s just palette of abilities, with curious but reliable rules about how they interact and combine. It feels like what magic should be.

Magicka Arcane

I mentioned there’s lots of ways to kill yourself – using lightning when you’re wet, firing an arcane beam at a shield, forgetting to heal before you use fire to dry yourself. In multiplayer, they’re increased exponentially. Even trying to heal one of your friends when they’re using the wrong spell can cause them to explode. There’s merciless friendly fire, so area of effect stuff frequently shreds everyone on your team, boulders smash them out of the level, and lightning leaps from enemies to friends indifferently.

But the good stuff also gets more interesting: the most satisfying spells involve the Arcane element, which gives the attack the form of a beam that ultimately explodes whatever it kills. In co-op, you can intentionally cross these beams so that they combine into a more powerful one, shooting off in a direction that’s democratically controlled by where each of you are trying to point it. It’s like a weaponised version of moving your hands on a Ouija board. Again: magic like it ought to be.

Magicka Vortex

The bit I most enjoy about playing a new game is after I’ve discovered enough possibilities to be excited, but before I’ve discovered them all. Magicka seems to exist entirely in that period – you grasp what’s cool about it in seconds, but days later I’m still not sure of the best way to execute my most common attack.

Right now I summon water, summon fire to turn it to steam, combine steam with arcane to turn it into a burning beam, then electrify that beam so that as the superheated steam soaks my target, the lightning does double damage as it electrocutes them.

But now I hear you can summon a rock, douse it in water, and use that as a super-soaker to get all your enemies wet. And once they are, an arcane beam that’s imbued with both lightning and cold does even more damage – freezing a wet target triples the damage it takes while electrocution also doubles it, and has the added bonus of slowing them to a crawl.

This is giving me new ideas for my defense spells: right now I use an area-effect shield to create a bubble around myself, then stand at the edge of it and mix water and shields to create an arc of rainclouds just outside the bubble. Once the enemies are wet, I mix lightning and shields to create stormclouds that electrocute them all. But perhaps I could be creating a frost arc with that same method, hurting them more and slowing the rate they break down my shield?

Magicka Shield

Everything you can concoct in Magicka can be cast in five different ways – a quick blast, a charged blast, an area effect around you, directly onto yourself (often a bad idea), or into your weapon, making its next hit deliver the magical damage the spell normally would. Casting a shield on your sword causes it to shoot out a long barrier, dividing groups of enemies in two. It’s that mix of logic and nonsense that makes experimenting with this system exciting.

Unfortunately, right now, getting it working is as dark and erratic an art as playing it. Hilariously, some machines crash whenever beams are crossed in multiplayer. Others behave as if they have an ancient videocard, multiplayer is hard to get into. The single player is also hurt by some really stupid use of checkpoints over proper savegames. But it is only £8, and the devs are keeping to their promise of daily patches.

PleasingFungus: Perfectly sums up everything I love about Magicka. One of the things about the game is that one of the more important skills is memorizing arcane key combinations (if not to execute your common attacks, then to pull off resurrections, lightning bolts, etc, etc), which really does feel like magic should. I mean, it has arcane right in the sentence!

Oh - and speaking of 'better spelling in magicka', a kind fellow in one of the RPS comments threads alerted me to the "arse" spell, which (with the default keybinds) summons a set of ludicrously overpowered land mines. I can't count the number of times I've blown myself and/or my allies off the map with it since.

Ahh. Curse words in video games: so satisfying!

Phydaux: My guess with the letters is that was arranged so you could tell opposites. The columns reflect the opposite spells, except for Earth and Shield. I don't personally look at the keyboard when I play, and I don't think W for Life in Magicka any more than I think W for forward in an FPS. And I daren't change the keys now because I'd have to re-learn everything and it's just asking for me to kill myself over and over by casting the wrong set of spells.

I have only played the demo so far, and I've cancelled my wow subscription so I can afford to pick this up soon, but I feel I should wait until the bugs are gone. I've had a few major crashes that have hung my whole PC.

Grill: I can't get into Multiplayer at all, three patches later. I wrote a review for Eurogamer on the basis of the first day being so awful, and each day it gets less relevant with the ludicrous fast patching. I hope they put it up soon. :(

EGTF: I wish you could combine learnt space bar spells with extra elements, so maybe there could be healing fire rain and arcane teleport etc.

Tweets that mention Better Spelling In Magicka, by Tom Francis — [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Francis, Ben Williams. Ben Williams said: RT @Pentadact: Some thoughts on why Magicka is cool: [...]

Jaz: @EGTF: Yeah, the most disappointing part of the game (apart from horrendous bugs) is that the specialist recipe spells (the "magicks") don't fit into the same system of magic as your regular spells do. What if there was a way of getting things to rain from the sky, like another cast button?

Captain Hairy: Best spell.

Ice + 3x Lightning + Shield. Tesla towers made of ice. Hot damn.

Zacmanman: I thought this game looked lack luster, and the comments on its stability scared me off... but this post makes the game sound amazing.

Aftershock: Those who think you can't combine the special magicks with other elements, whilst you can't do it with haste (i've only got the demo at the moment) you can definitely combine rain with things.

Fully charged blast of 4x rain + ice, does loads of damage and makes trolls almost stand still they're so slow, allows you to unload with 4xrain + arcane, for about 4k damage.

Phydaux: Well, I bought the game and have played through the campaign alone. There certainly are a lot of pop culture references, but I wasn't expecting a Ski-Free reference!

Oh I do love it when my enemies pop.

Blackberries: @Captain Harry
Replace on of those lightnings with an arcane. It's the most powerful 'shield attack' I've yet come across.

(Ice + Shield + Arcane + Lightning + Lightning. Either cast it normally or as an area of effect).

DemonDoll: I'm sorry this is not relevant at all to this post but I couldn't find another way to contact you. I've seen your blog linked a few times and was kind of interested in reading through it but the site seems nigh unusable to me. I'd like to read through the archives because I don't really go out and get all the new games (playing Far Cry 2, Deus Ex IW, and Dwarf Fortress for the first time right now) so I'm interested in what's been said about the older ones. The system where more entries load when you scroll down is terrible because it is slow and difficult to navigate. It also resets whenever I click a picture or link by accident and while I see the appeal of leaving out any sense of time it's kind of confusing to me to not have any idea when the posts were written and when the comments were entered. I'll check back a few times in the coming month or so and I hope that your site becomes a bit more friendly to me. Sorry for cluttering the comments of this post and feel free to remove this comment from there. Later.

Anonymous: Suggestions in the absence of changes toward your tastes, DemonDoll:

The autoload can be killed by setting a rule forbidding this site from Javascript in the Firefox extension NoScript (assuming you don't want to enable it for the Web at large like I do). It leaves behind an 'older posts' link at the end of the page which navigates properly with a /page/n URL.

If you hover over the title/full article link the URL always includes a date, and as far as I can tell posts are always listed in reverse chronological order. There is not and has never been a dating system for comments, however.

TooNu: Magicka is incredibly hard. It's so very difficult and button mashingly stressfull that It's becoming a great game that I hate and do not want to play.

It only takes 20-30 times to be knocked into the air and sent off a cliff in some fake/lies/as if/no I don't think so/bullshit combo from the baddies ranks of instacasting wizards to push me over the edge into baby murdering rage.

Great game with a great spell casting mechanic on one hand, piss annoying spitefull little shit on the other.

Tom Francis: Yeah, there's meant to be an archive, but I never got around to building one.

TooNu: The fights with other spellcasters could be really interesting, but for some reason even the first time you encounter them they mix it with a high stress fight with other mobs, so you don't have the bandwidth to focus on what the casters are doing and react to it intelligently.

Both modes, actually, introduce way too many elements and time-pressures too soon, particularly for a game that's asking you to learn all the ways eight different attack types interact.

All of which would matter less if it had proper saves.

The magic system is so good, though, that it'd be one of my favourite games ever with those things fixed.

DemonDoll: Thank you Anonymous. I don't really like NoScript (and individually allowing every YouTube video) but as per your suggestion I used google to find the right URL: http://www.pentadact... ...php/page/n. Thank you for the suggestion, it's just what I needed.