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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

Adventure Time

Years back, Craig linked me to a pilot for a cartoon about a boy and a shape-shifting dog voiced by Bender from Futurama. It was eight minutes long, and amazing. Here it is:

It seemed far too awesome to ever get picked up, and sure enough, no-one ever mentioned it again. Until about a month ago, when someone said something about an Adventure Time T-shirt on Twitter.

I was all, “Man, did that pilot go down so well people still buy stuff relating to it years later? That makes it even dumber that it definitely never got picked up, a fact I will continue to assume without ever checking.” Then I checked that assumption, and found they made FIFTY THREE EPISODES of this incredible thing and never told me.

I would have bought the hell out of a DVD box set or something, but the Cartoon Network cleverly saw me coming and decided not to release one so that I would have no way of giving them money. You win this round, Cartoon Network – I’ll watch these unauthorised rips of your content on YouTube. But mark my words: one day you’ll slip up, and there’ll be a way for me to pay for Adventure Time. And on that day, you will know the wrath of my twelve to eighteen pounds.

Here’s another great episode before I explain why all the episodes are great.

All the episodes are great because:

  • Jake the dog and Finn the human are friends, and both are good guys. This almost never happens. The fact that they’re never jerks to each other in any serious way just makes the series a fun place to be, and the characters completely likeable.
  • The dialogue is genius. It’s a mix of the straightforward earnestness of a kids’ cartoon, the fun plays on language you’d normally find in something more mature, and the conspicuously modern idioms that make the heroes feel likeably ordinary in their fantasy setting.
  • It’s free and easy with its visual imagination. Technically it’s all set in one place, the Kingdom of Ooo, but whichever direction they head they seem to run into a race of creatures we’ve never seen before, an awesome place unlike any of the others, or a weird new magical artefact. It has the throwaway spontaneity of a child making up a story on the spot, but it follows each one through to an inventive or funny conclusion. It just feels like every time you start a new episode, you’re going to see something completely new.

I say every episode is great, but they’re not always funny: some of them are so weird or so dark – or so both – that there aren’t many jokes. But that visual imagination and the likeable heroes mean it always works as a straight story – even if it has a completely bizarre ending.

It’s weird to be watching this at a time when Futurama is back, and doing gender humour that wouldn’t even get a pity laugh on an open mic night. Every time that series has bombed in recent years, it’s when it betrays its characters to attempt some weak social commentary or manufacture drama. Adventure Time shows why characters and imagination are always more important than plot or gags, even in a comedy.

More ,

Iain: I feel complete.

Phydaux: I always thought adventure time was a one-off. I didn't even think it was a pilot, just a single cartoon they made. It's cool that there are others :D

Max: I was very worried when this got picked up. I was afraid that they wouldn't be able to live up to the high bar set by the pilot, but such fears were delightfully unnecessary.

It is a fantastic show. And I want Cartoon Network to shut up and take my money.

Bret: Man.

Seen some Adventure Time before, but binging now.

It's still great. Also weird.

Also, yeah. Newest Futurama looks bad.

Caleb: There were two new episodes of Futurama earlier this week. The gender one? Not great. But the second one, wherein Bender gains access to a duplicator machine, is quite good!

Korolev: This is about the best thing I have seen this entire year. Thank you.

westyfield: I'd heard of this a few times but never seen it or looked it up. It's great, thanks!

TooNu: Thanks for this Tom :) it's great!

Geoff: It appears that it has been released via iTunes? ...d361706312

Cy Brazanthr: I was really into Adventure Time when it first began and what really drew me into it was how "lawful good" the whole thing seemed. like it was an elaborate D&D campaign in which a father (whose avatar is Jake) is trying to teach proper moral behavior to his young son, (Finn) and even though the scenarios he and his son go on occasionally test the father's moral fiber, Finn is almost always stand-up about it.

Anyway, because of that lens through which I was viewing it, the episode City of Thieves was absolutely heartbreaking. It felt like "What the fuck kind of moral is this father trying to convey here? Is he trying to run a campaign that is his version of The Killing Joke?" I didn't watch the show for a long time after that and it took me a while to stop thinking of Jake as secretly running the whole show, the whole thing not being a morality play for Finn, etc.

Are you aware of Regular Show however? It capture that same sort of anarchic throw-away story spirit but without any of that sweetness that can eventually be corrupted by a bad interpretation of an episode.

Bret: If there is a moral to City of Thieves, it's a simple one.

"Forget it Jake (and/or Finn). It's Chinatown."

I think my favorite thing right now is the whole world being post apocalyptic. It beats out Fallout as the best nuclear wasteland to hang around in, I'd say.

DrugCrazed: I watched this when I was in America. It seemed to me that someone had given the writers some LSD and said they could stop taking it once they'd finished writing the script.

Even Chris Morris makes more sense!

CW: It's a good show but it can get really weird. In one episode a penguin humps the dogs face, completely out of nowhere. I don't see why this was put in...

Adventure Time Game Jam, by Tom Francis: [...] Arcade Game Making Frenzy, and this year’s theme is Pendleton Ward’s amazing cartoon Adventure Time. Pendleton himself gives the bizarre opening talk, and the organisers say you’re allowed to [...]

Adventure Time Game Post Mortem, by Tom Francis: [...] Arcade held an Adventure Time-themed Game Making Frenzy. It meant anyone could make a game with Adventure Time characters for the purposes of that compo, which is rare, so I [...]