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.
I danced around the room like an imbecile when my story got into the original Machine of Death collection. I didn’t really know what it was doing there, next to all these awesome ideas, but I didn’t care.
Until it came out.
It’s flattering to be in such wonderful company, of course, but I can’t help wincing at the way EXPLODED painstakingly re-explains the concept, and details the creation of the machine as if you’ve never heard of such a thing.
Explaining yourself clearly is the first thing you learn in games writing, but it totally backfired for me in this context. And I hadn’t thought about how heavy a collection of stories about people who know how they’ll die could be. EXPLODED has jokes, but it dwells on its deaths.
One of my favourites in the collection is TORN APART AND DEVOURED BY LIONS, because it’s such a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t explain the concept, and it doesn’t even really have a plot, but it’s so funny, breezy and fun that you don’t want it to end.
The third demoralising thing I realised reading Machine of Death was that I suddenly had a much, much better idea for a story on this concept.
The crux of so many stories comes down to that Can’t Beat The Machine rule, and I got thinking about what would happen if you started from that. If the characters in your story had all read this whole collection, and were intimately familiar with the weird ways fate would bend itself to make the machine’s predictions come true. And then you tried to write an action film.
That’s when Machine of Death 2 was announced, and it wasn’t a hard decision to enter. Writing EXPLODED was a quick and enormously fun process, a handful of evenings, something I’d do again without any hope of inclusion.
So I wrote out the story idea I’d been kicking around, looked at it, and ditched it.
The problem was that it was about heroes – soldiers, really, but soldiers about whom I could only ever say one of a few things:
These are the four worst story concepts ever. And they don’t exactly lend themselves to the light, breezy tone I wanted to steal from DEVOURED.
The truth is, I don’t give a shit about fictional soldiers. I’ve watched them, been them, killed them more times than makes sense. I just liked the concept of how these guys would work in a Machine of Death world, how they would use that to their advantage, and wanted to write a story where things worked like that.
Really, the only interesting thing I could ask about some Machine of Death-enhanced superheroes was “What would it be like to fight them?” It would fucking suck. It would be like fighting the player in a videogame, or the hero in a movie – the asshole all the bullets miss, for whom every twist of physics seems to land in his favour.
What’s that like? Ask a supervillain. Actually, ask his henchmen.
LAZARUS REACTOR FISSION SEQUENCE is about three henchpersons, the supervillain they work for, and the supersoldier superheroes who keep fucking up their shit.
It got accepted into the Machine of Death 2 collection on my birthday, and I danced around the room like an imbecile.
More Machine of Death
Sam: Congrats! Looks like I'll be buying this volume, too, then.
Rosti: I am excite!
Gryphon: Good god, yes. Love good collections of short stories, and machine of death had some of the best short stories I've ever read. I'm extremely excited for this one!
Bret: Man, one of the top two picks? Congratulations.
And MOD 1 was one of the best collections I've ever read, your story included. They weren't all the best I've ever read or anything of the sort, but I at least kinda liked the entire lot. Most other collections I've seen have at least one stinker.
And hearing your story's better this time? Well, sounds good.
Clint: For what it's worth, I thought that the overexposition was perfectly justifiably given that you basically wrote the genesis of the thing. Understanding how each of your characters reacted to each new aspect of the machine they uncovered I thought was important to connecting to them by the end.
And yours was the story that convinced me to buy the first collection at all.
Clint: Justifiable*. D'oh.
Tom Francis: Thanks guys!
Wesman: Tom, I bought the original volume entirely because of you, and will thusly be purchasing this one for the same reason. Don't ever stop, you lovable scamp.
verendus: Don't you hate how those four story concepts seem to make up the bulk of today's media? The last three themselves are so dominant that even the first feels like a breath of fresh air in comparison.
Bret: Going to agree those are pretty bad, but the worst? I dunno, it's probably a personal thing, but I've always liked "YAY! Hero Soldiers" better than the all time favorites for school assigned reading
GUESS WHAT? Teenagers angst!
SURPRISE! The past (or what I skimmed of it from an encyclopedia) sucked!
I mean, at least the first one sometimes leads to a trio of ski patrol brothers fighting dinosaurs in Antarctica while two of them are snow blind.