All posts


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.

  • html color: This is the information I am looking for. This article is clear and easy to understand. I’m...
  • Grant: Thanks to the start of this video, I’ve just now noticed that during the static flickers while staring...
  • Ben: Great analysis. During the lab sequence in the Prey intro, you were looking around for tells that Morgan is in a...
  • RoboLeg: this game would be PERFECT for mobile, and I’d happily pay 10 bucks or so for it.
  • Jepp: 1) Please keep critiquing games by building new ones :) 2) The non-hand holding, simple systems integrating...
  • 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

    Spelunky Tips

    Spelunky is now out on console box, and is awesome and everyone loves it. I’ve played both versions a ridiculous amount, and brother do I got some tips.

    Doubt Yourself

    Lots of Spelunky’s mechanics are simple in principle but really, really, really hard to reliably master. When figuring out what route is worth taking, factor in the risk you might screw up and get hit by something.

    Sometimes it’s worth a bomb to avoid that risk. Sometimes it’s worth leaving treasure behind. The option that gets you to the exit with the least chance of harm is usually the one that ultimately leads to the most money, bombs, and kissing. The option that involves these things can go to hell:

    Basic Tactics

    Spiders: sprint under them, turn around, and whip them when they land – they always fall directly down initially, and pause on the ground.
    Bats: whip then jump. Lets you intercept them higher, getting a more horizontal angle at them, and ensures you’re already whipping when they reach you.
    If you screw up: ropes are a good last resort way to hit something directly above you.
    Big spiders: hold up and throw a bomb into the web below them.
    Dart traps: if you’re short of something to drop, tiny critters like rats work. Failing that, dropping a rope down works. Failing that, whip just before you fall into its line of fire, and you’ll bat the arrow out of the air.

    Crates: Worth It

    If it’s gonna cost you a rope or bomb to get to a crate, do it. I do it even if it’s going to cost me two, because 80% of the time it’s three bombs or three ropes. The rest of the time, it’s either something amazing (Cape!) or something fun to play with (Freeze Ray).

    Kissing: Worth It

    I have basically the same policy for ladies, men and pugs. The better you get at avoiding ultra-fatal stuff like spikes, the more useful an extra heart is, and the more likely you are to be able to save someone without losing a health point doing it. I just lost SEVEN hearts in a catastrophic chain reaction set off by an unexpected skeleton in the ice caverns, and went on to reach the final boss (7 levels later). Who squished me.

    Buying kisses is also totally ethical and totally worth it early on. The price increases as the game goes on, but not nearly as harshly as it used to in the PC version – retail smooching is certainly still worth it in the jungle.

    Idols: Not Worth It

    Unless you know for sure there’s no shop or kissing parlour lower than the idol plinth. If there is, the boulder will hit it, you’ll get the blame and shopkeepers will hound you forever.

    In the jungle, gold idols are worth it, bone idols are worth it if they’re near the exit. In the ice caverns, idols are worth it if you have a clear escape route. In Egypt, get the girl to safety first.

    The Gold Explosion

    The gold key and chest in the mines get you an artifact that lets you see gems and stuff embedded in the rock. Most gem types are worth more than a bomb (definitely rubies and sapphires), so once you have this, you can start bomb-mining. If you last more than a few levels, you’re liable to encounter a shop selling bombs to turn your earnings back into a way to make more money. It’s super efficient!

    Doing this, I generally end up with 25-45 bombs by the time I reach the last set of levels. This is very handy in the last set of levels. It’s also very handy if you ever find the city of gold. And it’s very handy for the final boss.

    Stuff To Buy

    I reckon it goes Jetpack > Shotgun > Cape > Springy Boots > Pickaxe > Bombs > Boomerang > Spike Shoes > Compass > Ropes. Mystery gifts are worth it if you can afford it after everything else. Anything else I don’t buy. In general, stuff you have to hold in your hands isn’t super valuable because it makes rescuing people incredibly awkward and time consuming.

    Play Co-Op

    It’s hilarious, tense, maddening and ridiculous on a whole new level – everything matters more when someone else is kinda depending on you. It is really hard to avoid friendly fire, so I reckon two careful spelunkers is the optimal number for fun. Unfortunately you can’t play online.

    Always Open Coffins

    In co-op, those coffins contain friends who died on previous levels. In single player, they contain interesting people! They’ll help you out for one level, then you can play as them in future. I just got a guy with a lime green sombrero, and he is bringing me great fortune.

    PS. I wrote this big feature about why Spelunky is awesome, and talked to Derek about the future of randomised games, in the past:

    spelunky feature thumbnail

    The text of it is now online, and the future happened.


    Chris: You can whip darts? Oh thank you. Thank you. I had no friggin' idea. I absolutely hate darts, they constantly kill me and yet I constantly forget to look for the dart blocks.

    Reading this makes me feel like we're playing two different games. Spelunky, to me, is a four screen game that takes place in a cave, and once in a very rare while, I reach the final level, which, to me, is the first jungle level. That's the entire game for me. I never survive long, or survive past the jungle. I read things about mummies and aliens and ice and it makes me feel like there's a Spelunky 2 that I just haven't bought yet.

    25-45 bombs? Oh, is that a good amount? Once I had 11 bombs. I was all proud. Until now.

    Tom Francis: Haha. If it's any consolation, jungle usually kills me too. If I survive that, I usually make it to the last world.

    The main difference between how I play now and how I played when I started is caution, rather than skill. I still suck at everything, I'm just a lot more paranoid now.

    There are at least three secret levels, only one of which I've seen in this version. I died immediately. One of them I don't even know how you get to, I've just heard whispers of it from more experienced players who promptly went quiet.

    Chris: I did actually find the Black Market yesterday, for the first time ever (mainly because I never know it existed until I started reading about the game). But I couldn't afford anything cool. Also, they made it one of those dark torch-carrying levels, which made it hard to find my way around.

    I do try to play cautiously, but I wind up being so cautious I run out of time and the ghost chases me and either kills me or forces me to flee which then kills me. Confound this game!

    Tom Francis: Wow, Dark Black Market? I've never had that!

    Humiliating how many times I've spent 3 minutes agonising over what to buy, only to fall on some spikes on the short bit of actual level you have to do at the bottom.

    Duncan: Which issue was this in? I had a look through a couple of old ones when it went up on the site but I didn't spot it.

    Tom Francis: 211 I think.

    Jason L: Heh, yeah, from my own experience and a few hundred pages of the official thread Jungle's definitely the difficulty hump. Sure, I've died quicker on the five occasions I've gotten to 3, but I can feel that's just inexperience. Fucking frogs, man. Nowhere is safe.

    Repeating from http://www.pentadact... ...ent-261184 , when you're bashing yourself against Jungle as I am, it's really funny going back to Stone sometimes. I mostly find myself just truckin' on through and walking into Jungle.

    I'm oddly proud of the fact that I've never, ever, gone after anything between two spike totems or in one of the two-block pits walled by one that the generator spits out. In theory it's no more dangerous than routinely climbing one; in practice it's a way to instamurder yourself so stupidly that you'll have to hurt yourself in real life.

    Tom Francis: Oh yeah. Exit's between two tiki traps? Gotta use a bomb I guess. Bomb missed? Throw another bomb! Out of bombs? Oh well, back to the mines.

    The_B: Extra tip Tom - if the exit is indeed between two Tiki traps, make sure you're already hitting RB as you land. If you've even started the exit animation, the tiki trap (and anything else -so handy for pissed off shopkeepers) can't hurt you.

    Plumberduck: God, I love this game. It reminds me a lot of Valve's "learn to play the game by playing it" philosophy, except turned toward utter sadism. There are so many things to figure out about the environment and the enemies and how they all interact with each other, and so, so satisfying when you can apply that knowledge to run flawlessly through a level.

    Unless one of those #%$@#$ jungle frogs jumps into you and kills you. God, I hate those things.

    Pariahpism aka Loner Boner: I wrote a while back a pair of stories on Spelunky back when it was still Beta. I wanted to do four total, but it lost my interest. They're a horribly dark and brutal take on the games shtick, which is one of my strengths as a person. They are still pretty enjoyable.

    http://www.dailyvill... ...ming/?p=95
    http://www.dailyvill... ...ming/?p=77

    Caleb: I've only played the PC version (~2500 attempts, 2 wins so far), but are Climbing Gloves not in the console version? Or did you just leave them off your list of preferred items? Because My list would be Jetpack > Cape > Climbing Gloves > Shotgun... They allow for so much versatility, and especially when you have the cape but no jetpack they make the cave levels and such far easier.

    Tom Francis: Climbing gloves are in, but the Xbox version has auto-hang: you hang on to everything you can if you brush it, unless you're holding down. That makes them a goddamn nightmare - almost every time I get them, I'm killed by hanging onto something I didn't mean to.

    Worse, they're an auto-pickup item, so sometimes I whip a crate or sacrifice something and I've instantly got them, like it or not.

    FTL tips | Word Mercenary: [...] little while back I read Tom Francis’ excellent compilation of Spelunky tips. I suck at Spelunky, but after reading those, I sucked marginally less, and now I’m going to [...]

    Brenda: Playing with a keyboard, presing (P) to purchase does nothing. I tried every key and still no luck. I also tried to program a gamepad, but it was not much help either.

    Please help ASAP,


    Jason L: If you're playing the old free version (in which case I'll recommend in passing upgrading to '1.3'), you need to pick up the item, then press P while holding it. If you're playing the version described here, the sequel/remake Spelunky HD, the keyboard control defaults to Spacebar.

    Jason L: Comment died without my notice, let's see if I screwed it up or rephrasing/not linking helps.

    If you're playing the freeware Game Maker version, you need to pick up the object and then press P. If you're playing HD, the version described here, the buy control defaults to Spacebar.

    Jason L: And it's suddenly back and I look silly. What! It was gone, I swear! (I'd guess I boned a tag...? Whatever!)

    Tom Francis: Huh! I'm getting an insane amount of spam that my spam filter doesn't catch, so comments with links get held for moderation now. But I only just now approved that one, so I don't know why it showed up for you at any point.

    Veni, vidi, whippi – thoughts on Spelunky strategy | Boulder Dashing: […] how to do it. This isn’t basic tips or do’s and don’ts like Tom Francis’ blog post from a few years back but more of a general attitude with which to approach the […]

    Veni, vidi, whippi – thoughts on Spelunky strategy | Bold and Dashing: […] how to do it. This isn’t basic tips or do’s and don’ts like Tom Francis’ blog post from a few years back but more of a general attitude with which to approach the […]