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TOM FRANCIS
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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.

Theme

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

The Good And The Bad Bits Of The Newsroom

Aaron Sorkin’s current show about a TV news show was panned by reviewers, but I quite liked its first episode and thought its problems were fixable. The reviewers had seen the first four. I now see what they were talking about.

It’s such an extraordinary mix of exciting potential and staggeringly clumsy writing that I’ve had trouble stringing together a sentence about it that uses the word ‘but’ fewer than five times. So I’ll give up on a coherent overview and just list the things I like and don’t like.

Bad

All the relationships. Sorkin apparently no longer understands humans on any level. He’ll start with a tired premise (they fancy each other but won’t admit it! I just thought of this one!) and then take them directly to INSANE MONSTER MODE, where the characters devote their entire lives to ridiculously elaborate Machiavellian schemes to randomly torture people or achieve the opposite of what they want to prove to everyone they don’t want it.

It’s impossible to give a shit about anyone who behaves this way, so from the moment it starts, every further minute spent on relationships is painful. And they never go anywhere and they’re about 50% of the show.

The sexism. It’s getting hard to call it anything else. I’m losing track of the number of plotlines, minor and major, one-off and recurring, that take the form of: “stupid woman is an irrational idiot, man schools her humiliatingly whilst being a selfless manly patriot.” You can write anything. Don’t keep writing that.

The plotlines. I guess the ‘bad’ list has some fairly big stuff on it. I like the news stories they choose to feature, and I often like a lot of what happens in direct relation to them. But the show’s own stories are bizarrely inept.

(Mild plot outline spoilers)

A whole episode hinges on someone accidentally inserting an asterisk into the e-mail address of someone she e-mails regularly, twice, on the same day that the company introduces a system that makes that e-mail the e-mail to everyone in the company. Another spends a freakishly long time describing the plot of the movie Rudy, so that it can be referenced in a final scene that completely misses the stated point – in Rudy, apparently, they give Rudy the thing he’s never had. In Newsroom, they give a millionaire more money.

And in another episode, to quote the Onion, “Who reads a tweet from The Rock to their girlfriend at a party?

Are the two main characters really called Will MacAvoy and MacKensie MacHale?

Good

It’s a show about making a news programme. I don’t know why, but I can just watch these forever. They’re putting on a performance, so it’s tense and immediate, but it’s also important work, not just entertainment. That’s entertaining.

Sloan. Olivia Munn as the qualified but socially inept financial reporter turns out to be the best character. She’s one of the few whose personal dramas always take a backseat to her work, and the work/life balance of screentime is closer to what it was in the West Wing: mostly work. The one episode where her emotions affect her job, it happens out of a determination to do her job better.

The preaching. I know this comes up almost exclusively in the criticism category for others, but for what it’s worth I like most of the soapboxing. Some of the speeches are powerful, elegantly worded arguments worth making, and I don’t get to see a lot of that. It’s one of the things I liked about the West Wing. It doesn’t bother me hugely that what the character is saying is clearly what the writer believes, it’s only when the reason to say it is flimsy that it becomes a problem. There’s plenty of that too, but it’s nice to see the good rhetoric on telly again.

The closest I can get to a conclusion is that the episodes without a Maggie and Jim plotline are more entertaining than painful. I will continue watching it forever.

More

Chris: Huh. Funny timing. I never made it through the pilot -- I found it irritating and phony, even though I enjoyed the script I read before the pilot was even made -- but an hour before I saw this post I was thinking that maybe I should give the show another shot. I figured I shouldn't judge a show by its pilot, and even if I wound up not liking the show, I watch plenty of stuff I don't like just to take part in the conversations about it. I think I will download -- er, watch a few episodes on that HBO channel I totally pay for legally.

Plumberduck: Pedantry attack: The Onion is the satirical newspaper, The A.V. Club is the pop cultural analysis site/paper. While the former publishes the latter, and they come bundled together in print form, they have entirely separate editorial staffs.

The distinction matters, I think, because anything specifically attributed to The Onion is going to be a funny lie, while anything specifically from The A.V. Club is going to be basically truthful (if still carrying a satiric edge).

DDude: While I see what you mean about how the premise of every relationship is tired and flat, I still love the way Sorkin writes dialogue, and that comes through most, for me in the friendships instead of the preaching monologues. The scene early on where Maggie has a panic attack, while not original, and let The Guy be the Manly War Vet to The Helpless Girl, had dialogue which bounced back between the two.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I like show where people speak good. Also fast.

Plus, even when the premises of the relationships are cringe worthy, they're still better than Studio 60.

MJHanrahan: I remember reading the best description of this sort of show: Competence Porn. Seeing incredibly talented people do their job well. Its like every time you see Josh Lyman kick ass and get a bit of legislation passed.

Also, one of my favourite characters in the show has got to be Don, the previous EP. He seems to be doing the whole news integrity thing without having the weight to throw around like Will does.