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.

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

My SimCity City

The closed beta test of the new SimCity is out, for those in on it. I am! There’s the city I built!

You can see and read about Tyler’s city, built in a different region to the beta, here.

It’s a very demo-y beta: you only get 1 hour before you have to start from scratch. My first one was a single long road, but I quickly discovered that having industrial stuff anywhere near your residential zones poisons everyone and, more importantly, reduces the land value.

So my second town was designed solely to keep industrial and residential stuff as far from each other as possible, to maximise land value. Land value is also higher near the coast, so I put all my first houses there, and put all my value-increasing buildings like town halls and schools a little way inland, to extend the area I could build houses in and still get the most tax out of them.

It seemed to work. I had more demand for new housing than I could ever keep up with, and if there’s any disadvantage to having your garbage and sewage facilities miles away from your homes I didn’t run into it. Since lots of people wanted to move here but couldn’t afford it, I had to intentionally build one housing district in a shittier area: you don’t get to choose house prices, so masses of ideal housing is no use to poor people. Here’s a guide:

Spacey Annotated

It’s been a long time since I played a pure management game, and I wonder if I’ve lost the urge somehow. I built a fair bit more than this before my time ran out, but about 5 minutes before it did, I quit. I built my thing, my theories were right, it seemed to go fine. I’m sure it could be massively improved, but maintaining it and gradually expanding it to fill this arbitrary square wasn’t all that interesting to me.

Fin C: Looks really dull! I personally prefer the grid-based system of classic Sim City games - you felt like you had more control of everything, which in turn increased immersion.

Tom Francis: I didn't do a great job of showing it off - some people have made very cool cities, like this one: ...Zfxu#34

I do wonder if the restricted area is part of what made me feel less inspired, though. Not because I have some grand plan, but because I feel it's saying, "What's the best thing you can make in this limited space?"

And the answer is, "Eh, I dunno, something worse than most people I guess. Sorry."

When it's a huge canvas, it's more like "Draw whatever you like here".

Jason L: There's always the commentary that the rules of a sim game must necessarily dictate a worldview. Thus, the stereotypical 'efficiently' districted American city, organized utterly around an automotive commute to anywhere, rediscovered through a short casual tweaking session. I wonder if drive times are factored into property values or Sims' happiness at all.

Chris From Poland: The game looks interesting. Too bad I won't be playing due to the always-online DRM requirement.

Jarenth: I've actually had similar experiences with the older Sims City: I'd be really engrossed in figuring stuff out for an arbitrary amount of time, but as soon as I felt I had a handle on things, that interest just sort of dried up.

I like these games for figuring out the mechanics. After that's done, I don't have nearly enough of an artistic streak to build beautiful fancy cities or what have you, and the typical challenge-based scenarios have never appealed to me.

eydryan: I'm massively hyped about this but, like most awesome simulators (think KSP and to a lesser extent Minecraft) it makes me wanting for more inspiration and a very easy way of exploring everything the game has to offer and then punishes me for it, for not playing the game "right".

I want to make a pretty city, and I want it to be fun. I don't want to be a simulated mayor and I don't want to have to calculate taxes and file paperwork. And that's kind of what you have to do with these games. It's made for the hardcore guys, who post saves which took 5 years to evolve on youtube and make the cities the game was made to build. Mind you, I say build because all these amazingly impressive games are just compilers for the recipe the designers envisioned, which usually strips you of most of your freedom.

What if I want to build a smallish town with just a few shops and no industry? Tough luck, it's unbalanced. Well yeah, but I want to a) have fun and b) simulate real cities, which are like that. I don't want the burden of games like this, I just want the claimed freedom.

Case in point: Traffic Giant; I fell in love with the demo a long time ago, when it came on one of those magazine CDs because pirating cost money back then! And the demo was great, I had to develop the transport infrastructure of a town, and it felt fun, with no arbitrary punishments and a rather low difficulty. But when I got the chance to actually play the game I was profoundly disappointed. All the fun simplicity of the demo was stripped away, making me face this huge world where I didn't just have to focus on large areas in order to stay in business but had AI opponents who effectively just made it frustrating to play the game at my pace.

Ramble over, point is I think Sim City will be an awesome game, with great graphics, an ok interface, some game-breaking bugs, but it probably won't be fun for anyone who isn't planning on spending months on building the "perfect" city.

Caleb: I was so pumped for a new Sim City!

And then it turned out it has always-online DRM.

I live in an area with inconsistent internet. So great. I can't play Sim City.

Maybe companies will someday wise up and realize not all of their customers live in major US cities like they seem to think we do.