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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

First Time Using An iPhone

When the iPhone was announced, I laughed at the notion of spending SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS on a phone. You should imagine that laugh attenuating, bitterly, over six and a half years of me using the cheapest object Nokia can produce, until Gunpoint launched. Then I stopped, and thought, “Huh, I can actually afford to be one of the assholes who have these things now.”

It’s also a big part of the gaming world I’ve been missing out on, and my current phone, er, doesn’t work in America. So I felt like I could justify this as my first proper extravagance.

Having never owned an Apple product before, but having heard a lot about their design, I thought it might be interesting to share my first experience attempting to use an iPhone 5. I was wrong, it was really long and boring. But at some point I just had to start writing it down just to get the baffling chain of madness out of my head.


Your phone can track your location, do you want it to?

Yes! I’m particularly excited about knowing where the fuck I am on maps.

It asks for my password.

I painstakingly type my compulsorily multi-case, numbers-and-letters password out on the tiny keyboard, which doesn’t go into full size mode if you turn the phone on its side.

Open up Safari.

Safari wants to track your location!

Yes, to this too.

Let’s look for something on the internet!

The address bar won’t let me use spaces, and there’s no search bar.

I manually type in for the first time since 1996.

I decide the thing I should be searching for is a browser that isn’t this one, so I try Firefox.

Firefox only supports Google’s operating system, Android.

Search for Google’s browser. Theirs does support Apple’s operating system – hurray!

I’m taken to Chrome on the app store.

This is a page with absolutely no link or button or text that says anything to the effect of download, install, get, acquire, have it, yes, accept, put this thing on my phone. It’s just info and shots.

I keep looking. I’m a veteran of Windows software download sites, I’ve spent thousands of man hours looking for Download buttons. Surely I can crack this.

Still looking.

In desperation, I try tapping literally everything on screen – the word ‘Chrome’, the Chrome icon, the word ‘Google’, even the word ‘FREE’. Nothing does anything.

After much more puzzlement, I eventually discover you DO have to touch the word ‘FREE’ in order to make it go away, to reveal an ‘Install’ button that is invisibly hidden behind it. The first time I pressed that it presumably just didn’t register.

It asks for my password.

I painstakingly type my compulsorily multi-case, numbers-and-letters password out on the tiny keyboard, which doesn’t go into full size mode if you turn the phone on its side.

It asks for my credit card details.

Am I buying it now? Was the FREE thing just sort of theoretical? Does Chrome have in-app purchases?

Also, didn’t I just sign in to my Apple account, twice, which I stored all my card details on?

I don’t have time to enter it all on this tiny keyboard right now, so I give up and decide to try maps.

This time Safari has added a Search bar next to the Address bar anyway, so it’s usable for now.

I know I should get the Google Maps app because the Apple one is apparently bad, but I haven’t learnt how you search for new apps yet, so I go to the web version and follow the redirect.

Google wants to track your location!


The app page, again, has no download or install link, but I know the trick now: tap FREE to find the secret button!

It asks for my credit card details.

I’m on a bus at this point, so I type them in. Some are already filled in, but it’s forgotten a few.

It asks me to create a security question. I say “Not now”

It takes me back to the App page – nothing’s changed, it’s not installing.

I try again.

It asks for my password.

I painstakingly type my compulsorily multi-case, numbers-and-letters password out on the tiny keyboard, which doesn’t go into full size mode if you turn the phone on its side.

It asks me to create a security question.

OK, I get the passive-aggressive hint, you’re saying I have to. ‘Continue’.

It asks for my password.

Jesus Christ.

I painstakingly type my compulsorily multi-case, numbers-and-letters password out on the tiny keyboard, which doesn’t go into full size mode if you turn the phone on its side.

I choose a security question from the list, and type my answer.

It asks me to pick a security question. I have to pick THREE.

This is actually a problem – you only have about 6 to select from, you can’t enter your own, and I’ve already chosen the only one I can answer. The rest are things like “Who was your favourite movie star when you were a teenager?” I didn’t have one. Every other question either doesn’t apply to me or is asking something I don’t remember now, let alone in a year’s time when I have to answer this to get my password back.

As I’m deciding, the screen shuts off.

I wake it up and unlock it, and I’m back on the app store.

I go through the Settings to see if I can get back to where I was setting up these questions. There’s nothing about Security in the Settings.

I try on my PC, logging into my Apple account and checking Security. There, I’ve already set a security question long ago, different to the one I just chose on my phone, and it only needs one. In fact there’s no way to set more. It seems to be completely separate, despite being for the username, password and account.

Back on the phone, the only way I can think to get back to that screen is to try installing something from the App Store again.

It asks for my password.

I painstakingly type my compulsorily multi-case, numbers-and-letters password out on the tiny keyboard, which doesn’t go into full size mode if you turn the phone on its side.

It asks me to create a security question. Yes, great, that’s what I’m here to do.

It asks for my password.


I’m not as grouchy about this as it probably sounds – I generally assume all technology will cause me about this much hassle to set up. This was worse than most, but I don’t really mind. I’m just more baffled than ever by the way so many people talk about Apple’s interface design and ‘seamless’, ‘magic’, ‘just works’ user experience. There must just be a set of people who see the word ‘FREE’ and instinctively poke it, and for them, the rest of this presumably makes sense too.

Fin C: Yeeesh, that certainly sounds complicated and frustrating. Perhaps all people go through this experience but no-one dares speak out against the technology, because that might look like a tacit admission that that person is at fault because the technology has a reputation for being effortless in its use.

Fin C: By the way, thank you for addressing that final paragraph solely to me. I appreciate it. :)

Pariahpism: I went through the same thing with the Ipad1. Here's a link to my blog detailing my experience:

http://www.dailyvill... ...php?id=181

I wasn't grouchy; I was absolutely furious. It took all I had to not smash it, but rather give it away to my friend. I couldn't stand the sight of it.

Martin: As a long time iPhone user and app developer, I'd just like to point out that many of the obstacles and dialogs you encountered have been added incrementally for each version of the OS because of all the privacy paranoia that has been spread in the media over the last few years. Some warranted, some not so much. There is going to be even MORE of this stuff in iOS 7, for the very same reasons.

John: Windows Phone is a much better starter smartphone than an iPhone. People will say otherwise, but I think your article makes it clear that iPhones aren't as simple as everyone thinks.

Andrew: It sounds like a bad compromise between legal requirements and the principles of user-interface design.

The lawyers tell Apple that they have to get an explicit opt-in for any potentially intrusive service that might give someone grounds to sue if they didn't realise what they were agreeing to, and it's only valid if the user confirms his or her identity. The UI team insist that they can't harass the users with scary legal messages and constant demands of "your papers, comrade!".

The result is a "passive-aggressive" system that forces you to jump through legal hoops while pretending that it isn't really doing that.

Clay: Thank you for trying this and posting your experience. I've always been curious, and this satisfies my curiosity.

Jason L: I had an iPod Touch 1 for a while, which was a great PDA and got me into that wonderful first wave of iOS gaming. I still have it, but it's in pieces now after the dock port went bad, I bought the wrong dock port, started modding it for a miniUSB A and to run continuously off a barrel charger, and got occupied by other crap. I just recently admitted I'm not going to finish it any time soon and it can't run remotely recent apps, caved and got a Galaxy Tab 2 7", largely because I'm excited about the Minuum 1-dimensional software/peripheral keyboard. Think I'ma dual-boot it into Arch, having found out a few days ago that that's a thing one can do.

Jason L: Oh yeah, the other half. A few years ago I was limping along as makeshift IT at the small company where I work. I'd been on a Linux window manager/desktop environment spree, everything from Gnome down to Enlightenment down to wmii, and OSX at the time was still a fairly new and exciting thing. I was looking forward to trying it out. Most of it was fine, the app packaging was notably elegant, but that supposedly transcendent most vivid memory is trying to remove a thing from the dock. The absolute only way is to drag it to the desktop, which in only that case is interpreted as 'nowhere'. You cannot, I assure you, drag it to Trash which vanishes, Command-, Option- or Long-click it, or use the Delete key. Hope you didn't want to put it on your desktop, because if you do it just vanished! The Backspace key not working in the terminal by default was another highlight. Apple's stuff is competent, but the supposed uncanny slickness remains Kool-Aid.

fm: should've got a windows phone

Eagle0600: Yeesh, my experience with Android was much better.

Gnoupi: To be fair, once you have the apple id fully set (security questions, billing), it's much less of a pain.

It will still ask each time for your permission to use location (you might not want to share that with any website), and ask for your password every time you want to install something. Even if it's free. I assume this bit is to make sure it's you installing it. And not, say, your kid to who you borrowed the device to play with.

Leonick: I'll give you the security questions thing, that's a mess, always is since you can never type your own...

You didn't see the search filed in safari because it hides when the address bar is selected and vice versa.

The reason it asked for billing information and had "forgot" some of it is actually a security measure, if you have a card added for billing you'll have to type in the three digit security number on any new device you log in to.

Roman K: Yeah, iTunes, App Store and everything around those things are the worst pieces of software Apple ever produced. It's funny how they able to make it even worser with any new release.

However, a lot of other stuff they do in a right way, but a lot of other minor issues are wrong too. But they're less wrong than those at Win and Android for me.

Marc Forrester: Heh. Wait 'til you need to restore the thing from a backup. It's entirely as bad as the initial setup, with the added bonus that any tiny misstep will tie up your phone for about a week, and occasionally brick it.

Anirudh S: My Android experience was a dream. Tap stuff, get stuff. In the play store, you look up an app, you tap "INSTALL" and you're done. To buy an app, the first time it asked me for my credit card details and NEVER AGAIN. I still need to type my google password everytime I buy something but I WANTED that so no one else would make purchases. Everything else is a tap and swipe away.

To those saying Windows is better, it's not. Counter-intuitive to a C, you need to jump through 20 hoops simply to switch on your wifi or other simple things. Apps are arranged in long lines instead of neat icons etc etc.

Dan: Careful Tom. That phone is the first step to the Dark Side :p

Dagda: Apple unapolagetically front-loads all that crap. Upside is that it's thus a first-time thing only.

phuzz: This is why I like CyanogenMod, the Android ROM. It's not really any easier to use, but you can change basically everything, so it's more like a PC in the end.
Of course that means you can horribly break it, but that's part of the fun right?

phuzz: (Android is more attractive if you already use mainly google services of course)

CdrJameson: Just wait until they release a no-rollback 'update' that breaks your wifi.

Piren’e Colass: Basically. Android is easier. Enjoy your Iphone though, they are popular for a reason.

Nithin47: I'm still laughing as I type this (whatever this is).