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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.


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

Taking The World With Tourism, A Civilization V Story

I just finished my first game of Civilization V with the Brave New World add on, which is focused on culture and stuff. Here’s how it went.

1. Settling

I’m Morocco. I spend a while exploring in opposite directions with my starting warrior and a scout-type unit. 15 years in, I notice I don’t have a city. This is also when I notice that my scout is called a ‘Settler’ and that I was meant to use him to found a city almost immediately. I should mention that I’ve only ever played one game of Civ V before this.

2. Producing

Desperate to catch up with the other civs, who I presume are way ahead of me now, my city’s first project is to train a new Settler. It’s almost complete when I discover that a new rule prevents your population from growing while training a Settler, even if you have plenty of food.

3. Expanding

I meet the other civs, who aren’t as far ahead as I feared, and frantically grab all the unclaimed land around them with new cities. I focus on researching and building culturey stuff, and I’m told that to win a culture victory you need tourism, and to generate tourism you need a great writer to write something great. This is not my understanding of tourism, but OK.

Civ V Expansion

4. Diplomacy

The other two civs on my island are both Friendly towards me, so I haven’t built any military. The other two civs on my island notice this and declare war on me.

5. Economics

The only things I have a lot of are cities, because I got paranoid about being behind, and money, because I haven’t figured out what money is for. You can use it to buy units instantly instead of waiting to train them, but this is limited to one per city each turn. That said, I have a lot of cities.

6. War

– I buy a dozen squads of the best archers I can.
– I wipe out both their militaries in a few turns.
– Portugal pleas for peace after I take the first city – I decline.
– Indonesia offers me money, gems and a whole city to spare them – I decline.
– As I take each city, I’m told I can occupy it or make it a puppet – I decline.
– I burn them to the ground.

When Indonesia is gone and Portugal loses her last city, the queen opens a dialogue.
“Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that.”

Civ V War

7. Exploring

The whole island is mine now, so I build new cities in the ashes and focus on culture again. When I get the technology to travel overseas, I tell all of my military units to go exploring, and they spread out in all directions to find out what the world looks like.

It turns out to be two big islands. The other island is occupied by three civs, suggesting that none of them tried skipping military to build culturey stuff.

8. Tourism

I’ve trained a few great writers and now artists, but I’m still not seeing how I’m going to crush three other civilisations with the pathetic amount of tourism they’ve generated. Looking further down the tech tree, though, I see that Archeology lets you find Artefacts that also generate tourism – in fact, they seem to be the only other thing that does.

9. Archeology

Once I’ve researched it, I stop everything. Every city in my empire is now only allowed to produce archeologists to find artefacts and Museums to house them. As the archeologists pop out of their universities in their Indiana Jones hats, I send them on epic journeys to each of the 27 ruins scattered all across the world.

10. Ruins

Archeology turns out to be really cool. The sites aren’t placed arbitrarily: they’re the locations of actual battles or important events from earlier in the game. So the sites on my island are all rusty Portugese swords and Moroccan breastplates from that time I had to kill all those jerks.

I’m a reformed military power now 100% devoted to studying and cataloging its own bloody history.

11. Foreign Digs

When my fleets of archeologists reach other island, I have to ply the other leaders with spices and cotton to persuade them to let me move through their territory. The artefacts I dig up there are traces of their early clashes with Barbarians when they first settled their lands.

When I dig them up and put them in my museums, the leaders are furious. “I meant no offense by stealing your heritage,” is one of my options, so I take it and everyone calms down.

Civ V Heritage

12. Shelf Space

Very quickly I hit a very big problem. If you don’t have enough space in your museums to display an artefact when you dig it up, the option to keep it isn’t available. You’re stuck with the other one, which is to leave it in place and make a Historical Site, which for some reason loses you the artefact and generates no tourism, casting serious doubts on the competence of whoever’s in charge of setting up these Historical Sites.

Civ never lets you defer a decision: you’re not allowed to click ‘next turn’ until you’ve made all your choices. I have a LOT of digs going on, so I have to sell all my trade goods to the other civs, sack my entire army and sell off a valuable building just to buy one museum, and I still end up losing 4 or 5 artefacts forever.

13. Influence

When I’ve finally found and housed every interesting thing in the world, I have to play a weird little minigame where you rearrange your artefacts and paintings to create special themed exhibitions for bonus points, which is not how I imagined my life as a world leader.

My tourism is now close to eclipsing one of the other civ’s Culture score, which’ll mean I become Influential over them, like on Klout. Also like Klout, this has absolutely no effect, except that once I’ve done it to everyone I win the game.

Civ V 1 Left

14. Music

Some of my culture buildings start producing Great Musicians, which turn out to be the other way to boost Tourism. You can march them into enemy lands and have them perform a concert there, which deals a boost to your Tourism, and a blow to my understanding of what this game means by the word Tourism. This consumes the Musician.

15. Concerts

One good concert is all it takes to win over the least cultured civ. Shortly after, the next one succumbs just from all those excellently themed museums I have. The last civ has a higher Culture score, but I’m outpacing them, and my Great Musicians are getting Greater with each one I produce. The closest piece of their territory to me is an empty wheat field on the West coast. My latest and Greatest musician clambers out of the sea, a little Mozart looking fella, plays three jaunty notes on his violin in the empty wheat field, then abruptly vanishes.

The concert works, the last civilisation finds me Influential, and I have, in a sense that seems increasingly abstract, conquered the world.

Civ V Musician


I loved the story of my civ, but I have to say I spent most of the game disengaged. This took 10 hours, and it’s only taken me a thousand words to tell you everything of interest that happened in it. The last time I played Galactic Civilizations 2, I literally wrote a book.

There’s just so much faffing. The actual decisions I make, like “Let’s make loads of archeologists”, take a dozen or more turns to enact, and each of those turns involves five or six mandatory micro-decisions that aren’t individually interesting.

You have to choose a new project for this city. You have to pick a policy. You have to propose a resolution to congress. You have to tell this unit where to move. You have to tell this unit where to move. You have to tell this unit where to move. That blocked where the first unit was going to move, so now you have to tell the first unit where to move.

In each case, there’s only one course of action that makes sense for your larger-scale objective, like increasing Culture. So these aren’t really decisions, they’re just work.

It’s still addictive, because each little system is ticking down to some reward or accomplishment that feels sort of good. But the part I really enjoy is the high level decision making, and the overall story of my civilisation’s journey that results from it. And that’s so sparsely spread among thousands of uninteresting micro-decisions that doing it all again seems daunting.

More ,

alex: Try a harder difficulty perhaps? It sounds like after conquering your starting island you never had to compromise your vision again. Part of the problem may be the AI still sucks at sea invasions, so Pangaea is usually most challenging.

Micael: Yeah harder difficulty is a must for this game, it ends up making cities significantly harder to conquer for example, which ends up improving the game, mostly by doing it in a negative way since war just becomes so boring you end up avoid conquering the civ and as such you just end up negotiating peace with them.

Also you should really try making another game and begin the world congress (you need to meet all civilizations and have researched printing press), it's IMO the best part of this civ expansion, it's a lot like galciv 2 council thing, but for the most part it felt to me like the actions had a more significant impact, mostly because it integrates city states into it.

Basically the first civ to form a world council, gets to host said world council, that civ gets extra votes, and each civ gets votes based on their relationship with city states, city states are minor civs that aren't fighting to win the game (also they only have one city), you can do "quests" for them to improve your status with them (or just straight up bribe them), if you are the civ with the most "friendship points" with a city state you not only get bonus like resources they have, but you can also get stuff like free units (if the city state is militaristic).

Unlike the galciv2 council several resolutions (new game rules) can be passed, so if for example you have 4 votes and the other civs have a total of 8 votes, and there is two resolutions being passed, you might wish to divide your votes, or if one of the resolutions is especially harmful to you, you can decide to put all your votes as no on said resolution, and some of this resolutions can have a significant impact, for example you can declare a world religion, and the civs under such religion get extra votes, or you can for example embargo a certain civ so no trade routes can be established with them. Also unlike galciv council, you can repeal passed resolutions (if your the world congress host I think).

You also have spies which is as exciting as always (which is to say not exciting at all), you can create your religion, which ends up being a lot like the process of creating works of art, and Ideologies which are a little like policy trees, but with a bigger impact.

Obviously this all sounds a lot better than it works in reality, but that's part of the bloat first design of 4x games.

P.S. If you go and play again, keep your civ small, like most/all 4x (and a lot of wargames) they didn't really design the game to be able to handle the expansion (it's not like it's one of the x's or anything).

MikeA: There’s just so much faffing. The actual decisions I make, like “Let’s make loads of archeologists”, take a dozen or more turns to enact, and each of those turns involves five or six mandatory micro-decisions that aren’t individually interesting.

I'm intrigued as to what it is about GalGiv2 that made it's large number of micro decisions less distracting. That game has you faffing about with tax rates, ship designs, spending ratios, and fleet compositions. What is just the theme ("I'm going to blow up your sun!" verses "I'm going to play a concert in your wheat field!") or some other aspect of the design that made these micro-decisions more palatable?

Micael: There are several reasons for that, for the most part galciv just ends up being better executed and better designed.

Take building things, in civ 5 if you want to make a building you start making that building, and you can't do anything else in that city until you finish it, so if you enter a war and need to pump out fighting units, you now either have to cancel the construction of something that was being built for a long time, or you wait for it to finish and then make the units, in galciv this doesn't happen, making buildings and units are two separate things, what you have in galciv is an option to put "focus" on research, making buildings or on constructing ships, now while this is micro management this is optional micro management, if your empire is small and not very developed, you will want to use the focus, and this is fine you only have a couple of planets anyway, but if your empire is big you can just ignore it, since it taking a few more turns isn't going to lose you the game (in SP anyway), the units are still coming out, it's just a little bit slower.
This construction thing obviously extends to the way that you build your planets, you have a certain number of slots, so the choices you make pretty much dictate what that planet will be good at, in civ you end up building anything and everything for minor stat increase, and end up with all cities being the same, some are just quicker at making things.

You also have for example the design decision of one unit per tile, which just simply doesn't fit the game, first of all the maps are too small, secondly every time a unit gets someone that could possibly block it's path you need to tell it where to go yet again, and when a unit takes several turns to get somewhere and the map is crowded this tends to happen a lot.

OFC it isn't just design decisions, you also have straight up better implementation, like the construction in planets automatically putting upgrades on queue. This is before we even touch the ludicrous stuff that civ 5 does that I still have no idea how it passed through user testing, like when another civ bullies a city state under your protection you get a message from that civ apologizing for doing that, and then you can forgive them or get mad at them, but if you want to check what the city state actually is to you, you can't just go and check it out, you first need to make the decision and only then can you check what city state was bullied, this on a game that randomly picks city states, and randomly generates a map, and randomly puts said city states in said map, is just mind boggling badly implemented.

In the end while galciv 2 is far from perfect, making many of the mistakes other 4x make, is a game that understands how the player wants to play it, and tries to accommodate for that, realizing (for the most part) that repetitive actions aren't gameplay, they are just useless busy work.

With all that being said, I would advise people to try brave new world if they have an interest in the genre, tom kind of played it wrong, not his fault, the game doesn't do a great job at explaining itself, and so it ends up needing more than one play through to get what the game has to offer, but the first game is always going to end up with people doing things that kind of make sense, without really knowing the consequences and how it ties in the later stages of the game, or well at least that's how my first game went, with the difference I got bored and just annihilated everyone.

Ankur: Really glad to see another diary from you! I really miss the Gal Civ diary days. They are hands down my favourite pieces of games journalism.

Have you considered doing one of Crusader Kings 2?

Tom Francis: Ankur: Cheers! I haven't played it yet, but Rich is doing a great one with a Game of Thrones mod: http://www.pcgamer.c... ...f-thrones/

MikeA: Probably the two biggest things are unit movement and building pre-requisites.

In Gal Civ, once I've ordered a ship somewhere, that's usually the only click I'll have to make to get that done. In Civ 5, it feels like every unit has a new reason for stopping every turn.

And Civ 5 has a long chain of pre-requisites for the good buildings, but as far as I can tell no way to queue production. I wanted all my cities to build either Museums or Archeologists, but 10 or more of them didn't have the required buildings, and couldn't build them. I had to look on a wiki to find out that a Museum requires an Opera House, an Opera House requires an Amphitheatre, and an Amphitheatre requires a - Monument, is it? Then I have to manually tell each city in my empire to build the earliest thing in that chain that it doesn't already have, them babysit all ten of them through that long, decisionless process for the next 20 turns.

It's been a while since I played GalCiv, but I don't remember it making me do that.

Micael: I believe you do have an option to queue things, it's somewhere in the bottom left corner (in the building menu), not sure how it works, since I don't remember ever using it, but it's there.
As for the building requirements if you keep the mouse on top of the buildings from my experience it says what building needs to be constructed and where, but since you have to do this for every building, going to the wiki really is the fastest way.

Tom Francis: Cheers, I'll look for the queue.

Also learned: if you're going for a Culture Victory, you should always play Brazil. They get double tourism and increased great artists/musicians during golden ages, which I tended to be in most of the time. Would have saved me at least 3 hours in that game.

Micael: They also get a special building that you can build on forest tiles that increases culture, and if you want to just have more money than god you can go with the Portuguese (hilarious I know).

MikeA: @Micael, Tom Francis:
Ok, so its definitely mechanics. Thanks for the specific examples too.

I wasn't a big fan of GalCiv's split between military and social production. Splitting your production between a ship and an improvement is counterproductive as these are only useful once they are done. It is better to spend 4 turns making a ship and then 4 turns making a building, compared to spending 8 turns to get them both. Using the first method I get 4 extra turns to do something with my ship.

Using the production queue in Civ5 lets you pause work on an improvement so you can switch over to making a unit. Turn on the queue, add the unit, then use the arrow icons to move it to the top. This isn't obvious if you haven't played with the production queue turned on. And perhaps switching production should automatically turn on the queue so the player has to explicitly choose to lose progress on their previous construction.

Sadly this doesn't help with the whole monument, amphitheater, opera house, museum chain. You can only queue buildings that you have available right now. I don't know if a tech tree like interface would help there, or making it so that once you queue up the monument the amphitheater would show up on the list so you could queue that up too. Both have UI issues that could be troublesome.

I don't fully recall how GalCiv handled this. I think each type of improvement had tiers (production had the factory, xeno factory, manufacturing center, industrial sector chain), and you only had the latest one available for construction. So you didn't have to remember that a factory came before a xeno factory. If you had the xeno factory tech, you just plopped it down. Anyone confirm this?

Micael: Having played galciv 2 a week ago to see what mistakes it did, I can confirm that you don't need to have previous building versions to build the latest one, you aren't even given the option to build the previous versions, also the planets that have the old versions of said building are automatically put in queue to be upgraded, same for tiles if you have an unusable tile and you get tech to upgrade said tile it automatically goes into the queue.
Which might not always be desirable since social production boosts military production when not being used.

While I can definitely see the problem with having military and social divided, I wonder if the focus button for the planet didn't effectively do the same as disabling production entirely. Either way I never found it to be a problem, since it was an optional level of micro management that wasn't necessary to win games in SP (in the levels of difficulty I tried), but I can definitely see it as a problem for MP or more OCD style of gamers.

Speaking of dividing production you also had sliders in the budget screen, that you could crank, to diminish (or completely eliminate) a certain type of production, and focus entirely on another, which also helped from my experience with the game.

Devlosirrus: After reading this, I couldn't resist re-reading your GalCiv II war diary. However, it seems like the links to the last half of it are broken. Even with a Google search, I can't find anything past Day 26. Any idea where the rest of the diary went?

As far as Civ V, I think it's a great game, but it does have its share of annoyances. Like Michael said, it always irritated me that you couldn't produce buildings and units at the same time. Why are all my soldiers moonlighting as architects and construction workers? Do they share the same space, like when your PE class gets kicked out of the gym to make way for the book fair?

But, my biggest complaint is army management. Individually moving dozens and dozens of units is needlessly time-consuming, especially because they're constantly stopping. Even if you try to move large numbers of units as a single group, one unit can bring everything to a halt if they run into an obstruction. I'd like to be able to select twelve units, point at a city, and say, "Kill them until they're all fucking dead. Now don't bother me until everything is on fire forever." We have a production queue, why not a military command queue? 1) Pelt the city with cannon fire. 2) Mounted units whittle away at defenders, then disengage when their health drops past half. 3) Send in foot soldiers to seize the city. Repeat this process for five turns. Boom. Leave me the fuck alone.

For those precise reasons, I've always liked the early game. When you're only managing a few cities and units, your decisions seem more important and engaging. Snatching a new resource feels important, customizing your cities' productions has a direct and meaningful impact on your empire, and terraforming keeps you busy. Once you get to the point where you're managing thirty cities, however, everything feels like a giant hassle. If I go to war and invade a dozen cities, there's a dozen more fucking cities I have to dick around with. I have to fix their fucked-up terraforming, fill their production queues, and pay for my own units to garrison them.

At least they got rid of troop transports. There was never a unit that more closely embodied the spirit of pointless busy-work than those mother fucking troop transports.

Jason L: Through most history the answer has been yes, your citizens are also your 'soldiers', and even otherwise the folks making their weapons and logistics are also your builders. Do you want guns or butter?

Second half of Plan B here, linked from here.

Bruce: I just reread the Plan B GalCiv diary, which continues to be one of the greatest game reports ever written.

Is the previous GalCiv diary (the Spectral Hares?) online somewhere? Much searching hasn't resulted in finding it.

Jason L: http://www.computera... ...FinalEntry
via http://www.pentadact... ...war-diary/

Marblecake: I just finished the Spectral Hares diary and am convinced, Tom, that you should write a novel. Now. This instant. I might take hostages.

Erik: I've enjoyed Civ V pretty well, technically have played more of it than GalCiv (though not as much as I'd like of either, they're just too absorbing. I sat down last night at a little past 11 with Gal Civ and didn't check the clock again til 130), though I haven't played the new expansion, so I couldn't totally relate to this diary.

But I'm generally of the opinion that sci-fi makes for more interesting stories than most other genres, and agree that you can get more interesting stories out of GalCiv. I absolutely love your old War Diaries, they were a ton of fun to read. The story itself in each was cool, but you add a lot of humor to them too.

J Melbourne: This is the EXACT same experience I've had. I go back and forth between Age of Wonders 2, Galactic Civ 2, Sins of a Solar Empire (You HAVE to play that if you haven't), and Civ V (Sometimes I also play XCom) but when I play Civ V it feels like there are SO many decisions that could be AUTOMATED.

Like building stuff in cities, I want the same things built in the same order everytime, but I have to do it over and over, I can't just copy and paste a list of orders.

Food Buildings->Production Buildings->Culture Buildings->Defenses->Army Buildings->Armies. That's the entire formula, thats it over and over and over.