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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

Comparing Notes In Spelunky’s Unique Daily Adventures

Spelunky is out on PC again! The fancy version this time, and with a new feature that is obsessing me more than ever before. Every day, there’s one set of randomly generated levels that’s the same for every Spelunky player. Everyone gets one try at it, and when they die, that’s it, they can never play it again.

The scores for each person’s attempt are ranked, of course, but I don’t really care about that. The reason it’s so fascinating to me is that it takes a generative game – one that’s different every time – and gives it one of the most appealing things about pre-scripted games: being able to compare notes with your friends.

And these days, we can do more than compare notes – we can record our playthroughs and share them on YouTube. Eurogamer editor Tom Bramwell is doing this every day, and I plan to whenever I have time. Here are both our attempts at today’s daily, mine first. It’s quite fun to compare your own try with someone else’s level by level – I switched between these to see how we handled each differently.

Dailies feel different to play, too. There’s the tension of only having one shot at a playthrough that is somehow important, then in our case there’s the pressure of knowing you’ll be putting this up for all to see, and then there’s the really nice sense of community in knowing that everyone’s going to be facing the same obstacles and treasures.

Yesterday’s daily had a dark level at the end of the mines, one of the worst things that can happen in the mines. But right at the entrance was a shop, and the shop was selling a jetpack, the best item in the game. It was great realising I happened to have the cash on hand to buy it, and wondering who else might have got here a few thousand short. And of those who could afford it, how would they get on with total mobility in a near-blind environment?

I made it through slowly but safely, then threw myself into a pitcher plant in the jungle.

Spelunky Falling

In the videos above, one of the jungle levels is full of the living dead, and I had a tricky but fun fight with a vampire that won me his cape but cost me two bombs. Tom Bramwell reaches the same fight from a different side of the level, and because of that he has a shotgun when he does. So his fight is rather shorter.

So, I love dailies, and I think the feature is genius – both as a genuinely valuable thing for players, and as a neat marketing tool for the game. I’m expecting this Steam release to completely crush the Xbox one in sales, despite being so much later, just because it encourages word-spreading so nicely.

Spelunky Shoot

The one thing I don’t like is the scoring. This is the one game where I care enough that I could get competitive about it among my friends, but the rankings are meaningless at the moment. They’re just how much money you had when you died – a value which oscillates drastically depending on the placement of shops and stuff.

If I engage with the scoring system, then once I’ve gathered loads of treasure and find an awesome shop full of the most exciting items in the game, the smart move is to just kill myself on some spikes and stop playing – ending with a vast sum of money. The tools I could buy do aid survival, which in turn could lead to more profits, but giving the extreme unpredictability of Spelunky, numerically speaking it’s not worth the risk.

Spelunky Mining

But that’s a terrible way to play, and I refuse to do it. So my run today, which was pretty good, got me a pathetic score. My run yesterday, which was worse, got me a huge score and I placed 112th in the world – just because I died shortly before getting to a shop.

A simple tweak would fix this: rank everyone by progress, then by score. So if you got to a further level than me, you’re higher in the charts. But if we got to the same level, then the richer player ranks higher. That way it would sync up with the most enjoyable way to play, which is prioritising further adventuring over wealth-on-death.


I’ll just add these here as I do them. This is a short one, with commentary, like “It was a terrible terrible mistake! It was a terrible mistake!”

Things I should have done differently:

– Could have sacrificed the idol instead of selling it, for a jewel-excreting monkey that would have made me more money as I scoured the level for ages.

– Should have bought the Mattock first, and used it to both mine gems and build stairways to let me get back up without ropes. Didn’t know I’d get the Udjat Eye though.

– Best way to kill that spider would have been to drop the other side of it, crouch and roll a bomb into its web. I did see the bat that damaged me ahead of time, but forgot that it would also knock me back, which of course saved and activated the spider.

– Could have also Mattocked through the wall above and avoided the spider, but its jewels and sticky jar were worth going after.


Corduroy Turtle: "If I engage with the scoring system, then once I’ve gathered loads of treasure and find an awesome shop full of the most exciting items in the game, the smart move is to just kill myself on some spikes and stop playing – ending with a vast sum of money. The tools I could buy do aid survival, which in turn could lead to more profits, but giving the extreme unpredictability of Spelunky, numerically speaking it’s not worth the risk."

You're ignoring two other options: Don't buy anything, or steal from the shop. Sure, it's a massive risk but isn't risk/reward what Spelunky is all about?

I agree with you somewhat on the leaderboards, but basing it on progress first would encourage everyone to just make a beeline for the exit. Perhaps two separate leaderboards for the Daily Challenge would be a better solution.

Micael: I find single score leaderboards to be somewhat of a bad idea, for starters you might end like spelunky not tracking something that is that relevant to classify how good someone is, then you run into the problem of you telling most of your players that they are well very bad, adding to that it also excludes a lot of the players, since it is basically made for those that can/want to compete in those top tiers.

OFC some players will enjoy it, others will just compete with themselves and so on, but all in all I don't believe it's a very good system.
A far better system can be found in SpaceChem, which classifies a bunch of different things, and tells you how you stack up with the average on each one, giving a much greater sense o accomplishment to the player, since maybe he took a lot longer than most people per level, but he may have spent a lot less items on them, and so on.

Some guy: The reason gold is such a useful metric is because it truly separates the skilled from the rest. There are multiple tiers of spelunky players: those who buy items from the shops, those who can consistently beat hell buying items, those who can consistently beat hell killing shopkeepers, and those who can ghost. Each of these things is much harder than the one before it, and has a significantly increase score that goes along with it. That's why michaelalfox had a score of over 1.1 million while most of the other people who played the game early were at less than a fifth of that. I will admit that there is a level of luck to it (how good the shopkeepers' items are, how many vaults you can ghost, how often kali appears, etc.) , but that's only at a very high level and, for the most part, score rewards skill in spelunky, which is exactly how it should be.

Tom Francis: My suggestion still uses gold, people who get to hell having stolen from shopkeepers still outrank those who got there buying items. But if they fall short of hell, they don't outrank someone who made it there with a bit less cash.

Luringen: Another solution to the scoring problem would be listing all the money you have had, not subtracting what you have used in shops. This would fix the suicide/not shopping problem as well as encouraging exploring and taking risks for extra gold and gems.

Some guy: You're right that progress should be the most important metric for success, but the people with the highest scores are always going to be the ones who get the farthest because the game rewards you heavily (50k for olmec, and over 200k for yama if you get all the gems). But that's only really relevant for a global high-scores board, because very few people are at that level (I know I'm not even close), so maybe something like a private board for just your friends would be good because then you could actually be competitive with each other instead of some random guy who posted a 2 mil+ gold run.

Some guy: With a private high-score board I could definitely see progress as being a valid metric to rate one another by, but for a public one it would be meaningless because all the highest scores would just say 5-4 anyway.

James: I made almost the exact same mistake as you and injured myself by falling from the first floor of 1-1. Only I totally suck at the game, so I then went on to die before reaching the level exit.

Spelunky Explorers’ Club, by Tom Francis: […] playing Spelunky’s new Daily Challenge mode every day, as is Eurogamer’s Tom Bramwell, and so far we’re both uploading videos of […]

Spelunky HD | Matty on Games: […] Arguably this makes buying upgrades a risk/reward scenario in terms of leaderboard placing but, as others have pointed out, it means that if you get killed just before entering a shop you’ll score much lower than if […]