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TOM FRANCIS
REGRETS THIS ALREADY

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

Anatomy Of An Intro (To A BioShock Infinite Review)

When I left PC Gamer a few months back, I wrote up five things I learned from my 9 years there. I also promised to pick apart something I’d written to show how I’d tried to apply this stuff in practice.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, not to give myself the free pass of spouting rhetoric without having to demonstrate its use. But as soon as I wrote it, it sounded awfully douchey. It’s really hard to explain why you wrote something one way without sounding like you’re insulting everyone who wrote something different. So I did what any writer would do, left it in my drafts folder and never spoke of it again or responded to people’s requests for it.

But people have requested it, several times, and maybe it’s even douchier not to post it. So perhaps I should put it up and just trust that you understand:

  • I do not think everyone should write this way.
  • I do not think I am particularly good.
  • This is just me trying to show how I apply what I’ve learned so far.

Actual copy is in bold, click any part of it to see the annotations – some extraneous line breaks have been added to make that work.

When I finished BioShock Infinite – don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything – I was dumbfounded.

I wanted to tell someone what I thought, but for a moment I had absolutely no idea. I’d experienced a kind of excited panic, then total delight, then momentary confusion, and then a rush of extraordinary sights, powerful scenes and sudden twists that left me struggling to keep up.

It’s incredible. It’s just a shame it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Infinite is a wonderful game. Every single person who can should play it. It’s a genuinely unique, breathtaking, fascinating and gruesomely fun adventure in an extraordinary place.

But the plot truly jumps the shark. It jumps many sharks. It jumps BioShark Infinisharks.

That’s not uncommon in cinematic first-person shooters like this, but I’m mentioning it up front because the game’s mysteries are such a big part of its appeal.

The fact that you’re aboard a flying city of magical racists in 1912 quickly drops to being only the fifth or sixth most puzzling thing about your situation.

Who are those two? Why are they talking about me? What’s with the giant cyborg bird? What does AD stand for? How does he know… why does she think… when did they… why can that guy shoot crows from his hands? And how do these pants help me reload?

The intro says you’re Booker DeWitt, a private investigator here to retrieve a girl named Elizabeth, but I played it more like a crazed looter and narrative junky, scouring the city for spare change and clues.

In bright contrast to the original BioShock’s deep-sea madhouse, the city of Columbia is still thriving, still beautiful, and still populated – albeit with magical racists.

That lets Infinite litter the city with more revealing pieces of these puzzles, and hoovering them up into a wonky jigsaw of what’s going on is the greatest pleasure of the game.

I think it still would have been, even if a tear had opened in the fabric of spacetime and future alterno-Tom, stroking his goatee, had told me the plot doesn’t ultimately add up.

So I’m telling you, in the hope that you can still enjoy the process of assembling that wonky jigsaw, without being disappointed when the game itself cuts off all the nobbly bits to cram the pieces together the way it wants.

When you’re not obsessively checking every shop, bathroom and bin for an audio diary or change, it’s because the guards have recognised you. For reasons I won’t go into, you’re unwelcome in Columbia but not widely known: an announcer warns the public to be looking out for a frenchman or a one-eyed midget. So while there’s usually a calm period when you enter a each new district, at some point the jig is up and the guns come out.

Really, it’s just a pleasure to have a game this substantial to explore – and one that gives you the breathing room to do so. You still spend a lot of time killing things in BioShock Infinite, but it knows when to give you space. You get to know Columbia as a tourist: a dazzling dream of an impossible city in an impossible place – tranquil, prosperous and happy.

Further reading:

More

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer, by Tom Francis: […] I pick apart my BioShock Infinite review to show how I tried to apply this stuff to the […]

Ninja Foodstuff: Thanks for this Tom. The penultimate paragraph seems broken?

I also note that there's a repetition of certain phrases (such as "magical racists"), is that done intentionally?

Tom Francis: Yep, that's a callback.

And the last annotation is for the last two paragraphs together.

Jakub: I gotta agree 100% that was my reaction too. I was in sheer awe through the whole game, really captured by its magic. But once you really start thinking about it and analyzing its true many things break down. I guess its one of those games you just got to enjoy for the experience and not dwell on too much.

Jabberwok: The very end of the game, and actually any of the many twists that happen before the ending, just kind of ruined the whole experience for me. I'm glad I read this review, as it makes me appreciate some of the good parts more, but at the time, I just couldn't get past a lot of the nonsensical elements that were preventing me from investing emotion in places where the story clearly wanted me to. When all's said and done, Murder of Crows with the aforementioned upgrade was the highlight of the game for me.