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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.

Hitman header tunnel

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Far Cry Primal Thumbnail

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

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Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone and Bladestorm

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

BAFTA Featured

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Sectors Header

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

DXHR Open area

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Heat Signature Natural Numbers

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Pharma Header

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

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Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

Her Story banner

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

Invisible Header

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

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Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

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What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Heat Signature Talk

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX


What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

Murder, She Wrote

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Wide 2

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Heat Signature Floorplans Header

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Steam Workshop

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance Header

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

The Magic Circle

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Blog Launch

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Floating Sine

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point


What’s Your Fault?

Hoplite banner

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Gone Point

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature Thumbnail

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

GRappling Hook Thumbnail

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

Alien Swarm Heroics

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

FTL Story

One Desperate Battle In FTL

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To Hell And Back In Spelunky

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Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Breakdown

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Max Payne 3

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

This is how you die

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection


Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Skyrim Diary - Frostmere

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

Mainstream Games

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault


A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

Dark Messiah

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot


Arguing On The Internet


Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Stealth Games

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?


E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

Suspicious Manifesto

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

What Makes Games Good

Seat Quest

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Beneath Suspicion

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

Open Worlds

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

Level Up

A Different Way To Level Up

BioShock Ending

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

Meet the Spy

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Football Manager

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE Assassins

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

GalCiv 2

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary


I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

Machine of Death

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood money and sex

Blood Money And Sex


A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

Second Life

First Night, Second Life


SWAT 4: The Movie Script

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Risk Of Rain

Risk of Rain is kind of an action Roguelike: no saving, death means starting from scratch, and it’s all about combat. You’ve got four skills in an RPG-like hotbar, with RPG-like cooldowns, but it feels more like a shooter. You pump out damage rapidly and accurately, and you’re physically dodging enemy attacks to survive.

I really didn’t like it, and almost entirely because of a weird little message on the New Game screen.

Risk of Rain shadow

It warns you that your ‘progress is not saved’ on Easy mode. The main form of progress in the game is unlocking new characters to play as – there are 8 or so, and the starting one is very straightforward, so it’s a waste of time to play in a mode where you can’t unlock any new ones. So I tried Medium, and ended up not unlocking anything anyway because it’s so brutal. The game felt monotonous.

In actual fact your progress is saved on Easy, only a few achievements can’t be earned, and the game is dramatically better this way for beginners. You can progress, unlock new characters, learn which enemy attacks are particularly vicious, which items are awesome, and what the best way to handle the time-based difficulty ramp is.

From there it’s easy to graduate to Medium, fun to try out all the new characters you’re unlocking, and suddenly it gets really good.

Risk of Rain drones

Combat is extremely satisfying. It’s an efficiency game, all about getting huge mobs into the right formations to be hit by your area-of-effect attacks, stacking that with special items and the right combination of skills, and watching them all explode in a spectacular shower of money and experience.

Each playthrough sees you evolving a different character build as you find a huge number of randomly placed passive-boost items. Sometimes you’ll get loads of health regen kit, other times you might find 6 drones to boost your firepower, or one of the crazy super items like the one that makes dead enemies come back as ghosts on your side. These mesh interestingly with your choice of character, and which ‘smart bomb’ type item you choose to keep.

Risk of Rain grenade

Once you’re good enough that they’re not unfeasible, the achievements needed to unlock other characters are a pretty good motivator to keep playing. All characters play very differently, and while there are a few duff ones (the Sniper in particular seems useless in a game where mobs are the primary threat), there are so many that I already have several favourites.

It’s $10 on Steam. I recommend playing with a controller, and using the Wiki to learn how to unlock particular characters.


Duncan Wintle: No to mention the insainly good soundtrack.

Playing Risk Of Rain: The Engineer And The Shitty Lantern - a post on Tom Francis' blog: […] Here’s what Risk of Rain is like. It’s a randomised shooter thingy, and here I’m playing as one of the classes you unlock later on, the Engineer. More thoughts on why it’s good. […]

Brandon: Pretty fair assessment of Risk of Rain. I saw TotalBiscuit play this and him basically jerk off about it but then when I played it, I didn't like it to that degree. I got my value for what it's worth but I find it odd that there's only one character to start. I get what they're doing with the long curve to unlock things but I don't have the patience to do so for this game.

boogieman: I suggested you play this in one of your videos and you did more than that :]

Tubers: Unlocking characters is definitely too hard, especially since its one of the main draws of the game.

Jason L: TB's Risk of Rain video is also the first place I've seen him spell out his objections to Spelunky. It's a simple perception that I can't object to, but I do find it incomprehensible - that Spelunky, where you (for a long time) spend two minutes per level and die and learn immediately upon messing up, is wasting the player's time while Risk of Rain, where you spend about five minutes per level and can screw up your build long before being slowly whittled down, is the epitome of the roguelite.