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.
This has obviously been the best year of my life. When working on Gunpoint got tough towards the end, and the amount of sustained effort required exceeded my intrinsic determination, I made a guilty little list of all the things that releasing a game might improve about my life in the best-case scenario: Gunpoint motivation.txt. Nothing on it was anything like as good as the reality.
The list of dumb-luck things that had to align for it to go so well is too long to write, so it’s not really a ‘just try hard and you can do anything!’ story. Also, annoyingly, all my friends and family were really supportive and encouraging, so I have no-one to say “Ha!” to. Just a truckload of guilt at all the talented people who made good things that didn’t catch on, or don’t have the luxury of enough free weekends to make something at all.
The only person I don’t feel any guilt towards is the alternate universe Tom who never bothered. I almost didn’t. Someone had to make literally one of my favourite games ever in literally one of the easiest tools ever before I got as far as “Fine, I guess I’ll try it.” Even then, I almost gave up. Not due to any hardship or preventative circumstances, I just sort of forgot about it for two months.
I think even if Gunpoint had failed commercially, I’d still be looking down my nose at the alterno-Tom who had the skills and time to explore all his game design obsessions and never tried. As it is, it’s unlocked a sort of secret game mode in life that I didn’t know existed, where you get to just stay home and tinker around making games.
That part is still very surreal. The really weird moment was during launch week, when the sales passed the point at which I’d told myself I’d quit my job. Since I was already on sabbatical, I could hand in my notice early enough to never even go back. And I was standing in my bedroom when I realised: that’s it. The problem of life requiring me to leave this room is now solved – I could just stay here if I wanted. I didn’t, obviously, but that hook of responsibility that drags you out of bed to school or work each day had just suddenly let go for the first time ever, and I had that dizzying stillness you get when stepping onto a broken escalator.
The other strange thing is being independent. Not just corporately, but starting to think of yourself personally as your job, boss, employee, and identity. I defined myself so much as ‘working for PC Gamer’, it was weird to let that go and have nothing external to cling to anymore. If I die in a car crash now, the company that employs me shuts down. That’s a weird thought.
I guess I’m actually more defined by an external thing than ever before, it’s just a smaller and more specific one. And I’m lucky that Gunpoint is actually pretty representative: it tells you what games I like and what I find funny.
Now that I can afford to go to conventions, it’s amazing how people’s games change your social interactions with them. If they’ve made something you like, and you’ve made something they like, you get to skip straight to being friends. I like to think I would have eventually got to know most of the people I made friends with this year, but as a mumbly, socially awkward introvert, I’m massively grateful for that headstart in coming-to-give-a-shit-about-each-other.
That’s probably exceeded my self-indulgence quota for the year, just wanted to share what some of the emotional weirdpoints of this amazing year have been like for me. Profound thanks again to all of you who made it happen. If I had emotions I would probably cry or something dumb like that.
Marc Forrester: On this subject, you should probably listen to http://www.giantbomb... .../1600-706/ from, say, 1:03:45 or so. Approximately.
Jason L: Every bit earned, and may the future be even brighter. Happy new year.
John Robert Matz: Seconded, Marc! The Giant Bomb guys really seemed to like us!
Laurens Mathot: Thanks for all the cool stuff you did this (last?) year! You were (are?) a great source of inspiration :)
Martin E: I think you deserved this and I hope you keep on being creative and successful.
Daniel: It has been interesting following your game making adventure from my pc. From your days at pcgamer (where you were on of my favorite writers) to releasing gunpoint.
Well done! :)
reg: no im regan
Duncan Wintle: Thank you, your story has inspired me. I used to think I'd probably make a game if I ended up with excessive free time but, no, that is not correct, I should start now. keep up with with the content its always entertaining and often useful/educational. Congratulations.
Alex Maskill: Loved your writing ever since reading the little book of "Plan B", but dammit if I'm not more excited by the prospect of playing more of your games than I was to read more of your writing/hear whatever hilarious stuff you'd come out with on the PC Gamer podcast (a high standard to meet). You might be happy to know that the favourite-game-made-in-a-great-program-that-inspired-me-to-get-off-my-butt-and-make-something was yours, so thank you so much for that.
JohnArr: Fuck, if you're an introvert I'm literally folding in on myself endlessly like some sort of horrific Escher.
High five on a great year!
Lion: I've been following your blog and writing for a while. I don't think articles such as this one are self-indulgent (or if they are, I don't care). In fact I think it's wonderful to read and I appreciate your honesty.
I'm facing my own struggle with wanting to write a book but thinking 'eh, I'm not a good writer and I'll never finish it anyway'. Always postponing for the next big holiday or long weekend when all I want to do is play Skyrim or some such thing.
It's interesting to hear other people struggling with similar situations.
Eric B: I usually buy a bunch of games each year during the winter sales. This year I got Gunpoint (among several others) - wow. Amazing game. Very clever Very funny. Amazing music. It might be my favorite of the year. Thanks for making something cool and being cool about it. All the best to you on your new career as a game developer.
Sir Gene the Bewhiskered: How wonderful for someone to get to the end of a year and state, plainly, that it was the best of their life. How incredibly encouraging.
Well done, Tom. You deserve it.
Koobazaur: Great post, similar to my own feelings releasing my first indie game (http://postmortemgame.com). And i totally feel you on the "weird" moment but it came to me at a different time - the odd morning when i languidly checked my email and saw a peculiar email from Valve starting with Congratulations. Holy shit - i got greenlit!
I didnt exactly break bank, and never expected to (my games pretty niche). But thats when the reality of it all hit me -the year long process of developing a finished game, recruiting and managing a small team, plus all the marketing and legal crap culminating into a realization how far youve really come.
And how bright the future ahead is.
Player One. Press Start. | Darien Peak: […] Tom Francis, the creator of one of my favorite games last year, Gunpoint, wrote about the feeling he got when he finally grabbed himself by the neck and got into working on Gunpoint. It changed his life. […]
Mark K: Congrats Tom, from all of us who read your website. I remember you starting this project and it's surprisingly hard to express over a comments section the joy of your eventual success. If you ever need help in the future, rest easy that the internet will always be there to kick you in the balls, laugh at you and then give you pretty much anything you could ask for, like some ex-convict fairy godmother. Good luck =)