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Tom Francis


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Tom Francis
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Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

I can now show you what my space stealth game is really about! As long as I don’t get spotted like three times in a row right at the start of this video. Watch that first if you care, if not, here’s the summary.

  • You fly around in a little ship with no weapons, trying to avoid being detected by big, powerful, randomly generated space ships.
  • If you can sneak up on them and stay cool enough to avoid their heat sensors, you can latch onto their airlock, breach it, and climb aboard.
  • Once inside their ship, you’ve got to avoid any armed crew patrolling the corridors and rooms of the ship, and if you can get to the helm and subdue the captain, the ship is disabled.
  • In future, ship systems like guns and thrusters will be in specific rooms of the ship, and you’ll be able to sabotage or control them if you get there. You’ll also be able to fly their ship if you get to the helm.
  • My plan is that each time you start the game, you’ll be randomly assigned a profession and a target: “You are an assassin. Your target is Tom Francis.” or “You are a shipjacker. Steal the Dreadnaught Incisor.”
  • You’d locate your target by boarding ships and hacking their server, which would either give you info on your target’s location, or on which types of ships are likely to have that info.
If you’re interested

If you want to be told when it comes out, or when I’m looking for testers, get on the Suspicious Developments mailing list. I only use this for very rarely for major news like the above, it’s mainly a way to ensure you don’t miss anything big.

For more regular shots and dev diary videos and stuff, you can follow it on Twitter @HeatSig.


Snowskeeper: Suggestions for potential features because I'm a bit of an ass and like pretending that I'm smarter than everyone else:

Mindjacker tool or profession, which allows you to force crewmembers to operate systems for you after taking over a ship.
Crew members which could serve the same purpose, but who could be trained by surviving multiple missions, and who would cost a lot more to lose. If you're thinking about doing a sort of "keep playing on the same map until you die" thing, maybe some ships could have prisoners you could recruit.

Jory: This is looking great already, Tom. The idea of a random profession and target reminds me of your old ideas/suggestions for Far Cry 2 (ie, the Jackal is a random NPC in the world space.)

Jason L: Looking good.

My own thoughts you've probably already thought:

Another way to tie together the two game layers, as well as helping the zip-whoops-go-back syndrome of Newtonian flyers, would be to give vector indicators of other ships' heat signatures once they enter your generous, hidden tracking range of their massive emissions - range, direction, size, maybe 'type'. Then you can populate it based on hijacked sensors, making high-detection, presumably high-security ships' sensor rooms the equivalent of Assassin's Creed vantage points.

Frequency, violence and randomness of course correction burns would be a good way to put some more texture in the space bit and vary difficulty of docking, though it may well induce frustration.

Will: Sorry to resort to an elevator pitch, but my immediate reaction was "Its Gunpoint meets Captain Forever". That said, it took me a while to remember the name of Captain Forever. Regardless, a cool concept.

Tom Francis: Thanks folks! Of these, two that are already planned are some kind of arrows to off-screen ships, and ship brigs with friendly prisoners. I was actually thinking about having prisoners be the way you unlock new professions: let a thief out, let him keep that ship, and in future you can either choose or be randomly assigned Thief as a job. Not sure yet though, that stuff will remain fuzzy until all the systems are in.

Hijacking other ship's sensors is an interesting one. I might be doing something similar to that by a different mechanic, in that these ships will give you data on the location of ships relevant to your objective, which'd then be marked on your own HUD in future.

Rich Wilson: Hey Tom. If you haven't played Covert Action, you should pick it up. Great inspiration for gameplay where you're hunting down and amassing intel on targets. It also has room to room infiltration gameplay that might be worth looking at.

Daniel H: Can I just say that I'm much more excited for this game than GHGC? That looks fun, but this looks like Spelunky in space.

PS - do you know if this will be working on Mac from the outset?

Evan Peiperl (Solidplasma): Hey, Tom! This looks really cool! It actually reminds me in some aspects of a game that was planned to be almost entirely procedurally generated I was working on with some friends where you would be a cyborg that would swap out body parts he took from people, but that project kind of fell apart. Incidentally, I've scoured your site, but I am unable to find a contact email. Perhaps I haven't looked hard enough, but is there somewhere I could message you? There's something I want to ask you about this.

Truman I: Very cool. The idea of being given assignments to mess with NPC's who are going about their business is immensely appealing to me.

The idea for assassination missions in particular reminds me a bit of roBurky's writeup about Space Rangers 2 from a couple years back.

Matheus: You could add planets and stars to fill up the place so that the space ships don't seem to be flying around in space doing nothing. That way you could make another way of obtaning info (not by hacking) or targets for leaving the tech you find.

Just some ideas you may have had already ^^ the game sounds really fun

Jason L: Just getting on record - I'd be surprised if he didn't already know Westerado. Certainly the rest of the Crate and Crowbar Crew do.

Daniel H: Both current Suspicious Developments projects are Tom learning Unity, largely because it offers out-of-the-box Mac building unlike Gunpoint's Game Maker engine.

Jamie: Looks brilliant. Sorry if this has been asked a million times, but what are you're writing it in? Is it Gamemaker or Unity or what?

Fuzzlefluff: I would very much like this game to take a Space Pirate theme in it's metagame. IE- you can go to port on a space station and get some Intel on a valuable capital ship (like the map for it's layout) and get upgrades for your ship.
I'd like to see some basic ship combat (disable the engines and get some benefit when you board.) Although some special ships can be strictly stealth-only

I think the bigger ships need a fog-of-war, and having a goal of getting to a map room or having schematics beforehand are worthwhile.

The game will have an economy right? Getting space dollars to get fuel and stuff? that way random plunder is worthwhile when we storm the cargo holds to sell off on the galactic market

I like the idea of impossible situations without certain upgrades.

I was thinking of some security technologies and systems being automated and controlled by an AI node. Such as security cameras and sentry turrets are controlled by an onboard ship AI that needs to be dealt with (either by reaching the AI "room" or by hacking it with a ship upgrade)
Hacking could also make for nice upgrades, letting the player do things such as opening airlocks and secret passageways or killing off guards in interesting ways (like flooding a room with radiation from the warp drive)

Drone weapons that you launch ahead of you to explore rooms flooded with radiation or to kill guards?

I was thinking the game needs different technology factions that have different security systems and the like to give ships variety and having the player specialize in certain ship types
"I can't take an alliance ship, I'm geared up for mining ships"
However the specialization comes from tech choices, not class choice.

Jason L: I'm a liar! I'm a liar! Looked back through Twitter, GH is Unity, HeatSig is Game Maker - though I think the version that supports Mac and didn't exist at the start of Gunpoint's development?

Steven Bailey: If you need anyone to do art for this project, and don't have anyone lined up yet, I'd love to help!

Gunpoint Creator Tom Francis Unveils His New Game, Heat Signature – Industry News – Overclockers Club: […] Source: Tom Francis' Site […]

Heat Signature – sneaken in de ruimte van de maker van Gunpoint: […] vijf lijstjes van 2014, dat valt te betwijfelen. Francis heeft dit fascinerende concept namelijk net onthuld en het bevindt zich in een erg vroeg stadium. Op zijn site heeft hij de idee├źn achter Heat […]

Suspicious Developments Reveals Heat Signature: […] Developments, the studio run by Gunpoint creator Tom Francis, released a video in a blog post today demoing a prototype of its new game, Heat […]

anothercommenter: After seeing the last video, I was thinking, hey, this is kind of cool. After this one, I'm thinking, I WANT TO PLAY THIS RIGHT NOW.

There are so many things I love about this right now. The top-down movement mechanics inside the ship are wonderfully simple. The whole angling yourself to dock properly thing looks fun too.

When you mentioned being able to blast holes in ships and destroy modules, I immediately thought vacuums. Like maybe the doors close, but there's a delay of a few seconds, and in those few seconds everyone nearby gets sucked out and ends up floating in space. Just an idea.

Keep up the great work Tom.

Bjartr: This would be (even more) amazing if you could build up your own ship from other modules a la Captain Forever

http://www.captainfo... ...orever.php

Fjonan: Argh! I am currently working on a title with a kind of similar theme (spaceship hijacker) and at first I was sad about you beating me to it (obviously since I am not very productive) but I find some of your ideas inspiring. Hope you don't mind me lending an idea or too (if I should ever get on with my project). I'd love to be a beta tester, too.

ghosttie: DUDE that's awesome

Tom Notfrancis: The game looks neat! I also have some suggestions. I know this is very early and you've probably already thought about these but whatever:

-the ships don't look aerodynamic at all. FTL solved this by having rounded illustrations on top of them, but that might prove complicated with procedurally generated shapes. Maybe introduce some diagonals into the mix? I have no idea how complex this stuff is to build.

-The interior of the ships looks a bit too simple to "read". Having different floors or rooms you can't see the inside of until you hack their security systems or whatever might give the infiltration a bit more tension.

-I think endless space is a bit too much for the player to handle. For structure, pacing, contextualizing difficulty spikes etc I think it would make sense to have randomly generated sections (they can be really big) that you can only access after a ship upgrade or something. I don't know why but I like the idea of a circular map. You start at the center and you unlock new circular areas; you can always go back to the center but going too far means your enemies will be overpowered or you'll run out of gas. I think it makes much more sense than FTL's rectangular maps anyway. Either way please do not put a 10 second timer with big red letters in the middle of the screen telling the player to turn back. Those are the worst.

-Black holes, suns, meteorite fields and all those cool space shenanigans. They should be there and they should have an effect on gameplay in different ways.

-Also when you're walking through a ship that is in turn fighting another ship it would be cool if missile/laser impacts affected the stability of both the AI and the player, sometimes making them fall down or out of cover.

Ok I'll stop now. :P

a teen who dreams about being an indie developer some day..: "some kind of arrows to off-screen ships" = quest markers?
Anyways, you could also split the areas into different sectors and a way to navigate. Then the data could say something like "The ship you are looking for has been lately seen on the thick nebulas of sector B5", and the player should head to that sector and locate that ship. Or if using quest markers, it could show your way to the area, but not all the way to the target ship, to make things challenging. (like in Assassins Creed's assassination missions)

a teen who dreams about being an indie developer some day..: *Anyways, you could also split the areas into different sectors and a GIVE THE PLAYER AN EASY way to navigate AROUND.*
Damn, I forgot half the words of my second sentence, silly me :-)
Now I know why that button says "I, too, regret this already"

RetiredSphinx: Looking promising so far. One thing that I will request is that you quickly ditch the click-to-move mechanic, or at least support WASD/arrow keys. Carpal tunnel is a severe issue for me, and has forced me to quit several games that I otherwise would have really liked to play (such as Dota II and Torchlight). Kinda hard to enjoy a game when your hand is screaming in pain with every click!

Googleshng: There is an old Mac shareware game from Ambrosia called Ares whose camera you absolutely must steal for this. The idea was it would (in the default setting) automatically zoom in and out to consistently keep the closet enemy about half the width of the screen away, and at distances where that would make it impossible to make any detail out, switched to abstract symbols representing ship size: ...em_2Kl9MZc

CdrJameson: Should be able to cause distractions, of course (vent airlock, explosions, alams, prisoner release, fake sensor alert).

Like the idea of a ship being a kind of virtual ant colony, going about its business which you sneak in and disrupt.

Possible ideas source - Zoids on the Commodore 64 (very different to the Spectrum version).
You were a lone agent dumped into a functioning city network and given the job of getting in their faces.
It had mines, cities, radio masts, power stations and guard posts.
You could jam shields or radio, and drop the occasional mine or sensor but were largely small powerless and hoping to remain hidden.
Each thing you attacked triggered a suitable (and largely predictable) response from the other elements in the network, letting you weaken certain areas or draw away defenders before going in for a kill.
You could form very complex plans from these simple interactions, and it's very satisfying.

Snowskeeper: @Tom Notfrancis, space-ships don't really need to be aerodynamic. There's no air, or, for that matter, anything else with friction in space. In most sci-fi thingies I know of, ships are generally built at shipyards created in orbit around a planet so that they don't have to worry so much about them being aerodynamic, or even capable of exiting a planet's atmosphere.

The last point sounds interesting, but there'd need to be a way to counter it, or else it would be extremely annoying to deal with. Especially since you'd already be fighting a battle against time to get out before they blew up your little ship, killed you, or destroyed the information you were looking for. Perhaps you could hail the 'neutral' ship and offer to disable your target for them? Then you'd only have to deal with the shaking if you were trying to steal the ship, or if you'd pissed off their faction to the point where they weren't willing to work with you anymore.

Introducing Heat Signature, A New Project From Gunpoint Creator – Developer's Accomplice: […] In a post on his website, he finally explains some of the really cool features of Heat Sink, a top-down procedurally generated stealth game set in deep space. Here’s the list of features from said post: […]

NiceResume: I think with the whole ship-to-ship combat thing, one thing that'd be cool is if you knocked off a module the guards nearby would be sucked out into space, so you could return to the ship and have less guards.

Just an idea but the game sounds really cool, looking forward to playing it upon release.

StraightFlame: I think that you should choose a name for this which ends in "point". You have kind of this theme going on here.

Nerdy Show | Indie Game Spotlight – Gunpoint: […] years by one British developer, Tom Francis. He’s currently working on a second game, called Heat Signature. Much like Gunpoint, Heat Signature is a stealth game, but now in […]