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.
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I've now made enough of Heat Signature to be fairly sure of what it is, which means a) here's a new trailer!
And b) I'm ready to start looking for an artist and a composer to work with!
I'd like to do it the same way I did for Gunpoint, with Open Submissions. That means anyone can send in a sample of what they can do, and I'll pick the best artist and the best composer based on that. In this post I'll explain loads about what we're looking for, but the highlights are:
✓ No experience required!
✓ Work from anywhere!
✓ Flexible hours!
✓ Game already works!
✓ Application deadline: [EXPIRED!]
You can see what the game is really about in the trailer above, and I'm adding lots more systems to make on-board stuff more intricate and full of interesting possibilities. But for the purposes of this post, I'll try to give a bit more context.
It'll be set in a region of space prohibitively far from any planets, hidden from long range sensors by colourful vapour clouds, and dotted with dozens of space stations. Being so remote, cults, corporations and gangs fight freely over control of these stations, and form uneasy alliances to get what they need to survive. In the game, you'll hopefully be able to zoom out and see a sort of galaxy map of all these stations and who owns them.
Each time you start the game, you're playing as a different person - their location and the faction they belong to might even be chosen at random. They take on missions like the ones in the video to harm other factions, help their own survive, or in some cases maybe just for money. The galaxy is persistent, so anything you do achieve will change it for your future lives. I have plans for how that works, but I won't go into them too much till I've had time to try them out.
Death is permanent, though as you'll see in the video, there are ways to avoid it. If you want to stop playing or try a new character but haven't died yet, you'll be able to let your current character rest at a station until you want to play as them again. There will probably be some manner of written stories that you can stumble across out in space, but again, I won't go into my plans for that too much until I've had a chance to see what works well in this context.
I like to do it this way because it means:
Gunpoint's main artist John had never done pixel art before. The other, Fabian, was a game design student. All six of us had other jobs or responsibilities. But it's hard to imagine that game looking or sounding better.
I've also been on the submitter side of it, for short stories, and it gave me the opportunity to get my first piece of fiction published without any connections in that world.
If you want to apply, all I need to see is a sample of your work that would be appropriate for this game.
As you'll see in the video, your time in Heat Signature is split about half and half between flying through space and sneaking through the corridors of spaceships. You usually only spend 30 seconds to a minute in each mode, sometimes even less, so we can't have the music change every time you dock. But the tension in the game does vary wildly, from serene space travel, to fleeing a missile lock, to hiding in a corner and praying a guard won't turn round, to sudden outbursts of lethal violence.
I'm open to suggestions as to how to handle this, but my current thinking is that each track could have two layers:
And that would be one track. The tracks themselves could be tied to regions of space, or we could just shuffle them.
I had some luck in Floating Point with writing an algorithm that controlled music volume according to a constantly changing level of 'coolness' of your performance. I found that it feels good for music to be responding to what you're doing, but the change has to be more gradual than the variable it's responding to, or it's jarring and annoying. I could easily track a danger variable in Heat Signature and have individual music layer volumes respond to a smoothed out version of that.
For peaceful music, I love slow, expansive stuff that conjours the majesty of space. Like this:
As a general track, which could probably be taken in a 'tense' or a 'peaceful' direction, I like this one from the EVE soundtrack:
If you're making a sample:
I'm looking for someone to do all the art in the game, which I'll break down below. But first an important note:
Everything in Heat Signature will get rotated and stretched by Game Maker as it spins through space and we zoom in and out. There's some built-in anti-aliasing to this, so any per-pixel crispness will get blurred (it's possible to disable this, but then rotating and scaling mess up fine detail even more). With apologies to John Roberts, this is what it would look like if we tried to use Conway's sprite from Gunpoint as the player's ship in Heat Signature:
That is a screenshot. I actually did this.
All this means is: avoid intentionally jagged diagonals or anything where the placement and clarity of individual pixels is critical.
Beyond that, the only styles I'm pretty sure I don't want are 'comical' or 'abstract'.
The art we'll need includes:
Heat Signature is set in a region of space dominated by colourful gas clouds. These are huge, you'd never see a whole one on screen, so in practice it's more like each region of space will have a different background colour. I'd like some regions of darkness, but as you'll see from the reference pics below I mostly want space to be colourful.
I might have a 'burn colour' for these gas clouds, also randomly selected, that would flare up around your ship when you're hot. So if you're thrusting through a green cloud, you might see the gas you're cutting through burning red. You know that bit in the Voyager titles?
Here are some pictures of space that I find exciting. Sorry that only some of them are credited, my sources for the others were imgur links with no attribution or info.
This one's from somewhere called StarArmy I guess!
It seems like most of these involve:
As ever, open to totally different approaches if you have something you think will work. For a sample, I don't need to know what the individual layers are, I'm only interested in the overall look.
A ship module is currently 256x256 pixels - you can stray from that, but not too drastically. Anything solid needs to have dimensions that are multiples of 32: that's how big one unit is on the collision grid. That means the thinnest wall has to be 32 thick, and a person should fit inside a 32x32 square. Currently, interior rooms are 6 units across and doorways and corridors are 2 units wide. Click this for a full-size guide:
Ships are made of square modules, as you've hopefully noticed, and the sprites for these are light greyscale, then the game colours them with the ship's randomly chosen colour. The way that mask works is that pure white in the sprite becomes the colour of the mask, so overall the sprite gets darker, and the luminance of the mask colour is the max luminance of what you see (i.e. white is impossible). What we can do, though, is layer another sprite on top of that that's independent of the ship's colour, for any glowing lights or features that should be the same on all ships.
The different modules a ship might have are:
The modules that do stuff will obviously have the controls or workings inside: a seated gunner for Turret modules, a fuel canister plugged into some apparatus for a Thruster module.
I'd like the rest of the rooms to give a sense of the ship as a real place where people live. Some of these ships will be fighters, others transports, others scouting vessels, but almost all of them will be designed for people to spend more than a day on. So the Standard modules might contain:
However! They also need to be massively reusable. Every bit of art will be reused hundreds of times on different ships, so if there's a plate on the floor and some food spilled next to it, it's gonna look odd to keep seeing that exact same mess in different places.
Depending on time, it might be nice to have an alternate set of these to distinguish between old, functional rustbuckets and shinier, more expensive new ships. Not vital though.
I don't know much about what these will be like yet, but I'm happy for them to be mostly made out of ship modules. They won't be bustling with people, but we might want a few civvies sitting at cafes or bars.
The tiny personal ship you fly around in. It will end up being longer and thinner than what's in there now - the interior will need to be 64 pixels wide and 96 long.
You'll be playing a different person each time you start a new game, so it'd be cool to be able to cobble different-looking characters together from component parts. But I don't know a) how much work that is, b) how much variety you can show at this scale from this perspective. Interested in your thoughts and ideas.
As a guide to the game's scale in pixels, here's the current player sprite:
We can vary a little from that.
Animations will include:
Guards: who patrol the corridors of the ships, with rifles and sometimes pistols, and sit in any pilot seats. For animations, they'll need:
As mentioned, we may want a few people sitting around in space stations.
May want a 'Heavy' guard type who's resistant to conventional attacks, to encourage interesting ways of dealing with them.
It'd be good to be able to colour guards with the ship's random colour, through the mask system mentioned earlier. Individual variety would be nice if it's easy, but not essential.
Missile, explosion and impact effects.
Lots more stuff I'm forgetting or failing to foresee. As you can probably tell, I like to keep a game to as few unique elements as possible, and then only add variety if it really needs it.
I'll design the UI, in terms of what goes where and how it functions, but I'll probably ask for your help in snazzing it up once it's in place.
If you're making a sample:
Something that shows a bit of space, a spaceship interior, and a person doing something would be awesome.
This is contract job for one game, not a permanent position.
Cut-off for applications will be 23:59.59 UK time on the 22nd of August. From there, it might take me till sometime in September to figure out who to go with for both positions.
I'd like to get all the art and music in the space of about four months after that. That's not when the game will be done, it's just when I'd like that side of things in good shape.
As always with games, though, any part of it could run much longer than expected. I'll be paying you for however long it takes. If there's anything in your future that'll mean "I have to stop working on it by then", let me know when you apply - it may not be a dealbreaker.
You're probably not in Bath, England, which is fine. We'll communicate mainly by e-mail, so that any feedback/guidance is there for you to refer to, and I have time to articulate what we need as clearly as I can. If you also wanna Skype sometimes I'm up for that.
I will definitely ask you for changes to your work, regularly. Absolutely nothing to do with talent. If Leonardo da Vinci submitted the Mona Lisa, I'd say "Sorry, but for gameplay reasons the smile needs to be readable on low detail settings at wide zoom levels or players might mistake her for hostile. Can you make it a bit more pronounced?"
Even if you're better than him, and a telepath, I will still be asking for changes. If you're at all precious about your work or don't like being told what to do, don't apply. I need to be able to ask for this stuff without feeling like I'm asking for favours, or the game will suffer.
How to submit:
Alas, it is too late! As mentioned at the top, the deadline has now passed.
More Heat Signature
Tom Resnick: Greetings, Mr Francis!
My name is Tom Resnick, and I’m a gamer, sci-fi nerd, and composer with an interest in video games (indies, in particular). I stumbled upon "Heat Signature" via Google not long ago, and I LOVE the concept and how it's coming along. I love space games, and your take on stealth is fresh and unique. Keep up the fine work!
It piqued my curiosity, and I thought I'd contact you to see if "Heat Signature" might make use of an original musical soundtrack, with a simple layered structure that might amplify the player's experience of both tension and successful infiltration (quiet "ambience" for deep space, with added layers based on proximity to ship, when a ship is boarded, when guards are aware of the player, etc). I'd love to dialogue with you about an original score.
You can take a listen to some of my composition work on my Soundcloud page at soundcloud.com/tomresnick - and I've included a few direct links to "relevant examples" of sci-fi sounding pieces below. From fully-orchestral to synthesized electronica (and often a fusion of both), I love the musical language of science fiction.
In any case, keep up the fine work, sir! Can't wait to play the finished product.
Tyler Funk: That's a long list! I'll try figuring out a graphic style for the player first, and I think I know how segmenting can work in GameMaker with different sprites being layered (I think I've done it before) so I'll look into that as well for different armor, haircuts, etc. I haven't read through everything yet, but is there a deadline for all of this?
Ismael Bahia: Hi ! Just wanted to tell you I can do the editing for your trailer for free ^^'.
ghosttie: Hey, how about having the ability to sabotage ships? Sneak into the engine room and mess with the engine then run to your ship before it blows up...
It could be an alternate way to assassinate someone.
Anonymous: I love the way fuel barrels work. Have you considered transportable explosives for situations where a fuel barrel isn't handy?
Daniel (Doogie) Gray: To senior Francis,
I got referred to this by Tyler Funk here to showcase my spriting work to you. I use a program/game called the BSF ship editor, which has limited use as a general spriting but extreme potential in regards to top-down sci-fi spaceshippery. Naturally, you can see why I would jump at the chance to showcase it.
Referred here is the forums for the program, which is in a state of life-support with only about 5 active members. However, it is also a great showcase for my work.
Here are some of my threads.
(you should probably look at the later posts in this one)
This was simply a player concept I made for Tyler. However, it is possible to duplicate stuff like this, in case you're interested.
Daniel (Doogie) Gray: Oh, and I'll do it for free. Mainly because I won't quite be able to devote excessively large amounts of time to this.
Harry: Just wanted to say that this look rely awesome and having played gun point i am rely excited for this to come out as well as being more than happy to beta test anything.
Also i rely like your commentary on the video, a lot of people are very dull and boring when they show of their games and generally don't tell you much out of what they want to show you but i rely like the way you have done this and i am looking forward to more videos in the future.
Jason L: Always support the Danger Layer
Coady Fitzgerald: Would love to be a part of this experience! I am currently working on and 80's soundtrack for a short film and have several different genres on my soundcloud from house, to themes, to electronic pop! Thank you for your consideration!
Coady Fitzgerald: Link didn't work! sent an email!
Luke: Ship interiors are currently 32x32. Are we stuck to this, or can we go bigger?
K1T: Hi, Sorry for being short(sending from my phone).
Im a composer, I dont really care about money, but i always wanted to take a part of game developing.
Im a proffesional composer and artist.
Im signed with Plasmapool Ent. Have expirence composing for movies.
My sc pages:
rockie steventon: i am a 2nd year university student that would be glad to help out in the art and design side of Heat Signature, my digital technology and design coarse leaves me with plenty of time to work on my own subjects. i have more then just one style of art. i would be happy to have spear money as i am a student :)
above link my art page
kinggamer1235: I am AWESOME
James Pritchard: Hey tom!, In gamemaker you can disable the anti-aliasing by going into "Global game settings" and disabling "interpolate colours between pixels" in the graphics tab of each OS.
Hope this helps in not restricting the type of art you would consider for Heat Sig's graphics, can't wait for it!
Vincentius: Hello, Tom. I saw your video about Heat Signature (as deduction might suggest) and heard you needed a composer.
It just so happens I married one. She's not particularly shy or anything. Just a bit knackered at the moment (early morning right now) and it felt like time was of the essence.
She was a famous DJ in New York, under the name Sedona. Her music was also appreciated and became popular in Denmark for some reason. She composed, and still do, a lot of original works. One of her specialities is electronic/techno, but also symphonic music. Both of which might suit a game of the future/sci-fi genre.
She has been doing professional work before, not just several gigs and performances at clubs, but also sold one song loop to a car commercial.
She's practically rubbing shoulders with Quincy Jones.
So, if you're interested, feel free to send a mail to: SedonaSinistry@Gmail.com
Also, she comes from the Taiwanese royal family, so if you believe in feudal Chinese customs. She is the obvious choice.
Camilo Rojas: Hey I just saw your trailer and im in love with the concept of the game, Id love to work with you.
let me tell you a bit more about myself
My name is Camilo Rojas, 24 years old, chilean and im majoring in graphic design and digital arts, my main skills focus on creating concept art, digital illustration, texturing and 3d modeling.
I can create some cool stuff for your ships and let me attach some work I just created as a "sample" id like to expand things a lot with different styles that could work with the layout of the ships.
I've done some work for videogame projects and its my ever lasting dream to put my grain of sand in a game.
about the payment I can work hourly or with a contract with a fixed period of time and some goals for each month of work, I work fast and I love to experiment different styles for things.
a small sample I just did
Heat Signature trailer shows more sneaky spaceship hijacking; Suspicious Developments looking for partners in crime | Teen Patti: […] of how the game is looking now. In a remarkable twist of fate, Francis has uploaded a video of equivalent length here, together with the news that he’s looking for an artist and composer to work on the game. […]
DickGristle: Hey Tom. I'm sure you have this all in hand, but just a note from a freelance art standpoint: When you get to picking people, it's absolutely worth clarifying the exact details when you do your contracts. Things like how frequently you'll ask for updates, what exactly are your criteria for bonuses, etc.
Your notes sound super fair and generous, and I'm sure you're not looking to screw anyone, but often artists and musicians can end up feeling screwed later on, and it can sour relationships, if they have a different idea of what was expected of them.
This is a good thing to watch from an artists perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVkLVRt6c1U ...and this is an entertaining look at art contracts which also gives some insight... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_J9UI9H34k .
Simon David: Hi Tom,
I wanted to put myself forward for the project, as I've had a look at the trailer and the game looks extremely exciting!
In terms of experience: I've been composing music for the last 15 years and recently completed an album of videogames-inspired music in support of Child's Play Charity, now up on iTunes and others. This has received critical acclaim from a number of sources, including IndieGameMagazine, Indius.org and FirstLook magazine (more info on those available from the website). I use professional-level kit and software to produce music which I think would be worthy in terms of originality and quality of your fabulous game!
In terms of the type and quality of the music I make, the best thing for now might be to have a listen to the recent album - the tracks on there represent the minimum quality I would hope to provide for you, and they are also very varied, which might give you a chance to see some of the different styles I've already worked with, spanning synth-centric and full orchestral tracks. You can listen to many of these for free via the website, and if you'd like a code for full access, then I'd be happy to send this over - just drop me a line at the address below. If we were to work together on the game, I'd love to chat with you about any ideas you may already have about styles/riffs/concepts you already have in mind for the game, and we can take it from there.
I am off on my honeymoon tomorrow, so I won't be around for a couple of weeks, but do drop me an e-mail if you're interested, and I'll try to put some initial ideas together for you to listen to (which I may do anyway just for fun!) when I get back.
Thanks for the opportunity, and best of luck finding the right guys - it's all VERY exciting! :)
Simon David (email@example.com)
Fin C: "How to submit... Send an e-mail" Uh, guys?
Niko: "... Possibly surrendering..."
Tom, you listened to me, you cool dude!
Kirk Mitchell: Not an official submission, but I was playing about with Heat Signature in mind and wound up making this:
John Mechalate: Wish I saw this earlier...
wanted to make art
M-A: Hello Mr.Francis. I'm the guy with the extremely late submission and I'd like to say that I am excited at the aspect of working on a game. I won't keep my hopes up too high as I know there are probably lots of submissions but it is appreciated that I could have the chance to apply. Thanks again for the thousandth time! -MA
(yes I too, regret this already *as I click that button*)
Eric: Sent an email, just thought I would share with others. My work on a dynamic soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx3mFZ9YK3c
Kirk Mitchell: Eric, this is some superb stuff! Gorgeous transitions, and I really like the little atmospheric touches like the Ship Tone.
Kirk Mitchell: Did a composite of the animations and graphics I sent Tom earlier. Posting here because I'd prefer to avoid spamming his already flooded inbox! I imagine the last thing you'd want if you had to sift through that many submissions is a whole bunch of late additions. Plus, that might be cheating? I think it might be cheating.
And of course, I'm dreadfully curious what everyone else has done!
Update On Heat Signature Applications - a post on Tom Francis' blog: […] Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer […]
Introducing The Heat Signature Team - a post on Tom Francis' blog: […] Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer […]