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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.

  • RoboLeg: this game would be PERFECT for mobile, and I’d happily pay 10 bucks or so for it.
  • Jepp: 1) Please keep critiquing games by building new ones :) 2) The non-hand holding, simple systems integrating...
  • Jack: Are you going to release Morphblade for iOS or the Nintendo Switch? I would really like to play this on my...
  • Spaceman Moses: One-eyeing this on my phone from the depths of my covers I lazily ask: what do you mean XCOM2 clarity...
  • kripto: For what it’s worth, I also like Morphblade more than Imbroglio. Although, to be fair, I’ve also...
  • Hitman header tunnel

    Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

    Far Cry Primal Thumbnail

    Postcards From Far Cry Primal

    Snowball jack header

    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

    Make A Game Tutorial Thumbnail Featured IMage

    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

    Super Game Jam Header

    Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

    Shadow of Mordor Header 2

    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

    Spelunky Banner

    To Hell And Back In Spelunky

    Game vs story graph

    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

    SWAT 4: The Movie Script

    MGS V Hide

    Metal Gear Solid V’s Failure Spectrum

    This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.

    Being an outsider to the Metal Gear series, I was only cautiously optimistic about V. All I heard about the last one was that it had 90-minute cut-scenes. I watched enough of one of them on YouTube to determine that it was… not my cup of tea. Of V, I’d seen some fun stuff in videos, but I was half-assuming the story would barge in and ruin it.

    Well, the story does barge in. But only for the intro and a few brief intrusions, spread out over the vast, ridiculous amount of time I’ve played the game for so far – at least thirty hours, I think. That’s a ridiculously tiny fraction, and the rest is extraordinarily good.

    So many things about it are surprising or different or interesting and I want to write about all of them. So I think I’ll do that, one post at a time, starting with this:

    Bloody Narrower

    MGS V is extremely forgiving

    Outside of those few scripted intrusions, I’ve only actually died a handful of times in those thirty hours. The game has an enormous failure spectrum – I mentioned these in respect to Invisible Inc, but here’s the gist:

    When you can fail at something but still carry on playing, I call the range of states between perfect success and total failure a ‘failure spectrum’.

    MGS V has most of the stealth genre’s most generous failsafes, plus an incredibly generous one of its own inserted at the crucial moment – Reflex Mode. The result is something like this:

    • If a guard sees you, you get an ‘awareness’ indicator showing you where they are. If you reduce your visibility, that goes away completely and the guard won’t even investigate.
    • If you stay in sight and/or make yourself more visible, the guard will very, very slowly come over to investigate. Even then, this alerts no-one else and doesn’t count against you in any score or performance metrics, and you don’t even have to move: going prone and using a ‘hide’ button makes you damn nearly invisible – I’ve had a guard stood 2 feet from me shining a torch directly on my body without spotting me in that mode.
    • If they DO definitively see you and recognise you as an intruder, Reflex Mode puts the world in slowmo and you get a huuuuuuuuge amount of time to do something about it. Your view is snapped to the person who saw you, the yelp of recognition they make seems to be inaudible to other guards, and if you shoot them in the head with a quiet weapon (you start with two) in this ample time, no alert is triggered.
    • If you fail to take them out in this time, or someone else sees them die, the surviving guard will yell. Others in earshot will be alerted, but no-one beyond that at this stage. Your default weapon is rapid fire, accurate and silenced, and if you can take out everyone who heard before they have a chance to radio, the alert is contained.
    • Even if you do give them time to radio, it will do nothing if you’ve already taken out their communications equipment.
    • Even if they manage to radio for reinforcements, it’s easy to run away and they won’t give chase.
    • Even if you don’t run away, it’s quite possible to kill everyone without taking a hit.
    • Even if you take a hit, your health regenerates for free.
    • Even if you get hit a LOT – even if you get hit by a mortar – you only go into a ‘wounded’ state that restricts your movement but still gives you a chance to take everyone out.
    • If you fuck that up, yeah, you’re dead.

    Listing it like that makes it sound absurd, but I really think this is one of the main reasons I and so many people end up having such a great time. Moving to these messier states creates stories of panic and improvisation, instead of frustrating game-overs. It’s the same reason it works in Invisible Inc:

    A big failure spectrum is good because a lot of the most emotional moments in a game happen on the cusp of failure. If you were this close to being seen, your escape is exhilarating. But if failure is a ‘game over’ screen, spending a lot of time on the cusp of failure means a lot of ‘game over’ screens. Each one interrupts your immersion and ends your investment in this current run. It pulls you out of the game, and you find yourself in a menu, then at a checkpoint or a savegame. Mentally acclimatising to how much of your story has been lost forces you to disengage from it, and you have to build up all that immersion again from scratch.

    If failure isn’t game over, it’s still nail-biting when to come close to it. And when you do slip over the threshold, it’s just another development in the story you’re creating and living through.

    More ,

    Shaun Cheah: I wasn't going to buy this game before I watched your videos and read your write-ups, but I am now. The same thing happened with Black Flag.

    I realize now that this is probably why people used to pay you to review games for their magazine. Good call.

    Dan: I like the concept of a failure spectrum.

    How do you think Gunpoints failure spectrum holds and up ? Do you think, if you were making it again now, there might something you'd do to try and widen the failure state? (Not that I thought it had a narrow failure state - if anything the opposite!)

    serendipity: This is a common feature of all MGS games, that grew over time.

    The versatility and improvisation that the predictable AI provides is unmatched in any other stealth game series.

    This is just one of many reasons why MGS is so revered among so many people including myself :)

    Glad to see that PC gamers are also getting to enjoy this great series again after missing a few games in a row (MGS3, MGS4, MGS Portable Ops, MGS Peace Walker).

    Though the story and presentation leaves so much to be desired, it is also the best playing and most customizable MGS game ever made, for better or worse.

    InHysterics: Just wanted to add in regards to the failure spectrum that a lot of players view simply having the guards alerted to you *at all* as a failure, and restart at the last checkpoint. It's very hard to die in MGSV, but it's not easy to complete the game in stealth either. It's easy to win, go through guns a blazing etc. At first I actually started to get bothered by the failure spectrum that you mentioned, because it felt like even a child could play the game ( And the probably could ) but then I changed my style of play up a bit, and stopped accepting having the guards alerted to my presence. I kill people for sure, but I evacuate most of my enemies and rarely ever get seen now. It's harder and can be frustrating at times but ya it's all about how you choose to play.

    Designing Failure (2/2) | pretensions of wisdom: […] Tom Francis wrote a fantastic post about Metal Gear Solid V’s Failure Spectrum that you should absolutely read: http://www.pentadact... ...iler-free/ […]

    Michael Schirmer: NO,
    Metal gear Solid 5 is not too forgiving! Why?

    Because you can decide by your own how easy you make your game!

    Put reflex mode off, no quiet, no d-dog, no horse. Just a jeep to travel longer distances. AND use no strong weapons, use just no lethal wapons a.s.o.


    Not the game!

    Designing Failure: Making loss core to the game | pretensions of wisdom: […] Tom Francis wrote a fantastic post about Metal Gear Solid V’s Failure Spectrum that you should absolutely read: http://www.pentadact... ...iler-free/ […]