All posts


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.

  • html color: This is the information I am looking for. This article is clear and easy to understand. I’m...
  • Grant: Thanks to the start of this video, I’ve just now noticed that during the static flickers while staring...
  • Ben: Great analysis. During the lab sequence in the Prey intro, you were looking around for tells that Morgan is in a...
  • 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...
  • Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

    Postcards From Far Cry Primal

    Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

    Kill Zone And Bladestorm

    An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

    Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

    What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

    Natural Numbers In Game Design

    Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

    Writing vs Programming

    Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

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

    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

    What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

    Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

    What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

    Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX

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

    The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

    Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

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

    Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

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

    Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

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

    Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point

    What’s Your Fault?

    The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

    Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

    Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

    The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

    A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

    One Desperate Battle In FTL

    To Hell And Back In Spelunky

    Games Vs Story 2

    Gunpoint Development Breakdown

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

    My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection

    Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

    Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

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

    A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

    The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot

    Arguing On The Internet

    Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

    Why Are Stealth Games Cool?

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

    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

    A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

    Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

    Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

    An Idea For A Better Open World Game

    A Different Way To Level Up

    How I Would Have Ended BioShock

    My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

    Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

    Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

    EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

    My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary

    I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

    My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

    Blood Money And Sex

    A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

    First Night, Second Life

    SWAT 4: The Movie Script

    The Martian (The Book)

    No spoilers

    The other day I really wanted something to do that would give my eyes a break from focusing on things right in front of them. So I looked for audiobooks, and remembered that I’d been planning to read The Martian – mostly because of this comic and its hover-text:

    Particularly interesting because that’s XKCD, by Randall Munroe, who used to work at NASA.

    Anyway, it’s great. Can’t think of another book that has hooked me so utterly in one, brief opening chapter. Not through any unconventional literary trick, it’s just a quick summary of the narrator’s predicament: stuck on Mars, presumed dead, probably will be.

    The Martian does three things I really, really like:

    • Get to the fucking point: I don’t need to know what Mark Watney looks like, I don’t need a scene-setting prologue of what his daily life was like before this, I don’t need to be shown how much he loves his wife and kids in order to see him as human. If this book is about an interesting situation, get to the interesting situation. The Martian starts there.

    • Explain the mechanics: if this is a problem, why is it a problem? If the obvious solution won’t work, why won’t it work? If Watney thinks X is the best plan, why is it the best? What’s wrong with Y? Could X go wrong? What’s his plan if it does? The Martian goes into rigorous detail on all of this – figures, equations, scientific principles – probably too much for some people, but it’s catnip for me.

      One of the reasons I love games more than other media is that the best ones have consistent rules, so extraordinary feats or miraculous triumphs actually mean something. Watney’s solutions to his endless problems feel clever because the problems are presented within a set of rules we understand, and the solution is one we didn’t see. I have no idea if they’re realistic, but all I need is that they’re understandable and internally consistent.

    • Have a likeable character: The Martian’s not really about character – Watney is just smart and resourceful to ridiculous extremes, and the book is more interested in what he can do with that than in examining his flaws and complexities as a person. But Watney’s also the narrator, so it matters a lot that you like him. His tone is most of what sold me in that opening chapter: he describes his uniquely dire situation in brief, clear and relatable terms, then jokes about how dead he is. That’s more or less the tone throughout – occasionally he finds it a little harder to joke about, but not for long.

      In another predicament, this chipperness might undermine the stakes, but being stranded on Mars sort of takes care of that by itself. The utter isolation, the impossible distance, the brutal hostility of the planet, all come with a strong emotional payload. Whenever there was a twist in his fate, I found it surprisingly affecting just because of the dizzying magnitude of the problems involved. Jesus, imagine being that far from earth and losing your only source of X. I don’t need Watney to mope about it to feel the scale of the problem. The facts alone send a shiver down my spine.

    The book does have a few problems:

    • A few times, Watney says something sexist or homophobic, usually in his jokey messages back home. Yes, it’s the character and not necessarily the author, but they’re usually in the context of jokes and there isn’t really any reason the author would want to put you off Watney, as above. It sticks out because he’s otherwise very decent – it reads more like adopted bad language that’s gone unquestioned. If he’d been stuck on Mars since 1950, it’d make a lot of sense.
    • The book doesn’t stick with Watney on Mars, and it’s a lot weaker when it cuts back to Earth. Sometimes it’s interesting to know the mechanics of what NASA is trying, but the characters there are mostly flimsy stereotypes.

    The audiobook also has a lot of audiobook-specific problems – I’d advise going with the text version if you have the choice:

    • Narrator R C Bray has a good Watney voice, and a good narrator voice, but he also does accents for all the other characters, and a truly toe-curling ‘woman voice’ for all the female characters. It operates on the bizarre notion that all women sound breathy and meek, including a) the commander of the most expensive and advanced space expedition in history, b) a foul-mouthed bulldog of a press officer, and c) a primetime news show host.
    • Many sections of the book involve long series of characters and numbers that the eye would skim over on the page, and these are hilariously unsuited to being read aloud. This edition makes absolutely no concession to these – at one point he’s just reading out letters, symbols and numbers for about 5 minutes straight. It’s close to parody.
    • He mispronounces ‘sysop’ every time, even when it’s being said by the sysop, and this is agony without equal.

    Apparently it’s £3 on Kindle? On the one hand, wow, I really profoundly got the wrong edition here, but on the other, it’s two days later and I’ve listened to the whole thing, because I could do it while I cook, cycle, exercise, shower or anything else. Audiobooks are great. People should definitely stop reading them like idiots.

    William Russell: Well I just bought it on the basis of your description. Lots of people are going on about it at the moment, naturally, but I hadn't read anything that made it truly sound like a good read. Plus £3 is naff all so it can rot on my kindle and I won't have lost much.

    Thanks for the rec.

    LKM: I also listened to the audiobook version, and apart from the criticism you mentioned (particularly terrible performance of women's voices, though there aren't too many of them throughout the book, which, otoh, also ties in with your criticism of some of the book's odd sexism), I think it worked really well. I guess in part because the Mars parts are first-person present-tense POV narration, so the immediacy of the audiobook version makes it sound like somebody is really thinking through things right at that moment. As Watney, the narrator also does a fantastic job conveying emotion.

    So personally, I'm glad I listened to the audiobook version. Of course, YMMV.

    Adrian: Bollocks to the audiobook I'm afraid. The DRM on Audible means I can't use it on my chosen operating system, or on my mp3 player. There are MP3 CDs but they charge more for the privilege, and I'd have to wait for them to be delivered like some kind of primitive... ;-)

    Frank: Tom, I think you'll love this interview :)

    phuzz: I only read it a couple of months ago, and I don't know why I hadn't picked it up before because it's right up my street. I reaaaaaaallllllly enjoyed it, but I think even non-science/space/mars geeks will enjoy it.
    I might even go see the film at the cinema, which is unusual for me.

    NDgeek: Only tangentially related, but your "Get to the fucking point" statement made me think of a song...Tripod's King Kong:

    Jabberwok: I agree on the cuts back to Earth, though I feel those might be partly responsible for the story's ability to work as a Hollywood flick. They are easily digestible because of their unoriginality, which is weaker in a literary sense, but perhaps easier to turn into a screenplay. Haven't watched the movie, though.

    Personally, I took the occasional offensive comments as probably par for the course for the culture Mark came out of, so they didn't bother me. Maybe they ate outdated, but not being an astronaut, I have no idea.

    PaleShakta: Sorry, I read *significantly* faster than it's possible to talk intelligbly. Audiobooks are for multitasking and/or other people. (Although you seem to like it because you multitask a ton, which is entirely reasonable. Try not to electrocute yourself while listening in the shower.)

    Phil: The other unbearable things the audio book narrator does is pronounce ASCII as "A-S-C Two"

    Tom Francis: Oh God, I probably heard that and didn't even realise what he was trying to say.

    Question: Wondering why there are trees in the picture if on Mars?!? Otherwise a cracking film and a great book too.