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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.

Heat Signature’s Launch, And First Player Legend

A Leftfield Solution To An XCOM Disaster

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

A Tale Of Arabian Nights

I just played my first full game of Tales of Arabian Nights, with my friends Chris and Pip. It’s a board game that’s very story driven: each turn you have an ‘encounter’, and choose a vague verb for how to deal with it: aid, pray, rob, follow, avoid, etc. Then another player looks up and reads out a more detailed account of what happened, and how it affects you. These chain together into a journey, and you win by accumulating Story points and Destiny ones. This was my character’s story:

I was hired by a merchant to find him a wife – in the slave markets. Chris chose where that market would be – Bantus, for its name. But on the journey there from Baghdad I encountered a doom-saying prophet, and decided to abduct him. He was the related to a prince, and the ransom really was a princely sum: that’s where it put me on the wealth track, ‘Princely’. When I reached the market, I found the perfect slave for my employer, but also fell in love with her. Since my price for delivering her to the merchant was nothing compared to my ransom riches, we married, and Bantus became our home.

Unfortunately, marriage turns out to be pretty limiting – every time I have an encounter in a city, I have to return home before I can have another. Also, everywhere I go there is a chance my furious merchant employer will catch me. A card I have could rid me of both these problems, should I wish: if I can get to Gaya and roll a 5, I can remove any of my ‘statuses’ – including marriage. Gaya is the other side of the world, though, and I can’t stop in any other cities on the way or I’d have to return home. I set off all the same.

After a long journey, I make it. But I roll a 4: instead of losing my pursuer and getting a divorce, I develop magic powers. As I ponder how to explain this to my wife on the way home, I run into a horrific creature. Since stealth is one of my skills, I hide – but the mere sight of it sends me insane. Insanity means that I cannot choose my response to anything I encounter – I have to pick another player to choose for me. And on my very next turn, the angry merchant catches up to me.

I choose Pip to pick my response, as the player most likely to be nice even when it helps an opponent. She decides that I will bargain with the Merchant. This goes badly: his agents slit my throat and leave me for dead in the desert. But a passing Dervish saves me, and I awake Crippled but with lots of Story Points and the Enduring Hardship skill. This is good because the next thing that happens to me is I get locked in a cave by a ghost, abandoned by my camel, then sucked into a black whirlpool, lose all my possessions, and drift ashore on a barrel at an island on the other side of the world.

Pip won shortly after that, but if the game had carried on I would have arrived back home in a few turns, where my wife and I would try for a baby. There’s a small chance it would be born ugly, which would leave me Grief Stricken, or it would look like the moon, making me Respected. If not, it would just generate Destiny points each time we successfully tried. Which was fine by me, I’d had enough Story.


This was a much better story than I had in my previous half-game of Arabian Nights, and maybe my favourite one I’ve seen in the game so far. So I might try to pick apart why it worked.

1. My quest involved a choice. This is pretty basic and not foreign to other games, board or digital, but it made a good starting point. On my way there I was debating which thing I would do (unrealistically, I was told in advance I would fall in love with this slave), and the surprising windfall I made on the way changed my decision.

2. The consequences of my choice affected everything from then on. I was Married, which radically changes how I’m able to play, and Pursued, which means the possibility of running into the person I screwed over will follow me everywhere.

3. Those consequences took the form of specific people, with whom I had a history. When the merchant caught me, it was completely unlike a random encounter with an angry merchant, and even unlike some other long-acquired Status coming into play. If instead of Pursued I’d been Poisoned, and it had finally kicked in then and Crippled me, that’s a much less interesting story. The drama of the moment was: oh shit, it’s that guy – the one I screwed over for my own personal gain.

4. The consequences became my quest. I did actually get given another formal ‘quest’, but it wasn’t interesting to me. My real mission became to deal with the fallout of what I’d done, and rid myself of the consequences that hounded me. That made it personal and inherently compelling.

5. The relatable nature of the consequences added flavour to my decisions. Imagine if instead of ‘Married’ I’d become ‘Cursed’, with the same rules: can’t go to two cities in a row without returning home first. The rule actually makes more sense as a curse. But my decision to go out and rid myself of it would have been automatic and less interesting: of course you want to lose a curse. But if you call it a Marriage, the fact that it turns out to be drag is kind of funny, my quest to rid myself of it is kind of dickish, I feel conflicted about it, and had I succeeded, that story event would be recognisable to us as a divorce, which has its own set of social connotations.

The game didn’t do a perfect job of capitalising on this. In Arabian Nights, every turn has something absurdly dramatic happen to you, and it often permanently scars you. These disasters-of-the-day felt like they muddied the waters of my otherwise very compelling story, because they were actually more spectacular than my little domestic drama but meant so much less to me. That bit at the end where I “get locked in a cave by a ghost, abandoned by my camel, then sucked into a black whirlpool, lose all my possessions, and drift ashore on a barrel at an island on the other side of the world” – I had trouble remembering that stuff, and might have got it wrong or in the wrong order. It was just a bunch of mad shit that had nothing to do with anything else or each other – my camel abandoned me when I was technically still locked in that cave, and in another situation that could have happened to me even at sea.

I’d like it if these in-between events were relatively minor, and the really impactful stuff was related to your Quest. And if instead of being given a new random quest when you finish the last one, they could have branching ‘sequels’. You’d only need to go a few stages with these, to cover a normal length game – if the sequel to my quest had been ‘get a divorce or have a child’, I would not have managed either by the time our game ended. And if I’d returned the slave to the merchant, perhaps she hates him and escapes, and I have a chance of running into her at each city I visit, and a choice of whether to help hide her or capture her and bring her home.

Seymour: certainly agree with the assessment that arabian nights piles on the insane shit until it all becomes a bit meaningless, aside from the stuff you personally attach to.

I tend to think there's a bit of mental editing involved with playing it, which helps if you're all good at elaborating on the fly and threading it together when you read from the book of tales. take a second to read the paragraph ahead, try and fit it in with the story so far.

the player i read for had this amazing thelma and louise style adventure about becoming a vizier, on the path to becoming a sultan, and then giving it all up to rescue a slave and being pursued across arabia by the merchant, finally reaching a showdown at Baghdad and getting greviously wounded in the duel- end of the story, she had the most points by that stage. I tried throughout to strike a balance between reporting the outcome of her choices objectively and folding them into the developing story, which feels like another part of the game to me these days.

I ended up married ridiculously early and returning home after getting beaten up repeatedly to visit my ugly children.

Tom Francis: Haha, awesome! We stuck to the script this time, would be cool to try to tie it together more, if we can remember enough details.

Turbanator: Reminds me of 80 days. Wish I had that game