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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

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

I just read Zach Gage’s post proposing some changes to the IGF. My summary of his problems with the current system would be:

  • For ‘best audio’, it’s not clear whether jurors should a) prioritise audio alone, or b) take into account the quality of the rest of the game and how important audio is to it.
  • Currently jurors usually go with b), which “leads to games that are very well designed making it into multiple categories”, reducing the number of distinct games recognised.
  • Medium-length single player games also get disproportionately recognised because they’re easier to judge than huge or multiplayer games, and feel more significant than tiny mobile games.

Generally I think b) is fine, but I do agree that over-celebrating single games is needless, and I think the categories themselves are a pretty rigid and inadequate way of capturing what’s worth celebrating in games.

Zach’s suggestion is to change the categories to reflect game length/type, and have developers choose one category to submit for. I’m not wild about this because a) the categories are still rigid and don’t capture gaming’s diversity of form, and b) a developer could screw themselves by miscategorising their game, which is not the skill we are trying to evaluate or award.

As it happens I’ve been thinking about a different kind of award ceremony I’d like to see ever since the BAFTAs in 2013, and I think it would address a lot of this.

Gone Home and The Stanley Parable were both nominated for the narrative category, and I thought: “This is ridiculous. Here are two games that did different things brilliantly, and we’ve invented a system where we have to say ‘You two are competing at the same thing’ and then, worse, point to one and say ‘You lose!'”

Also Gunpoint lost to GTA V, so clearly the system is deeply broken.

I think the solution to the rigidness of categories, the judging problems therein, and the artificial pitting of specific games against each other, is all the same thing: make the categories freeform.

Here’s the awards system I’d like to see:

  1. At the time the nominees are normally announced online, instead a similar number of winners are announced. But what they’ve won is unannounced.
  2. On the night, every game wins a unique award. Gone Home wins Best Emotional Drama. Stanley Parable wins Best Introspective Comedy. Some categories are invented to recognise this specific game, but they don’t have to be: you can still give a Best Audio award if you like, or you can give one for Best Use of Audio if that’s closer to what you mean.
  3. The only rule is that the one fixed category is ‘Grand Prize’ or similar.

This way:

  • The fact that games are so diverse, unique and ever-changing becomes a strength rather than a problem.
  • It’s a purely positive thing, no game loses to another except for grand prize.
  • Tiny games can be acknowledged for brilliance at being tiny games.
  • Games can be recognised for excellence at something we didn’t know you could be excellent at until we played that game.
  • It’s fun to find out what weird and new categories are being awarded on the night. Currently awards shows are actually pretty dull: list of nominees, winner. No insight to why.
  • Since it’s X games that are recognised rather than 5 slots per X categories, one game can win multiple awards without reducing the number of games recognised.
  • It’s also a stronger recommendation for every individual game. Best Audio honestly tells me little about whether I should buy it. “Best Aural Hellscape” would have me intrigued.

I don’t know if this is for the IGF, it’s just how I’d do it. It doesn’t solve the ‘multiplayer and huge games are hard to judge’ problem, and I’m sure it’d give jurors its own set of challenges – though hopefully more interesting ones.

Update: this is pretty close to what Rock Paper Shotgun do for their end-of-year Advent Calendar, though the categories there are more genre-focused than I had in mind for this.

LTK: So, basically the format of Rock, Paper, Shotgun's advent calendar? I think that's as good of an idea as any.

The only question is whether to limit the number of games that get nominated. Do all jurors have to agree a game is worthy of an award? Does there need to be a limit to how many games get an award? If there's a massive inflation of the number of IGF awards, that might diminish the prestige of the awards somewhat.

Tom Francis: Yep!

And yes, there'd be a set number of games to be awarded, however many we think is enough without becoming devalued. There would be more than currently, but I think the specificity of the award makes it a more effective recommendation too.

Not all jurors have to agree about an award, it'd just be a case of anyone proposing them, discussing, seeing how many people agree, and then awarding the X games with the most support.

JJ: This seems like a similar system to how CBR does their best comic book lists each year. They basically decide the best 100 comics and then give each of them a unique title.

http://comicsallianc... ...2014-list/

JJ: Oh no fail wrong line. It's Comics Alliance. http://comicsallianc... ...2014-list/

Alan: The IOCCC issues awards this way, and seems to work pretty well. That said, they don't have a formal ceremony.

Jason L: Not to mention the Tom-involving Crate and Crowbar's end-of-year listcast. The idea seems to be in the air right now, in general causing fun and merriment and precision - a bit of a strange brew from the outside.

T.G. Frumm: Heh! This is basically how Penny Arcade used to do their "We're Right!" awards, but this one'll be more than just the two of them for jurors. I've been wondering how that system could scale up to have more people involved, so I'm all for this.