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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.

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: The Movie Script

Kill Zone and Bladestorm

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

I took on a ‘Very Difficult’ mission in XCOM 2 earlier, to protect some device from attacking aliens. I was determined to do it because the reward was a Scientist, and they’ve been impossibly rare in my campaign so far. We immediately ran into two groups of very tough enemies, and though we had good position and lots of explosives, some unseen, extremely powerful enemy was attacking the objective every turn while we fought. Once they were mopped up, we had no time to be cautious: my two rangers had to sprint to the petrol station housing the objective just to distract the aliens there, with no moves left to fight them off.

It quickly became a bad situation. Trin sliced at a Codex she expected to kill, but it survived the hit and split, leaving her exposed to both copies. The powerful enemy that had been devastating the objective was something we’d never fought before, and it didn’t die when we expected it to either. This thing alone could kill Trin in one hit.

I had almost everyone try to unfuck Trin’s situation before the end of the turn, but my squad was scattered from the previous fight. No-one could get a hit in except Ranger Alexander, who could only soften up the big thing with a grenade. I had only one person left with any moves: my best Sniper and coolest character of any kind: Captain Jen Martin.

Jen Martin no ui

But even she can’t kill three things in one turn. Unless it’s not her turn. She’s just unlocked an ability called Kill Zone, which restricts her reaction fire in Overwatch to a narrow cone, but lets her fire at everything that moves within it. The cone was wide enough to place over all three threats to Trin, but it meant doing nothing at all to help her this turn. All the targets would have to move for her to shoot at them, she’d have to hit every shot, and the damage would have to be enough to kill them.

She had three shots in the mag. Here’s what happened:

XCOM randomly assigns your soldiers a class-appropriate nickname when they hit a certain rank, and in XCOM 2 you can also change it. Previously I’d always left them as they came: I quite liked the strangeness of some of the ones it picked. But this time there’s no contest: we’re calling her Kill Zone.


Trin was safe. But we also had to hunt down the remaining enemies, since apparently there were some. I wasn’t too worried, but I wanted to at least find them pretty soon, since it’s almost impossible to cover every angle they could take to attack the objective, and it was on low health. I had Grenadier Sanusi fire a vision bomb (I can’t remember what they’re really called) behind the petrol station, and glimpsed a soldier hiding in the garage. In my eagerness to finish, I let Ranger Alexander go into Concealment and use her whole turn to get there, even though it would leave her without Overwatch and no-one was really in a position to support. The best I could do was have Specialist White run in as close as she could, because she gets a free Overwatch shot if she spends her whole turn moving.

Alexander was Concealed, but White wasn’t, and apparently had strayed close enough to alert the soldier. And it wasn’t just one. Alexander’s already used her Concealment, so all she’s really got left is Bladestorm – a passive thing that lets her defend herself if someone closes to melee. But these guys weren’t melee troops. Here’s what happened:

So, we’re calling her Bladestorm.


Anonymous: With luck like that, Sectopods have no chance *evil chuckle*

Tom Whitney: I played XCOM for eight straight hours until it crashed. Once I got past that initial zone of ignorance (well, unintuitive mechanics) and weakness, it's become absolutely amazing.

A random dude: I'm pretty sure you've used up all the luck for your entire playthrough. It's only going to go downhill from here. On a more serious note, the game does indeed become much easier a few hours in. Haven't lost a single soldier or objective after the first ten missions on veteran difficulty.

A random dude: I should probably add that I had entire squads wiped out during the first ten brutal missions.

Tom Francis: Yeah, I might do a post about that actually - the way XCOM starts hard and gets easier, and what could be done about it.

Jabberwok: My experience with Enemy Unknown was that it only got easier as long as my A-team stayed alive. One bad mission halfway through wiped out most of my veterans, and every mission after that was a bloodbath, rookies dying left and right. On subsequent playthroughs, I've dedicated more to ranking up rookies as alternates.

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem - a post on Tom Francis' blog: […] Bladestorm. You don’t want to tongue-snare Bladestorm, for reasons we’ll get into if you try […]