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.
This story starts exactly like the last great mission I had in an XCOM game: I kinda took on two missions at once. And everyone got tired from the first one, so we had to send our B-team on the other: to rescue a VIP.
Almost immediately, they run into our first ever Sectopod – a giant, insanely tough walker. Everyone focused on it, and we got it down low.
It was near a Purifier, but no-one had an attack that would hit both.
The Purifier was behind a truck. Nathan could throw a grenade that would hit the Sectopod and the truck. So he did.
The grenade blew up the truck. The grenade blew up the Sectopod. The Sectopod blew up. The Sectopod blew up a different truck. The truck blew up Nathan.
The Purifier is scratched. Nathan is dead.
Chris and Pip were hiding nearby. The Purifier set fire to them both. A Priest mind-controlled Chris.
Pip couldn’t kill the Priest because she was on fire, so she spent her turn running as far from Chris as she could get.
Chris spent his turn running straight to her and stabbing her with a sword.
Meanwhile, the Purifier set fire to the van the VIP was in. It blew up, but the VIP survived!
The Priest shot him.
Mind Control wears off. Chris triumphantly sprints across the map to slash the 1-health Priest who enslaved him. He misses.
Asher does it for him.
The VIP is dead and the mission is lost, but we spend a turn cleaning up the enemies before Evacuating.
Except: I can’t place the Evac zone. The button’s not working.
You can’t place the Evac on VIP extractions. It’s pre-set. It’s miles away. And the ship leaves in 2 turns.
Everyone runs – ignoring cover, ignoring the risk of triggering enemies.
We make it to the base of the building. The evac zone is on the roof. We can’t see any route to the roof. No-one can path there.
Asher’s snake suit has a grappling hook, and he uses it to pull himself up to the evac zone. Instead of evacuating, he runs to the far side.
He can see two drainpipes back there, so everyone spents their moves getting to the back of the building. Asher returns to the evac zone.
Final turn. Anyone not in the evac zone at the end of this is lost. Asher’s already there, so I cycle through the rest of the team.
Before I go any further, I should tell you that three people make it out of this mission – and Asher isn’t one of them.
Rosa has the plasma crossbow. We CANNOT lose the plasma crossbow.
Asher has the snake suit. We CANNOT lose the snake suit, but that’s fine, he’s already in the zone. Asher can get out, the question is, can anyone come with him?
No, right? No-one has actions to give, no-one else has grapples or extra moves. No sensible plan works here, so all that’s left are the crazy options.
Rosa can get NEXT TO the evac zone. And Asher can get to the edge of it. They can be adjacent.
You can’t pull another soldier. But you can pick them up. They just have to be dead.
I’m not trying to save Rosa, I’m trying to save her Crossbow. She can’t hand it over, but if she’s dead it’ll be on her body. So we’re going to kill her.
You can’t shoot your own troops, but explosions can damage them. Chris and Peter both have grenades, and between them they do more damage than Rosa has health.
I move Rosa to just outside the evac zone, and have Chris throw a grenade at her. It takes off half her health, but it also destroys the roof, and she goes plummeting to the ground.
I thought this might happen, but I have two possible ways to deal with it:
Firstly, we could kill her on the ground. Asher could hop down, pick her up, and hop back up. Sounds ridiculous, but I think picking up is free, and you actually move just as far carrying someone as unburdened.
I save and try this. I allow myself to save and load any time I want to check ‘how does X work?’ or ‘if I was there, could I do Y?’, but not to undo bad luck.
It doesn’t quite work – Asher can get down and pick her up with 1 move left, but it’s not enough to get up the drainpipe to the roof again.
So option 2: if I do this again and this time blow up part of the evac zone as well, Asher could drop down, pick her up, and technically still be IN the evac zone. If there’s no roof above his head, I reason, he should be able to extract.
I go back and redo Chris throwing the grenade at Rosa, one square further in, and what happens changes everything.
This is why I like my ‘load saves to test rules’ system – it might be less hardcore, but it lets you explore more of the possibility space and discover the craziest tricks.
The grenade goes off, Rosa is hit, the roof collapses and she drops to the ground as before. But then we get a radio call: “The evac zone is compromised, get to the new one!”
THE EVAC ZONE… MOVED.
THE NEW ONE IS RIGHT NEXT TO CHRIS.
Cancel Operation Kill Rosa, blowing up the evac zone is our new objective.
I reload – this is a Did Not Know How The Rule Works situation if ever there was one.
This time Chris throws his grenade to exactly the same place, but I don’t move Rosa there first. The evac zone moves again and to roughly the same spot, right next to Chris.
This is no fucking use to Chris, because he used his turn throwing a grenade.
But it’s great news for Pip, it’s great news for Peter, and it’s great news for Rosa – who’s an especially big fan of this plan of not murdering her. They can all make it now.
It’s pretty devastating for Asher, who is now standing uselessly on the roof that used to be the evac zone, in the rain, in his big blue snake suit, watching everyone else escape. It’s too far for him.
We will lose the snake suit. But this saves three lives instead of one, and most importantly of all, it saves a crossbow that fires plasma.
Our ride takes off, and Chris and Asher are left behind to be captured by Advent. We may get the chance to rescue them later – and if we do, I know exactly who to send.
Tom Francis: Oh shit, I just realised something even crazier - I could have saved Asher. If he evaced at the start of the turn, we could still have blown up the evac zone after he left. Sorry Asher!
Csirke: Hehh, I knew about the "move evac zone" rule even though I'm sure I've played far less than you (I'm not through my first campaign yet). I guess I'm just more destructive!
(Also, I filled out your "name a soldier" thing, but I just put "Csirke" in the name field, and later realized that should be more than that, but I didn't want to resubmit and be obnoxious. But maybe this is an okay place to correct that to "András 'Csirke' Eisenberger" with twitter @ecsirke ? Though maybe you wouldn't get that far on the list of guys names anyway.)
Archgan: Here's a question. Could you have saved Chris too by moving him to where the new evac zone was going to appear before throwing the grenade? I don't know if he could reach the same spot with the grenade from there (I assume he could) or if the evac zone would spawn somewhere else now that Chris is there, but if it worked, you could have saved everyone who was still alive.
The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun: […] Tom Francis released Heat Signature this week, and so naturally spend the last few weeks playing lots of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. He wrote a typicaly Tom-ish story about one of his missions. […]