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.
They’re releasing the new Hitman game bit by bit: one mission a month, set in a new and sprawling location. Good Hitman missions have always been replayable, but this time the whole game is built around it: a Challenges list tells you of the dozens of different ways to take out the target, an Opportunities system highlights little tricks they’ve designed to let you get the target alone, and a Contracts system lets players challenge each other to take out other targets in particular ways.
And it’s great. It takes a bit of getting used to: the levels are much higher security than Blood Money’s, so you pretty much have to use the Opportunities provided to get your targets alone, but there’s still lots of scope to mix that in to your own evil plans, and the levels are so much bigger, richer, and more complex.
But each of the big systems I mentioned does have some shortcomings, and their strengths suggest an even better way to embrace what makes replaying Hitman missions so enduringly fun. So first off, here’s where I think they fall a little short: Continued
I was not at all ready for how gorgeous Far Cry Primal is. I walk around it in a daze, gawping at god rays and moon beams and frantically switching weapons and HUD elements* to get them out of the way long enough to take a screenshot. Even twenty hours in it’s still staggering me on a regular basis. Here are some of my favourites so far.
What’s snowballing? In XCOM, if your troops survive the mission, they get stronger, tougher and get more abilities, which makes them more likely to survive future missions and get tougher still. If they die, they’re replaced by vulnerable, weak rookies, who are likely to die and be replaced by vulnerable, weak rookies.
If you’re finding the game easy, it gets easier. If you’re finding the game hard, it gets harder.
That’s bad. And it’s not just theory-crafting, that’s exactly how my XCOM 2 campaign played out: early on we got crushed repeatedly, then a few lucky missions got us off the ground, and after that my people became almost unstoppable for 35 missions straight – even after I upped the game difficulty.
Any game with persistent resources will have some snowbally tendencies: success has to get you something, or failure has to cost you something, otherwise it’s not really persistent. And some parts of XCOM’s snowballing are too good to lose: unlocking cool abilities for my favourite troops is why I play XCOM.
So you can’t scrap that, but what could you do? Here are some ideas. Continued
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. Continued
I just read Zach Gage’s post proposing some changes to the IGF. My summary of his problems with the current system would be:
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.
I haven’t talked about the way I randomly generate spaceships in Heat Signature since this post – before it even had actual art. That’s partly because I’ve barely touched it since then. I showed the game to developer friends and the press in LA and SF a few weeks ago, and got lots of great input and ideas, but the main thing I came away thinking was: the on-board game needs to be more interesting. And I think better ship interiors are the foundation of that. Continued
Deus Ex’s appeal is often boiled down to ‘lots of options’, but obviously that doesn’t quite cover it. Right now I’m looking to redesign the ‘sneaking inside spaceships’ part of Heat Signature, so I need more than a vague line about what’s cool about Deus Ex – I need a practical understanding of specifically why it works, and why similar games don’t. So I’m replaying Deus Ex 1 and 3, to figure out what it is I want to steal. And I think it is options, but it’s not just number. They have to fill a certain set of requirements, and this is my attempt to nail down what those are.
I’ve been mostly playing Human Revolution so far, but I’ll also use some examples for DX1 since there’s so much overlap. Continued
In maths, ‘natural numbers’ are the ones you might use to count observable, whole things: eg. there are six people here. Anything that doesn’t work in place of ‘six’ there, like 3.4 or -2, is not natural. They’re kind of ‘numbers you can see’.
I’d like to use the term in game design to mean specifically that: numbers you can see. Things that are represented so simply and wholly and countably that you don’t need to display an actual numeric figure to tell the player how much they’re seeing. They can just see. Continued
I’ve been playing Big Pharma, a game where you design production lines to manufacture cures to sell for maximum profit, or to genuinely help people, as your fancy may dictate. It’s excellent and I have become hopelessly addicted to it, but my favourite part is having to come up with names for the often double-edged drugs your imperfect process has produced: Continued
Writing is like having a conversation with someone who can’t reply until you’ve finished.
Programming is like having a conversation with a robot who screams at you if you pause in the wrong place, electrocutes you if you change your mind, and explodes if you ever use the future tense.
After 7 months, 25 episodes, and about 16 hours of total running time, my tutorial series is complete! I talk you through making a game, from writing your first line of code, to releasing and selling it. It’s aimed at absolute beginners, it only uses free software, the tutorial itself is free, ad-free, the game we made is free, and it’s in fairly digestible 45-minute episodes.
Hope it’s of use! Here’s the game we made:
I also made a short montage of all the ways I fucked this video up in previous takes: Continued
What Works And Why is a thing where I dig into the design of a game I like and try to analyse what makes it good, hopefully to learn from it but also because I love this stuff.
I was ill for a few weeks recently, and Ludum Dare happened during it. As usual I wanted the challenge of thinking up an idea to fit the theme, but couldn’t spare the two days to actually make something. The theme was ‘an unconventional weapon’, so I wrote up an idea but didn’t get around to publishing it at the time. Here it is! Continued
Many of you have been asking how the story of Heat Signature follows on from Gunpoint. We can now explain.