Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint about rewiring things and punching people, I'm on a weekly gaming podcast called The Crate & Crowbar, I wrote these two short stories in the Machine of Death collections, and I used to write articles like these for PC Gamer. I'm now prototyping two new games, Heat Signature and one about grappling hooks.
Pentadact: If only there were a Radiolab episode about this.
Pentadact: Cheers! Right now collision is done per-pixel...
BadBannana: Hmm, Arstotzkan Coffee actually sounds really good...
We use the phrase ‘your fault’ in a way that’s different to the sum of its parts. A fault can be any kind of problem, defect, or undesirable property. ‘Your’ just means belonging to you. If you have very unsteady hands, that’s a problem of sorts, and it’s yours. But if I hand you a full mug of coffee and you spill a bit of it, if you apologised, I’d say “It’s not your fault!”
Your faults are not ‘your fault’ if you’re born with them, if they’re forced on you, if you didn’t know about them, or a whole variety of other conditions. Language forms organically and messily, and it only makes sense to talk about it in generalisations. But the most prevalent trend I can see in the types of faults that are not ‘your fault’ is this: they’re the ones you can’t reasonably change. Continued
I’ve been obsessed with iOS/Android randomised tactical combat game Hoplite ever since Zack Johnson told me about it at IndieCade last month. You’re a Greek spearman descending the randomly generated levels of the underworld, and you have to deal with the steadily increasing demonic population you find there by moving carefully across a hex grid turn by turn, calculating each move to slash, stab or stomp them without letting them get a hit in.
Each level has a shrine that grants a choice of upgrades, letting you incrementally design a perfect build of complimentary abilities until depth 16, at which point they run out completely and you just see how far you can get with what you’ve built.
As the difficulty ramps up from there, the way your chosen abilities play off each other to let you overcome the endlessly increasing challenge becomes elegant, then balletic, then sublime. These calculated chains of sweeps, leaps and thrusts let you dance through a minefield with precision and grace, felling everything around you. It’s hard to fully explain how neat, clever and satisfying it feels – so I made a GIF. Continued
Gone Home writer/designer Steve Gaynor interviewed me for his podcast on the Idle Thumbs network, Tone Control. In it, I guess we vaguely cover tone at some point probably, but also: Continued
I can now show you what my space stealth game is really about! As long as I don’t get spotted like three times in a row right at the start of this video. Watch that first if you care, if not, here’s the summary. Continued
I’ve decided to let people play this prototype of my Grappling Hook Game at IndieCade East in New York next month, partly to force me to focus on what it really needs to be a playable game. After a week and a bit, here’s what I’ve got. Continued
This is great, people keep linking me to things I wrote ages ago and forgot about, so I can link them here. Snowskeeper Ferenczy points out this, something I wrote very fast after a game of Alien Swarm one night that seemed necessary to report.
The podcast I am party to, the Crate and Crowbar, now has a forum. On it, Gunpoint artist John Roberts has started a thread for tales of people’s in-game adventures, starting with a good one of his own about FTL. And someone else mentioned an old story of mine from that game. I don’t think I ever linked it here, so I will now:
Last night I accomplished probably the hardest thing I’ve ever managed in a video game: going to hell and back in Spelunky. It only took 41 minutes, but it took me hundreds of hours of play – and about 3,000 deaths – to learn how to do those 41 minutes. Here’s the run: Continued
I feel terribly guilty about Gunpoint’s success, so I often wonder if there’s some way I can use what I’ve learned from it to help. The trouble is that offering any kind of advice seems to make people angry – people who aren’t in your exact situation feel like you’re ignoring their circumstances, criticising their methods or dismissing their struggles.
So maybe I can take some advice from myself and share my experiences and instead of my opinions.
Lately I’ve got to talk to a lot of developers at conferences and festivals, particularly ones who are working on their first indie game and have lots of specific questions about what we did with Gunpoint. So probably the most helpful thing I can do is give a kind of structured breakdown of Gunpoint’s conception, development, recruitment and promotion, then let people delve into whatever they’re curious about.
It’s not a guide to what you should do, it’s just a guide to what I did and how it worked out. Click a topic to expand it. Continued
However bad at games writing I might be now, I was a lot worse when I started at PC Gamer nine years ago. When I first applied, my sample piece was so bad I didn’t even get an interview. I was hired as a coverdisc editor a few months later, and spent two years trying to worm my way into a writing job by volunteering for every piece I could get. Continued
My second piece of published fiction will be out in July this year, as part of This Is How You Die: the second collection of stories about a machine that can predict your death. (My first was a story in the original collection, and you can read it here).
But! Editor David Malki is also Kickstarting a card game based on the same concept, and since it’s blown its funding goal by over 1000%, they’re releasing a few stories from the anthology to say thanks.
One of them is mine! You can read it now! Here it is!
It’s about a supervillain’s henchman tasked with the job of having their enemies killed in a way that doesn’t contradict their predicted deaths. It is called: LAZARUS REACTOR FISSION SEQUENCE!
If you can’t read it, go here.
I don’t argue on the internet anymore. The short version is: it usually gets hostile, and that drives everyone further away from changing their minds.
But I spend a lot of time thinking about whether there’s a way to contribute to a discussion without derailing it. Whether there’s some way of knowing, in advance, that what you’re about to say will make you look like an asshole, start a fight, or be outright wrong.
I think there is. Continued
“In Skyrim, a mage is an unstoppable storm of destruction. In real life, a mage is just an illusionist: they can’t do much except trick you. If one of them turned out to be the world’s only hope of salvation, hijinks and sudden death would inevitably ensue. Since these are my two favourite things, I’ve decided to try playing this way.” Continued
Published a long while back, don’t think I ever linked it here. A long-suppressed rant at mainstream action game design.
“The instant the first character speaks, I reflexively want them to shut up. If there’s text on screen, I’m not reading it. If there’s a cut-scene, I’m skipping it. If there are no enemies to shoot, I shoot my friends, and if I can’t shoot my friends, I shoot just next to my friends and then swing my crosshair onto them as quickly as possible in a lame attempt to glance them with a bullet I know won’t do anything. I thought that was normal.
Then, playing Bulletstorm the other night and hating every second of it, I had an awful realisation: this is my fault. I’m the reason games suck now. I’m the lazy, belligerent jerk every mainstream shooter seems to be designed for, and it’s because of gamers like me that they’re built this way.”
The creative director of Bulletstorm responded to me, which led to an interesting discussion.