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TOM FRANCIS
REGRETS THIS ALREADY

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.

Theme

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

Doing Your Job In Metal Gear Solid V

This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.

A lot of the time, MGS V is just a very good stealth game. You have lots of tools to distract, evade or take down your enemies, and they’re all very satisfying to use – just like Deus Ex 3. Its levels are encampments dotted seamlessly around a huge open world – just like Far Cries 2-4. Its layered systems turn failures into new challenges rather than end points – just like Invisible Inc. But none of those things are new, and MGS V sometimes feels like something that is.

Those times, for me, are not during some particularly great mission, or when some unexpected chain of events creates a cool story. They’re after: when the guards lie sleeping or dead, the cargo containers are ballooning skyward, I’m scampering out with the target (too weak to be similarly ballooned) slung over my shoulders. Continued

The Killing Decision In Metal Gear Solid V

This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.

Almost every game that lets you take people out lethally or non-lethally presents it as a choice between pragmatism and ethics: killing is easier, but tranqing is nicer. That’s true in MGS V too, but it adds something else to that choice that solves a problem I’ve had with these games for ages. Continued

Being Someone Else In Metal Gear Solid V

This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.

If you have keen eyesight, you might have noticed that the person in my screenshots is not straggly-bearded horned male Venom Boss Big Punished Ahab Snake. She’s Amber Fox, a low level support officer I think I extracted on an early mission [update: Andy tells me you get her by importing your Ground Zeroes save], along with another Fox with the same tattoo who might be her brother. She’s not a story character, just one of hundreds of recruits I have milling around my base.

Once you unlock the ‘combat’ bit of your base, you can choose to play as anyone you station there instead of Big Venom Punished Ahab. This is bizarre for many reasons. Continued

Metal Gear Solid V’s Failure Spectrum

This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.

Being an outsider to the Metal Gear series, I was only cautiously optimistic about V. All I heard about the last one was that it had 90-minute cut-scenes. I watched enough of one of them on YouTube to determine that it was… not my cup of tea. Of V, I’d seen some fun stuff in videos, but I was half-assuming the story would barge in and ruin it.

Well, the story does barge in. But only for the intro and a few brief intrusions, spread out over the vast, ridiculous amount of time I’ve played the game for so far – at least thirty hours, I think. That’s a ridiculously tiny fraction, and the rest is extraordinarily good.

So many things about it are surprising or different or interesting and I want to write about all of them. So I think I’ll do that, one post at a time, starting with this: Continued

A Hollow Victory In MGS V

Just pulled off the most amazing performance in a timed destruction mission in Metal Gear Solid V, galloping from one tank convoy to the next, destroying them and calling in supply drops at my next position with perfect efficiency for 13 minutes straight.

2 minutes left, sprinted to put myself between two tanks and a guard-infested checkpoint they were trying to reach. De-roaded one, nearly killed by the other. Scrambled to cover, lay on my back headshotting 8 incoming dudes through choking smoke, then, close to death, pulse pounding and soaked in my own blood, crawled back out into the crashed tank’s line of fire to finish it off with the last of my rockets – and destroyed it with 15 seconds to spare.

Spent them lying in the grass, praying no-one else would find me, listening to my character gasp for air through her own blood.

Game’s grade for my performance: C
Video: came out with a black screen throughout

GRade C blood

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

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

What Works And Why: Nonlinear Storytelling In Her Story

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.

Spoiler-free

Continued

Thoughts On Neon Struct

In the new podcast I discuss what I thought of Neon Struct, a retro first-person stealth game by Eldritch creator David Pittman, with very conscious nods to Deus Ex and Thief. Here is the part where I do that!

I didn’t like it at first but then I did. A few people have asked if I’ll do a Let’s Play: I tried, but as you’ll hear, level 1 did not go well and took a very long time, so I stopped. Steve Gaynor’s playthrough here is much how mine went: we both tried the same thing and had the same problems.

Thoughts On Invisible Inc And GalCiv 3

Both these games are out now, and I’ve played them both, and I say what I think of them both on the new Crate & Crowbar podcast! This embed starts when Tom Senior and I trading Invisible Inc tales (his voice first), then I get to the ridiculous way I handled the GalCiv 3 tutorial at 1:00:05.

My Idea For An ‘Unconventional Weapon’ Game

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

Thoughts On The First Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Trailer

There’s a new Deus Ex game coming, and there’s a trailer for it! It was all we could talk about last night on the podcast, until we’d covered it and moved on (about 32 minutes) to talk about other things. Listen to know my, and their, thoughts!

Thoughts About Praise And Confidence At GDC And Rezzed

I’ve just got back from sixteen days of travelling: first to the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco, then to the indie game show Rezzed in London. I was showing Heat Signature to the press at GDC and to the public at Rezzed, but events like these are also huge meetups for a bunch of geographically separated friends – and people who are very likely to become that. So it’s been more pleasure than business, and the evenings have been as hectic as the days. Continued

First Steps In Skyrim

One cool thing about having been a games journalist is that there’s a detailed public record of some of your favourite personal gaming experiences. I came across my write-up of the first time I played Skyrim, at a preview event, and re-read the whole thing. I’d forgotten what exactly happened, and reading the story of my adventure like this actually captured more of its magic than just firing up the game again. The game no longer has what I got from it that day, but the story does.

I’d forgotten how amazing the first 10-20 hours with an Elder Scrolls game are. Such a sense of adventure, freedom, a beautiful country to explore, a personal journey where the little stories you encounter get tangled up in the systems of the world as they react to your reckless decisions. Waiting for a storm to pass. Holing up in a shack for the night. Finding something amazing.

That build skipped the intro, and I start by turning 180 in an attempt to explore off the beaten track – it’s funny to realise the walled-off town I ‘discover’ up the hill was Helgen.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim preview – PC Gamer

Thoughts On Dragon Age: Inquisition

We discuss DA:I on the latest Crate and Crowbar podcast, and since it’s also up on YouTube, I can embed specific bits. The Invisible Inc chat at the start overlaps a lot with my post here, so let’s skip straight to Dragon Age, which I played for about 30-40 hours over the break.

I have thoughts on why the combat still feels murky after all this time, my experience switching from Casual to Hard, my lesbian Inquisitor trying to seduce the only two straight women in Thedas, the difference between this and Mass Effect, and the one great thing that’s the same.

As before it’s Tom Senior you hear first, I’m the one who pipes up at 44m55s.

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

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.

What is it?

A turn-based stealth game with randomly generated levels and no savegames. You have two secret agents with different special abilities, and you choose from offices of varying difficulties and rewards to break into and steal money, equipment and abilities. You break in by carefully peering round corners and doors, ambushing unwitting guards with your tazers, and hacking security devices from a special vision mode.

If you want a better idea of how it plays, I recorded myself going through one mission, and talked through my thinking and how the game works.

Continued