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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.

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

The World Of Goo Soundtrack Is Out, Free, And Amazing

WorldOfGoo 2009-01-20 13-28-41-33

A few things to say about this: Continued

Mirror’s Edge In Pictures

MirrorsEdge 2008-12-16 02-21-49-26

Just put some of my Mirror’s Edge shots up, and it turns out they make a rather nice slideshow. I’ll have another post or two about it this week.

Update! Fishbro points out that watching this slideshow whilst listening to the game’s theme song, Still Alive (!), quote “Felt good.” I therefore embed it here, that you might stream it in the background while opening the slideshow (which has expanded a fair bit) in a new tab and watching it full-screen. GOOD DAY.

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So My Vesper Became Your Chariot


I have a special weak spot for songs that make me laugh with their opening couplet, and I have a special weak spot for spies, and I have a special weak spot for The Decemberists. So this song (via The World Forgot) was always going to win my heart – it didn’t need to be as catchy and fun as it is.

If, like me, you barely understood the basics of the Plame affair at the time, I suggest having it explained to you by Matthew Baldwin while you listen to this. It’s one of those rare occasions when you realise that thing you kept hearing about in the news was actually hugely exciting if you get the right person to tell you about it.

Trust Me With Your Ears: Volume Two

A regular feature in which I ask you to listen to a sound file with absolutely no idea what it’s going to be. Sometimes, after listening, you still won’t have any idea. Other times it’ll be obvious.

This was inspired partly by trying to clear out my downloads folder – I shoved all the unknown MP3s onto my player and listened to them on my way into work, never having any idea what kind of thing was coming next, only that I had for some reason deemed it download-worthy. It took me a long time to remember what the hell this was, and I still have no idea where I got it.

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I No Longer Feel I Have To Be James Dean

Since John Peel died, it’s gone back to being a weird exprience to hear something on the radio and like it. But Five Years’ Time has been forcefully cheering up this miserable British weekend. It’s by Noah And The Whale, who I am hesitant to look up. It works perfectly this once, but I’m pretty sure you can’t get more twee than this without a special permit.

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Trust Me With Your Ears: Volume One

Sound is sort of a menace on the internet – we browse at work, we browse when we’re tired, we browse when other people in the house are asleep, and sometimes we browse shortly after watching a video whose sound was really really quiet, so we’ve turned up the volume really, really loud. And there are some sites, people and link-sources that you can’t trust not to point you to something loud, obscene, offensive, terrifying or Rick Astley. Even the venerable is guilty: Andy once posted one of those links where everything seems normal, then a giant zombie face appears and screams at the top of your speaker’s volume.

I would like James to be trustworthy. I hope that it already is for a small portion of the people reading this. So I’d like to leverage, possibly confirm, and possibly expand such a trust by occasionally posting sound files with absolutely no explanation. I think it would be nice to sometimes hear something without any clue what it’s going to be, only that someone thought it was worth sharing, and do so knowing that it’s not going to be a nasty shock.

They will sometimes be speech, sometimes just sound, sometimes music, but when they’re music, the music itself won’t be why I’m posting it. Music is too divisive, I want these things to be interesting or entertaining independent of your tastes. Sometimes you’ll find out what they are when you listen, sometimes they’ll leave you with no clue. I’ll wait a few days then explain what they were in the comments, so don’t read the comments before listening.

I hope you’ll also trust that I would not find embedding a Rick Roll at the end of this post even vaguely amusing.

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Fluxblog’s just totally saved my ass for slacking on Music Week by posting the exact same Alphabeat song I was going to write about tomorrow. His write-up is also better than I was planning to make mine. I was just going to phone it in.

James commenter Dave McLeod – who’s probably done other stuff in his life, but that’s the highest possible accolade here – was sat next to me in the office the other week when Alphabeat came up on a Muxtape I was listening to.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met another male Alphabeat fan.”
“At least not a straight one, I guess?”

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Since I realised they were saying “Weltpolizei” and not “The bullets fly” (the next line is “Twenty-four seven”), all I can picture when I listen to it is an episode of Thunderbirds where they all have moustaches and perpetuate German stereotypes.

In other news, I’m bored of Music Week now and I’ve got lots of other stuff I want to talk about, so James will return to normal programming shortly.

The Prop Cigarettes You Smoke, They Show Who You Are

Eldridge Rodriguez

Eldridge Rodriguez is a bit of a discovery for me. I half-listen to a lot of net radio when I’ve forgotten to bring my MP3 player cable to work, and every now and then something catches my ear enough for me to extract my absent mind from what I’m writing and e-mail myself the track name. This saves me looking them up, buying anything of theirs or ever thinking about them again: I’ve got them on file now, no further action is required. But during this song:

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I found myself performing the whole charade three times in a row.

“Ooh, I like this. Who is it? Eldridge Rodriguez, Get What You Want. Got it.”

“Man, I like this song too, who’s this? Still Eldridge Rodriguez, Get What You Want. Okay, I’ll write it down this time.”

“Oh wow, what’s this one? Still Eldridge Rodriguez, still Get What You Want. Okay, okay, I’m buying it.”

He was apparently in a band some people have heard of, called The Beatings, but what I’ve heard of theirs doesn’t grab me the same way. To me, his value is in answering the burning question: What would it sound like if Jarvis Cocker joined A Silver Mt Zion?”

Cutting Verses Down To Size

Photo by Bleak!

This is an odd one for Ladytron – they’re not usually this atmospheric, and the warbling male vocal is a new one on me. But it has a curious feel to it that I can’t shake, so it’s the one I keep coming back to on the new album. Even though I have no idea what the hell it’s about. Kitten versus rain?

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Ladytron are one of those bands that produce a thick, inimitable texture of sound, to the extent that they don’t really need to do anything new. It’s enough just to hear that satisfying stream of smooth booming noise again, with a few different inflections.

I mention I have no idea what Versus is about because the other track I was thinking about posting is one of the few comprehensible Ladytron tracks: Burning Up. I’ve uploaded it anyway to make up for missing yesterday.

The Sun Is Shining But We Stay Inside

Born Ruffians

A geek anthem for the summer if ever there was one. I usually only find out what bands look like when I write about them here, and scour for something to draw attention away from this stretch of dry text, so I was amused to find that Born Ruffians look about twelve. Here’s what they sound like:

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I suspect staring at this image while you listen probably won’t add to the experience the way it has with the last two posts.

Mrs D Mrs I Mrs F-F-I, Mrs C Mrs U-L-T


If you keep up with these kinds of things – Norwegian electro-pop – you’ve probably already heard Annie’s obnoxiously infectious I Know Your Girlfriend Hates Me. While that was getting its deserved round of blog applause, I was only just discovering her four-year-old first album. It’s almost cockily smart, sharp, sugar-crusted pop, anomalous in a debut. Amusingly, I now discover she’s billed as “The Kylie it’s cool to like”.

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With this track, it’s all about the speed-rhyming spellouts, and to a lesser extent the cute anachronisms of the chorus. I think I could like hip-hop more if the lyrics were about people ringing one another’s bells.

I Propose A Less Serious Vote


When, inevitably, I become a super-villain (I find myself buying a lot of black clothing with high collars lately), this is how it’ll end. When my swarm of Gogglesharks march on Beijing, when my jetpack drops me gently in the thick of the clash of Tian’anman Square, bullets pinging off my power-armour, the sky black with my aerial drones, my image burned in phosphor over that of Chairman Mao, China’s Segway-surfing police force shredded like crispy duck.

Someone – probably called John or Jack – will urgently command their technically minded sidekick to Google me, + “fatal weaknesses”, snapping that “There’s got to be something!” The sidekick, who will have spiky hair, a differently coloured shortsleeve outside his longsleeve and a name like ‘Skeeter’, will find this post.
“I think I’ve got it! Routing it through the local police band… now!” And he’ll hit this play button:

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The Gogglesharks will stop, mid-chomp, and point their eyeball arms quizzically to me. It will rain deactivated silver drones. Everything will stop dead for three minutes and twenty-seven seconds, forty hectares of carnage shakily frozen like the closing credits of a macabre sixties sitcom, the only sound the opening track from the latest Mates of State album Re-Arrange Us, the groans of the dying and the slightly squeaky wheel of a broken Segway whirring away. When it finishes, I will hang my head slightly and mutter “Okay, I’ll be good.”

So begins music week on James! I’ve got a ridiculous amount of new stuff I’m listening to at the moment, so I’m picking a track from each a day and posting it here until I get bored or you get bored or I forget or the week ends.

And just so you know, Jack and Skeeter, I foresaw this.

Muxed Feelings

Muxtape has provided my working soundtrack almost exclusively the last week or so. It’s a Super-Simple Service that lets you upload twelve songs, lets anyone listen to them, and ‘favourite’ them. I only just discovered the latter. I was highly enjoying this tape and thinking to myself “I love that this whole site is so laser-focused on what it does, but I do wish there was a way to bookmark the ones you like. Oh, there it is.”

After a long quest to get Seedling’s The Upshot in MP3 format (alas, no OGGs on Mux), mine is complete. Here’s what’s on it and why:


Cat Power – Willie
There’s a lot of classy, soulful, plonking ballads to pick from on The Greatest, but this one just seems to make everything okay. Something about its expansive confidence and nonchalant pace.

Mates of State – Goods (All In Your Head)
This was just written for late summer sunsets, turning from giddily exciting to wistful and almost sad with no audible seam.

Seedling – The Upshot
There’s something beautifully emphatic about the cut-down arrangement of this, the forcefully plucked strings behind her resigned voice. Disastrously, the band split years ago, and they’re obscure enough that they don’t even have a Wikipedia page. My only consolation is that I got to hug them all at their final gig.

New Pornographers – Chump Change
By rights I should have gone with The Laws Have Changed, but I think I over-listened to it. Skimming through my shortlist, the opening bars of Chump Change just elicit a smile like no other track.

Architecture In Helsinki – Debbie
Clever, rhythmic, curling and bizarre. It says something for the propulsive blithering of the chorus that I can tell you, without checking, that it goes, “Hey there, hey there, let me down down, Debbie down, Debbie Debbie Debbie down down Debbie down, Debbie down, Debbie Debbie down down down down.”

Decemberists – The Legionnaire’s Lament
This is the one track of theirs I can listen to endlessly without ever tiring of its neat lyricism and heartfelt botch of authenticity. Any song whose narrator’s camel is in disrepair gets extra credit.

Sparks – Dick Around
Manic, preposterous, majestic rock opera epic, without even the slightest wink or nod to the absurdity of penning such a thing with ‘dick’ in the title.

M̼m РGreen Grass of Tunnel
I don’t think there’s another track during which you could scientifically measure the increase in my body temperature as it starts. It’s warm and enveloping in a way a sound alone surely cannot be.

Low – Canada
The slowcore king and queen of sinister are actually at their most impressive when they veer into other moods and sounds. Canada isn’t exactly upbeat, but it rocks extraordinarily.

Delgados – Favours
Booming, crashing and beautiful. The churning chorus reaches such an exhaustingly elevated pitch and holds it for so long that you finish half-wanting to gasp for breath on Emma Pollock’s behalf.

Ben Folds – Rockin’ The Suburbs
Quite apart from being ridiculous fun, it’s time I acknowledged the genius who unwittingly wrote the ‘About’ section of James for me. As musically worthwhile satire goes, I don’t think any other song so utterly annihilates this many hateful songwriters with its first two lines.

M83 – Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun
You’ll know if you’re going to hate this in the first thirty seconds – and the chance that you will is the reason it’s at the end. But if you don’t, everything you do for the next nine minutes of your life will be unaccountably profound. This is normal.

There’s also MuxFind, which lets you search for Muxtapes featuring music ‘similar to’ a band or song you search for. Since there are a lot of Muxtapes, that tends to mean you find the song you’re looking for. And can play it free. Clearly there’s a legal explosive ticking away beneath this, but for now it remains an awesome way to find lovingly compiled collections of stuff you’ve never heard but which bears a spiritual connection to what you’ve searched for. It’s a much stronger and more effective form of recommendation than automated social aggregation like or comparitive content analysis like Pandora.

That Band You Like Has A New Thing Coming Out

I’ve wanted a service like this for years: I tell it my favourite bands, it lets me know when they have a new album. I have far too many favourites, far too many of whom rarely release anything, to keep track of them manually, and too few people share my particular cross-section of interests to be comprehensive sources of information. I sometimes find out the third best band in the universe had a new album two years ago and no-one told me. Worse, I sometimes don’t.

Finally, there’s something a bit like that. I’d thought it would make a good Amazon feature – anything comes out by anyone I’ve rated highly or bought something by, mail me and you’ll probably get yourselves a sale. But it’s a mashup that’s finally answered the call. This is great for me, Tom Francis, but possibly awkward for you, user, because you can’t quickly make a account and add a load of bands to it. The site insists that you use its Scrobbler in the background while you listen to your music normally, so it can spy on what you really listen to rather than taking your word for who your favourite bands are.

It’s called Soundamus, and it just generates an RSS feed of all new releases by all the artists you’ve listened to according to your account. It’s actually slightly awkward for me too, because however much I love Buck Rogers, I don’t really care that Feeder have a new album. But on the other hand, this system is far more comprehensive than any that relied on me to remember who I like. The reason this is a problem that needs fixing in the first place is that I’m incapable of remembering that more than the last fifty bands I listened to even exist.

Here’s my Feeder-heavy feed, if you’re curious.

I Actually Can’t Stop The Music

I’m trying to talk to someone, I forget who, and the music is just so ridiculously loud that I can’t even hear my own voice. I indicate non-verbally that I’m going to turn off the MP3 player – which I think is theirs – but the thing won’t shut down. It’s a Sansa, like mine, and no matter how long I hold the ‘off’ button it just goes through different shutting down procedures without ever stopping. The music is pounding, unrelentingly repetitive – a few deafening bars and then the vocalist sings, “I’m tired of singing,” – repeated ad nauseam.

Eventually I just tug the wire from the player, and it still doesn’t stop. It’s so loud I feel like my head is bleeding – that the song itself is about the singer being tired of singing seems like a sick joke. “I’m tired of singing.”

I burst into the lounge, where my dad is explaining how a DivX player works to someone, and I ask if this is where the music is coming from. “I’m tired of singing.” My dad doesn’t know, so I borrow a likely-looking remote from him and try everything: volume down, mute, off. Nothing works. “I’m tired of singing.” By this stage the house is full of people, wearing chicken suits, walking slowly around its corridors and stopping every time the song gets to that unbearable “I’m tired of singing” line, whereupon their fake chicken heads flip back so they can sing it unmuffled. “I’m tired of singing.” I wish they wouldn’t. But most of all, I wish this fucking song would stop singing this fucking line again and again every five seconds for two fucking hours. “I’m tired of singing.” Shut up.

Finally I find the source. “I’m tired of singing.” I’m lying down, “I’m tired of singing,” I’m not sure where, “I’m tired of singing,” and there’s a single huge black speaker in front of me, “I’m tired of singing,” volume knob clearly visible. “I’m tired of singing.” I’m paralysed. “I’m tired of singing.” I know this knob will work, “I’m tired of singing,” that I can finally shut this unbearable “I’m tired of singing” twat up, “I’m tired of singing,” but I can’t move. “I’m tired of singing.”

“I’m tired of singing.”

“I’m tired of singing.”

“I’m tired of singing.”

“I’m tired of singing.” Finally I feel my arm start to shift, “I’m tired of singing.” I discover I’m naked, “I’m tired of singing,” but at this stage I don’t care – I can shut this thing up. “I’m tired of singing.” I manage to stagger to my feet and make it to the speaker, and twist the volume knob down for what feels like minutes.

It’s stopped. I see now that the speaker is beneath a monitor, behind a mouse and keyboard, and the track was playing through Winamp. I permanently delete it from the hard drive.

I look at the time – 8.30. I’ve slept through ninety minutes of music at this volume. It wasn’t all “I’m tired of singing” – a song called Running Out by Mates of State, not a single fucking bar of which I ever want to hear again as long as I live – that just happened to be the one that finally woke me up. I guess that means it was playing throughout the final couple of minutes of sleep where my dreams evidently take place.

There’s got to be a better way to wake up than this.