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Game development








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

Anatomy Of An Intro (To A BioShock Infinite Review)

When I left PC Gamer a few months back, I wrote up five things I learned from my 9 years there. I also promised to pick apart something I’d written to show how I’d tried to apply this stuff in practice. Continued

Five Hours With BioShock Infinite And Ken Levine

“It has the atmosphere of a cheerful village fete, but in a village that couldn’t exist. At one point, we seem to be in a cloud: a thick haze turns everyone in the street to silhouettes, picked out by spectacular rays of golden sunlight. Confetti floats through the air, and hummingbirds pause to probe flowers. Two children splash each other in a leaking fire hydrant.”

“Half an hour later, for reasons I won’t go into, I’m ramming a metal gear into a man’s eye socket until blood geysers all over my face. I’m drenched. Everyone’s screaming. Four more men are coming for me, and this blunt steel prong is all I have to kill them with.”

My preview and interview is up now.

What’s Wrong With BioShock 2 And Why I Like It Anyway

The second half of this post has end-game spoilers, but they’re hidden until you click to reveal them.

BioShock 2 - 01

This will sound bad, but the last thing I expected was for BioShock 2 to be worthwhile. It’s like making a Fight Club 2 – either you’re not gonna have that twist, or we’ll kinda see it coming. It wasn’t any lack of faith in the team – BioShock was very much Ken Levine’s gig, sure, but the prospect of a Jordan Thomas gig is just as enticing. But starting from a position of Least Necessary Sequel Ever, given too little time to both form a studio and significantly reinvent the game (MoonShock!), and committed to the obsequious inclusion of multiplayer – I could see fun, I could see interesting, I couldn’t see “I’m glad they made this.”

I am glad they made this. It feels like a remake, a ridiculous thing to do immediately after a great game, but some of BioShock’s systems needed it. By the last third of that game, you’d found enough interesting plasmids and tonics to develop some properly demented playstyles, ones very personal to your preferences. BioShock 2 is saying: what if that moment was just a few hours in, and you could just keep getting more bizarre, manipulative and powerful from there? Mechanically, it finishes BioShock’s clever sentence.

BioShock 2 - 16

Plot-wise… I guess my only problem with the plot is that I missed almost all of it. As a Big Daddy might, I grasped that I was after my Little Sister, but all the other voices in my head seemed like a very long list of names all angry at me for something I didn’t understand. After hours and hours of hearing her talk about it, I still have no idea what Lamb’s plan for Eleanor was, or even what she believes in – except that it isn’t ‘the self’. I thought doing philosophy at uni would help, but I think I need a degree in listening. I can barely process basic information in a game unless it affects the level in front of me.

BioShock 2 - 45

Both BioShocks often feel like two different game ideas, layered on top of each other but not convincingly connected. There’s the Ecosystem, this alien world of inhuman protectors stomping around with delirious gatherers, while packs of crazed aggressors try to steal them away. Then there’s the Backstory, a tawdry tale of fifties dames and johns doing the dirty on each other while high-minded well-to-dos carry on like they own the joint.

BioShock 2 - 38

I buy into both, and I even buy into the Backstory leading to the Ecosystem, as the failed utopia finds a physical outlet for its neuroses in Adam, and creates something monstrous. What never works for me in either game is that the Backstory is still going on. Ryan set these Splicers on me? Why, don’t they just attack everything anyway? And now these Splicers are working for Lamb’s Family. They came to see the fundamental validity of her ethos in the last ten years, did they? In between screaming “Semen! On EVERYTHING!” and scampering across the ceiling with meathooks?

BioShock 2 - 30Michael here feels disillusioned by objectivism, and is thinking seriously about his worldview.

It makes it hard to understand what’s happened in the ten year gap. Lamb’s seized control – of what? What does control constitute in a leaking city of lunatics and corpse-sucking drones? And it leads to a structural clash: you must find your child and stop the demagogue psychologist as soon as possible! WAIT: You have not harvested or saved all the Little Sisters on this level, are you sure you wish to proceed?

WAIT: The rest of this post contains ending spoilers, are you sure you wish to proceed? Show.

BioShock 2 - 24

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

BioShock Spoilers

This is my idea, in ten steps, for what should happen after your encounter with Andrew Ryan in his office. Continued

BioShock Review Review

The issue of PC Gamer with my BioShock review in is now on-sale in England. I wrote it mostly with lunatic fans like myself in mind, so I don’t spend a lot of time saying what really should be the first thing you say about BioShock: holy shit! Someone made a game about a subaquatic capitalist utopia for the intellectual elite! And it’s going to sell? This is a game in which you have to know some of the history of Versailles to understand one of the villain’s insults to you.

There are ways in which BioShock does more with its subject matter than any other game I can name, but mostly it’s just amazing to have something to sink your brain’s figurative teeth into. It has ideas. There are themes. I think I even saw a paradigm.

I’ve started capitalising the ‘S’, you’ll be riveted to hear, because a) it’s correct, and I’m a fan of correct, but also b) it’s very System Shock 2. You can even draw a line from each of Rapture’s districts to each of Shock 2’s decks. They might not be able to say so legally, but there is a Shock series of games and this is one of them. The best, in fact.

I was slightly bemused when I first heard that they wanted to make a game set somewhere “more interesting than a spaceship”, because Shock 2 did such an extraordinary job of making that ship a vast and exciting place to explore. But yeah, I get it now. This is an order of magnitude more artistically exciting.

I’m not talking about the bits where you kill children, because they’re not very good and they don’t need to be. Everyone will fixate on them forever and ever and it will be boring and terrible and that’s a shame. They’re not important, either emotionally or mechanically, and the game has so much more going on that is provocative and brave and weird and brilliant.

Bioshock Gatherer's Garden

The lunatic fans seem to be satisfied, by the way – although they frantically crave documentation of every microsecond of the infanticide. And one called me a ‘filthy worm’ for giving it a score as low as 95%. While I was away in France last week, the first copies were delivered to subscribers, and one guy on the official forums got to be a mini-celebrity for a few days by being the only person who’d read the first ever review of their holy game. People grilled him for info and implored him to type in the first few sentences. I love being a part of something that inspires that level of excitement, even if I’m just riding Irrational’s coat tails.

There’s a line in my review that starts “So kindly avoid any…” I would just like to say, for the record, that this line originally read slightly differently, and you will probably be able to guess precisely how once you’ve completed the game. It was a very obvious and weak in-joke that hinges on something enormously spoilerific but invisible to the uneducated eye. I couldn’t ask Tony to make sure he kept it intact when he was sub-editing my review because it would have entirely ruined the game for him, so I’m just going to have to ask you to come back here in a month, sneer slightly at my failed attempt at a bad joke, then switch your neural interface back over to whatever Zero-G Hyper Sports event the future will presumably be full of.