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.
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
Super Game Jam is a documentary series on Steam that films two developers per episode, working together to make a game in 48 hours. It’s discounted to $15 for the whole series right now, which is 5 half-hour episodes, the 5 games that were made in them, and a bunch of extra scenes and music from Kozilek and Doseone.
Episode 5 just came out tonight, and it’s me and artist/designer Liselore Goedhart making SimAntics: Realistic Anteater Simulator. We were given the theme of ‘Simulation’ by previous jammers Cactus and Grapefrukt, and told not to make SimAnt. So we simulated an anteater instead.
My game about swinging through randomly generated spaces has spilled out from a game jam entry, to a four-day game, to a week-long game. This is a series of three video blogs talking about interesting things that happened in its design.
Here’s my previous video showing the game itself.
Update: it actually took five weeks, but now it’s done and out and on Steam and free and half a million people played it! More info on the tag.
I did Ludum Dare once, where you make a game in a weekend, and it taught me loads about how to be ruthlessly efficient and cut things before you waste time on them. I’ve skipped every game jam since then, and every event except the IGF, to focus on Gunpoint.
This weekend, though, I’m letting myself do one. Because a) I made loads of progress on Gunpoint last weekend, and am very close to being able to show you a new feature I haven’t announced yet, and b) this will probably be the only chance I ever get to legally make an Adventure Time game. Continued
The theme for this weekend’s game-making competition is evolution. As usual, I’m gonna stick to working on Gunpoint but write up the idea I’d do if I had time to get distracted.
I think if you’re going to make an evolution game, you’ve got to actually model evolution. God knows gaming misuses that word enough – we need to repay science for every time a game has claimed some magical goo caused our character to ‘rapidly evolve’ into a superhuman. Continued
Another Ludum Dare, the competition to make a game in a weekend! Another weekend I can’t really do so! Instead, I worked on Gunpoint. But as before, I’ll tell you what game I would have made. The theme was Tiny World, and my game idea is called… Launch Craft. Continued
It’s Ludum Dare this weekend, a regular competition to make a game from scratch in a weekend. I don’t have two days spare, but I do have two hours and a cup of coffee, so I’ll pitch you the game I would make if I could.
The theme is decided by a vote, and ‘Alone’ won. However, ‘Kitten’ was also in the final round. It got more down-votes than any other theme, but I can’t help wanting to combine the two. Here’s my idea:
Top down view of snowy tundra. You are a badly drawn TINY KITTEN that scampers towards the mouse cursor, kicking up snow and leaving messy pawprints. It’s a zero button game: all you do is move the mouse.
If you stray far from where you start, you’ll run into a villager or two. They stop when they see you, and run to the north if you approach. They’re faster than you, so you can never catch up to them.
The further north you go, the more villagers you’ll see. They all run away to a village to the north, but if you get close to the village itself, they’ll flee that too. If you chase them, you’ll reach a cliff edge. The villagers will stop at the threshold, but if you come close enough they’ll throw themselves over to get away from you.
The other side of the ravine is a sheer wall of ice, in which you see blurry reflections of the villagers you’re chasing into the chasm. But your own reflection is wrong: far too big, dark and spiky. A rough silhouette of that more monstrous shape appears over your usual badly-drawn kitten avatar, and gets stronger the longer you spend in the presence of your reflection. Eventually, the kitten fades away entirely and you see yourself as the monster you are.
After that, there’s a small chance you’ll encounter smaller villagers who can’t run as fast as you. If you get close to one, you automatically pounce on it and rip it to shreds in a spray of blood, and you’re unable to control yourself until you finish devouring its remains. After that, any time your cursor is directly over a villager, you’ll accelerate to chase it down and eat it. The more you eat, the faster your hunting speed.
If you do kill a villager, there’s now a chance that the villagers you meet in future will throw rocks at you before running away. The more you kill, the more will try to fight you. The rocks knock you back very slightly, so if more than a couple are pelting you, you can’t catch up to them and have to run away.
After the first few, rock hits will make you bleed steadily, leaving a trail of blood in the snow. The bleeding stops if you eat a villager. If you don’t stop the bleeding, your monstrous image starts to fade and the kitten returns, still bleeding.
If you leave the villagers alone, or you kill them all, you’ll end up alone in the snow. After a while alone, your beast appearance fades and you start to see yourself as a kitten again. The screen gets darker as night closes in, and the kitten starts to tremble and turn blue. Eventually, its scampering slows to an unsteady crawl, it lies down, goes still, and is lost in the dark blue snow as darkness closes in.
Gunpoint’s at too exciting a stage right now to take time off from it. If I was making a game about Escape this weekend, though, here’s what it’d be.
You’re a small escape pod with a single thruster, jetting around an infinite randomly generated space. Planets of randomly generated size attract you with their gravitational pull. If you land on one, you’ll find your thruster isn’t powerful enough to let you escape.
You can, however, press down to burrow through the crust of the planet into its gooey core. Your pod automatically sucks up the molten minerals in the centre of the planet to use as fuel. The bigger the planet, the more intensely its fuel burns, and therefore the more powerful your thruster can get if you suck up its whole core. It’s just enough power to escape the gravitational pull of a planet this size, so from now on you can escape any planet that isn’t bigger than this one without boring to its core.
As soon as you start sucking up a planet’s core, though, it becomes unstable and will soon explode. It also gets lighter, reducing its gravitational pull. You have to judge how long you can afford to keep sucking up its core before you need to start escaping. The longer you suck, the more powerful your thruster and the weaker the gravitation pull it has to overcome, but the closer you get to the planet’s detonation.
You have to leave the crust through the hole you made on your way in, or take a second to drill a new one. Provided you get outside the fatal radius in time, you can ride the blast wave of the explosion for a speed boost that’ll last till you next hit a planet, or thrust in a different direction.
You’re trying to get to the galactic core, a direction indicated on-screen, by progressively increasing your thruster power and armour to increase speed and skip more and more planets on the way. You want to get there to suck the whole thing up and use it as fuel to escape spacetime or whatever THE END.
I’ve just put up a new version of the game I made last weekend, Scanno Domini. You encounter randomly generated enemy robots, scan them to unlock their parts, then kill them and take all their guns, shields and engines for yourself. Grab the new version here.
If you do play it, I’d love to know what you thought of it – I’ve been really surprised by the feedback so far.
This version fixes a few significant bugs I didn’t have time to test during the compo – the competition version will stay as it is for judging purposes, of course, I’m just putting this up for anyone who wants to have fun with it. The key changes are:
Sometime after Christmas, I think I may try a 48 hour sprint with Gunpoint. Getting so much done in such a short time is exhilarating, and it could really use a burst of progress to get it to a point where it makes sense.
Jeeesus. Five minutes to go, and my game is zipped up and submitted. Grab it here. Feels strange and amazing to be ‘done’ with something – I’ve tinkered around with games for months without getting to a point I’m happy with. And while there are a few items not grayed out on my Scanno to do list, I did much more than I ever thought I could in two days. And I actually have fun playing the result.
Rather embarrassed about Gunpoint now. It could probably be done in a week.
The finished game is pretty much what I planned: a top-down shooter with randomised enemies, whose randomised bits you can steal for yourself. I didn’t end up scaling much dynamically, except the gun sizes. I couldn’t find a way to make it look right in the time, so it was quicker – even for me – to draw a few engine and weapon types. The differences are more immediately interesting, too – “Ooh, blue plasma?”
Number one thing that went right was definitely time management. I had two days, so I picked something I thought I might just about be able to do in one. It was done in one and a half, so I had that crucial half day to take a working concept, find the fun, and make the game about that.
I don’t know if I actually made it fun, but it’s so much closer than it would have been if I’d picked a more ambitious idea and only just got the basics hammered out. This is my first finished game, and given the time limit I thought I’d end up with something a lot more half-baked.
It is buggy, and its tutorial is just gibberish, but in an ideal circumstance it’s conceivable that it could convey to you what you need to know. Oh, except that you have to press R to restart.
Thing that went least well was trouble shooting. I’m rarely good at this, but on the scanning ray in particular I just went out of my mind. It’s still buggy – won’t always scan everything there is to scan on your first scan – and I may have messed up other things in the last minute fixes.
I said I was going to leave graphics till last, but in the end I decided it was worth a stab at them if I gave myself a hard time limit. I basically managed to turn the visuals from offensively ugly to merely very crude. I’m OK with crude. There’s just a particular look to very bad graphics that’s not endearing or ignorable or in any way OK, and I had to try to avoid that.
I also took time to put in sounds for almost everything important, and I’m really glad I did. I knew they’d be important to the feel, but I didn’t quite appreciate how important the feel would be to the overall thing. It’s not an art game, it’s not very brave or inventive, so it really needs to have some decent ‘pew pew!’s in.
I have exactly no time tomorrow to polish this up and also submit it to the jam, the less strict contest that gives an extra day. Which is a shame, because it needs a few bandages to hold it together properly, and a few basic human rights like a choice of resolutions. I will do those things, just not right away. For now, I am done.
Thanks for all the comments, support and puns.
Which is to say: not graphics or content complete. So brace yourself for a painfully similar screenshot:
But the two tiny changes you do see represent pretty much everything else I needed to get done for the game to make sense: you can now scan enemies when they’re not looking to steal the details of their weapons, then use that info to rebuild their guns, shields and engines when they’re dead.
I’m happy I’ve got to this point, but there’s a lot more to do. I have a choice of a few fairly major areas to work on, and I’ll list them in my current priority order:
The reason graphics is so low is that the time it takes is such a wildcard – sometimes I get something bad right away, other times it takes me hours to make something bad.
Let me know if you think my priority order is nuts.
Current title idea: Scanno Domini. Other scan puns welcome.
The screenshot I’m about to show you won’t look spectacularly different to the one earlier – I still haven’t fixed the horrible protagonist bot or the laughable kid’s snow effect. But to play, it’s already close to what the finished game will be.
The main thing is randomised enemies, with visually apparent stats. Randomisation will be part of the Discovery element, and also just the fun of the game: it’s never going to be a great shooter, but it’s already kind of cool to blunder into a triple-barreled deathbot with hyper speed and discover a whole new echelon of boned.
The visual apparency – representing every stat in the shape of the enemy rather than a stats readout – is part of that too. It gives your read on the enemies immediacy, and that’s a catalyst for fun. I need all of those I can get. Hopefully you can tell which one of these enemies has more firepower, and which one is better protected.
What you can’t see, and what you probably won’t even find if you play it, is the ridiculous amount of fun I’m having with it.
Most of this afternoon was spent thrashing out the enemy movement to be more convincing and dangerous, and all of this evening was spent drawing just a few bad sprites – it takes me actual time to get pixel art to the dismal level of quality you see here.
Then in less than half an hour, I did the coding legwork to implement every chunk of art into modularly assembled, dynamically scaled, randomised deathbots. And the game’s gone from being a tame arena where I can always win through knowing the tricks, to a terrifying robot safari where things with crazy muzzle velocities can also outrun me, and I see combinations I hadn’t pictured.
It’s not exactly good, yet, but it’s an amazing thrill to see that kind of stuff come to life from a few simple maths statements. I can pretty much stomach art work if it’s for a game that can stretch and recombine it to endless different purposes.
I’ve also had an idea for how to relate the game more obviously to the Discovery theme. It’s fun to try and creep up on these bots when they’re not looking. They turn round if you shoot them, to prevent the game being too easy, but I’m going to make it so that you can subtly scan them if you get up close and undetected.
If they have a module you’ve never used before, you’ll gain the ability to salvage it if you later kill the bot. And if they don’t, you’ll be able to read their robo-thoughts. Not entirely sure what I’m going to do with that, but even if it’s just an array of pointless introspection it should be fun to write.
Two surprising things have happened: firstly, I’ve made a game that works already. There’s no point in playing it yet, since it does nothing interesting, but that was all I hoped to achieve today. This’ll give me time to make it interesting today, and make it good tomorrow.
Secondly, now that I’ve made enough of it to see what it’s going to be like, I realise it has almost nothing to do with the theme. The angry deathbots you meet aren’t randomised yet, but even once they are I think running into them is just going to feel like encountering enemies in an arena. It technically is discovery, but because they’re simply off-screen rather than visibly obfuscated, it’s not going to feel like it.
I’m not going to worry about that too much yet – my priority order is to make it interesting, then make it good, then make it fit the theme. Here’s what it looks like now:
The blue circles are shields: I didn’t fancy putting a bunch of work in just to recreate the conventional hitpoint bar or health meter on your interface, so I went for something more visual and in-fiction. Right now each shield takes one hit, but as you can see that makes you impractically large for not much health, so I’ll probably tighten their size and thickness before I’m done, and perhaps make them come back online a while after they’re taken out.
The enemy will have these as well, and they’re one of the things that’ll be randomised, so it’ll be very obvious when you’re facing something tough. Not sure if I’ll also have big hulls – that’d mean introducing an armour system as well, which may defeat the point of the shields.
I do plan to have large engines/tracks for fast bots, and a large turret or power core of some kind for things with a lot of firepower. Basically, if I can have at least three functionally important metrics that enemies can vary in, and make each one visually readable at a glance without any interface, I’ll be close to what I want.
Challenges right now:
Title ideas: Sighs of the Snowbots? Snowbot Snores?
I present to you, SnowBot! So called because the only things I have made for it so far are some snow and a robot.
It is the ugliest game ever made, but it works – the robot chases your cursor while you hold the mouse button, and decelerates when you release it.
Obviously with 48 hours to make something, you start to look at what really takes time, and the answer is invariably ‘tweaking’. So I made a pact with myself: no tweaking till the game is virtually done: of graphics, movement, controls, anything. I’m allowed to change things once or twice to get them functional, then they’re set in stone until the rest of the thing is in place.
I have two days, so my plan is to make the game in one. That way I can spend the second day making it good, or making up for how badly I failed to meet this ridiculous deadline on the first. My game is going to be crude and ugly no matter what, so I’m happy to make it even cruder and uglier to give myself some time to balance it and make it more fun.
In my head, this meant getting a character moving around the world in the morning, then making content in the afternoon. Turns out the first part only really took an hour, two with all the faffing with all the blogging and setting up screen captures for the time-lapse video I’m hoping to make of this process.
So next up is putting an enemy in the world, and letting the two shoot each other. Video games.
It’s 6am, it’s freezing cold, it’s pitch dark, England is caked in snow and the theme of Ludum Dare 19 is Discovery.
Discovery is what I was hoping for. I think one of the close runners up, Containment, would probably have led to a more interesting selection of games, but I had a clearer idea of what I’d do for Discovery. I knew if this one ended up being picked, I would have to make something involving randomised content. That’s what makes Spelunky so exciting to play, and that’s probably the greatest game about discovery I’ve ever played.
Unfortunately I’m not Derek Yu, and I only have 42 hours, and I’m wasting time writing a blog. So my game will be a little less ambitious.
To fit the theme, I feel like the pleasure of the game has to have something to do with the discovering. And the only thing gamers truly and instinctively care about is stuff that benefits them in the game. So not only does it have to be the content rather than just the scenery that is randomised, the unique elements of that content have to feed back into character progression in some way.
My plan currently is for something top down, where you direct your character – probably a robot – around a large landscape with the mouse, encountering enemies with randomised stats. Destroying them will let you salvage some of their traits, so a very tough enemy would boost your hitpoints when you destroy it.
Someone on the Ludum Dare site joked that everyone should not only have to stick to the chosen theme, but also combine it with Christmas. So if I can draw it in any meaningful way, I’ll set my game in the snow.