All posts


Game development








Hello! I'm Tom. I'm a game designer, writer, and programmer on Gunpoint, Heat Signature, and Tactical Breach Wizards. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here are the videos I make on YouTube, 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

Steam Quirks For Developers

Talking to people at GDC and Rezzed, especially people just starting in game dev, made me realise I’ve accumulated a load of non-obvious knowledge about how Steam works and how best to use it. Info like this tends to get passed around between established devs, at events and in closed circles, but newer devs and those excluded from these groups don’t get access to it.

Everything marked ‘info’ was either learned by me first hand, or told to me by Valve at events with the express purpose of getting this kind of info out to developers, without request of confidentiality. I say this because I do also get told things confidentially – none of that is in here. Continued


When Gunpoint did well, in 2013, I thought: “I should give some money to charity. But this might have to last me the rest of my life. So I should wait til I have a second game out, and see how that does.”

When Heat Signature did well in, 2017, I thought: “It’s doing great so far! But how fast will it trail off? This has to cover the budget of the next game. What if Steam’s algorithm changes and all our revenue stops? Maybe after the third game I’ll know more about-”

I see what my brain is doing. There’ll always be enough uncertainty in my life that I can delay a donation in the name of caution. But I don’t think that loop ends on iteration 3 or 4, so I’m cutting it short now. I’m giving $25,000 to the Against Malaria Foundation and another $25,000 to GiveDirectly. Continued

My Week

This year I’ve started tracking the hours I spend programming, because generally once I start tracking something I naturally start to optimise it. I’m not a workaholic – I’m at greater risk of not putting in the hours than of putting in too many, and I’d like to make sure I’m putting in enough.

Programming is about 40% of my job. Another 40% is design, and the other 20% is every other job on a game that isn’t art or music. The design part is hard to track though: I find most productive design thinking comes from a big engine in the back while you’re doing other things, as it randomly matches disparate ideas and sprinkles them with what you’re currently experiencing and asks: “Is that anything?”

Programming, though, I can measure: I start a timer and then focus on work for anywhere from 8 minutes to 80. If I get the urge to check Twitter, I can but I have to stop the timer to do it, and only log the work time. I only get to log the time if it really was focused work – all breaks and interruptions and meals and everything else is excluded. Back when I notionally worked an 8 hour-a-day job, I had an hour for lunch, lots of Twitter breaks and interruptions. I’d be surprised if I averaged as many as 6 productive hours a day.

Anyway, here’s my first full week’s programming time tracked: Continued

Dad And The Egg Controller

After dad died, trying to be useful, we looked through his office. ‘Office’ is underselling it – there was so much equipment that it could equally qualify as a workshop or even a lab. It had the special kind of ordely chaos of a place filled with a thousand incredibly specific things, meticulously organised by type, when you don’t know any of the types.

I opened a tiny drawer. Ah yes, this is where he kept things that were brass, cylindrical, and slightly ridged. I closed the drawer, my task complete.

On his desk, though, I saw something I did recognise. Something I knew it would be my responsibility to adopt, decipher, and operate. I don’t know if he ever gave it a name, so I will now: it’s the Egg Controller. Continued

Heat Signature’s Space Birthday Update Is Live!

Heat Signature is one Space Year old today! To celebrate, we’ve released a big free update we’ve been working on for five months, with over 20 features – including our own twist on a Daily Challenge.

Click through for details on each:


The Potato ‘Paradox’

I just learned about ‘The Potato Paradox‘, which refers to this surprising maths result:

Q: You have 100kg of potatoes, which are 99 percent water by weight. You let them dehydrate until they’re 98 percent water by weight. How much do they weigh now?
A: 50kg

It’s not a riddle or a trick, it’s literally true and the terms mean what they seem to mean. The Wikipedia page has some good explanations and diagrams of why the answer is right, which persuaded me that it was, but that didn’t solve the problem for me. To me the problem is: why am I so wrong about this? Continued

What Works And Why: Emergence

Dishonored 2: Death of the Outsider

I love Deus Ex, System Shock 2, and Dishonored 2, and the name for these games is dumb: they’re ‘immersive sims’. If you asked me what I liked about them, my answer would be a phrase almost as dumb: ’emergent gameplay!’ Continued

Pitch: Tactical Breach Wizards

I’ve been tweeting GIFs of a game I’m prototyping in Unity for a while now, codenamed Tiny Ex-Cons, and recently did a video blog about the core elements I’m hoping to combine if I go ahead with it.

It’s too early to know if this is my next big project or not – my prototype doesn’t have enough to prove the concept yet – but I do want to start showing more of it. And I’ve been holding back part of the concept, and indeed the name. It’s not hard to describe, but it’ll only really work with the right art, so I didn’t want to talk about it until I was sure that side of things would work.

And hey, you know who’s good at art? Gunpoint and Heat Signature artist John Roberts! So he’s joined me again and sketched out some ideas for this new concept. Which is… Continued

Heat Signature’s Fair Points Update: Reacting To Good Reviews

I was too nervous to read Heat Signature reviews for two weeks after launch. I was relieved to see the scores were great, and after 3.5 years of work, that was all I wanted to hear: I didn’t want to know what their caveats were.

Once I calmed down and read them, though, I was delighted: they were not only very positive, but they told entertaining stories and made intelligent points. And almost every critique I read I thought was a fair point. Hence this: Continued

Death is Canceled for Space Halloween

For the duration of Space Halloween (27th of Space October to the 1st of Space November), life and death in the Drift will be a little different: Continued

Heat Signature’s Launch, And First Player Legend

I reshuffled this post a bit so I can link this part more easily:

Update On The Everything Gun

It’s been great to see how much people are loving this very silly weapon, and how excited people are to send us shots of them finding it. One thing I didn’t forsee was that for a small number of people, it could cause anxiety: the fear of missing out, or even when they have it, the fear of somehow losing it. So we’re going to simplify it: Continued

Heat Signature Is Out!

Or you can buy it from the Humble Store.

Supporter’s Edition

There’s also a Supporter’s Edition, which comes with a bunch of fun extras: Continued

A Leftfield Solution To An XCOM Disaster

This story starts exactly like the last great mission I had in an XCOM game: I kinda took on two missions at once. And everyone got tired from the first one, so we had to send our B-team on the other: to rescue a VIP. Continued

Heat Signature Release Date And Launch Celebrations

Heat Signature will be out on Steam 21st of September 2017! At time of writing, that’s Thursday of next week. It’s for Windows PCs, other platforms will depend on how this one goes.

We don’t do pre-order bonuses because I don’t want to pressure you to buy before reviews are out. But I am super grateful to those who buy at launch, because our whole future depends on how we do that first week. So we’re doing a few special things to celebrate it and thank those of you who are joining us: Continued

What Works And Why: Prey’s Intro

The start of Prey is one of very few narrative-based game intros that really worked for me. And it comes not that long after one in the same genre that especially didn’t: Mankind Divided. So I thought it might be interesting to replay both and compare what works and what doesn’t. Not to pick on Mankind Divided – I loved the game after the stumbling start – but just because you can be more specific with praise if you have something to contrast it against.

I talked through my thoughts on both intros as I replayed them in the videos here, and I’ll summarise and add some conclusions through the magic of text. Obviously both parts of this post spoil the intros to these games. Continued