Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and Heat Signature, about sneaking into spaceships and making mistakes. 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.
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
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 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:
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?
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
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
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
I reshuffled this post a bit so I can link this part more easily:
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 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
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
I released Morphblade last week, which is a game I made in direct response to Michael Brough’s Imbroglio. They’re both games where you move around a grid of different tile types, and the one you’re standing on determines what you can do there.
I’ve also been playing a lot of XCOM 2 lately, and dreaming up my own indie equivalent to solve its clarity problems. So I started to worry: am I less original now? Have I gravitated towards building on other people’s ideas? Gunpoint was derivative, but at least it was derivative of many things rather than any one game.
But it’s OK, because like so many unoriginal people I found a way to rephrase this to make myself sound good. This is not unoriginal game design, it’s playable games criticism! I used to write about where games went right or wrong, now I actually try fixing their problems and find out if I’m right!
That’s bluster, of course, but it’s reasonably true of Morphblade. It started as a private experiment: I hate getting screwed by the corridor generation in Imbroglio! Couldn’t I just remake Imbroglio and fix that? Can I fix that? Am I right that it would help?
Along the way, I realised I had opinions about almost every other part of Imbroglio, and tried doing each of them my way to see if it worked. Not: “The game has these flaws, I will fix them!” – Imbroglio is hugely successful at being the game it wants to be. More: “I wouldn’t have done it this way, how would my way have worked out?”
So here, specifically, were the main changes I was interested in trying: Continued
This is the game I started last year, when I needed a break from Heat Signature, and I’ve continued to tinker with it on the odd weekend or evening. It’s crystallised into something I really enjoy playing, so I asked testers what they thought it was worth. The average answer was $5, so $5 it is! It’s out now on Steam, for Windows.
Morphblade was heavily inspired by Imbroglio, so I asked Michael Brough’s permission before developing and selling it, and he was kind enough to give his blessing. The core idea that your location determines your weapon is straight from Imbroglio, but along the way I changed pretty much everything else.
So you move around a hexagonal grid slicing, smashing and bursting waves of nasty red bugs. Each hex you move to turns you into a different weapon: on a Blades hex you can kill things to your sides, on an Arrow you can fire yourself through two enemies in a row. And between waves, you choose how to build out the grid to your own design.
If you’re subscribed to the Humble Monthly Bundle (on 3/3/2017), you already have it. If not, grab it from Steam for $5.
Here’s a video that explains it better!