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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

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…


It’s a present-day turn-based strategy game about coordinating a small team to breach into rooms full of gangsters and other hostiles, but your team are all wizards. In tactical gear.

It’s partly based on a thing we used to joke about at PC Gamer sometimes, the idea of a super serious Call of Duty type military game, but the team are just wizards for some reason. We were probably all picturing different takes on this, but in my head it was kevlar over robes, staves with scopes, wands with silencers, grenades full of basilisk tears.

January last year, I was playing XCOM 2 and thinking “This is so good, and yet has so many clarity problems – I wish there were more indie XCOMs.” I started making notes for my own take on that, and about 400 words into the document, the wizards joke popped into my head, I hit caps lock and wrote:


I sent a mail round to check everyone I used to laugh about this with was OK with it, and they were. So, I’m taking that gag and mixing it with all my XCOM inspirations and hangups.

Here’s John’s sketch of what a scene might look like:

I’m picturing you working your way through a building room-by-room like that, only having to worry about enemies in the current room.

Each of your units would be a named character with a unique class, and there’d be conversations with them between missions. Here are some of the character ideas we’ve been throwing around:

And because John is a beast, he’s already modeled one in 3D:

The sharpshooter would have different staves, which you’d probably see on the UI for weapon switching, so here are some concepts for those:

Our current rule is that the functional part of an item is always magical, but it’s housed, framed, and accessorised like a modern tactical weapon.

Mechanics-wise, the concept is that you tell one wizard where to move and shoot, they do it, then you rewind and give the next one orders – they’ll execute at the same time.

Another principle I’m trying is that you can play out a turn as many times as you like before you commit – you can keep rewinding and changing your orders until you’re happy with the result. Like Frozen Synapse, but without even the uncertainty about the enemy’s actions – all of the surprise will happen on their turn.

My prototype is too early to say if either of those systems will stick, I’ll happily scrap or change them if not. I might end up making a totally different tactics game with this same theme, or as I say, the whole thing might completely fail to coalesce and I scotch the lot.

If you want to know when we have a build ready for testing, get on the Suspicious Developments mailing list if you’re not already. It’ll be a while yet, though.


Hark! Thine powers of wizardry have once more pronounced themselves, Tom


Tom, please makes this. You have my amorous, anonymous, unanimous support.

Eldridge Misnomer:

“Covering Fire: covers everyone in actual fire.” Brilliant.
Sounds like a really nifty idea, and the art is great.


This looks amazing. I too wish there were more tactics games and I love the concept here. I almost burst out laughing (in flames?) reading the Tier One Pyro sheet.


I don’t think it’d be a proper Tom Francis game without excessive defenestration, so it clearly ticks that box.

For what it’s worth, I was giggling uncontrollably over the concept art descriptions.


This sounds amazing but I don’t know if we have the words to describe the aesthetic. Modernpunk? Tacticalpunk? Gunpunk?

Light My Fire:

The only problem I see is that you’ve set the bar too high with Pyro skill descriptors. Seems to really capture the feel of the game, but the others aren’t there yet.

(Also, it reminds me of the time that my wife and I thought we’d be clever by making our melee characters in Divinity:OS zombies, which heal from poison and take damage from healing. We giggled with glee at how clever we were, with visions of us mopping up bad guys in the middle of poison clouds, healing as they fell around us. Unfortunately we neglected to take into account how highly flammable poison clouds are…)

Melee Hero:

If there’s a Muscle Wizard that can only cast FIST I”m 100%

Kirk Merrington:

I love this concept because it gets my imagination bubbling.
But it leaves me with so many questions.
For example, will it strictly inspired by fantasy RPG magic or will Real World influences come in? Because one of the first things that popped into my head was “Catholic Battlewitch with Rosary Bead Garotte”


If I may use a quote from the internet.

“Good, but I can’t help but laugh whenever I look at those mages. They’re both completely serious and utterly ridiculous at the same time. I love it. Good work as always.?”

– TacoTown, Syrsa – Edmyron – Mage Party, Youtube


Oooh. I’ve been looking for a Harry Dresden like video game for a while.


Neat concept in a genre I never tire of. Would love to see more.



This sounds brilliant and I really like the idea of a room by room thing. The part of X-com I dislike the most of the inching around slowly so you don’t run into multiple pods and get your Star character killed because you discovered a pod at the worst time possible.

Being able to deal with room by room, and feel more like more tighter tactical battles is very appealing to me.

And the theme is absolutely brilliant.


This is great. My friends and I used to joke about this when playing some older D&D based games about this. Having someone open a door while your breaching wizard readied some kind of crowd control, a blinding light, or covering the floor in grease or such, was the only way to get through them on harder difficulties. You’ve also got two genres with an abundance of cliches and tropes to draw on for scenarios. We’ve got to keep the streets clean of unlicensed necromancy.


An XCOM inspired game with a beautiful artstyle like that, with some great humor in it as well? Yes please.


I love everything about this. Where do I throw my money?


Will you be opening submissions for music and art like you did with your previous games?


I will happily pay full price for an isometrical top-down tactical Co-Op shooter set in an Urban Fantasy world where the police have a Special Wizardry And Tactics team.

I mean, if the Tactical Strategy idea doesn’t pan out. Either way, please for the love of god make this happen.


I agree there should be more indie XCOM-likes, but honestly, I’d buy a lunchbox if it had TACTICAL BREACH WIZARDS plastered on the lid.

Philip Haubrich:

Merchandise it. I too would buy a Tactical Breach Wizards lunchbox.


Put Briefly: Yes please!


I really like this idea of a modern-combat-magic themed puzzle game. If you end up making this, I’d buy this.


You also need a shaman with totem door ram.


The theme is cool, but the rewindable-turn tactics is what really excites me about this. Misclicks, misreading info, and misunderstanding mechanics are the worst parts of strategy games. Losing randomness on the player’s turn is a small price to pay to get rid of all that.


As a fan of your games, Frozen Synapse, and this theme… what an AWESOME blend! I would absolutely love to see this continue into full development. Hoping to see more of TBW in the future, Tom!

Extra Hero:

Oh my god yes! Yes. All the yes.


This looks absolutely amazing. I’m already in love with the theme. I really hope this idea pans out because you’ve got a guaranteed day-one purchase from me.


SWAT: Staves, Wands, and Tofas. (Or Tactics)

Swanky Swanky Bro:

Lots of new ground here for weapon types,magic seals, jujitsu.
You’ve definitely secured my purchase!

Tome Francis:

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!!!


I love the art design, the whole theme! and honestly, I was kind of disappointed by xcom2… it didn’t resonate with me and I never finished it, despite loving the previous xcom. But yeah, why aren’t there more cool indie xcoms?! this would sit brilliantly along side banner saga, xenonauts and the like. please, please, please make this happen!!!


Perhaps the rollings back could be a thing done by spending some wizardry resource (Time Mana tm)

Perhaps the player is diagetic, overseeing the whole game play through a crystal ball


Oh, and with the incredible success of Bright this theme should have broader appeal than it would have otherwise

A Concerned Dwarf:

I for one dinnae about this. The foundations of our society were built by COAL MINERS, not feckin astral wind turbines and adamantium reactors.

I say we sod this hogwash and MAKE MORIA GREAT AGAIN.


I want this, but also the game I keep misreading it as: Tactical Beach Wizards.


Just take my money now. The character descriptions alone sold me. I really hope you run with the idea!

John A. Tate:

Taking inspiration from frozen synapse is about the best choice you could make. That game wasn’t particularly broad as such, but the simultaneous turns works really well.

If I might suggest, given the grid based nature, you might want to look into Atlas Reactor as well! I’m not a personal fan of it, but the core gameplay loop is very well done.


Supernatural Weapons And Thaumaturgy and xcom style tactics where the whole turn is clear has my interest. Very cool pitch.

Anthony Aiello:

I really like the idea of this. Do make it, please.

probably a robot:

It’s rare that I find someone who so regularly makes anything with an aesthetic and functionality that I find both immediately appealing and also inspirational, but when it happens it’s usually your fault. Best of luck on the road taking this from “amazing concept” to “amazing game”. And for what little it’s worth: if you make a Mac version I’ll buy you a drink (and also a copy of the game).

Nerf Herder:

Great concept overall, my favourite thing so far though is the way you shot that man backwards through the doorway at top left.
I imagine him just holding that pose as he skips along the ground several times and settles in a small cloud of concrete dust or something.

Design question: A small room is obviously a perfect fit for this game idea but do you think this kind of xcom movement could ever be used in an larger, more open world?
I don’t think I have seen a game do that before and I am curious if there is a solid reason why or if its just not the done thing.
Or could you maybe talk about your thoughts on this type of movement (pros & cons) in a blog post perhaps?

Keep up the great work, I think this should be a game that exists.

P.s. Please make your next game about hitmen and heists and call it Pro’s & Con’s.


Looks really good, it’s always great to see a new angle on John’s artwork.

The gameplay look’s a lot like DoorKickers too!


Sounds pretty cool, especially if it embraces the simulationist streak that we’ve seen in your games before.
Re the posts about the changes you made to Heat Signature “The Fleshstripper is a new unique weapon that fires the same acid used as currency in the Drift –” I can’t help but think that would be an awesome way of implementing a Xenomorph style acid blooded alien outbreaks for abandoned ship… It would have to eat through walls though :).


Well after GunPoint I am definitely following what you are doing.

And yay ! I also think that there is a lot of space in the XCOM-subgenre.

I liked Massive Chalice a lot (at least enough to finish it) because while it was a flawed game, it had some interesting ideas in this subgenre where there are very few games.

I love the artstyle ! Already more interesting than the 2 new XCOM games !

I am curious to see how the simultaneous turn idea turns out.


If you are low on funds; Kickstarter? I’m sure all of earth wants to see this. The comedy would be a nice return, i think there is a distict lack of it in my playthrough of Heat Sig. Like most people, i like the art, and please, please bring this to life, but don’t rush it either, no-one wants a flop of a game.


Owning two of your prior games, please do this. I need tactical wizard action in my life.


I swear if this ends up never becoming a game I will be heavily upset.

Shaun Cheah:

“- Agnostic”


I’ll be happy so long as male wizards have their level reflected in the length of their beards.

Magma Hunter:

on one end, this looks great so far…
on the other, I feel bad for the windows in Tom’s games


Yes. All of my yes! I want to play this already based on the theme alone. My one hope is that this game would be able to run on a standard laptop so that I don’t have to worry about it being able to be run on ….. my standard non-gaming laptop.

Suggestion wise, what about a Summoner that uses grenades to perform the summoning function? Like a grenadier that has one time use, throwaway summons that do an effect and then disappear? Or upgrade to be more persistent?
The Grenade-o-Mancer or the Blast Summoner?


What is it with you and throwing people out windows???

…I love it.