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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

Making A Better Card Feel Worse With UX

Nowhere Prophet has a power where each turn you can choose 1 card from your hand to discard, and draw another to replace it.

Slay the Spire has a power where you draw 1 extra card per turn, then must discard 1 of your choice right after.

Slay’s power is straight up better: you get to see what the new card is before deciding what to discard, which both lets you factor it into synergy considerations, and allows you to discard the new card itself, if it’s worse than what you have.

But experientially, Nowhere Prophet’s feels more positive. You’re presented with a hand you can keep, or if you like you can get a do-over on the card you like least. Doing nothing is fine, but if you see a bad card you can chuck it for good odds of a better one. Yay!

Slay’s power deals you a hand of 6 cards instead of 5, then forces you to choose one to lose. You’ll still end up with 5, so this shouldn’t be a hardship, but it feels like one. You’re being shown a nice big hand you can’t have, and being forced to make a tough decision to cut it down to a worse hand you can keep.

Inaction is not an option, which adds pressure and friction to play, and your only action is a negative one – to lose something it looks like you have.

Slay’s power comes from a card called Tools of the Trade, and I never take it anymore. Every time I did, I’d have moments where I’m dealt those 6 cards, the game says “Choose one to discard”, and my instinctive reaction was a nonsensical whine of: “But I don’t want to!”

I feel like I’m having a worse time with it, even though it’s purely a benefit once it’s in play. The feel of an ability is not just cosmetic, in this case it’s actually driving my gameplay decisions.

The Fix

I think you could make Slay’s power dramatically better purely with UX changes:

– You’re dealt your normal 5 cards
– The extra card is shown in the center of the screen
– “Choose a card to replace with this, or pass”

+ The benefit you’re getting is now visible and specific
+ There’s now an easy ‘default’ you can resort to if you don’t care – less pressure and friction
+ Player action is now positive – ‘replace’ rather than ‘lose’

Highlighting the ‘extra’ card also means that when it’s an especially good one, you’ll think “Oh shit, this power saved me.” With the existing UX that can never happen, since there’s no concept of which card is the ‘extra’ one. Mechanics and balance-wise, of course, it’s irrelevant which one is the ‘extra’ – your options are exactly the same. But just that cosmetic change can completely change your emotional response to the situation, and how you feel about your decision to invest in this power.