Tom Francis talks about action vs. stealth in his upcoming title Heat Signature, its influences, and we pick his brain on upcoming projects.
Herobyclicking: Heat Signature is a stealth game that places you aboard a ship that can board other ships searching for one ship in endless, infinite space. What is it about stealth that motivated your design?
Tom: It's a game about ridiculous odds: your objective will often be inside a huge spaceship crawling with guards, deep within enemy territory,
guarded by an armada, on the other side of the galaxy. The idea that a
single person is going to overcome all that is absurd, but it's also what excites me about the fantasy of Heat Signature.
I could make it an action game where you're tough enough or well-armed enough to shoot everything in your way, but then it isn't about ridiculous odds. It's not surprising that you can do it. I made you powerful! Of course you can do it.
By making it about stealth, I can let you achieve this ridiculous thing without diminishing the odds. The enemy really is that much more powerful than you, and you really are just one person. You were just clever enough to avoid, distract or escape them long enough to complete your goal.
Herobyclicking: What parts of your design convey theme or mood?
Tom: To be honest, a lot of the specific mood of this universe will come from the art, which we don't have yet. But I do want the design to evoke a feeling of isolation, vulnerability, being alone in a vast and hostile place aboard these fragile machines. So it's important than when you're aboard a ship, you still see the vastness of space outside you. And every time a ship gets hit, a whole chunk of it is destroyed.
Herobyclicking: Can we look forward to seeing this (or Gunpoint) on any other platform besides PC?
Tom: No plans beyond PC at the moment. I start with PC because I really like the mouse and keyboard as controllers, and I don't have to pass anyone's certification process. PC gamers are also incredibly good at spreading the word about things they like, and they trust each other more than ads. That makes it easy for certain kinds of games, including the ones I like to make, to succeed for what they are rather than how much they spent on marketing.
I wouldn't rule out other platforms, but that's why I like the PC.
Herobyclicking: Can we expect DLC? Sequel or follow-up? When?
Tom: I think if I had ideas for that kind of thing, I'd just put them in the game now. If I do my job right, the ideas I cut to get the game finished will be worse than the ones I put in, so working on those afterwards isn't super exciting to me. I'd only do a sequel if, after the game was released, getting some time and distance from it gave me new ideas for a way to make a better game of this kind.
New ship plan example
Herobyclicking: What other game ideas do you have floating the back of your head can we expect after Heat Signature is released?
Tom: Now you're asking! Before Heat Signature I was working on a game about pulling off heists with a small team of thieves who use grappling hooks- I still plan to continue with that when I'm done. I put up some videos here: https://www.youtube.com/pla...
Then there's another idea I have about generating interesting stories in a city full of simulated people, but I'm not going to talk much about that one until I've had the chance to try it.
Lastly, there's an RTS about armies of robots that I have an exciting design for, but at some point I started to wonder if addictive robot-destruction was a good enough goal to work towards, given how long games take. So I've been focusing on stuff with more human interest for the time being.
Herobyclicking: What non-video game games, movies or books if any, have influenced your design/development processes?
Tom: I didn't think about it consciously, but the assassin Jubal Early in Firefly operates almost exactly the way you do in Heat Signature: secretly dock with a ship and sneak aboard without being detected. I like pretty much any time someone's aboard a ship they're not meant to be on, in all sci-fi.
Realistically, though, most of my influences are probably videogames, because I'm mainly excited about doing things other forms of entertainment can't do. Systems that generate endless content, interactions that feel satisfying to do, and sets of rules that let players discover things even the developer didn't know.
Day 30 | Tom Francis