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How Gunpoint dev Tom Francis settled on his next commercial game Exclusive

August 7, 2014 | By Mike Rose

Gunpoint developer Tom Francis has settled on what his next commercial outing will be, and now he's feeling confident enough to show it off to artists and composers for potential collaboration.

This development approach that he's taking with Heat Signature, a space game about boarding enemy ships and destroying them from the inside, is exactly how he tackled the creation of Gunpoint.

Instead of bringing on other people from the very beginning, Francis has been toiling away on the prototype for five months now, and has reached the stage where he's ready to properly announce the game as his next big project, and look for a bit of help.

"I think it pretty much changed my life," he says of the approach. "If I'd wanted to set up a studio, I couldn't have afforded it. If I hadn't shown a prototype publicly, I'd never have found such talented people who were willing to invest their time without a guarantee of payment."

"And if I'd tried to do it all myself," he adds, "it would still be a free prototype I put out in the hopes of a job at a big studio. The fact that I got these world class people making it so appealing is I'm sure what tipped it over into the kind of success it had."

Of course, this time around Francis is going to be able to pay everyone involved upfront, rather than asking them to take a risk on his dreams -- and he's hoping that those people who enjoyed Gunpoint and are now following his work on Heat Signature will appreciate following alongside the openness of its development.

"I think 95 percent of the people who end up playing the finished game won't give a flying fuck how it was made or what it used to look like."
"I think 95 percent of the people who end up playing the finished game won't give a flying fuck how it was made or what it used to look like," he notes, "but for nerds like me, it's fun to see how a game evolves."

He adds, "I think the only thing you have to be careful of is talking about plans and hopes. Those can sound better than they actually are in practice, and if you end up scrapping them, you might disappoint some people. So I mostly steer clear of that, but now that I'm looking for collaborators, I feel it's only fair to explain as much of my plans as I can."

But isn't he worried that showing off the game in such a primitive and very early state could potentially repel customers, and stop them from checking it out again even once everything is in place?

"I think it can definitely fail to interest people," he answers, "and the difference in attention Gunpoint got when we put proper art in it was phenomenal. But I don't think any of the people who saw it when it was ugly resolved to ignore it forever."

"I think when the new video got coverage, and people were sharing it around, they probably thought 'I wonder what the fuss is about?' and checked it out again. Which is pretty much the same conditions under which people check out things they've never heard of. The much, much bigger battle you're fighting is getting people to hear of it at all, because you will never run out of people who haven't."

Francis has prototyped a number of different games since Gunpoint and released a couple of free titles too, so making the decision that Heat Signature is going to be his next big thing was clearly a big move.

"Years ago I had an idea for a stupidly ambitious 3D game about jetpacking through space and smashing yourself through the hulls of spaceships to board them," he muses. "But it wasn't something I could ever make - I just wrote it up for fun."

"After Gunpoint, I started working on a side-on heist game about breaking into buildings, this time using grappling hooks and made in Unity. But Unity was harder to learn than I expected, and progress was much slower than I was used to with Game Maker, even when I was new to that."

"Unity was harder to learn than I expected, and progress was much slower than I was used to with Game Maker, even when I was new to that."
Then, in December 2013, Francis was reminded of that old jetpacking through space idea, and he began to wonder how it could be made to work in 2D. Within a day he had a working space stealth game in Game Maker Studio, and the foundations for what Heat Signature would become.

"For some reason it felt important to me that the heist game would be in a 3D engine, which is why I learnt Unity for that," Francis notes. "It may have been jumping in at the deep end a bit: messing with Unity's built in physics and selectively overriding it to get a grappling rope to behave the way you want is a bit tricky."

"So my main reason for even starting Heat Signature was 'I think I know how to make this in Game Maker!'" he laughs. "Making things quickly again was addictive, and surprisingly, people really responded to that first video, with no boarding mechanics at all," he notes. "I developed the two in tandem for a while, and showed them both at IndieCade East. People liked both, and I was torn myself, but developing Heat Signature was so much faster and more fun, so I focused on that. As I did, the idea expanded a bit, and right now it excites me more than the heist one."

Francis is currently on the hunt for an artist and a composer for Heat Signature.

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