Trade Secrets: Tom Francis

Gunpoint’s Tom Francis sneaks in to the Trade Secrets stealth interview series to give us his idea of a Psychic Hitman.

[one_third]Gunpoint’s Tom Francis sneaks in to the Trade Secrets stealth interview series to give us his idea of a Psychic Hitman.[/one_third]

Developer: Tom Francis
Game: Gunpoint
Due: 2012


We’re sure you’ve heard of Gunpoint. Featured as one of our Stealth Games of 2012, it looks like a brilliant combination of stealth gameplay, puzzle solving and nail-biting moments of aggression all backed by a novel kind of electronic sabotage that lets you re-wire the environment to do your job for you. Or not. We talk to the game’s developer, Tom Francis, about multiple paths, multiple solutions, and the joy of cross-pollination.

Sneaky Bastards: What is it that attracts you to stealth gameplay?

Francis: It’s just a fantasy that feels more convincing, for me. I was actually slightly surprised when you guys asked to interview me, because I sometimes forget I’m making a stealth game. I’m just making a game where it’s a really bad idea to get shot – it takes a second to remember that’s a genre.

If you were ever in a building full of armed hostiles, of course you’d try to avoid a direct gunfight. Of course you’d stay out of sight if you could. And if you had a gadget that could rewire all the security systems to set up elaborate traps, of course you’d do that too.

So that’s the game I’m making. If you could take six gunshots and just mow everyone down, it’d become this weird power fantasy about being some sort of invincible monster. I find it harder to buy into that. I don’t need games to be realistic, but I like the physical relationships to make sense. If you get shot in Gunpoint, you die. That makes sense to me, and it makes the fantasy convincing.

Why do you think stealth games fell out of popularity?

Shit, when? I thought they were doing OK! Should I be making something else?

I guess there isn’t much in the mainstream that you’d call a pure stealth game. I think what really happened there was that stealth games grew, and kept growing, and the stealth-loving audience got bigger and more diverse and better served, and today that chunk of gamers is vast beyond the wildest dreams of Looking Glass in 1998. But some other genres got bigger, and some of them cross-pollinated, so the relative slice of our attention that pure stealth games occupy is smaller.

I think the cross-pollination is a good thing. I want non-stealth genres to learn some things from stealth.

Modern Warfare is probably the flagship game for the relentless action genre we think of as opposed to stealth. But what’s the best mission in it, by overwhelming popular vote? All Ghillied Up – an exemplary bit of stealth gaming. It understood the thrill of being close to your enemy without engaging.

Cross-pollination is a good thing. I want non-stealth genres to learn some things from stealth.

What are your thoughts on stealth gameplay being included as one possible path or playstyle, as opposed to the main focus of a game?

I’m definitely a multiple-paths player, so I’m trying to be a multiple-paths designer. In general, though, I don’t mind a game forcing me into stealth, I just don’t like it when the designer does.

In the original Splinter Cell, when you set off too many alarms the game just ended. That’s not the game world talking, that’s the designer. And he’s flipping the table and shouting “No! You’re playing it wrong!”

Give me Deus Ex: Human Revolution on the hardest difficulty. Stealth becomes the focus by necessity of the simulation, but it’s never artificially forced. Alarms summon guards, and you have a hundred different ways of dealing with that and adapting.

What would a way forward for stealth gameplay be?

I like social stealth, and I think there are loads of really interesting systems to try there. In Assassin’s Creed it basically means hanging out with hookers. In Hitman it means playing dress up. I’d like to play something that gets more into the psychology of the people hunting you.

The game I want is Psychic Hitman: an assassin sim where it’s not usually very difficult to get to the target and take him out, and all the challenge is in how you get away with it. You can read people’s minds to see not only their suspicion of you, but their suspicion of other people, too. The NPC who blundered into a restricted area – do the guards believe he was really drunk, or just faking it because he got caught?

You’d analyse these suspicions and figure out ways to play on them, planting the murder weapon on the person the guards already suspect, or locking someone in the room with the target’s body. If someone caught you, you’d have to ask yourself whether it’d be easier to kill them or frame them for the crime they saw you commit. Each encounter would give you a few different lies, and their success depends on how well they fit the evidence the guards actually find.

Eventually, as you sifted through people’s minds to see who they suspect of what, you’d find memories and knowledge that suggests someone else here really is an agent. Then you’ve got to find them and try to expose them before you find they’ve framed you for whatever they’re here to do.

Thanks, Tom, and best of luck with Gunpoint! Check out the Trade Secrets hub for all previous interviews, and return tomorrow for the final interview in the series with Ubisoft Toronto’s Patrick Redding.

2 thoughts on “Trade Secrets: Tom Francis

  1. Great stuff, this game looks great, I\’ve been looking forward to it.

    Just found this website! Awesome.

    Great to find a home to all of us who love Thief and Commandos, etc!

    I think it\’s interesting how many of these games are Eidos games… Thief, Commandos, Hitman… they do support some rather good game series…

    All the best, Tom Francis and co!

    – Murray

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