Lies Under Ice - Coming Soon!

After a very long incubation period, my game Lies Under Ice will be coming out soon. The beta is currently open!

I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the game as I come into the home stretch, as well as answer any questions people might have. Note: I don’t think there are any plot spoilers below.


  • After writing Trials of the Thief-Taker I was offered the opportunity to write another game for CoG, which was nice of them as the last one wasn’t a major hit. I then promptly got a job running a bookshop, then started a PhD, and then had a child (he’s two now!) which all got in the way somewhat. I sent in the initial concept for Lies Under Ice six years ago! For over a year now, it’s felt at least 80% done, but the last 20% is 80% of the work. Very pleased it’s now coming to fruition.
  • I wanted to do a sci-fi political thriller. As far as influences go, I had been reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars and that inspired some of the initial concepts, and I’ve long been interested in dreams and I always enjoyed the more mind/reality-warping Phillip K Dick novels or books like Frank Herbert’s Santaroga Barrier, and so all of that made a mark. Game-wise, one of my favourite CoG works is Aaron A. Reed’s Hollywood Visionary where you have this big project to manage which can go lots of different ways, while you also have competing social and work relations to balance. It’s not quite “what if Hollywood Visionary was about building a moonbase?” but it was certainly an inspiration for the broad structure of the plot.

Structure, Mechanics, & Lessons Applied

  • I tried to learn some lessons from Thief-Taker. I suspect after Lies, I’ll have a new set of lessons. In Thief-Taker there are a lot of additional scenes that only trigger when certain conditions have met. This make the game very replayable, but people found it too short and a part of that was that it was too easy to end chapters early if some conditions weren’t met. In Lies, I used a lot more parallel structures, as well as more set-piece scenes with a lot of internal variation.
  • Instead of scene that may or may not happen but plays the same each time it does happen, you’re more likely to get one of two or three parallel scenes, or a bespoke mix of about 6 out of 13 scenes based on what you built, or a scene that always occurs but which can be radically different on each playthrough. The upshot is, the average play-length is twice as long but the level of autonomy is still very high.
  • Even considering the greater length, it shouldn’t feel railroaded. Thief-Taker was written so you could roleplay as an upstanding paragon of justice or a conniving crook or any shade in between. I wanted Lies to have a similar level of freedom of personality, but have a lot more hard forking decisions that greatly change the state of the world.
  • The way Lies mainly accomplishes this is through base building (what you build and when has a big impact on what scenes occur), different political backgrounds (there are three geopolitical factions that you can pick from with characters and plots unique to each), as well dozens of the expected plot-driven choices with various outcomes (death, exile, promotion, destruction, creation etc.)
  • In Thief-Taker there’s a lot of invisible variation: skill checks often have gradations of success with 3-5 different outcomes. But that’s not visible to most players, especially if they only play once, so it was often writing time wasted. I still wanted to have ways to mitigate failures and reward cumulative choices, so in Lies your skills always improve a little if you fail with them, and often additional factors can impact a check. (There are over 80 times in Lies where some additional factor can modify a stat check, and these modifying factors are always communicated to the player.)


  • Friendships, romance, and reputation are all big parts of most CoG games. In Thief-Taker I took an unusual and unpopular approach to the romance which I wrote about in this blog post about NPC agency here. In that game, by the time you were offered each romance, the preconditions you needed to have were already checked: you either were the person the RO was looking for or you weren’t. I thought that was less slimy than the “change who I am to entice them” or “give them stuff until they like me” models that are common in games. However, no one liked it. Many people didn’t even realise there were romance options in the game, they were so hard to get. So for Lies I knew I had to take a different approach.
  • Coming at it from another angle, I made getting into a relationship in Lies very straightforward, but (respecting NPC agency), I allowed the NPCs (as well as the player) to end things if they really weren’t working out. And if you split up, there’ll be a chance to date someone else in the future. Romance isn’t a huge part of the game, but the optional choices of partner are weaved through: there was a comment I got from Thief-Taker, that if you marry Lady Darlington you don’t see a lot of her afterwards, so I took that to heart. Everyone you could date is an integral part of the game the whole way through.
  • Beyond relationships, most of the main characters are linked to different factions in the game. Your political opponent in the mid-game can be one of six characters, all depending on which factions you’ve favoured.

Well I wrote more than I intended here and I had more to say! First I am going to go attend to the latest test reports… but maybe later I will talk about some of the actual content that I’m excited about: the big science fiction ideas, and the cast of characters!


Congrats… Looking forward to it.

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Ahhhh, I’m so excited for it! I remember chatting about it with you years ago at AdventureX, and it’s so cool that it’s going to be out in the world in not too long! I’m really looking forward to diving in and learning more about the characters and how they weave in with the plot and politics. It sounds like the player’s actions will have major impacts on their environments and politicking going on around them.

I definitely want a catsplosion of kitties on my base!


I’m one of the people that didn’t particularly care for Thief-Taker…but now it sounds like I simply missed a lot of what was in the game. I’m one of those people who NEED stat indicators for a lot of the social cues that I tend to miss; I wonder how a replay will look knowing that I just didn’t clue in to so much. I’m glad that Thief-Taker not doing particularly well didn’t put you off writing games, though. This is one of the launches I’ve really been looking forward to.


I’m one of your beta testers, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on Lies Under Ice. From what you’ve written here, I can tell you it succeeds brilliantly in what it was set out to do - in some ways it feels like a very different game every time I play. There are just so many possible goals to pursue, and so many small parts coming together to make it all possible.

Thank you for sharing so much about your experience writing the game. I hope it will have the success it abundantly deserves.


Sounds like it’s going to be more than just resource management when base-building, now with more political intrigue! This looks nice, with a lot of things to do. Time to not be a pacifist! Hoping to find out more about the different factions, their goals and if someone is playing the factions off against each other for… well, you know it.

Update: It seems you also cross-posted on the intfiction forum as well, even better!

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Thanks everyone for your kind words.

@AnneWest, I think Thief-Taker could have really benefited from an option to show crpg-style stat reports. Stuff like “[3/5 pugilism: mixed success!]” when you make a check, or “#[Fleet-Footedness] I boldly dive out of the shadows.” when you’re looking at the choices. There was a lot happening under the hood in that game, it might have been better to make the mechanics clearer. I’ve seen this work quite well for the Vampire: the Masquerade games.

@AletheiaKnights You’re a great tester, your feedback has been very useful. There’s a bunch of examples I can think of but to pick one: after your reflections on how Rheita gave a big info dump in the final chapter and there wasn’t enough foreshadowing for the final sequence, I went and moved a lot of what she imparted to earlier in the story, expanding out the incident with Novalie into a much fuller scene.


I have been waiting for this game for months. Really pleased that it finally has a release date. The Hollywood Visionary reference makes me really curious about the story structure.


Looking forward to it: so much so I got into the beta queue…

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I’ve been waiting for this game ever since I heard about it! So glad we’re getting close to release!

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I’ve been feverishly plugging away at the game for the last week.


  • Chapter headings put in
  • Combined elevator construction / philosophical discussion on nature of love event written
  • You can now actively mitigate for missile annihilation at the same time as dealing with invasion
  • More cost/benefit info offered during the largest base expansion
  • Kiwi consumption no longer manadatory
  • Secondary character arcs begun (romance, children etc), with a welcome party for new arrivals in the midgame.
  • More of a biowarfare path written
  • Fixed issue where you were held to campaign promises you definitely didn’t make
  • Over a hundred typos and smaller bugs quashed

I wanted to share some of the big ideas that Lies Under Ice explores.

The game is set on the icy moon of Jupiter: there’s a salt-water ocean under the ice crust, and a rocky core. Jupiter bombards the surface with radiation. Intense tidal forces send cracks across the ice and there may be volcanic activity. All in all, it’s the nearest place beyond Earth that is likely to have life. These specific features of Europa drive a lot of the events of the story.

Geopolitical fracturing
There are three choices of Earth faction that you can report back to in Lies, each wanting something different from the moon. I imagine a United Earth faction, remnants of the old UN, pushing for a status quo of capitalist democracies. A more disparate Group of 81 faction formed of nations that wanted to go their own way: an uneasy alliance of autocracies and republics whose main thing in common is an opposition to the United Earth. Caught as a third-wheel in this new cold war, are the Libertalians— an anarchic mix of free city-states, seasteads, asteroid collectives and pirates. Of course, once your 360 million miles away from Earth, it’s easier to start going your own way if you want to…

Transhumans and accelerationists look to a time when scarcity might be conquered. This story explores a half-way place, where a 3D printing revolution has brought cheap localised production, undermining the commercial world economy, ocean seasteads, arcologies and space habitats have transformed human relationship with land availability. But still, resources are not infinite and big powers hold onto as much of the status quo of the old world.

It’s one thing to edit genes of people before they are born, we broadly already have that power, but it’s another to be able to gene-edit living organisms, and it’s a further step for that technology to be readily available. In the story, an active scene of self-experimenters are pushing the boundary of what it means to be human.

Artificial Intelligence
Rather than an AI singularity occurring, I wanted to explore what it might look like for there to be useful but situationally bounded artificial personalities. We already see people put immense trust in computer programs that the ascribe an identity towards. I’m interested in what happens with AI therapists, pets, or asynchronous personality simulations of real people.

Next time, I think I’ll share some of the characters that are coming with you to the moon.


We’re officially releasing?! I’ve been dying for this one since I first seen it listed! Was hoping this year would be the year :grin:


Absolutely. Coming very soon. I’ve drowning in test reports and I’ve got a load of suggestions I’m implementing— work on the game hasn’t been this intense and constant since I began.


Careful about throwing stuff in just because it was suggested especially in the last stretch. I’ve heard that adds stress, can hurt quality, stability and original concept for game developers & authors. Granted I’m neither (yet) currently just and avid gamer, reader and forum lurker!

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  • Deportation is now properly implemented as a grounds for breaking up
  • Someone has a second chance to leave the base, with some appropriate fallout
  • More typos and rogue British spellings Americanised, or, uh, Americanized
  • Robotic bee stinger controversy settled
  • Stat screen images put in place!
  • Annoying bug fixed where the game thought you had pledged allegiance to a side when you had tried to stay neutral

There are quite a few primary and secondary characters in Lies Under Ice. I’ll introduce you to the first four who are also romance options.

Rheita Petavius, a long-limbed atmospheric scientist with a very curious upbringing in a secretive lab on Luna. Sensitive and conscientious, her official job is to create climate change to make Europa more habitable. But Rheita’s priorities are soon to become more conflicted when discoveries are made under the ice…

Kosmo, a half-chrome cyborg multi-billionaire. Eccentric and cunning, he helped fund the trip. Kosmo made his fortune trading in reputation markets, but will his reputation hold on Europa?

Frank or Flo Palmer, two joyful, freckled, fickle twins. Both are brilliant botanists but with different specialties useful for life enclosed in ice, or out on surface domes. Their intense sibling rivalry has ended up with one of them travelling 360 million miles to Europa to get away from the other… but which?

Next time, we’ll see some more of the main characters. Just for fun, I will sign off by sharing my Europa playlist that I’ve been getting in the mood with.


So … do they or don’t they?

They… do not. Once I thought about it (and read some more about bees), I couldn’t really justify it. The stinger apparently doesn’t have any other role other than for defence— for example, bee drones don’t have stingers but can still fly. I did take the opportunity to put in some more details about how they work, and establish how they make honey.

Part of writing the interactive novel has led me to research loads of fun topics. So now I have a much better idea of how bees make honey by evaporating nectar into a supercooled sugar solution (honey).


Yeah there’s a lot in there I didn’t realize it wasn’t well received. Thief taker is still one of my personal go back to’s from time to time. I’m looking forward to lies under ice though


How is construction managed is it set up similar to any novels where you have downtime in between chapters and have to pick and choose what to focus on?

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Bees are mad shit, man. Asian bees have learned to steamboil hornets alive.