One Hour One Life: Rohrer riffs on cyclical survival

One Hour One Life
In one of those strange “thinking about a person and then they phone you for a chat” moments, I was wondering what Jason Rohrer might be up to earlier this week. It’s because his MMO burglary/home defence game The Castle Doctrine pops into my head from time to time. So obviously I then get an email saying “Hello, here is the trailer for my new game” from Jason Rohrer. It’s called One Hour One Life [official site] and is billed as a multiplayer online survival game by Rohrer and Tom Bailey. Let’s take a peek.

[Warning: NSFW because cartoon nudity. That said, I work in a job where cartoon nudity is fine so I guess the warning should be not safe for work if your work doesn’t like this sort of thing. NSFWIYWDLTSOT.]

The trailer itself doesn’t really give much away so, as per the email, here is Jason’s summary:

Quick summary: a multiplayer online survival game where you are born as a helpless baby (the child of another random player) and potentially live out an entire life into old age over the course of one hour. Each minute marks the passing of a year of game time. When you die, you are reborn as another baby to different parents somewhere else in the game world. Players collaborate across generations to rebuild civilization from scratch in an infinite expanse of wilderness, starting with nothing but rocks and sticks – a 10,000-item crafting tree that goes from arrowheads to iPhones.

I really like Jason’s work because his games seem to be more about giving people interesting constraints. The Castle Doctrine got you to build a domestic fortress but you’d always have to be able to navigate it yourself without dying, Sleep Is Death is a… storytelling co-op/competitive two player scenario build-em-up?, Cordial Minuet has you betting real money on choosing numbers from a magic square.

Perversely, I’m also fond of his work because it can engage with some pretty unloveable and complicated themes. The Castle Doctrine is really interesting from a design point of view and in what limitations it places on players, but it’s also so hard to want to be in that brutal, aggressive world and to be okay with building vulnerabilities into your home. I remember that the involvement of real-money gambling in Cordial Minuet was also a big point of disagreement for some players – in the interview I did at the time Rohrer felt that a real stake was a vital part of the experience and offered a libertarian attitude towards personal responsibility.

I get a lot out of thinking about Rohrer’s work, even when it’s obvious that we fundamentally disagree about some things or if the game itself doesn’t draw me in. The idea of potentially using these up-to-an-hour-long cycles to make progress as a society and the way it would, I presume, engender a kind of community/progressive spirit based around “this could be you in your next like” is curiously selfish rather than empathetic.

I’ll be interested to see how it actually manifests when One Hour One Life opens its digital doors.


  1. Cropduster says:

    Possibly the finest cartoon nudity I have ever bore witness to.

    The concept sounds pretty great, definitely looks like something to started with on day one and watch some messy player generated weirdness unfold. Going from having your crafting all sorted to getting birthed by less prepared/industrious players and doing all you can as one naked baby to achieve industrial parity with your former self sounds pretty cool.

  2. Danley says:

    Man I wish Sleep is Death had better tools for importing assets. Building them using the in-game editor is such a pain.

    Otherwise, such a brilliant concept.

    *Googles before hitting Opinion button*

    Ah, looks like there is a tool now.

    • Danley says:

      And another one?

    • Jason Rohrer says:

      Yeah, I wish I had time to go back and fix all of my old games. SID should have been on a server from the get-go, with a database of user-created resources that would grow and grow, and hosting for the generated story flip-books. There were third-party websites that hosted the flip-books, and some of them had really amazing stuff, but they’re all gone now, and all that stuff is lost. There were also third-party resource databases. It’s also really hard for people to play from behind firewalls, which a server would have fixed.

      I’m not sure about resource import, though. It’s great that there are third-party tools for it, but given that everything needs to be possibly EDITED in realtime, I felt like it was important to use the same tool to make stuff, especially for visual consistency. Like, if you spend tons of time making shaded sprites in photoshop, and then find that you need to edit that sprite in the heat of the moment, it won’t look right.

  3. TheAngriestHobo says:

    But where does the first player come from?

    • DelrueOfDetroit says:

      That’s what I was wondering. How does this game work when there are no players to spawn from? Likewise, what happens when there are more people wanting to start new games than there are players.

      • Jason Rohrer says:

        The first player to join the server is cast as Eve, the first human female, and the root of the family tree. She is zapped into existence full grown and fertile without being born. The next player is her first baby. That baby cannot have babies itself until it grows up, so the next player will be Eve’s second baby.

        When a new player joins the server, a grown up female is picked at random to be its mother. However, there’s a child spacing rule that essentially says, “You can have at most twins.” So if you have had two babies within the past five minutes, and they’re both still alive, you are blocked from being saddled with more children.

        If there are NO mothers around who don’t satisfy the child spacing rule, then the new player becomes another Eve, effectively starting a new root for a separate family tree.

        Of course, with a consistent player pool, this issue will rarely come up. It will only be triggered by sudden, huge player surges, including server resets and such. But day-to-day, almost all players will join the game as a helpless baby, not as an Eve.

  4. DORKSMAN says:

    man this sounds really neat but the libertarian shit is making me super suspicious

    • Boosterh says:

      Then you especially should play it.

      This world needs more people engaging with opposing viewpoints, trying to see where the “other” is coming from, and realising how people can disagree without one party being either irredeemably evil or incurably stupid.

      • DORKSMAN says:

        sure, no doubt. it just doesn’t seem like the sort of game that would appeal to somebody coming from that viewpoint I mean.

  5. PaulV says:

    I had a somewhat similar idea for a tabletop game, where each turn everyone would get reborn and inherit the assets of another player at random. In the game almost all assets would eventually go to a single family while the other families would be doing most of the actual labor. I never really got any further on the design than that, so this looks very interesting to me.

    I wonder if this game will address class differences and the privileges that come with being born into a wealthy family in a wealthy society and the struggle of having neither.