Oh the humanity: Jason Rohrer releases One Hour One Life

Jason Rohrer, he behind RPS favourites The Castle Doctrine, Cordial Minuet, and Sleep Is Death, has his new game out today – One Hour One Life. And this time he’s taking on, well, all of humanity?

The premise behind One Hour One Life, announced in 2016, is that you play, and you’ll never guess, a character for one hour that represents their whole life. And so will everyone else. A shared persistent server, in which every person playing sees a character through their sixty year lifetime, one minute per year.

Born into the world as a baby, for the first few minutes you’ll be entirely dependent upon other players playing as your parents, but then quickly grow up, have children of your own, and maybe even grandkids, and along the way try to develop, build and advance society in your own small way. After your character’s hour is up, you’ll hopefully have left a legacy, whether its further generations, or your small contribution to the furthering of society. It’s all better explained in this video:

The idea appears to be to create a place in which players are driven toward altruism, knowing that what they’re working on, the result of their playing, will likely never benefit their character, but rather later generations. And Rohrer has grand ambitions for those generations, the game intended to evolve over many weeks. The game’s tech tree, says Rohrer, will take “hundreds of generations to explore.” In the meantime, each character you play is going to have to eat, explore, and not get killed, whether that’s by rampaging wild animals or laser-wielding robots.

Which all sounds a very interesting concept, although one that is going to be very dependent on not only a large uptake, but also people sticking around with the game for weeks to come. Which is something Rohrer’s making a lot more difficult for himself by distributing the game exclusively via his own site, and not via Itch, GOG, Steam, Humble… It also sounds enormously heteronormative, and along with that, extremely focused on the notion of breeding for validity. It’ll be nice to see if the game when released allows players to opt out of that cycle and focus elsewhere. I guess we shall see.

It’s $20 to find out, as I say, only via the game’s site, which seems a bold choice. We’ll likely get back to you with more thoughts when we’ve played it.


  1. MarkCM says:


  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    It’s… $20, on a rando site no one has heard of. Yeah, it’s already dead.

    Though I don’t see the problem with ‘breeding for validity’ here, given the time period. It seems to be like… stone age tribes. There aren’t that many humans, if too many couples didn’t produce kids, the tribe would die out. But also from gameplay perspective, if new players have to pop in as babies, then someone’s gotta be creating babies. Though I do get the concern from a modern perspective.

    But yeah, the game is pretty much hobbled from the gate if it’s only being released on its own site. Terrible, terrible idea. Pricing seems a bit nuts too.

    • Retne says:

      Yeah. It doesn’t seem terrible that it is breeding as part of the game because that’s… part of the game.
      Likewise I occasionally shoot things in PUBG.
      Is there anything to stop players from choosing to live a non-heteronormative life?
      Is it the game that’s heteronormative or a player’s decision to play that way (allowing for biological processes)?

      • April March says:

        If a game rewards players for playing in a heteronormative way, then it’s immaterial if players are allowed to not play it that way – the game is clearly pushing for something else. Overwatch doesn’t actively force you to shoot the enemy team and try to complete objectives, but that doesn’t mean it’s viable as a walking simulators.

        Though if it’s open-ended enough people might be able to create new kind of societal structures, like a shared group of people that take care of all children, sired by a few straight couples. If done right this might be a game about that.

        On the distribution, this model could probably work around the time of Sleep is Death. I don’t think he knows or cares much about the current market for indie games. He does so at his own risk.

        • Jason Rohrer says:

          What distribution model should I use? Steam? There were 83 games released on Steam today…

          • Evan_ says:

            How many of those were mentioned on RPS the release day? And before their release?

            Not that I’m convinced you didn’t make the right decision. I even hope you did. I just know too many people who’s horizons end at Steam and GOG. Hell, even I’m one most of the time – unless hyped or pressured by co-op buddies.

            But hey, at least it’s not Origin or Windows Store. xD

    • pauliunas says:

      I don’t understand your concern. Are you trying to say that in the modern world babies pop out of the ground? Or do they grow on trees? Seriously, it doesn’t matter if it’s year -20000 or 2018 or 3000, babies need to be *made*.

  3. X_kot says:

    I have a deep respect for the creativity and persistence that Rohrer has brought to the indie game scene. He keeps coming up with these fascinating Molyneux-esque concepts, but unlike the big M, he can execute them (albeit on a small scale).

    However, his work is suffused with a Eurocentric, patriarchial, libertarian perspective that puts me off. Rohrer refuses to accommodate other identities or interpretations of tropes. The relationships in his games are always heterosexual, with male and female performing stereotypical gendered roles. In Passage and The Castle Doctrine, the male avatar is the agent, and the female character is the acquired object. In One Hour One Life, the first female must raise the child.

    I suspect like The Castle Doctrine and Cordial Minuet, OHOL will be a fascinating and ephemeral sociological experiment. More’s the pity.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Eurocentric? Most of his stuff seemed very American from the outside – though I haven’t played them because if his pricing strategies.

      • dethtoll says:

        Eurocentrism generally refers not specifically to Europe but to “western civilization” as a whole, including the US and Australia. Eurocentrism is therefore seeing the world through a privileged, colonialist white lens with the implication of pro-imperialism (subtle or overt.)

    • kuertee says:

      It’s a game by an indie developer – probably with no other person to help produce his games.

      How can you expect him to put all that you expecting a small game such as Passage let alone a big game like One Hour. The complain from devs not having enough resources to address the concerns of the changing social norms is justified in Rohrer’s games.

      And the game is not about what you think it is. It is a social experiment not only to examine altruism, but also tribalism.

      Would the game be better if he didn’t represent any gender at all?

    • RabbitIslandHermit says:

      I could never bring myself to play The Castle Doctrine, but I remember reading RPS’s coverage of the homicidal hellscape that it was simulated and finding it amazingly telling and bizarre that Rohrer considered it a pro-guns piece. Dude has talent (unlike most reactionary artistes) but clearly exists on a completely different planet from me.

      • RabbitIslandHermit says:

        Reading a bit more about TCD I guess Rohrer intended some subversion there, but still seems to be much more pro-guns than not.

        • Jason Rohrer says:

          I think I’m a bit more complicated than that.

          The game is neither pro-gun nor anti-gun. It’s not even a game about guns at all, really. The gun is just one item in the game.

          The game is a nightmare in game form. A nightmare about our quest for security. Set in 1991, one of the most crime-ridden and security-obsessed years in American history.

          PC gamer put it best in their review: “a brilliant but horrifying depiction of a risk society at war with itself.”

          • RabbitIslandHermit says:

            Fair enough, I’m probably misremembering the discussion around it at the time (or maybe people just glommed onto the wrong thing).

        • Jason Rohrer says:

          No, you remember it correctly. It was an absolute dogpile of people assuming the absolute worst about me. Some even called me a murderer…

    • pauliunas says:

      Talk to me when males start giving birth, LOL

    • mlj11 says:

      Patriarchally enforced stereotypical gendered roles: oh boy, and here I was thinking that different species of animal on Earth tend to develop their own gender roles based on what helps propagates their species best. I guess humans didn’t do that though!

      On the upside, if some non-heteronormative people here survive the next nuclear holocaust, they’re free to start their own communes where women cultivate and hunt while the men stay home and look after the babies, regardless of relative physical strength or milk-producing capabilities. It’ll be a Brave New World!

  4. AngoraFish says:

    Heteronormative? More like John’s first world, advanced liberal perspective from a distance of a very different set of survival pressures.

    In hunter gatherer societies people don’t partner up for love, they partner up for survival. People without a family unit simply don’t have the resources to get a balanced diet on their own, not to mention that children are essentially a combined labour sharing strategy and retirement plan.

    It’s not like two gay men had the option to bank a percentage of their shared incomes then go on to live in luxury in retirement off the compounding interest on their shared savings.

    Gay people would have paired off with straight partners like everyone else because nookie was a vanishingly small part of the entire family making exercise anyhow, and it would have been either that or die lonely on your own in a hut in the woods.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I have to agree with you. At least while the game’s society is in a state of struggling for survival, of course it’d be heteronormative.

      But the thing is, it’s still not! Although this will surely change as the game’s society progresses. Babies randomly spawn from women, and those women raise the babies alone (because there aren’t really any men yet, as I guess they would need to mature from children and right now infant mortality is like 99%). That is only as heteronormative as the way people react to it. There’s nothing stopping a man from stepping in and feeding the babies, just like there’s nothing forcing the mothers to feed their babies rather than let them starve.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      Just like hunter gatherer societies had to deal with death-dealing robots and so couldn’t develop beyond a certain area

      • MrUnimport says:

        What exactly is the problem with a game choosing not to depict a sexual-egalitarian utopia? Do all books have to be written about such societies or be slammed for a lack of imagination? Is it crypto-fascist to represent a war without a clearly marked warning that peace is preferable?

  5. edwardoka says:

    I really like and admire Jason Rohrer’s games. As said above, they are high concepts that he actually delivers, but if TCD is any example, they don’t stand up to real world play.

    Min-maxers ruined TCD by building houses where an invading player had to take a precise sequence of steps that they couldn’t possibly know in advance, and where a single stray step would guarantee their death.

    While this is an interesting outcome and quite a profound statement about the self-defeating nature of home defence, it doesn’t make for much fun gameplay.

    I genuinely hope this works out. One to keep an eye on, it will literally live or die based upon the playerbase.

    • jere says:

      Jason’s multiplayer games tend to have *brutal* learning curves, but The Castle Doctrine was some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a video game.

      “where an invading player had to take a precise sequence of steps that they couldn’t possibly know in advance” isn’t exactly accurate. The owner had to take that precise sequence yes but the invaders could use tools. Beating any house was possible with the right combination of scouting and tool use.

      Anyway, the real problem with the game was a lack of players, a lack of money, and no one way for novices to climb the ranks. Unbelievably, years after release that problem has been totally solved with a recent update which puts 100 houses on the list at all times.

      I’ve only put a couple hours into OHOL but it’s fascinating and…. as brutal as I expected. At least one positive here is that the game can be played with nobody else. TCD and CM were useless without others.

  6. dethtoll says:

    Jason Rohrer is a fraud whose “games” rely on cheap emotional manipulation and player self-projection as opposed to having any depth. I was hoping never to see his name pop up again; the indie scene 8 years ago was essentially a platform for douchebags to get their brown-haired five o’clock shadow white boy faces in the media as much as possible. Indie gaming has never been so good since Phil Fish took his ball and went home.

    • Jason Rohrer says:

      One Hour One Life is my 19th game, every single one coded from scratch by me along the way.

      I’m the walking embodiment of a “fraud.”

      Passage was 10 years ago, by the way…

      • dethtoll says:

        Ooh, answered by the man himself! What’s it like knowing that your legacy will be defined by how much you got white hipsters who only read books reviewed by the New York Times to sob into their keffiyahs? That and your manifesto for paranoid white suburbanites? (God, if that one wasn’t a little prescient of a certain voting bloc’s influence in the last election!)

        What’s it like knowing that you will never, ever be an important name in the indie scene ever again? What’s it like knowing that whatever credibility you had, it was buried along with that board game you made? What’s it like like knowing that your 15 minutes of fame as a games media darling helped set indie game development back several years? What’s it like knowing that Jon Blow, the games media’s other favorite voice for an indie scene that never appointed him to the position, learned to keep his head down and stop sounding like making games is what keeps him from practicing knives on cats and for it has become far more successful than you?

        • treat says:

          There are a lot of things I love about Jason and his work, but one of my favorite things is how sore he unwittingly seems to make angry little men like you. It really only works in his favor, tbh.

        • lasikbear says:

          hey bb, as a white hipster from when that meant something (see, you can already tell im not pretending), i dont think anyone uses the nytimes for book suggestions, and like, your around 10 years late on the keffiyahs trend (which i guess is par for the course with that whole hipster thing)

          anyways, i dont care to argues about the rest of this, those details just stuck out, but you seem very mad and arent good at articulating it

        • Jason Rohrer says:

          Jonathan Blow is a good friend of mine. He’s also way smarter than me, and maybe more hard-working. But it’s hard to tell, because I also have a spouse and family to balance with my game-making, while he does not. I mean, The Witness is an absolute, earth-shattering masterpiece. And so much work went into it, it boggles the mind.

          But he’s also running a company and working with a bunch of other people. That’s expensive and risky. It would be impossible to make something with the scope of The Witness working alone. But I like working alone, and making very personal stuff that contains my drawings, music, code, etc. I even do my own PR, as you can see from the fact that I’m responding to you myself.

          I also don’t think Jon “keeps his head down.” He tweets a lot, and still has controversial opinions.

          As far as legacies go, I do care about my legacy. I feel like I’ve done okay so far. There was a book published last year about my stuff. You might enjoy reading it. Look for “The Game Worlds of Jason Rohrer” on Amazon.

          But I’m not done making games yet, so my legacy isn’t set in stone yet.

          But really, no matter what, I won’t be forgotten. You remember me! And it sounds like you will never forget about me.

          • dethtoll says:


            Of course you’ll be remembered: as part of an age when indie gaming was little more than auteur nonsense for white academics. That’s important to remember, so as to ensure we never go back to that.

        • flashman says:

          What’s it like knowing that your legacy will be defined by how much you got white hipsters who only read books reviewed by the New York Times to sob into their keffiyahs?

          What’s it like knowing you won’t have a legacy?

        • MrUnimport says:

          What an extraordinarily unpleasant comment. What exactly has this man done that justifies the verbal equivalent of socking him in the face? If the answer is ‘made a kind of game I don’t like’ then I might have to step away from the internet for a while.

    • allison says:

      Wow, overwhelming amounts of salt. How come?

    • Raiyne says:

      Wow. You’re just… a sad, sad person.

    • Peralph says:

      You misspelled your name. There’s an “r” in the middle, not an “ht”.

      • dethtoll says:

        That doesn’t even make sense.

        • camilo says:

          If you replace the “ht” in your name with an “r” it becomes “detroll,” because you’re a troll (someone of your intelligence obviously couldn’t understand at first glance though).

          • dethtoll says:

            I mean, if you’re going to mangle my username into an insult you could at least mangle it properly, like dethtroll. Or dethtool. Or Deftones, horrors!

            “Detroll” is just a moronic, nonsensical insult.

    • behrooz says:

      I was on the fence about buying this because I was really, really bad at permadeath in the castle doctrine… but the unrestrained negativity of your post inspired me to say ‘fuckit, I’m going to go join a virtual civilization that’s working together and building things.’

      So yeah, I’m going to go try it now. Thanks! :D

  7. jakedrake says:

    Yeah, propagating a species is so enormously heteronormative. Fucking hell… Besides, is there anything at all in that trailer that suggests that a man can’t share equally in child rearing or that a woman can’t wield a hoe equally as well as a male character? etc. etc.

  8. Kitsunin says:

    This is…interesting. It’s a bit frustrating figuring out how to accomplish anything because I get born as a baby five times for every once as an adult. And I’ve never survived past infancy (the one time my mother was capable of keeping me fed we both got killed by a wolf, which legitimately made me laugh).

    But, it’s interesting. It seems pretty neat, although I’ve yet to scratch the surface.

    • Jason Rohrer says:

      Don’t give up!

      It’s very hard, but not impossible. I actually tweaked it to be way easier today for launch, if you can believe that.

      But it’s a design principle of mine: I want to make games that are legitimately challenging.

      • Kitsunin says:

        I should say frustrating doesn’t mean not fun. There’s a surprising amount of poignancy even in those near immediate deaths.

        Such as the time I was being fed by a grandparent because my mother didn’t know how to feed me. Then when she died of old age, while trying to provide for and teach us, the mother and I both starved in our inexperience.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Malarious says:

    What a happy surprise. Bought it instantly — The Castle Doctrine, during its early days before there was a meta, was something really special. Watching people try to break into your home only to bash their heads against the wall and succumb to your traps, or get tantalizingly close only to falter at one of the deepest, and most devious of puzzles, and the realization that the rest of the home had been closed off, and there was no escape… seriously, checking those video tapes every time I logged on was a real treat. Ultimately you were just designing puzzles for each other, but the framing, the narrative, and the permadeath all contributed so much.

  10. DantronLesotho says:

    Gonna give this one a try; I generally love what Rohrer does even if it’s not my cup of tea necessarily. I still think about Passage, this other block stacking game about immortality that he made, and that one Minecraft mod that has one death, to this day.

    To Jason since he’s reading (good on ya!): Man, put this on Itch. Itch is great. If you’re worried about the revenue you can opt to not give them a cut. Plus there’s all kinds of neat analytics and sales tools built-in, and it’s all free.

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