We love our video games at the Modern Fix compound. Beyond our dedication to all the triple-A titles and blockbuster ‘must plays’, we like to check out and support the indie developers who are pushing the edges of the medium.

That peripheral gaming vision is what put the intriguing ‘One Hour, One Life’ on our radar.

Made by indie developer Jason Rohrer, the goal seems to be more of a social experiment than what would traditionally be thought of as a game. If there was a spiritual kin to ‘One Hour, One Life’ it would be along the lines of a co-operative RTS (real time strategy) / Sims game where the aim is to survive as long as possible and at best, leave your mark for your future offspring (who are all real life players).

Billed as ‘a multiplayer survival game of parenting and civilization building’, the core mechanic revolves around gathering, crafting, and hunger management. You will starve to death. Often. We’ll get round to that again in a bit…

It is a curious direction and despite where it fails miserably as an experience, the idea and vision are both grand and risk taking. Applause for trying something different. It doesn’t work… but here is the main pitch from the website. It’s easy to see where the idea is worth exploring:

“This game is about playing one small part in a much larger story. You only live an hour, but time and space in this game is infinite. You can only do so much in one lifetime, but the tech tree in this game will take hundreds of generations to fully explore. This game is also about family trees. Having a mother who takes care of you as a baby, and hopefully taking care of a baby yourself later in life. And your mother is another player. And your baby is another player. Building something to use in your lifetime, but inevitably realizing that, in the end, what you build is not for YOU, but for your children and all the countless others that will come after you. Proudly using your grandfather’s ax, and then passing it on to your own grandchild as the end of your life nears. And looking at each life as a unique story. I was this kid born in this situation, but I eventually grew up. I built a bakery near the wheat fields. Over time, I watched my grandparents and parents grow old and die. I had some kids of my own along the way, but they are grown now… and look at my character now! She’s an old woman. What a life passed by in this little hour of mine. After I die, this life will be over and gone forever. I can be born again, but I can never live this unique story again. Everything’s changing. I’ll be born as a different person in a different place and different time, with another unique story to experience in the next hour…”

And here is the promising trailer giving a glimpse of how this game, in a perfect world, would function:

So that is how the game COULD play out. The frustrating reality is that is not how most games play out.

You spawn as a baby and can do nothing. You are at the complete mercy of any ‘mother’ that is near you. If they don’t feed you, death comes in a minute or less. Even if you are lucky enough to be born with some caring players around, they still have to feed you for many hunger cycles until you will be big enough to move around and attempt to figure out the completely obtuse control system. You can randomly click on things and hope to make some sense of the vague ‘this plus that hit tab’ instructions… but the only way you will really make any progress, is if some other player explains anything to you. The game goes out of its way to NOT tell you anything. And since you can’t speak but a single letter or two in your beginning stages, communication is dependent on other players.

And this is where ‘One Hour, One Life’ fails. There is seemingly little to no game incentive for other players to do any of this for you. And yet, this is the whole linchpin upon which this game is fastened together. The main idea is some kind of inter-dependent social experiment wrapped up in a hunter/gatherer/crafting/sims hybrid. But if there is no motivator for other players to instruct, tutor, or mentor newer players, then the experiment tells us this… people are generally selfish and only focus on their own needs. Which is interesting, but perhaps a harsh lesson to be learned when wrapped up in a $20.00 price tag.

Advanced technology you most likely won’t see in the game… because you died… of starvation… again.

Most ‘reviews’ for this game are just a glossing over of its boasting points… the fragility of life in the expedient nature of the game play… the 10,000 craftable items in its tech tree… the legacy of crafted items and persistent civilization left for future generations… which I am sure all exists somewhere in a perfect play-through with the perfect players in some randomly occurring collision of gamer altruism combined with severe luck in navigating the head-scratching control and crafting systems. But very few reviews seem to say what the actual game play is like.

You will spawn as a helpless baby. You will die of starvation. You might get lucky and have someone feed you, but you will most likely die of starvation before you do anything meaningful. No one will explain anything to you, and you are powerless to ask. This was the summation of at least 25 games. ONCE, I was born into a somewhat thriving little farm. I was fed for enough cycles to develop some growth. Some clothes were placed upon me by kind players. Then I got hungry, tried to eat a carrot… couldn’t… and died. That was my BEST experience.

A crying baby and death… get used to that experience if you play this game.

The idea is original and I am sure with enough play-throughs, trial and error, dumb luck… and just maybe some of that player interaction “One Hour, One Life” seems to hinge upon (but doesn’t happen nearly enough)… there could be enough curiosity and challenge to explore more of what the game is trying to offer. But until it figures out how to give proper incentive for players to mentor newcomers, the experience will wallow way too much in player frustration, instead of ‘fun’ where games should be.

$20 seems like a lot to just die over and over again simply because the game doesn’t really work the way its pitched… or maybe it does… and that’s the problem?



*Addendum: I really wanted to get more out of this game, so I gave it a few more tries. Again, the main cycle is birth, then starvation before you have the chance to do anything meaningful. But if you keep trying, eventually you should be lucky enough to be born into an area that has sufficient resources and a caring player to get you grown enough to explore, gather and craft. The system is still a tough learning curve with a LOT of trial and error, but with enough random luck and some patience to keep trying, it is possible to milk some sense of the game out of ‘One Hour, One Life’… until you are eaten by a hungry grizzly. But that was actually kinda cool, so…

There needs to be a more fair learning/surviving arc to avoid all the wasted lives and play time, but when things do start to go right, it does take on a certain importance to learn as much, do as much, and live as long as possible. However, even when the game functions, $20.00 might be a bit on the steep side, but considering it’s an indie developer, supporting the art form is worth the couple of extra bucks.

Want to know more? Think you can live more than a few minutes? More info on One Hour, One Life here: One Hour One Life official site.