I found myself wandering all alone on the outskirts of the marshlands, a young Eve of perhaps 16 searching for a new home. I had nothing of my own, not even clothing on my back. My first thought was food, of course, the dull whispering ache in my stomach getting louder with each passing moment in this cold empty frontier. A bush glistening with ripe berries caught my eye, and as I filled my belly I noticed something else glisten in the distance. It was bright gold and forged by man, and as I drew closer I saw that it rested in what was the remnants of a lost civilization. I clothed myself in rabbit furs, and fed upon a forgotten store of carrots hidden in a small shack. Rows of overgrown fields were scattered out back, and seeds and water skins, untouched for an unknown duration, sat in wait for a new farmer to take up the plow. The glistening item revealed itself to be a crown of gold lying in the dirt, a gilded carrot fastened to its center. I placed the crown upon my head and surveyed my new kingdom. It would be a lifetime of work to get it functional again, but perhaps this would be the legacy I would pass down to my children, and to their children. For I was now the Carrot Queen.
No, this was not a drug-induced fever dream, or the opening chapter to a prehistoric fantasy novel written by a weathered survivalist. This was One Hour One Life, the new MMO indie survival game-meets-social-experiment from developer Jason Rohrer.
The game is deceivingly simplistic in its presentation, and this uncluttered UI and singular unspoken instruction (go survive) is part of what gives the game its charm. The cartoony visuals are simultaneously humorous and endearing, from a newborn baby’s lolling tongue to a devil-may-care closed-eye smirk of an elderly person in a wolfskin cap.
That transformation from helpless infant to blasé geriatric is mostly what One Hour One Life is about, and it’s where countless stories will unfold and take form. Its unique take on the stages of life and an individual’s role within a family unit and community is what really sets this game apart from other flashier and more well-known titles in the survival genre.
You enter the game as a newborn baby, and your mother is another real-life player in the game world. This occurs at random anywhere on the server where a suitable “Eve” of the proper age is playing. It’s worth noting that these births are neither planned nor anticipated, as there is no “pregnancy” period that an Eve can prepare for. She is just going about her business trying to survive in this harsh unforgiving environment, and suddenly there is now a new mouth to feed at her feet.
It’s an exceptionally unique entry-level period for a survival game. As a baby you cannot feed yourself, you can not work or pick up items, or contribute to the settlement in any significant way. In fact, you can’t even speak in sentences. You are limited to only a single letter for in-game communication, unable to adequately express your needs or thoughts until you grow. Each “year” of your life you get another letter to your speaking limit, representing your slow grip on language and verbal communication. Those first years you are essentially at the mercy of your mother to be fed and clothed and kept warm, and your very presence is a drain on the tribe you were born into, as you consume both labor hours and resources without returning anything.
Time within the game world is what gives One Hour One Life its title. Each minute of real time represents a year to your character, so by the time you become a teenager you will have been in the game for 13 minutes. The upper limit to an individual’s lifespan is 60 years old, and thus One Hour is One Life. When you die of old age–if you get there at all–it will have seen you through the entirety of that character’s presence in the game. There is no saving, no loading, and when you are reincarnated there is little chance that you will return to the settlement you spent your time building and expanding. You, like all of us, do what you can in the time you are given, and hopefully you have left enough behind for your children and grandchildren to build upon. You will not see the farm become a thriving bakery, or watch as technology evolves into better tools and techniques for survival. You will mine the ore or fill the storehouse so that the next generation has time to forge items or raise a barn. And you likely will have mined that ore with a pickaxe that one of your predecessors crafted and left for you to find.
Since this world is filled with real players and not NPCs, there is no guarantee that they will act in a predictable or even a moral manner, and this is where the social experiment comes in to play. Your mother may not have the skills or instincts to keep you alive long enough for you to take care of yourself. Or she may very plainly tell you “Sry, no bbs” and carry you into the woods to die of starvation alone. And when YOU are older and have a baby of your own you will have to make that same choice. Will I sacrifice the next five minutes feeding this child, even though it lowers my own hunger meter? Will I be able to balance watering the crops with checking on a crying baby every twenty seconds? You can’t carry a baby and an item at the same time, so suddenly you can’t get the water from the well to the fields. Will you abandon the child or care for it? Will you teach it how to farm or how to bake pies, or will you drop it off at the fire and hope some good-hearted surrogate will see them to adulthood?
The potential for griefing in a game like this is immediately apparent, but what you will likely find instead is a small but growing community of helpful players that are both willing to groom newcomers and fill the roles the system has laid out for them. Roleplay is abundant, and the world is surprisingly immersive. The main website for One Hour One Life (which launched off-steam!) speaks about each player taking part in their own story, and I’ve found this to be very true. I recall one run where I was cared for by an exceptional mother that taught me how to craft everything I’d need to contribute to our tribe. She was there by my side as I grew into adulthood, and when she became old and ready to pass on she gathered me and my siblings around to say goodbye and bestow a gift to each of us. Then when her old bones fell to the ground we marched her north to a burial shrine to honor her.
Of course, not all playthroughs will be so smooth and immersive. My very first time playing I spawned to a mother that was running away from a grizzly bear. It immediately caught and ate me, hence the title of this review being Ten Seconds One Life. You will have many misfires, where you forget to eat or your mother forgets to feed you. The learning curve is huge, and perhaps the best advice I can give to new players is to Keep Playing. You’ll learn more and more as you go, and if you aren’t afraid to ask questions you’ll get taught just about every skill you need to survive and thrive.
As for the Carrot Queen and her golden crown, I was surprised to find such a cool item in the game. There are THOUSANDS of craftables in the game and many more planned to be added as civilization grows out of the iron age. Even more to my surprise was how I was able to bring that farm back to a working plantation with just myself and my offspring to work it. My firstborn daughter was a seasoned player that helped forage and build the things that I could not, and soon she had children of her own and every job on the farm was accounted for. When our stores were full of carrots and my 60th year was nearly upon me I gathered my family around the fire to say goodbye. I placed my crown on my littlest newborn granddaughter, named her, and declared her the new Carrot Queen. The family cheered and told me that they loved me, and I knew this story was complete as I passed away from old age after a full life well lived.
I immediately hit the Get Reborn button.