Hey folks, I've been making video games as a solo developer for the past 14 years as a full-time gig, and supporting my family doing it. During that time, I shipped 19 games of various shapes and sizes.

My latest game, One Hour One Life, is a multiplayer survival game of parenting and civilization building. Get born to another player as your mother. Live an entire life in one hour. Have babies of your own in the form of other players. Leave a legacy for the next generation as you help to rebuild civilization from scratch. This trailer should help explain it:


Along the way, I started a religion, got a game in the MOMA, created the longest game title in Nintend DS cartridge history, buried an $8000 hunk of titanium in the Nevada desert for 2000 years, and created a legal demonic gambling game that saw over $75,000 in player wagers.

My oldest child (out of three) is almost 16 years old, and I just turned 41---yikes. AMA!

Homepage: http://hcsoftware.sourceforge.net/jason-rohrer/

Gamepage: http://onehouronelife.com/

Steampage: https://store.steampowered.com/app/595690/One_Hour_One_Life/


Tweet: https://twitter.com/jasonrohrer/status/1073303352929267712

Pic: https://imgur.com/AQYTscq


Okay, that's been a long day of typing. I'm going to end it here. Watching A Christmas Story with the family tonight. We have a friend coming over who has NEVER seen that movie. Can't wait!

Thank you everyone!

Comments: 164 • Responses: 56  • Date: 

chargeorge9 karma

How do you manage the risk of being and Indy developer and a parent?

jasonrohrer10 karma

I spend quite a bit of time figuring out the types of games that have the least amount of market risk, while still leaving room for design and artistic innovation.

One Hour One Life is a good example: a crazy game that is unlike anything else, so that seems risky. But it's also scalably multiplayer (all the way down to single player, if necessary), weekly update-able, and infinitely youtube-able. If you look at Steam statistics, games that check at least one of these boxes are the ones that are most likely to be financially successful. OHOL checks all three boxes. This was on purpose.

But yeah, at this point in time, it would be insanely risky to make a story-driven single-player platformer. Like Braid. Probably don't go make Braid in 2019, okay?

After the moderate success of The Castle Doctrine (which didn't quite check those boxes), I let myself throw market caution to the wind, and I made Cordial Minuet, a 2-player, real-money gambling game.

Of course, if a gambling game takes off, it makes bazzillions, but there's no model for how that takes off. And for competitive gambling games, there's no model for how their 2-player mode takes off, let alone flies.

After accounting for the cost of a PAX South booth, Cordial Minuet LOST money. Oops.

That made me double down on my market research for the next one.

DanielZKlein8 karma

As a solo dev you obviously need to be both technologically savvy and a good designer. In larger teams, do you see the disciplines of "engineering" and "game design" moving farther apart (where engineers know less about design and designers know less about programming, becoming more specialized) or do you think there's a certain amount each of these disciplines must know about the other to be good at what they do?

jasonrohrer9 karma

I tend to reign in my designs by my understanding of the underlying engineering problems. This keeps my games grounded and "real" and guarantees that I ship in a reasonable amount of time.

This also might cut off some more grandiose, pie-in-the-sky thinking, though. So maybe that's sometimes a bad thing. Though I think overshooting is usually the greater danger.

In a split team, I imagine the designers coming to the engineers with this or that dream feature, and the engineers telling them "that's impossible in our engine" all the time. That dynamic doesn't sound like fun.

So yeah, I think designers need to understand the underlying tech.

A film director can't demand that the DP do something that's impossible with a camera.

Baker07 karma

How far up the tech tree are you planning on going?

jasonrohrer8 karma

All the way up.

SpecialBeautiful7 karma

Since the mobile/Japanese version seems to be so popular, do you have any regrets about completely open sourcing 1H1L? You only make money off the original desktop version right?

jasonrohrer15 karma

Wait, who is doing this AMA, me, or my wife? :-)

Yes, it's true that I have absolutely nothing to do with the mobile version, and that I get no money from it.

Do I regret making the game public domain? No.

A few points:

  1. I was never going to put the game on mobile myself, nor translate it into Japanese. Thus, the game was never going to be seen by a Japanese market (they generally don't game on PC, so it's either mobile or console).

  2. There's not that much money in mobile. I'm charging people 4x more for the PC version than the mobile market could handle. Thus, it's going to be very hard for them to catch up to me, or overtake me, financially.

  3. The main problem that I have here is confusion. People think the mobile version was made by me. That's not good. But beyond that, there aren't really many down-sides. They are making money that I would never have made.

onehouronelifer7 karma

As most of us know, babies come from two parents through what is referred to as sexual reproduction. This aspect of human biology has a massive impact upon the human experience. It is the significant factor that has forced humanity to be such highly social creatures, and thus a game about the human experience and society ought to include it as a mechanic in order to properly simulate society. While playing the game, I have felt the significant difference between how real people organize and how players organize. There is no true concept of property in the game and any sort of social interaction is insulated to a collective family commune that rarely contacts outsiders for there is no need to trade or socialize. In order to prove this, I would like to propose a step by step analysis of the evolution of human social structure.

In the beginning, when man was born into this world from our primate progenitors, we were a roaming and disorganized people. Much like any other beasts, we did not have social concepts of marriage or family. This higher social concept came as a result of sexual reproduction combined with our innate social disposition. Women were forced to live out a significant portion of their time carrying around a baby within them and then caring for said baby until it reached adulthood and could fend for itself. Because they were put into a position in which they could not spend sufficient amounts of time gathering resources, women negotiated with men. Men, who desire to pass on their genes, were able to gather resources without fear of pregnancy or child rearing. A male could easily pass on his genes through many females and abscond from any participation in raising them and thus have ample time to amass materials. Women in turn refused to mate with males that did not pledge some form of early marital vows. These couples, as a result, would then have children together and work in conjunction to care for children who in turn would replicate with behavior of a family unit. In short: man wants to make pass on his genes + woman needs man to provide for her and babies = the formation of the family unit.

Sexual reproduction's impact on humanity does not end with the family unit, however! Once families are formed over generations of socialization, men were forced to compete to bring home scarce resources. Because men and women desire to nurture their offspring, they guard their gathered resources which are thus referred to as their "property". Thus, the scarcity of resources and the need for said resources by men and their families forces men to establish the social concept of private property or "this is mine". Thus homes are built, fences made, and men compete to lay claim to what they desire to be made their own.

As a means to increase success and productivity, groups of people would band together along the lines of familial bonds (i.e. marriages and distant relatives), similar desires, and shared values. Thus, sexual reproduction indirectly causes men to form an association of people, a society. To put it mathematically: scarcity of resources + man's competitive nature and need for good = early social organization beyond the family unit.

As a result of this co-operation, certain men acquire more and more resources due to luck, birth, or personal ability. These individuals are in turn rewarded by access to more women and a longer life, thus having more children. Upon observing this phenomenon of wealth, other men will seek to gain resources through submission to these powerful men and their families. This creates the natural occurrence of social stratification and thus the formation of higher social concepts such as the state, class, the division of labor, culture, religion, and philosophy.

In conclusion, we must admit the shear importance of sexual reproduction upon the human experience. Without this biological function, the beautiful project of One Hour One Life is limited to being a simulation of asexual non-humans. It is as if one were playing as an alien race, something unfamiliar and untrue to our own societies.

Moving on to the actual implementation of sexual reproduction in the game, I would recommend a system in which a male and female player both right-click upon each other when there is nothing in their hands. Following this, the woman will have the chance of becoming pregnant and will have a minute or less until the baby is born. Afterward, the baby would be raised as usual, but would carry mixed traits of both parents. Furthermore, I offer that names should be more fluid in that people can change their last names to that of their spouse's name. This mechanic could apply to both men and women in order to simulate a patriarchal or matriarchal society. Because babies are born of both parent's, I reckon that, as with the real world, both parents would feel an immediate obligation to work together as well as an indirect sentimental desire to care for the baby. Beyond a simply respiratory hug mechanic, the entire concept would rely on the interactions of players to socialize and speak with one another thus adhering to the laissez-faire beauty of the game.

So, is it ever coming to One hour One life?

jasonrohrer22 karma

Sexual reproduction WAS really important to the development of human society.

I wanted to represent sexual difference in the game. Leaving it out entirely would be weird.

But this is a 10,000-ft view of humanity. Every second that passes is six days. No night or day. No seasons. A abstract portrait.

From that distance, what's the most prominent difference between the sexes? The difference that has driven human society more than perhaps any other difference?

Women have babies, and men do not. I.e., they are the reproductive bottleneck.

So that's the way that I represented sexual difference in the game.

And sure enough, players behave according to the pressures that this one difference creates. In times of low population and desperation for growth, they will do anything to help the last girl in the village survive. In times of overpopulation, you will find the elders in the village scolding the young mothers, "Too many girls! We have too many girl babies!"

Paternity is totally glossed over here, which casts all men as uncles. There's nothing wrong with uncles. Selfish gene and all that.

Now, all that said, there are other, more pressing reasons why paternity is not represented in the game (because all the above stuff would still be true if it was represented). What about:

  • Negotiating consent
  • Harems
  • Rape

The idea of male characters chasing female characters around trying to impregnate them or pestering them for consent? It would turn the whole game into an annoying, over-sexualized joke.

And when there's only one man left alive in the village.... lucky guy!

You can see how including this stuff would have absolutely swamped the other aspects of the game. It would have become a game ABOUT sex, mating, and consent. Because humans are so fascinated with these things that they can't see anything else if these elements are present (try making an Oscar-quality film, but include one unsimulated sex act in there, and see what people end up talking about).

That's not what this game is about, at all.

kakkaneeberi6 karma

Are you going to add progression or leveling to the game? It would be nice if we could earn virtual currency and use it to buy cosmetics like war paint and birth marks. Please?

jasonrohrer5 karma

You mean leveling across lives?

Probably not... that kinda flies in the face of the core concept of the game. Each life a unique story, and all that.

War paint is coming, though.

NoraRose_866 karma

I love how you’re so involved with the game and update it every week.

My question is, do you regret not releasing the game via an app version?

I started out with the app, then realized it was on PC and I stuck with that version as it’s a lot easier with the controls and the community is great too.

jasonrohrer4 karma

Wait, which version is easier with the controls?

I designed the game and the interface for mouse.

I had no idea how to make that work on a touch screen. I never gave it much thought.

But I generally believe games should be designed for their target platforms and NOT ported to other platforms with different input hardware.

I have tried the moble version, and the controls work pretty much, though they take some getting used to. I think it was a pretty big challenge for them.

Alex_Epic5 karma

Top 3 video games (that other people made) and why they are signifigant to you?

Top 3 movies?

What sort of music do you listen to?

jasonrohrer8 karma

Thinking back, games that pushed the medium forward in terms of what games could be about, what they made you think about, and such:


--The Stanley Parable

But those are both Five-Hours-Until-Wow games.

Games that I actually have played very deeply:

--League of Legends


And going way back in time, the original Legend of Zelda (NES) kinda ticks both boxes.


--Synecdoche, New York



Maybe throw "A Simple plan" in there, just for fun.

I don't have a lot of time for researching music these days. So, what I usually do is look at the Pitchfork "Best of 2018" end-of-year list and check those out.

Stuff I've been listening to while making the game... on my CMUS (command line player) playlist:





--The Weeknd


And actually, my favorite album that I keep coming back to while coding is Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow. Quiet enough that I can still do hard thinking.

jasonrohrer10 karma

Kinrany, can you also list your top three favorite bits of Reddit formatting syntax?

That-Lurker5 karma

Good afternoon Jason! I've been watching your OneLife updates for a while, I play it fairly often and enjoy it quite a bit. It's always been interesting to me how you connect with your audience, your patch notes aren't what I see in most games these days. They're very personafied. What's your methodology for communicating and interacting with your games' community(s)?

On a similar note, I operate a gamedev community and would love to showcase you in an interview or have you write up some key tips for new and old devs alike. Ofcourse, this is only if you're interested. Really anything works, I believe it would be very beneficial to hear some input from someone much deeper in the woods. :)

jasonrohrer4 karma

Well, when you're posting weekly updates long enough, you get bored of the same format, same info, same bullet points. I've now written something like 40 of these update posts.

So I get a little stir-crazy, and that makes me a little loopy. I just kinda write whatever is on my mind, and let it flow.

I also need to keep in mind that YOU, the audience, has now READ 40 of these damn things.

Hopefully, what I write is somewhat entertaining and maybe even funny, sometimes.

As for the invite, link to the community?

TWTCommish5 karma

Your last several games feel different than your earlier ones, in that they all seem to be an attempt to create a game that lives on, perhaps indefinitely. Is this deliberate?

jasonrohrer5 karma

Between marked the end of an era for me as a game designer. Passage, Gravitation, and Between were heavily focused on mechanics as metaphor. At the time, I felt like that approach had run its course.

After that, I started to become more interested in the aesthetics of deep gameplay, wherever that may come from. Primrose was an attempt at a deep, randomized puzzle game. Sleep is Death was my judo-flip solution to the problem everyone was excited about at the time (interactive narrative and characters in single-player games). Then Inside a Star-filled sky was another deep single player game.

But I've thought for a while that single player games have inherently limited depth. I've also been reflecting more on the types of games that I actually find myself playing.

So I've been making exclusively multiplayer games since then.

Anyway, in this realm, I'm no longer crafting mechanics as metaphor, but hoping to build gameplay experiences that make you feel a certain way. Games that conjure a certain indescribable aesthetic.

And yeah, given that they are (hopefully) deeply replayable, these games will be more likely to live on via more people actually playing them (instead of just remembering having played them).

theologi4 karma

Hi Jason,

I am a fan of your games and read them as puzzles that follow philosophical ideas and transcend traditional gameplay mechanics.

Do you have any philosophical or aesthetic inspirations that are important to you?

Are there any ideas you would like to implement as games but that are too difficult to do?

jasonrohrer4 karma

Well, I usually try to make games about the kinds of things that I'm currently thinking about. The things that fascinate me.

In the case of One Hour One Life, I started working on that game as I neared the likely mid-point of my life. I shipped the game right after my 40th birthday, in fact. I'm clearly no longer the main character in the story. In games, even multiplayer games, you always play the main character. OHOL is a game where you're never the main character. The story is to grand and sweeping---it transcends any individual player. So here you are, playing one tiny part, with a limited time frame. What are you going to do with that time, and how is that going to be meaningful?

In terms of "too difficult," making single-player games with believable characters is currently impossible, so I avoid doing that. I wish I could, though, just like everyone else.

Hypsicrateanyx3 karma

I've been following your work since Castle Doctrine and I feel like your take on game design is really unique. The best way I can explain it, is that the gaming experience sort of falls in some sort of uncanny valley territory at first and is almost alienating. But both Castle Doctrine and even more so OHOL sort of force you to suspend your disbelief by being so intense and make you care about what you're doing. I'm really fascinated by this and would love to know what has made you take this direction and what or who has inspired you in your work over the years?

jasonrohrer5 karma

The general idea, before OHOL, was that the actual mechanical gameplay experience should be the main event. Thus, the graphics were extremely simple, to keep the focus on what mattered.

That continues somewhat in OHOL, with the very simple menu and loading screen. "This part of the work is functional, but not important. Please ignore is as much as possible."

But in OHOL, I am embracing visual presentation a bit more. There are even sound effects! This is a first in my game, and something that I really resisted, even in OHOL.

But I'm sorta coming around to appreciate the best wedding of substance and presentation.

I guess, for me, it can sometimes be hard to find a presentation that feels right. Imagine The Castle Doctrine with some other presentation. Little cartoon characters? Nope.

But in OHOL, the cartoon presentation felt like a really great, obvious fit.

Baker03 karma

What did you do before you started making games?

jasonrohrer3 karma

I went to college in computer science, hoping to study advanced computer graphics. But then I programmed my first raytracer (class project), saw those reflective spheres on my screen, and all the magic was suddenly gone.

After that, I focused on AI for the rest of my college career, but the magic in that quickly evaporated too.

Then I got into distributed systems. The copyright war was afoot, and peer-to-peer was all the rage. I programmed and released a few p2p file sharing systems, like MUTE, which became pretty popular at the time.

I did some grad school research in this area too, including stuff on hypertext and other information systems.

After all that, with all that experience behind me, I thought, "Hey, why not try making a game, now?"

V3kku133 karma

Are you going to make steam trading cards or achievements to OHOL or single-player?

jasonrohrer2 karma

OHOL is already single player.

Get born as a man, and then walk away from the village.

You can also play on the higher-number servers by looking here:


I've thought about the trading cards... not sure what to put on them. Maybe someday.

ThreeTheVeryMe3 karma

How do you become a game developer?

Alex_Epic6 karma

You get in the kitchen and start cooking things!

jasonrohrer7 karma

Yeah, this answer is pretty good.

If you're really just getting started and totally green, for goodness sakes, download the free version of Game Maker and go through a few tutorials. You will be making a game by the end of the day.


If my 5-y-o kid can make and ship a game with Game Maker, then so can you.

Oh, yeah, and don't make 3D games.

jann23 karma

Hi Jason. Iirc you said that you prefer 2D games over 3D because they are more expressive, or something like that.

But do you have any interest in VR? I understand that most games have not fully figured out the controls yet,

but it is so immersive and I would be interested to see what weird new ideas you could bring to the table.

jasonrohrer6 karma

That's a funny question...

The reason that I say 2D is better than 3D is actually because all 3D games are essentially Virtual Reality games. 3D is a simulation of reality. When you do this, there are certain player expectations that are rarely violated---namely those of physical reality.

So when designers chose 3D, they are unwittingly boxing themselves in to a somewhat high-fidelity simulation of reality. This is a very narrow branch of the possible design tree.

In 2D, reality doesn't necessarily apply, and players are more likely to understand the 2d "objects" as abstract, symbolic representations.

A 3D game without physics (like inertia), or with spooky action at a distance, is a pretty disorienting experience. But in 2D, we don't think twice when we encounter these things.

Pac Man is a great example of a game that is chocked full of stuff that would make no sense in a more fully-realized representation of physical reality. We never wonder how the ghosts can see through the walls to chase you. They aren't really "walls," but just the idea of walls.

And this is all funny because your question then asks about VR itself!

The narrowest branch of the design tree ever.

If you violate user's expectations of physical reality in VR, not only are they disoriented---they become physically ill!

I did explore VR a few years ago (I have a DK2). The likelihood of physical sickness in response to any in-game motion was a real surprise and stumbling block standing in the way of interesting experiences.

Of course, when you imagine VR, you imagine flying through amazing spaces, not standing stock-still. But the latest gen of displays is just so real-looking that flying around becomes impossible for most people.

Room scale VR is interesting. I still haven't spent much time inside it yet.

But again, I find the design space there so limited.

MonsieurWTF3 karma

Greetings Jason! Thanks for doing an AMA. I'm not fully familiar with your history of games, and have mostly been involved with your latest indie game project OHOL, so my question will be mostly related to that.

Given the pace that you've made the game so far, it's been an interesting 'ride' to go through. All the updates have been exciting, but it seems that I and some other folks may be curious on the most recent changes bringing about a technological late-game revolving around the water sources and transportation. Will we still be seeing the technological steps between those stages of the industrial revolution and the automobile age, like improvements to other parts of the town? (Things that come to mind in that area would be like anvils, changes to the adobe oven/kiln/forge, more building materials, wind power, etc.)

jasonrohrer7 karma

Driving around in a car while still pounding metal on a flat rock, eh?

All my other games have been small, relatively simple, and perfect. As perfect as I could make them.

This game is huge, complicated, and messy. I'm kindof embracing the trainwreck.

As a solo dev working on a gigantic project, I can't possibly make everything in the world in a way that makes perfect sense.

The game is not about human history, but about the process of rebuilding from scratch. Corners get cut along the way. People find what works and stick with it, instead of refining something to its perfect form over 1000 years.

Also, the process of "refining" is not something that's really possible in this game or my content creation process.

Consider the anvil, as and example. You could imagine all the hundreds of micro-steps between a flat rock and an anvil's current, modern shape. I can't draw all that, and even if I did, players wouldn't be bothered to craft those anyway, especially if the rock worked just as well.

So... think of it more like Gilligan's Island.... you have a radio.... but it's made out of coconut shells.

Uncle_Gus3 karma

Your games are very philosophical, dealing with life and death and whatnot. I for one really appreciate this and I find it great that you can have these really deep thoughts about the meaning of life and express them so powerfully through your art/games.

I'm interested in the back story to how you came to think so deeply about life and death and reality. Did you have an identity crisis? Did you have a close death encounter? Did you challenge your religious upbringing? Why are you so deep, man?

jasonrohrer8 karma

I probably inherited much of this from my mom. She was always very philosophical, and a big fan of science fiction. Thinking about things in the big picture. Talking about the history of human civilization.

And then I must have inherited a preoccupation with death from my father, who has been dying (in his mind) as long as I can remember, but will likely outlive everyone around him. Famous quote from my childhood: "Kids, I'll be dead by Christmas."

I've been thinking about death as long as I can remember, even when I was a small kid. I still haven't fully come to terms with it.

My mother, somehow, does not seem worried about death at all...

icreatedthis4anAMA3 karma

Are you going to take the tech tree all the way into the industrial age, or maybe all the way to electricity?

jasonrohrer2 karma

Yes, that's the idea.

DodgeOHOL2 karma

What gave you the idea to add the bear cave, the motivation behind it and does it have a story or personal meaning?

jasonrohrer2 karma

That was added in the very first update, right after the game came out in February 2018.

I didn't have much time that week for an update (busy with launch), but I wanted to surprise people with something big and dramatic. Something that they couldn't miss as new when walking around the world.

The bear was it.

chardbury2 karma

What proportion of your time to you get to spend developing as opposed to sales, marketing, customer support and whatever else comes along?

jasonrohrer2 karma

My official schedule each day is supposed to be 3 hours making new stuff, one hour fixing bugs, and one hour answering emails and such. So that's 60% dev, 20% fixes, and 20% community.

But the reality is that the dev part usually goes way over time, and the other stuff takes a back seat.

I do generally keep up with incoming customer emails, though, one way or another. And I do reserve some time each week for fixing the bugs that have been reported.

I also spend about 2 hours each week making a gif and the update post that goes along with it.

And I pop into Discord at least once a week to see what's going on.

It's very hard to balance it all, though!

soren820022 karma

What’s your plan for more advanced tech? Space age?

Will we get like a separate region for space? Aliens?

One cool thing would be the ability to mingle with other servers once we get advanced enough in space. What do you think?

jasonrohrer2 karma

Other servers = other planets? I like that.

Not sure about space, though. I mean, we aren't really in the "space age" now, are we?

People liked to call it that a while back, and they were dreaming big, but it never really came to pass.

Getting far off the surface of the Earth is just too damn expensive.

noethis2 karma

When you're 85 looking back at your life, what do you hope you'll have accomplished, with respect to your chosen art form (aka videogames)?

jasonrohrer4 karma

Well, I hope that I'll have made some game that people are still playing at that point.

That's a very tall order.

I think that, if I manage it, such a game would probably NOT be a video game, but instead some kind of physical game. Those tend to have more longevity.

So, I dream of designing something like Magic the Gathering in terms of longevity.

jann22 karma

A while ago I read about your simple lifestyle experiment.

Do you still live as simple as you had back then or did some new challenges arise?

I personally, as many people nowadays, try to simplify my life in an attempt to become more satisfied with what I have.

But I find it very hard to stay more humble. Is there anything that inspires you? Are there any books that you recommend that teach you good lessons for a simpler lifestyle?

jasonrohrer5 karma

Well, still no cell phone, no car, no flatscreen TV (though we just upgraded to a beautful HD tube TV that we got for free---I'm a picture quality snob, holding out for OLEDs that don't burn in).

But we use a fridge now (harder to be fridge-free when you're eating meat---much easier when vegan).

We currently have five people crammed in a 1000-sq-ft house.

A long time ago, I read the book "Your Money or Your Life," which is all about financial tracking and budgeting, which we still do, pretty much, today.

Even when you're barely buying anything, possessions tend to pile up. More recently, I read "The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up," which is about getting rid of stuff.

Thexus_van_real2 karma

What are your thoughts on trading in OHOL? There is currently no reason to trade, mainly because everything is shared, cities get deleted after everyone abandons them, so there isn't a capital city that could benefit from trading, there isn't any form of general currency (food is the most valuable thing in the game, but it's a hussle to carry a lot of food, and people can just take it before you have a chance to sell it for a hat). Caravaning was partially added, but with cities disappearing, there is simply no reason to build road networks and import/export resources, because half of the road can disappear before you get there. I think to implement trading or just resource transporting, you have to cluster a lot of resources together, so people have a reason to make a caravan and get a lot of milkweed/gold/iron/stone/clay...

jasonrohrer2 karma

Yes, I'm thinking about this. It's a tough problem. But I do want to see trading happen in the game, eventually.

I think travel between villages will be necessary, and then maybe some kind of meta biome structure that places certain rare biomes really far apart, so each city will have access to only a subset of the resources.

DodgeOHOL2 karma

What was the hardest part of the game to code, the drawing you struggled the most with and the biggest hurdle you faced in the developement of the game?

jasonrohrer2 karma

Getting a database engine that had high enough peformance to handle the requests from 100 concurrent players took a long time. The off-the-shelf databases just couldn't cut it. I ended up having to code my own from scratch.

The bison was probably the scariest thing to draw. So big, and moving, and so weird looking. A lot of room for it to just not look right.

The biggest hurdle, in general, is the complexity of the whole thing. That complexity grew organically, piece by piece. But now that it's all up and running, it's pretty scary. It seem fragile. What if something goes wrong? Walking through the code to find a bug is a major undertaking.

edgycommunist4202 karma

What motivated you to make a unique type of game like OHOL is?

jasonrohrer6 karma

Getting older.

Thinking about the very small part that I'm actually playing in a very long story that extends back long before my birth and extends forward long after my death.

trannelnav2 karma

In what languages do you code most your games in? Or what are your preferred programming languages?

jasonrohrer3 karma

Game clients are always in C/C++. Performance matters. Even if the game isn't pushing a modern computer to its limits, better performance means that the game can run on even older computers.

Servers have been in various languages, depending on the situation. For turn-based or non-realtime games, I used PHP and MySQL for the server.

But for OHOL, which is a realtime game with potentially hundreds of players on each server, peformance again mattered. Even MySQL was too slow. So this is my first server coded natively, which is inherently risky (crashes of the server process are a huge problem). But I've been able to work out all the bugs in the server, and now it pretty much never crashes.

jasonrohrer3 karma

Also, I'm eagerly awaiting Jonathan Blow's game-centric programming language (jai, or whatever it will be called), where I won't have to sacrifice performance in order to access more nifty language features.

Kinrany2 karma

Do you think there will be more games like OHOL in the future?

Edit: changed wording to make it clear that I'm including games by other developers

jasonrohrer2 karma

It seems like a pretty obvious design.

There have been many other games where you take over as your offspring after you die (I made one, Cultivation, long ago).

In the multiplayer space, this seems brand new, though.

There are huge down-sides, at least in terms of what usually keeps players playing games (continuity of experience without any interruption, so they can just get lost in the game for hours and hours, even past the limits of hunger, dehydration, and physical exhaustion).

So maybe that will make other developers hesitant to make a game like this.

disperse_media2 karma

My co-worker and I were talking about OHOL today and had some technical questions:

  • Is the map procedurally-generated ahead of time or on demand?
  • If the map is generated ahead of time, how big is it on disk?
  • How many bytes does it take to represent a single tile?
  • How many Eve spawn locations are there?
  • Is it likely the player base will ever populate every possible location on any given server?

jasonrohrer9 karma

The natural map is generated by a seeded 1/f-style noise system (Perlin noise). The seed predetermines the whole thing, all the way out to the limits of 32-bit integer coordinates. So the whole map is "set," and it can be looked up as needed, without saving any of it.

The only things that are saved are tiles that are modified by players. Build something. Move something. Chop down a tree. That kind of thing.

So we have a natural map, unstored, and then a sparse collection of modified tiles on top of that.

The storage requirements for those player-modifed tiles depends on what's in the tile. The key in the database is 16 bytes (four 32-bit ints, x, y, s, b). The data is a 32-bit int.

For a simple tile, with just a static object placed by a player, like a round stone, the storage requirement would thus be 20 bytes per tile.

But for a more complicated tile, with container storage slots, or even sub-container slots (basket in a box), the storage requirements grow. Roughly 20 bytes per object that is there. So a container with 5 objects would have 6 objects total in the tile, or 120 bytes.

This is what the "s" and "b" parts of the key are for (slot indices and sub-slot indices, at tile x and y).

And if the object there has a decay time that needs to be remembered, those are 8 bytes (double) stored under a 16-byte key. So that's 24 extra for that tile, again for each contained object or sub-contained object that has a decay time.

And the database is append-only, so this space usage builds up over time as objects move around.

Eve spawns in an infinite spiral that starts at 0, so there's no limit to how many Eve locations there can be (until they go off the map).

And the map is 4 billion tiles wide by 4 billion tall. Populating the entire thing would take five million centuries of real-life time, even if players placed a thousand tiles per second.

jqgatsby2 karma

Are you still interested in your link-oriented hypertext system silk, and have you seen anything along those lines that you find interesting?

jasonrohrer5 karma

Ah, Silk!

Too bad that CGI stopped working on SourceForge.

I guess CGI itself is kindof a dead tech. Obviously, if I did it again, I'd do it with a database backend.

Do you know of a silk install somewhere that is still working? I'd like to poke at it myself.

I actually use something else similar on an almost-daily basis, and that's my little web app noteStack. There's no support for linking, but a stack has become my go-to data structure for almost all human activities.

But... it's been so long that I'm having trouble finding the source code for it!

Damn SourceForge took CVS offline.... sheesh.

Bethyi2 karma

Thaulos, from the OHOL Discord, who cannot be bothered to make a Reddit account because they are a lazy poohead, asks "What IDE do you use?"

jasonrohrer5 karma


I edit code in Emacs.

Then I switch to a terminal and type "make" to compile stuff.

So my IDE is Emacs/Makefiles/xterm

gundabad2 karma

Diamond Trust of London is one of my favorite games. I know from the store page that you're still sitting on a considerable number of copies. Will those be available forever until they sell out, or will they wind up liquidated or something like that? Just curious whether they're racking up warehouse fees, or if you've just got one big closet full of DS games.

jasonrohrer5 karma

They are racking up space in my garage.

We ship them directly from home, so there are no extra fees.

We sold two copies this week (holidays coming up). I think we're selling something like 30 a year at this point, or even fewer.

At this rate, they will sell out in 100 years. Get them while they're hot, folks!

piggyjelly2 karma

Hi Jason! I've been following you off and on since Passage and my one of my favourite games of yours is Sleep Is Death, that was such a fascinating idea and it really ignited my imagination.

I see some parallels between OHOL and Lewis Dartnell's book The Knowledge, which, if you're not familiar, is essentially a quick-start guide to rebuild civilization from scratch after any sort of cataclysm (and what is needed for it to be successful). Lewis Dartnell's approach to a lot of the subject matter was attempting to see if he could do any task himself, such as creating a backyard forge to heat aluminum from basic materials. My question is, what resources or inspiration have you used to understand technological progress and how do you go from that (such as creating the very important lathe) and translating it into the game mechanics?

jasonrohrer5 karma

I read The Knowledge as part of my research for this game, a while back.

This game was partly inspired by my experience making fire "from scratch." I still haven't been able to do it really from scratch, but I have been able to start a fire without matches, using a bow drill made from hardware store basswood and a leather strap. It's a pretty fun and exciting thing to do.

However, it's so hard (especially if you do it really from scratch, with no knife).

If even this is so hard---the simplest thing, a fire---all the other stuff must be close to impossible. I don't think most people have any idea how hard it is.

The other thing I did, a while back, was build an adobe kiln and fire pottery from the clay I dug in my back yard. The kiln looked just like the one in the game (it's also in my game Gravitation).

A lot of that kiln was "from scratch," but I used an axe to chop the firewood, and bricks to build the chimney.

Around that same time, I also made some very strong cordage out of milkweed stalks.

bluemelon5552 karma

I just read through your "Nature on Trial" website and found it interesting. Did anything else interesting happen with that? Do you still live there?

jasonrohrer5 karma

We ended up moving away for other reasons (climate, mostly... 25 below F every winter, and short summers, gets old).

Now we live in a place (Davis, CA) where no one cares about how tall your grass gets. There are "natural" landscapes all over town here.

But it is really interesting how dead-set some places are on trying to control everyone.

Thank goodness for the court system, which stands in their way.

chardbury2 karma

Favourite travel/holiday destination?

jasonrohrer3 karma

Holiday? Who has time to take a holiday?

This is an area that has been really lacking in our life. Saving our pennies as a game-dev-funded-family.

I do go to NYC every year to visit family, and I really like that city.

I've also been down to LA quite a bit for game-related stuff, and that's my second-favorite big city.

We also went to Oregon to watch the total eclipse in 2017. If you haven't ever seen one, holy crap, travel whatever distance you have to travel in order to see one. The experience is really hard to describe in words. The most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

If you've seen a partial eclipse, well... you haven't really seen anything. (That would be like partial love-making.)

CaroTheMightyAlaskan2 karma

Hi Jason! I have played OHOL since carrots were OP and I thoroughly enjoy the game. My career keeps me pretty busy, so I often go weeks at a time where I can't play. In that time, there are so many new mechanics added I often feel like I have to relearn the whole crafting system. But I do like the challenge. :)

Have you ever felt like weekly tech updates are too often? And will the tutorial ever develop further as technology does?

Thank you for making this game!

jasonrohrer2 karma

Are weekly updates too often.... hmm...

Well, the hardcore players always get through all the new stuff in 24 hours. So I do need to keep up with them.

I do understand that a core aesthetic of this game is "overwhelm." All the stuff that human beings get up to as they build civilization is really overwhelming.

To quote the King from Katamari Damacy: My, Earth really is full of things!

And it's only going to get fuller.

The tutorial is meant to just show people the core controls. The hatchet challenge at the end is not meant to teach the hatchet, but just to help them get their head around crafting and using the in-game hints.

tagpro4piR2 karma

I don't think you will answer me but I'm super curious about the religion you started? Can you explain what you mean?

TirelessGuardian1 karma

How has making video games changed your perspective on playing and enjoying video games? Are there any games you look back on and think differently about, now that you are a game developer, than you did before?

jasonrohrer2 karma

I'm not sure if it's just me getting older, or me getting burned out by making games for so long, or what.... but there are very few video games that I can bring myself to play these days.

So many of them just feel like such a chore. Some of the "better" ones actually haunt me.... I really should get around to playing them, but I just can't seem to find the time. I really don't want to sit through some D-grade story and voice acting...

There are some things that do call to me, and that I wish I had more time to sink into. Like... if I had a whole week with nothing to do, and no family responsibilities, I might just lose myself in Fortnite, Overwatch, or Hearthstone. I could also imagine trying to rank up in LOL.

I think, perhaps, that the best games have just gotten way better. Which makes all the other games, which people are still making, feel so onerous by comparison.

Rico65611 karma

what eras/ages do you plan on implementing in the future for 1H1L?

jasonrohrer2 karma

All of them!

Well, skipping the boring ones.

This isn't a game about human history. It's a game about modern people rebuilding from scratch.

Such people probably wouldn't get around to the whole "putting on metal suits and knocking each other off horses" stuff.

Acrotar1 karma

If you continue to develop OHOL for a long time to come, how will you further monetize it?

jasonrohrer1 karma

For the time being, it's still selling well.

Hopefully, that will continue for a while, to make further development on it (for a t least two years) worthwhile.

frankierabbit1 karma

I really want to get into game development. I’ve always loved video games and I always wanted to bring my stories to other people and the game mechanics I’ve been dreaming to create. How would you suggest I start it this? Like any tips on beginning my first steps to developing a game.

jasonrohrer6 karma

Go download the free version of Game Maker.

Spend one week on your first game. Finish and ship it.

Make 10 more 1-week games over the next 10 weeks and ship all of them.

Then make five 2-week games.

Then make three 1-month games.

Then make two 6-month games.

Then make one game per year for as long as you want.

At some point, after enough experience with 1-year games, you may want to cautiously consider 2- or even 3-year projects.

Scope is everything. Start very small. Absurdly small. Smaller thank you think you should. Learn to ship.

Always ship.

skinswhen1 karma

When are we getting more character skins?? Can you do a update that is solely focused on cosmetic stuff?

jasonrohrer2 karma

Been thinking about more characters.... soon!

theclassyclavicle1 karma

What are some hurdles that you’ve had to overcome being a solo developer as opposed to having atleast a small team?

jasonrohrer7 karma

Accountability. Having other people around you makes sluffing off a lot harder.

There's also a general sense of loneliness. Most people go to work and are surrounded by other people all day. They come home socially exhausted.

I'm locked in a room by myself for a good portion of the day. I'm socially starved.

gerer1 karma

Since you are big on making a game that will appeal to youtubers, what would be the things to concentrate on in this regard while designing a game? Multiplayer, replayability, anything else?

jasonrohrer3 karma

Yeah, no consumable content is the biggest thing.

Anything that makes the game endlessly replayable, and totally different situations every replay, really helps. A youtuber wants to make a video showing something that no one has ever seen before.

Multiplayer is the most direct path here. But procedurally-generated or really deep, emergent single-player can also work (Stardew, Factorio, Subnautica).

Also, a game that is visually "readable" in a small video window (like a cell phone screen) is probably important. Games with very tiny sprites probably aren't as good for this.

And regular updates help. Then there's new things every week for YouTubers to race to show first. Your game becomes a long-term story.

Also, note how different all of this stuff is from the old world where people wrote articles about games at launch (which they don't really do anymore). One article isn't going to track a game that's changing weekly, or cover all the situations that will arise in an infinitely replayable game. But a series of YouTube videos can follow such a game, perhaps multiple times a week, for years.

Dwarffish21 karma

Hey I love your game! One hour one life is fantastic! Would you consider opening ocean biomes and adding fishing?

jasonrohrer2 karma

Ocean is really tough without a bunch of deep mods to the existing engine. First, you can't walk there without a special vessel. And you can't take those vessels back onto land.

Preece1 karma

Do you think that a civilization in OHOL will ever reach "critical mass"? That is, the size of the civilization is so large, and the infrastructure is so advanced that the civilization would continue run indefinitely.

jasonrohrer2 karma

You mean, as long as no one launches the nuke?

I hope not.... that sounds boring!

steendl1 karma

Will there be any incentives for people who originally bought the game for $18 now that it's almost half the price on steam?

jasonrohrer6 karma


Game was $20 before, is still $20 on Steam.

remfull1 karma

What inspired you to keep working after all these years?

jasonrohrer2 karma

Having a family that depends on my for financial support really helps motivate me to keep going.

I just gotta ship the next game. Not shipping is not an option.

Now, I could go and get a job somewhere, but that probably would mean a dramatic decrease in quality of life for both myself and my family.

mgarcia_org1 karma

Is retro (in general) in mainstream culture a fad or here to stay? How do you think it has effected the young growing up?

jasonrohrer3 karma

I don't think this is a new thing.

The past is mystery and magic.

Did you ever see the movie Midnight in Paris, by Woodie Allen? It's all about this. And it's not about 80s video games.


KarlJay0011 karma

Didn't see any mobile games, are you concerned that more and more games might go mobile?

I've developed software for a long time and it really sucks to have to support so many platforms. I left PC for mobile enterprise years ago.

jasonrohrer2 karma

Well, I think that in general, there is less money in mobile, because people expect to pay so much less for mobile games ($5 max), or worse yet, most of the really popular ones are free.

For an indie trying to make money, mobile is really tough. Free to play is out of the question, because the potential audience size is just way to small. You need a huge audience for free-to-play "montization" schemes to pan out.

PopMechanic1 karma

Has your game practice provided sufficient financial support for you over that duration or do you freelance for additional income?

Are things getting better or worse for indie / art game developers?

jasonrohrer3 karma

I haven't done any freelance work for more than ten years.

Yes, the income from games is sufficient, and then some.

Hard to tell whether things are better or worse. There is way more competition, and way less press coverage from traditional outlets. But the ceiling on success---if you have success---is also way higher. There are just way more people buying and playing games than ever before.

For me, each game made more money than the previous game, well beyond the ordinary effects of inflation.

Of course, that's partly due to me building an audience over time, and getting better at making games.

WinterInvestment31 karma

Hi Jason,

Why did you originally decide to place your work into the public domain, have you ever regretted doing that, and do you plan to continue doing so as long as you're a game developer?

jasonrohrer5 karma

I place my work in the public domain because I simply do not have the power to limit the private actions of other people, even if I wanted to (and I'm not foolish enough to want to).

Violating copyright is something that can happen between two consenting adults in a bedroom with the door closed.

It is very hard to prevent consenting adults from doing what they will with each other behind closed doors.

You can try, but you will waste a lot of time and energy, and you will ultimately fail.

The only way to do it is to instill a strong sense of guilt into people. This works, to some degree. But anyone who can shrug off the guilt will continue going about their business, and you'll be powerless to stop them.

So I don't expend any energy, at all, in trying to stop people from proliferating copies of my work.