Salem : Puritans, Permadeath, and Open PvP in a Fantastical New England

Salem is one of the freshest concepts we’ve seen come to the MMORPG category since innovative games like Seed
Salem is one of the freshest concepts we’ve seen come to the MMORPG category since innovative games like Seed, Chronicles of Spellborn, Love, and Darkfall each made their brief splash in the aughts. It’s also a study in contrasts – the Puritanical meets the black arts, a familiar New England meets a fantastical past steeped in folklore and Native American influence, and a lighthearted style meets truly hardcore game concepts (like real-time crafting and building, permadeath, and full-time open PvP).

salem -
Bjorn Johannessen

salem -
Frederik Tolf

To help us understand this colorfully contrasty game, we met with Game Designer Bjorn Johannessen, who makes up exactly half of the Seatribe development team. Lead Programmer Frederik Tolf ran the demo as Bjorn got into the particulars. Given the small team size and gathering / crafting intensity of the game, comparisons to Minecraft were rife. “I’m comfortable with those,” laughed Bjorn. While Salem and Minecraft do seem very similar on the surface (though Salem has much better – if not cutting edge – graphics), Seatribe seems avid to support and explore the social side of the game much more than their vaunted forbearer did.

First up was character customization. As Frederik tossed lots of different outfits on a maids-a’-milking looking female character, Bjorn explained that the game will have plenty of character customization depth and a variety of period weaponry – everything from clubs and pitchforks to blunderbusses and muzzleloaders.

Ursus dissimulans

    A highly dangerous animal, but, owing to its intense aversion to the odor of alcohol, never known to attack an inebriate. One bottle of Uno beer has been proven to be a complete safeguard even in thickly infested country.
    A biggish beast, standing about six feet and walking erect. The slender body makes it possible to hide completely behind the bole of a ten inch tree. The pelt is long thick, and black, and the tail is carried recurved. Looks like a French sheepdog’s. Almost impossible to tell whether the critter is going or coming, and practically hopeless to locate its face—if any. The short, well-muscled forelegs are equipped with grizzly-like claws.
    Its food is chiefly intestines. Leaping from its hiding-place with a demonical laugh, it swiftly disembowels its victim with one swipe. Sometimes the fiendish howl frightens the prey to death before the blow falls.
    The Hidebehind is never found in the open. He always conceals himself behind a tree trunk. His marvellously quick, stealthy gait makes it possible for him to stay constantly behind his prey, no matter how quickly the suspicious victim may spin about in the hope of glimpsing the marauder. The beast can go seven years without eating.

[source : Fearsome Creatures, Henry Tryon, published 1930.]
Items will also consist of tools, such as axes made of stone or metal. Bjorn noted that items of varying quality will have an impact. Having a variety and scale of items in Salem is especially important given that when your character dies, the only part of him or her that will live on will be their items. These items will be given to the next “relative” getting off the boat.

salem concept art

Magic will likewise be in the game – it wouldn’t be Salem without witchcraft – but Bjorn explained that magic won’t be overt, if no less creepy. “Players won’t be casting fireballs at each other,” Bjorn noted. “It’s impact will be far more subtle, like turning your neighbor’s cow’s milk to blood.” Such actions will undoubtedly have socio-economic impact. For example, perhaps your milk will sell for a higher price, but you risk the early society’s religious and social powers to bear against you as a result.

While witchcraft will originate from other players in your early Puritan society, you’ll also face environmental dangers – both real and mythical. Each of the 25 x 25 km maps will have a civilization rating that will directly affect the relative brightness of the area, along with the type and deadliness of creatures you’ll encounter. Civilization rating can by increased by building farms, churches, smithies, mines, etc. But the less you have to fear from outside threats, the more you likely have to fear from your fellow neighbor. Bjorn hinted at intelligent options to keep your person and holdings safe from rampaging players while on or offline, but for now they’re keeping mum on PvP specifics.

Getting back to the external threats, Bjorn referenced actual several books chock full of lumberjack lore that had served as source material. Creatures such as timid Squonks (from Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods by W.T. Cox) and the much more dangerous, intestine eating Hidebehinds (from Fearsome Critters by Henry Tryon) will infest the darker portions of the map. And, despite the Puritans’ peaceful dealings with the natives, Indians will also inhabit the area as a faction to be trusted or fought against.

salem - hidebehind>

Endurance, hitpoints, etc. will be tracked by a veiny “cardinal fluids” meter at the top of the screen.  Build actions are among the most costly in the game, and like every action, it will take lots of real time to complete the action. But unlike in other online games, you can pick up, say, chopping down a tree, where someone else left off, or chip in as the work’s being done. (Yes, it takes time to serious time to chop down a tree, just like anyone who’s chopped down a Christmas tree in sub-freezing weather knows). Likewise, the map can be transformed a la Minecraft, but this likewise carries a high cost.

Given the concept, Halloween would make for a perfect release date, but all we could get out of Bjorn is that Salem will release later in 2011. In the meantime, stay tuned for more details on Salem in an upcoming exclusive video interview at Ten Ton Hammer!

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