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Björn Johannessen

A line of kilns, each puffing a different pastel color of smoke, rings
Game Designer Björn Johannessen’s puritanoid
character.  “The disco smoke –
that’s probably not going to be there in the final
version,” he jokes. Björn is showing me a brick
production chain in style="font-style: italic;">Salem,
his nascent studio’s second title, and the first done as a
professional project, complete with funding and a fearless publisher,
Paradox Interactive.

Brickmaking is serious work in a crafting MMORPG rooted in emergent and
cooperative (or competitive) behavior. In Björn’s
first project, href=""> style="font-style: italic;">Haven & Hearth,
done while he and Lead Programmer Frederic Tolf were undergrads at a
Swedish university, bricks became currency. “In style="font-style: italic;">Haven,
bricks have all the characteristics of a good currency.
They’re portable, divisible, and durable.” Not to
mention, bricks are infinitely more useful, in an early colonial world,
than bank notes.

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characters in greyscale.

If you find yourself wondering why Seatribe wouldn’t just
layer in a economy, complete with its own currency, then maybe you
haven’t discovered the magic, joy, and frequent frustration
of emergent gameplay as popularized by style="font-style: italic;">Minecraft.
The idea is to give players a framework (production chains, materials,
etc.) and allow them to interact with their environment, introducing
external threats and economies of scale to drive cooperative behavior.

While Seatribe’s style="font-style: italic;">Haven
actually preceded style="font-style: italic;">Minecraft
by almost a year, it’s top-down perspective and online-only,
open source framework attracted only a niche audience instead of
Notch’s comparative riches and fame. But that was enough to
empower Seatribe’s dynamic duo to create style="font-style: italic;">Salem.
Not a bad gig right out of school.

Character Art Evolved

In our href="">January
first-look, we revealed some
of Salem’s
most popular selling points – permadeath
and character persistence through items (i.e. once your character is
dead, he/she is dead, but his/her progress can be inherited through
item ownership by a new relative just off the boat), it’s
socio-economic sandboxy nature, and cultural repercussions of using
magic, which is an “intensely individualized” way
to succeed at a neighbor’s expense. The positive response
Björn got from this article and other coverage, combined with
Paradox’s support, allowed Seatribe to contract out for
higher quality art for the game, as seen with the evolving character
art below:

Character Development Evolved

After Björn showed us how characters had evolved visually, I
was curious about how these characters will evolve in-game. Details
were sketchy at the January reveal, and Seatribe didn’t seem
like a studio that would settle for a conventional RPG level-up scheme.
They didn’t.

Food is central to progress in style="font-style: italic;">Salem,
as befits its loosely historical
bent, and character development revolves around the four slightly
humorous “humours”, or bodily fluids: blood
(hitpoints), phlegm (non-combat stamina – for chopping trees,
digging clay, etc.), yellow bile (combat stamina, also used for
advanced crafting), and black bile (used for intellectual pursuits,
such as learning a new skill). For example, to learn the
“mountaineering” skill to escape the steep inclines
surrounding the newbie area, for example, you’ll have to
spend some black bile. This can only be replenished by eating the right

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Learning skills is one way to progress in style="font-style: italic;">Salem.
The other is something
Björn calls the “gluttony system.” When a
player’s humours are fully replenished, that player can
activate the “god fork” to enter gluttony mode.
This mode is a minigame, with the objective of pushing a humour past a
certain limit by eating a variety of food.

But gluttony isn’t just an easy way to level up at the
expense of your food stores. Björn explained: “The
problem is, food replenishes individual humors randomly, and the random
chance is based on the quality of the food. The time and benefit of
each dish varies, and the meters recede over time… But the
higher the quality of the food, the more predictable the humor it will
fill." So what’s the secret? “Have a lavish meal
prepared. The better the food, the more accurately you can plan the
amount of food needed.” And the more you level your humours,
the more work you can do, enemies you can fight, and skills you can

Social Gaming Evolved

Björn’s character struck a “contemplative
pose” as he placed an Under Construction sign for a new kiln,
the seventh in the colored-smoke spewing lineup. Digging at a nearby
claypit for the requisite 45 units of clay, Björn noted that
the environment was deforming – the earth dimpled and
ultimately sunk with each unit of clay removed. As he progressed, he
pointed out how quickly his phlegm was decreasing. I quipped about how
this could be a good thing on a pollen-filled, allergy-antagonizing
spring day outside in New York City, but in style="font-style: italic;">Salem,
phlegm enables work.
Soon, his character had to take a break to eat.

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humours are fine!

I took the opportunity to ask
Björn where the line is between
work and play in style="font-style: italic;">Salem.
Digging clay and chopping trees might not
strike the average gamer as fun, but then, well, I can’t
explain Minecraft’s
success with that kind of logic either.
Björn saved me from my reverie: “Building a work
simulator is risky. At some point, it becomes work for real. We had to
be wary of that - it can't be grindy, it can't be like work, so we had
to abstract away some of the work aspects."

Some of that abstraction has to do with the transport of resources via
horses, carts, wagons, and boats – but the biggest timesaver
is that more hands always make lighter work. Resource gathering, like
the mythical enemies lurking in the deep woods and countless other
systems in Salem,
is meant to reward those who work as a team.

PvP Evolved

But external threats such as the mythical squonks and hide-behinds of
lumberjack lore aren’t the true threats in style="font-style: italic;">Salem.
Bjorn hit
me with a quote that could have come from a Stieg Larsson novel:
“Man is the wolf of man, there's no monster we can make
that's half as scary as a well-made village looking to take you
out.” While the dark edges of the map (dark, because
civilization rating controls the day-night cycle –
“In Mordor, you need a torch,” Björn
laughed.) contain the scarcest, most precious resources, even the
well-lighted areas might spell your doom.

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Yet murder, too, has a heavy price, given the game’s
permadeath premise. Björn explained the rudiments of the
“scent” system, by which friends or relatives of a
murder victim can track the killer or killers. If a murder is
particularly heinous or unjust, the scent will allow the avenging party
to summon the offending player even if he or she is offline. Its an
interesting concept, and I look forward to Björn showing us
more about the PvP side of style="font-style: italic;">Salem
this summer.

Final Notes

All this begs the question of how many players Seatribe expects to host
on any given server. “We haven’t found the upper
limit with Haven
yet. The maximum we’ve seen is 1,300. With
the hardware upgrades, maybe 2,000 to 2,500 is the true maximum, but we
definitely want to allow for transfers between servers too.”

And how will that translate to competition and cooperation? What size
or scale or building projects might we see in style="font-style: italic;">Salem?
"I wouldn't draw
any particular line. As big as possible... big is fun. We definitely
want huge projects like cathedrals and whatnot, because that adds a
cooperative effort to the game."


is currently on track for a 2011 release. We at Ten Ton Hammer be
sure to keep an eye on this innovative new title from developer
Seatribe and Paradox Interactive, and we thank Björn
Johannessen and the Paradox crew for the recent update.

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To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Salem Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.