Preview

Salem Preview (PC)

Continuing on with the Free-to-play theme that's a significant chunk of Paradox's business model for this year, we now turn to look at Salem, from a small studio called Seatribe. This is an MMORPG set in 16th Century New England, but one that's shaped by the thinking, stories and general superstitions of the time, giving it a more 'fantastical' feel. This is going to be a very simple, very low-tech MMO with a focus on co-operation and crafting, but with a few surprise elements that will help it stand out.
 

"Er... so... what now?"
Despite the fact that Seatribe's first game - Haven & Hearth (which is similar to how this is going to turn out we're told) was created first, you'd be forgiven for comparing this game to Minecraft at first glance. As far as we know, everything in the environment is terraformable, and can be converted into resources to help fuel the crafting system, which if anything is the main focus of the game. Trees can be chopped down, ore can be mined, farms can be planted... being persistent, the changes will be permanent as well, so the world will look very different six months down the line after launch.

Co-operation is a another key gameplay element, from simple things such as the more people harvesting a resource, the faster it goes, to being able to form and build your own villages. We like to look at EVE Online for this particular comparison, as the principles behind the co-operative 'industrial' side of EVE seem to apply to Salem as well, so there's benefits in working together. The crafting system sounds like it's going to be very complex, and very progressive as well, with complex recipes, multiple stages of production, and possible real-time waiting periods as well. A key issue here is going to make to make sure the management and interface side of crafting it easy to use.

One of the other key aspects of the game, and the reason why Salem won the 'Amazingly Disgusting' award, is the four primary character values: Blood, Flem, Yellow Bile & Black Bile. These 'Cardinal Fluids', or 'Humours' are based on archaic medical theory, which dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks although it was still widely held as truth in the time-frame of the game. Everything you do in Salem has a cost associated with it in one or more of these fluids, and it's your job to keep those levels topped up. The only way revealed so far that can replenish fluids is to eat food - stuff you've either prepared yourself or some that you've bought, but either way it provides incentives to get into as many of the production skills you can, and even things like farming.

What happens when your fluids deplete? Well, if one fluid depletes, you get knocked out. Lose two or more, and you die, and herein lies the most fascinating aspects of this game. Salem subscribes to the gameplay mechanic of 'Permanent Death'. If you die in this game, that's it, your character is wiped, you lose all your stuff, and you have to start again with a new character. Very apt for the time, considering the dangers inherent with colonisation and how new people were always turning up, and as far as gameplay mechanics go, it's not something you see that often, if ever, and so how this affects the social development of the world will be intriguing.
 
Hold on... haven't we just seen this?
The only point of concern is their approach to PvP, which is interesting in the fact that it forms part of their wider Crime & Punishment ethos, but worrying in the lack of controls in place. Basically, there is no 'opting out' of PvP. If you're in the game, you have to be open to the possibility that someone may just up and kill you. That said, Seatribe don't want this to turn into a free for all - you need to learn specific skills in order to engage in PvP, and especially kill, so it's something you have to earn.

In addition to that, whenever you commit a crime, you leave behind a 'scent' - the worse the crime, the stronger the scent we're assuming here - stealing was confirmed, and we assume things like destroying other people's creations or property will be there as well. At some point, if you commit enough crimes, you can be 'summoned' by someone and killed, even if you are offline. As we said, this forms part of their wider take on crime and punishment, which is very interesting. Even if you kill someone who's committed a lot of crimes, you yourself still get a scent, as Seatribe take no moral stance on justice and whether it's justified to kill or not. In a general sense, I wish this more 'aggressive' attitude towards keeping people in line was applied to other co-operative based games - incentives are nice, if there's no 'stick', then the carrot has no meaning.

Again, it's very early days at this point. The build we were shown was pre-alpha, although if they're releasing this year then we should start to see more on the game within the next couple of months. Another major aspect is the skill system, which has been hinted at above, but not a whole lot was revealed about how extensive that would be, or even how you acquire new skills. No news on what elements will feature in the micro-transaction part of the game either.
 
ZOMG. It's like they only provided us with one usable image or something...

A lot of the concepts in this game have already been seen or played with tin Seatribe's last game, but with Paradox now behind them, we hope they'll use this opportunity to really show the gaming community what they can do. Minecraft, despite getting so much attention, was a tad over-hyped because plenty of games had done it before- but as life is not perfect, sometimes it's just a combination of being in the right place, at the right time, and talking to the right people. Salem could have just as much impact as Minecraft, and with a clearer focus, may even have more appeal. We can't wait to find out, either way. Salem is due out on PC for the Paradox Connect platform sometime in 2011.

Most Anticipated Feature: The whole package really, but this is one of those games where I can't wait to see how it evolves post launch.

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Comments

By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Feb 04, 2011
SirRoderick
Permanent death, alltime PvP risk, and persistant worlds?!

DAMN that's refreshing! Paradox sure knows how to keep me in their camp.
By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on Feb 05, 2011
bosnian_dragon
This sounds interesting :) I can't say "looks" since there's only one concept image to be seen :p
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Feb 06, 2011
JustCommunication
I've been more an more tempted to get into Minecraft recently, but I'd rather get into this :) The pre-alpha was fairly low-tech in terms of graphics, but the mechanics sound fascinating.
By K3Spice (SI Core) on Feb 08, 2011
K3Spice
Can I accuse people of being possessed by the devil too? Then hang them for not confessing to me and the whole town about it?
By owencampbell (I just got here) on Feb 08, 2011
owencampbell
I don't see why not but then according to the game you'll earn yourself a stink :-)

Perma-death sounds interesting although i hope theres some balance to it. I'd hate to be "teching" for a month to craft a axe only to have someone comes along and kill me with it.
By K3Spice (SI Core) on Feb 08, 2011
K3Spice
I WILL rule that town then.... HEHE