May 23, 2011

Next Big Thing for Salem: An Online Video Game about Puritans? [Update: BETA Signups Have Started!]

[Update 3/23/12: After being put off a few times BETA signups are finally open! Sign up here: ]

A small game developing company named Seatribe is developing a game for Paradox Interactive which seems to be full of revolutionary ideas and has a lot of gamers buzzing.

Their new browser-based MMO Salem is to be set in a fantastical and mythical version of the harsh wilderness of colonial New England that the early settlers faced, the biggest difference being that in this case the magic and witchcraft is real and not just the product of ignorant fanatical religious fundamentalism.

The look of the game is right on the line between morbid and cutesy. The developer has stated his stylistic influences specifically include artists such as Herman Melville, H.P. Lovecraft, Tim Burton, and Edgar Allan Poe. This is most apparent in the design of the characters:

Aw, what a cute little zealot.

The one thing I am not a huge fan of, but many people are, is the fact that Salem is going to rely heavily on crafting. In other words, building, hunting, farming, cooking, pottery, blacksmithing, etc. - this is going to be the core of the game. According to developers there will be "no quests", so this gets some people worrying, does that mean that this is going to just be another one of those Farmville type games?

This is where the revolutionary part comes in. First, Salem will offer fully terraformable persistent and changing environments, which means when you change something it stays that way - forever. Secondly, the death system is full PVP (player vs player) and features perma-death - so once you die, you are dead forever. A good chunk of the hard work and wealth you've accumulated is gone for good, too, excepting a small amount passed on to your "heir" which is how you can continue to progress.

As to how they are going to balance out these two aspects of the game, which seem extreme and in opposition to each other is beyond me. No successful game to date has been crafting dependent and had open PVP with perma-death, it just seems too easy to exploit.

As this is an MMO time progresses at a normal pace whether you are playing or not, but day and night are being handled in a unique way that gives homage to the Puritan's actual historic beliefs. You see, the Puritans literally believed that darkness was evil. That which they could not understand or comprehend was therefore evil by default. Much in the same way, the virtual Puritans in Salem will be surrounded in darkness at the beginning of the game, but as they progress and gain more Civilization Points they will begin to be able to see and understand the forests, and the world around them.

So, where does witchcraft work it's way into the game? This is The Witch City of course.

Details seem sketchy so far, but it seems players will be able to choose one of two magical paths, one of which being witchcraft. I am assuming that the use of light or dark magic is what will divide the population into two opposing factions, because I couldn't imagine Puritans and witches working together towards a common goal, even if in just a video game.

Also, by the looks of the pictures the Puritans might be the evil ones. Just look at this little bastard:

Release date is set for Q4, which in non-video game person language means the fourth quarter of this year. Oh yes, and one last important thing. IT'S FREE. [Update 3/23/12: After being put off a few times BETA signups are finally open! Sign up here: ]

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