An Exclusive Salem Interview
Set in an alternate New England, one alive with Witchcraft and all things eldritch, Paradox Interactive's upcoming Crafting MMORPG Salem has drawn a substantial amount of interest. Though I'm slightly put-off by the cutesy art style they've utilized, the premise itself seems sound enough.
If this is your first time hearing about the game, here's a quick recap. Salem, as you might have guessed, is an MMORPG with a strong emphasis on crafting, mutable terrain and Lovecraftian influences. It's also kind of evil. Death isn't just a temporary setback here. Death in Salem means, well, exactly what you think it means: death. Though you won't lose everything you have (you'll have the option of incarnating as the rightful successor to family line), you will lose enough to make you think twice about experiencing that permanent termination of digitized biological functions again.
We recently had the opportunity to interview Creative Director Björn Johannessen, one half of the creative team responsible for the upcoming title. Given that the Paradox Convention is less than a week away, the answers were somewhat brief but you can be assured of more coverage in the next few weeks.
MMORPG: Tell us a little bit more about Salem! How did you come up with the premise? Why Salem?
JOHANNESSEN: When my code gnome Fredrik Tolf and I first were invited to pitch a game idea to the people at Paradox I had three ideas that I presented to Fredrik. I had one idea about making a game in a gothic, occult wild west setting -- lots of ghost dancing and stuff like that -- one idea to make an MMORPG based on the Baron von Münschausen stories, and one set in gothic Colonial America with headless horsemen and shadows over Innsmouth. We needed some sort of frontier to make the game, and the last idea just ended up being the one we found most inspiring when we discussed it before pitching the idea to Paradox. No one had done it before and it seemed like we could make it really cool.
MMORPG: What is is the theme of the world? What kind of setting is this? Given the presence of permadeath, I assume it's a lot darker than what we might have initially suspected. Will we see the Bubonic Plague?
JOHANNESSEN: Gothic colonial America with a touch of Alice in Wonderland. Permadeath is a mechanic, but it is well integrated into the core mechanics of the game.
MMORPG: Why permadeath? There seems to be a strong adherence to realism here. How gritty can we expect this to be? How realistic will the world be? According to what we understand so far, it looks like the descendants of your character will be able to continue the legacy. How will this work exactly? Can you make a will?
JOHANNESSEN: Because it allows for in-game conflict resolution with finality, which helps the sand-box model we use. It enforces a lot of good gameplay.
MMORPG: What kind of classes can we expect to see? How will they work? Will they all be dependent on crafting?
JOHANNESSEN: That's not how we roll. Classes are something we consider a rather arbitrary restriction on player freedom. We have a more dynamic system of skills and skill values and bodily humors that your character acquires, allowing for much more free-form character development.
MMORPG: How detailed will the crafting be? Will the process be the same for tools, buildings and weapons or will the building process differ depending on the item?
JOHANNESSEN: The processes are extremely different. Farming is nothing like ore smelting. It is fairly detailed. Representing individual items as small as earthworms and soap bubbles.
MMORPG: Aesthetically speaking, it looks as though H.P Lovecraft and Tim Burton are going to be a bit of an influence here. Will this carry beyond the visuals? Will there be Deep Ones stalking Salem?
MMORPG: What is your stance on griefing? Will there be any form moderation? How do you plan to curb wanton chaos? Will Salem subscribe to Darwin's Law and permit only the strongest to survive?
JOHANNESSEN: I don't know how it could at all be defined in any really meaningful way. I think that people should have the ability to hurt each other in game, but combat is in some ways an extremely small part of the game. Darwin's Law is a fact of life, and nothing one can choose to simply opt out of.
MMORPG: Will there be any of the traditional elements we've come to expect? Will there be high-level raids? Dungeons? Will there be an assortment of vanity pets and things to collect?
JOHANNESSEN: *Laughs* No. We provide a map that players can terraform, develop and change. There are no silly dungeons or raids other than raids on other players. There will be plenty of stuff in the game, but most of it will hopefully actually be meaningful stuff.
MMORPG: What kind of NPCs can we expect to see? Tell us a little about the quest system - will you even have a quest system?
JOHANNESSEN: There are animals in the world like beavers, turkeys, deer, hidebehinds and squonks. We do not tell players what to do. There is no quest system, only natural goals and progress.
MMORPG: Anything else you'd like to tell us about Salem?
JOHANNESSEN: If you use a 'Singing Old Log' when you craft the 'Wicker Man', you'll get a 'Wicked Wicker Man' instead.
And that's a wrap! Johannessen was kind enough to invite us to pose more questions so if you have anything else you want to ask, feel free to leave it in the comment box and we'll forward it to the enterprising team. Until next time, enjoy the screenshots!