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Some Assembly Required: Salem dev talks permadeath, griefing, and skill-based gameplay

Jef Reahard
Hello, sandbox faithful, and welcome to a special interview edition of Some Assembly Required. We recently had a chance to pitch some questions to the team behind Seatribe's upcoming Salem title, and creative director Björn Johannessen was kind enough to answer them.

Salem is being advertised by publisher Paradox as "the crafting MMO," but it's also rife with throw-back mechanics including a huge amount of player freedom and a permadeath/punishment system similar to the one in Johannessen's Haven & Hearth.

Salem - forest shadows
Massively: Salem features no quest system (and no dungeons/raids/etc.). Do you provide any guidelines for players in terms of activities and goals, and what kinds of things do you expect/hope players will be doing with the majority of their game time?

Björn Johannessen: The game provides natural goals in the form of the next tier of skills and stuff, much like in, say, The Sims. Players will spend a fair amount of time farming, gardening, foraging, fishing and hunting.

Sandbox games and cash shops seem like strange bedfellows at first glance. Can you explain how Salem's business model works? What kinds of items are we going to see in the store?

You'll see a small selection of items that generally make life a bit easier or are needed to start up a new industry. Players can presently buy nails, some weapons, backpacks, shovels, bibles, seed for planting, colonial goods and some food in the store. Generally the premise is that the store represents trade with other colonies and with Europe, so items that are not native to New England are generally acquired through the store.

Salem - clearing a forest
Along the same lines, will there be cash-shop exclusives, or is everything obtainable/craftable via gameplay?

It is possible to acquire in-game currency without spending money, so everything in the store is by definition available through gameplay.

Does the game feature no-trade items?

No, not in the way I assume you mean that question. Some items are bound to the character for practical reasons (door and gate keys, for example), but there's nothing like the soulbound items of, for example, World of Warcraft. The game does not specify items as being tradeable or non-tradeable (there isn't any specific trading interface, for that matter). If you can drop it on the ground or put it in a container, you can trade it. All items you'll want to trade away are possible to trade away.

What kinds of in-game toolsets can we expect? Guild management/UI tools, player-generated content tools, social tools, etc.?

There's a town management screen where you can set permissions for town members. There's a buddy list to keep track of your friends. The game client should be easy enough to mod if you want to add something.

Salem - building a homestead
Everyone probably knows that Salem will feature permadeath. Can you explain a bit of the design logic behind that choice? Do you expect players to think twice before initiating combat, or are you encouraging diplomacy over combat in some way?

It's in because it enforces a subtle form of natural roleplaying and because it makes your character an investment and not something you can just throw away on random acts of griefing with the expectation that it will respawn. Permadeath prevents griefing more than anything else.

I read somewhere that Salem's permadeath/punishment system will work very much like Haven & Hearth's and will even feature the ability for your character to be summoned and killed while you're offline if you've committed a very serious crime. Is that accurate, and if so, can you explain a bit about the system to our readers who haven't played H&H?

Pretty much correct. When you commit a serious-enough crime (e.g., murder, theft, vandalism), you leave a little clue behind that other players can use to track your homestead. If they reach the homestead, the clue can then be used to summon you (i.e., the offending character) into the game for some dispensing of justice. Basically you shouldn't be running around killing people unless you can protect yourself.

Salem - farming
Will Salem feature any kind of tutorial or explanatory gameplay, or are players simply dropped into the world and expected to figure out the systems and such on their own?

I think it's safe to assume that the game will have some sort of learning curve. I'd like to make the learning easy on players, and I wouldn't mind some sequences of introductory gameplay, but I don't like formal tutorials. I never use those myself.

How does the game's skill system work? Is there any sort of cap, or can players learn everything/do everything over time?

Players acquire inspirational items that give them various kinds of learning points in different fields of study, which in turn can be used as currency to buy new skills. The skills aren't capped, but there are diminishing returns to leveling them. It should be at least theoretically possible to learn how to do everything.

And lastly, when can we expect an open beta/release?

We're working on getting it started right now, so it shouldn't be too long. I hope that satisfies your curiosities. Let me know if you have any further questions.

Will do, thanks very much for your time!

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!