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Gamescom 2011: Survive and make friends in this Puritan sandbox

Creeping Up A Notch

When describing Salem, there are a lot of familiar phrases that will immediately persuade players to call it a Minecraft clone. But here is an interesting fact: the developers have never played Minecraft. Sitting down with Seatribe at Gamescom, they were very excited to show us their upcoming free-to-play, browser based crafting MMO. Pitched as a successor to their previous effort, Haven & Hearth, Salem gets to grips with the witchcraft of 16th century New England.

Deep In The Wilderness

Immediately drawing attention to itself, Salem flaunts an art style that the developers proudly refer to as Animal Crossing meets H.P. Lovecraft. Imagining a cute-looking, horror-laden New England will get you some way to visualising the sandbox design of the game. Some may even say that the style is derivative of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Considered a very open RPG, Salem begins by passing players through the usual character creation process, with the typical hairstyles and clothing of Puritan heritage being the choice. Afterwards it is time to board the new land and carve those American dreams into the Massachusetts landscape. The several square kilometres of land beset in front of the player is randomly generated and will feature plenty of dark forests, barren stretches and creatures lurking in the shadows. Most of the fantasy is actually derived or inspired by mythical folklore, such as the ‘hidebehinds’ that stalk the forests and attack those that happen across its path.

The promised land is a dangerous one and players will want to stick together in this hostile environment. Not only will the creatures be less likely to severely damage a group of settlers, but essential tasks like chopping down trees and building houses will take less time if performed by more than one person. The idea is to enforce teamwork from the very start - encouraging players to huddle for survival, and then get to know each other as they inevitably become neighbours. It won’t be long before a small community is established and you and your fellow hard-working beavers create a town towards which stragglers will be marching.

Living The Life

As Salem is a crafting MMO, it will be essential for players to collect resources and manage them in a careful manner. The mutable world in which players inhabit allows any natural structures to be carved into, and the ground to be raised and dug up if desired. Players will therefore enjoy complete freedom with the malleable world at their fingertips, but they will feel some restrictions. One of which inevitably pops up when comparing Salem to Minecraft as buildings are pre-made selections rather than a block-by-block construction. When the building in blueprint is placed an ‘under construction’ sign appears in its place and the building will then take a while to be completed. A more pertinent restriction placed upon the player’s Puritan counterpart is that life is understood through the four cardinal fluids: black bile, blood, phlegm and yellow bile. Every action in the game is tied to the loss of one of these fluids, blood is basically a health meter and phlegm is connected to crafting for instance. Regenerating these fluids is done so through the consumption of food, so growing crops and hunting animals are necessary chores.

There is a store that players can visit to purchase items that they cannot find elsewhere in the world, or do not want to lend the time to harvesting them. Currency is managed through the acquisition of silver, which can be earned in game or bought with real currency if desired. The model will be familiar with those who play any social games like Farmville, so making any purchases are completely optional and teaming up with people to share items and skills will be a huge benefit.