An In-Depth Look at Salem: The Crafting MMO @ E3 2012
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 28th Jun 2012
When it was first announced to games journalists in February of 2011 what is now called "Salem: The Crafting MMO" was known as simply "Salem" a free-to-play MMO that nowhere in any of the descriptions for its focus did the game feature the ancient practices of witchcraft. What did feature prominently was the fact that it was one of the first MMO's to feature permanent death as part of its game play structure -- that is to say that unlike the vast majority of all other MMO's at the time, in Salem when a character dies that is it; they are dead!
There would be no healing, no resurrection, and no second chances -- no special potions or spells or any of the other fix-work solutions often present in the MMO world to ensure that all of the hard work that a player puts into the creation and development of their character does not disappear in a puff of smoke so to speak... Needless to say that proposed take on the MMO genre had instantly garnered attention.
The official announcement of the game, which was presented as a free-to-play Massively Multi-player Online (MMO) game based in the harsh world of colonial Salem, Massachusetts and whose focus was squarely placed upon crafting and player colonies as the players discovers the New World in a sandbox like environment -- and not focused upon witchcraft!
Previewed behind closed doors to members of the gaming media in late January 2011, the game was already well-known for its controversial permanent death feature, an essential game mechanic that introduces risk as players progress in the new world, but that presented as the core measure of its game play mechanics with the players in control of their town in the game, and frontier justice being the guiding system of "law" in its Player-versus-Player (PvP) environment.
The concept of player death was not intended to force gamers to act or behave in a timid fashion, or force them to constantly start over, but rather it was meant to offer a more realistic take on the whole system of persistent realities in games, with a core element consisting of the continuation scheme in which the player's death would automatically cause their estate and wealth to be inherited by their heir, who would then replace the dead character as the active character for the gamer.
According to Project Lead Tom Söderlund the point to that permanent solution was to add the new element of bloodlines and generations rather than just a single character played throughout an entire game -- though one must consider that, as it is a game that centers around crafting, the primary role of the player-character must ligically be that of manager rather than active crafter, the assumption being that they would employ either a combination of skilled crafters who were a combination of indentured servants, slaves, or contracted employees, as otherwise each time that a player-character died so too would die the basic economic skills set under which the family fortune was acquired and maintained!
The E3 2012 Trailer for A Game of Dwarves typifies the too-cute and too-deadly combination that Paradox has become infamous for in its games like Salem, offering gamers complex game worlds while at the same time preserving a sort of humor that is again unique to the studio/publisher.
Since 1999 Paradox Interactive has been busy establishing its role as a leading global publisher of PC-based strategy games -- an effort that they have shown remarkable success in achieving! That record is proven by the steadily-growing portfolio of games that include Europa Universalis, Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron and of particular note the Magicka series -- the latter being a perfect example of the sort of semi-serious mixture of violence, humor, and a ludicrous self-depreciation that has served the studio well!
In 2012 Paradox Interactive will field its most ambitious line-up of titles, including the highly-anticipated release of War of the Roses, Hearts of Iron, A Game of Dwarves, and Dungeonland. It is also expanding its presence in the free-to-play arena with the upcoming release of Salem: The Crafting MMO, a game that continues to generate a fixed measure of excitement and interest within the games journalism beat.
Here There Be Danger!
As we approached the Paradox Interactive booth at E3 2012 its focus was clearly not upon Salem, but was divided among the many titles in the Paradox stable, not the least of which were the dynamic-trio of Hearts of Iron, A Game of Dwarves, and War of the Roses -- in fact we had to specifically ask about Salem because the primary interest of our host was to tell us about the previous three titles!
The game that is Salem has been set in a fantasy version of the infamous New England village whose modern incarnation today fancies itself to be the home of the religion known as "Wicca" which largely incorporates what would have been called Witchcraft in the past -- but there is a lot more to this story than you might think!
For example would you be shocked or surprised to learn that the law that criminalized the practice of Witchcraft in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was not actually a US Law but rather was an English Law? Remember at the time of the trials there was no United States of America -- and the laws that were used to charge and murder the accused witches were originally established in England as part of The Witchcraft Act 1542, and were not officially repealed and removed from the law books until 1951, long after the American Colonies were an independent nation.
While witchcraft and the Salem Witchcraft Trials and hysteria do not really play a major role in the basic foundation of the game at least at first glance, in reality those infamous events play a very central role in the game -- but probably not for the reasons you are thinking or in the way you might imagine. Rather than playing a fixed and focused role itself, the nature of the events that preceded the witchcraft trials and all that came with and after them neatly focuses a point in the underlying dangers that are present in Salem...
You see the overtly cute Gothic-style of Salem's lighthearted art presents the perfect contrast to the otherwise grim realities of open player-versus-player combat and permanent death in a world that is both seemingly harmless in its outward appearance, while at the same time being extremely perilous, dangerous, and capable of extreme violence and cruelty just below the surface!
Consider this: in that environment the hysteria connected with just the accusation of witchery by young preteen girls was enough to lead to the incarceration of more than 200 people and the deaths of twenty real people over the course of the summer of 1692!
It all started harmlessly enough when in January of 1692 the daughter of the Reverend Samuel Parris, Elizabeth, age 9, and his niece Abigail Williams, age 11, began to have "fits" that were blamed upon the supernatural by the village doctor. After this another girl, Ann Putnam, age 11, experienced similar episodes and, on February 29, under pressure from magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, these girls blamed three women for afflicting them: Tituba, the Parris' Caribbean slave; Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; and Sarah Osborne, an elderly impoverished woman.
In the end those three accusations lead to wholesale arrests and the visscious slaughter of twenty innocent people -- with the death toll consisting of:
June 10th, 1692: Bridget Bishop
July 19th, 1692: Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, and Sarah Wildes. (In addition to the five that were hung, Giles Corey, who was by all accounts after the fact completely innocent of any wrongdoing was pressed to death).
August 19th, 1692: George Burroughs, Martha Carrier, John Willard, George Jacobs, Sr., and John Proctor.
September 22nd, 1692: Martha Corey, Mary Eastey, Ann Pudeator, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Wilmott Redd, Margaret Scott, and Samuel Wardwell.
Besides the 20 executed above, it is known for certain that at least four more victims -- Sarah Osborn, Roger Toothaker, Lyndia Dustin, and Ann Foster -- died in prison awaiting trial, but the true number of the accused who died in prison may actually be much larger, as conflicting records suggest that the number was closer to thirteen...
So there we have evidence of just how volatile that environment really was, and how quickly an incredibly large group of innocent citizens could be deprived of liberty and, for some, of life itself, their being case upon the mercy of a merciless court and community being the perfect example of the danger that lurks, just below the surface, and quick to strike, within the community in which this MMO game takes place! Are you worried yet? You should be!
Salem and E3 2012
Even though Salem: The Crafting MMO was not one of the focus games at the Paradox booth at E3 that did not prevent the army of Paradox staff back home at Paradox HQ from issuing a stream of press releases, new game screen-shots, game trailers, and game videos about Salem to a hungry games press, both those members of the relatively small games journalism community attending E3 and the much larger group scattered around the world who were not!