Merchant’s Legacy is a game that started to make in late August of 2015, and ended in April of 2016. With eight months of development, this game is still to date, my largest project. So what is it? Well basically you could call it a 2D, top down version of Shoppe Keep. This is a game where you run and manage a medieval shop, buying produce and selling it to customers. At the time of early development, I hadn’t known about Shoppe Keep until around a month in so the idea wasn’t really a copy, yet there were some mechanics that I did borrow from the game. What makes my game different though? Well here’s a description of the game:
Merchant’s Legacy is a game set in medieval times, where you are in charge of a shop. You need to place down the shelves and tables, then buy the various different items that you can put up for sale. Once that is done you can open up your shop and let people passing by come in and browse your goods. This game also has a dynamic economy, so you can set what price you want for each item and can even affect the future prices by many ways. You need to pay tax in time and watch out for thieves.
That little description didn’t really give a full overview of the features, so here’s a list of them that can be found in the game:
- 2D pixel art, top down style.
- Customisable shop interior.
- Dynamic in-game economy.
- Various different citizens you can talk to.
- Thieves can steal from your shop.
- You can be cursed by mysterious passers by.
- You can grow a farm in your yard.
- You need to pay tax every month or the King’s thugs will come for you.
- There are beggars on the street who do good for you if you do good for them.
- Skill tree.
- You can upgrade your weapon.
- If you want, you could kill everyone on the street outside.
- You need to manage your reputation.
- Black market.
- Load / save system.
- You need to sweep the floor as those dirty citizens come through your shop.
- If you do attack people, you need to clean up their blood or your rep will go down.
- You can put up advertisements for your shop to increase traffic.
- You can borrow money from the bank.
Here are a few of the game’s values / mechancis that are useful to know when reading this blog post:
- Gold is the currency of the game. You can use it buy items from suppliers, upgrade your shop / weapons and other things. You can gain money by selling items to customers or by other means.
- Reputation is the number out of 100 which determines how popular and respected your shop is. You want this number as high as possible as this determines how often people visit your shop. You can increase this by keeping your shop clean, keeping prices reasonable and not attacking citizens.
The game revolves around its time system. It has a calendar just like us, yet the days are only around five or so seconds long. This means that each year is around half and hour. With this, all the games mechanics revolve around the time. You need to be always watching the date as you need to pay your tax, repay loans, watch for deliveries. At times I feel like because of this time system, the game forces to player to rush what they’re doing and any mistake would be detrimental. This is not how I wanted to game to turn out though. I wanted it to be a sort of peaceful yet in-depth management game. It turned out to be a stressful journey, where the player is at the mercy of RNG and skill to get as many people coming into their shop so that they can pay their tax. If I could fix this, I would make the days go on for longer or maybe even chuck out the entire time system. Yet I don’t that was ever going to be an option. The game was designed around having a time system and changing that would require an entire re development from the ground up. I like the time system, it’s just that I’m not doing it correctly to suit the mood and pacing I want for the game.
The pacing and game loop is another issue I have. The whole basis of the game is: buy items, resell at higher price, pay tax, repeat. Of course there is progression, in that you can buy more shelves and upgrade stuff, yet it can get boring after a while. Also with the fast paced play style you will need to develop, it can lead to quite a stressful and unsatisfactory result. In my mind not looking back, there was never a real goal to the game. Yes there was the ones like, reach a high reputation, sell an expensive armour piece or achieve all the achievements. These are goals in their own way, but there isn’t really an overarching end goal. Although does it need one? I’ve played this game for an hour straight once and like mentioned above I felt kind of stressed out and pretty unsatisfied. Then there is the tax that the player needs to pay every month. This is a mechanic that I thought was good and that added a constant challenge for the player to accomplish, yet it is just the main contributor to the games fast play style and stressful nature as you need to get the money each month otherwise you will be punished.
In contrast to the statement above about the game being fast and stressful, there are also moments where it is slow and at times stagnant. By this I mean there are points where all you can do is stare at the people walking into your shop in hope that they will buy stuff. There are points in the game where you are so low in money and in reputation that it is nearly impossible to recover. You may say that this then balances the games pacing. Well no it doesn’t. Having a fast paced play style suddenly shift to a slow crawl is not good as there is no middle ground. The same way hot and cold doesn’t mix.
Although, in saying all this, if you know what you’re doing then the fast paced play style is not that bad as you have in mind what you need to do and when you need to do it. It’s just for new players who will suddenly have thugs at their door for not paying something that just flew by their head. Apart from this, the rest of the game’s mechanics and features are quite good as this is probably one of the only overarching problems of it – and one of the reasons why the project eventually failed after eight months.
As the player you have three tools. Your broom, your weapon and your selection tool. These tools let you manage your shop in various ways. Here’s what they do:
- The Broom tool allows you to sweep up dirt from when people walk in your shop and blood from when you or a thug injures someone.
- The Weapon is a tool that allows you to defend your shop from thugs or thieves. Although you can attack anyone you see, it may not be the best idea as your reputation will go down. You start with a club, but can upgrade that to a sword with gold, and furthermore to a bow.
- The Selection Tool is a tool that isn’t necessary to run your store, but makes management easier and allows you to see data that might be useful. When this tool is in your hand, you can hover over your shelves and cupboards to see exactly what items are inside them, rather than needing to open them up. You can also hover over citizens to see how much gold they have on them and what their occupation is.
What I wanted for the game, was hands on interaction with the environment by the player. This means that I wanted the world to feel real by having the player need to manually walk up to things to trigger them. For example, to open the shop door they need to walk up to it instead of just pressing a button. I feel that doing things like this, adds to the player experience, just like in some games you need to sleep in a bed to save the game. Here are the other situations where this hand on interaction takes place:
- To view the achievements, the player needs to walk up to the trophy cabinet in the back of the shop.
- To manage the farm, the player needs to walk up to it and interact with it.
- When supplies get delivered, the player needs to walk outside and collect the items.
There are many different types of citizens in this game. What are citizens? I talk about them above but never really go into detail on what they are and what they do. Well citizens are the NPC’s that walk across the screen in front of your shop. You can talk to them and they will say one of a hundred or so randomly selected phrases. Some citizens are different though and here is what they are:
- Customers are citizens that have a chance (based on reputation) of visiting your store and perhaps even buying something. Each customer has a certain amount of money they can spend and this is dictated by their occupation. You can see their gold and occupation by hovering over them with the Selection Tool in your hand.
Citizens can have a variety of different occupations and this can even influence what they will buy. For example, a doctor would be more inclined to buy medicine. The occupations a citizen can be are: None, Farmer, Apothecarist, Knight, Blacksmith and Doctor. Most citizens are unemployed and the occupations with the most money are rarer to spawn.
When a customer walks into your shop, you can right click on them and an options pop up will appear. You can either greet them or ask them to leave. If you greet them, they will be happy and be willing to spend more. If you ask them to leave, they will be angry and walk out of the shop. Sometimes if you need to close shop and renovate, this option may be needed.
- Thieves are citizens that act like customers, browsing your goods and remaining unnoticed. Yet when you least expect it, they could suddenly start to run out of your shop with an item. A message will pop up saying that something has been stolen and you can choose to go after them. If you successfully kill the thief, you will get the item back and gain some reputation.
- Thugs are the citizens that you
don’t want to see. They are high health people who walk in groups through your store, taking what they can find, hitting citizens and leaving a mess. They can get called to your shop if you: haven’t payed your tax in time or haven’t payed back your loan in time. How they work, is that they come on the screen like any normal citizen but when they come into your shop, they go to all the shelves and just take a number of items. Seems scary right? Well it’s pretty broken since you can just take all the items out when you see them coming. This was a problem that I found almost impossible to balance.
- Beggars are homeless people who wonder the street looking for some gold. If you talk to them they will tell you of their situation and you can choose to give them 10 gold. If you accept, you will receive some xp and on rare occasion, even get a random active effect on your shop that could boost reputation or profit.
- Mysterious Citizens are just like customers yet they will never walk into your shop. If you happen to talk to one, they will ask you if you wish to accept a gift. If you accept, you will either be given a positive temporary active effect like rep boost or profit boost. Or you can be given a negative one which could lower your rep. There is also a chance you could get an item or gold from them. After you talk to them they will fade away. Also if you choose to attack them, they will not take damage, yet just fade away.
In this game, the way you get items to sell, is from buying them from the supplier. The way I done it, was that you go to the Order menu and select your supplier and then the items you want to buy. Once your order form is complete, you can click Send Order to add it to the order list.
Depending on what items you purchased, it will take a few in-game days to arrive. When it does, a horse and carriage will run past, dropping off the crate with your items in it. You then need to go outside and take everything out of it. This is an example of the hands on experience that I wanted in this game. Instead of just adding the items to your inventory, it requires the player to manually go outside and collect their goods.
There are four suppliers in the game, with one of them being only available in December (in-game). When making the game, I had a supplier for early game, mid game and end game. This is so that the player can concentrate on once supplier which is relatively cheap, rather than being overwhelmed straight away with so many choices. These suppliers are listed below:
- South-West Farms is a farm that produces bread, ales, meats and other food stuff. Their items are pretty cheap, so early game you will be selling quite a few of their items to build up your shop.
- Merik’s Forge is a metal work and weaponry supplier. He makes shields, bows, swords, armour, axes and more. These items are quite expensive to buy, so it is recommended for the player to only sell these items once they have established a quite profitable shop already.
- The Apothecarist is a supplier that sells medicinal items. At the games current state, they only sell medicinal herbs, yet I had many different drugs and herbal healing medicines in mind. Like Merik’s Forge, the items here are quite expensive, so they are sort of reserved for mid to late game for the player to buy.
- Holiday Seller is a supplier that only appears during the month of December in-game. They sell Christmas trees and antlers. These Christmasy themed items are in very high demand during December so it is a good idea for the player to buy them quick. The problem though is that for all the months outside of December, the demand is very low so there is no point of selling them then.
There are also two other sellers that I had in mind when making the game and planned to add in eventually. These suppliers are:
- Foreign Market is an event that happens once a year in-game. For one month traders from around the world come to your street to sell their exotic and high in demand foreign items. You can buy these and re sell them in your shop like any other supplier, yet these are of limited supply. I think I was going to make it so that overtime, their supply dwindled as it simulated other shops buying those items, so you had to be quick to be first.
- Black Market is a supplier that I was going to add in along with another feature of hiring workers. Both never came around to happen, but I believe it was still a pretty good idea. The general gist of things was that you could hire traders to go out and find you good, sometimes illegal deals on the street. Eventually these traders you hire would come across the black market and it would be unlocked for you to use in the Order menu. What they sell is a variety of stuff that the other suppliers sell, yet at a discounted price. The downside though, is that when you send out an order for black market items, there is a chance that the package could be intercepted and you could have thugs sent to you by the King. It was a risk vs reward situation where the player had to decide if getting cheaper items was worth the risk of having stuff stolen from their store.
What you put these items into, to make them up for sale, are shelves, cupboards and build items. You do this by clicking on the Build button on the bottom right corner of the screen.
Once in Build Mode you can select objects from the screen and place them anywhere inside your shop. In the image above, we see the Pedestal, which costs 20 gold and can store 3 items. This is what the player will be placing around at the start of the game, where as later on, they will be placing down the more expensive and greater item holding Cabinet (the cards table was only a test item). The biggest problem with these storage cabinets is that having more than one is kind of redundant. You are able to instantly add and remove items from them, so you could just keep adding items to a single one as they are getting purchased. This makes having more expensive and multiple storage cabinets useless. A way that it could be avoided, is perhaps to have the items load in the storage cabinet for a few seconds. Similar to Rust‘s inventory system, how it takes time to move items in and out of your inventory. Although due to the game’s nature, this would still only stop the problem a bit as having many storage containers would still be redundant.
The economy in this game is one of the things that I spent a lot of time on, yet never really flushed it out. It was designed to be an ever changing, dynamic system.
Each item in the Economy screen has two values. Recommended Price and Demand. These two values can change overtime by random events and player influence. The recommended price is the price that the item should be sold for. If you choose to sell it for less, than more people will be willing to buy it, while if you sell it for more than the rec. price, less people will buy it. Then there is the demand. The demand basically makes it so that if there are a bunch of items a citizen has to buy, they have a higher chance to purchase the one/s with a higher demand.
I mentioned before that the player can influence the economy, how can they do that?
- Since each citizen has an occupation, if the player killed farmers for example, the price and demand of bread would go up. The player could hoard bread when it’s cheap and then kill many farmers passing buy to boost the price. Although the bad thing about this, is that your reputation will go down, making that strategy kind of redundant.
- The more of one item the player has, the higher the demand and rec. price of that item will eventually get.
- If the player sells a lot of one certain item, slowly overtime that item’s rec. price and demand will drop.
I did manage to make the economy semi dynamic as all of the above mentioned features were implemented into the algorithm. Although another thing I wanted in the economy, was random fluctuating of certain items. This would make the game more interesting as the player would never know what is coming. It would require them to adapt to the economy and sell accordingly to make the most out of their items. This though, was something that I never came across to adding in. It was a feature that I did try to develop, yet never worked out. The randomness of it and how often it happened was not planned, thus making it very awkward in balancing it being too random and ruining the game, or less random and making it kinda boring.
With this game, I wanted to make it so that eventually, the player could self sustain themselves with some items. What was added, was a farm. This farm allowed the player to plant seeds for a price and then after some time, it could be harvested for a bunch of bread. A problem there is that once the player gets to the point where they can comfortably farm bread, bread is an item that they won’t want to sell since its price is too low. This creates a problem where the farm is essentially useless. A way to balance this though, would be to decrease the price of seeds, yet increase the time it takes to grow.
Another self-sustainable thing I was going to add into the game but never got around to it was the forge. You can see it in the image above, just above the trophy cabinet. What it was going to be was a forge where you can smelt iron into different weapons and armour. It would take practice and skill to make better things and would be available to the player later in the game. It never saw the light of day, yet still was a goal that I aspired to achieve.
Workers were also another feature that I planned on adding to the game. I did develop them a bit with a working UI, yet scrapped many of the ideas around it as I believed that it would make the game too easy. The original idea was to add in a simple store worker, who would go around the shop, cleaning the floor and overall maintaining the place. This was scrapped since that would make the player’s broom and the challenge of keeping the store clean irrelevant. One worker that I did plan on adding was the lender. I talked about them back in the black market paragraph. Like the lender, I also planned to add in a the bodyguard worker. This was someone who could stand outside of your shop and would attack thieves and thugs if they got close.
Workers would be payed weekly or monthly and the player could tweak how much they would get paid. If they got payed above the average amount, they would perform their job better, yet if the pay was below average, then they would be lazy or eventually quit.
In the game you can also buy advertisements. These were basically temporary buffs to your shop and can be purchased in the Shop menu. The different advertisements and their stats can be found below:
Along with advertisements there is also a lender. With the lender you can borrow money off him and need to repay it back in a certain amount of time. If you fail to repay in the required time, then thugs would be sent to your shop.What I found is that the prices of the ads are too much when starting out and when you get to the point when buying one of these would be beneficial, the rep boost is too small to care. Making the prices cheaper though, would just make it too OP. This is a problem that I found which would require fine tuning to make it fair.
The lender was quite a problem. I found that the payback time was too short as time ticks pretty fast in the game. Also there is the fact that at any point in the game you can ask for a loan of any amount. I believe it would of been better if the player was locked from borrowing more than 1000 gold until level 5 or something.
Then there are the perks. Once you level up, you get one perk point. You can put that point in either one of the three perk trees available to you.
Trophies are another feature that I kinda just tacked on. They are basically achievements and I had the intent to make them hard to achieve. There are too many games where achievements are just given out, so making it a challenge to even get one will make the player feel glad about themselves when they achieve it.
What you see below is the main menu screen with the load window up. This game has a fully function load and save system. You can have multiple games and pretty much all the data that gets changed/added while playing will be saved. This requires a large script holding hundreds of variables for all the shop data, citizens on the map and events.
I’m proud of the feature, yet it doesn’t come without its flaws. One flaw, which is kind of a problem with Unity / C#, is the fact that if you modify the save data script, all previous saves wont work.
What you see below, is the in-game pause menu. It can be toggled by the ESCAPE key and pauses the game. From here you can load a new game or change options. To save the game as you play, you just press F5.
So overall, Merchant’s Legacy for me was my largest and most ambitious project. Although its many flaws in both design and buggy gameplay caused it to become victim to my many other games sitting there abandoned. It’s main flaws would be the contrast in pacing of the game, the many mechanics which can be either too OP or too under powered, and the overall bugs. I would like to continue this project, yet the amount of scripts it has as well as the amount of assets proves it almost impossible for me to fix it. Like the 2D MOBA, the only way I can see of ever returning to a project like this, would be to totally rebuild it from the ground up.
As much as I’ve explained in this blog post about the game and its features, there are still many that I either forgot or were too insignificant to add in. I learned quite a bit while making this game and even more when writing this blog post over half a year later. At the time the pacing of the game never came to my mind until the end as I would just add in features without any prior planning. That is the number one issue with all these games that I’ve left abandoned. They had barely any planning. I would start small, adding features as I went along that I thought sounded cool until it became a large mess.
I can say that all day, yet this game still remains to be my most proudest project yet, as there were many technical features and new things that I used in making the game. I probably spent hundreds of hours working on it. Experience from making this project will certainly carry over to my future games and perhaps one day I will return to this idea.