Premature Evaluation is the weekly column in which we explore the wilds of early access. This week, Fraser’s moonlighting as a grouchy stall owner in Medieval Shopkeeper Simulator, a first-person fantasy retail romp.
With the chaos of E3 fast approaching, I’m looking for a more sedate racket. No more of this videogame malarky, I’m going to sell rocks and sticks to the impoverished serfs of Medieval Shopkeeper Simulator. It will be the greatest rock and stick emporium in all the land, or at least this postcode. I used to work in retail, so I’m sure I’ll have a handle on it in no time.
The first day of my new life begins much like any other day: with a tutorial. I stretch the old legs, learn how to jump, and begin my education in using a truly spiteful, unhelpful UI. An early access game with a good UI is a miraculous thing, but this one is particularly infuriating. The layout, the hotkeys, the dearth of useful or clear information. I never had to deal with any of these problems when I worked in the T-Mobile shop.
It takes me an embarrassingly long time to craft (yes, of course there’s crafting) a simple stick. I hit up my warehouse screen, figure out how to transfer items over to my personal inventory, grab some logs, switch to my crafting screen and finally turn this big pile of wood into one tiny stick. It’s an ordeal. And it turns out I don’t need the stick anyway. I do have a pooch, however, so it seems a shame to waste it.
Next, I make a furnace ‘work-kit’, which at first seems like a crafting table, until the game directs me to consume it, after which nothing happens. With the tutorial refusing to help, I end up browsing the wiki, where I discover that these are indeed crafting tables, but instead of placing them, you have to consume them, opening up another page in the crafting menu. Checking again, I see that I can now do some smelting. There’s no time for that, however. I’m off to buy a stall.
Or I would be, if the instructions made any sense. They don’t match anything I’m seeing, leaving me wandering around my cramped home, growing more and more confused. Another browse of the wiki reveals the tutorial has missed a step. Diligent early access explorer that I am, I start a new game to see if I can get it to activate, this time getting quickly through the whole stick and furnace rigmarole. The tutorial objective appears.
I have to go to a notice board in town and grab the advert for a free stall, which I do. Unfortunately, it takes some more mucking around in the menus for the game to acknowledge this, but when it does, I’m able to purchase and name my shop. Then the menu for naming my shop vanishes. I try again and the same thing happens. On the third attempt I realise the problem: hitting ‘T’ opens and closes the menu, even if you’re typing a shop name. I choose a different one.
Finally, I’ve made it. I’m a medieval shopkeeper.
Because shopping has presumably just been invented, my customers don’t quite have the hang of it. They wander up to my stall and simply tell me what they need, regardless of my stock. It’s like going to a butcher and asking for an iPhone. In fairness to them, it’s not a regular shop, either. For instance, I can’t keep any of my goods at the actual shop, and all the stuff on display is just window dressing. It’s not even what I’m selling.
The tutorial ends before I even open my stall, so I’m not remotely clear about how I actually sell my mountain of assorted junk. For the third time, it’s over to the wiki for the skinny. It’s definitely not something I could have figured out myself, as it’s comically unintuitive.
First, I find out what random item they want. If I have it, I then have to go into my warehouse menu and set the price. With the price settled, the customer lets me know if they’re happy to pay, which is normally when you’d expect the exchange of goods for cash to happen, but no. With the haggling over, I have to return home, bring up the warehouse menu again, and then transfer the required items to my inventory. After returning, I have to select the item and physically pass it to the customer, once for every item needed.
My first customer leaves before I finish reading the wiki explanation. My second customer leaves while I’m grabbing the items. With my third customer, I’m on top of everything, sprinting to my house and back again like my life depends on it. As I’m about to pass him his items, the screen freezes and then he vanishes. I’m starting to wonder if this is all just one big cosmic joke that’s being played exclusively on me when my fourth customer appears, asking for something I’m already holding. This is it, the moment I’ve been waiting for. I make the sale, rip off my shirt and run around my office. I knock over a plant. It’s exciting. And don’t worry, the plant is recovering.
I’m in the zone now. Whenever a happy customer leaves, another appears, and I manage to shift more wood and rocks than I thought possible. They’re very trendy at the moment. I’m still on fire when I’m forced to close up, but not before an old woman appears with wares to sell. None of her goods have names or descriptions, so I pick something at random. I now have leather.
Despite a busy day, I’m still raring to go. The sun is up (it never goes down) and I’ve got pockets full of gold. I head towards the castle for some good times, but an impenetrable black mist halts my progress. I head towards the gate out of town instead, only to be confronted by the same mist. It happens again when I arrive at the final exit. I’m trapped and my excitement turns to fear.
When I wake up the next morning, I try to forget about the shocking revelation from the previous day. I’ve got more immediate concerns. I sold so much wood yesterday that I’ve got barely any today, and a new shipment won’t arrive until tomorrow. Unfortunately, I also spent most of my money on mushrooms and other weird-looking things in a neighbouring shop. It seems irresponsible, I know, but it’s also the only way to unlock more goods in the warehouse menu.
Thankfully, my first customer of the day is interested in leather, which I mistakenly purchased earlier. Feeling like my luck is turning, I pass him the leather and it flies right through him, settling on top of my stall. I try to pick it up but can’t. I try to pass him more leather, and this time half of it lands on my stall. The other half gets dumped when my customer walks away in disgust. Then he returns 30 seconds later and I make a very awkward sale.
After he leaves, I start to wonder if I’ve been visited by a ghost, rather than a bug. It happens again when I try to sell some sticks to a completely different customer. Two ghosts? In the same small village? The stuck objects now spin on my stall, within my grasp but somehow not. They’re mocking me. When it’s quiet, in those few seconds between customers, I can almost hear them chanting in a dead tongue. I just want to sell them, but I have a feeling they’ll be stuck to my stall long after I’ve been buried.
When I close up shop again, I go straight home to my bed. I’m unnerved and not in the mood for exploring the little village again, especially when the only people who talk to me are my customers. And some of them might be dead! The next morning, I decide to start selling wholesome, healthy food. I make a cookery table, and 10 minutes later, after lots of shouting, I discover the hidden tab with all the food. I’m ready to cook up a storm.
I greet my first customer of the morning, hoping he’ll want some of my delicious fungus and meat. He just wants some leather. I hand it over and watch as it passes through him like a spectre. We just stare at each other in complete silence for a minute, and then he vanishes. Retail is the worst. I quit.
Medieval Shopkeeper Simulator is out now on Steam for £6.47/$8.99/€8.99