• GelNerd

Game: ‘Theme Hospital' (1997) Dev. Bullfrog

Theme Hospital, Bullfrog Productions, Electronic Arts, Mark Webley, Gary Carr, Russell Shaw

Sequel to 'Theme Park' and continuing the business development / themed genre of Bullfrog games, gamers moved to the healthcare sector...

Computer game designers and developers Peter Molyneux and James Leach had the initial idea to follow up ‘Theme Park’ with another ‘Theme’ game but in a medical environment. Fellow producer and designer Mark Webley at Bullfrog took the idea and helped bring ‘Theme Hospital’ to life as a business simulator.


Taking two years to develop and produce, the main ethics of 'Theme Hospital' as promoted by Webley was to keep the topic of health and even death as fun and light-hearted as possible in a seemingly real, but overly cartoonish and fictional way.


Gameplay

Taking heavy influence from both the American health industry and the UK NHS, the game plays as a business where you, the hospital CEO, design, build, run and manage hospitals. From starting basic in a small area, you work through new locations building new hospitals and research new technology to end up working in more profitable, but more intense communities (all fictional).

As you go, you will take part in research and development to better your understanding of treatments and what is out there for new ailments and diseases that you are faced with. You’ll come across issues such as Corrugated Ankles, Gut Rot, Jellyitis and Ruptured Nodules. Each of these will come with unique symptoms and require you to diagnose the patient or take a chance on a potential cure. They may need simple medication, or may need surgery. It might be worth investing in a psychiatrist to help them, or simply a place for rest and relaxation.

You will keep the hospital running and bringing in money to advance to the next area and hit targets such as curing a number of patients, building new technology or passing VIP visits when they come to inspect your business. To keep things running smoothly however you’ll still need to do the basics such as provide places for patients to rest and wait, bins and toilets, handymen to fix breakdowns and caretakers to remove rubbish and even clear up the sick! If you don’t, you’ll get rats or, if worse, an outbreak of a vomiting virus!

Simple point and click interaction is what you use to play, clicking and dragging items and elements where you want them to build up your hospital and place down your staff and patients.


The fun doesn’t stop once the front doors open, and nor will the pressure stop as you get more and more into helping people and racing against the clock to save a community!


Graphics

Gary Carr, formerly of Palace Software, was lead artist for the game after having worked on ‘Theme Park’. The graphics are a blend of realistic environments and people but with a slightly pixelated, comical touch as not to be seen as overly serious. The colours are vibrant and pop from the screen; simple colours such as blues, greens, pinks and browns create an earthy tone to the game and a neutral aesthetic quality.

The cartoonish world is part of the charm, and there is so much detail and attention made in creating everything you need to build a winning hospital. From animations in surgery and treatment, to furniture and art to adorn corridors to the individual staff and patients who walk around the site, there is always something to see and interact with.


Sound and music

Both the sound effects and the score were created by BAFTA winning composer Russell Shaw and producer Adrian Moore using the Sound Forge to develop the sound effects. With sound such an intricate part of the game to create an immersive atmosphere, as it did with ‘Theme Park’, Moore created original effects by combining everyday items together, and also ones from a basic library. Sounds across the game were non-stop; sliding doors and closets, patients drinking and even vomiting, beeps, bleeps, scans and screams. Mostly comical, they were nothing but authentic as possible and created a true hospital environment to operate in.

Even the wails of the Grim Reaper echo around your hospital corridors if your death rate goes up!

The score by Shaw runs at less than half-an-hour, but is played on a constant random loop. If, and when, an emergency happens, you do get occasional flare-ups of tension and panic that make the palms a little sweaty almost ripping a scene from ‘Casualty’ or ‘ER’. Other than that, we have an upbeat, poppy and basic score with tracks such as ‘Atlantis’, ‘Night Shift’ and ‘Candyfloss’ that help create a soothing and energetic backdrop to your business.


Summary

Praised for its bright visuals, engrossing model of gameplay and infectious humour, ‘Theme Hospital’ maintained the ethos of having fun but also keeping gamers entertained by using their common sense and creativity to manage and run the best hospitals you can.

One thing that falls for the game is the slight repetitiveness of illnesses and gameplay – once you’ve experienced certain things once or twice, you will not be left with any surprises and you will be far more in tune with how the game runs. In that respect, the playability may suffer and the only factor that becomes more challenging is the amount of patients needing help. The pressure increases and you soon find the entertainment value wains if you lose control of running a tight ship.

However, as a package with ‘Theme Park’, this is one of the most original, fun and entertaining development games out there that is surprisingly accessible for all. It’s always humorous and you never play the same game and scenario twice, and that’s always worth returning to and trying to be better (or worse) than before.


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