Retro Monday: “Theme Hospital”

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Considering what I wrote last week I think it would be good to have an update to the Crytek UK situation. And the update its not good. “Homefront: The Revolution” game director Hasit Zala resigned from his position at Crytek UK reports said this week. This adds to the leaving list as development manager Ben Harris also left earlier this month. I really don’t want this company to fold. The company has a good history of making decent games so it would be sad to lose them, and Crytek UK is one of the last big players in the UK videogame industry, which in of itself is a shadow of its former self. If Scotland votes for their independence too then Rockstar North (the Rockstar studio that goes “GTA”) leaves the UK fold as well. This may be an awful year for the UK game industry. To add, Neversoft officially closed this week. Well not closed. They merged Infinity Ward. They did do the “Extinction Mode” for them so I guess it was going to happen. At least they merged. Now, On to the retro review…

Title: “Theme Hospital

Developer: Bullfrog Productions

Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA)

Released: Early 1997

Some of you may go “Ah! It’s Bullfrog so it must be a Peter Molyneux game.” It isn’t. He was making “Dungeon Keeper” at the time which released 3 months later. He did start the ‘Theme’ series with “Theme Park” (the one that I played was “Theme Park World”) so you could say that he was there in spirit. He left Bullfrog after “Dungeon Keeper” was released anyway so there may be a case to saying how much influence he had even spiritually with the series.

The game sees you as the chief of a hospital. You hire the staff, build the rooms (the shell of a hospital being provided per level), and micromanage the hospitals goings-on. It’s a much more American hospital then British NHS hospital because part of the win conditions is it get a set amount of money per level. The slightly more obvious clue is that the patients pay for treatment which we lucky Brit’s don’t do. It’s an odd cultural merging because the game is very British. That sort of dark British humour that everyone seems to like is wrapped in this game.

The illnesses and the treatments of said ill people are where most of the humour lies. There are some word play jokes like the ‘uncommon cold’, ‘The Squits’ and ‘King Complex’ (where the patients has the uncontrollable urge to dresses and act like Elvis which can kill them for some reason). As the game progresses, and as your research expands, you start getting some more topical diseases like ‘Slack Tongue’ (where the patients’ tongue hangs low and extended from their gorping face which is cured by cutting off their tongue) and ‘Hairyitis’ (where the patient sprouts hair all over their body which has to electrocuted off).

The look of the game is very cartoonish and silly. Although, the cartoon-like aspect is more based on the more tropical diseases which make the up small amount of the total things wrong with people. This just means that most people look like regular people which doesn’t detract from the style of the game but does make chunks of the game very samey. On things looking the same, the staff look totally identical between their roles. All the nurses look like other nurses, all the handymen/mechanics look like the other handymen/mechanics and doctors… you get the idea.

There is one staff role that is pretty pointless and that is the receptionist. You hire a receptionist, build a reception desk, and hence the two shall join and never separate. As soon as you build the reception desk, the receptionist locks onto it with her cyborg heart and makes a b-line for it to stand next to it and lock it in place. As soon as the two join, you can’t move the desk unless you more the receptionist but as soon as you move her she makes a b-line for the desk again. It does mean that you have to be very sure where your going to place the reception area because you most likely won’t be moving it once its built. At least the receptionist never tires with her cyborg heart.

Most of the game is micromanaging the hospital right down to the finances. You can decide who to hire which just comes down to hiring people with good stats. The same with nurses. Handymen just need to be fast and not complain about pay. Receptionists, as said previously, are not human so there is no difference between who you hire. Building the rooms just come down to putting the treatment rooms near the heliport so when the emergency’s start coming you you can deal with them. It doesn’t matter really where you build the other rooms.

Its odd talking about the game because saying what the game goes and how you play it sounds like it is a standard business simulation game and that it;s kinda boring. But its not. It’s really engrossing. You end up fighting for those last few reputation points and cash to finish the level. It’s paced very well keeping the game interesting. You slowly get more diseases to treat and rooms to treat the but then on comes emergency’s. And epidemics. Then more diseases. And more rooms!

If you are one of the people that thinks they can run a hospital better then others, here in the UK there are many people who think they are better then the NHS, they try this. You can succeed and make money. But you make one mistake or someone dies and you crash and burn and fail and then the next person comes in and then the cycle starts again. At least in this you can be your own replacement. Maybe it’s a bit more like the NHS then I thought…

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