Theme Hospital

Released: 1997
Formats: PlayStation, PC

There was no doubting that Theme Park was going to be a success. It was colourful, fun and innovative and we’re sure that running an amusement park ranks highly amongst the dreams of children. But running a hospital? We’d imagine that 99.99% of all people who actually do run a hospital would rather be behind the controls of a rollercoaster, yelling “scream if you want to go faster”.

Naturally, then, there was doubt if Theme Hospital would do well. EA themselves estimated that it would sell only 50,000 copies. The reality was that it stayed at the top of the chart for months and was then knocking around in the budget chart for ten whole years after. It’s still available to purchase in this day and age – its part of the Sold Out PC budget label and can be downloaded on PSN for play on either the PlayStation 3 or PSP. An original copy of the PlayStation version meanwhile can regularly fetch £10 on eBay.

The Theme Hospital that we all know and presumably love is a very different game than originally planned. It was initially going to be set over different time periods, such as Medieval and Victorian, but it’s fortunate that Bullfrog started by drawing visuals for a modern day hospital first as that’s all they had time to include. The illnesses that you had to cure were going to be factual at first too, but later the decision to use made-up illnesses was chosen to avoid causing any potential upset.

It’s a good thing too, as the novelty illnesses gave the game a huge degree of appeal. Some patients would arrive with ‘Bloaty Head’ syndrome which could be cured with a sharp pin while ‘3rd Degree Sideburns’ would require a trip to see a shrink, providing you’ve employed one. A surgeon on the other hand would be needed to cure ‘Spare Ribs’. During an interview in the August 2011 issue of gamesTM, designers Gary Carr and Mark Webley revealed that they had plans for another two diseases – ‘Animal Magnetism’ would have seen people arrive with animals stuck to them, while ‘Saturday Night Fever’ made patients wear white and black apparel and the floor tiles would have lit up underneath their feet.

Keeping your staff happy, making sure there were enough toilets for patients and employing enough engineers to keep your equipment running were just some of the things you had to contend with while dealing with emergences and VIP visits. If you didn’t place enough sinks in the toilets then a virus could spread and harm your hospital’s reputation. Constructing rooms was simple enough, thanks to a intuitive blueprint system, but if there was a problem with the game it’s that it did become very frustrating towards the end as you ended up being swifty swamped with the sick.

Interestingly, Bullfrog ran into a few problems with licensing during the development. The ‘Elvis Syndrome’ sickness had to be renamed to ‘King Syndrome’ as it was seen as a copyright breech, and the red crosses on the nurses’ hats had to be removed otherwise they’d have to pay Red Cross. The box also had to be changed shortly after release as Bullfrog wasn’t allowed to use a green cross in the background. One good thing did come out of licensing agreements though – by including KitKat vending machines, Bullfrog received a box full of the chocolatey snack.

Apparently the game didn’t go down too well in Japan where they take healing the sick very sternly but if this was the case then it’s their loss. It’s still a hugely entertaining experience and although there has been a few copycats over the years, such as Codemaster’s Hospital Tycoon on PC and Hysteria Hospital: Emergency Ward on DS and Wii, none have come close to Bullfrog’s concoction of comedy and chaos.

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