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.

Matt Gander

Matt is Games Asylum's most prolific writer, having produced a non-stop stream of articles since 2001. A retro collector and bargain hunter, his knowledge has been found in the pages of tree-based publication Retro Gamer.

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  • Totally agree, such an amazing game only let down by giving all the game away 2/3’s in like all Bullfrog games. Would love an expansion pack with new rooms, doctors and illnesses. One of those classic games that is sorely missed now Bullfrog are no longer around.

    Its surprising the Theme tag didn’t take off more, as both Theme games were extremely popular and there was so many places they could have gone with it.

    Another great article as always!

  • One of the last decent games Peter “Captain of the Bullshit Tanker” Molyneux made before sailing the good ship Bullfrog up its own arse and re-emerging as Lionhead. I enjoyed it for a while but agree withy Casually Hardcore that it was the usual case of “Oh, that’s everything then, is it?” once you were a way into it and then lost interest in it.
    Shame really, those Medieval and Victorian era hospitals could have been fun and would have helped keep it from getting dull – cut down the modern era bits before it got dull and have those extra eras to introduce some variety and keep you interested. I suppose they’d have to resist the temptation to do a ‘future’ hospital era as well then. Along with the requisite ‘Lava’, ‘Snow’ and ‘Industrial’ levels. Hell, they could even have mixed Lava/Medieval/Industrial and made a Dungeon keeper themed hospital.

    In this day and age I’d suppose they’d be released as DLC but I don’t see that happening now, if it’s re-released it’d just be a straight port, wouldn’t it? Can’t see someone going back to remake it with any ideas to increase the scope of the original game, can you? (Happy to be proved wrong on this point though)

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