Gaming Nostalgia: ‘Theme Hospital’

11:30 am EST, May 2, 2012

The date is March 31, 1997. We were calling Diddy ‘Puff Daddy’, Princess Diana was still with us, and Bill Clinton was starting his second term as US President. And on that day, Bullfrog’s classic simulation game Theme Hospital was released. In this column we’ll be recalling what made this game great, and whether it continues to shine after 15 years.

Theme Hospital is a simulation game with heart. Instead of being a dry, straight-faced micro-management game; you overlook a bustling hospital that deals with patients that suffer from rather peculiar diseases. Bullfrog’s classic black humor permeates throughout the game. Your GP might diagnose a patient with Slack Tongue – no problem, they trot off to the Slack Tongue Clinic for a date with the ‘Slicer’, a machine that wouldn’t look out of place in a medieval torture chamber. A quick turn of the handle; job done.

Meanwhile, you have to deal with epidemics, emergencies, and sickness waves. Your handymen will help you deal with the latter, of course, but only when their wages are in line with their peers’. Crazy diseases, grumpy staff and pompous hospital inspectors all need to be dealt with, or your carefully planned hospital will soon descend into chaos.

First time round

I first remember playing Theme Hospital in 1998. I was 6, but I’d seen my older brother having a go and figured it looked fun. We bought a second disk a few years later after the old one broke, and I remember reaching the end of the game at least once. After that, I’d tried installing the game again a couple of times, but without XP, Vista or Windows 7 compatibility I hadn’t had any success.

What memories did I have of Theme Hospital, a game that I’d last played about ten years ago? Extremely positive ones. I remembered the ridiculous but somehow endearing soundtrack, the incessant orders blasting out of the tannoy system (that you gradually became conditioned to), and, above all, the huge amount of fun that a relatively simple game provided for me. It was the game that I enjoyed most in my pre-teen years.

Original rating: 9 out of 10

Compatibility issues

Installing the game on Windows 7 is a little tricky. Inserting the CD that I’d bought in about 2001 gave me an error message, but a quick Google search provided a workaround that involved copying the files across to my desktop. The next problem was running the game flawlessly, without crashes or freezes; a problem I am yet to completely solve. Meddling with compatibility modes and other options brought variable results. Further, the results did not appear consistent each time I ran Theme Hospital under the same settings.

By right-clicking on WINMAIN, then going to properties, you can alter these settings. Try out different compatibility modes (98, ME, XP SP1-2 all worked for me on occasions). You can also have the game run in 256 colors, run in 640 x 480 resolution, and so on. It might take a few attempts to find the most stable settings for your OS and computer.

Sometimes on start-up the colours went crazy, but once I was into the game proper, they settled down. They might revert back to bright pink, blue and yellow whilst your playing, but if you switch to the bank manager or another screen that hides your normal game window, it should turn back to normal when you return.

Even with these tweaks, Theme Hospital does still crash frequently on my PC – usually every 10-25 minutes. If this happened with a more recent game, the long start-up time might deter me from continuing to play it after a crash. Theme Hospital, however, starts so quickly that you’re able to begin playing again within 20 seconds.

The return

Theme Hospital remains incredibly fun to play. As soon as a I started with the first level, it all came flooding back. Reception, check, GP’s office, check, pharmacy, check. I remembered I had to place fire extinguishers to keep the V.I.P. visitors happy, and plants to keep the patients happy. I knew I needed an army of identical handymen to keep the machines maintained and the hospital spotless. Even though it had been so many years since I’d last played, it might as well have been a day ago. The first few levels were entertaining but easy – I knew the best way of laying out the hospital, how to keep my staff happy, and all those other little tricks I’d picked up before.

With the introduction of epidemics in the fourth or fifth level, plus the sheer numbers of patients that you have to deal with, Theme Hospital began to get a little trickier. An ill-timed earthquake took out three of my rooms, and I even managed to lose a level. The increased challenge made it even more fun, with the numerous crashes barely denting my enthusiasm.

Theme Hospital may be close to the perfect simulation game, but I couldn’t help notice a few flaws that stopped it reaching perfection. First, the micro-management gets a little tedious – specifically when repairing machines. As the levels progress, you’ll need more and more machines (the Inflator, the Cast Remover, an Operating Table etc.), and as they deteriorate with use, you have to order handymen to repair them frequently. This is not a problem at the beginning of the game, but it soon starts to consume too much playing time when you get to later levels. Second, epidemics are equally tedious. The hefty fines attached to them easily become a burden upon your hospital’s finances, and I couldn’t help but feel irritated every time the tannoy shouted “Epidemic alert, stand by!” in nervous tones. Epidemics just aren’t fun to deal with.

Still, the rest of the game is so much fun that these issues barely matter. Take Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, for example. It was my favourite Harry Potter film despite the awfulness of that one scene. You know the one – “HE WAS THEIR FRIEND!”. The rest of the film was so excellent that it almost seems unfair to mark it down because of it. The same applies to Theme Hospital. Even after fifteen years, its gameplay is among the best we’ve seen from any simulation game. Coupled with its dark comedic tone and hypnotic soundtrack, I’m not sure if I’d rather be playing anything else.

New rating: 8.5 out of 10.

What about a sequel?

If Theme Hospital was remade today, I would be very impressed if it could retain any of the charm of the 1997 game. Bullfrog Productions were long ago gobbled up by EA, and I’m not the only one to doubt them based upon their recent actions. We might see shiny new graphics so that our 30 handymen wouldn’t look like clones, or extra rooms offered as downloadable content. Maybe we’d get to use the classic doctor skin if we pre-ordered? None of these things would be right.

An indie games company might handle a Theme Hospital sequel with a little more finesse. The focus should remain on fun, addictive and challenging gameplay rather than graphics or revenue generation. Perhaps it could be done right. I doubt, however, that many Theme Hospital fans would welcome a sequel. The game is too precious for too many people; small alterations to gameplay would cause riots across Reddit, Twitter and 4chan. In an age where we are always wanting more and we always want it now, let’s take a step back and ask whether a sequel is really necessary.

I want to play!

If you’ve still got an old disk and are feeling adventurous, you can try messing around with the settings as I did above in order to play. GOG have Theme Hospital available for download, but you might need to run it through DOSBox for it to work correctly. Lastly, an open-source clone, compatible with recent versions of Windows, is being developed, but this requires a copy of the original to play.

Theme Hospital: still a must-play.

Feeling nostalgic? Share your memories below!

A new Fifty Shades Darker trailer was released on Wednesday and ups the sexy for the sequel.

Ana and Christian are getting back together in the Fifty Shades of Grey sequel, but the former has a couple of new rules: No secrets, way less BDSM. Christian agrees, but new problems come to light: Is someone from the millionaire’s past haunting him?

Read full article

A new Fifty Shades Darker trailer was released on Wednesday and ups the sexy for the sequel.

Ana and Christian are getting back together in the Fifty Shades of Grey sequel, but the former has a couple of new rules: No secrets, way less BDSM. Christian agrees, but new problems come to light: Is someone from the millionaire’s past haunting him?

Dakota Johnson continues to bring a fun vibe to Ana Steele, playing the awkward lines with self awareness better than Kristen Stewart ever did as Bella in Twilight. “Have dinner with me,” Christian begs. “Okay fine, I will have dinner with you, because I’m… hungry,” Ana replies. The line could come off corny if executed poorly, but Dakota has a strong hold on playing this character for fun.

Tickets for Fifty Shades Darker are now on sale. Check out a new poster for the movie below:

fifty-shades-darker-poster-2

The Fifty Shades Darker synopsis reads, “When a wounded Christian Grey tries to entice a cautious Ana Steele back into his life, she demands a new arrangement before she will give him another chance. As the two begin to build trust and find stability, shadowy figures from Christian’s past start to circle the couple, determined to destroy their hopes for a future together.”

The movie hits theaters this Valentine’s Day. It stars Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Jennifer Ehle, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Bella Heathcote, Kim Basinger and Marcia Gay Harden, and is directed by James Foley.

It’s looking like Nick Robinson will go from battling dinosaurs to battling the process of coming out.

‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ actor revealed

According to The Hollywood Reporter, 21-year-old Nick Robinson is in talks to play Simon in the book to film adaptation of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda written by Becky Albertalli. The movie will be directed by CW/DC Universe mastermind Greg Berlanti.

Nick Robinson is best known for his supporting role in Jurassic World, in which he played big brother Zach Mitchell. He also co-starred as Ben in the book to film adaptation of the dystopian novel The 5th Wave starring Chloe Moretz.

Read full article

It’s looking like Nick Robinson will go from battling dinosaurs to battling the process of coming out.

‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ actor revealed

According to The Hollywood Reporter, 21-year-old Nick Robinson is in talks to play Simon in the book to film adaptation of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda written by Becky Albertalli. The movie will be directed by CW/DC Universe mastermind Greg Berlanti.

Nick Robinson is best known for his supporting role in Jurassic World, in which he played big brother Zach Mitchell. He also co-starred as Ben in the book to film adaptation of the dystopian novel The 5th Wave starring Chloe Moretz.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is an excellent coming of age/coming out LGBT YA novel which we’ve raved about here on Hypable before. Nick Robinson is definitely an actor we can picture in the role, so we can’t wait to see him play the adorable character.

The film is being produced by Wyck Godfrey’s Temple Hill Entertainment, who’s responsible for The Maze Runner series, The Twilight Saga, and the upcoming Power Rangers.

What do think of Nick Robinson as Simon?

If you haven’t read it yet, we highly recommend that you do. The book was first published last year:

After you read it, be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Becky Albertalli. Simon was her first novel!

Netflix has unveiled a new Series of Unfortunate Events trailer, showing off Neil Patrick Harris’ excellent portrayal of the evil, wacky, will-stop-at-nothing-to-get-that-money Count Olaf.

Neil Patrick Harris’ ability to convincingly become any person — whether male or female, young or old, ugly or beautiful — becomes abundantly clear in the latest ASOUE trailer. While some of us may’ve been a little skeptical of his casting initially, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role after seeing previews like this.

The trailer begins with narrator Lemony Snicket (played by Patrick Warburton) warning that the new Netflix show is no delightful watch. Then the focus turns to Olaf and his mission to steal the children’s fortune, left to them by their parents after their untimely deaths:

Read full article

Netflix has unveiled a new Series of Unfortunate Events trailer, showing off Neil Patrick Harris’ excellent portrayal of the evil, wacky, will-stop-at-nothing-to-get-that-money Count Olaf.

Neil Patrick Harris’ ability to convincingly become any person — whether male or female, young or old, ugly or beautiful — becomes abundantly clear in the latest ASOUE trailer. While some of us may’ve been a little skeptical of his casting initially, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role after seeing previews like this.

The trailer begins with narrator Lemony Snicket (played by Patrick Warburton) warning that the new Netflix show is no delightful watch. Then the focus turns to Olaf and his mission to steal the children’s fortune, left to them by their parents after their untimely deaths:

The Unfortunate Events trailer also presents new looks at colorful characters including Uncle Monty (Aasif Mandvi, below), Aunt Josephine (Alfre Woodard, below), and Justice Strauss (Joan Cusack).

unfortunate-events-netflix-2

unfortunate-events-netflix

A Series of Unfortunate Events premieres all eight episodes of its first season on January 13, 2017.

“Based on the internationally best-selling series of books by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) and starring Emmy and Tony Award winner Neil Patrick Harris, A Series of Unfortunate Events recounts the tragic tale of the Baudelaire orphans — Violet, Klaus, and Sunny – whose evil guardian Count Olaf will stop at nothing to get his hands on their inheritance. The siblings must outsmart Olaf at every turn, foiling his many devious plans and disguises, in order to discover clues to their parents’ mysterious death.”

Another trailer was released two weeks ago — you can watch it here.

Is ‘Unfortunate Events’ looking as good as you hoped?

Harris previously confirmed that each book will be adapted into two episodes of the show. The first season of ASOUE covers the first four books, so presumably season 2 will roughly cover another four books. There are a total of 13 books in Lemony Snicket’s series.