Gaming Nostalgia: ‘Theme Hospital’

11:30 am EDT, 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!

Hollywood reacts to ‘Begin Again’ director’s candid criticism of Keira Knightley’s acting skills

Should the trust between actors and directors ever be broken?

10:33 am EDT, May 30, 2016

After Begin Again director John Carney’s candid comments about Keira Knightley’s acting went viral, Hollywood has taken to Twitter to defend the British actress.

In case you’ve somehow not heard the story, here’s the sitch:

Over the weekend, The Independent released an interview with Irish director John Carney, in which he had some harsh words for former colleague Keira Knightley.

The pair worked together on the 2013 musical rom-com Begin Again, where Knightley starred opposite Mark Ruffalo as a promising young folk singer recovering from a broken heart.

Carney evidently wasn’t satisfied with Knightley’s performance, claiming she “always has an entourage that follow her everywhere so it’s very hard to get any real work done.”

Related: Exclusive: Keira Knightley, Joe Wright talk Anna Karenina and the choice to set it in the world of theater

Going on to praise both Ruffalo and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine’s performances, Carney said, “I think that that’s what you need as an actor; you need to not be afraid to find out who you really are when the camera’s rolling. Keira’s thing is to hide who you are and I don’t think you can be an actor and do that.”

“I like to work with curious, proper film actors as opposed to movie stars,” he continued. “I don’t want to rubbish Keira, but you know it’s hard being a film actor and it requires a certain level of honesty and self-analysis that I don’t think she’s ready for yet and I certainly don’t think she was ready for on that film.”

Carney concluded, “I learned that I’ll never make a film with supermodels again.”

Now, Carney clearly had a frustrating experience working with Knightley on this film, and his distinction between ‘proper film actors’ and ‘movie stars’ may be legitimate in theory. Begin Again certainly wasn’t the great critical hit that Carney’s Once had been, and at the time of the movie’s release, Keira Knightley herself admitted that she struggled with the material, not being a singer-songwriter herself and having no great appreciation for music.

“It’s terrible. I know nothing about music whatsoever,” she told The Guardian. “I was always more into reading and drama. I was such a geek. … There’s often a huge link between music and memory. And I’ve got such a bad memory.”

But the issue Hollywood professionals have with Carney’s comments seem to have less to do with Knightley’s specific performance, and more about the fact that Carney made these comments at all.

Ava DuVernay certainly makes a great point about why Carney should have stayed silent:

Both industry professionals and notable journalists have joined DuVernay in speaking out against Carney. Here are some of their reactions:

All the same, there are some that find Carney’s candidness refreshing.

What do you think? Should John Carney have held back his criticism of Keira Knightley out of professional courtesy? Or was he right to share his negative experience?

John Carney rose to international fame with Once in 2007, and this year he’s coming out with a musical drama titled Sing Street.

Spectre director Sam Mendes is officially not returning for more James Bond movies.

While we wait for (almost certain) confirmation that Daniel Craig won’t reprise his role as 007 in the next James Bond film, we can at least contend with the knowledge that Sam Mendes will not direct Bond 25.

The two-time James Bond director came on board the franchise for the wildly successful Skyfall, but his follow-up Spectre was not considered as great of a success.

Even before Spectre‘s release, Mendes was talking about quitting the all-consuming franchise, saying at the time, “I don’t think I could go down that road again. You do have to put everything else on hold.” But it was only during a Welsh literature festival that he finally confirmed his departure.

Related: Quantico’s Priyanka Chopra doesn’t want to be a Bond Girl, she wants to be Bond

“It was an incredible adventure. I loved every second of it, but I think it’s time for somebody else [to direct],” said Mendes, as quoted via The Sydney Morning Herald. “I’m a storyteller. And at the end of the day, I want to make stories with new characters.”

Bond 25 is likely to be completely new chapter of the franchise, with Daniel Craig set to follow Mendes’ lead and officially announce his departure soon. Everyone’s been expecting him to bow out ever since his controversial promotional campaign for Spectre, and it’s even more likely now that his two-time collaborator has called it quits.

On the speculation about who might replace Craig, Mendes says, “I can guarantee that whatever happens next it will not be what you expect.”

“[Bond producer] Barbara Broccoli chooses who is going to be the next Bond, end of story. And without that there would have been no Daniel Craig because public support for Daniel was zero. It was her saying: ‘That man over there, he’s going to change the whole tenor, I’m going to cast him.’ That turned the whole thing on its head,” says Mendes.

Rumor has it that Tom Hiddleston is in talks to be the next James Bond, but until we learn more, we can speculate away as we wish! It’s also time to start making those Bond 25 director wishlists. Anyone know if Ava DuVernay is available?

How will ‘The Flash’ finale affect the ‘Arrow’-verse?

Or will it at all?

11:00 am EDT, May 29, 2016

In the final moments of the Flash‘s season 2 finale, Barry made a decision that could have major ramifications for the other Arrow-verse shows.

It looks like The Flash is headed in the direction of Flashpoint, a comic book story in which Barry saves his mother and creates an alternate future in which he never became The Flash, and the world is in chaos. I’ll do a more in-depth look at this story later in the hiatus.

On The Flash, the death of Barry’s father sent him on a downward spiral that resulted in him going back in time and stopping The Reverse Flash from killing Nora Allen. Barry watched as his season 1 counterpart faded away as the timeline changed before assuring his mother that she was safe.

It’s early, but I’ll take a shot at theorizing what this change could mean not only for The Flash but the other Arrow-verse shows as well.

The Flash season 2, episode 18 recap Barry, Caitlin, Cisco

‘The Flash’

All we know about The Flash‘s third season so far is that Tom Cavanagh will be back as a series regular, indicating there will be some version of Harrison Wells in play. I believe that is likely to be the Earth-1 version of Wells, the one who Eobard Thawne murdered and whose identity Thawne stole, since the original timeline of those events has been changed.

There is also a good chance that when Barry returns to the alternate future he’s created, he’ll no longer have his speed since there would have been no impetus for Barry to become a CSI. Without being at his lab at CCPD, he wouldn’t have been thrown into a rack of chemicals when he was struck by lightning, thus granting him powers.

It’s also likely Barry also won’t be as close with the West family, since he wouldn’t have been taken in and raised by them, which will be heartbreaking.

We also know that the original Harrison Wells’ particle accelerator wasn’t meant to go active until several years after the one Eobard Thawne-as-Wells created; he wanted to expedite the process so he could return to his own time. If that timeline remains the same, there won’t be nearly as many metahumans on the the loose since the particle accelerator created the majority of those we’ve met.

Flash and Arrow crossover

‘Arrow’

Stephen Amell doesn’t know whether the Flash finale will affect Arrow, though it will be odd if it doesn’t since time across Earth-1 has been changed. “I do know that we’ve done a lot of work on Arrow to introduce the other shows, for lack of a better term, and now that that’s all done, we’re focused on doing the things that we do well for season 5,” he tells ComicBook.com.

He adds, “Arrow is at its best when we’re dealing with problems in Star City. We’re not a time-travel show, we’re not a multi-Earth show, though obviously [we do that] with crossovers and stuff like that. We’re Arrow, we deal with Star City, and I feel like we’ll be better off focusing on that.”

Considering Barry was directly responsible for the Team Arrow’s survival in Nanda Parbat at the end of season 3 as well as when Vandal Savage attacked in the season 4 crossover, though, it seems impossible that such a major change in time wouldn’t affect the group in some way, especially if there is no longer a Flash.

One change I wouldn’t mind seeing would be Laurel’s survival, but I won’t hold my breath.

Legends of Tomorrow season 1, episode 1 recap team

‘Legends of Tomorrow’

One reveal from the Flash finale that seems especially likely to impact Legends in some way is the appearance of Jay Garrick, Henry Allen’s Earth-3 doppelganger. In the comics, Jay Garrick is one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, which the Legends finale introduced via Rex Tyler.

John Wesley Shipp has teased that the writers are excited to explore more of the Jay Garrick character, and he speculates that will include the JSA. It will be interesting to see if he crosses over to that show at any point.

As for the time travel change, if the team does take on the role of the Time Masters, as they’d considered doing before Rex Tyler’s arrival, that seems like a major event for them to take notice of.

It’s also worth noting in the comics during Flashpoint that Leonard Snart is a hero in Central City known as Citizen Cold — I’d love to see Wentworth Miller (who will recur on both Flash and Legends next season) play that part for a bit.

Supergirl season 1, episode 18 airs tonight Kara, Barry

Bonus: ‘Supergirl’

Some are theorizing that this change may, somehow, merge Kara’s world with the Arrow-verse now that Supergirl is on the same network with the other shows. I’m not quite sure how that would work, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it since Kara and Barry are an absolute delight together — and we know a major four-series crossover is in the works.

All that being said, there is also the possibility that the Flashpoint events will remain on The Flash, such as in an alternate universe, because of the concern that too many viewers of Arrow in particular don’t also watch The Flash and don’t want to have to catch up just to understand the show. This is a complexity of having a shared universe.

While I understand that concern, however, I feel like storytelling concerns should take precedent. And if you’re going to create that shared universe, you need to embrace what comes with that, including shows having direct affects on one another.

How do you think the ‘Flash’ finale will affect the ‘Arrow’-verse?