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.

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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!

Legion M president Jeff Annison introduces the first fan-owned entertainment company

"Opening the gates to Hollywood" with fandom-powered entertainment production.

2:12 pm EDT, August 24, 2016

Hypable speaks to co-founder Jeff Annison about Legion M’s goals, fan engagement, and potential impact on the entertainment industry.

An exciting new project launched over the summer: Legion M, the world’s first fan-owned entertainment company.

At San Diego Comic-Con, Hype Podcast sat down with co-founder and company president Jeff Annison, in order to learn more about the ambitious startup that promises to give fans more creative control of entertainment production.

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Hypable speaks to co-founder Jeff Annison about Legion M’s goals, fan engagement, and potential impact on the entertainment industry.

An exciting new project launched over the summer: Legion M, the world’s first fan-owned entertainment company.

At San Diego Comic-Con, Hype Podcast sat down with co-founder and company president Jeff Annison, in order to learn more about the ambitious startup that promises to give fans more creative control of entertainment production.

The full interview is available to download here or via iTunes, or you can stream it below:

In the interview, Annison explains the mission of Legion M, which is to bring fans directly into the production process. Says Annison, “For the first time in history, we are architected to be built from the ground up to be owned by fans.”

With a ‘Legion’ of fan investors behind them, Annison believes that Legion M’s approach to selecting and developing projects will be very different from anything else we’ve seen in Hollywood.

Where usually creators will struggle to make their content stand out from the crowd, “bringing the audience into the process [of creating entertainment], we’ve already got a built-in audience,” Annison explains. “If you can have the audience of content be invested in content, it gives that content a competitive advantage.”

One of the key ways in which Legion M hopes to influence the creative industry is by opening the door for more diverse projects.

As Hollywood is so revenue-driven, oftentimes the ‘risk’ of letting a movie’s lead character be a woman, a person of color and/or a member of the LGBT community is simply considered too great. But Legion M, being owned by fans, has the opportunity to tip the scales. Because if the investors want more diversity and new kinds of stories, that’s exactly what they’re going to get.

“The reason that there are so many superhero movies and reboots and remakes… Hollywood’s figured out the formula. You pick something with an established fanbase, and if you make the movie you know it’s less risky because you know those people are gonna come see the next Superman movie,” says Annison. “Whereas if it’s an unknown story, you just don’t know. So we believe when you make the audience part of the process, these fans that are part of our studio … if you’ve got an audience that’s baked into it, that gives you so much more creative leeway.”

In practice, this means that Legion M, “could come up with a completely new and novel story that’s never been tried before, and know that it’s gonna have some success” — which means that it’d actually get produced, unlike many original ideas that come to Hollywood to die.

Further, fan owners of Legion M can experience unprecedented involvement with the creative process. Not only are they involved with selecting and developing projects, but, “our promise to our investors is that we’re gonna take you along for the ride. When we film a movie, we wanna live-stream from the set. When we have project opportunities, we wanna put them in front of you. We give the Legion a voice.”

To start with, Legion M is partnering with Seth Green and Matthew Senreich’s Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, which created Robot Chicken. Annison explains that they still have “dozens” of projects that networks have rejected, and Legion M is working on bringing some of them to life.

In terms of representation, Legion M doesn’t necessarily want to commit to a quota of diversity. Instead, where they expect to be able to influence Hollywood is at the “table” where these decisions are made — and, “because we’re owned by such a broad, diverse group of people, we’ve got a better shot than anybody else at being able to affect that change.”

As Annison explains: “Fans have the ultimate power. Our money is what makes this whole thing spin around. When we combine and come together, we’ve got all the power.”

Read more about Legion M and how to get involved on their website.

As we approach the Captain America: Civil War Blu-Ray release date, a new deleted scene from the film has been released.

And it’s a Civil War deleted scene that is sure to please Stucky fans.

In the clip, Bucky quickly comes to the defense of bae (a.k.a. Cap) when War Machine briefly takes him down. Bucky gets back at Rhodey by throwing Cap’s iconic shield at him, and as the shield boomerangs back, Steve Rogers catches it. Take THAT, War Machine! #TeamCap

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As we approach the Captain America: Civil War Blu-Ray release date, a new deleted scene from the film has been released.

And it’s a Civil War deleted scene that is sure to please Stucky fans.

In the clip, Bucky quickly comes to the defense of bae (a.k.a. Cap) when War Machine briefly takes him down. Bucky gets back at Rhodey by throwing Cap’s iconic shield at him, and as the shield boomerangs back, Steve Rogers catches it. Take THAT, War Machine! #TeamCap

Watch below:

The movie’s airport scene was easily one of the most delightful moments of the film, so we’re loving this extra dose of Stucky brilliance.

Need more? The Captain America Blu-ray, with a release date set for September 13, includes the following special features:

  1. United We Stand, Divided We Fall – The Making of Captain America: Civil War Part 1 & Part 2 – As the tension mounts, sides are chosen and lines drawn. Learn more about the characters on each side—from Captain America and Iron Man to the latest recruits. In this complete behind-the-scenes look at a landmark in the Marvel saga, we’ll examine their stories through exclusive footage and interviews and discover just what went into selecting the Super Hero teams, filming the epic action sequences and introducing Black Panther and Spider-Man to the MCU.
  2. Captain America: The Road to Civil War – Explore the First Avenger’s fascinating evolution from loyal soldier to seasoned, conflicted hero who questions authority.
  3. Iron Man: The Road to Civil War – From Gulmira to Sokovia, delve into the development and evolution of one of the most iconic characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  4. Gag Reel – Break the tension of this high-stakes conflict with some hilarious outtakes featuring the lighter side of your favorite Super Heroes.
  5. Deleted & Extended Scenes – Check out never-before-seen footage that didn’t make the final cut of Captain America: Civil War.
  6. Audio Commentary – Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely deliver scene-by-scene insight and explain the storytelling challenges they faced creating the third installment of the Captain America franchise.
  7. Open Your Mind: Marvel’s Doctor Strange – Exclusive Sneak Peek – Go behind and beyond the scenes as Doctor Strange makes his journey to the big screen.

The Digital HD version of Civil War will be released on September 2.

Director James Gunn confirms the name of a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 creature with the release of some concept art from the film.

The Guardians of the Galaxy have been pretty busy lately while they gear up for Vol. 2. On Friday we learned that they’ll be showing up in Avengers: Infinity War, and tonight we got a sneak peek of a creature the team will be taking on in the GotG sequel.

Taking to Twitter, Gunn showed off a piece of concept art created by Andy Park.

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Director James Gunn confirms the name of a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 creature with the release of some concept art from the film.

The Guardians of the Galaxy have been pretty busy lately while they gear up for Vol. 2. On Friday we learned that they’ll be showing up in Avengers: Infinity War, and tonight we got a sneak peek of a creature the team will be taking on in the GotG sequel.

Taking to Twitter, Gunn showed off a piece of concept art created by Andy Park.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-concept-art

In his replies, he names the creature and states that, no, they aren’t fighting in space.

Then taking to Facebook, Gunn replied to fans who had questions about the image.

An updated synopsis for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reads:

“Set to the backdrop of ‘Awesome Mixtape #2,’ Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand.”

So it looks like for those who were lucky enough to see GotG 2 footage at San Diego Comic-Con this year, you’ve already seen this guy in action.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ lands in theatres on May 5, 2017