Theme Hospital follows a simple idea – you create and run a hospital, building diagnoses and treatment rooms, hiring staff, and managing day-to-day affairs. However, the game is also 13 years old, 2-Dimensional and far from unflawed. Yet, Theme Hospital still holds a special place in the hearts of many, and is still played today. Is this simply the effects of nostalgia, or something deeper?
There appear several reasons why Theme Hospital remains popular today, even in the face of more advanced simulation games. The first is simplicity. The game is easy to understand, and the basics easy to grasp. The user interface is straightforward. Once you’ve set up your hospital, micromanagement is possible but not overbearing, as staff go to rooms they are needed in, caretakers clean and water, and so on. However, you can easily pick up staff and drop them where they’re needed, manage the waiting lists for treatment rooms, and so on. Mission goals are straight-forward and easy to follow. But the chances are, you already know all of this. It seems unlikely that simplicity is the sole reason for the game’s lasting endearment.
Humour is also a large part of Theme Hospital. A rather eccentric humour pervades your hospital, determining the hobbies of staff, the conditions of patients, and the treatments available. Building your treatment rooms, it’s hard not to smile at the straight-forward way your doctors tackle problems: Bloaty Head is treated by popping the patient’s oversized cranium, then re-inflating it with a pump; Slick Tongue by cutting off the offensive muscle with a guillotine; Baldness is presented as an illness, solved with a hair transplant. The voiceovers offer in-game advice, commenting when your hospital is too cold for instance, but also remind patients to be patient. Staff biographies can inform you that your top surgeon is talented and devoted to helping the sick, but also worryingly inform you of a psychiatrist’s burning resentment towards his fellow man. Theme Hospital remembers that games should be fun.
Those of you perhaps critical of the charms of Theme Hospital may put lasting endearment down to simple nostalgia. You point out that many gamers remember playing Theme Hospital in their youth, or on their first computers. Yes, you say, it was fun and advanced in its day, but now we have more advanced, 3-dimensinal strategy games. Why not play Tractor Simulator 2012 or The Sims 4: Going for a Colonoscopy? Certainly, they something of a point – I certainly have nostalgic feelings for Theme Hospital. But, it’s not just a passing feeling, and I recently replayed the game, something I’ve done several times since I was first introduced to it. From comments around the internet, conversations with friends, and so on, I know many of you have done the same. Furthermore, I didn’t play Theme Hospital until years after release, probably playing it first around 2002/2003. Certainly by this point, games had developed a lot in terms of graphics and gameplay, so it again seems that simple nostalgia for the good ol’ days of 1997 is not the sole reason for our lasting admiration for Theme Hospital.
But what does the future hold for our favourite strategy game? “Nothing!” I hear you say “Why, it was made in 1997, I have children older than that!” Well, you’re wrong! With fan interest high, there has been talk of EA relaunching favoured Bullfrog games. This would certainly provide a good sales revenue, something EA would likely milk for all its worth, and so remains a possibility. A quick google search will reveal many reliable, quick ways to download the full original game. However, a far more definite future lies in Open Source clones of Theme Hospital. These programmes aim to reproduce the game for modern Operating Systems, updating the resolution and gameplay, and in the future, perhaps adding additional features.
- CorsixTH: An open-source version of Theme Hospital. Still in development, it already contains many of the game’s original features, and aims to develop this further.
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