Theme Hospital is a 1997 video game created by Bullfrog Productions, a tongue-in-cheek Space-Management Game that places you in the shoes of a cartoon-hospital manager. Sounds boring? Not with the diseases you're going to be asked to treat!
The game is comprised of ten levels. In each level you will be tasked with some objective, usually a financial one. You start out with an empty building which you must divide up into rooms, then equip these rooms with whatever technology is available to you for the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. Then you set up corridors and waiting areas, hire some staff, and maybe decorate a little. As soon as you open the front doors though, the patients will start streaming in. The objective is to have these patients go through as many diagnosis procedures as possible, sucking out their hard-earned cash in the process - but you also need to find out what illness they have and cure it before it actually kills them! Worse yet, they could easily get fed up with your hospital and leave - lowering your reputation.
Bathrooms and soda machines must be placed down, and patients need somewhere to sit while they wait for the doctor to see them. You also need to hire a staff of doctors, nurses and janitors, and provide them with relaxation areas (and ample salaries). Doctors must be trained in various specialties like psychiatry or surgery. Janitors run around cleaning up vomit and trash, and also need to fix your medical machinery (which is likely to explode if overused). It's very important to make sure not to overspend too early on new machines, as it takes a while to build up a reputation so that more patients will come in to pay for that higher-quality treatment.
The underlying gameplay, as in similar games like Dungeon Keeper and Evil Genius, is space-management. Each mission map is limited in space and usually can't comfortably fit everything, so you need to make sure to skimp on space as much as possible while keeping rooms roomy enough - otherwise everyone (including your employees) will get moody and leave. Narrow corridors and rooms without windows are likely to end up bankrupting you. On some levels you can also spend money to purchase extra adjacent buildings to expand your hospital. Of course, distance between the various facilities is very important: doctors need to reach the bathrooms and rest areas quickly so they can get back to their jobs more often, and patients don't want to spend forever walking the hallways between the various diagnosis and treatment rooms. Not to mention the fact that emergency situations occur often, in which you'll need to provide treatment to a lot of patients within a very short period of time, including the time it takes for them to disembark from a medical helicopter and WALK to the treatment room, and wait in line for the nurse!
The greatest joy in this game comes from the wide variety of bizarre diseases, as well as the in-game documentation about these diseases. For instance, you'll get an awful lot of Elvis Impersonators (a disease known as "King Complex") who are cured by "A Psychiatrist telling the patient how ridiculous they look". There are even crazier diseases like "Hairyitis", "Invisibility" and "Spare Ribs". Some of the treatment rooms you can build are meant to cure a specific disease with some wacky machinery - for instance, "Bloaty Head" (yeah) is cured by popping the patient's head with a needle, and then re-inflating it with a bicycle pump.
The game was based on similar management-themed games like Theme Park (not surprisingly, by the same developer) that were very popular in the mid 90's. However, its success did not come immediately, and was mostly recorded in the long-run: it continued to sell for over a decade! But surprisingly, a sequel was never made.
Windows XP compatible versions can still be found in bargain bins world-wide, and can also still be purchased from several on-line vendors, including from GOG.com that comes with DOSBox that allows it to run on modern machines. But Wait, There's More! Thanks to the good people behind the open source project CorsixTH, it is now possible to play the game in high definition and on Android platforms for free, provided you have a valid copy of the game.
This game provides examples of:
- Artifact Title: What exactly is a theme hospital? The designers were hoping to enable you to build hospitals with actual themes (medieval, space, etc.), which would have justified that title. Unfortunately, deadline issues prevailed and this extra content was cut - leaving only the basic "English hospital" theme.
- Black Comedy: The entire game.
- Bottomless Bladder: Averted. You have to build toilets for your patients (though not for your employees).
- Difficulty Spike: Level six, which introduces the aforementioned epidemics.
- Elvis Impersonator: Patients suffering from King's Syndrome.
- Explosive Instrumentation: Most medical equipment in the game will explode when shaken. The hospital itself, however, is somehow completely earthquake-proof.
- Freudian Couch: Used in all psychiatric therapies.
- Historical Domain Character: One of the possible VIP visitors to your hospital is Aung San Suu Kyi (spelled "Aung Sang Su Kyi" in-game).
- "Mesirs Burke and Hare to the rear exit please!"
- Instant Bandages: Patients with "Fractured Bones" come in already wearing bandages and casts. The treatment is to remove them using a silly machine.
- Invisibility: It's a disease. All you see is a person's hat, cane, and shades.
- Invisible Streaker: Subverted. Only the accessories of patients suffering from "Invisibility" are actually visible, implying that the rest of their body is naked; but when the patient is cured they reappear fully-clothed.
- Isometric Projection: Which often detracts from your ability to see things behind walls, a serious annoyance when every little bit of space is so valuable.
- Medical Game: This is a Space-Management Game set in a cartoony hospital.
- No Fair Cheating: If you enter a cheat code, the Public Address announcer will constantly announce that the Hospital Administrator is cheating."Warning! A cheat is running the hospital!"
- Overhead Interaction Indicator: These are used to show the mood of patients and staff, as well as to show when you receive a fax regarding someone in the clinic.
- Product Placement: The vending machines display the KitKat logo, despite vending drinks rather than confectionery.
- Punny Name:
- Nearly every single disease in the game.
- One of the hospitals is named/takes place at a location named Eggsenham.
- Reinventing the Wheel: Your research department will repeatedly rediscover the same diagnosis or treatment rooms in each mission, and you'll start each mission with the "Default" effectiveness of all drugs and machinery. Fortunately, a handful of rooms that must be discovered in early missions become available-by-default in later missions.
- Screen Shake: During the frequent, powerful earthquakes of England.
- The Horned Reaper can be seen in the intro cutscene with an arrow through the eye. Also, a doctor can be seen playing Dungeon Keeper.
- "Dr. Jekyll to Psychiatry, please."
- Rival hospitals (all played by the AI) tended to be named after fictional computers: including Holly, Deep Thought, HAL, and ORAC.
- One of the rival hospitals is named AKIRA. God knows why.
- The Shrink: Psychiatry is one of the three specialties that doctors can have. The patient lies on a Freudian Couch.
- Spinning Paper: The game over screens have your doctors be the latest scandal.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Earthquakes can damage your equipment, and they can explode. When this happens the room is unusable forever - you can't even delete it.
- Toilet Humor: One malady is "The Squits" which is gotten by "eating pizza found under the cooker". The symptoms? The game will only say, "Ugh. Surely you can guess."
- Tongue Trauma: People with swollen tongue have the excess cut by the slicer. Ouch.
- Unwinnable by Design: If any machine explodes due to earthquakes or overuse, the entire room it's in is rendered unusable and cannot be cleared or re-purposed. Since space is always at a premium, allowing even one machine to explode may make the level significantly harder to complete (or, at least, it will take a lot longer to win). If a sufficient number of machines have exploded, the level may even become entirely unwinnable.
- Vaudeville Hook: Used to remove the doctor in the menu after making a choice.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential:
- The basis of treatment at your hospital. Most treatments are described as "painful" and look very much so. There's a tongue-slicing machine, an electrocution machine, and the above-mentioned popping of bloated heads, to name a few. And yeah, you're charging a ridiculous amount of money for this treatment. It's a veritable cruelty-potential manifestor for intelligent players.
- If you can't yet diagnose a disease because you lack the necessary technology, you can send the patients to your research department where they will be fed into the "auto-autopsy machine" to speed up your research. Alive.
- Video Game Cruelty Punishment: However, if you send patients to the "auto-autopsy machine" too often, your reputation will take a dive. Likewise, forcing a patient to take a cure before s/he has completed diagnosis has a chance of killing the patient instead, which will take a notch off your reputation. Let your reputation dip too much and it's game over.
- Visible Invisibility: People suffering from "Invisibility" are surprisingly easy to spot, since they are wearing a visible hat, glasses, watch, shoes, and a walking cane.
- Vomit Chain Reaction: Expect this often, especially if the hospital is dirty, or the waiting areas are crowded.
- Winged Soul Flies Off at Death: When a patient dies, s/he either turns into an angel and flies off to heaven or the Grim Reaper appears and creates a hole in the ground that swallows the person's soul.
- Your Head A-Splode: The Bloaty Head disease is cured by popping the person's head and reinflating it.