Hope you all enjoyed the article, of course when you ask questions you often get more material than can be used in the magazine. So here are some extra questions/answers from all the team.
Q. Which came first – the name or the idea?
Mark Webley: The idea for Theme Hospital came from the success we had with Theme Park, which was subtitled ‘The Designer Series’. We wanted to create a number of games in that ilk, whereby you start from nothing and build up a business that any person in the street would feel they understood, so, although you may not know the intricacies of running a theme park or a hospital, you could make a pretty good guess.
Andy Bass: I think it was the name...Peter mentioned it would be the sequel in an interview or something I believe and that was it!
Q. Did the game share any resources or code with Theme Park?
MW: As I was one of the programmers on Theme Park, it was an obvious starting point. However, by the end of Theme Hospital, pretty much all the systems had been rewritten. To get a project started, we would have definitely been using Theme Park graphics, sprite draw functions and as much existing stuff as possible, just so we could get the ball rolling.
The problem with Theme Hospital was that, on the face of it, there was nothing very appealing about it, so we had to work really hard to make it so. I remember thinking as well, why is it called ‘Theme Hospital’? Someone had decided ‘Theme something’ is a good idea but in those days there weren’t many franchises around. The game world was changing, and we were making something within Bullfrog that was relatively ‘old school’ to some people - there were a lot of 3D games coming out at that time. Also, talking with our publishing partners at EA, it was obviously not a title that excited them in any great way so trying to build up that enthusiasm outside of the team was pretty tough. It was definitely the ‘ugly duckling’ of projects at the time.
Rajan Tande: At the time Bullfrog used some common design patterns across their games but there wasn't much actual shared code.
Q. Did you do any medical research?
MW: Besides that in-depth tour round Frimley Park (which is where we spent the most time), our offices are right next to the Royal Surrey and we would often go and walk round the corridors at lunchtime to get some inspiration or have our lunch in the canteen. Gary’s very squeamish - he once fainted when his cat bit him and blood appeared on his finger - so he wasn’t very good in the operation.
Gary Carr: The one section that we both chose not to visit was the morgue, as it seemed a bit too freaky to us. We also visited Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Q. The names of the rival clinics are all famous computers from sci-fi/comedy – whose idea was that?
MW: By the time we introduced the rival hospitals/computer players, the team had grown to about five or six people and the names would have come from various members of the team. The writer that worked with us on a lot of the Bullfrog titles was a guy called James Leach – he brought a huge amount of humour to a lot of the writing and to the tannoy receptionist’s dialogue in particular.
GC: I thought the idea came from you and Leachy came into it a little later on?
MW: Did he? I can’t remember now.
Q. What was the most difficult part of creating the game?
AB: Finishing it on time! Polishing things up so they all worked properly, sprite alignment, the sprite editor, fonts, foreign characters, not being able to see textures in the viewports of 3D Studio, rendering times, learning to animate...I could go on and on!
RT: The sheer amount of work. We didn't really know how much work was left to do because we needed to tweak the game in response to play test feedback right till the end and we didn't know how long it would take to fix all the bugs that QA were finding. In hindsight, it was because we tweaked the game so much that it turned out so well. For example the shooting the mice that appeared in your hospital when it got dirty was done very late in development but it was a fantastic addition.
Q. Are there any funny stories/incidents that happened while creating the game?
AB: Coder art would appear quite regularly in game. They’d put shit stuff in on purpose so we’d see it and make it good, crafty move but it worked. I have a feeling the rats may still be coder artwork!!!
An email (possibly containing a few rude words that could be deemed as offensive) was sent from my machine (we know who you are Jon!) to the whole of EA and I had to spend a day and a half sending out mails apologising to offended people in the States. I got a phone call from whoever was in charge at the time too. I can’t remember who it was, but then he probably can’t remember me either!
GC: We were probably the most notorious pranksters on email.
AB: I’d managed to get an interview at a few games studios, Pysgnosis and Gremlin spring to mind but was over the moon when I got the call from Bullfrog as they were the ones I really wanted to work for. I thought I’d landed a job as concept artist and was shocked and horrified on my first day when I was shown my desk and it had a PC sitting on it! I had only ever used a Mac before, so a PC at the time was a very scary place for me to be, especially as the studio wasn’t running Windows back then and everything was dos based.
When I got the job I was living in Milton Keynes so had a two-hour commute each way! I did this for three weeks before I fell asleep at the wheel one night on my way home...the car passing over the rumble strips at the side of the M1 waking me up! I didn’t crash, but found somewhere in Guildford to live the following week, before my wife and son joined me after my three month probation was up.
Every Friday afternoon we’d have a meeting down the pub, usually The White Hart if I remember correctly. Productive meetings too, where we could all come up with ideas to improve the game as well review the week’s work and where we were with the game. Mark and Gary were always very keen for us all to have direct input into the game and it made it a pleasure to work on. Mark was quite volatile back then and keyboards being ripped out and thrown across the office were quite common. Healthy debating was quite common between Gary and Mark too, kinda like an old married couple. Gary was very much the proper lead artist. Palettes by him, all character sprites, he’d sit there all day with his headphones on and crank it out amazingly quickly which was good...there was a lot to do!
We didn’t have Internet in the office back then so research was a bit of a problem. Making things up was the way to go, nothing like Google to make life easy back then. I remember asking Gary if I could go the library to photocopy some pictures from books to help me out! An artist back then had to know way more than an artist (who tends to get pigeonholed) these days. There was no such thing as an environment artist back then...so we did everything. Game artwork, interface (I was font boy for months!), cut scenes, animation. If we didn’t know how to do it we just learnt as we went along. Quite mad really but it seemed to work as production values were so much lower back then.
I worked really well with Joe Rider, and between us we did the interface art and Dynamic Information Bar. We could take over from each other on pieces and ended up not knowing who did which. It was a real pleasure to work with someone with very similar sensibilities and I learnt loads from him too, 0especially later as we began to move over to PhotoShop from DPaint (still without Wacom tablets though, everything was done with a mouse!
MW: Joe was one of our artists – joining a little later but spent plenty of time on the project when he made it in! We used untold fonts in Theme Hospital and Joe created all of them for us. Also the icons and interface, which was constantly being redone as we added more & more icons to it!
AB: I remember being petrified when the game was released, fingers crossed that it would sell ok. But I didn’t need to worry. It continued selling and selling and selling for years and had much better legs than anything I’ve worked on since. It was a real pleasure to work on, the team was and is an amazing bunch of guys! Very happy days and very fond memories are what I get when I think of Theme Hospital. The bonuses were tiny. I think mine was about £2500, although not everyone on the team even got one. I did get a big pay rise after the game was successful though, so can’t grumble too much!
GC: We got a lot of late and marketing interest, and also a lot of point of sale. It felt like a big launch - I went home to York and there were loads of game stores in the High Street, so it was full of green and white boxes, it was amazing! They just kept selling! We got a really good review from Charlie Brooker, who came in and did a big piece in a magazine called PC Zone (13 August 2001) about the game. He gave us a really good review and also did an eight-page pullout booklet on the making of the game.
http://www.computerandvideogames.com/35 ... tal-review
Q. Do you think health care should be a business or a public service?
MW: I think it should be a public service, but the reality is that being a business probably improves it. We found out through our research trips that they are a business and so, they have to grow and develop like all organisations. The reality is that they are businesses – they have budgets, salary reviews, and the smart guys who run the hospitals run the hospitals stretch the money out. And those guys would work elsewhere if they weren’t being run in this way. We’re not saying that it is a well-run business and there may be too many middle managers.
AB: Public Service every time
MW & GC: Pay nurses more! And consultants!
RT: Ideally a public service but unfortunately even a Socialist like me sees the need of a supplementary private system.
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