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20070804

Theme Hospital Tycoon

Entry 320 posted in: 3. Gamebits


Theme Hospital Aeons ago I wrote an entry about Theme Hospital, a much-acclaimed game, dating from pre-Windows-98-days that still has a small group of dedicated followers today. I had a quick peek on their forum and the most recent post dates from about 5 days ago, meaning there are still some people around who want to cure the world from diseases such as: 3rd Degree Sideburns, Infectious Laughter, Kidney Beans or Unexpected Swelling.

Unexpected Swelling has got nothing to do with Pregnancy. That female bodily function was written out of the software when it first appeared in 1997, for whatever reason you can think of. A hacking fan, however, found the pregnancy code back in the program and made an unofficial patch that brings it back, albeit without the graphics. It was never made clear if the graphics for pregnancy exist or have existed, and if they did we may assume that they have been lost in time.

Fast forward to March 2006 when an open source Theme Hospital clone is announced on Sourceforge. The website wasn't really clear if the game would be named Open Theme Hospital or Open Hospital Tycoon but the bottom line was that nothing changed for almost a year and that one day the website simply disappeared. End of the story anybody would guess. Well not quite so.

Out of the blue a commercial game called Hospital Tycoon was announced and those that browsed the Codemasters website to find out what this thing was all about quickly realised that here was a person who knew a lot about the first Theme Hospital.

This is the announcement that was published on the Theme Hospital Clinic forum on the 16th of May 2007:
"My name is Liam Studham, and I'm the development co-coordinator for Hospital Tycoon. Some people may remember me from quite some time ago, posting on here saying I was developing a 3D version of TH. Well, halfway through development, I received a number of offers from large companies offering to buy the project from me.
I decided not to take the offers, and continue going solo. Then CodeMasters approached me, and I completed a deal. I am now the development co-coordinator for Hospital Tycoon."

Now things are getting a bit blurry. I don't know if this guy is the same guy that first announced the open version or not but it seems a bit too much of a coincidence. This is what was written on the now defunct website somewhere in 2006:
"Hospital Tycoon is intended to be an Open Source, 3D recreation of the game Theme Hospital published in 1997. Hospital Tycoon will feature all new 3D artwork and content based upon the original artwork of Theme Hospital to maintain a genuine feel. It will also feature new recorded music based upon the styles presented in the original. Its multi player abilities will allow players to connect to each other using direct IP connections, LAN, and the ability to join a server (host) based 'lobby'."

Although distributed by Codemasters, Hospital Tycoon is really a Deep Red Games release. Apparently they were in a kind of time pressure because the release, in June 2007, was done before the game was totally finished. Some people have found graphics and code for items that are not activated in the final release: a (maintenance?) robot, weelchairs,... Programming leftovers can be found as well. A demo version of the game was never finished, officially because it would be too dull to play?!, and it appears that beta testing was diminished to a sheer minimum, if any.

Very soon a bunch of bugs were found in the software. Some graphic cards, for instance Geforce 4MX, are not supported. An annoying gameplaying bug is that on several levels almost no patients are attracted to your hospital. That is quite disturbing for a game that pretends to be a hospital simulation.

To add insult to injury an official patch to deal with this kind of problems will not be released. The problem is that Deep Red Games has had a management buy-out. The new company now listens to the name DR Studios and apparently they are not interested anymore in developing patches for old software, although the old software we are talking about has only been released 2 months ago. Codemasters are rather annoyed with this news as well and have apparently been refunding some unhappy customers.

Some fans are now hacking into the game, modding it, in order to create patches that will make the game at least a bit playable. No wonder that on a poll on a German Hospital Tycoon forum 100% of the voters claim to prefer good old Theme Hospital instead of Hospital Tycoon.

But if you can hold your breath a little bit longer there might be some good news as well. Recently a new open source project has been announced at Sourceforge: openHospital and this is what it pretends to be:
"openHospital is an open-source game based on the ever popular Theme Hospital and released under the GNU GPL v2 License.
It follows a similar format to Theme Hospital including its comical take on diseases and the cures for them.
openHospital will feature a spiffy new 3D engine based on Crystal Space.
It will also include new graphics, enhanced multiplayer modes, map/scenario building tools and a new sound track loosely based on Theme Hospital's music.
In addition to the original diseases and curing machines, openHospital will include new diseases and machines to help diagnose and cure them."

Let's hope Codemasters will not buy these guys to make a Hospital Tycoon 2 out of it.


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