It’s been a long time since simulation fans have seen the trademark humor and zaniness that Bullfrog Studios and Lionhead brought to the genre back its heyday. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of excellent sim games out there, it’s just that not many have attempted to capture the same kind of tone and those that have tried were unsuccessful in their attempt. Well, fans of that long-dormant style won’t have to spend too much longer waiting for it to return, because the some of the original minds behind games like The Movies, Populous and Theme Hospital are back, and absolutely ready to make a comeback. Hardcore Gamer recently had an opportunity to sit down with Gary Carr and Mark Webley to talk about their new game, Two Point Hospital, and what it’s bringing to the modern simulation genre.
To kick things off, we asked Mr. Carr and Mr. Webley what exactly will set Two Point Hospital apart from the average modern sim. Carr stated that one of their main focuses for the game is conveying the feeling of dealing with a lot of little people. “You’ve got lots of little people that you can control and direct and others you can’t. I think that’s kind of the essence of what the game is about,” he said.
Mr. Webley expanded on the comment by talking about their efforts to inject personality into the game’s inhabitants. “You’re not dealing with a family like you are in The Sims; you’re dealing with hundreds of people and we want to give them as much personality as possibly can. Make them as individual looking and individual acting as we can,” he said. “[We want to convey] a sense that they kind of have feelings and that they are more than just commodities in the game for the player to exploit for cash.” He went on to explain that they’re working to create a system where players won’t simply dismiss NPCs for new ones that might perform better. Two Point Hospital features a system that allows the player to train and improve their hospital staff; firing and rehiring isn’t always going to be the best choice.
To further enhance this idea of developing an attachment to one’s staff, Webley explained that they’ve been putting a lot of time and energy into both the NPC’s behavior and visual differences. “It’s very difficult to see the same character twice in the game. You’ll always see something different in skin tone, facial shape, glasses and clothing, and their traits make them act differently,” he said. “A character could be buzzing on a caffeinated drink while needing to go to the toilet, while scared by a ghost in the game. And that changes how they behave. So that makes it quite unique. Not many games offer that.”
From there we moved onto Two Point Hospital’s structure and how it’ll keep the gameplay fresh for its players. Once again, Carr took the lead. “Two Point Hospital is set in [the world of] Two Point County; it’s not a level based game,” he said. “We’ve got regions which act and look very different, and there are different people that populate those regions.” Mr. Webley also took the opportunity to expand on Carr’s answer. “You’ve got different regions like cold regions where there’s ski slopes and people are breaking bones a lot more,” he said. “In some areas it’s hard to recruit staff because they’re a desolate, old and industrial. In other areas there’s poor hygiene and they’re rife with epidemics because of that.” He continued by describing it as a game about maintaining balance and keeping many plates spinning at once. “There are a lot of things coming at you once you really dig into the depth of the game, and that’s a bit different,” he said.
We then took a moment to further discuss how Two Point Hospital will keep things feeling fresh for its players. For this question, it was Mr. Webley who took the lead. “With some of our old work like Theme Park or even The Movies, it often felt like you were being asked to do the same thing over and over again,” he said. “With these different regions there are very different events happening. Setting up the organization [in each region] should feel different to the player, and that’s something that was very important to us. So you’re not going to be like ‘oh, I have to do this all over again.'” After this they both took the chance to talk about some of the different scenarios that will be presented to the player. They described situations in which players will get called-in to save a failing hospital or have to find ways to train up staff in run-down areas. “Just like [with] those regional differences, it should feel and look different,” he said. “It shouldn’t feel like you’re doing the same thing all over again.”
Our next topic centered around the players hospitals and what happens with them when the player isn’t actively managing them. Their answer to this was concrete, saying that hospitals wouldn’t continue to operate without the player’s input. “We kind of thought about that, but the problem is that without the player there managing it, it would fall into ruin,” said Carr. “Though [they do] still feel fresh when you come back because new challenges get unlocked in the game,” Webley added. “It doesn’t feel the same.”
Our next question returned to the idea of how Two Point Hospital will be structured. Specifically, we asked if there will be anything resembling a free play mode in addition to the normal one. “We’ve talked about that, but not much more,” said Carr. “It’s a difficult balance to hit because some people love to be guided and love to unlock things gradually. However, as you progress in the game and do well in your prestige and challenges and get the unlocks, you eventually sort of get to that point.” He went on to talk about how the hospital challenges grow with the player’s progress and that their goal is to mete out things in a way that keeps it from becoming overwhelming. “We want to make it a game where people can realize that they can do all these cool things,” said Carr. He clarified this further by explaining that “that feeling would be kind of ruined by unlocking everything at the beginning of the game.”
Carr also explained how players aren’t going to be railroaded into playing a certain way. “If you play the game for four, five, or six hours you’ll start to unlock some pretty cool stuff. You can even ignore all the challenges too,” he said. “You don’t have to complete the challenges in order to play the game. Some people wanna exploit everything the game gives them in order to unlock more content […]. But some people don’t care about that and just want to play at their own pace, and that’s fine.”
From here we briefly returned to the NPCs and talked about their behavior and how they’re affected by their environment. Carr and Webley described the characters as being able to interact with each other, even to the point of having arguments or fights, and that those characters’ moods would be affected by it afterwards. It seems just about everything going on in a hospital can have an affect on them and result in unique scenarios. “It’s very emergent, and I hate using that word because it’s sort of a buzzword right now, but here it fits,” said Carr. “You’ll see different situations develop in this game. We work on this game every single day and we’re constantly seeing new things happen [with the NPCs], because of how dynamic it is. It’s not very predictable.”
As our interview wound down, we talked a bit about the game’s depth and some of the tools available to players. “We think the overall look kind of masks what’s going on underneath the hood,” said Webley. “It’s a very accessible-looking game, but it’s actually rather deep. Core, deep-business simulation players will find that this game can do just about everything that other modern sims can do as well. So it’s kind of working on two levels.”
As for player tools, Two Point Hospital has screens and charts to express just about every statistic and data point players could want, as well as tools for adjusting staff policies and understanding their behavior. “Say you’ve got an staff member going on a lot of breaks and you don’t understand what’s making them so tired,” said Webley. “The log can sort of give you all the information you need.” He also expanded on this by talking about how to deal with that behavior and optimize for it. “[For example] you can go into the overview screens and tweak their break levels and say: ‘yeah, you need more breaks. Go ahead and take more breaks.’ Or: ‘actually, we’re really busy right now, everybody work double-time,’ and turn the breaks off.” These are all things players can adjust in response to the staff’s behavior and traits.
Two Point Hospital is still a ways away from launch day, but it’s still looking and playing good even in these early stages. Gary Carr, Mark Webley and the rest of the team still have plenty of passion for the project and they sound committed to bringing the vision described here to life. For a better idea of what playing Two Point Hospital will be like, take a quick look at our preview of the game. Beyond that, Two Point Hospital is currently aiming to release later this year, so keep coming back for all the latest updates.