Games I Own: Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Theme Hospital

Written by Joe Martin

September 26, 2009 | 11:38

Tags: #bullfrog #dungeon-keeper #games-i-own #molyneux #rts #strategy #syndicate #theme-hospital #theme-park

I was never any good at Dungeon Keeper – and when I say ‘not any good’, I really do mean that I was seriously pants at it. Something to do with being only 12 when the game came out and not really being interested in strategy games – which kind of begs the question of why I played it at all.

There are two answers.

Firstly, it wasn’t my game. It was my brothers and, while I can’t remember if it was a present or something he actually bought, I do know it was his. In the days when the family shared just one PC and my brother and I shared every game, it was inevitable that I would play it. Likewise, it was inevitable then when he stopped playing PC games and I moved out that I would steal it from him, along with about ten other games. Sorry, Sam!

Secondly, making people think that they liked strategy games even though they didn’t really was one of the things that made Bullfrog such a successful company.
Games I Own: Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Theme Hospital
It's no wonder I liked Dungeon Keeper

It’s obvious when you look at the most successful games they made – Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper. None of them are particularly well-balanced games and, even when I used cheats to get unlimited everything, I always had problems finishing Theme Hospital. The games were definitely fun, but there were lots of much better balanced RTS games available even back then.

What those games did have that other games didn’t though was a proper sense of setting and character. Playing Dungeon Keeper, you could actually feel like a bad guy. In Theme Hospital you’d actually feel like an NHS administrator. Yes, there was a lot of little fun bits added in, like riding the rollercoasters in Theme Park and shooting rats in Theme Hospital, which gave the game that irreverent and very English sense of humour – but that wasn’t what kept you playing. It was the continued chance to exist in the strange world of Horned Reapers and Dark Mistresses, of Bloaty Head and Invisibility Disease.

Games I Own: Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Theme Hospital
The Doctor is ready for you now

The Bullfrog games each manifested their setting differently, making you either feel like some literal overlord with a huge hand you could slap your imps with or like a crazy inventor who made increasingly dangerous rollercoasters. The games hung together with their own twisted, crazed consistencies and that’s certainly what I fell in love with. When I sat down to play some Dungeon Keeper I wasn’t interested in playing an RTS, I wanted to exist in that beautifully realised world of Knights of the Realm, Bile Demons the levelmap that slowly corrupted more and more as I spread my pestilence.

For me, the fascination I had with those worlds fell apart the further into the game I went and the harder the game became. There was a clear middleground for each of them, where you could experiment with the game as a sandbox and create elaborate boulder traps or only hire the worst doctors, but eventually I always reached the point where finding the right strategy was the most important part of the game. Once it became an RTS my 12 year old self would lose interest and go back to pouring over the Dungeon Keeper strategy guide for snippet of game lore.

Times Completed: I own Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper: Gold Edition, Dungeon Keeper 2 and Black and White – and I’ve never finished any of them.

Random Trivia: The Bullfrog games would often tie-in with each other, so if you watch closely in the Theme Hospital intro video then you can see a Horned Reaper and character from Syndicate waiting in the lobby.
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