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

Posted on 26th Sep 2009 at 11:38 by Joe Martin with 16 comments

Joe Martin
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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delriogw 26th September 2009, 14:59 Quote
theme hospital is one of my all time favourite games, and i still pull it out from time to time for a play.

i think when that finally stops playing on windows, it will be a sad sorry day for me
MajorTom 26th September 2009, 15:28 Quote
I recently tried to get Dungeon keeper 2 working on Windows 7. I failed. Ended up playing it on my XP laptop. Such a classic.

Now I'm searching high and low for my copy of Startopia. Like Theme Hospital on a 3D doughnut shaped space port. I love this one.
thehippoz 26th September 2009, 16:04 Quote
another game swallowed up by EA and tossed was westwoods NoX.. really liked that game
roblikesbeer 26th September 2009, 18:00 Quote
DK2 is an awesome game - great dark sense of humour running through it!
Skiddywinks 26th September 2009, 22:54 Quote
Bullfrog were serioualy amazing.
The Infamous Mr D 26th September 2009, 23:07 Quote
Theme Hospital and Dungeon Keeper 2 are fantastic. Like yourself, I've wasted many of my hours playing those games, but *never* completed either of them. I have a serious urge to go play Theme Hospital and actually complete it once and for all.

I bet there's some cosmic nirvana waiting for me.
mute1 27th September 2009, 00:05 Quote
I'm much the same. I tried to play Black and White but didn't get too far into it. Black and White 2 was better for me because it was simpler and somehow just more enjoyable - not that I am arguing for games to be more 'accessible' as such. More time was spent with creature fighting, say, than looking after whiny villagers.
I thought I liked strategy games because I used to spend a lot of time on Civ II and Red Alert 2. Yet I played Red Alert and found it somewhat boring, and Supreme Commander... well, it seemed to me to be the Diablo of RTS (grindy).
It takes some humour and consistently enjoyable gameplay to keep me going. Or semi-naked leather-clad women. That will work too. (There must be something there as to why the Horny Reaper is so angry... frustration perhaps?) Not that I would be so pathetic as to lust after digital women... And besides, I'm keeping myself for Jade...
P.S. I do not mean Raymond.
Bauul 27th September 2009, 08:41 Quote
Dungeon Keeper is one of my top three all time favouite games (along with C&C Red Alert and Doom 2). Completed it LOADS of times. Mostly down to the fact that (unlike DK2) fortified walls were indestructable. My game plan for every map was basically find the choke points in the map straight away, tunnel right to them and build an inpenetrable wall across the gap. Then, with unlimited time on my side (especially if there were gems around, i.e. unlimited money) I could spend hours constructing the perfect dungeon in preparation of a final battle that would usually only last minutes.

It was this element of sandboxing, of giving the player time to design the perfect dungeon is what I loved so much about it. Some maps were quick and manic true, but mostly you could play it at your own pace. DK2 lacked this (shame), so the pace felt far more dictated by the game and not you.

You're right about the atmosphere making the games what they were though. The DK universe was such a coherient one, and the ability to possess your creatures and travel around in the (surprisingly robust) first-person view made it all the more believable. In fact, I might go play it again now. You have conquered this realm!
Sim0n 27th September 2009, 12:43 Quote
Gutted... just dug out my theme hospital CD, and i cant play it on 64bit Windows XP.

Any idea how to get it running again ?
Yemerich 28th September 2009, 01:02 Quote
@Simon, have you ever tried Abandon Loader or dos box?

Anyway, DK2 is one of my all time favourites too. Syndicate and syndicate wars... Good old times... PRE FPSs. But much time before C&C there was a fantastic game. Westwood's DUNE 2. The game that started all RTS (at least i think was the first ever).

I still remember when spaceship games were a must. Back then, Joe was in diapers...
Xir 28th September 2009, 08:44 Quote
Originally Posted by Yemerich
I still remember when spaceship games were a must. Back then, Joe was in diapers...

Aahhh, and I really miss them.

Never finished any of the "theme" games nor DK... I do like strategygames and usually finish them but I never quite got into these (plus I didn't really see the "theme" games as strategy...more like a fun version of simcity :D
Omnituens 28th September 2009, 12:18 Quote
Wish I could get the Direct3D version of DK Gold running on newer OS's - i think the last OS that could run it was 2000, or even 98!

FYI your dungeon heart is being attacked.

@Simon: The installer for Theme Hospital is 16-Bit, so won't run in the 64-Bit OS. However, you can copy the files from the disk and enable compatibility. worked for me (though couldn't save for some reason)

DK is a 16-Bit launcher for the game, so no luck there :(
Meridicus 29th September 2009, 12:47 Quote

I'm running DK Gold Direct3D in Windows Vista 64 bit.

Create a Windows XP 32-bit Virtual Machine with Microsoft VirtualPC and run the game in there.

Both DK and Deeper Dungeons work like a charm.
Omnituens 29th September 2009, 14:00 Quote
That doesn't count :P

However, how did you get the D3D version to run in XP? Mine just says "not a valid Win32 application" and I have to run it in Software mode.
Meridicus 29th September 2009, 18:24 Quote

There's a D3D patch floating around out there that wasn't part of the Gold CD. My work firewall is blocking the download sites so I can't link you, but a google search results in a few places to get it from.
Omnituens 29th September 2009, 18:26 Quote
Hm, already tried all the ones I could find, but I'll give it a go.
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