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Why it should have been Syndicate and Theme Park

Posted on 9th Apr 2010 at 13:59 by Alex Watson with 27 comments

Alex Watson
As part of our Made in the UK week of games coverage, Joe put together a feature called The Best UK Games Ever. It was both well written and free from Deus Ex references, but that doesn't mean it was without flaws - as with any list feature we debated it around our desks for quite a while, but with no objective data, in the end, it's going to be a subjective piece. If you're going to go that route, then it's perhaps best to be wholly committed to it, and the list ought to represent one person's viewpoint - not a hodge-podge - and Joe acknowledged that's what we had, saying: "It’s telling as to the quality of Bullfrog’s games that the conversation was focused not on whether or not there were better games from other developers, but rather which Bullfrog game we should choose. Clive and Richard demanded Theme Hospital. Alex wanted Theme Park. James wanted Syndicate. But I’m writing this article and I wanted Dungeon Keeper. So, there."

What I'm saying is that Joe is wrong, but in the best possible way - so now I'm going to offer my reasoning as to why Theme Park and Syndicate should have made the list.

It's not that Dungeon Keeper is a bad game, but for me, it's the first of the later Bullfrog and Lionhead Games, the ones were I always had the feeling Molyneux and the team were reaching for concepts that were too complex - morality - and that, as a result, needed to be simplified in order to work in a game. This bastardization isn't anything like as bad as in BioShock, a game which literally presents you with a "BE EVIL: Y/N" option every time you encounter one of the Little Sisters, but Black & White and its ilk just don't get across the idea of good and evil in anything like a convincing manner.

In their earlier work, Bullfrog chose ideas that games could express perfectly and completely. Syndicate's idea is economics, specifically, the prioritisation of profit above all else - and for no other reason than the fact that with profit, the corporation can acquire more resources and more technology which are useful only for generating more profit.

Why it should have been Syndicate and Theme Park

In Syndicate you're the direct overlord of your team of four agents. They are the expression of your economic domination of the world, as you're able to upgrade both their kit and their bodies based on how successful your wider empire is. The only reason you need to upgrade them is so that you can be more effective at taking over more territories, in order to generate more money, in order to upgrade them once again. Neatly, the game also imposes another structure over this - you are a young executive within the company, and your success advances your own career.

There's a clear motive for players, and a clear system - to make it fun, there needs to be pressure and obstacles, and Syndicate has no shortage of harsh ways of competing against you. Missions are packed with tight timescales, enemies and the police, along with an adjustable drug supply for your agents. Using the drugs alters three key stats of your agents (intelligence, perception, adrenalin) but as in real life, hit the drugs too hard and there are consequences - so while you can speed your agents up, make them more lethal, their tolerances rise to the point that the drugs don't work.

Why it should have been Syndicate and Theme Park

Syndicate was released in 1993; a year later, Bullfrog followed it up with Theme Park, a game in which the team's move towards more complex concepts (and inevitable abstraction) is visible - however, the game is still perfectly balanced, and perfectly able to execute its ideas. The focus, once more, is economics, but this time, it's the idea of supply and demand. On the one hand, you might think this is a terribly boring idea for a game - but forget the specifics are you realise what you've got are two strong, clearly identifiable forces that must be balanced in order to succeed. All you need to do as a player is make that happen, and as a game designer, you just need to put objects in the way, and of course, economics has a built in system for limiting action: it's called money. Add the second limiting factor - customers - and you're away.

I remember being amazed at how in Theme Park you can think deviously and the game responds; you can lower the price of your park's fries, and then douse them in salt - creating thirsty customers - and then you whack the price of drinks up.

It's a testament to the strength and unity of the conceptual design and the code design that Theme Park could do away with the action, violence and explosions of Syndicate, and do away with direct control of any of the characters in the gameworld - and yet be more fun and more engaging. In my opinion, Bullfrog never again managed to so perfectly balance its love for interesting, intellectual concepts with involving, fun gameplay mechanics.

PS If you saw Tim's post yesterday, you know I'm the new editor of bit-tech! Hello there. I've been working behind the scenes on the site for over a year (and was a guest writer a couple of years before that). It's been a real pleasure so far - and there's lots more exciting stuff to come.

27 Comments

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Shadowed_fury 9th April 2010, 15:23 Quote
+1 for theme park :D
Hugo 9th April 2010, 15:24 Quote
Joe is always wrong, it's nice to see his boss agreeing publicly. :)
Domestic_ginger 9th April 2010, 15:45 Quote
I would reccomend listening to James in the future; Syndicate would have been the correct choice! Its funny that one of the features of syndicate was being able to chose your badge and colour. On my Amiga version all the cars looked the same due to hardware limitations.

Funny how populus and powermonger (okay good but not great) are under the radar.
Sifter3000 9th April 2010, 15:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hugo
Joe is always wrong, its nice to see his boss agreeing publicly. :)

It was either this or go into the CMS and change the article :p
memeroot 9th April 2010, 16:06 Quote
your all wrong it should have been Populous
cjoyce1980 9th April 2010, 16:09 Quote
nope..... football manager (aka championship manager)
memeroot 9th April 2010, 16:11 Quote
bulfrog games?
Sifter3000 9th April 2010, 16:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by cjoyce1980
nope..... football manager (aka championship manager)

Ah well, the full list of games that should have been on it:

Sensible Soccer
Cannon Fodder
The Chaos Engine
Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 2
Championship Manager 2
Blademrk 9th April 2010, 16:38 Quote
I love Syndicate + Theme Park, [memory lane] I got both in a massive package with my first CD-ROM drive and sound card (both Creative) (Syndicate was on a 4 game disc (with Ultima 8: Pagan, Strike Commander & Wing Commander 2), it also came with Star Wars: Rebel Assault) [/memory lane]
As much as I love both those game though, DK and DK2 were always my favourites of the Bullfrog games
CharlO 9th April 2010, 16:43 Quote
Man, loved theme park. Nice note.

Nevertheless the comment is to let you know you gave us access to the beta, not really, but the link in the last paragraph is wrong.
Sifter3000 9th April 2010, 17:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CharlO
Man, loved theme park. Nice note.

Nevertheless the comment is to let you know you gave us access to the beta, not really, but the link in the last paragraph is wrong.

Ta, fixed :)
Yemerich 10th April 2010, 00:38 Quote
Well I love them all. DK, B&W, and the Syndicates (i preffer syndicate wars).
If I had to choose I would choose Syndicate over DK because there's nothing similar to Syndicate. DK (especially DK2) is VERY funny (actually one of the funniest i ever played), but it is still a clone of Dune 2....
Ok, ok...
Maybe not THAT equal, but a really similar idea.
borandi 10th April 2010, 08:20 Quote
Best thing in Theme park was to make everyone who came in go past 6-10 arcades. The arcades cost 999 (if you start in a rich town) to play, win 400, 70% chance of winning. The punters loved it.
CardJoe 10th April 2010, 09:57 Quote
So, it's alright to write blog posts accusing each other being wrong now, then?

You've set a dangerous precedent there, Alex. Now, about those graphic card things...

;)
Odin Eidolon 10th April 2010, 11:37 Quote
Agreed on Lemmings, Worms and Tomb Raider, but miss Theme Park and especially Theme Hospital. I still have fun with it sometimes.
NuTech 10th April 2010, 21:12 Quote
Nice to see some open disagreement, an editorial shouldn't have to be a united front. Besides, picking between Theme Park, Theme Hospital and Syndicate is impossible. It's like choosing a favourite child.

Now for more pressing matters, why on earth hasn't Syndicate been remade yet? What dick is just sitting on the rights to that? Call me crazy but I've always felt that some talented modders could make a great Syndicate game by doing a TC of Dawn of War.
Frido 10th April 2010, 21:32 Quote
Ooohhh, an updated Syndicate! Ooohhh yes! +1 for the idea, and kill "the dick sitting on the rights", as he's doing nothing with them! :/
CardJoe 11th April 2010, 08:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by NuTech
Nice to see some open disagreement, an editorial shouldn't have to be a united front. Besides, picking between Theme Park, Theme Hospital and Syndicate is impossible. It's like choosing a favourite child.

Now for more pressing matters, why on earth hasn't Syndicate been remade yet? What dick is just sitting on the rights to that? Call me crazy but I've always felt that some talented modders could make a great Syndicate game by doing a TC of Dawn of War.

EA owns the rights. Starbreeze is developing it for them.
Kronenbourg1664 12th April 2010, 01:43 Quote
On the subject of syndicate wars, I have just found this, installing it now.
barndoor101 12th April 2010, 01:49 Quote
to be honest, i loved syndicate. except the last mission. anyone who has played it knows what im on about :D
Domestic_ginger 12th April 2010, 10:02 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by NuTech
Now for more pressing matters, why on earth hasn't Syndicate been remade yet? What dick is just sitting on the rights to that?

They released syndicate wars which I though was ok. It got a luke warm reception which may have put people off.


@Kronenbourg1664. i'll try and look at that link tonight. Doesn't look work friendly. What is it by the way?
Kronenbourg1664 12th April 2010, 10:40 Quote
It is basically a new installer that allows you to play syndicate wars on a modern OS, I was playing it on win 7 64 last night.
Domestic_ginger 12th April 2010, 10:48 Quote
Woot! and Syndicate wars appears to be abandonware. Could give this a go again!
CardJoe 12th April 2010, 10:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Domestic_ginger
Woot! and Syndicate wars appears to be abandonware. Could give this a go again!

It's not abandonware.

http://www.bit-tech.net/gaming/pc/2009/01/24/abandonware-the-ethics-and-essentials/1
Domestic_ginger 12th April 2010, 11:23 Quote
Quote:


Thats it, rain on my parade. I'll have to stick to the first one.
Kronenbourg1664 12th April 2010, 14:27 Quote
The installer i linked to still requires the original disk in order to play
Farfalho 14th April 2010, 18:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
So, it's alright to write blog posts accusing each other being wrong now, then?

You've set a dangerous precedent there, Alex. Now, about those graphic card things...

;)

ROFL

Hands up for Theme Park and Theme Hospital.

There was an equally fun game at the time albeit being from another publisher, Trash It, I had huge amounts of fun with it playing with my brother and friends
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