From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, sex may sell... but can it cure appendicitis? And can it ever hope to take over from Google as your search engine of choice?
Biing's intro begins in the year 2156, with mankind facing extinction at the hands of an intergalactic evil in a time of dread. As civilians scream and run in terror, a fleet of battlecraft called X37-2-in-1 Strike Ships close in on their goal... EARTH. The evil Athros, Ruler of the Universe appears in all his cloaked majesty, kicking off an apocalyptic attack, and more importantly, kidnapping the beautiful anime-style Princess Pinkcheeks. But! The last remaining Earth hero steps forth, fighting back in a 2D battle that looks at least a little like the old NES shooter Lifeforce. Will he be able to defeat his foe?
No. No, he won't. Because Biing is an erotic hospital management sim.
Things get considerably stranger from there.
Saying that the German gaming industry leans towards incredibly anal, micromanagement-heavy strategy games and deeply surreal porn is, obviously, a gross simplification of an entire nation's output. Sometimes they make incredibly boring adventure games too! It's a stereotype that Biing: Sex, Intrigue and Scalpels is happy to live down to though, and about as far from the sleek professionalism of other medical games like Theme Hospital and Life and Death as Cleethorpes is from Alpha Centauri.
(Oh, and that sci-fi intro? Supposedly the developers were just messing around and trying to come up with ideas, and decided to stick it on this game because they thought it was cool. It ends with a clip of John Cleese saying "And now for something completely different..." and as far as I can tell, is never mentioned again. Unless you want to count the intro to Biing 2, which is—oh, who cares.)
Before you're allowed to play for the first time, you have to sit through an incredibly long, mandatory text-scroller where the developers point out the nurses in their game have 'voluptuous figures', the docs are 'complete idiots' and 'the rest of the plot makes fun of everything else'. The women in the game, it sternly points out, in no way reflect reality. "Or do you think that women are just there to look good and are utterly brainless babies? If this is the case, then you've got a big problem."
True. Though at least you're unlikely to piously point out that (supposedly) the nurse in your tutorial video actually is one, and thus a qualified expert. Before asking her to strip down to her bra and pants.
Endless tutorial out of the way, you at least know what you're meant to do: Everything. Except the nurses, who have doctors to handle that for them. You're the one sane person in the whole place, responsible for everything from hiring new staff and deciding whether or not to buy or rent a new Ward to—no kidding—buying individual pencils and making sure they get to the right office. About the only thing you don't get your hands dirty with are the actual medical procedures.
Everything begins simply enough. You have to rent huge tracts of land, hire nurses with huge tracts of land, and sort out the first handful of required buildings while your new doctors get an eyeful of something else. Both doctors and nurses vary dramatically in quality and education, though the most relevant stats in Biing's world are the nurses' breast size, and the doctors' golf handicaps.
You place adverts in the local paper with your requirements, then sit back and hope like hell you get good applicants. Much later, you need other employees too, including baseball bat-wielding hoodlums to sabotage rivals, but you practically lose the game just by thinking about hiring them at this stage.
This is probably a good point to mention that the game's currency is the 'dong'. As in "This job pays 6 dongs." Risky. That market's always up and down, and makes a real mess when it fluctuates.
Most of your starting cash resources are spent almost immediately building up massive cash soaks. Just for starters, you need a reception, a waiting room, a treatment room, a storage room, and a dental surgery, along with all their required staff members. Throw in a little money to pay a guy to walk around with a placard you can only afford to have say, more or less, "We Don't Entirely Suck", and you're already on the edge of bankruptcy. About this, Biing is merciless. Run out of cash and you're instantly out on a rather less shapely ass than the ones you were once in charge of hiring.
Oh, and the clock is always ticking. Tick, tick, tick, tick...
Your main job early on is funnelling patients from A to B, and trying to work out when you can afford to expand. It's not easy because it seems entirely random how many patients you actually get, and the early ones don't spend much. They arrive at the Reception desk, and you have to decide whether to take their case. From there, they head to a Waiting Room, while you go into the relevant treatment room to have the nurse summon them. You then leave them to their job until they have a diagnosis, at which point you can approve or change it, then leave them to get it done. Finally, you can bill them, kick them out, and move onto the next victim. What you really want is to be able to bounce patients around to multiple departments to build up a massive bill, though early on you're only set up to take care of abrasions, toothaches and other low-paying injuries barely worth your attention.
As more patients arrive and fill up valuable space in the waiting room, the pressure quickly builds. Nurses can be ordered to entertain the crowd by stripping, which presumably works just as well regardless of whether the onlookers are male, female, young, old, or the Wolfman. You on the other hand spend more and more of your time dealing with much less attractive figures—the tables and ledgers showing how much debt you're in—and the chronic micromanagement they demand from you.
One of the most irritating things is that you can't simply hire a doctor and nurse, plonk them in a room and expect them to work 24 hours a day for your greater glory. Of all the universes to have unions! Biing is far more bothered about see-through tops than transparency though, so you'll always see a full complement of manic medics and their fanservice floozies when you visit their screen. Only when you try to do something, like call in the next patient, will your snarky assistant point out that they've gone home and you need to hire or assign someone else to take over the room.
Similarly, the room where you check how much money you have is in a different room to the one where you buy land, with a third given over to personnel. This is not exactly having information at your fingertips, especially under time pressure, but is a clear demonstration of how things can go wrong when a game is designed around squeezing in as much cheesecake as possible, rather than being played.
(Honestly, for all Biing's skin and sluttiness, what it really ends up fetishising is good old Microsoft Excel. Not in a weird way or anything, you understand. I'm just saying that so far, nobody's gone out and registered girlswithspreadsheets.com and it suddenly seems a big gap in the smut market. Private Functions, a sexy Ribbon, maybe even a quick spin on a Pivot Table... it's a winning Formula.)
Your reward for success (by which point you're completely inured to seeing the same uncomfortable-looking cartoons every five seconds regardless of what the patient looked like on their chart/in the waiting room) is being allowed to spread yourself thinner than the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. This mostly means adding the other rooms to your hospital, including a blood bank where you can trade both organs and armfuls of the good stuff on the black market, a torture chamber, a bar for your doctors to hang out in, and best of all, the Golf Room for them to practice another kind of swinging.
Why is this the best room? Because when you click on the flag in the middle of it, the game quits and loads up a complete mini-golf game called Hole In One, and time spent playing that is time in your short life that you don't have to spend playing Biing. Talk about a massage, warm bath, and bag of Mars Planets all rolled into one. It's not a great game of golf, but nor is it a relentless slurry of naughty postcards accompanied by the screams, bloops, snorts, ploinks and cheery shouts of "Biing!" that pass for the 'real' game's soundtrack. The last especially is infuriating after the Monty Python bit in the intro. Hospitals want the machine that goes 'Ping!', you fools! Did John Cleese teach us nothing?
So, what did we learn? Firstly, this vision of private medical treatment is enough to make you fall on your knees and join an eight-month queue to bless the NHS. Second, much like the real world, too much cheesecake in too short a period of time really will make you feel queasy. Third, Germans are weird, though still trail far behind the French and Japanese as far as PC games go. Fourth, the square root of 364 is a very unusual looking potato indeed. Fifth, there is no fifth. Or is there?
Any or none of these things may be true. If you find yourself using Biing as an educational tool though, consult a neurologist. For best results, find one whose assistant isn't falling out of an undersized bra, who doesn't have a Grim Reaper poster on the wall, and—most importantly—who exists.