Two Point Hospital is very much the spiritual successor to Theme Hospital, the medical management game developed by Bullfrog in 1997. But creators Mark Webley and Gary Carr—also two of the minds behind the creation of Theme Hospital—told us in a recent interview that they owe a debt to Prison Architect, an institution simulator of a different sort that was released in 2015.
The January announcement of Two Point Hospital was enthusiastically received, but prior to that the developers weren't at all sure that there was still an audience for their kind of "little people" simulation game anymore. "Even now, you're always a bit surprised when people are positive about it. You just don't know," Carr said. "But the Prison Architect guys gave us, I suppose, the balls to try it."
Those balls developed from an encounter at the Rezzed expo, which was the first time that members of the two studios had actually met. "They've written stuff about us in their early days, saying, 'Inspired by the guys who did Theme Hospital.' We didn't know them at all, and then at Rezzed, it was actually [TPH designer] Ben Huskins [who] bumped into them and said, 'Oh my god, we were so inspired by you!" Carr continued.
"And they went, 'No no, we were inspired by you!'" Webley added.
"'No, you! You're great!'" Carr laughed. "But it gave us the confidence to try. We've talked about it for 20 years."
Bullfrog made a number of "Theme" games over the years, including Theme Park, Theme Aquarium, and Theme Park World, and interestingly was eyeballing a prison management game of its own at one point, though the plan was to move onto a Theme Resort project first.
Squaring the grim reality of prison life with the not-entirely-serious approach of the Theme series would have been a dicey job in spots, but Webley and Carr's seniority at the studio afforded them a large degree of creative freedom, especially with Bullfrog founder Peter Molyneux fully occupied by Dungeon Keeper.
"We were probably the most senior people who were running one of the projects. And they left us alone, didn't they? We got away with a lot more—no one seemed to produce us in that kind of way," Carr said.
And even though it never got past the basic idea phase, it sounds likely that Bullfrog's game would have been an awful lot like Prison Architech. "I like to think that we would be afraid not to do the sort of stuff they've done, because that's exactly the right thing to do," Webley said. "What they've done is great."
We recently got some hands-on time with Two Point Hospital that you can read about here (opens in new tab). It's set to come out late in 2018.