How the Bullfrog heritage is being robbed by Facebook Games

I’m a huge fan of late productions of Bullfrog Productions game studio. Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Populous, Syndicate… You name it, I love it (or I never played it). I was pretty sad when I found out that the studio closed his doors to merge with Electronic Arts.

Since then, I have been longing to play spiritual sequels of those great game. Alas, each and every games inspired from these classics disappointed me (you can read a comparison I wrote in french about Theme Hospital and Hospital Tycoon here). Even when Peter Molyneux was in charge, like for Black and White, I’m never been as thrilled as I was with Bullfrog’s productions.

Then I dived in Facebook “social” games. I found out that most of them don’t meet my quality criterias except for a few like TrainStation, but it didn’t bother me much until I tried three specific games: Simply Hospital, Rollercoaster Mania and Dungeon Overlord. All three share cruel resemblances with old Bullfrog titles and that caught my eye.

(the article image is of course not Bullfrog Productions’ logo)

Simply Hospital

Simply Hospital is a game developed by russian game studio RedSpell [ru] and published by 6waves. Its gameplay and graphics style are directly imported from Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital : you’re in charge of a hospital and you must construct diagnosis and treatment rooms, hire doctors, conduct medical research and on top of that, make a load of cash.

Unfortunately, Simply Hospital fails to bring the same joy that Theme Hospital is able to. The “socialization” of the game is certainly a part of this, but they took completely away the fun of placing and organizing yourself the rooms. You can only place pre-built rooms in fixed slots inside your hospital.

In fact, the only thing you can do is seeing patients come and go as their diagnosis or cure fails (diseases need research to become effectively diagnosable and curable) or leaving because the needed room doesn’t exist (rooms slots are numbered). Quite frustrating when you played and enjoyed Theme Hospital.

Still, they managed to capture a little glimpse of what made makes Theme Hospital the best hospital game ever made with quite humorous disease and crazy treatment machines. And seeing your hosital running with patients heading towards their next appointment, going to the bathroom or taking a snack at the vending machine is always nice.

If you want to try this game, you can play Simply Hospital on Facebook and add me as a friend.

“Patients are advised not to vomit in the hallways”

Rollercoaster Mania

Rollercoaster Mania is also published by 6waves, that’s how I found out about the game by an cross-publisher ad. It’s developed by Noisy Duck Ltd, a London-based game studio.

This paragraph will be quite short because I’ve only played it for 10 minutes. During this time I’ve been able to see that it was a complete rip-off of Bullfrog’s original hit Theme Park, and to be blocked in the game because I had too few Facebook friends playing it (I needed 2). No wonder. I swiftly deleted the app.

Since then I found out that the name was already taken by a PC game and its two sequels, ranking this game quite high on the rip-off meter.

Nothing to scrap here, but if you really want to see for yourself, play Rollercoaster Mania on Facebook, but I don’t play it anymore.

Sweet ol’ smell of ’94

Dungeon Overlord

Dungeon Overlord is developed by Night Owl Games and is offering you to take control of an underground dungeon, building rooms and training evil minions to fight the heroes of good. Exactly like Bullfrog’s masterpiece Dungeon Keeper.

Now I have a hard time describing Dungeon Overlord for what it is. Because quite a few concepts were added to the core concept of running an evil dungeon and whacking knights in shiny armor.

First of all there is plenty of resources needed to build or upgrade rooms. Some are exploitable in your dungeon mine, some must be looted at the surface by pillaging innocent villages, some must be crafted from the latter, and some must be mined elsewhere in the mountain holding your dungeon. This makes room building and item crafting at best frustrating, because you never have enough of everything, and ressource gathering is quite slow.

Furthermore, you have to make your minions leave your dungeon to the Overworld to attack villages, which triggers counter-attack in your dungeon. If you don’t attack, you won’t be attacked either. That means “If you play the game, you will have trouble”, because it’s really slow to get a minion, it’s slow to train a minion, so every minion death is a huge amount of time wasted.

It seems that the game itself is preventing you from playing it with constant barriers and frustration, making it quite rich, but hard to like, unlike the game it copies the principles. If you still want to test it, you can play Dungeon Overlord on Facebook and… maybe you will find me, but that is very unlikely, since you are stuck in your starting mountain with strangers with who you can be friend in the game even you aren’t on Facebook.

You can play the game, but why bother ?

 Conclusion

I could sound a little bit nostalgic about Bullfrog’s games and quite bitter about recent games inspired by or copied from, but I’m not against picking ideas decades-old to make new stuff. It’s just that I’m a little disappointed that what made great games 15 years ago seems to have been underused since, as I’ve never played a good dungeon simulator since Dungeon Keeper (I play it regularly), I never played a good hospital simulator since Theme Hospital (likewise), and theme park simulator resembles each other since Theme Park.

I wonder if all the good ideas in video games have already been used to their full extent, which leaves nothing to current video games studios to work with ?

2 thoughts on “How the Bullfrog heritage is being robbed by Facebook Games”

  1. It would be great if they came up with a newer version of the Sims Theme Park! That was such a good game! With today’s technology, even I do some animations, they could make it really good and enjoyable!

    1. Hi Anita and thanks for the comment!

      On some level, I feel like, quite the contrary, the quality of Theme Park was his low-fidelity simulation aspect. The game was then very accessible because there wasn’t too much to juggle with in the first place. I never got into the numerous theme park simulation that went out after Bullfrog’s Theme Park because they simply got too much stuff, and that wasn’t what I enjoyed in the original game. A few attractions, silly graphics, vomit everywhere, it was enough for me to enjoy the game. I never felt that Theme Park was missing a super duper roller coaster editor feature, and yet all of the subsequent games I played had one.

      A contemporary remake that I would enjoy would on the contrary focus on a few simple mechanics and stick to it. Just watching the maintenance guys mow the lawn was enjoyable for me back then!

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