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.

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

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 have 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 that caught my eye.

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.

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.

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 gameplay 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.

You can play the game, but why bother?


I may 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 ?

(Article originally published on my blog Reactoweb)

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  • The gaming industry is just like any industry.
    Good ideas are not refined up to the optimum. Good ideas are refined just until no more market exists.
    Most of the time the market vanishes before a good concept has been exploited to its full extent.
    As an example, some more efficient steam rail engines have been designed but never mass-produced because electric rail engines ultimately superceded them.

    So, yes, good ideas are reused, but that means they are just overused.
    Nostalgia is a niche market with no or very little money to collect. That means low competition. And low competition leads to poorly executed products.

  • Since I wrote this blog post, I came to the conclusion that even if Theme Hospital was re-released today, it wouldn't feel the same as it did back in the days. Basically, Theme Hospital ruined Theme Hospital for me. Which is fine, as long as I don't nurture impossible expectations to feel the same way I did when I was still discovering game now that I have a larger video game culture.

    This is the same argument that makes me love but that prevents me for buying anything anymore. I tried to go back to those games that enchanted me younger, and while GoG did a wonderful job at selling working old games and adding manuals, wallpapers and whatnot to the mix, it simply cannot ring the same to me 10 or 15 years after.

  • I have an even better example.
    1933, King Kong hits the big screens. It's a craze.
    2005, King Kong hits the big screens. It's just another remake.

    Basically, a successful cultural product is one that captures the essence of its time.
    That's why a huge success can't last forever and can't be reiterated at will.

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