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Prerelease:Theme Hospital

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This page details prerelease information and/or media for Theme Hospital.

To do:
Translate the French magazine articles and see if there's anything worth putting on here.

Theme Hospital underwent numerous changes during its development, most notably the change of focus from a real hospital to comical ailments, and the dropping of the planned different time periods the game would have been set in. The game's release date was also pushed back multiple times.

Development Timeline

  • Late 1994/early 1995 - After much research, it was decided that the game would feature made-up illnesses rather than real ones.[1][2][3]
  • 1996
    • May - By this time, the plan to have four time zones had been abandoned.[4]
    • September - The game was set for a November release.[5]
  • 1997
    • The game was set for release on 27 March.[6]


There was difficulty in basing the game on real hospitals because the developers knew that theme parks are naturally much more colourful and fun than hospitals.[1] After hospital visits, this idea was dropped and the game shifted to using comical ailments instead.[1][2][3]

A promotional trailer for Bullfrog games purportedly from 1996 includes brief glimpses of the very earliest build of the game. This shows a doctor doing his rounds in a ward, and bringing up a cut chart for each patient at their bed.

The game was shown in a Bullfrog Progress report, and featured the adviser from Theme Park. Much progress had been made on the artificial intelligence.

A trailer advertised the intended four time periods, and showed other stuff not in the final game, and claimed a release date of Spring 1996 (May 1996, according to Bullfrog as of late 1995/early 1996[7]).

A 1995 promotional release showed the game with doctors, floor designs, and other things not seen in the final game.[8]


(Source: Génération 4 June 1996 page 66)

Some magazines, including Génération 4 and Bullfrog's own publication Bullfrog Bulletin, were showing promotional images with the Theme Park adviser.[9][10] The third issue of Bullfrog Bulletin claimed a Summer 1996 release date.[11]

The game was originally to have four time zones: modern, mediaeval, futuristic, and Victorian.[2][3] The intention was for the player to begin in the mediaeval zone and progress through them.[12] By May 1996, this had turned out to be "prohibitive" because of the number of graphics required.[4] PC Zone speculated that this feature would come in an add-on disc or sequel.[4]

A non-playable 1996 demo demonstrated game editors and other stuff not in the final game. The date and balance are at the top-left corner of the screen.

An official "Theme Hospital Diary" was written by Bullfrog's Mark Webley for the UK GamesMaster magazine in late 1996. Running for only 3 issues (45-47), the articles are not very illuminating, but the final instalment does briefly discuss the cut alien invasion event that seemingly only remains as unused receptionist announcements in the final game:

"The team want aliens now. Fleets of nasties to destroy, maim and pass around nasty rashes to the population. But surely introducing aliens to the game is overkill? No actually, if your hospital is running well enough there's no reason why you wouldn't be able to cope with an alien invasion."[13]


A near-final (February 1997) screenshot. There are still some minor differences such as the icon above patients' heads. (Source: Génération 4 February 1997 page 60)

By early 1997, the game was mostly complete. Release was set for 27 March.[6]

Other Changes

  • There was to be a feature that let players mix coloured chemical to create their own cures by testing them on "human guinea pig patients".[2][9] It was scrapped because it "didn't work well with the rest of the game".[2]
  • King Complex was originally called Elvis Impersonator. The name was changed for legal reasons.[2][3]
  • The game started with a lot of borrowed code from Theme Park, but by the time it was released most of it had been rewritten.[14]

Preview screens from magazines show numerous differences between development versions and the final:

A trailer for the game claimed a release date of December 1996, and showed a helicopter exploding.

Press Pack Images

Found on the internet is a "preview" archive of official Bullfrog screenshots of their games in development in 1995/96, including Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital, Syndicate Wars, Creation, and others. These early screenshots were printed in all the videogame magazines at the time, and seem to be the original source of many of the images above. These pictures show the game in many different stages of development, including what are clearly extremely early versions of the game. The archive consists of a directory full of these images in various formats for each game, and a second "catalog" DOS executable that contains more images and basic explanatory text.

"Catalog" Program Images

This is a DOS executable called "View" that is some kind of generic interactive manual viewer created by Bullfrog. This program contains a short brochure of further images and information on Bullfrog's games from the era, including three very early images of Theme Hospital. Unfortunately the raw pictures inside the .dat files have the menu buttons actually written onto the image itself, they are not an overlay that can be removed.

Promotional Images

A handful of images showing characters and logos from the Press Pack. Presumably the Theme Park branding angle was going to be pushed harder at one point, as evidenced by the Advisor dressed in his original costume in the rolling demo files.

"Pin Board" Build Images

These images all show a build of the game with an early UI design based around notes pinned to a cork board.

"Curved" Build Images

These images all show a build of the game with a UI design based around circular icons. That there's now a balance counter and calendar at the bottom left of the screen much like the final game suggests this was a later iteration.

Near Final Build Low Res Images

A pair of screenshots of the low resolution mode of a near-final build. The interface is now very close to the final build, only the balance counter doesn't seem to be working and the calendar uses a seemingly placeholder font (and both images show the date as "may88"). Also of note is these are the first screenshots in the pack to show the KitKat branded vending machines from the final game instead of only the early generic "soft drinks" ones (which are still visible in both screenshots as well). The Town Map icon also looks different to the final game.

Near Final Build High Res Images

It's not clear if these are from the same build as the previous two images or not, but they are numbered sequentially with them, so presumably were. Very close to final, with just some minor UI changes.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Julian Benson (29 June 2017). How the makers of Theme Hospital made hospital wards and diseases funny. PCGamesN. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 The Making of Theme Hospital. Retro Gamer. No. 130. Bournemouth: Imagine Publishing. June 2014. pp. 46–51. ISSN 1742-3155.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Behind The Scenes Theme Hospital. GamesTM. No. 113. September 2011. pp. 128–131. ISSN 1478-5889.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Theme Hospital. Blueprint. PC Zone. No. 38. London: Dennis Publishing. May 1996. pp. 33, 34. ISSN 0967-8220.
  5. Theme Hospital. Prescreen. Edge. No. 36. Bath: Future plc. September 1996. p. 36. ISSN 1350-1593.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Theme Hospital. Bullfrog Bulletin. No. 4. Guildford: Bullfrog Productions. Spring 1997. pp. 4–6.
  7. Bullfrog Bulletin. No. 2. Guildford: Bullfrog Productions. 1996. p. back cover.
  8. YouTube video
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Hospital Update". Bullfrog Bulletin. No. 3. Guildford: Bullfrog Productions. 1996. p. 11.
  10. Theme Hospital Médecin malgré vous. Génération 4. June 1996. p. 66. ISSN 1624-1088.
  11. Bullfrog Bulletin. No. 3. Guildford: Bullfrog Productions. 1996. p. back cover.
  12. Trying Your Patients.... Bullfrog Bulletin. No. 2. Guildford: Bullfrog Productions. 1996. pp. 8, 9.
  13. Theme Hospital Diary Part 3. GamesMaster. No. 47. Bath: Future plc. October 1996. p. 14. ISSN 0967-9850.
  14. Theme Hospital Behind The Scenes - DVD Extras. GamesTM. 8 September 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2018.