Two Point Hospital is a funny game. It’s actually rather hilarious at times. Some of that comes from offbeat PA announcements and outrageous radio personalities, but its the game’s goofy inhabitants and wacky technology that does much of the heavy lifting. It’s not just about crafting spot-on visual puns though, the entire game world needs to be consistent with itself and enjoyable to look at. That’s where the Two Point Hospital’s Lead Artist, Mark Smart comes in. He’s the one making sure everything tickles the ol’ funny bone without making the game difficult to play. Hardcore Gamer recently had a chance to talk with Mr. Smart, he was happy to provide us with a little bit of insight into how he and his team go about injecting Two Point Hospital with its signature visual comedy.
Two Point Hospital’s characters all sport a visual style reminiscent of old claymation movies like “Wallace and Gromit.” It seems this look, as well as the game’s overall aesthetic, was chosen early on in the project and actually serves a couple of purposes.
“It’s supposed to be very clean and simplistic very easy to look at. We made everything sort of slightly chunky, and a lot more rounded and soft so that [players] could pick out what the action was. So [they] can actually focus and not be distracted by a lot of noise. When you’re above the action there’s no real dirt or noisiness; it’s just a real clean sort of style.”
This art style didn’t arise of out thin air though. Every work has its inspirations and Two Point Hospital is no different. According to Smart, one notable inspiration was none other than Theme Hospital, Two Point Hospital’s spiritual predecessor.
“As an artist, you draw inspiration from lots of things and avenues. Starting with the original Theme Hospital. The art style there was very clean, and [Gary Carr] obviously worked on that one. He was the lead artist on that. So yeah, I looked at that as well. It’s so brought on so much more now though. Two Point Hospital is its own unique entity, and we really wanted to establish a style which we could carry on through to potentially other games. To almost create a little world which, if you looked at it, is obviously [from] a Two Point game.”
Every game has challenges to overcome, and each team has their own hurdles to deal with. One would expect the trickiest part of developing the art for a game like Two Point Hospital to be figuring out how to visually represent its goofy illnesses. However, it seems that’s not the case.
“The challenges have been more of a technical nature. If you look at all the patients for instance, and of course the staff, hardly ever will you see two alike. The modular nature in which we’ve made these characters presented a bit of a challenge that needed to be sorted out with code and integrated into the engine. I think we’ve achieved enough variety that you can quite happily look around your hospital and not see the same two patients or the same two doctors.”
These technical challenges he mentioned refer to Two Point Hospital’s system of procedurally generating staff members and patients. One usually thinks of games like Minecraft, No Man’s Sky or roguelike games whenever the term “procedural generation” pops up. They are the most prominent examples after all. However it turns out procedural generation can be used for more than just level design and world generation, and it can even incorporate a host of handcrafted elements rather than relying solely on machine-generated parameters.
“We’ve crafted all these different pieces. different sets of legs, different jackets, different textures on those jackets, etc. We’ve endeavored to have enough of a library so that you would get a lot of variation. We also had to be careful of silly things like having a doctor with a long coat on and he’s wearing shorts. We have to sort of cater to that as well. So yeah, you won’t be seeing any doctors wearing shorts.”
Smart went on to explain that clothing items and the like are controlled by applying masks to each type of character. These masks define what can and cannot be worn by a doctor, patient, or the various VIPs that occasionally visit the player’s hospitals. If that sounds like this would make for a lot to keep track of, that’s because it does. We asked Smart if they often have to talk with the programming team in order to keep everything straight.
“Oh yeah! You have to work fully in conjunction with each other. We couldn’t create a system like this without constantly consulting. […] The way it’s set up is that Art will established a convention for naming each individual item, and it will then be pushed through Code so that the system will only pick certain meshes for each character type; Stuff like shorts, trousers, etc. We work hand-in-hand with the code[rs].”
Smart certainly has a lot on his plate as Lead Artist, but it seems working on a small team like the one for Two Point Hospital is quite different from heading up the art team in a larger organization. Smart compared the two, saying that he gets to spend much more time creating assets and collaborating with his small team of experienced artists. It’s apparently very different from when he filled a similar role at Lionhead Studios, where a lot of time had to be spent on keeping a much larger teams’ work consistent with the established style and constantly having to hold meetings and reviews in order to keep everything on track. In a word, Smart described the smaller team environment of Two Point Studios as much more “agile.”
Just as most projects have their frustrations and challenges to overcome, they also have their own bright spots that make them a pleasure to work on. As it turns out, the thing many would peg as the most difficult part of the process is actually Smart’s favorite. It turns out that dreaming up visual puns for fake illnesses is actually a lot of fun.
“The diseases and their cures have been a lot of fun,” Smart said. “We approach it two different ways a lot of the time. Sometimes it’s a terrible pun, then we create the disease from that. Other times it’s a visual idea that we’ve got and then we try and think of a name for it. So yeah, that’s been the most interesting and fun part of working on Two Point Hospital.”
Smart also explained that many of the games illnesses and their corresponding cures came about naturally over the course of development. Somebody would think of something, and share it with another member of the team. A list would get get made and would eventually spread out to the rest of the team. It seems everybody at Two Point Studios has had a hand in dreaming up the game’s quirky ailments.
Finally we asked Smart if any of the illnesses in particular stuck out as a personal favorite. With so many delightfully silly sicknesses to choose from, one would imagine it to be difficult to narrow it down to a single favorite. It turns out that Smart agrees…sort of.
“I get asked this question a lot. It’s not so much the disease itself but the animations our animators come up with for them. There’s one that’s particularly challenging visually and that’s just a mime character. He’s dressed up like Marcel Marceau the old French mime, and has painted white face with stripes. He’s got the classic miming actions: fighting against the wind, trapped In a box and climbing an invisible ladder. So I really enjoyed that.”
Smart also mentioned that the Cubist and Mummy patients are also personal favorites, citing again that their animations are what really make them special to him. They each behave in a manner that unique to them, even down to minute actions like knocking on a door, though in the mummy’s case it more like pounding on a door. “The mime is still my favorite at the moment,” Smart said. “But ask me again in a week it’ll probably be a different one.”
It takes a lot of effort to bring a game world to life, even more when one is trying to make it consistently humorous and silly. From what we’ve seen of Two Point Hospital so far, Mark Smart and his art team have definitely put in the needed effort. Simulation fans and comedy enthusiasts will be able to get an in-depth look at it themselves once Two Point Hospital launches on PC on August 30. Until then though, those wanting to learn more can check out our latest gameplay impressions right here.