I had only been back in the UK for a day and over the course of 12 hours, 15 of my family members had come by my Nan’s house for the standard consumption of gallons of tea.
We covered all the usual catch-up topics, many anchored around our little Prince, Finnley Joe. But one particular yarn with my younger brother got me far too pumped, even while deep in a jet-lagged state. The topic? Old school computer games.
My brothers and I always had consoles, and graduated from the Sega Mega-Drive to the Sony Playstation, mostly playing football games such as FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer. Although entertaining, these titles served for me as a distraction and at most, passed the time.
I was reasonably geeky as a kid, and felt a leap beyond the pull of consoles. When we bought our first-ever PC 25 years ago (with an old Apple Mac before that), I spent days on end delving into this wondrous alternative world. Being an awkward introvert, this world felt comfortable.
Most of these lost hours were spent on one game, Championship Manager (now called Football Manager). Back then I saved to buy the CD-ROM and unlike today, the game covered just one country’s league, so of course I chose Germany (I still cannot explain why).
Previous football management games I had played on a friend’s PC were cumbersome, with made-up player names and a predictable story-line, without any real depth. It also seemed impossible to win more than 10% of your matches.
But Championship Manager felt real. It was created by a guy from my hometown of Watford (UK). You could recruit staff such as coaches and scouts, set basic training regimes for your players and negotiate player contracts as well as manage a basic balance sheet of your finances. This last function made it tantalising real for me. I got a kick out of signing players for free or minor sums, turning them in superstars then selling them for ridiculous amounts, while still winning trophies.
In a later version of the game an “editor” was introduced. My instinctive quest for perfection meant I sat in front of teletext and scribbled down all the real-world player transfers that had happened that week, then ran back to the PC and updated them into the game.
The passion for the game ran so intense that my older brother and I had to schedule 1 or 2 hour maximum slots at the PC to avoid full-on punch-ups.
As it evolved into the phenomenon now known as Football Manager, the functions increased, so much so that real-world football scouts confessed that in lieu of resources to watch young, up-coming players, they relied on the updated release of the virtual game each year to find out who they should target.
By the time I went to university, 20-hour, 2-player marathon sessions were commonplace, until the console came calling again when back-to-back Pro Evolution Soccer sittings saw my housemates and I locked in what felt like life or death scenarios.
Despite a brief rendezvous a few years ago in the app format on my phone, I dared not purchase Football Manager again. The little time I do have spare could soon be taken up tasting the jaws of addiction all over again. And doing my best not to boast, I chose a good time to go out at the top, taking a lowly team to multiple Champions League victories and to the game’s maximum 30 or so season limit. One evening I completed a season and was shocked to be greeted by a screen that said: “Cornick has retired to his beach house and will go down in history as one of the greatest managers alive”. My wife was not as impressed as I was.
Back to my Nan’s house and deep into our nostalgic sibling reminiscing, my brother well and truly rolled back the years with a more obscure reference to similar games that took more patience and (arguably) some attention span, leadership skills and a handle on financial management.
The trio of names rolled of the tongue: Theme Park, Theme Hospital and Sim City (not the subsequent Sims franchise I may add, that never took hold in me).
From memory, Sim City was tricky. I loved the premise, but building a metropolis from scratch then keeping it fiscally-solvent rarely happened, not helped by those damn natural disasters such as earthquakes that seemed to all too regularly sweep over your empire destroying everything in its path and leaving you with an inferno much like the Great Fire of London.
Theme Park provided a more defined challenge and with it a huge dose of humour. Making sure you had just the right amount of fast-food outlets to rides ratio was key, as was keeping ticket-prices reasonable and of course you had to ensure enough janitors were on-hand to mop up the ride-goers vomit.
Theme Hospital, for me personally, became my clear favourite, almost cult-like. I cannot remember playing it anywhere near as much as Football Manager, but for me it was truly one of the quirkiest games created.
Build a patient-friendly hospital, staff it appropriately and keep everyone happy, as well as control outbreaks of contagious disease. Seems straight-forward enough, but no-one factored in the hilarious “bloaty head” condition that saw patients enter a Doctor’s room to have their head popped with a large needle, then pumped back up again to normal size. Ironically these challenges are the same faced by the Australian private hospital and healthcare industry I work in today (except the bloaty head part).
Mid-way through our trip down memory lane, I grabbed my iPad and frantically Googled all of the above titles, hoping App versions had been created. Sadly, only Sim City had one, a modern version under a slightly different name that included the demon-line under it’s seemingly free cost: “In app purchases”.
But then a beacon of hope appeared. A similar, advanced version of Theme Hospital is in production, made by a different company and called Project Hospital, due for release in 2018. With my “professional” life rooted in Healthcare, I will be the pro-ordering this copy as fast as you can say “Bloaty Head”.
So why did I write this obscure blog you may ask? Well, because sometimes its fun to cover topics that bring back good memories. On a more sub-conscious level I have realised professionally I love research, creating, building, planning. The actual “deal” is no longer as important and it aligns with some wisdoms I have listened to recently around the reality that there is no end-game.
And now for a deeper thought, despite the main playful theme of this blog. What are we truly preparing for when the game is really about the process and trying to enjoy it?