There's a childlike wonder to Two Point Campus. With its collection of fantastical lessons, it indulges those daydreams of 'what would you like to be when you grow up?' and let's you play those out in silly fashion.
"Kids have these great ideas of what they're going to become and you never become that, you never really do become someone who rides a rocket ship to the moon," says Gary Carr, game director at Two Point Studios.
"And in this game we said why not? Why can't you be fighting dragons? And why can't you be flying rocket ships or building robots?"
It's that mix of fantasy in a relatable yet mundane setting that really gives Two Point Campus (and, by extension, Two Point Hospital) its particular flavour. And after healthcare, education was an obvious next step for the simulation series.
"We've all had some sort of experience in education," says Carr. "We can't think of a way of making space more interesting or being a superhero, so it's easy to take the mundane and spin that into something more interesting, but it helps if you've had some kind of view on it."
A big part of that twist is the studio's trademark humour that really comes through in the student radio and announcements that accompany the game. For anyone who's been to university, hearing "students are reminded to find themselves" over the tannoy - or any other student clichés - will be eye-rollingly truthful.
That particularly British sense of humour is something that's instilled in Carr and the studio since his work at Bullfrog, the studio behind the original Theme Hospital.
"Bullfrog was definitely a company that tried to use humour to draw you into quite a complex game. And that was a good old Peter Molyneux trick to disarm you as a player," he says.
"You don't feel intimidated if people are cracking jokes in a game. You don't think it's very serious, but actually just down the line systems could be quite complex.
"I think humour's just our safety blanket; if we're trying to make people laugh, they won't be intimidated."
Adding to that humour in this game are pop culture references, drawing in particular from high school and coming of age movies: think Grease, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Fame. The 80s-inspired music adds to that nostalgic atmosphere too.
Yet it was important, overall, to remain timeless. That's why something may seem futuristic but it's delivered on a cathode ray TV set - that mix of old and new ensures the game won't seem dated in years to come.
"Two Point as a place is timeless," says Carr. "We make it look kind of clunky. Big buttons. It's very analogue looking."
One of the biggest additions to Two Point Campus, compared with Hospital, is the inclusion of relationships. Where Hospital was something of a meat market with patients coming and going with high frequency, in Campus students stay for three in-game years of gameplay. In that time they'll spend as much time socialising as they will learning and studying.
"We looked at Hospital and thought 'what would people want us to change and iterate on for Campus?'," says Jo Koehler, senior producer . "I think the lives of the students, their social life as well as academic life, was really important.
"You can really follow them through their journey, you want them to succeed. You want them to keep paying money, but you care for them, you want them to do well."
Carr adds: "We had to do more than just treat them as a commodity, where you're trying to get some revenue from them. If they want something in Hospital, I didn't really care if someone moans because there's someone else on the production line. If they die they die.
"[Students] are still part of the economy of the game, they do pay you, but they've got to stay the course. And they're going to want things: relationships, entertainment, that part of college life."
The team has expanded on the traits system from Hospital, tying each student to a (clichéd) archetype and then adding a behaviour system to that, which allows for different kinds of relationships with different people. As students are in Campus for longer, you witness these relationships slowly building over time. And the more you attract diverse archetypes through the courses offered, the more varied relationships become and the more personal your own experience with the game. "It's quite nice to police and nurture it," says Carr.
Those relationships include friendships, arguments, silly fighting, and even love. Blowing bubbles from a love trumpet and bouncing on a bed is as romantic as it gets though, despite lots of flirting. "We don't want to be gratuitous," says Carr.
They are inclusive though. "Everybody can have a relationship with anybody," says Carr. "People in Two Point are quite androgynous anyway. Relationships [play out] however they decide to feel, it's really down to the characters in the game if they like each other, regardless of what gender we have sort of made them look like."
That inclusivity extends to accessibility options in the game, as the team is exploring UI scaling, colourblind modes, and other options for once the game is released.
A big part of that, too, is onboarding, especially with so many complex systems to manage. It's something that has only come together more recently with the team able to work together in an office.
"Onboarding is something we've worked extremely hard on, we've iterated a lot on the onboarding over the last year," says Koehler. "We don't want to overwhelm people, we want people to be able to go slowly, come in and enjoy the experience."
The team are very much open to feedback from the community once the game is released, especially considering improvements on features and potential new content.
"You only really know when you release something just what's working and what isn't quite working," says Carr. "And we use our community to help us make a better game all the time. So we're just ready, primed for getting a response from the community to say what they like and what could be better."
Community feedback worked for Two Point Hospital and will continue with Campus, with community requests from the previous game informing improvements here. That also means parity of features across all platforms from launch - the main reason for the recent delay.
Rest assured, then, that the team plans to support Two Point Campus for the foreseeable future, that childlike fever dream extending far beyond a handful of academic years.
Two Point Campus is releasing on 8th August across all platforms. Check out our preview of the game for more details.
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