It's tempting to make a bunch of jokes about Two Point Campus in the vein of, "A nudist knight and a wizard studying the dark arts? Sounds like my freshman year!" and then chortle at the open mic night audience. It's also tempting to say something like, "You know Two Point Hospital? It's like that, but at a university," but that would also be the lazy way out. In reality, the weirdest person I knew at uni only wore a top hat and an opera cape to campus once as a joke (and now has a proper job), and Two Point Campus is actually a way more complex and weird management sim than Two Point Studios' previous - and indeed, ongoing - hospital effort.
I got a whole weekend to have a go with a preview build of Two Point Campus recently, where you run a series of higher-education institutions set in the same improbably wacky world as Two Point Hospital. Despite all my efforts, I never managed to get student satisfaction above about 75% on a good day, and running a school that offered more than three courses seems out of the question. This being a Two Point curriculum, these classes can include sort-of-almost-real things like being a chef or science-y VR stuff, but also learning to be a knight or a wizard. There's also a clown school, and you can learn to be an evil money-grubbing businessman like Jordan Belfort - and yes, those are separate courses, wakka wakka! But those were just the ones playable in my preview. The full prospectus had a lot of blank squares left to unlock.
The educational side of things is the more familiar bit of Two Point Campus. You build rooms like lecture halls, science labs and libraries, and get employees - teachers, janitors, and campus assisstants - with the right skills to staff those rooms. In the parody Hogwarts level, for example, I needed teachers for Wizardry and Dark Arts classes, as well as private tuition (which is essential for keeping grades up). Janitors keep the place clean, but they need upkeep and mechanical ability to repair all the weird machines like giant risotto pans and bunsen burners. At least one of your janitors also needs to have the Security skill to turf out raiders from rival schools. These things, along with basic comfort facilities like toilets and a staff room, are similar to the stuff you'd build and run in Two Point Hospital. You're providing a service, basically.
Two Point Studios' design director Ben Huskins says they started thinking about their next game about half way through development on Two Point Hospital, and latched on to the education setting for a few reasons. "One was that we felt like, you know, everyone's got some experience of education; even if they've not been to college or university, everyone's got those memories from school of their weird classmates or their eccentric teachers," he tells me. Another reason was that the setting is associated with a lot of different TV shows or films, so there was a lot of opportunity to "put our slightly weird Two Point Twist" on a bunch of pop culture references, as well as on actual real life uni courses.
"And then the other thing actually was, while we were making Two Point Hospital, we were experimenting with things like the staff and the patients having these interesting personality traits and things like that, as well as obviously the weird and wonderful appearances of all the patients. We were trying to flesh out these characters so that they had a bit of depth to them," explains Hoskins. "And we thought, well, with our next guest, we quite like to just dive into a bit more depth on these little people."
Because this is the other bit of Two Point Campus. You have to manage the students' lives outside the classroom too. If they get too bored, can't get enough sleep, haven't got any mates to hang out with, aren't able to wash, or can't join any clubs, then they'll become miserable - at which point they'll stop paying fees in protest. Unhappy students are also at risk of failing their courses and dropping out, while happy ones perform better in class, thus earning you bonus academic perfomance bucks.
This means that, while keeping an eye on your academic situation, you also need to place tables in halls where they can socialise, provide pastoral care, build a student union bar, put movie nights and parties on the calendar and so on. Oh, and put a couple of club stands and activities on campus, and build a second shower block. And a new coffee stand. And expand the dormitories. It's a lot to juggle, but not so much that it's impossible. It's more that you're always engaged when playing the game. There's never not something to do. Thankfully, there is a bit of downtime during the summer break, where you can use any cash reserves you have to expand what you need at your own pace. This is a good time to build a new dorm, for example (the devs recommend one bed per 5 students, so if you're unscrupulous like me you might prefer to whack a couple of new beds in an existing room).
It's a very timeless campus, in a way that everyone can find relatable. This is partly, Huskins says, because putting a bit of a silly twist on things means it won't age so quickly. And in fairness, there is no way I can look at Two Point Campus and go, "Well, the jousting students at my university didn't have armour like that!" But senior producer Jo Koehler says that they made an effort to make this recognisable to everyone. "I think we knew kind of, like, the key features you should have. Like, there's always the student unions, dormitories, and like bathrooms and staff rooms, and all of those courses. So it was bringing it all together and working with the artists and the animators on how to get that kind of feel about it," she explains.
Koehler also says that they "really pushed on the creative side of the game" this time, and wanted players to be able to renovate, build campus buildings themselves and have more decorations. "You can end up with quite unique campuses and quite unique experiences of the game," she adds.
The students play a part in that, too. As well as students on different courses having different quirks - culinary students lace hotdogs at others, bringing their hunger down; wizards might vanish litter - they also have personalities. "If I'm running this course, then I tend to attract these sorts of students. And so your choice as to what courses you're running determines the student population that you get. And then different types of students have different traits and perks associated with them, and they interact with each other in interesting ways," explains Huskins.
It is true that it's particularly funny, for example, to have a bunch of dark arts students (who all look like the kind of goths that are well into The Crow) mixing with clown students (who all look like, you know, clowns). I can't hand-on-heart say that I was ever very aware of their personality traits having a larger effect on the game, though, and found picking the abilities of my staff to be much more important. But I did like creating dedicated picnic and hangout areas around campus, and forcing every university I oversaw to have a thriving book club. Huskins' favourite is the nature club, whose members frequently run around in nothing but fig leaves - apart from the knights, who keep their
helmets items of protective headgear on.
This sense of humour is sort of a trademark of Two Point Studios, and you can see it everywhere in the character animations and design work. Koehler's favourite thing in the game is the Love Trumpet, an item of furniture that engenders romance between students by emitting bubbles. You can also build a dragon tower for Knight School that has an actual dragon in it. But it's there in the writing as well, and one of my favourite new additions to Two Point Campus is student radio, a series of very well observed little vignettes discussing whatever each presenter is interested in. They play inbetween songs and ads for in-universe products like Cheesey Gubbins (ONE! BIG! GUBBIN!). Honestly, it's more entertaining than most episodes of LBC.
But Two Point Campus being whimisical and funny disguises my earlier point, which is that this game, at least over the four juicy tutorialising levels I played, is quite hard to be good at. It might just be the sheer wealth of information on offer that's making me feel this way right now, and like Two Point Hospital before it, it seems like there's plenty of room for expansion. We'll have to wait and see when the full game launches in August 9th later this year. In the mean time, though, I don't know if they have a course on plate spinning, but it would sure come in handy.