The Dismount games are… something, all right. The brainchildren of Jetro Lauha (@jlauha) of Finnish demogroup tAAt, they lie at the intersection of puzzle games, stress toys, and simulators. They both meet this intersection in about the same way; they distinguish themselves from each other in their execution.
In Stair Dismount (2002), further developed by Secret Exit, known in its native Finnish as Porrasturvat, the player picks an impulse to exert on some part of a ragdoll standing at the top of a flight of stairs. The ragdoll then… dismounts the stairs, in spectacular fashion.
Truck Dismount (2003, Finnish: Rekkaturvat) gives the player far more control over its own scenario, including ramps on the ground, where to seat the ragdoll, speed of the truck, et cetera; at the end of the day, though, the truck moves forward, and the ragdoll has a bad time.
Now that their differences are out of the way, we get to discuss their much more interesting similarities.
As mentioned, they live at a particular sort of intersection. Let us first discuss the puzzle game aspect. Yes, while some may scoff at something this straightforward being called a “game”, it does, in fact have a scoring system; this is how you know how good a job you’ve done of worsening your ragdoll’s quality of life. In a sense, this makes it a physics puzzle: the damage values are rather straightforward: how hard some part of the ragdoll hits something, weighted by the importance of the body part. Ultimately, this means that one could attempt to exhaustively solve this, rather than take guesses. Kerbal Space Program move over; this is how to teach vector calculus to an unsuspecting audience.
They are, of course, also stress toys. Perhaps only for the sadistic at heart, but there can be something satisfying about seeing your frustration show up as red flashes on ragdoll limbs coupled with sounds of pain. It’s not as though it’s gory or anything; it’s all abstract in the visuals, all visceral in the audio. It lends stress relief a surreal touch; quite cathartic, as some report.
Then, you get the simulation aspect. This is really nearly inseparable from the “physics” aspect of “physics puzzle”. If you don’t necessarily want to try for a high score, nor work off excess steam by putting a ragdoll through its paces, there is one final facet to the experience that may make it worthwhile to some: morbid curiosity, or perhaps sympathy. At the end of the day, and literally in the case of Rekkaturvat, the ragdoll is a crash test dummy. Maybe you want to figure out the least damaging way the poor ragdoll can fall down a flight of stairs or collide with a wall in a truck. Or, just maybe, you’re a game developer, and you want to see if you can make new from old and see if the character of the Dismounts’ ragdoll physics are to your liking as inspiration.
Yes, it all seems stupid on the surface. Yes, there’s only so much depth possible in such a simple setting. That doesn’t change the fact that many disparate personality types and walks of life may gain something from a lunch break spent with these cute little toy simulations.
Yestin Harrison is a dilettante fascinated by anything from games to graphic design to planetary-scale distributed systems. When not performing his duties as webmaster at Rebind or kicking the site an occasional article, he's found anywhere there's a lark to chase. Reach him on the Web at ylh.io, and on twitter @yestinharrison.