Ski Stunt Simulator may very well be my all-time favorite physics game. As with most physics games, the premise is simple: You control a 2D skier performing various tricks on the slopes. Where Ski Stunt Simulator stands apart from other physics is the fidelity of that control. This isn’t a simple ragdoll game–far from it. In fact, Ski Stunt Simulator is the result of collaboration between a programmer at Relic Entertainment and a researcher at the University of British Columbia, and the robust simulation definitely demonstrates an academic level of engineering.
The game’s authors describe Ski Stunt Simulator as:
This project implements a realistic planar simulation of the physics involved in performing acrobatic ski stunts. The pose of the skier can be interactively controlled with the mouse. Thus performing any given stunt requires the right combination of both physics and skill, as in real life. A large variety of stunts can be performed, including anything ranging from a triple back flip to a triple front flip. The resulting simulator can be viewed as a game, a teaching tool for kinesiology, or as a preliminary sports prototyping tool.
I prefer to view the resulting simulator as a game. And a damn fun one, too, even if it is a little frustrating at first. Control of your skier is mapped to the X and Y axis of the mouse. Move the mouse up, and your skier straightens out. Move it down and he’ll crouch. Move it left and right and he’ll lean forward and backward. In combination these two axes result in a wide range of motion. Holding the mouse in the bottom-right position will result in a classic skier’s tuck, for instance.
Each limb and component of your character has proper inertia. To “jump” you simply start with the mouse towards the bottom of the screen and then quickly slide it up. To “flip” you start in the lower-left and do an arc of sorts; the upwards motion results in air time and then you move the mouse to the bottom-right to tuck into a rotation. You simply extend your skier’s body to slow the rotation and time the landing, approximately as you would in real life.
It sounds complicated, at first, but after a few hours of play it becomes strangely second nature. The game features an excellent monkey-see, monkey-do tutorial to teach you the basics. It doesn’t take long before you’ll be landing crazy triple flips. Click the Flash video below for a demonstration of one of the stages:
The game features 14 levels. The skills and tricks required to pass each level vary. One level will require you perform a backflip on a certain jump, another will require clearing a stack of crates, and another will be to simply make it to the bottom of the hill–dead or alive.
Thankfully, crashing in Ski Stunt Simulator is hilarious fun. It mitigates the harsh learning curve of the game. Even if you can’t nail that double backflip you need to pass the level you can still chuckle as your skier breaks each and every bone in his body. As the sometimes-irritating voice over would say, “Good thing it’s just a simulation!”.
The game has an unfinished feel in some areas. Some aspects of the game are much more complete than others. There is an excellent custom course designer as one of the levels, but unfortunately there’s no way to save your creation to share with others. You can, however, save recordings of levels and give them to your friends. When the game was first released there was a small archive of interesting runs.
A dedicated–read, addicted–player will burn through the content in a day or two. The game has some tunable settings to extend its life. You can change the simulation speed, modify the strength of your ski bindings, or change to a Santa character (who handles much differently from the default skier). When you pass all of the levels and end up looking for something to do try playing through with the loosest ski bindings. You have to be extremely accurate with the angles of your landings!
The game’s file data is mostly plain-text. The terrain data is a series of points and the game’s level logic is coded with TCL. It is possible to extend the game if you’re willing to create your own tools. I created a number of new levels in my desperation to extend the game’s enjoyment. One of the creators, Michiel van de Panne, has graciously agreed to an interview. I’ll ask for permission to distribute my modifications when I send over the questions.
The standalone was originally sold through a company called Motion Playground. The company has since dissolved, though, and now Michiel has the game available for free on his website. Download the installer for Ski Stunt Simulator and enter the following to unlock:
If you didn’t play Ski Stunt Simulator when it was first released you owe it to yourself to give the game a few hours of your time. The controls will bend your mind into a pretzel at first, but eventually it just clicks and you really are that graceful skier carving the slopes…until your inevitable and gratuitously painful demise. But that’s what makes it so fun.
Look for my interview with Michiel about the development of Ski Stunt Simulator sometime in the next few weeks!
Download Ski Stunt Simulator game here (6.20 MB).
- The Beginning
- McTuble Releases Integrated Ski Stunt Editor
- Fun-Motion Exclusive: Ski Stunt Extreme
- Michiel van de Panne, Ski Stunt Simulator