What the Isolation Principle is
I’ve been inspired lately to talk about game design by several Youtubers; Vised shows, Sunder, and Eagle Raptor. Before, when I played games, I really only paid attention to how the game looked or maybe if it had good music or not. I never really paid attention to the obstacles I had to overcome in front of me. Now, after learning from people talking about it, it’s made me watch out for good design in games as I’m playing them. Now, I realize how important good game design is.
Game design is how you determine what the game’s goals are. It’s how you determine how much thought went into the game you’re playing. How much the developers care about your experience. I was thinking of doing a series where we look at different games that have good design. For lack of a better term, I’ve come up with some principles that have stuck out to me in games that, in my opinion, have good design. Without further ado, welcome to the first episode of Good Game Design.
The first principle we’ll look at is the Isolation Principle. Eagle Raptor talked about this principle in his Mega Man X video. Go check it out, by the way. It’s awesome. He mentioned how Mega Man did this really well. It would introduce you to a new enemy in a controlled environment. Then, put you into a more heroine situation after you’ve learned about its pattern. This is so important. Otherwise, there would be no progression or increase of difficulty as you play. If you throw the player into a ridiculously hard situation right off the bat, it’s going to deter players away because they think they can’t beat the game, or at least that section.
Volgarr the Viking encapsulates this principle really well. You see, in Volgarr, each level has three difficulties of enemies designated by their color. Green is the easiest, blue is in between, and red is the hardest. It will always introduce the enemies to you in this order.
“Volgarr the Viking encapsulates this principle really well. Each level has three difficulties of enemies designated by color. Green is easy, then blue, and red is the hardest. It will always introduce the enemies in this order.”
In the first level, it just shows you these green guys who you can dispatch in one hit. Then, it will throw in the blue guy. If you don’t know the difference you’ll know after you try to kill him the same way as the others. You don’t really lose any progress if you die. This is right at the beginning.
Then, when you see a red guy down the road, you know to look out and learn his patterns because you know that the colors mean they’re different. This is the case in every level. It slowly amps up the difficulty after you’ve learned some things about each level.
There’s also a bigger enemy in every level that takes multiple hits and some clever tactics to take down. Each one you see one of these for the first times, it’s always in an isolated situation where you can focus on just this one guy. Learn his patterns and take him down. This is an awesome part in level 4. Check this out. You could see this really buff dude with a sword below you. Looks super menacing and tough to beat, right? You’re scared to go down there because you don’t know how he moves yet. When you jump down, he sees you, runs toward you and dies in this lake of fire. Now, you’ve learned his pattern, and it was in a situation with no threat.
At least yet. Oh, man. A similar things happens in level 2. You see the red frog guy down below and you don’t know his patterns yet but you know that he’s the hardest version of this enemy. The thing is, he’s so far back in his owl cove that if you drop down, you have enough time to react when you see him slide across the floor. It gives you an environment where you can succeed instead of fail. Even in the last bonus level. It’s still teaching you about your obstacles. When you go down this rope and drop down, it triggers this down slash, because you were still pressing down when you let go. They wanted you to do this because then, you hit this glowing ball and you learn that it bounces you up when you down strike it. You didn’t have to start this level by going down a rope, but they did it intentionally to show you what you’re supposed to use these balls for. In the final level, after you’ve learned about all these different enemies and how to kill them.
Then, it puts you through several floors of all the enemies put together. It tests your memory and reflexes in a big cauldron full of your past experiences. I think it’s a nice touch even though it is a bit long. Then, when you reach the final boss, it gives you all the power ups for free. This lulls you into a false sense of security thinking it will be a breeze, but you need those power ups because this boss is tough. After braving your way through treacherous levels and dying over and over again, this is the final exam in this ridiculously hard game. It ends on a high note making you feel really accomplished, until you see that this isn’t the true end of the game. After you beat the game, it gives you this coded message through pictures about how to continue your journey. You have to play exceptionally well to see these hard bonus levels.
These are called the Valcory levels. They’re basically restructured harder versions of the levels you’ve gone through. Now, from the very beginning, it doesn’t mess around with isolation. It throws you directly into a level chock full of enemies and death. It’s okay because you’ve already learned about these enemies and know how they behave. It’s just a true test of your skill, nothing more. I thought this hard mode of the game would be impossible because you have a certain amount of lives this time around. If you use them all, you have to go back to the regular game and start over. With a lot of patience and determination, I did finally make it to the secret level at the end and beat the true final boss. You’re rewarded for your skill. I’ve only felt that sense of accomplishment in a few other games.