Wax on, Wax off

The isolation principle of game design

The "isolation principle" is an efficient & intuitive way of teaching players new concepts without interrupting the games flow.


Our subject

We will be looking at Super Mario 3D World's

We will be looking at Super Mario 3D World's


‎Koichi Hayashida's approach to level design is inspired by "kishōtenketsu" a narrative structure that is used in four line chinese poems and four panel japanese comics.

They provide an introduction, development, twist & conclusion.

This structure is lends itself nicely to the isolation principle because we can:

  • Introduce our mechanics in a safe enviroment and let the player learn how it works by themselves.

  • Develop our mechanics by presenting it in a new light.

  • Combine our mechanic with a previously existing one in order to create interesting challenges.

  • Payoff our mechanics by allowing the player to show off their ability, whilst they overcome a great challenge.

Let's have a look at how Mario's world 5-6 Cake walk flip uses this principle to introduce, develop, Combine & payoff a concept.

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In this level we are introduce to these platforms that flip from red to blue when you jump. The mechanic is shown by itself in a controlled enviroment so that the player is not punished while learning.


It is then developed through more challenging examples.

The floor is removed creating a real sense of danger and then your agility is tested when you are asked to climb a wall.

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Once the player has learned how the mechanic works we can introduce a second one in tandem, to create a new challenge.

Here Mario must deal with the flipping panel while dodging the radial attack from the bumper enemy.



Finally, the pupil has become the master!!!

After having learned the in's and out's of the mechanic it's time for the final test, a flagpole.

This allows the player to demonstrate what they have learned and be rewarder at the same time.

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In closing

  • The Isolation principle is great in order to cut down on gameplay intrusive tutorials.

  • It cannot be applied to every game (Civilization for example, has statistical mechanics that may need to rely on standard teaching techniques, such as text boxes.)

  • Don't underestimate gamer's intuition.

The end