Lefty Loosy Righty Tighty: An analysis on how Drill Dozer's formal elements and structures harmonize around the primary fuction of Drilling.
Drill Dozer, a game developed by GameFreak and published by Nintendo, features a primary function of "drilling" as made obvious by the title. Players are set in a world where just about everything responds to drilling. Enemies, garage door openers, giant engines, crates, walls, ceilings, desks, and even toilets are all manipulated or destroyed by the mighty drill that Jill wields. Besides basic walking and jumping mechanics, you drill to move, attack, defend, burrow, and clutch onto suspended surfaces. Beyond these functions, Jill can also duck and dash for shot distances left or right. These functions alone are more than enough to create a deeply interactive game world. The following is a list of Drill Dozer's player functions arranged in a hierarchy of importance based on frequency and necessity of use.
The main game is broken down into 6 areas each featuring sub missions depending on their size. Structurally, the game achieves variation from mission to mission by adding new enemies and level elements that force players to exercise different facets of their 5 core mechanics (see above). This approach is the alternative to a progression of "counterpoint" which takes a single (or limited) mechanic/function and designs a series of levels and challenges from a limited set of pieces or tools to express the function. A good example of a game with counterpoint level design is Super Mario Bros. for the NES. On the other hand, in Drill Dozer, by adding new pieces per level, the player is constantly experiencing something new even when using the same mechanic of one of the core functions. Additionally, in true Nintendo fashion in regards to enemy AI and difficulty, the enemies in Drill Dozer are "dumb" meaning their simple attacks and predictable movement patterns make them easy to dispense of (at least individually). Also, Drill Dozer's level elements and challenges aren't difficult to overcome (nor does the game severely punish players for making a few mistakes). However, these simple elements add up to impressive results when layered together. Whether you're drilling, tunneling, swimming, or flying, the level design is clearly focused on drilling.
Structurally, the game uses repeated acquisition of the 3 gears to propel the players through each level. With each gear comes increased power, speed, and drill time with the third gear having an infinite drill time. With increased power the player can access new areas by destroying the strongest barriers as well as destroying targets and enemies more quickly. With increased speed the player can move more quickly through and between obstacles. And with increased drill time players can hold on to drill sockets longer.
To accentuate this "gear-shift" gameplay structure, the music and sound design in Drill Dozer uses tempo and multiple sound pallets to create a sound scape that supports progressive drive through the level. Because the background music is out of sync with the rhythm of the steps in Jill's walking animation, an underlying tension is created that makes the player feel slightly off; like they're always late or just out of reach from some goal. These rhythms are punctuated the heavy mechanical sound of landing from jumps and the acute kick of a shifting gears. Furthermore, as Jill shifts into higher gears drilling harder, the metal sounding pitch increases of the drill. This crescendo creates a drive and a feeling of pushing forward that is synced up with progress through a level as measured by how many gears they've found. When the player grabs the final (3rd) gear, the music shifts into an upbeat higher pitched song that reflects Jill's newly acquired abilities (speed, power, and time). This light weight, upbeat tune discards the slower, heavy sounds telling the player "you're almost there! now drill your way into the finish!" In this way the sound scape supports the primary function of Drill Dozer.
The majority of the visual design in Drill Dozer follows the structural principles of "form fits function." This principle simply means, any visual element that serves a function must reflect that function by adhering to either a universal, or easily learned visual code. For Mario, everyone knows that jumping on spikes is painful whether the spike is on a goomba's head, inside the mouth of a piranha flower, or descending from a sliding ceiling. For Drill Dozer, objects that must be drilled with the bit spinning left (loosy) are color coded blue. And objects that must be spun right (tighty) are coded red. These codings however, provide an easily discernible visual clue. Due to the small size of the GBA screen, the threading of the drill shafts can only be seen in the large tunnels. For the small bombs and missiles however, this color code is necessary. It's universal knowledge that screws hold things together. Likewise, the oversized screws (form) in Drill Dozer serve the same function. In order to dismantle any large robot with a protruding screw, removing the screw is key. Other forms include cracked walls (reveals a weak spot), thicknesses of drill-able targets (the thicker the cable the more drill power needed), and the appearance of drill-able material (stone, wood, general metal, titanium). Because the entire game follows these rules, the player can break down and understand the level according to what's drill-able and how, at a glance. Empowering the player with intuitive, dependable, and universal design only makes their job of drilling easier. Instead of tediously testing each square surface for hidden drill-able spots in the entire game, the player use his/her eyes to do the checking and move on quickly, and smoothly otherwise.
To conclude, Drill Dozer is a very Classically designed game. It's no wonder when you consider that GameFreak is a company that sits very close to Nintendo (the company responsible for pioneering Classical Game design in the first place). When playing games like Drill Dozer, the stress of beating the game is taken off the player leaving them free to just have fun in a world design completely around doing one thing a hundred different ways. From the sound design, to the level design, Drill Dozer is all about drilling. Even the fiction in Drill Dozer supports this primary function. As the leader of a band of "good hearted" thieves, drilling into museums, stadiums, and out from police custody is all in a days work.