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GDC 2011: Welcome To 'Masocore', The Evolution Of Arcade

GDC 2011: Welcome To 'Masocore', The Evolution Of Arcade

February 28, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander

February 28, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, GDC

The trend favoring hyper-difficult games is helping evolve the casual, social, browser-based and mobile gaming space, and has even given rise to a new sub-genre developers have dubbed "masocore."

At the 2011 Game Developers Conference, Playmatics' Nick Fortugno and Joju Games' Juan Gril staged a session to honor bright spots in several key trend areas, from innovative platformers (they recommend you check out Level Up and Continuity) to intelligent puzzlers (peep Grayscale, for example).

But it's the evolution in the simple arcade game space that got the largest share of the pair's enthusiasm and audience attention. Fortugno's favorite in that sector was Give Up Robot, the glitzy grappling-hook game that also was Gamasutra's favorite indie pick during 2010.

Fortugno feels that Give Up Robot is especially excellent because it helps define key tenets of what "masocore" means to the arcade gaming space. He loves Give Up Robot's momentum-driven play because it's "very, very hard" -- on beating the game at its highest difficulty, "I screamed for joy in my office," he reveals.

Give Up Robot sports solid, easily comprehensible controls that differentiate it from other masocore games -- as defined by brutal difficulty that requires players to learn from failure and repetition. Any action game characterized by extreme, punishing difficulty that forces the player to die or fail multiple times in order to memorize how to move forward can qualify for the masocore designation.

But somehow, these games manage to be satisfying, not tedious, despite their sadism toward their players. For Give Up Robot, it represents an evolution on the genre because it allows players to get good at it. In earlier levels it's breezy, and at its easier modes, it's outright accessible, leaving the hardest setting for only the most advanced, self-punishing tastes.

"This is a way forward for difficult games," Fortugno says. "Difficulty isn't bad if the player can see an escape from difficulty up ahead," he says. Short levels also lend a game better replayability.

To do masocore well, the death and respawn process must be brief; if a player dies on a given game screen they should start immediately over at the beginning of that screen. For example, with Give Up Robot, Fortugno died 800 times on a single level: "But it was so fast that I didn't mind," he effuses. "You can make a very very hard game if you give the player the ability to respawn quickly."

Gril's pick for the "arcade evolved" vertex of the pair's talk was not a masocore title -- he loves Gameshot's browser-based Space Disposal, a game where players are a little ball-shaped bot tasked with gathering garbage in space. That bot is continually moving, and players need to account for that continual directional movement to guide it to the goal.

Enemies pursue the player, so players must try to use the enemy's own movement patterns against it. "Amazingly, you have all these different enemies and you have to make them collide with each other while they're flying," he explains.

Gril and Fortugno also recommends those interested in seeing various examples of evolution in the arcade genre hunt down Flyde, Rubble Trouble, Freeway Fury and The Visitor: Massacre at Camp Happy.

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