Results from Game Design Challenge: LCD Gamesystem

By staff [08.24.10]

 Though most gamers of a certain age range will be familiar with dedicated LCD games, many younger players will not. Somewhat surprisingly, they're still manufactured today in limited quantity. Like all other video games, some were bad, and some were good -- but it's all about making use of the limited design tools at your disposal.

It's just that, in this case, the design tools were very limited.

Nintendo got its start in games with the Game & Watch series of handhelds, which paved the way for its entry into console and non-dedicated handheld gaming.

Of course, most of all, Tiger is remebered as a purveyor of these sorts of games by kids who grew up during the '80s -- mostly because the company licensed popular NES games and turned them into LCD titles.

The major restriction of LCD games is that they have specific images imprinted onto the screen, and thus can only permit motions that account for this limitation. For videos of how these games work, check out Nintendo's official Game & Watch page.

Game Career Guide challenged its readers to create an interesting LCD game that adheres to the restrictions of the format. What follows are the best and most original entries we received. Here are our top picks.

Best Entries

Ryan George, Game Design Student, Columbia College Chicago, Radiant Flux (see page 2)
Radiant Flux's unique double-sided hardware presents an interesting challenge to the player, and allows for a level of depth not seen in many LCD games.

Kris Kamfield, Sr. Ringtone Recorder, Boom Badoom (see page 3)
Kris Kamfield designs a simple but effective head-to-head multiplayer game enhanced by importable midi music and ringtones.

Logan Neufeld, Programming Student, Neumont University, Dungeon Explorer (see page 4)
Logan Neufeld tackles a complex genre for his entry, but emerges with a successful design that respects LCD hardware limitations.

Honorable Mentions
Nacho Pintos, Student at UOC's Post-Degree program in Game Development, Flee (see page 5)
John-Paul Clifton, QA Tester, The Wiper (see page 6)
Jordan E. Duenk, Game Art & Design Student of the Illinoise Institute of Art: Schaumburg, Tug-O-War (see page 7)
Guillaume Woillez, Student at Supinfogame, Game Design and Product Managment school, Play the Drums! (see page 8)
Cesar Hernandez, Computer Science Student, Sam Houston State University, Locksmith (see page 9)

Ryan George, Game Design Student, Columbia College Chicago, Radiant Flux

Radiant Flux is a double sided LCD handheld game where player must actively switch between both sides of the handheld to fight off waves of enemies for nine intense levels. As the player progresses through the game the amount of enemies per level increases.

Each LCD screen would use roughly the same LCD screen printing with the only differences being the weapons the player wields (Example 1).

The sides of Radiant Flux represent "Light" and "Darkness". Each side essentially acts as a weapon. These weapons (the Shadow Blade and Light's Fury) can only attack and defeat specific enemy types. For example, Light enemies can only be killed with the Shadow Blade meaning the player must be playing on the Dark side of the handheld. Attacking drains the player's relative meter (Shadow drains Shadow, Solar drains Solar) by one.

The weapons themselves are also unique in how they attack. The Shadow Blade attacks enemies both in front and behind the player. While wielding Lights Fury players attack the space in front of them as well as the space directly behind their initial target.

Players can utilize the light (solar power) and darkness (shadow/lack of light) of their surroundings to build up energy. Solar Power/Shadow Power is charged via the solar panel at the top of the game. Solar Power is built from taking in light and Shadow Power increases from the lack of light (Example 2). Players can have a maximum of seven charges of Solar/Shadow power.

There are two types of enemies: Light and Dark enemies. Both enemy types have similar LCD prints, the only difference being the Dark enemies appear as silhouettes and Light enemies appear as outlines. Dark enemies drain the player's Shadow Power while Light enemies drain player's Solar Power. Upon defeating an enemy the player's relative energy meter charges by two (for example, upon defeating a Dark enemy the player gains two charges of dark energy). When the player is hit by an enemy their Solar/Shadow energy is drained by one. When the player is out of either Solar Power/Shadow Power it's Game Over!

The button layout of Radiant Flux is very simple (See: Button Layout). Players use the directional buttons on the left of the handheld to navigate the 2.5D playing space. The buttons on the left are the attack buttons. The right attack button attacks the space to the right of the player and the left attack button attacks the space to the left.

In order to switch sides players would press the "Switch" button, located near the attack buttons for easy access, to briefly pause the game (for three seconds) so that the player can flip to the other side of the handheld without being attacked during the transition. While the player is playing on one side of the handheld the buttons on the other side are disabled. This is triggered by a mercury switch inside the handheld that can tell which side is face up, and which is face down.

Kris Kamfield, Sr. Ringtone Recorder, Boom Badoom

LCD games need to be simple to learn, hard to master, offer high replay value, and be super fun. Boom Badoom delivers on all these fronts with a fist full of awesome.

Game Play

The game play of Boom Badoom is simple and easy to grasp. An icon will appear in the 4x4 grid at a certain location and your goal is to press the buttons which correspond to the row and column of that location. For instance if an icon appeared in the top left corner, you would press blue buttons 1 (row) and 5 (column). If it appeared in the bottom right corner, you would press blue buttons 4 (row) and 8 (column). EASY! ... and yet hard to master.

What makes Boom Badoom so outrageously tremendous is its zany and frantic modes of play using this simple game play mechanic.


High Score by Time:

You have 60 seconds to get as many points as you possibly can. 2 icons appear on the grid at a time; perhaps one being worth more points than the other. You can collect only one of the icons, and once you do, the grid is cleared and two more icons appear. Get as many points as you can to get the high score!

High Score Sudden Death:

A random icon will appear on the grid for a certain amount of time. You must collect that icon before it disappears. As you collect more icons they will start to disappear faster and faster. The goal is to continue to collect icons without missing one for as long as possible to get the high score!

Music Master:

In music mode you select a song using the dial on the side of the device and the notes of that song will appear as icons in the game. You must do your best to collect as many icons as you can while the music is playing to get the high score!

But that's not all! If you don't like the included music, a USB port on the side of the device allows you to transfer your own midi songs or ring tones to the game to play! Imagine all the high scores you could get!!


The video game market as a whole is trending to have some form of multiplayer in just about every product. Yet, oddly, how many multiplayer LCD games can you name? 1? 2? Any at all? Well, I sure can't but don't let that sensation of panic get to you because Boom Badoom is here to fill that market gap with its multiplayer mode!

All of the previously mentioned modes can be played with 2 players both cooperatively and competitively. You and your friend will have hours of fun trying outdo one another, or working together to beat the inevitable DragonForce song you'll load into the game.

It's just as you imagine, Boom Badoom is the simplest, most addictive LCD game you will ever play.

Logan Neufeld, Programming Student, Neumont University, Dungeon Explorer

Dungeon Explorer is a typical dungeon crawler game reduced to its most basic components. The player traverses a maze-like, multi-level dungeon battling hordes of monsters while getting better and better equipment.

The controls are simple: a d-pad for moving between rooms and targeting enemies, a sword attack button, and a magic attack button. The player has a relatively large number of stats, at least for an LCD game:

As the player wanders around the dungeon, he or she can encounter both items and enemies. Items include such things as food to restore health, potions to restore magic points, gems to increase the player's score, and upgrades to attack, defense, and magic. Each level is guaranteed to contain at least two upgrades, one in the boss room and one a random room. As level gets higher, the chances of finding more items increased to compensate for the increasing difficulty.

The player can encounter anywhere from 0 to 3 enemies in any particular room, in addition to a boss enemy. Whenever the player encounters one or more enemies, the player must beat all enemies in the room before he or she can leave it. The battle takes turns between the player and the enemies. During the player's turn, he or she can target an enemy with d-pad and attack it with the sword attack or attack all enemies with the magic attack. Once the battle is over, the player automatically takes and uses any needed items in the room. Each time a boss it beaten, the level goes up by one and the floor is reset with a new layout, items, and enemies.

The layout of each floor is randomly determined, as is the placement of enemies and items. After a player has cleared a room, he or she can travel to any adjacent room, including the previous one, in the event of a dead end. If a player travels through a room containing items that weren't previously used and the player now needs them, the items will be automatically used. Items will never randomly spawn in a previously traversed room, but enemies occasionally will.

Dungeon Explorer is perfect for dungeon crawlers and rogue-like fans that are often on the move. Dungeon Explorer is also great for gamers that enjoy small simple games that do not rely on reaction time.

Nacho Pintos, Student at UOC's Post-Degree program in Game Development, Flee

Flee is a driving (not racing) game, about going far, very far away. You aim is to drive for as many kilometers as possible, while avoiding cars, trees and animals crossing the road. Over the horizon, the sun slowly moves from left to right, the moon right to left, planes pass by...and if you're lucky and skilled, you might see a shooting star (have your wish ready!), or even a UFO (the shapes in magenta) abducting a cow!

With the left and right buttons, you control the position of your car (the big red block). The road has 4 tracks, and there's also shoulders where trees appear. The trees, obviously, approach you car much faster than the traffic.

Initially, the pace is very slow, there's not much traffic, and all opponent cars go at the same speed. Gradually, speed gets faster, more traffic populates the road in increasingly difficult patterns, and some cars go at a different speed than the others. If you go outside the road (the rightmost and leftmost positions of your car), the speed decreases, and will not increase until you go back to the asphalt again. Anyway, you cannot stay there for too long, because probably there'll be a tree furiously approaching. You can crash five times (small red dots). After crashing you go back to the initial slow speed.

The score shows how far you've gone since you started, and increases proportionally to the speed. The word ‘AWAY' blinks slowly and constantly while playing.

The soundsystem: At sunrise, a bleepy melody resembling birds will play. At moonrise, a soothing one. When a shooting star appears, a ‘plink!' rings. The star is actually composed of three frames (see figure). There's also a theremin-like sound when the UFO emerges, lifts the cow and zooms away. The plane (orange shape) just passes silently from left to right. The star and UFO are used both as rewards and distractions, because they only start appearing (randomly) after, for example, more than 10 minutes playing without a crash.

At night, speed will be automatically reduced a bit, there'll be less traffic, but much more animals (the bright green shapes) crossing the road horizontally.

So far I've explained GAME A. GAME B is the same, but you are driving drunk. This means that your car changes randomly to an adyacent track, and you have to correct your way very quickly. Just before this uncontrolled change happens, a warning beep will ring, but you'll never know if your car will go left or right.

In both modes, when reaching 999999 kilometers, the game stops, your car vanishes, and a final, mysterious message will be shown, letter by letter, using cars, trees and animals as dots to compose the letters.

(Note: I've used plain colors and shapes to simplify. Actually all shapes would use just one color, LCD-style, and look like proper cars, animals, etc.)

John-Paul Clifton, QA Tester, The Wiper


The player navigates The Wiper (the player-controlled character) across the face of a building cleaning windows while avoiding hazards.


The Wiper can be moved by pressing the directional pad in one of four directions. Since The Wiper has no weapons, the player must avoid hazards. The Wiper can clean a dirty window by pressing the wipe button. Windows have three stages of dirt, for each stage the player must press the wipe button one more time (stage 1 is one press, stage 2 is two and stage 3 is three). The window must be fully cleaned before moving on, if the player moves on the dirt level will continue from previous state.

Screen Information:

A) This indicates how many extra lives the player has, the player starts with three extra lives. An extra life can be gained for every 10,000 points earned, up to a maximum of four.

B) This is the player's total points. Points are given to the player for each window cleaned (see C.).

C) There are three levels of dirty windows. The first (one line) is worth 100 points, the second (three lines) is worth 300 points, and the third (five lines) is worth 500 points. The dirt level grows from the first to the second to the third in 3 second intervals. A new dirty window will appear once every 2 seconds. If the player is able to clear all windows on the screen they will receive a 5,000 point bonus. The 5,000 point bonus can be gained again once more than 3 windows have become dirty.

D) This is The Wiper (the two different frames are shown). The players character animates between these two images when cleaning a window. These two images simulate The Wiper wiping the window clean.

E) These three objects (a bird, a paper airplane, and a bowling ball) are the hazards The Wiper must avoid these objects while navigating across the face of the building. Each hazard enters the screen from a different direction, the bird enters from the left and travels to the right, the bowling ball enters from the top and drops to the bottom, while the paper airplane enters from the right and travels to the left.


Jordan E. Duenk, Game Art & Design Student of the Illinoise Institute of Art: Schaumburg, Tug-O-War

Jordan Duenk's Tug-O-War is about a personal feud over a rope, as you might have guessed. This should-have-been-classic offers multiplayer and a great twist on an ancient game. Muster up your button mashing skills and maybe a few coconuts, this war could get ugly!


T button- located on the top of the controller, on the right side. Tap this button rapidly to tug the rope, sending your opponent into the embarrassing depths of the mud pit.

B button- located on the top of the controller, on the left side. When your tug gauge, seen in figure 1, page 2 in the bottom center of the screen, fills to capacity from rapid tug button use, press this button to send a bird over to your opponent. The bird drops a coconut at random in any one of three spaces on your opponent's side of the field. This tropical barrage helps even the tides, hopefully, ending the war.

R button- located on the bottom of the controller, on the right side. Push this button when all hope seems lost. Your grip on the rope will be relinquished, sending the winner into the mud pit located towards their rear. The R button's location offers maximum stealth so you can wipe that grin off your opponent's face with a little mud.

Power Switch- Located on Player 1's right, has three settings; Off, 1 Player and 2 Player.

When playing multiplayer, two players use either side of the controller. Each side is symmetrical to the player's needs. One screen mirrors both players' movements, enabling each player to see what they are doing on one screen.

Single Player is basic, containing ten levels with increasing difficulty. Level one requires low levels of button mashing, while level ten requires maximum button mashing and bird calling skills.

Guillaume Woillez, Student at Supinfogame, Game Design and Product Managment school, Play the Drums!

This LCD game concept will make you feel like a real drum-hero.

At the center of the screen is the drum kit. From the beginning to the end of the game session, the player must push the big right button (jump) with a constant rate. The rate is determined by the difficulty of the game, based on the player score.

Rhythm indications will appear from above, bottom and each side of the screen and will gradually move to the drum kit. When a rhythm indication reaches the drum kit, the player must press the controller button corresponding to the side of the screen the indication is coming from. For example, when a rhythm indication coming from the left reaches the drum kit, the player must press the controller left button.

The indications speed is based on the rhythm the player must follow with the big right button (jump).

Points are awarded to the player for each in-time push on the right button. The difficulty of the game increases with the player score.

Victory condition: there is no real victory. The player must play until he loses. At the end, the highscore is the player's victory.

Failure condition: the player is allowed to miss two notes. If he misses a third one, the game session ends and the score is saved if better than the previous best one.

Why is this concept truly designed for a LCD Gamesystem ? :
Not only does the concept respect the screen restrictions (specific images imprinted onto the screen), it also uses those restrictions as a rhythm base for the player, which is perfect for rhythm game. The technical restrictions do serve the concept, providing the rhythm base the player needed.

Cesar Hernandez, Computer Science Student, Sam Houston State University, Locksmith

Locksmith is a time based puzzle game designed to be a dedicated LCD game. The object of the game is to create keys to unlock the gates before the time runs out. Beware, however, that if you create the wrong key, you fail your mission!

Sample Level:

How to play:

-You begin with a starting key (shown here in red). Your key moves as a whole in the direction you push the D-Pad. The object of the game is to forge a key that can unlock the gates that are enclosing you in a given area. To unlock a gate, simply have your key covering all keyholes simultaneously in that given area. If this happens, a gate will open, or if all gates are already open, you will have successfully beaten the level .

-Beware! You must chose the shape of your key carefully, just because your key works in one area, it doesn't mean that it will work in the next area! You must carefully plan ahead to make sure your key will carry you through the entire level. Think quickly, because the clock is ticking down- if time runs out, you will fail your mission!

Remember, once you fuse something onto your key, you cannot remove it.

Locksmith is open for countless amounts of level configurations - the game can be playable to casual and core gamers because the difficulty can be easily modified by the design of the map, the amount of time allowed to solve a lock, the number of lives given to the player, and the number of key holes printed on the map. (More keyholes gives you a better idea of what shape your key needs to be, making the game easier). It is also short and simple enough to play in small bursts on the bus ride home. Locksmith is a perfect fit for the LCD platform.

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