Early handheld games utilized very simple mechanisms to interact with players, often limited to illuminated buttons and sound effects. Notable early handheld games included the Mattel Auto Race (1976) and Mattel Electronic Football (1977) which featured very simple red-LED displays; gameplay involved the player pressing buttons to move his car or quarterback icon (represented by a bright dot) to avoid obstacles (represented by less bright dots). In 1978 the Milton Bradley Company entered the handheld market with Simon, a simple color-and-sound-matching game. Simon had no dedicated display, but featured four colored, lighted buttons; the original version was large enough to be used as a tabletop game or a handheld; later versions became increasingly smaller. The same year, Parker Brothers also released Merlin, a more sophisticated handheld which could play six different games using an array of 11 buttons with integrated LEDs. Despite their relative simplicity, each of these early games was highly successful.
The initial success of Mattel and Parker Brothers' entries spawned a wave of similar handheld devices which were released through the early 1980s. Notable among these were a series of popular 2-player "head-to-head" games from Coleco. Other games were miniaturized versions of popular arcade video games.
In 1979, Gunpei Yokoi, traveling on a bullet train, saw a bored businessman playing with an LCD calculator by pressing the buttons. Yokoi then thought of an idea for a watch that doubled as a miniature game machine for killing time. Starting in 1980, Nintendo began to release a series of electronic games designed by Yokoi called the Game & Watch games. Taking advantage of the technology used in the credit-card-sized calculators that had appeared on the market, Yokoi designed the series of LCD-based games to include a digital time display in the corner of the screen. For later, more complicated Game & Watch games, Yokoi invented a cross shaped directional pad or "D-pad" for control of on-screen characters. Yokoi also included his directional pad on the Famicom game console's controllers, and the cross-shaped thumb controller soon became standard on game console controllers and ubiquitous across the video game industry as a replacement for the joystick.
During the 1980s, LCD displays became inexpensive and largely replaced LED displays in handheld games. The use of custom images in LCD and VFD games allows them to have greater detail and avoid the blocky, pixellated look of console screens, but not without drawbacks. All graphics are fixed in place, so every possible location and state of game objects has to be preset(and are usually visible when resetting a game), with no overlap. Illusion of movement is created by sequentially flashing objects between their possible states. Backgrounds for these games are static drawings, layered behind the "moving" graphics which are transparent when not in use. Partly due to these limitations, the gameplay of early LCD games was often even more crude than for their LED antecedents.
Some of the more well-known handheld games of the LCD display era are the Game & Watch series by Nintendo and the games by Tiger Electronics, and many titles from other companies were also popular, especially conversions of arcade games. New games are still being made, but most are based on relatively simple card and board games.
In 1982, the Bandai LCD Solarpower series were the first solar-powered gaming devices. Some of its games, such as the horror-themed game Terror House, featured two LCD panels, one stacked on the other, for an early 3D effect. In 1983, Takara Tomy's Tomytronic 3D series simulated 3D by having two LED panels that were lit by external light through a window on top of the device, making it the first dedicated home video 3D hardware.
Other handheld games were built as flipcases and had two or even three LCD displays with different foreground and background scenes, offering some variety in the gameplay.
Read more about this topic: Handheld Electronic Games
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