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GCE LCD handhelds and watches - an appreciation

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Hi all! This is my first post at atari.io but I have been active on AtariAge for a while and used to be very active on rec.games.video.classic. I joined because I hear you have active Evercade and VCS groups and I’m a big fan of both. But I wanted my first post to count for something, and I think I have a subject that would  interest a fair number of people.

Seeing as I’ve had an unusually soft spot for LCD games since childhood and as the Vectrex is possibly my favorite game system ever, I would like to use this momentous occasion to share some gameplay footage, reviews, and information about the one handheld and two watches I have, and hopefully inspire somebody to do the same for the one of each I don’t have.

So, without further ado…

GCE Game Time

The watch that started it all, the Game Time was the second electronic game (following the Microvision) made by Jay Smith’s Smith Engineering and their first contract with General Consumer Electronics (GCE) who would later release the Vectrex. It was built around a generic LCD watch screen, consisting of a grid of circles, that GCE had bought in large quantity for cheap. (Shades of the origin of the Vectrex!) The design of the watch case even seems to foreshadow the Vectrex.

Budding game designer Tom Sloper, whose must-read account of the creation of this device the above is based on, was assigned the project to turn this LCD display into a set of games. From my perspective, he succeeded mightily. Where GCE’s other devices relied on a very troublesome micro joystick, the Game Time uses two and a half buttons. That half is the only real drawback to this excellent gizmo.

Game 1: Firing Squad

This game might be the most fun of any on the devices I have tried. It’s essentially a dodge em up, where you have to maneuver your circle through an onslaught of enemy fire. Think a one dimensional bullet hell game, or maybe SFCave without the gravity. It has an almost modern-feeling hitbox concept, allowing you with good timing to zip between bullets that are diagonal to each other. GRADE: A+

Game 2: Missile Strike

If you have played Star Trek Phaser Strike on the Microvision, you’ve played this game. More or less. Phaser Strike, a seriously dumbed down LCD attempt at something like Missile Command, has a bad reputation because its default mode is boring, hilariously short, and not that fun. There are a number of options you can select (always use variable or single width targets, always use at least 60 targets) to make it fun, but it resets them every game over, which is a pain. It also has a middle button that is useless except in the easiest configuration.

Missile Strike does away with the options and the middle button. You have a satisfyingly large number of targets. They’re all single width. They’re variable speed, but they are fast enough to be interesting and slow enough to be feasible to hit. Essentially it’s the same as the best configuration of Phaser Strike, plus awesome explosion animations and a nice variable speed. If Phaser Strike’s default configuration was more like this, people would appreciate it more. GRADE: B+

Game 3: Alien Assault

If you think a game watch could be made in 1979 without a Space Invaders clone, you’re wrong. Alien Assault is the contender here, and it’s a great game with two flaws. The first is that there is neither post-death invincibility nor state reset, so if you get hit by one bullet you will likely be hit by another. The second is that they used the time set button as the fire button, since there are only two face buttons. This might be comfortable for a child’s hands but not this decrepit adult’s. I have had some pretty good games but in combination with problem 1 having my grip slip a fraction of an inch is how most of my games end. Grade: B

Game 4: BlastAway

And if you think a game watch released in 1979 was not going to include a Breakout clone, you are similarly incorrect. This one is great, with speeds that are just right. You may wonder how they made a playable Breakout with such a tiny screen. The answer is that they packed four rows of bricks into the space of two using those concentric circles. Hitting the outside breaks the outer shell, hitting it again breaks the inside.

As with Microvision pack-in Block Buster the (center bricks of the) top row accelerates the ball to blazing speed, but this is a little kinder and does not require the same total focus. Admittedly, that total focus is what makes Block Buster such an addictive game once you get good. Nevertheless, this sets a high standard for digital control of a Breakout style game that has rarely been matched. Grade: A


As a first attempt at a gaming watch, Tom Sloper and Smith Engineering knocked it out of the park. Every game is worth playing and the controls and gameplay balance are mostly perfect. This would have have occupied me for hours and hours in 1980, and in all honesty has done so even in the 2020s. Overall grade: A

This is pretty long already and I’m afraid of losing it to a browser refresh if I don’t post it now. Watch this thread for reviews of the Arcade Time and Chase’n’Counter from me, and hopefully of the Sports Time and Space’n’Counter from some other lucky person.

Edited by jgkspsx
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