A New Beginning for Dual-Screen Gaming

Dual-screen gaming – it’s not just a thing of the past.

Nintendo popularized the concept of gameplay unfolding across two screens with the launch of the Nintendo DS back in November of 2004. Sixteen years later, the DS (and its follow-up, the 3DS), have gone the way of the dodo. Nintendo may have bid farewell to dual-screen, but portable gaming has still evolved well past the pixelated screens and simple gameplay of the early 00s.

Nintendo’s latest console – the Nintendo Switch – saw its best October ever, bringing portable HD graphics that would have been a pipe dream in 2004 right into the palm of our hands. 

At the same time, laptops have gotten stronger and stronger – to the point where PC-quality games are finally possible on the go. The visuals enabled by the likes of any number of increasingly-powerful graphics cards have brought visual fidelity to laptop gameplay and streaming that were not possible even 5 years ago. The endless graphical arms race has resulted in faster, stronger, and flashier hardware that is now culminating in the return of dual screen gaming, courtesy of ASUS.

That’s where the ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo comes in. Dual-screen gaming is back! And we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.

The Challenge

ASUS was already on a hot-streak with the successful launch of its dual-screen ZenBook Pro Duo. This laptop boldly reached to make desktop-quality productivity possible on a portable device. 

But how can a dual-screen laptop expand the possibilities for how games are made, streamed, or played? This is what the Republic of Gamers (ROG) brand was on a mission to discover when they approached Playcrafting to unlock the gaming potential of the new Zephyrus Duo hardware. Thus was the genesis of the first-ever “ASUS ROG Game Jam.”

The Jam

For the ASUS ROG Game Jam, we recruited 20 top game developers from across the United States to build 5 games that are only possible on the Zephyrus Duo. Each has a track record of innovative work, unique design perspectives, and the independent spirit that make them the perfect fit for this challenge.

The teams had just one week to build their games from start to finish. While social-distancing prevented everyone from uniting in person, the teams connected with each other and with Playcrafting every day. Though from a distance, all developers were building on – and for – the Zephyrus Duo, testing the hardware’s capabilities not just for gamers, but for game creators. 

The results speak for themselves.  

The Games

After weeks of preparation and just seven days of development, it was finally time to play the games each team dreamt up! The playable experiences represent a variety of gameplay types, visual styles, and designs – all requiring the both screens. 

(Ape) Escape Velocity by Angry Array

Play as an ape astronaut seeking bananas in a galaxy far, far away. In (Ape) Escape Velocity, the lower touch screen of the Zephyrus Duo serves as the central command of your ship as you control speed, pitch and more to dodge asteroids and planets in your path. The main screen gives you a view of the ship hurtling through space and a peek inside the cockpit. Your journey comes to life through the beautifully-animated ape reacting to every shift of your ship. Are you destined to reach your fruity reward or will you crash along the way?  

Ascension 67 by Double Helix

Climb the levels of a fully 3D factory on your way to freedom as a robot with a mission. Ascension 67 puts you in the mind of the robot itself with the lower touch screen serving as the sensors that will help you avert your captors. Sonar helps track nearby enemies. Your compass points your way to the nearest elevator to ascend to the next level. If one of your sensors is knocked out, use Contact to listen in on other robots so you can steal their parts to replace your own. The gritty dystopian reality of Ascension 67 represents a desperate struggle for survival in the harshest of settings, across 2 screens. 

Triangle Square Circle by Colorfiction

Like a piece of alien technology, Triangle Square Circle transforms the touch screen into a device unlike anything you’ve seen before. Touch the shapes on screen to impact the psychedelic beats and flourishes beaming from the main screen. This is as much a game as it is a toy, setting the stage for you to deliver an otherworldly performance. It’s both meditative and exhilarating in its simplicity. The perfect antidote to the chaotic world we live in. 

Wigglefishing by Team Robot

You are Crouton, a mischievous house cat fascinated by the fish in your owner’s aquarium. Paw your way through a seemingly endless array of fish while your master is off in the distance grilling burgers in the backyard. Your finger becomes Crouton’s paw as you swipe and slide around the lower screen. Wigglefishing gives you two views of the action, both of which you need to pay attention to. Keep an eye on your master in the upper screen to make sure he’s looking away. The lower screen is from the perspective of Crouton himself, peering into the fish tank below where the game’s fish-swatting action takes place. The mixture of perspectives and multi-dimensional visual styles come together for a whimsical experience.

And Then We Will Know by Game Making Garden

Last but not least, And Then We Will Know was the fan-selected winning game from the ROG Game Jam! Uncover the secrets of a mysterious and lush planet as a team of field researchers. With beautifully-drawn vistas, the lower touch screen allows you to expand and interact with each of the 3 team members’ views simultaneously. The sensation of expanding and tapping 3 landscapes at once using the lower screen is exhilarating. Controlling 3 crew members could easily get overly complicated. But the game’s relaxing painterly aesthetic and simple UI encourages you to explore while making the experience adaptable for players of all experience levels. It’s exciting to see such a fully-realized and polished game that was built in just 7 short days on and for the Zephyrus Duo.

A DUAL-SCREEN FUTURE

While each game created for the Zephyrus Duo took unique advantage of the lower touch screen, some key implications emerged that showed a bright future for dual-screen gaming on this ASUS ROG laptop.

A main screen that is freed up from distraction.

By using the lower screen for control input and key UI elements, the upper screen can be freed up to give the player a full view of the action. With the UI elements brought to the lower screen, they can take on visual flares of their own, as seen in Triangle Square Circle and (Ape) Escape Velocity. 

Adaptable design that can generate both simple and complex gameplay.

The addition of a touch screen as a baked-in control input for such a stacked piece of hardware allows for games with more casual appeal to be built or translated easily without sacrificing options for more hardcore players. Ascension 67 uses the touch screen for key information used in a more traditional PC game. Meanwhile, Wigglefishing adds depth to a more casual touch-based game. 

The flexibility for creators to blur genre lines and create new ones.

The powerful insides of a desktop PC and unique capabilities of its multi-screen setup collide for a new kind of playground for game developers to adapt and build experiences for players that are exciting and unexpected. And Then We Will Know gives players the ability to seamlessly control 3 field researchers simultaneously. It’s a simple concept that is beautifully-realized through the complex infrastructure of the Zephyrus Duo. Game Making Garden built this game in just one week on this new device. Imagine what’s possible with even more time. That second screen could be the place for 4 players gathered around for a local battle on the top screen. As excited as I am by the prospect of the touchpad giving more real estate for players to multitask, it’s the possibilities of entirely new experiences that get me the most excited.

The ASUS ROG Game Jam has been a bright spot in an otherwise difficult year. There is a certain kind of magic that happens when game developers are given new hardware to bring ideas to life that were not otherwise possible. These 5 games are the result of 20 developers setting their imaginations free for just one week. This is just the beginning. 

The ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo offers a nice new option for game creators and players alike to build and play anywhere without sacrificing performance while also offering exciting possibilities with its second screen. Hey, it could even herald a new beginning for dual-screen gaming. In 2020, that would be a welcome – if unexpected – surprise. I’m ready for it.