Monday, November 25, 2013

NES Replay: Wild Gunman

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1985
Wild Gunman was an early light gun game that was originally released in 1972 in analog form, then converted into a video game for the NES launch. Just like Hogan’s Alley, it’s a fairly simplistic game. A bandit stands on the screen. He says, "Fire!" You have to shoot him before he shoots you. Then, there's another bandit. He says, "Fire!" You have to shoot him before he shoots you. Then, there's another bandit.

There's also another minigame where bandits come out of windows of a saloon. This is a little more fun, but the principle is the same: The bandits show up. You shoot them. Then there's another bandit. You shoot him too. You get the idea.

Just like Hogan’s Alley, Wild Gunman served its purpose at the time, and was actually mildly popular. These sorts of games were perfect for early console users because they knew the name and knew the concept behind the game, but anyone who tries to play them today just ends up rolling their eyes.

Since I've pretty much said everything I can say about Wild Gunman, let's answer a question: How did these light gun games work, anyway?

Light gun games have been around since the 1920's, and early games worked much like laser tag. When you pulled the light gun's trigger, a little bit of light would come from the gun. A sensor was affixed to the target to detect the light. When the light hit the sensor, the target was "hit." However, for video game systems, that system wasn't going to work. TV screens emit light, but they have no way to sense it.

Therefore, video game light gun systems worked in the opposite way. For instance, the Magnavox Odyssey launched with a light gun game called Shooting Gallery. Instead of sending out light, the game would use the gun to detect light. When the trigger was pressed, the TV screen would go dark. The system would draw a white square around the target, and if the light gun detected light, a hit would be registered.

However, that system isn't perfect. It could be defeated by pointing the light gun at a lightbulb and pulling the trigger. Also, what if you have more than one target on the screen? What then?

Nintendo had an answer for that. When the trigger was pressed on the Zapper, the screen would go dark. The NES would then begin to draw white squares around the targets in sequential order. If the Zapper detected light while a square was being drawn, the NES would register a hit on that specific square. This all happened so fast that all you would see is just a brief flash when the trigger was pulled. There were even checks that could be implemented to make sure that the gun wasn't pointed at a light bulb.

Modern light gun games have gotten much more in-depth. Since LCD and LED screen don't emit light the same way as old CRT TVs did, they've had to come up with other, far more complicated ways to make light guns work that would take an engineer to explain. (Note: I am not an engineer.) Along the way, they've gotten far more accurate too, which is a nice side effect.

See? The way the Zapper worked is way more interesting than Wild Gunman. Then again, a lot of things are more interesting than Wild Gunman.

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