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Light gun

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NES Zapper
Light Phaser for the Master System
Atari XG-1

A light gun is a pointing device for computers and a control device for arcade and video games, typically shaped to resemble a pistol.

Early history[edit]

The first light guns were produced in the 1930s, following the development of light-sensing vacuum tubes. In 1936, the technology was introduced in arcade shooting games, beginning with the Seeburg Ray-O-Lite.[1]

These games evolved throughout subsequent decades, culminating in Sega's Periscope, released in 1966 as the company's first successful game, which requires the player to target cardboard ships.[2] Periscope is an early electro-mechanical game,[3] and the first arcade game to cost one quarter per play.[4] Sega's 1969 game Missile features electronic sound and a moving film strip to represent the targets on a projection screen,[5] and its 1972 game Killer Shark features a mounted light gun with targets whose movement and reactions are displayed using back image projection onto a screen.[6] Nintendo released the Beam Gun in 1970 and the Laser Clay Shooting System in 1973,[7] followed in 1974 by the arcade game Wild Gunman, which uses film projection to display the target on the screen.[8] In 1975, Sega released the early co-operative light gun shooters Balloon Gun[9] and Bullet Mark.[10]

Sequential targets[edit]

The first detection method, used by the NES Zapper, involves drawing each target sequentially in white light after the screen blacks out. The computer knows that if the diode detects light as it is drawing a square (or after the screen refreshes), then that is the target at which the gun is pointed. Essentially, the diode tells the computer whether or not the player hit something, and for n objects, the sequence of the drawing of the targets tell the computer which target the player hit after 1 + ceil(log2(n)) refreshes (one refresh to determine if any target at all was hit and ceil(log2(n)) to do a binary search for the object that was hit).[11]

A side effect of this is that in some games, a player can point the gun at a light bulb or other bright light source, pull the trigger, and cause the system to falsely detect a hit on the first target every time. Some games account for this either by detecting if all targets appear to match or by displaying a black screen and verifying that no targets match.[11]

Infrared emitters[edit]

The Wii Remote uses an infrared video camera in the handheld controller, rather than a simple sensor.[12] Wesley Yin-Poole stated that the Wii Remote was not as accurate as a traditional light gun.[13]

GunCon 3 is an infrared light gun used for arcade games.[14]

Rectangular positioning[edit]

Rectangular positioning is similar to image capture, except it disregards any on-screen details and only determines the rectangular outline of the game screen. By determining the size and distortion of the rectangle outline of the screen, it is possible to calculate where exactly the light gun is pointing. This method was introduced by the Sinden Lightgun.[15]

Positional gun[edit]

The positional gun is common in video arcades, as a non-optical alternative to a light gun. The positional gun is permanently mounted on a swivel on the cabinet, as an analog joystick for aiming crosshairs onscreen. This is typically more expensive initially but easier to maintain and repair. Positional gun games include Silent Scope,[16] the arcade version of Resident Evil Survivor 2, Space Gun,[17] Revolution X,[18] and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Console conversions may use light guns.

A positional gun is essentially an analog joystick that records the position of the gun to determine the player's aim on the screen.[19][20] The gun must be calibrated, which usually happens after powering up. Early examples of a positional gun include Sega's Sea Devil in 1972,[21] Taito's Attack in 1976,[22] and Cross Fire in 1977,[23] and Nintendo's Battle Shark in 1978.[24]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cowan, Michael (2018). "Interactive media and imperial subjects: Excavating the cinematic shooting gallery". NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies. 7 (1): 17–44. doi:10.25969/mediarep/3438.
  2. ^ Ashcraft, Brian, (2008) Arcade Mania! The Turbo Charged World of Japan's Game Centers, p. 133, Kodansha International
  3. ^ Periscope at the Killer List of Videogames
  4. ^ Steven L. Kent (2000), The First Quarter: A 25-Year History of Video Games, p. 83, BWD Press, ISBN 0-9704755-0-0
  5. ^ Missile at the Killer List of Videogames
  6. ^ Killer Shark at the Killer List of Videogames
  7. ^ History of Nintendo – Toys & Arcades (1969–1982) (archived), Nintendo Land
  8. ^ Wild Gunman (1974) at the Killer List of Videogames
  9. ^ Balloon Gun at the Killer List of Videogames
  10. ^ Bullet Mark at the Killer List of Videogames
  11. ^ a b Teger, Daniel; Rogowski, Scott; Dinerman, Julie; Ramkishun, Kevin (May 13, 2011). "DuckFeed: An Embedded Take on Duck Hunt Columbia University, Spring 2011 CSEE 4840: Embedded System Design" (PDF). p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 23, 2018. Retrieved Jan 21, 2015.
  12. ^ "Wiimote". WiiBrew. 2011-04-26. Retrieved 2011-06-01.
  13. ^ Yin-Poole, Wesley (January 6, 2008). "Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles Review". Video Gamer. Retrieved February 11, 2022.
  14. ^ Ashcraft, Brian (2007-06-13). "Reload: How The Time Crisis 4 Light Gun Works". Kotaku.com. Archived from the original on 2010-02-12. Retrieved 2011-06-01.
  15. ^ "Sinden Lightgun". Lightgun Gamer. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  16. ^ Silent Scope at the Killer List of Videogames
  17. ^ Space Gun at the Killer List of Videogames
  18. ^ Revolution X at the Killer List of Videogames
  19. ^ Morgan McGuire & Odest Chadwicke Jenkins (2009). Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology. A K Peters, Ltd. p. 408. ISBN 978-1-56881-305-9. Retrieved 2011-04-03. Light guns, such as the NES Zapper or those used in the House of the Dead series, are distinctly different from positional guns used by arcade games such as SEGA's Gunblade NY. ... Light guns differ from positional guns, such as in Gunblade NY (bottom), that are essentially analog joysticks. ... Positional guns are essentially analog sticks mounted in a fixed location with respect to the screen. Light guns, in contrast, have no fixed a priori relationship with a display.
  20. ^ Yo-Sung Ho & Hyoung Joong Kim (November 13–16, 2005). Advances in Multimedia Information Processing-PCM 2005: 6th Pacific-Rim Conference on Multimedia, Jeju Island, Korea. Springer Science & Business. p. 688. ISBN 3-540-30040-6. Retrieved 2011-04-03. The two routes to conventional gun control are light guns and positional guns. Light guns are the most common for video game systems of any type. They work optically with screen and do not keep track of location on the screen until the gun is fired. When the gun is fired, the screen blanks for a moment, and the optics in the gun register where on the screen the gun is aimed. That information is sent to the computer, which registers the shot. ... Positional guns are mounted stationary on the arcade cabinet with the ability to aim left/right and up/down. They function much like joysticks, which maintain a known location on screen at all times and register the current location when fired.
  21. ^ Sea Devil at the Killer List of Videogames
  22. ^ Attack at the Killer List of Videogames
  23. ^ Cross Fire at the Killer List of Videogames
  24. ^ Battle Shark at the Killer List of Videogames
  25. ^ "Binatone TV Master MK 6 (model n° 01 / 4907)". www.old-computers.com. Archived from the original on 2017-10-04. Retrieved 2015-09-19.