Light gun

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Light Gun logo.jpg
Light gun
Developer numerous, see below
Publisher numerous, see below
Systems numerous, see below
Released 1936-present
Added to Museum NES Zapper
November 18, 2017
Beam Gun: Duck Hunt
December 18, 2017
SMS Light Phaser
June 5, 2019

The Light gun is an accessory, modeled after a gun, that uses a sensor to detect light. The first light guns emitted light at electromechanical targets, while modern light guns are incorporated in video games.

Early light gun development

The first light gun was developed by Seeburg in their Ray-O-Lite arcade game line that first launched in 1936. The gameplay consisted of a gun that would emit a ray of light. On a target was a light-sensing tube, and the target would drop if the tube sensed the light, signaling a successful hit.

Beam gun sp.png

In 1970, Nintendo began developing their Beam Gun series of toys, utilizing a light gun designed by Masayuki Uemura. Once the trigger was pulled on the light gun, a flash would be detected by solar cell technology, which would record a hit. The first line, "Beam Gun SP", had a range of 24 feet, whereas the second line, "Beam Gun Custom", had a range of 300 feet.

In 1971, Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi wanted to expand their lightgun toys into a shooting range simulation. He asked Gunpei Yokoi, who had created several successful toys for Nintendo, to create a simulation based on clay pigeon shooting.

Hiroshi Yamauchi intended for these shooting range simulations to be installed in vacant bowling alleys. After Americans brought bowling to Japan after they continued to live there after World War II, bowling became a popular Japanese pastime. The Japanese bowling fad was short-lived however, as by the 1970s, many bowling alleys were sitting abandoned. Nintendo purchased several of these bowling alleys with the intention to convert them into electronic shooting ranges. Gunpei Yokoi and Masayuki Uemura, together with Genyo Takeda, worked under the newly formed Nintendo Research & Development 1 division of Nintendo, and created a shooting gallery game to use in Nintendo's converted bowling alleys.

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The result was the Laser Clay Shooting System, which consisted of a screen, with a film of clay pigeons broadcast on it over an overhead projector. In front was the lightgun, which when fired, a network of reflective surfaces would register whether the shot was a hit or a miss. The game was unveiled in 1973, however its first demonstration didn't work properly. Yokoi had to stand behind the screen, adding the score to the system manually. After its unveiling, the bug in the program was fixed, and the game worked perfectly for the rest of the time it was in operation.

After the 1973 Oil Crisis, Nintendo had to abandon its grand plans to use Japan's bowling alleys as electronic shooting ranges. They reduced the size of the system so that it could be sold as an arcade game. The Laser Clay Shooting System was adapted for the smaller setup and was sold to arcades as Mini Laser Clay. Sales for Nintendo's Simulation System started off slowly, but they gradually increased in volume, which led to Nintendo adapting the system for use with other 16-mm films. The additional games were Wild Gunman in 1974, Shooting Trainer and Sky Shark in 1976, Battle Shark in 1977, and New Shooting Trainer in 1978.

In 1976, Beam Gun: Duck Hunt was released. This light gun game used projected targets, like the Simulation System games, but the system itself was much smaller due to the fact that it was intended for home use.

Nintendo Famicom Beam Gun


In 1983, Nintendo Research & Development 2 developed the Family Computer console. Shortly after its release in Japan on July 15, 1983, they began to develop light gun games for use with it. The Beam Gun Series Gun, a part of Nintendo's successful light gun toy line, was released on February 18, 1984. An adaptation of Wild Gunman was released alongside the Famicom Beam Gun, which resembled a revolver to fit in with the Old West theme of Wild Gunman.

Another adaptation of a light gun game, Duck Hunt, was released on April 21, 1984. Duck Hunt also had a 'C' game mode, "Clay Shooting", that was an adaptation of Nintendo's first light gun arcade game, Laser Clay Shooting System. Later that year, an original Famicom light gun game, Hogan's Alley, was released. Some games were released that had optional light gun support during specific sections in what were not otherwise shooting games, including The Adventures of Bayou Billy and Track & Field II in 1988, and Laser Invasion in 1991.

Bandai Hyper Shot

Bandai released a machine gun peripheral for the Famicom titled the Hyper Shot in 1989. The difference between the Beam Gun and the Hyper Shot was that the latter was set up for rapid-fire and that it contained a directional pad. Although the Hyper Shot was compatible with Beam Gun compatible games, the built-in directional pad made it so that the pack-in game, Space Shadow, required the Hyper Shot to play. Without a directional pad, it was impossible to navigate the game's corridors.

Nintendo Entertainment System Zapper

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The Nintendo light gun was released on the western counterpart of the Famicom, the Nintendo Entertainment System, in North America in 1985, and was renamed the Zapper. The Famicom Beam Gun resembled a revolver, but due to government restrictions in the United States, the Zapper was redesigned so that it would resemble a ray gun from science fiction. In 1989, due to laws enacted in the United States that required imitation guns to have orange tips to distance themselves from real guns, the entire dark grey sections of the Zapper were changed to orange.

The original four games released for the Zapper peripheral were marketed as part of the "light gun series". These games included Duck Hunt, Gumshoe, Hogan's Alley, and Wild Gunman.

In November 1988, the Zapper was included as a pack-in with the "Nintendo Action Set", which included the NES console, the Zapper, and a multi-cart that contained two games on one cartridge, Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. In December 1988, it was included as a pack-in in another system set, the "Nintendo Power Set". This included the NES console, the Zapper, the Power Pad, and a multi-cart that contained three games on one cartridge, Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and World Class Track Meet. Although it was sold mostly as a pack-in, the Zapper was also sold separately from the system.

Nintendo zapper.jpg

Several Zapper-compatible games were released exclusively in Western markets including Gumshoe in 1986, Gotcha! The Sport! in 1987, Freedom Force in 1988, Operation Wolf, To the Earth, and Shooting Range in 1989, and Mechanized Attack and Barker Bill's Trick Shooting in 1990. In addition, The Lone Ranger, released in 1991, had Zapper support during some gunfights.

There were also a few unlicensed games that were released that utilized the Zapper, including Baby Boomer in 1989, Chiller in 1990, and Super Russian Roulette in 2017.

Sega Master System Light Phaser

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The Sega Master System received its own light gun, the Sega Light Phaser, in North America in 1986, in Europe in 1987, and in Brazil in 1989. It was never released in Japan.

The Light Phasers had to be changed due to the laws about imitation guns that were enacted in the United States in 1989. However, unlike the Zapper, the color of the plastic was not changed. Sega simply began shipping Light Phasers with orange stickers around the tips. In addition, the company authorized to sell the Sega Master System in Brazil, Tec Toy, sold Light Phasers that were encased entirely in blue plastic rather than black.

Games that utilized the Light Phaser included Gangster Town, Marksman Shooting, Missile Defense 3-D, Operation Wolf, Rambo III, Rescue Mission, Safari Hunt, Shooting Gallery, Space Gun, Trap Shooting, and Wanted!.

In addition, Assault City and Laser Ghost also optionally supported the Light Phaser, although they could be played with just the standard control pad.

The anime Red Photon Zillion was released in 1987 and contained weapons named Light Phasers that were the same color and shape of Sega's light guns of the same name. This is likely a conscious reference, as a character from Sega's Phantasy Zone, Opa-Opa, also appeared in the anime.