Light gun shooter, also called light gun game or simply gun game, is a shooter video game genre in which the primary design element is aiming and shooting with a gun-shaped controller. Light gun shooters revolve around the protagonist shooting targets, either antagonists or inanimate objects. Light gun shooters generally feature action or horror themes and some may employ a humorous, parodic treatment of these conventions. These games typically feature "on-rails" movement, which gives the player control only over aiming; the protagonist's other movements are determined by the game. Games featuring this device are sometimes termed "rail shooters", though this term is also applied to games of other genres in which "on-rails" movement is a feature. Some, particularly later, games give the player greater control over movement and in still others the protagonist does not move at all.
Light gun shooters typically employ "light gun" controllers, so named because they function through the use of light sensors. However, not all "light gun shooters" use optical light guns, but some may also use alternative pointing devices such as positional guns or motion controllers. Mechanical games using light guns had existed since the 1930s, though they operated differently from those used in video games. Throughout the 1970s mechanical games were replaced by electronic video games and in the 1980s popular light gun shooters such as Duck Hunt emerged. The genre was most popular in the 1990s, subsequent to the release of Virtua Cop, the formula of which was later improved upon by Time Crisis. The genre is less popular in the new millennium, as well as being hampered by compatibility issues, but retains a niche appeal for fans of "old school" gameplay.
"Light gun shooters", "light gun games" or "gun games" are games in which the protagonist shoots at targets, whether antagonists or objects, and which use a gun-shaped controller (termed a "light gun") with which the player aims. While light gun games may feature a first-person perspective, they are distinct from first person shooters, which use more conventional input devices. Light gun games which feature "on-rails" movement are sometimes termed "rail shooters", though this term is also applied to other types of shooters featuring similar movement. The light gun itself is so termed because it functions through the use of a light sensor: pulling the trigger allows it to detect light from the on-screen targets.
Targets in light gun shooters may be threatening antagonists such as criminals, terrorists or zombies, or they may be inanimate objects such as apples or bottles. Although these games may be played without a light gun, the use of more conventional input methods has been deemed inferior. Light gun shooters typically feature generic action or horror themes, though some later games employ more humorous, self-referential styles.
Light gun shooters primarily revolve around shooting large numbers of enemies attacking in waves. The protagonist may be required to defend themself by taking cover, or by shooting incoming thrown weapons, such as axes or grenades. The player may also compete against the clock, however, with some games also featuring boss battles. Games may also reward the player for accurate shooting, with extra points, power-ups or secrets. Games which do not pit the player against antagonists instead feature elaborate challenges constructed mainly from inanimate objects, testing the player's speed and accuracy. More conventional games may feature these types of challenges as minigames.
Light gun shooters typically feature "on-rails" movement, which gives the player no control over the direction the protagonist moves in; the player only has control over aiming and shooting. Some games, however, may allow the protagonist to take cover at the push of a button. Other games may eschew on-rails movement altogether and allow the player to move the protagonist freely around the game's environment; still others may feature a static environment. Light gun shooters use a first person perspective for aiming, though some games may allow the player to switch to a third person perspective in order to maneuver the protagonist.
Mechanical and electro-mechanical precursors (1900s to 1960s)
Gun games had existed in arcades before the emergence of electronic video games. Shooting gallery carnival games date back to the late 19th century. Mechanical gun games first appeared in England's amusement arcades around the turn of the 20th century, and before appearing in America by the 1920s. The British "cinematic shooting gallery" game Life Targets (1912) was a mechanical interactive film game where players shot at a cinema screen displaying film footage of targets. The first light guns appeared in the 1930s, with the Seeburg Ray-O-Lite. Games using this toy rifle were mechanical and the rifle fired beams of light at targets wired with sensors. A later gun game from Seeburg Corporation, Shoot the Bear (1949), introduced the use of mechanical sound effects. By the 1960s, mechanical gun games had evolved into shooting electro-mechanical games. A popular sophisticated example was Periscope (1965) by Namco and Sega, with other examples including Captain Kid Rifle (1966) by Midway Manufacturing and Arctic Gun (1967) by Williams. The use of a mounted gun dates back to a Midway mechanical game in the 1960s.
Between the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sega produced gun games which resemble first-person light gun shooter video games, but were in fact electro-mechanical games that used rear image projection in a manner similar to a zoetrope to produce moving animations on a screen. It was a fresh approach to gun games that Sega introduced with Duck Hunt, which began location testing in 1968 and released in January 1969. It had animated moving targets which disappear from the screen when shot, solid-state electronic sound effects, and a higher score for head shots. It also printed out the player's score on a ticket, and the sound effects were volume controllable.
2D and pseudo-3D light gun shooter video games (1970s to early 1990s)
Throughout the 1970s, electro-mechanical arcade games were gradually replaced by electronic video games, following the release of Pong in 1972, with 1978's Space Invaders dealing a yet more powerful blow to the popularity of mechanical games. In the 1970s, EM gun games evolved into light gun shooter video games. Light guns used in electronic video games work in the opposite manner to their mechanical counterparts: the sensor is in the gun and pulling the trigger allows it to receive light from the on-screen targets. Computer light pens had been used for practical purposes at MIT in the early 1960s. The Magnavox Odyssey home video game console in 1972 had a light gun accessory, in the production of which Nintendo was involved. In the arcades, light gun shooter video games appeared in 1974, with Sega's Balloon Gun in August and Atari's Qwak! in November. The use of a mounted gun in arcade video games date back to Taito's Attack (1976).
Light guns became popularly used for video games in the mid-1980s, with Nintendo's Duck Hunt (1984) being a popular example. In the late 1980s, Taito's Operation Wolf (1987) popularized military-themed light gun rail shooters. Operation Wolf had scrolling backgrounds, which Sega's Line of Fire (1989) took further with pseudo-3D backgrounds, rendered using Sega Super Scaler arcade technology, with features up to 2-players, the sequel to Operation Wolf, Operation Thunderbolt, also used the latter's feature. Midway's Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Revolution X features Operation Wolf's scrolling feature mixed with Line of Fire and Operation Thunderbolt's 2-player feature. In 1992, Konami's Lethal Enforcers popularized the use of realistic digitized sprites in light gun shooters, with digitized sprites remaining popular in the genre up until the mid-1990s. SNK released Beast Busters and Konami also released Crypt Killer (Henry Explorers in Japan), both games which was modest success that features up to 3-players.
3D light gun shooters (mid-1990s to present)
Sega's Virtua Cop, released in arcades in 1994, broke new ground, popularized the use of 3D polygons in shooter games, and led to a "Renaissance" in the popularity of arcade gun games. Like Lethal Enforcers, the game was inspired by the Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry as well as a coffee advertisement in which a can of coffee grew larger in a gun's sights; in Virtua Cop the player had to shoot approaching targets as fast as possible. The acclaimed Time Crisis by Namco, released for Japanese arcades in 1995 and was ported Sony's PlayStation console in 1996/1997, introduced innovations such as simulated recoil and a foot pedal which when pressed caused the protagonist to take cover. The game's light gun controller, the GunCon, was also acclaimed. Namco also released Gun Bullet for Japanese arcades in 1994 and was ported as Point Blank for the PlayStation in 1998, a 2D sprite-based game featuring a unique minigame structure and quirky, humorous tone. The game was critically acclaimed and received two sequels, both for the arcades and the PlayStation console.
In 1995, Atari Games released the successful Area 51 arcade light gun game, which featured red and blue HAPP 45. caliber pistol-like light guns and the use of a Full motion video graphics display. In 1998, Midway released the third successful light gun game called CarnEvil, which featured over-the-top black comedy humor, the use of the shotgun-like light gun which pumps to reload, and the use of blood and gore like Mortal Kombat.
Light guns were suppressed for a time in the United States after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and its attendant controversy over video games and gun crime. Since the late 1980s light gun controllers have been generally manufactured to look like toys by painting them in bright colours. In Japan, which lacks the gun crime found in the United States and in which civilians cannot legally own guns, more realistic light guns are widely available.
Light gun shooters are less popular in the new millennium than in the 1990s, with new games like Raw Thrills' Target: Terror (2004) and ICE/Play Mechanix's Johnny Nero Action Hero (2004) in the genre seen as "old school". Light gun rail shooters began declining in the late 1990s as first-person shooter (FPS) games became more popular. However, Incredible Technologies/Play Mechanix released Big Buck Hunter, which was highly successful and spawns tons of sequels and console ports. Sega also released Ghost Squad in 2004, the other successful light gun shooter that uses unique machine guns with realistic recoil and has the additional trigger that actions things like surrender hostages or cutting the correct wire on the bomb, the game was updated as Ghost Squad: Evolution in 2007 and was ported to the Wii in 2007/2008 and was compatible with the Wii Zapper. The Time Crisis and House of the Dead franchises continued to receive acclaimed installments, with the arcade machine for the latter's House of the Dead 4 Special (2006) featuring large screens enclosing the player, as well as swivelling, vibrating chairs. Some games attempted to incorporate elements of first person shooter or survival horror games through the use of less restricted character movement and exploration, with varying degrees of success. The most successful light gun horror game series is The House of the Dead, the popularity of which, along with Resident Evil, led to zombies becoming mainstream again in popular culture.
Others, however, unashamedly paid homage to 1990s arcade gameplay, even embracing a somewhat parodic style. Light guns are not compatible with modern high-definition televisions, leading developers to experiment with hybrid controllers, particularly with the Wii Remote for the Wii, as well as the PlayStation 3's GunCon 3 peripheral used with Time Crisis 4. Others have used the PlayStation Move motion control system.
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