Several years ago, an enterprising chap named Charlie Cole uploaded a video on YouTube of a prototype device which allowed compatibility of retro light gun games on newer, flat screened TV’s. There has been a huge demand for this sort of thing since… well, flat screen TV’s became commonplace and your favourite light gun games suddenly stopped working. I’m sure you’ve had a few more flat shaped upgrades since then too, with Virtual Cop and Duck Hunt still being out of reach (unless you still happen to have a CRT somewhere) so you’ll be happy to know that by the end of this year, it seems that this prototype might finally be a commercial product.
Let’s rewind a bit – here’s how it works if you’re not in the know: Basically, light gun games of old worked with tube TV’s and not flat screens because they were designed with the former in mind – which operate in a totally different way to their modern contemporaries. Notice how the screen flashes white every time you pull the trigger? This is because it’s tracking what pixel of the screen you’re shooting at. It might seem like a momentary flash, but it’s actually the screen filling up with white space, pixel by pixel, row by row. It’s happening so quick the human eye doesn’t even notice, but the screen gradually gets filled up by white horizontal lines going left to right. Wherever the line stops on the screen is where the “hit” of a gunshot is registered. This is sorta hard to explain in text form only, but if you skip to about 56-seconds in of the original video linked above, there is a snazzy animation that makes understanding of the process easier. Regardless, this doesn’t work on modern TV’s because they don’t display images by rendering line per line horizontally. Basically, you more or less do get a whole white screen flash and the gun doesn’t know where you’ve aimed.
So, how does the LightGunVerter get around this? Instead of the light gun pointing directly at the TV, a white LED is positioned right on the barrel of the gun (using something like Blu Tack) which flashes when the trigger is pulled. Since you’re then not aiming at the TV per say, a Wiimote is instead strapped to the side of the gun to track movement. The Wiimote is interfaced with a Raspberry Pi, which is connected to an Arduino that processes which pixel on screen would be shot, which its self is connected into analogue circuitry for the video output of the console.
This concept is open source and is licensed under the Creative Commons Non-Commercial License – so if you have the will and the skills, you too can build your own version of this rig for personal use. The anticipated commercial version looks very promising if you can’t be arsed with all that, however, and for a decent price to boot.
With an estimated shipping date of Christmas this year, a pre-built LightGunVerter will only set you back 90 bucks. A bargain really, considering the cost of the separate components alone. This box will support multiplayer and come bundled with the choice of several cables (a Wiimote is not included). The most popular choice will no doubt be the “universal” cable, which just has an LED on the end and can be used with any gun as long as it’s fastened properly. There are cables for specific consoles, however, which plug straight from the LightGunVerter into the console. These allow you to just use the Wiimote and skip the lightgun if you’re so inclined to do so. Currently, there are cables available for the NES, Saturn and Master System, with cables for the SNES, Dreamcast, PS1/PS2 and (specifically) the GunCon 2 in development. These are affordable too, only setting you back $10.
It should be noted, however, that only consoles that output in composite are supported. While Cole claims that every composite capable console he’s tested has worked (including the Lethal Enforcers arcade machine, apparently) it’s something that should be at least considered. While not a huge issue, don’t expect any awesome light gun-goodness via the VGA mode on the Dreamcast.
Still, the fact that this exists is cause for great excitement. A game changer really – if you’ve spent enough time around retro gamers, you’ll for sure have come across the complaint of light gun games and modern TV’s. Check out the website (and store) here, or alternatively, Coles GitHub page if you’re interested in building your own.