Hunting for Answers


In the late-1980s, my grandfather made a bold and sarcastic prediction. One day, he said, video games would magically beam your opponent onto the couch beside you. In 2006, anything is possible. But his comment showed extra foresight, since it came during the Burgertime era.

When you look back at the crude animations and clunky game play, it's amazing how far we've come. But there's one piece of mid-80s technology that still strikes me as groundbreaking "“ the Nintendo Zapper.

How could my TV "“ a black-and-white relic of the Vietnam era bought for $5 at a garage sale "“ know that I'd killed that evasive duck? These are the straightforward questions Wikipedia was born to answer:

"When the trigger was pulled, the game blanked out the screen with a black background for one frame, then, for one additional frame, drew a solid white rectangle around the sprite the user was supposed to be shooting at. The photodiode at the back of the Zapper would detect these changes in intensity and send a signal to the NES to indicate whether it was over a lit pixel or not. A drop followed by a spike in intensity signaled a hit. Multiple sprites were supported by flashing a solid white rectangle around each potential sprite, one per frame."

Oh. That makes sense. Maybe I was the only one who hadn't figured this out. Wouldn't that make it easy to cheat, simply by pointing the gun at a lamp? (Yes it would.)

That quirk will likely be ironed out before the sequel. That's right, there's a lot of buzz around a Nintendo Wii version. I'd imagine the 21st-century interpretation will be pretty intense. Duck Hunt: Bird Flu Prevention. This time, the ducks hunt you.