The Way Games Work: NES Zapper

The Zapper for the Nintendo Entertainment System was the most popular light gun ever for a home video game console.  Now it’s time to find out how it works: it’s quirks, it’s compatibility with modern technology, and yes – even the myths that surround it.


  • teckhsienho
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 2:06 PM | Permalink

    it’s been too long since we’ve seen a Roo video!

  • Ninto55 Ninto55
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 3:39 PM | Permalink

    Yes it had, but I feel the wait was worth it. I love the direction you’ve taken TWGW. I like the whole testing myth thing, just explaining the technolog would be boring especially on the NES Zapper. I can’t wait to see more (Especially the other light guns) and if I have any ideas I’ll be sure to post them.

  • KuraraII KuraraII
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 4:17 PM | Permalink

    You need to test out the magnifying glass trick!

    Holding a magnifying glass in front of the zapper is supposedly a sure-fire way to get a hit.

  • Ninto55 Ninto55
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 6:09 PM | Permalink

    What about the whole black screen thing? Even if it does register as black then how does it know which target was shot?

    Posted August 30, 2011 at 7:59 PM | Permalink

    The screen goes black for .016 seconds, one frame, then each target is lit in sequence, for a frame. If the light detector registers white .032 seconds after the black screen, it knows the second target to be lit on the screen was the one that was hit. Then the game kills that target.

    My friends and I tried using a fisheye lens so many years ago, but we never got a sure hit with it. I think a magnifying glass at any distance greater than a foot or so from the screen would just invert the image. It wouldn’t focus enough of the white region, because it’s such a small portion of the screen area, to register a hit.

    Eventually we just realized that if we became more accurate, we wouldn’t have to cheat. Thus, my marksmanship days began.

  • The Male White Mage The Male White Mage
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 8:52 PM | Permalink

    I would like to say I had no interest in watching another NES Zapper video but at the same I was since it was Roo. I like how he goes in depth with his videos, history/science/technology, etc.

    I recently found the Light Phaser (Sega Master System light gun) and prefer it over the Zapper because pulling the trigger is softer and not as loud.

  • Roo Roo
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 5:05 AM | Permalink

    DRASTIC fillid in on that question nicely – thanks!

    As for the magnifying glass trick, I would only think it would work at very close range, since bringing it too much of the surrounding room would either not pass the black screen check, or not have enough light to pass the white square check.  If you’re maybe an inch or two away, I’m sure it would work, but then again, I think that would defeat the purpose.  smiley

  • DTX180
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 9:48 PM | Permalink

    Really fun video. Roo you always go in great depth to teach the mechanics. Props.

  • W0lfbaneShikaisc00l
    Posted September 6, 2011 at 6:56 AM | Permalink

    Click that link: Angry Video Game Nerd pointed this out a while back, not sure whether or not he found it worked but James Rolfe has been around video games longer than you’ve had your zapper! xD 

    At 1:31 he talks about “the gun” and he mentions the light bulb trick later on… trying to get one of his faulty guns to shoot the targets… basically it half works- it depends on not only the gun but also the TV…

    Myth Bursted!

  • AkiraVGA
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 1:15 AM | Permalink

    Aperture tshirt…. nice touch

  • marinematty
    Posted May 19, 2012 at 7:32 AM | Permalink

    The old technology was so impressive at that times and and i still remember playing those bird games with a gun and also some online driving games with a 4 bottons remort but as the time chages all has changed. Today games are played with motion sensor and wireless remorts with over 10 buttons for the game control.

  • Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:17 PM | Permalink


    Thank you for touching on the CRT scan lines and latency issues/native resolutions for HDTV. I’ve been doing a lot of research myself lately regarding these sorts of issues.

    I’ve been driving myself a little nuts trying to get my ps2 to not have “ghost lines” while playing on my 50″ plasma with component cables to no avail. You just can’t beat a SDTV for old consoles. I really wish I hadn’t given away my Sony Wega CRT now…

    Anyways, thanks again for making an interesting video.


  • Posted December 28, 2012 at 3:10 PM | Permalink

    This might be another Zapper “Hack” that might need to be, um, ‘bursted.’

    I recall back when I first played Duck Hunt on the NES, it was on my sister’s TV (it was the second biggest one in the house) and opposite of the TV was an enormous mirror (taking up about 1/4th of the wall). Anyway, I remember that if I turned around and (making sure I was not between the mirror and the TV) fired at the image of the TV in the mirror it would be a sure hit, so long as there was only one target (single duck, or after the first duck/clay pigeon was hit). I’m guessing it might be due to the fact that the mirrored image of the TV was considerably smaller than the actual screen, letting the zapper have a “shotgun” like effect. The screen must’ve been a 20 inch, I’m guessing, and the TV was, oh, maybe 11 feet from the opposite wall where the mirror was.

    Not sure if you’ve ever heard of this, I haven’t met with anyone else who’s discussed this.

    Great video overall though!

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