Tony’s Time: Gun Peripherals Are Fun
I’m just going to come right out and say it. “My name is Tony and I like the Wii Zapper.” There, I said it. It’s off my chest. Really, though. I know the Zapper is just a piece of plastic that you place the Wii Remote in to pretend like you’re holding a gun, but I like the way it feels. I like the way it adds just a touch of immersiveness to games and I’m going to tell you why.
This past weekend I took my church’s youth group on a trip to a local bowling alley. After we finished our hour of bowling we spent some time in the arcade there since we couldn’t drive the go-karts in the building. This arcade is one of the better ones in town. It’s fairly sizeable and it’s got a good selection of stuff to play. Most of it ticket based games that you use to buy stupid prizes and Tootsie Rolls, but some of their arcade games are pretty good. The one I want to talk about, and got me realizing why I like peripherals like the Zapper and the Top Shot Elite, was Terminator Salvation.
This is one of those stand up gun machines where you’ve got a life sized M-16 strapped the machine. The game, I assume, is based off the latest movie in the Terminator franchise. The gun itself is true scale and so it felt like having a real gun in my hands. Pressing the trigger would cause the gun to recoil slightly in my hands, as if I was actually shooting a machine gun. Obviously it’s not as forceful as a real weapon, but it still gives the illusion that you’re actually putting bullets into the robots you see on screen. Even reloading was handled in a cool way. There was a trigger on the ammo clip that you pressed to simulate shoving a new clip into the magazine. It was all very immersive and added a nice level of depth to the game that I hadn’t experience before.
That leads me into the reason why I like gun peripherals, and despite them being nothing but a hunk of plastic, makes me like the games that use them just a little bit more. It adds just a small touch of realism to the games that you just don’t get from holding a Wii Remote or an Xbox controller in your hands. When you’re playing a game where the gun is your main input then it makes sense that you might want to get the feedback that only a gun could give you. The Top Shot Elite that comes bundled with the Cabela games is proving to be a really fun peripheral to use to play those types of games.
When you’re playing a hunting game, like Cabela, they try so hard to get that hunting experience and bring it to people that might not be into actual hunting, but want to get that experience. The Top Shot Elite is essentially a hunting rifle. It’s got a cocking mechanism to let you reload. It’s got the trigger in the proper position. It’s even got a scope, though it’s mainly for show. Terminator Salvation brought the war against the machines to me in vivid detail. The graphics were gorgeous, Xbox in HD quality. However, it was the gun, and having another person standing next to me with a gun, that really brought the experience to life. We were shouting back and forth when one of us needed to reload. Even though we were both looking at the same screen we were calling out target to each other. It was highly immersive and a lot of fun.
Those are the types of experiences that I think are missing from games when you’re sitting on your couch with an Xbox controller in your hands. Light gun games bring that arcade experience to the home, and the best way to get that experience, aside from buying a $8500 machine (I looked it up), is to give you something to hold in your hand that lets you feel like you’re carrying a real weapon.
These things also do have drawbacks, as I’m finding out by playing through the latest Cabela’s game for review. Controlling a character on screen isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world as the buttons are quite laid out properly for that type of game. I don’t think it would make a game like Call of Duty any better to have an actual gun peripheral in your hands, but if a developer could figure out a really comfortable way to have all those controls as well it would make me consider it.
It’s also been very hard to get a game that will let you recalibrate the controls so that you can actually use things like the gun sights to line up shots. All of these games use an on screen reticule to show you exactly where you’re pointing. Terminator Salvation didn’t actually do that, and as a result I would actually put the gun up to my face to look down the sights of the weapon to see where I was aiming. Just shooting from the hip caused me to be very inaccurate. Imagine if one of these games came out and didn’t give you an on screen indicator to show you where the gun was pointing. At the beginning of the game you needed to put the gun up in a proper firing position and shoot at targets to properly calibrate the weapon.
You hear lots of people talking about how immersive experiences are and how real they feel. Light gun games are a lot of fun, and small little touches like actually holding a weapon in your hands adds just a small amount to that experience that you wouldn’t otherwise get. We’re a long way off from any sort of Star Trek holodeck experience, but systems like the Wii and peripherals like the Zapper, or the Top Shot Elite are setting the stage for those technologies of the future and bring just a little bit of the future to us now. That’s why I like using devices like this and why I think that they’re not the waste of plastic that so many people say they are.