Video Game Firsts: NINTENDO's First Arcade Game - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Video Game Firsts: NINTENDO's First Arcade Game

The gun that nearly shot Nintendo!
In 1973 Nintendo were not the powerhouse they are today. As a company they'd existed for over eighty years, after being founded in 1889 as Nintendo Karuta by craftsman Fusajiro Yamauchi. For most of the following century Nintendo produced handmade hanafuda playing cards, before expanding into various alternative lines of business during the 1960s and acquiring a legal status as a public company under the current company name, Nintendo Co., Ltd. In 1973 everything changed for Nintendo when they distributed their first electronic-mechanical arcade-style game.

Titled 'The Laser Clay Shooting System', it was a light gun shooting simulation game that consisted of an overhead projector which displayed moving targets behind a background. Players would fire at the targets with a rifle, in which a mechanism of reflections would determine whether or not the "laser shot" from the rifle hit the target.
The idea for the Laser Clay Shooting System Game started in 1971, when the then-president of the company Hiroshi Yamauchi read a newspaper article about shooting competitions. After further research on the technical possibilities of creating a video game version, he approved the project with the intention of converting deserted bowling alleys in Japan into Nintendo's own chain of indoor laser clay shooting arenas.

The logic behind this was that bowling in Japan had been a huge 1960s pastime but had been replaced by Karaoke, which had sprung to prominence toward the end of that decade, meaning many bowling alleys were rapidly being abandoned by their owners and the flood to market of similar real-estate meant they were competitively priced. Nintendo began buying-up these deserted venues in various strategic locations, and after unveiling their Laser Clay Shooting System in early 1973 began fitting the newly acquired venues with the simulation game. Costing between ¥4 and ¥4.5 million to install, each system included overhead projectors which displayed airborne targets behind a mountainous or forest landscape, and a mechanism that consisted of reflections which detected whether or not the "laser shot" hit the flying target on the projector.

The first few weeks of operation proved to be very successful for Nintendo, as the initial batch of converted "test locations" were running at capacity. This lead Yamauchi to establish a new Nintendo subsidiary, Nintendo Leisure System Co., Ltd, in February 1973, specifically to handle the maintenance and orders of the system. He then continued to buy out more former bowling alleys and fitted them with Laser Clay Shooting Systems, and the subsidiary had many pre-orders from owners of other bowling alleys, wanting the system for their own locations to invigorate their business. As a result, the factories dedicated to building these systems were running at capacity around the clock in order to meet public demand.
However, and you knew there would be a however, right? The 1973 oil crisis badly hit the Japanese economy, which imported over 98% of their requirements for oil. The country was forced to scale back on all unnecessary amenities in anticipation of an imminent recession. As a result, Nintendo began receiving cancellation requests of the Laser Clay Shooting System from its clients, and before 1973 was out nearly all of its orders were cancelled.

Having invested billions of Yen in their product, Nintendo's profits were cut in half, and they found themselves ¥5 billion in debt (which would take Yamauchi 7 years to pay off). Nintendo's future was uncertain. Fortunately, as mentioned at the top of the page, what kept Nintendo (and Yamauchi) going was that the company was already listed on the stock market, and many of its shareholders believed in them, offering their continued support for the floundering company and its new direction into electronic entertainment.

Now, this article is titled 'Nintendo's First Arcade Game', clearly the Laser Clay Shooting System was an electronic game but it wasn't exactly an arcade game, as such - and not only because it took over entire bowling alley's to install! But without the Laser Clay Shooting System we would not have that first arcade game from Nintendo, and so it's important to have covered it here.

In 1974, in an effort to correct Nintendo's fortunes, Yamauchi redesigned the Laser Clay Shooting System into a smaller version, and dubbed it Mini Laser Clay. It might have been "mini" but it still carried a hefty price tag, and even though this redesigned system was intended for arcades it would still take-up a lot of floor-space. To say initial orders were low is an understatement; there was simply no-demand and Nintendo needed to find cheaper methods to make the product. As a result, Yamauchi's assistant Gunpei Yokoi came up with the idea of using 16mm projectors and video; this allowed the system to be sold in the form of arcade cabinets. At the same time, Yokoi oversaw the conversion of the electro-mechanical concept from simulator into video game; replacing photographic images with cartoon-style sprites. And in 1974, Wild Gunman, Nintendo's first proper 'arcade game' was released.
It would be redesigned multiple times over the years (including the famous zapper-gun version seen in Back To The Future Part II) and find its way onto the Nintendo Entertainment System a decade later, but the original version of Wild Gunman debuted in 1974 and proved to be a near-instant success. Consisting of a light gun connected to a 16 mm projection screen, full-motion video footage of an American Wild West gunslinger was projected onto the screen. When the enemy character's eyes flash, the player draws and fires the gun. If the player is fast enough, the projection changes to that of the shot gunman falling down; otherwise it shows the gunman drawing and firing his gun. A victorious player can then face off against several more gunslinger opponents.

Nintendo had corrected their trajectory with this one game; a drastic variation on the same title that nearly destroyed them. And once they had a hit on their hands, boy did they milk it! In Japan, Wild Gunman went on to be the sixth highest-grossing arcade game of 1976. Pretty impressive right? Well even more impressive is that it ranked below two other Nintendo Laser Clay Shooting System adapted titles; Sky Hawk in fourth place and the re-redesigned even-more-mini Mini Laser Clay in fifth.
As one final postscript to just how much Nintendo were looking to milk Wild Gunman's successful adaptation of the Laser Clay Shooting System, the company also designed an adult version of the game titled Fascination. Here, instead of cowboys, the game featured a Swedish woman in an evening dress who would dance around on the projection. Then, when the women struck a pose, players could attempt to shoot off key parts of her clothing until she was completely nude. Yes, in 1975, shooting a woman with a gun to get her to strip seemed like an acceptable idea to the developers of this arcade game.

Yamauchi wisely nixed the release of Fascination at the eleventh hour.

View All Our Video Game Firsts Articles Here

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad