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Revolutionary: Gun Sights

Mike Sylvester

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Zombies. It seems like you can't stroll through a secluded eastern European village, tour a bioengineering facility, or attend a Kenny G concert without coming into contact with their kind. "Brains" this and "moan" that is all you ever hear from them, but chances are you've smelled them long before they come into earshot. I, for one, am sick of 'em and if you feel as strongly as I do, I urge you to take up arms.

It's amusing to take them apart piece by piece, but as they shamble ever closer, you'll ultimately have to spread a little gray matter and put them to bed for a final dirt nap. At times like that, you'll need to know that you can rely on your sidearm to do the job. Zombie killin' is no turkey shoot, so a blunderbuss ain't gonna cut it. In this week's Revolutionary, we'll be testing out how straight a shooter the Wii Remote can be.

Not every game lets you "aim down the sights" and shoot directly what you're pointing at. Many times, you'll be pushing an onscreen cursor or reticle, while the Wiimote is actually pointing somewhere toward the Sensor Bar. A few games actually let you calibrate the settings so that it shifts the sensing area to match the screen space. House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return and Sega's lesser-known shooter, Ghost Squad support calibration. Because I've still got Halloween on the brain, and the other one has a misleading name, so I decided to test out the former.

The test is to determine whether calibration works as well as it did in the arcades and with our trusty light guns for consoles past. Wherever you point your Wiimote at the screen is where the bullets should be deposited forthwith, so I slid mine into a Nyko Perfect Shot gun shell and taped my EyeToy onto it.

I don't know what it's called. I just know the sound it makes when it re-takes a zombie's life.

I thought at that point I was ready to do some shootin', but I came across a few problems. The game tells you to stay at least ten feet back from the screen, so I actually had to get behind my couch to meet the distance requirement. Trouble is, when I tried the in-game calibration and pointing at the target in the bottom corner, it kept telling me that I was pointing off the screen. Big screens need big sensor bars. You could try the candle trick to widen your sensing range, but the walking dead tend to go berserk in the presence of an open flame.

My solution was to use two Sensor Bars. I placed my wired Sensor Bar near one end of the TV and a wireless one near the other end, and covered up the IR emitters on the outer sides of each. It's important to cover up one side of each Sensor Bar, or your Wiimote will see four dots and spaz out. Take note that this test was done on a smaller display than the one I used here. There's no way I could have gotten the IR field to cover my 92" screen unless I placed IR points directly in front of or behind the screen, or backed up so far away from it as to negate any appreciation of its size.

Close enough to touch it is too close to shoot it

After shooting the targets in the calibration menu, I felt pretty optimistic about what was to come. Then I moved my gun quickly and noticed a problem. There's some critically damaging lag on the processing. Looking straight down my arm and over the sights at the screen and moving my arm, I could see the targeting reticle trail behind where I was pointing as if attached by a rubber band. I didn't give up right there, though. Through the options menu I disabled the reticle and carried on with the test.

Shouldn't green-blooded zombies be vegetarian?

I've grown quite accustomed to nudging the reticle to do my civic duty of exterminating reanimated abominations, as I've been doing so in Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles and long before that, in House of the Dead 3. This feels totally different. I was hoping for something more akin to the light gun experience, but it's different from that, too. Even in the back of the pizzeria with the gun that shoots a few inches to the right of where you're pointing it, you can at least calibrate yourself to aim a little to the left of the target. But the springy trailing of the aim here makes that technique unreliable.

My guess is that the Wii's CPU isn't up to the task of processing the shifted coordinates fast enough to do so in realtime, or Sega's calibration algorithm isn't efficient enough to allow for quick processing. It's not a fault of the Wiimote's hardware, because that's proven fast enough to track the tips of a twirling umbrella with enough time to spare for a speedy computer to project images onto it in synchronized rotation. You'll probably do better playing these games in the arcade or in the uncalibrated mode, but even after calibration, it's pants-wettingly fun. As has been proven through the Resident Evil series, not having intuitive control can add tension to survival horror, and this particular one never becomes frustratingly tense.

Nintendo's been making light gun shooter games since before even getting into the video game business. Before we had flight sticks and racing wheels, the original NES Zapper helped pioneer peripheral-based simulations. The popularity of light gun shooters started to wane, and eventually the genre all but died, thanks in part to unnatural, unforeseen causes. Light gun games of old were dependent on the use of interlaced CRT displays. The move to progressive scan TVs based on LCD, plasma, or DLP technology will have you shooting blanks in Duck Hunt as that giggling mutt adds insult to injury.

You can go ahead and wipe away those tears now, because Nintendo has an acceptable stand-in for the extinct light gun. The Wiimote may not be perfectly accurate for every shot, but its technology holds promise for the future. Plus, you don't have to buy any additional hardware to play. Miyamoto willing, we'll have enough processing power and a similar enough controller design to make the most out of it in the next generation, because I'm really gonna want to shoot the microscopic wings off the HD flies buzzing around the animated corpses in future visits to the House of the Dead.

Every other week, Mike Sylvester brings you REVOLUTIONARY, a look at the wide world of Wii possibilities. Sometimes that look comes from the controller's point of view. Not a lot of people take the time to find out about their controller's interests. For instance, did you know that your Wii guitar has a secret desire to play racing games? Well, you would have known if you would have just asked it! (Or read Revolutionary: Speed Metal.)

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