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Gun Fight (Arcade) artwork

Gun Fight (Arcade) review

"The Power of the Microprocessor"

Gun Fight is a multiplayer arcade shooter, originally released in North America by Midway in November of 1975. The game is a heavily modified conversion of Western Gun, a free-roaming third-person shooter previously released in Japan by Taito in the same year. Designed by Tomohiro Nishikado, who would go on to create the enormously popular Space Invaders a few years later, Western Gun was the first video game to depict combat and violence between human characters. Its North American counterpart, Gun Fight, was designed for Midway by Dave Nutting from Dave Nutting Associates (not to be confused with Nutting Associates, which is the company that produced Computer Space), and is notable for being the first video game to utilize a microprocessor, as opposed to the transistor-transistor logic chips employed by most video arcade games in the early seventies. This allowed for better presentation than previous video games, and was a necessary step in the evolution process of the new entertainment medium.

As was the case with most commercial video games of the time, Gun Fight was designed to be played by two human players, with no option to play against the computer. The game takes place in the Old West, near a dirt road in the American countryside, and simulates a duel between two cowboys armed with revolvers. Each player controls their cowboy with a pair of joysticks. The left joystick makes the cowboy walk or sidestep around the screen in eight directions. The right joystick, which is shaped like the handle of a firearm, changes the direction the cowboy’s revolver is pointing. Finally, a trigger button on the right joystick fires a bullet. The objective of the game is to win more duels than your opponent within the time limit. The time limit can be 60, 70, 80, or 90 seconds, depending on the hardware settings. A single quarter can provide players with anywhere from one to four gameplay sessions to test their skills.

Western Gun had a rather large single-screen playfield in which players could roam around freely. When the game was converted to Gun Fight for the North American market, the playfield’s size was drastically decreased, perhaps for the purpose of speeding up the overall pace of the game. When beginning a gameplay session in Gun Fight, Player 1 appears on the left side of the screen, while Player 2 occupies the right side. Players can move around freely on their respective sides of the playfield, but they cannot cross the invisible boundary dividing both sides. When a player is shot, the other player will earn a point, and a new duel will start. Each player begins a duel with six bullets. If one player runs out of bullets, an additional ten-second time limit will appear next to the main time limit at the top of the screen. If neither player scores before the ten seconds run out, or if both players completely exhaust their bullet supplies, the players’ positions will reset, and their bullets will be refilled, just like when starting a new duel normally. The players’ scores are displayed at the top of the screen, over their respective sides of the playfield, with the time limits between them. The players’ remaining bullet supplies are represented by two arrangements of bullet icons at the bottom left and bottom right areas of the screen.

In order to prevent Gun Fight from being a pure test of the players’ reflexes, the central area of the playfield is littered with numerous obstacles. These include cacti, pine trees, and a covered wagon that constantly moves up and down. Players can temporarily take cover behind these obstacles. The cacti and pine trees can be destroyed by shooting them, but the covered wagon is indestructible. The game always starts with very few obstacles on the playfield, usually just a small cactus or two, but additional ones are added as the players accumulate points. A common strategy for defeating a cowardly opponent is to shoot a bullet at the top or bottom wall of the screen. The bullet will bounce off in a similar manner to the ball from Pong, allowing you to bypass some of the trickier obstacle formations.

At the time of its release, Gun Fight had some of the finest graphics for a commercial video game. Most video games in the early seventies didn’t have the necessary technology for high-quality graphics, so characters and objects were usually represented by simple lines and blocks. Gun Fight was the first commercial video game to have human characters that actually looked like humans. Western Gun also had human characters, but they had a more deformed appearance, not unlike the Little People toys from Fisher-Price. The cowboys in Gun Fight are clearly defined by their hats and boots, and they even have noticeable facial features. The obstacles, such as the cacti, also look exactly like what they’re meant to be. Gun Fight has limited but decent animation, with the cowboys’ feet shuffling back and forth as they move. When a cowboy is shot, he falls over and the quote, “Got me!” appears over his body. The violence is cartoonish in its design, so parents should have no problems letting their kids play.

The only problem with the graphics would be the cowboys’ gun holsters. Gun Fight has monochrome graphics, with white sprites on a black background, accompanied by a yellow screen overlay. The single-color sprites of the cowboys make little distinction between their bodies, clothing, and other items. Each cowboy has one of their hands positioned behind their gun holster, but the single-color sprites make it look like they’re tugging on the back of their pants, or fixing a wedgie. This doesn’t affect the gameplay, but it certainly makes the cowboys look a little sillier than the developers probably intended. This issue would later be fixed in the home ports, which utilized multiple colors for the player characters’ sprites.

Most video arcade games in the early seventies had very limited audio technology, greatly limiting their potential for realistic sound effects. For example, the sound effects in Pong and its numerous copycats usually consisted of simple beeps in various pitches. Occasionally, a racing game such as Gran Trak 10 would come along, featuring a rising “whirr” sound effect for a vehicle’s engine, but for the most part, it seemed like every other arcade game sounded the same. While it still didn’t have a large number of sound effects, Gun Fight was able to stand out from the crowd with its realistic gunshots. The gunshots made fairly loud “pow-pow” noises that may have been pre-recorded. Meanwhile, a “thud” sound would play whenever a bullet hit a player or an obstacle. The home versions of Gun Fight often featured additional sound effects, and even some music, such as a stock dirge jingle when players were shot.

Gun Fight was an excellent demonstration of what the microprocessor could do for video games. While he felt that Western Gun had better gameplay, Tomohiro Nishikado was apparently so impressed with Gun Fight’s superior graphics, he decided to use microprocessors in his future arcade games. Because both games were some of the first to have actual characters instead of abstract lines and blocks, they quickly set new standards in video game design. As for the gameplay itself, Gun Fight is simple enough that anyone can pick up and play, though it obviously has a slightly higher learning curve than Pong. Some possible ways to improve the game would be to add more variety in obstacle and playfield design, refine the cover system, and perhaps add a single-player mode. The latter would later be included as an option in the official sequel to Gun Fight, Boot Hill, in 1977. In conclusion, Gun Fight holds up fairly well for an early third-person shooter, and gives a positive impression of what to expect from future games.


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Community review by Midcore (June 15, 2018)

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honestgamer posted June 18, 2018:

This review reads in a somewhat stilted fashion, but that's not typically an issue in this case because the detached tone also allows for the text to have proper authority (as it should, when you're discussing so much interesting trivia in detail). I felt that the bit about the end, with suggestions for how the game might be improved, felt a bit off because you're talking about a game that has already received at least the one direct sequel you mention, a game also hailing from a franchise that hasn't been updated in years. And yet, I wouldn't have minded seeing a bit more opinion injected throughout, if you felt so inclined. Your bit about tricks to compete against cowardly players was a good example of the sort of thing that might have made the read a bit more lively. Overall, it's a very strong review that I enjoyed reading. I think most readers will, if they approach it from the proper mindset. So while I've pointed to things that didn't feel quite right to me personally, don't think I'm saying the review is faulty. It's clearly not.
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Midcore posted June 19, 2018:

Thanks for the feedback! I sometimes worry if my writing style comes off as lacking in emotion, due to the fact that I generally avoid writing in the first person, but I’m happy to hear that you liked the review.

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