Test ROM for NES Zapper with 2-player air hockey simulator
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README.md

Zap Ruder

Zap Ruder is a Zapper test program.

Background

On November 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder used a Bell & Howell 8mm camera to shoot a 27-second silent short film of President John F. Kennedy's limousine and managed to catch his assassination by a sniper. The developed film was used in the investigation of this heinous murder.

The Zapper is a light gun for the NES made by Nintendo, commonly used for the game Duck Hunt. Just as Zapruder's camera recorded light from the scene, the Zapper works by measuring light from the TV. It contains a trigger switch and a photosensor that detects whether or not the barrel is aimed at a bright area on the screen.

The photosensor is connected to a resonator that distinguishes light from a CRT SDTV, which flickers at the 15.7 kHz scan rate, from any other light source. As soon as it detects the appropriate rate, it activates a signal on the controller port. Because this time is proportional to how far down the barrel is pointed, one can think of this signal as using pulse-position modulation. By using timed code, the NES CPU can count how long it takes between the start of a frame and when the photosensor begins to receive light and estimate the barrel's position that way.

But very few NES homebrew games use the Zapper. I suspect that this might have three causes:

  1. Proliferation of LCD HDTVs, as the Zapper's photosensor works only with the CRT SDTVs popular during the NES's commercial era.
  2. Little published source code for how to make the most of the Zapper.
  3. Inaccurate emulation of the Zapper in popular emulators.

Cause 1 will only get worse, but I released Russian Roulette as a tech demo of reading the trigger only. Zap Ruder aims to solve cause 2 and provide test cases for solving cause 3.

This demo is for NTSC NES and NTSC TV. It should also run on RGB modded NES or a modded Vs. Duck Hunt. It might even work on PAL famiclones such as Dendy for what it's worth. But expect noticeable mistracking on a PAL NES due to a different CPU clock ratio.

The menu

The menu demonstrates the common technique of flickering the targets to determine which target the player is pointing at. When the photosensor is moved from a dark area to a light area, the menu darkens the left column and the right column in sequence. Then it measures how far down the photosensor is using the "yonoff" kernel (see below).

If this menu doesn't track well on your TV or your emulator, you can use the Control Pad of the controller in port 1 instead.

Technical tests

All tests use a gun in port 2 and a standard controller in port 1 unless otherwise specified. All tracking tests use the "yonoff" kernel, which indicates how far down the screen the brightness started and stopped being detected for the gun in port 2, unless otherwise specified.

Basic tracking tests use a dithered background of two colors. Hue is 0 (gray) or 1-12 (color), and brightness is 0 to 8. Pattern tests use solid-colored objects; brightness can be set only to odd values. The colors can also be used to calibrate an NTSC TV's tint knob: 4 should be magenta (R=B, minimal G), and 10 should be green (G, minimal R=B). Pulling the trigger twice rapidly will close each tracking test.

Y tracking

Most of the screen is filled with flat dither whose brightness and hue can be adjusted.

Two-gun Y tracking

Kernel: yon2p (dual gun)

Most of the screen is filled with flat dither whose brightness and hue can be adjusted. This test indicates the start of brightness for guns in both controller ports; the end of brightness is not measured.

X tracking

Kernel: xyon

Most of the screen is filled with flat dither whose brightness and hue can be adjusted. This test indicates both the horizontal and vertical position of the start of brightness, though the horizontal position is very noisy.

The intent of this experimental kernel was to estimate the horizontal position in 18-pixel units, but noise caused the actual detection onset to vary by six units. Thus this kernel isn't very useful.

Pattern tests

Most of the screen is filled with vertical or horizontal line patterns whose brightness and hue can be adjusted, but brightness can be set only to odd values (which correspond to flat colors).

1 of 8, 2 of 8, 3 of 8, 4 of 8 5 of 8, 6 of 8, 7 of 8, 8 of 8 1 of 4, 2 of 4, 3 of 4, 1 of 2

Color can be set to any hue and odd brightness; the rest is black.

Ball tests

In the center of the screen is a circle whose size, brightness, and hue can be adjusted, to show how small of a target the photosensor can reliably detect. As with the vertical and horizontal line pattern tests, brightness can be set only to odd values.

Trigger test

The Zapper contains a mechanism to release the trigger switch once the trigger is pulled all the way, but one can keep the switch on by holding the trigger halfway. This is a simple test that counts how long the trigger switch on the gun in port 2 is held before it is released. This is the only test that works on an HDTV.

Because the Zapper pulls the trigger down harder than the Control Deck can pull it back up, the switch will usually appear active for at least 5 frames.

Toys

Axe

Point the gun at the screen to play notes. Pitch is proportional to height on a pentatonic scale. Create rhythm by covering and uncovering the barrel. Axe will store your performance and echo it back to you eight measures later. Hold the trigger halfway to change the timbre; press it quickly to accent a note.

To exit, shoot offscreen twice.

Games

ZapPing

Kernel: yon2p (dual gun)

You've played Pong, the primitive air hockey simulator that was the first popular video game. You may have played Odyssey, which was Pong before Pong was cool. You may have even played FlapPing for Atari 2600. But it is the 2010s, and there is time for ZapPing. It manages to coax a control feel nearly as smooth as a Wii Remote from 1985 technology. But the basic rule of air hockey still lies unchanged: avoid missing ball for high score.

At the title screen, press A or pull the trigger to join. Press the button again to play against the NES, or press the button on the other controller to play with two players.

The two player characters are named Podge, in gray, and Daffle, in red. These correspond to the two colors of Zapper that Nintendo has sold, both before and after a change to United States toy safety regulations.

Move your paddle up and down with the Zapper or by pressing Up or Down on the Control Pad. A players with a Zapper will have an unfair advantage over a player with a controller, just as first-person shooter players with a mouse have an advantage over players with an Xbox 360 controller. Just remember not to point your Zapper off the big green table because it will stop tracking until you point it at the table again. (Arkanoid controllers are not yet supported due to lack of time, and Power Glove controllers are not supported yet due to lack of hardware with which to test. Donations are welcome.)

Each player serves the ball with the A button or the trigger for two balls before passing. The game speeds up gradually. When you miss the ball, the other player gets a point, and the next serve will lose some speed but quickly catch up. The winner is the player with at least 11 points and ahead by two, except at 20-20, 21 always wins.

To exit, press B on controller 1 at the title screen, or press Reset if two guns are connected.

Contact

Apart from filing an issue, the most reliable ways to contact the maintainer about Zap Ruder are by replying to a topic on NESdev BBS or by leaving comments on the project's talk page.

Legal

Copyright 2012 Damian Yerrick

Copying and distribution of this file, with or without modification, are permitted in any medium without royalty provided the copyright notice and this notice are preserved in all source code copies. This file is offered as-is, without any warranty.