The games industry is a young industry, in the grand scheme of things, and like any of us it has a few moments in its past where it will look back and cringe with embarrassment. Our Gaming Fail series celebrates all these aberrations for what they are; glorious failures; gaming follies of the grandest order.
As part of the series we’ve covered some pretty flawed concepts; from the banality of the photographic “fun” of the Gameboy Camera to the frankly painful idea of using your eyebrows to play games with the Atari Mindlink.
Today’s entry, however, is flawed in its own very special way.
Like many of the entries in our list, the LaserScope, released by Konami in 1990, sounded pretty promising as a concept. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a headset that you could wear that provided you with a futuristic-style crosshair target over one eye and allowed you to fire without even having to pull a trigger? I mean, come on, that would be amazing. You could live out all your sci-fi fighter pilot fantasies!
However, reality proved, unsurprisingly, to fall some way short of our imaginations (shocking right?)
The actual headset looked exceptionally Super Nintendo. Anyone who was around at the time of Nintendo’s superlative machine and is familiar with its range of peripherals will be able to imagine what this think will look like. Imagine exactly what you think a SNES headset would look like and that’s pretty much exactly what the LaserScope looks like.
All chunky grey blocks, lightly rounded edges and chunky sticker decals, the device didn’t so much scream sci-fi so much as it screamed ‘Ouch my head is in a vice!’. Add to this the protruding arm to house the crosshairs device and you’re completing a sum that adds up to one…spectacular… bit of kit.
Ok, let’s be honest, what you actually look like is a disappointing cyborg call-centre operator, but hey, you don’t have to look at yourself while gaming; gaming’s all about the playing right? And the LaserScope surely delivers on that front right?
Well, I’m sorry to have to break this to you, reader with surprisingly optimistic expectations considering they’re reading a Gaming Fail article, but the LaserScope was, if anything, less effective than its design made out.
Let’s consider that for a moment…. It managed to work less well than it looked… ouch…
The basic mechanic was a simple one. You looked through the crosshairs and when the target was between those markers you fired. But how did you fire? There’s no obvious trigger mechanism and no obvious buttons on the headset to press.
Well, you see that rather prominent microphone stalk in the picture? Yep, that’s right; we have ourselves a verbal trigger! Decades before the Nintendo DS had you blowing into a mic in Phantom Hourglass, Konami had you yelling ‘Fire’ in your own living room, repeatedly, to shoot offending sprites.
Well, that was the idea anyway. The problem was that audio technology, especially at video game consumer level, at time was fairly rudimentary, meaning that the sensors listened for a change in volume/noise levels rather than a specific word. What that meant was that you could make the device fire my saying anything, making any sort of noise or, indeed, just being near any sort of background noise. Think the Kinect is a bit hit or miss? The LaserScope makes it look like Cortana compared to its rather broad definition of ‘Fire’. There were even reports of the sound effects from the console itself setting the thing off. Self-playing console gaming anyone?
Suffice to say, Konami’s LaserScope was less than successful. The aforementioned aesthetic and practical issues, combined with a rather limited range of compatible games ensured that the device sunk into obscurity.
Nowadays the unit has become something of a collector’s item, often selling for more than $100 on Ebay and such auction sites.
The Konami LaserScope may not be one of the great gaming peripherals. It may not even be remembered by many gamers these days. But it does go down in gaming history as one of the most flawed implementations of a basically flawed premise to be released into the public domain. The idea of a voice-activated laser gun headset was inherently flawed at best and almost guaranteed an entry into the Gaming Fail archives, but you have to take your hat off to Konami for quite such a brilliantly flawed execution.
The LaserScope may have little in the way of redeeming features, but in hindsight it brings a smile to your face and, really, isn’t that part of what gaming is all about?
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at email@example.com