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Sinden Lightgun – p. tite as it stands

By Shepton on October 15, 2022 in Sheptro

There was a period of my childhood when I had a Namco Guncon and played a ton of Time Crisis and Point Blank on PS1. Today, sucking on the comfortable tit of nostalgia, I want to revisit those games.

Trouble is, those old lightguns don’t work on modern screens, they only work on CRTs, and I don’t have a CRT right now. Options are limited, but they do exist. Two main ones: Sinden, or GUN4IR. The latter is harder to obtain at the moment so today I’ma talk at you about the Sinden, because I just got a couple of ’em and I’ve been trying them out.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Sinden, it’s a USB gun that’s effectively a camera with a trigger that connects to your computer (or raspberry pi arcade emulation setup, etc), you run the Sinden software, and by applying a border around the outside edge of your screen it can detect its boundaries so it can function as a mouse. And with it functioning as a mouse, you can set up the button assignments in your emulator to let it act as a controller, thereby playing lightgun games with it. Might sound like a lot of hoops to jump through, but there it is. It’s that or get a CRT, and I know which I’d prefer, but circumstances do not presently allow. Moving on.

The software itself is fine. It’s a pretty basic single window with tabs of various settings. It’s pretty customizable, but generally speaking you really don’t need to adjust much at all. All I had to do was tweak a couple of button assignments, and I also did a totally optional firmware update. But hey, customization options are always cool. One major thing worth mentioning is that the software can’t handle two guns at once – for two player you need to literally have two separate instances of the software. That’s easy to do, but definitely clumsy. The current beta version of the software supports two guns though, so that issue soon won’t be a factor.

So while the software itself is fine and usable, with improvements on the way to address the inconvenience of two player options, there are additional things to consider: You also have to set up whatever emulators you’re using them with. Emulators by themselves can be a pain in the cunt depending on which one you’re using, and options are a little bit limited when it comes to compatibility with the Sinden specifically. Fortunately most major and popular ones should work okay. I tested these with Duckstation (PS1) and Flycast (Dreamcast). There are other options but those two seem to be the most straight-forward in terms of being able to set up these guns as controllers while also supporting two at once (because some emulators can only handle one at a time, meaning no two player support).

Here’s where it gets annoying with the emulator setup: It’s never just simple or easy. There are hoops to jump through.

There’s a wiki that provides some details and instructions for setting up the guns and a variety of different emulators with them, but the wiki is inconsistently written and edited by various contributors who put varying degrees of effort and professionalism into their documentation, and the majority of video guides are by this one English guy who is anything but knowledgeable about computers or the software he’s providing the guides for.

Don’t get me wrong there, I’m not saying that to be insulting. I appreciate anybody who’s willing to put in the time to make guides of any kind. But the guy in those videos is essentially just showing you his own settings that he uses in various emulators, and he isn’t able to explain why certain things do or don’t work, or why you might want to do one thing over another, meaning several minutes in his guides are often boiled down to “you can just ignore this page… maybe you’d want to do stuff here but not me.”

As for the guns themselves, first off let’s go over aesthetics to get it out of the way. They’re pretty decent looking – clearly they take inspiration from the Namco Guncon and the Judge Dredd Lawgiver in their overall style. Big, chunky, heavy looking, imposing. It’s a pretty cool look, and of course feels familiar. The nostalgia runs thick.

Comparison of Sinden lightgun to the Japanese Namco Guncon.
Top: Sinden. Bottom: Namco Guncon. Very similar proportions and style. I know which one I think is more stylish, but you know what they say about beauty I guess.

They also feel nicely weighty – I got the version of the Sinden that has recoil, and that big solenoid has a heavy metal rod in it which adds quite a bit of weight, as well as an enormous capacitor in the grip that I’m fairly certain is part of the recoil system, so I’m sure that without the recoil the overall weight would be reduced by quite a lot. With the recoil, it’s very much heavier than the Guncon. Without, I imagine the weight would be very similar.

I do have a couple of gripes with the body of the gun. Firstly, the plastic shell of the gun is in two halves with a seam running down the middle, which is pretty standard manufacturing process, no big deal. Problem is the trigger guard rests on top of your middle finger and that plastic seam rubs on your skin pretty harsh. Sustained playing sessions could absolutely result in blisters or raw skin. I’m thinking I’m gonna at least take some fine grit sandpaper to that trigger guard on my guns, but I’m also considering options to maybe even add some soft padding under the trigger guard because even if the seam wasn’t there the guard itself still feels kinda tight against my second finger, the weight of the gun is a contributing factor there.

Second gripe I have is with the grip itself. It’s kinda thick and also particularly square – ordinarily you’d expect a gun’s grip to taper at the front and back for ergonomic reasons, but this one is as thick at the front and back, and with the corners being basically square it isn’t the most comfortable to hold. To be honest, I think the grip is pretty bad. You had the Guncon as inspiration and somehow didn’t even copy its comfortable grip? Why?

Take those criticisms with a pinch of salt though because I’m fairly certain I have smaller than average hands. I’m also a fussy bitch. So yeah, minor nitpicks in the grand scheme of things, far from deal breakers but enough to make me consider all kinds of DIY ways to make these things more comfortable. But honestly, come on, it’s 2022, harsh plastic seams have been a thing of the past for decades on high quality products and it does make the Sindens feel very cheap compared to their predecessors.

The buttons are acceptable, but also suffer from that feeling of cheapness. It’s like a third party controller that never feels as good as the real thing. But the trigger feels great, and that’s what you’ll be using most. It has a nice pull and a satisfying click. After opening it up I think it should even be fairly straight forward to adjust the tightness of the trigger pull if you wanted to customize your gun to your personal tastes. The pump action handle feels just okay, but it’s an awesome option to have for reloading instead of just shooting outside the screen. I think it feels a little too flimsy, the action is a little too light and there’s barely any travel. But that’s to be expected when you’re putting a shotgun feature on a pistol frame I guess. Like with the trigger, I think you could tighten things up to make the pump action a little more satisfying – maybe putting in a stronger spring would help here if you wanted to make your own gun’s pump action a little stiffer.

That’s enough about the superficial stuff. Let’s talk functionality. As I mentioned up top, these are USB devices designed for use on computers and raspberry pi emulation setups. When I first tried the guns I was using them on my older PC which is hooked up to a 4k TV. When I say “older PC” I’m talking Nvidia 1080 and an overclocked i5-6600K – so it’s a few generations back but still much more powerful than a raspberry pi. So it was kinda surprising to me that I actually had performance issues with the guns on that setup. Accuracy and responsiveness were NOT good at all, there was some fairly substantial jitter, sometimes shots didn’t register or went places that I absolutely was not aiming. However, I don’t think the computer was the problem.

I could play Time Crisis on that setup, but not very well. The game ran perfectly fine, but my accuracy rating was like 30% and I knew it wasn’t just because I suck. I tried my second Sinden, same situation. Then I turned on the in-emulator cursor so that I could see where the gun was aiming and, sure enough, it was all over the place. At certain specific times in Time Crisis (notably when the overall color of the screen changed due to the scenery changes in game) the lightgun would get confused and the cursor would start just drawing an L shape and moving independently from the gun. Clearly there were some sync issues.

I haven’t completely diagnosed those issues yet, but I have theories. First theory, maybe the USB ports I had the guns plugged into weren’t fast enough. The ports I was using are USB 3.0, but I can’t rule out that maybe they aren’t running properly at USB 3.0 speeds. But much more likely, the TV just isn’t an ideal option for this kind of hardware. It’s a big-ass 60hz 4k TV that’s a good three or four years old. Of course I have it set to game mode since the moment I bought it, and 60hz should be fast enough for the guns to operate just fine. That said, maybe overall it wasn’t bright enough to really give a clear boundary for the guns. The TV does also have a window either side of it and perhaps the light from those windows could have been giving the guns a difficult time determining which source of light they should be focusing on. It’s worth mentioning that the guns worked quite a lot better with House of the Dead 2, but still not as good as I would have hoped.

After that initial experience I was unimpressed. I was worried I’d just dropped several hundred dollars on two lumps of cheaply pressed plastic that I’d end up tossing in my controller box never to use again. But I wasn’t done trying stuff, and I decided to give them a shot in my more recent, much more buff gaming computer, on a significantly faster monitor (2080ti, i9-9900K, 144hz monitor. So still not the most cutting edge or anything at this point since I built this rig in 2019, but a big step up from the 2016 computer I first tried them on).

Fuckin’ bingo. They immediately worked and were better than I’d even hoped for. Accurate, consistent, precise. Tried multiple games and they all passed the test with flying colors. I’m having tons of fun playing old favorites and also a bunch of shooters that I’d never played before. If there’s any latency or lag, it’s far too little to actually feel it or notice it in any way. My strong suspicion is that the TV was the main culprit in why they weren’t functioning so well on my first attempt – I’m gonna have to do more testing and if I ever diagnose the specific problem I’ll come back and update these notes.

So would I recommend getting a Sinden if you’re into lightgun games? Well if you’ve been paying attention so far you’ll know my answer to that is gonna be a little complex.

First, the Sinden is a pretty expensive and somewhat hit-or-miss solution to a very specific problem where other options are available. Let’s chat about some of those options real quick.

The absolute best option? Get yourself a decent CRT TV and play this stuff on original hardware. It’s always going to be better, faster, and more satisfying that way. Don’t believe me? You’re dumb, go ahead and try it for yourself and you’ll see. Or just don’t, and be wrong. Ain’t no skin off my back. I’ll just sit here being right.

If getting a CRT isn’t an option, that’s fine because CRTs aren’t a simple thing to just get a hold of these days for most people. Depending on your location they can be rare and expensive, not to mention they’re heavy and awkward besides. So you can choose between the main two options for modern lightgun alternatives: the Sinden or the GUN4IR. I’ve not tried a GUN4IR myself because they’re much harder to obtain than the Sinden at the moment. They also function differently – where the Sinden uses a camera and software to apply a border around the edge of your screen, the GUN4IR uses infrared sensors like the Wii remote (but 4 of them, so it’s much more precise).

There are a few benefits to that – the GUN4IR is effectively not a single standardized product but really a kit that you can put together yourself. It’s an IR camera that you can install into either a pre-purchased gun shell, or even a device of your own design if you so choose (though you can of course also purchase pre-made complete guns with the kit already installed). The IR nature of it also means you don’t need to force a border to display around your screen to make it function, and the product’s creators boast that it also means you only need to calibrate it on initial setup and never again. That’s a drawback of the Sinden, you still have to re-calibrate sometimes. Though I have to say the concept of never calibrating again gives me doubts – you’re really telling me that it’ll function flawlessly after initial calibration and never go even a half inch out of sync? I mean, I’m never gonna be in exactly the same place at exactly the same distance from my TV, so surely I’ll have to re-calibrate sometimes. Hmm.

Even with those doubts though, if the GUN4IR was more readily available I would probably have gone with that over the Sinden if I’m being honest. The pros of it certainly make it sound appealing – no borders on my screen and no need for regular calibration? Yeah, that’s huge. But I can’t speak for the claimed accuracy and convenience of the GUN4IR because I don’t have one, but I do think an IR system would be absolutely more accurate and consistent than an actual camera looking at a border on a screen and processing that through software.

All that said though, I’m ultimately very pleased with the Sinden. They work great once you get past the initial setup and tweak your emulators to get them functioning right. But that setup can be a turnoff to some – it honestly isn’t too bad, but it’s not a pleasant experience and is far more clumsy than it need be.

At the end of the day, if you’re selling any kind of tech hardware, you’ve really gotta come correct with your documentation. The folks in the community that support these devices are clearly very passionate and enthusiastic to the point of helping maintain a wiki and making basic video guides for it, but you can’t just rely on your community for that stuff. I’d say it’s long past time that Sinden invested in someone to write, record, edit, and maintain professional documentation for their product. That is basic. But of course there’s also the fact that Sinden themselves are just creating the gun and the software to have it run on your computer – they have no control over the countless emulators that ultimately run the games, so, I guess for that aspect a wiki is all we can hope for. And I suppose the community is pretty small, all things considered. Can’t be that many people who desperately need a lightgun for modern screens so they can play Time Crisis or whatever. I’m in what must be a tiny section of a Venn diagram for this scenario.

Anyway – getting a Sinden? Sure, if you don’t have original hardware and a CRT, and enjoy lightgun games enough to drop a couple hundo on a Sinden, or you want a modern arcade shooting setup or something, then by all means, it’s a solid option. Be willing to put in a little time with the setup and be prepared to change a few settings every now and then since every game has some caveats and weirdness to consider.

Edit: Forgot to mention! You can get pedals for the Sinden as well, which honestly would be really cool to have. The official Sinden pedals really look sick as hell but they’re pretty much just as costly as the guns themselves, so that sucks. I’ll pass on one switch with a sheet of metal on it that costs over $200 thanks, I’ll just make my own instead.

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