Dania, Florida is a small, insignificant speck when one looks at a map of South Beach. One I called home for nearly half my life. It is essentially a pit stop for people landing at Ft. Lauderdale International Airport looking for a quick bite to eat, before they move on to their actual destination.
Right outside Hollywood Beach, it is a rather poor area near the eastern coast, one of disheartening socioeconomic conditions – ghetto doesn’t quite describe it, but it comes close. Despite this, it is actually a rather infamous area: Ziad Jarrah trained at the US 1 Fitness Center down the road from where I lived, where my father actually worked out at regularly, for two months, learning martial arts and close combat techniques before eventually acting as the pilot for the hijacked United Flight 93 on 9/11. The Darul Uloom mosque he purportedly worshiped at (of which José Padilla was also an attendant) is perhaps two blocks away from my grandmother’s house in Pembroke Pines, where I spent every Christmas at growing up. He lived and ate in these parts, training to carry out the most devastating terrorist attack in human history.
Billy Mitchell lives out here as well. Interesting company, to say the least.
It also happened to be the home of the largest arcade in the entire country: Grand Prix Golf-o-Rama (and probably where Mitchell honed his game at). It was a giant complex with mini-golf courses, go-karts, a roller coaster, and over 1,200 different arcade machines of every generation. And it happened to be half a mile away from me growing up. The odds!
I grew up in arcades during the 90s as that kid on the Mortal Kombat machine, jamming and smashing the buttons in a spastic manner until they had to close it down for the rest of the day to fix all the broken plastic. I was the kid everyone wanted to deck because he wouldn’t get off the cabinets until he had made their innards beg for mercy. I was fond of fighting games, but more of light gun games. I played them all, from the laughably bad Area 51 to the exhilarating Lucky & Wild, as well as obvious classics like House of the Dead and Time Crisis.
However, my absolute favorite is Silent Scope. And when Silent Scope Complete came out for the Xbox, with a gigantic light gun sniper rifle, I knew that shit had to be mine.
If you’ve never heard of Silent Scope, or are too young to have ever stepped into an arcade, then a pail full of pity I give unto you. Silent Scope was separated from other light gun games by the fact that it had a giant rifle strapped onto the cabinet with a magnifying scope to let you zoom in on targets. You were thrown into a number of hostage situations that had you searching for terrorists one by one (ironically enough, since you didn't have to look far to find a real one), in order to eliminate them and rescue these civilians. The scenes would range between office buildings, airplanes, casinos, even amusement parks, and usually ended with having to pick off a target holding a victim at gun point, or with some kind of crazy helicopter boss.
Where the game really stood out was if there were two cabinets linked together, allowing people to face off in a few rounds of very elaborate hide-and-seek. The game would place each player on the opposite end of the same map, leaving them to see who could find the other person first and kill them. If they missed, the other person would leave that spot and move to a new one, starting the hunt for them all over. Once someone was killed, both places were swapped out, and a new round started.
You’d spend a good 4 or 5 minutes slowly sifting through the crowd, looking for your brother in a sea of carnival goers with not a single shot being fired the entire time, until stumbling upon a man looking right at you on the Ferris wheel with a rifle pointed the same way. There never was, and never will be, quite another experience like it. People mourn the damage done to fighting games with the fall of the arcade, but its demise has pretty much destroyed the light gun genre irrevocably.
A few years back, when it was pretty clear that the era of token machines and switchblade combs was coming to an end, Konami released Silent Scope Complete on the Xbox, along with an actual replica of its rifle, the Silent Scope Light Rifle. It may be the closest anyone has come to really developing a light gun that replicates the arcade feel of one.
First and foremost, the scope had a sensor allowing it to trigger a zoomed in mode on screen when you looked through it. It had a nice little analog nub at the top of the handle where your thumb went, lending to easy navigation. A massive stock was provided to lend support and stability when you aimed. Lastly, the barrel and scope of the rifle could be taken off, reducing it to a shotgun with actual pump action. The game itself, Silent Scope Complete, was a compilation of Silent Scope 1, 2, and 3 – a beautiful collection for any fan.
The problem with it though was the same problem all of these games have when you try to transition them into a living room: when you condense a piece of hardware that costs thousands of dollars into a cheap plastic version, you’re going to lose some stuff. Note that I mentioned that the scope zoomed in on screen. The scope had no actual lens like on the cabinet, making you feel a little ridiculous aiming through what was essentially a hollow tube. Furthermore, the mechanism that set off this function could be wild, randomly setting itself off at even the slightest thing passing by its sensor. You also had to kick up your television’s brightness so far up in order for it to register that it was more enjoyable to sit outside and aim at the sun for half an hour than to actually play the game.
And It was $50. Just for the gun.
There was no online whatsoever, despite Xbox Live already hosting a number of successful online games. The thrilling versus multiplayer therefore had to be reduced to split screen shenanigans, requiring two of these overpriced pool sticks in order to capture the “true feel” of the game (which was a lost cause before you even opened up the box).
After playing with it for the first few hours, I turned the Xbox off and thought a bit about my purchasing habits. It was a hard lesson. Silent Scope was dead. Light gun games were dead. Arcades were dead. Fighting games would continue on and even experience a resurgence, but this shit was gone. Nothing could emulate anything even remotely resembling the feeling gotten from firing off a pink and blue pistol in each hand while onlookers watched you posture and gesticulate like a douchebag. The nature of the genre itself demanded it. These were horrible games of limited mechanics spanning only a few hours. Their only appeal was of firing off a giant weapon in front of a crowd of people.
Yet there I was, sitting alone in my room with a piece of crap worth all my birthday money.
So that’s why I don’t buy light gun games anymore.