Codex Gamicus

Western Gun,[1][2] also known as Gun Fight in North America, is a 1975 arcade shooter game designed by Tomohiro Nishikado,[3] and released by Taito in Japan[1] and Europe.[2] It was a historically significant game.[4] It was the first on-foot shooter, the first on-foot multi-directional shooter, introduced human combat, was the first open-world video game, and the first action/adventure video game. It was also the first tactical shooter, with elements of real-time strategy/tactics.

The theme of the game involves two Old West cowboys armed with revolvers and squaring off in a duel. Whoever shoots the other cowboy first wins the duel. Unlike in a real-life duel, however, both cowboys get numerous opportunities to duel in order to score points (one point per successful draw).[1] The game was included in GameSpy's "Hall of Fame" in 2002.[5]

Gameplay and story[]

Western Gun (1975) was the first on-foot shooter and the first open-world video game.

Western Gun was the first on-foot, multi-directional shooter,[1] that could be played in single-player or two-player. It also introduced video game violence, being the first video game to depict human-to-human combat,[6] and the first to depict a gun on screen.[1] The game also introduced dual-stick controls,[7] using two distinct joystick controls per player, with one eight-way joystick for moving the computerized cowboy around on the screen and the other for changing the shooting direction.[1][8] Unlike later games, Western Gun has the main joystick on the right instead of the left. It was also the first known video game to feature game characters and fragments of story through its visual presentation, marking the beginning of cinematic elements in video games.[3][9] The player characters used in the game represented avatars for the players,[6] and would yell "Got me!" when one of them is shot.[9]

Other features of the game included obstacles between the characters, such as a cactus,[10] and in later levels, pine trees and moving wagons; these objects serve to provide cover for the players and can be destructible. The guns have limited ammunition, with each player given six bullets; a round ends if both players run out of ammo.[4] Gunshots can also ricochet off the top or bottom edges of the playfield, allowing for indirect hits to be used as a possible strategy.[4][10]

The original Western Gun was the first open-world video game, and the first action-adventure game. The two cowboy gunslingers had free-roaming movement across a single-screen open-world environment, littered with cacti and mountains while attempting to shoot each other. Bullets ricochet off objects, allowing them to be used as a cover system.[2] This gave the game an element of real-time strategy, or real-time tactics, making it the first tactical shooter.

Development and technology[]

Taito employee Tomohiro Nishikado designed Western Gun as a character-based game with fragments of a story. While it lacked the cutscenes or fleshed-out character designs of later games due to technological limitations, the game presented early cinematic elements, through artwork of cowboys in the Wild West on the video game arcade cabinet which matched the in-game graphics featuring cacti, covered wagons, rocks, and human characters. In contrast to earlier games which used miniature shapes to represent abstract blocks or spaceships, Western Gun featured cartoon-like human characters, influenced by Japanese manga.[3] In addition, in contrast to previous arcade video games such as Pong that produced blip sounds, Gun Fight featured the use of a one-channel amplifier to provide mono gunshot sounds.[11]

Tomohiro Nishikado's original Western Gun design was based on discrete logic, like most arcade video games of the time.[3]

Gun Fight[]

Main article: Gun Fight

It had an altered North American version, Gun Fight, released by Midway Games in 1975.[1][3] Gun Fight was a success in the arcades.[6][12]

Gun Fight was a major video game hit for its time,[3] selling more than 8,000 cabinets in the US.[1] Following a flood of Pong clones, Gun Fight helped revitalize a declining arcade video game industry that was flooded with Pong clones.[13] Its success also opened the way for Japanese video games in the North American market.[14] It was also the first video game to use a microprocessor.[14] It was soon ported to the Bally Astrocade video game console[6] as a built-in game[15] in 1977[16] as well as several home computer platforms,[4][17] and has been referred to as "the Halo of its day."[18]


The North American version Gun Fight introduced a microprocessor, allowing more detailed larger sprite graphics and smoother animation, but limited the gameplay. In Gun Fight, each player's movement was limited to their own side of the screen, whereas the original Japanese Western Gun had free-roaming movement across anywhere on the screen. Gun Fight also reduced the scale of the environment, with mountains no longer being present.

Nishikado believed that his original version Western Gun was more fun, but was impressed with the improved graphics and smoother animation of Midway's version Gun Fight.[19] This led him to design microprocessors into his subsequent games, including the blockbuster 1978 shoot 'em up hit Space Invaders.[9]


  • Western Gun (1975)
  • Gun Fight (1975)
  • Gunman (1977)[20]
  • Boot Hill (1977)
  • Sheriff (1979)
  • Western Gun Part II (1979)

Popular culture[]

The game's opening chiptune[21] is sampled by the hit 1978 song "Computer Game" by Yellow Magic Orchestra.[22]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Stephen Totilo (August 31, 2010). In Search Of The First Video Game Gun. Kotaku. Retrieved on 2011-03-27
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Western Gun. The Arcade Flyer Archive. Arcade Museum. Retrieved on 2011-04-02
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Chris Kohler (2005), "Chapter 2: An Early History of Cinematic Elements in Video Games", Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life, BradyGames, p. 18, ISBN 0744004241,, retrieved 2011-03-27, "Meanwhile, Nishikado at Taito was developing character-based games like Western Gun, which was released in the US, by Midway, as Gunfight. Few American players knew at the time that they were playing a Japanese game, but the difference was clear. Taito was adding characters and fragments of a story. This is not to say that Western Gun had story sequences or fleshed-out character designs, but it had artwork of wild west cowboys on the cabinet, and the in-game graphics, with cacti, covered wagons, rocks, and player-characters that identifiably human, matched the out-of-game artwork. Gunfight became Midway's first major video game hit. Its popularity could certainly be attributed to its originality amongst a field of identical games. What made it original was its use of human characters in a modern setting. Rather than miniature shapes that represented either spaceships or abstract blocks, Gunfight featured almost cartoonish humans. The original Japanese advertisement flyers for Western Gun showed that these were video game versions of Japanese manga characters. Of course, these manga style drawings were not used in the US, and even if they were, nobody would know they were Japanese — how could cowboys be Japanese, anyway?" 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Western Gun at Allgame via the Wayback Machine
  5. Cassidy, William (May 6, 2002). Gun Fight. GameSpy. Retrieved on 3 December 2011
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Shirley R. Steinberg (2010), Shirley R. Steinberg, Michael Kehler, Lindsay Cornish, ed., Boy Culture: An Encyclopedia, 1, ABC-CLIO, p. 451,, retrieved 2011-04-02 . ISBN 0313350809.
  7. Brian Ashcraft & Jean Snow (2008), Arcade Mania: The Turbo-charged World of Japan's Game Centers, Kodansha International . ISBN 4770030789.
  8. Western Gun at Museum of the Game
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Chris Kohler (2005), "Chapter 2: An Early History of Cinematic Elements in Video Games", Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life, BradyGames, p. 19,, retrieved 2011-03-27 . ISBN 0744004241.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Rusel DeMaria & Johnny L. Wilson (2003), High score! The illustrated history of electronic games (2 ed.), McGraw-Hill Professional, pp. 24–5,, retrieved 2011-04-02 . ISBN 0072231726.
  11. McDonald, Glenn. [ A Brief Timeline of Video Game Music]. GameSpot. Retrieved on 25 May 2011
  12. I. M. Stoned (2009), Weed: 420 Things You Didn't Know (Or Remember) About Cannabis, Adams Media, p. 158, ISBN 1440503494,, retrieved 2011-04-02, "Before you assume it required you to type things in like “Go North” or “Examine Corpse,” you should know that Gun Fight was the Halo of its day." 
  13. Kubey, Craig (April 1982). The winners' book of video games. p. 253. "Its Gun Fight and Sea Wolf games, introduced in 1975 and 1976, helped revitalize a weak industry that had over-bought Pong-style games and then had nothing with which to follow them." 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Steve L. Kent (2001), The ultimate history of video games: from Pong to Pokémon and beyond : the story behind the craze that touched our lives and changed the world, p. 64, Prima, ISBN 0761536434
  15. Mini-micro systems, Volume 11. Cahners Publishing. 1978. p. 46. Retrieved 12 February 2012. 
  16. Gunfight (Astrocade). GameFAQs. Retrieved on 12 February 2012
  17. Atarimania - Arcade Classics: Sea Wolf II / Gun Fight. Retrieved on 2011-02-01
  18. I. M. Stoned (2009), Weed: 420 Things You Didn't Know (Or Remember) About Cannabis, Adams Media, p. 158, ISBN 1440503494,, retrieved 2011-04-02, "Before you assume it required you to type things in like “Go North” or “Examine Corpse,” you should know that Gun Fight was the Halo of its day." 
  19. Chris Kohler (2005), Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life, BradyGames, p. 19, "As a game, I thought our version of Western Gun was more fun. But just from using a microprocessor, the walking animation became much smoother and prettier in Midway's version." . ISBN 0744004241.
  20. Gunman at Museum of the Game
  21. This links to a channel or video on YouTube Gun Fight
  22. This links to a channel or video on YouTube Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) - Computer Games