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MACS Multi-purpose Arcade Combat Simulator (SNES)

The reviews on this site are the text versions of the videos on my YouTube channel. The text based reviews use (if at all) very little pictures. Please follow the link to the corresponding video in order to see in game graphics.

MACS stands for multi-purpose arcade combat simulator. It is a light gun based training system for soldiers. It is intended to be used in places lacking the personnel and material resources to have sufficient shooting training. The development began in 1982. Initially the software ran on an Apple II+ computers. Later MACS was ported to the Commodore C64 because of its sprite and sound capabilities. Going from difficult to set up systems using floppy disks to a cartridge based systems was also considered an advantage. The C64 version consisted of several programs, all written in BASIC. The main MACS software consisted of 614 lines program code. With the rise of IBM compatible computers MACS went back on to floppy disks. The software ran now on the DOS operating system. Finally MACS was ported to the Super Nintendo Entertainment system. In this form it was still very capable concerning graphics and sounds, yet it was easy to set up and durable. Therefore it comes to no surprise that the MACS system was used well into the Noughties, giving the project a twenty years plus lifespan.

In episode 28 I already mentioned the light guns which were used for the SNES version of MACS. Real J├Ąger AP74 rifles were turned into light guns, by attaching a light pen onto the barrel. These light guns are very rare and highly collectable. Therefore the preserved ROMs of the SNES versions were never played by enthusiasts as they lacked the rifle. I decided to change that and developed light gun adapters, which allow people to use very common light guns instead. First I did an adapter for the Sega Light Phaser, for which I already made a plethora of adapters and which I know a little. While it does work, personally I think it is not suited for a high precision shooting training, which was developed with rifle shooting from a supported position in mind. The reading of the X position is just not accurate enough. In this animation hopefully I can show, why it is more difficult to measure the X position than it is to measure the Y position. Light guns work on the detection of light relative to the moment of time. A monitor builds the image with an electron cannon. It starts from the top left corner, shoots a pixel, moves on to the right until all columns are finished and then goes down a row to the left most pixel and continues. X and Y screen positions are readings of light at specific moments in time. Each time bin corresponds to a screen position identity. As you can see the time bins for Y positions are much larger than these of X positions. The Y position identity changes in this example every 11 pixels. In strong contrast the X position identity changes every single pixel. Now imagine that the light signal is noisy and not very sharp. It comes to no surprise that the X reading will bear a higher uncertainty than the Y reading. For light gun games of their native era it shouldn't be a problem as these games were made with the limitations in mind. Developers would make the hit boxes sufficiently wide and would avoid too narrow targets all together.

I solved the problem by stepping up one console generation or two to more sophisticated electronics which are more capable reading screen positions. I invented this adapter, which should allow the user to connect a Nintendo Super Scope as MACS light gun. It should be connected to the IR transceiver. As I don't own a Super Scope, I am unable to test it. However this adapter will work with all wired Super Scope compatible light guns for sure such as the Turbo gun or a Virtua gun modified according to the schematics shown in episode 28. This special Stunner gun was invented by mirco a user in the circuit-board.de community.

The Stunner has a very acceptable level of noise but its aiming is of. Pressing A and select on controller one will bring the user to a calibration screen. The soldier would then have adjusted the light pen which is connected to port two with a screwdriver for elevation and windage. Personally I taped a second set of cardboard sights on to the gun in a manner that gives me a decent zero position. Pressing A allows the player to select a subset of levels and other settings.

The used rifle is semi automatic and the stock of ammunition is limited. The simulation consists of nine levels plus a rifle zeroing section at the beginning. All levels but level nine are supposed to be played twice: once from a supported position and once without support. In the first pair of levels targets are placed at ascending distances. The player has to shoot at least two of three targets at every distance. The screen position of the gun is tracked over the whole time. After firing a shot, a replay animation is presented, which shows where the player aimed at, how calm the gun was held and whether the player shivered while pressing the trigger. The performance is then rated in each category. The shot groups for each distance are shown after a level is finished. Levels three and four are similar as before but from now on each target has a time limit and thus disappears after a while. The required accuracy is also higher as this time three of four targets have to be hit at each distance. Although the replay is still shown at level three, it is not present anymore in the on following levels. In levels five and six the targets appear without a specific order. If multiple targets are on screen at the same time, the nearer ones have to be shot first in order to avoid a penalty. 15 of 20 targets have to be hit in order to meet the standard. Levels seven and eight are similar to the pair before, but more difficult. The final level is compared to the previous ones very fast paced. 23 targets of a total of 40 have to be shot.

Personally I like MACS very much. Accuracy is one of my favorite parts of light gun games and playing a piece of software which is all about accuracy was very enjoyable. The digitized speech is very clear. While the graphics are simple, I like that the background changed for each pair of levels. I felt like Richard Miller of Time Crisis using a pistol in situations clearly better suited for a rifle, while maintain a competitive performance. This is not a toy but a shooting simulation used by the Army of the United States of America in one way or another over twenty years. Therefore I felt very flattered when this piece of software rated my pistol performance "Expert" and "Sniper" with the accuracy requirements of rifle shooting in mind.

If you ever try this out with a Super Scope, please let me know in the comments, whether my adapter worked for you.