So just recently I purchased a mint, in box, Sega Master System, yes you may all commence drooling now. Well the Master System comes pre-loaded with two games, Hang-On which is a motorcycle racing game and Safari Hunt, the Master System equivalent of Duck Hunt minus the snickering dog. The day I bought the system I hooked it up, rediscovered how terrible I am at racing games, even games from the 80's and then tried to play Safari Hunt.
I discovered a problem.
While I could select the game from the menu screen, the gun, or Phaser according to the paperwork, wasn't doing anything. At first I thought it was broken but looking down the scope with a camera proved that the little infrared light was blinking on and off. I wasn't too concerned since I'm not planning on playing the preloaded games all that much but it still kinda irked me. At the time I didn't have room for the system out on my main TV so I hooked it up in the bedroom, and... the phaser suddenly started working on that TV.
Now my main TV is a flatscreen LCD and my bedroom TV is an old CRT from when I was in high school. The CRT TV still has a flat front but it's got the big bulky rear for the tube and wiring and whatnot and weighs about fifty pounds. But the phaser gun worked perfectly on this TV. So naturally I had to see if this was a fluke or not. Back out on the LCD TV I fired up Duck Hunt on my NES and .. no go. I wasn't even able to select the Duck Hunt option from the menu. Just to rule out that this wasn't an ancient technology issue I put Duck Hunt into the FC Mobile II and used the zapper gun that came with that and still nothing. Then I tried them both in the bedroom and they worked perfectly.
So I went on a quest to find out what gives, and surprisingly not many people have had this problem, probably because when you fire up your NES the last thing you want to play is Duck Hunt. So instead I tried to figure out how those guns even work. So according to How Stuff Works the light guns work by blanking the screen, in the 'eye' of the computer anyway, and then turning the target object white (or the reverse depending on the system) and then waiting for the vertical retrace to refresh and depending on if the point where the gun hit is black or white you scored a hit. This also explains how that old trick of putting a white piece of paper in front of the gun to score only perfect hits works. You dirty cheaters you. Now granted I fail at electronics, I barely understand how light bulbs work, but I think I see the problem.
So CRT TV's have a vertical and a horizontal retrace signal which align the picture for you. This would probably be why you get that freaky horizontal scrolling when your TV starts to go out. Now LCD TV's on the other hand work off of liquid crystals and shutters and polarizing plates and lots of other concepts I won't go into because I can barely comprehend the technology that turns the light in the refrigerator on. But basically the guns don't work because they function off a technology that newer TV's don't use. Which is as good a reason as any to keep that crappy CRT TV around. Not to mention that some older games just don't look as good on giant LCD screens.
So there you have it. Your daily dose of video game nostalgia and science. I can now play Safari Hunt to my hearts content. Or until Sonic 2 gets here. Whichever comes first.