Saturday, May 28, 2022

Playing Nintendo Laser Clay (レーザークレー) in the early 1970s

The Laser Clay Shooting System (レーザークレー射撃システム) was an innovative arcade game, developed by the Nintendo R&D team in the early 1970s and released by Nintendo's subsidiary Leisure Systems (任天堂レジャーシステム) in 1973.

Light gun games had been around already for long, including Nintendo's own Kôsenjû SP and Kôsenjû Custom series for home use.

Nintendo Kôsenjû SP series (1970)

The new element introduced with Laser Clay was the projection of flying objects (clay birds) on a large screen, combined with a clever mechanism that detected if these objects were 'hit' by the player from a rifle that could be held freely in hand. In previous shooting games, the target had to be in a fixed spot for the detection to work, with limited options to move. Laser Clay allowed for an experience that was much closer to real shooting sports, with challenging game play, because the location and trajectory of the targets were more unpredictable.  

The instruction leaflet shown below explains how Laser Clay was played.

Nintendo Laser Clay leaflet (front)

Nintendo sold Laser Clay systems to operators, who installed these at former bowling alleys, that became vacant when bowling took a dive in popularity, and other leisure locations.

Nintendo Laser Clay leaflet (back)

This particular version of the leaflet was for a location called Big Box, also known as Seibu Sports Plaza.

Located in Tokyo's Takadanobaba neighbourhood, Big Box is a multi-purpose facility that still stands today. It is a well-known landmark, situated next to the Seibu line station.

Big Box in Takadanobaba, during its 40th anniversary (2014)

Big Box opened in 1974, and featured ten floors with shops, restaurants and a wide range of sports facilities.

Big Box in Takadanobaba in 1980

When Big Box opened, the sixth floor housed a Laser Clay shooting range in the so-called 'Clay Corner' (クレーコーナー).

From a Big Box pamphlet (source: babashinbun)

According to the Big Box pamphlet, Laser Clay will help develop mental strength and concentration (精神力、集中力を養ないます).

In the Laser Clay instruction leaflet, the game is touted as the Rising star of leisure sports (レジャースポーツの新星).

The artist impression on the leaflet shows a range with close to twenty shooting 'lanes'.

Rifles were made available on site. However, the serious player who participated in competitions would acquire his own personal rifle. Much like bowling players would bring their own bowling ball.

Recently, two of such rifles appeared for sale on Japanese Yahoo auction site.

It came in a sturdy case, and look and felt like a real sporting rifle.

To complete the real shooting experience, the rifle was loaded with (blank) cartridges.

Laser Clay rifles like these are quite rare these days, which was also reflected in the going price: about US$2,000 and US$3,000, respectively.

The instruction leaflet first covers shooting etiquette, or Laser Clay 'manners' (レーザークレーのマナー):

  • Don't point the rifle at another person. The most important of all rules.
  • Shooters value guns. Handle your gun with care.
  • Fold the rifle in half when you carry it around the venue.
  • Don't interfere with the shooting of others. Shooting is a very mental sport.
  • When the red lamp in front of the shooting platform is lit, when you want to charge the cartridges, or when you want to put the cartridges in the rifle, use the shooting platform.

Next is a list of Laser Clay terminology (レーザークレーの用語):

  • 'Clay Bird': It is a spot of coloured light of white, orange, and yellow (depending on the shooting platform). Aim and shoot at this.
  • '1st (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, ... 20th) Bird':  The 1st clay release (2nd, 3rd ... 20th). One round has 20 birds.
  • 'round': 20 birds (including service birds) will result in 1 round, and in the case of a competition, the game is decided by a total score of 5 rounds.
  • 'gun': The shotgun that can fire two consecutive shots, from upper and lower barrel.
  • 'first shot': 'first arrow', the name of the first hit, the 1st shot hit.
  • 'second shot': 'back arrow', the name of the second hit, the 2nd shot hit.
  • 'cartridge': Bullet.
  • 'cartridge setter': Machine to charge the cartridge
  • 'swing': Moving he gun while chasing the clay bird.
  • 'aim': Aim at the target point.
  • 'full mark': Perfect. (Full shot)
  • 'aim over': To aim ahead of the visible launched clay bird.
  • 'bullet out': Do not hit because the density of shots decreases and the probability of hitting becomes worse.

Before we get to the nitty-gritty game play details, some more motivational talk from the leaflet:

Clay birds flies and bullets run trough space. Clay shooting, a sport that eliminates all stress.

Laser Clay is a newly developed leisure sport, that provides an exhilarating feeling of speed. On a special screen 20 meters in front of the shooting platform, a vast landscape is projected, and the shooter aims at the flying clay bird with an over-and-under double-barrel shotgun. The shooter doesn't know exactly where clay bird flies.

The moment you pull the trigger of the gun, there is a shock and explosion sound, and the feeling of "over aim" and "bullet missing".

Laser Clay, a high-class leisure sport that captivates the hearts of young people and modern people.

The next section described what to do Before entering the game (ゲームに入る前に):

  • First, apply to the front desk and fill out the necessary information. A the front desk you will receive a gun with a transmission cassette (gun operator), cartridges (bullets), and a scorecard. There are men's and women's guns.
  • Before entering the shooting platform, please change to the designated shoes. (You can't play games with high heels or mode sandals.)
  • The shooting stand [number] is specified by the front desk. Please start the game with the specified shooting platform.
  • The game can be used from 1 to 4 people in one shooting stand. If you have more than 4 people, you will be separated to another shooting platform to play the game.
  • After the game, please return the gun, transmission cassette, cartridges and scorecards to the front desk and pay the fee.

The cartridges look very much like real ones, although in this case they provide an electrical charge.

'How to proceed with the game' (ゲームのすすめ方):

  1. Insert the cartridges into the charge hole of the cartridge setter (bullet charger) and hold it lightly from the top to charge it instantly. When the light dims, the charge is completed.
  2. Load two cartridges into the gun, stand on the designated shooting platform (gray mat), and enter the shooting position.
  3. Once the shooting position is determined, check the blue light in the front of the shooting platform, then turn on the foot switch and release the clay bird. (The clay bird is emitted from the bottom of the screen in front of the firing platform, and its color is displayed in front of the firing platform.) Then, hit the two clay birds which fly out after each other. If you accidentally shoot another clay bird, it will not count. (If you accidentally release the foot switch before the shooting posture is set, it will be a mistake and the score will be calculated as 'O').
  4. When hit, the clay bird will scatter, and the hit mark in front of the firing platform will be lit. Otherwise, the clay bird will fly away and disappear.
  5. When you have finished shooting, you leave the shooting platform and put the cartridges into the cartridge setter again. If two or more players play the game at the same time at one shooting platform, two birds (two clay bird releases) will alternate.
  6. In the above manner, if you finish shooting 20 clay birds, it will be 1 round. In addition, it will count as a re-shot, when shooting while the red light is on, or empty fire due to mechanical trouble.
  7. The price of the game is calculated in units of 1 round, based on the number of clay birds released, regardless of the number of shots fired.

The next section described the scoring system. More points are awarded if the bird is hit with the first shot, and points add up (double) in case multiple birds are hit in a row. The maximum (perfect) score in one round of 20 birds is 80 points.

The score can be noted on a paper card (ペーパーカード) or a film card (フィルムカード), as shown below.

Further 'basics of Clay shooting' (クレー射撃の基本) are provided, regarding shooting stance (スタンス) and position (射撃姿勢).

And finally, and most importantly, some tips on aiming (射法と狙点):

  • Because the direction of the clay bird is unpredictable, it is inevitable to use the swing shooting method.
  • This is a method of starting a swing, overtaking the clay bird, and pulling the trigger the moment it is overtaken, while checking the direction of the clay’s flight.
  • If you don't fire as quickly as possible after the clay is released, your chances of hitting it will be bad.
  • That is because the farther the shot is fired, the more it spreads, and the probability of hitting becomes worse.

I hope this gives a good flavour of how Laser Clay was played. I am no shooting expert, so I hope I translated things correctly. If not, please leave a comment below.

Soon after an initially successful launch, Laser Clay became a victim of the oil crisis of 1973, which hit the Japanese economy hard. A few years later, the game was adapted for home use in the form of the Nintendo Kôsenjû Duck Hunt (光線銃 ダックハント) game. More on that in this post.

Nintendo Kôsenjû Duck Hunt (1976)

Thank you to Isao Yamazaki, friend and fellow Nintendo Archive Project member, for kindly sharing the scans of the Laser Clay leaflet.

Images from Big Box are taken from


  1. this is such an amazing blog and detailed history---thank you.