Sunday, January 14, 2018

We secretly replaced Cody's regular pack with Folgers Crystals...

As I was scraping the ice buried under several inches of snow off my car before leaving for tag I almost decided to turn around and go back inside where it was warm. But I felt like I hadn't gotten in a full night of tag in awhile, so I pushed through the cold and barely plowed roads and set out for Syracuse anyway. My first stop was FJ, but they didn't have a group sticking around for the night, so I called over to the Force center. Fox told me they had about a dozen players on this snowy evening, so I headed the 20 minutes across town and was glad to see it was worth the drive along those unplowed roads...if not for the tag, then at least for the amusement between games.
 
When I arrived there were a couple of members playing. Cody was there...and so was "his pack". But tonight we secretly replaced Cody's regular pack with Folgers Crystals... That is to say after every game I would hang back in the vesting room and move it to a different rack so while he's looking for it in one spot I'm able to make a beeline for it in another. Yes, I AM a grown adult and yes, this really IS what I did with my Saturday night. :)
 
 
So, this little gambit of psychological warfare continued throughout the night. Where is the pack now?
 

He claims it is his pack because it's "on the tournament sheet". Meanwhile I joked that we could invent a new drinking game...take a drink every time Cody says "tournament" or "level 7" and nobody would make it through the night! Just teasing Cody, it's all in good fun. :)
 
So we played a variety of games including one that seemed unnecessarily brutal. Someone suggested playing members vs public, which I think could be aptly renamed "how to lose friends and alienate people". However, everyone was on board and took it well...at least the once. During this game I signed in correctly (level six) while the other two (Mitch = Tangy Walrus and Cody = Me) signed in as level 7. However, I feel like that was doubly messed up in this scenario because they knew some computer glitch made it so that level 7s could deactivate with one shot instead of the five shots that would even the playing field. As for me, I went in as a 6 and was the only one playing that round playing with the three shot requirement for fairness and balance. However, I'll let the results and karma do the talking on this one...
 

The night ended with a round of Photon emulation, so I was a happy camper for having come out to tag in spite of the weather. Now, cross my fingers for decent driving next weekend and I may have another adventure to share outside of the area, meaning Cody can play using "his pack" again...at least until he goes back to college or I return to 'cuse, whichever comes first. :)
 
 
Comments or Questions?
Contact: tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com
Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Bye Bye Barski's, Hello GlowTron

I didn't actually get to play tag this weekend. I had planned to go on Friday...then the center closed early due to bad weather. I was busy doing the sound for a show in Corning all of Saturday and on Sunday I figured I'd either detour by way of Rochester for some Tron (but the temperatures were so cold I thought better of driving that far out of my way) or visit Barski's when I passed back through Ithaca on my way home. However, when I got there I learned that it was no longer Barski's...there is new ownership and it is now GlowTron Laser Runners.
 

Now, don't let the new name fool you. This is not a Tron center. This site still uses Lazer Runner. I had not been here in about a year, so I missed the fact that a transition had taken place. I didn't get to play because I walked in alone on a quiet Sunday afternoon while a group was finishing up their last game, however this gave me an opportunity to have a nice chat with Steven, the new owner, and he shared a few interesting things about his future plans for the business. First he told me that he intends to increase the size of the current arena by extending it out into the lobby space. I think that will certainly make a big difference as the existing arena is quite small and built inside an area that was once a clothing store (an Abercrombie I think?) so some expansion would definitely help improve the space that he took over inside the mall. However, I'm more excited because he told me about his other plans to open a second location with a significantly larger arena and run some tournaments and special event/theme nights. This is great news and I hope to see it happen. The place is not currently set up to be much more than a casual mall attraction, but he also said he was looking at some newer equipment (albeit the same system) so I will keep an eye on this business with hopes that things progress and he is able to expand. Operating in a college town, I know this place has had a decent clientele and a location closer to the college would be great to keep that growing. So best of luck and I hope to tag at the new GlowTron before too long!
 
 
Comments or Questions?
Contact: tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com
Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

I was definitely ready to laser tag my way into 2018, but I didn't decide on going to the New Year's Eve party in Syracuse until pretty much the last minute. After tagging in Albany on Friday night I really expected I'd end up out east playing my New Year's in Queensbury just to mix it up a bit. However, I changed my mind and am glad I went to the Force center instead because it turned out to be a really fun night, straight from the first Rickroll. :)

 

The members all played together in one of three rotating groups. This meant basically a second night of playing all special format  games including some Gladiator and Photon (which made it worth it right there), but in between rounds they had some fun party activities including an air hockey tournament (I only made it past the first bracket, but held my own considering), some Bingo, pizza and plenty of door prize drawings. I was ready to slay in the guitar hero tournament, but unfortunately they were down a controller so it didn't happen (which means nobody can prove how early I probably would have been eliminated, lol). So instead I got my musical fix by programming some REAL party music on the "jukebox". As an actual DJ I felt obligated to "correct the earlier musical atrocities" with a little 80s tribute. ;) That preceded the dance contest which I didn't actually get to see because I opted instead to play the last members game of the night.

 

Don't ask me why, but for some reason I felt I had to end the year with a bit of my own antics (seems appropriate considering...) so for the last game before midnight I made a beeline for "Cody's pack" instead of letting him swoop it up as usual. I was totally obnoxious about playing with the X-Ray pack and loudly commenting that all the skill and magic was in that "lucky pack". Fortunately I had a decent game to back that up!

 

 

And I ended by announcing to the room that this was my favorite pack that I'd used regularly (um...since Thursday) and it would now be my permanent pack. Lol...I couldn't care less about the pack, but I don't think poor Cody expected that from me and it shook things up a bit for that game...just chill, it's all in good fun. ;)

 

And then (after NOT winning the X-Box) we were right up against midnight, but I decided it was better to get back on the roads early and avoid the crazy NYE drivers rather than watch the ball drop. So I said my goodbyes and headed home contemplating what an awesome year of tag I had in 2017 and how fitting it was to close the year out like this.

 

When I think about the past year it makes me think about my top 10 tag memories of 2017...

 

1. Playing tag with members of the Alaska National Guard in Wasilla, AK and being featured in an Alaska newspaper - http://www.frontiersman.com/news/laser-tagging-america/article_f3d2fa38-abcb-11e7-9454-9fdf79d0ece0.html






3. Being invited to tour the iCOMBAT headquarters in Waukesha, WI



4. Interviewing laser tag Industry Innovator Martin Shoebridge after he contacted me through my blog



5. Taking first place at the Jungle Rapids tournament in Wilmington, NC



6. Deciding on the spur of the moment (aka in the middle of my work day) to hop on a plane with nothing more than the clothes I had in my car to play in a tournament in Utah



7. Playing at my 100th laser tag arena in Idaho



8. Playing at Baltigeddon with Team Syracuse-ish



9. Playing in my first CyberBlast tournament in Ohio



10. Playing several rare systems including Actual Reality and Intersphere

 


So thanks to all who tagged in the new year with me last night and to all who were part of making those awesome memories in 2017. I already have big plans for tagging my way across the rest of the country in 2018 so I'm looking forward to all that this coming year will bring. Happy New Year!

 

 

Comments or Questions?

Contact: tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com

Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com

Friday, December 29, 2017

Members Party

Last night our local Force center hosted a members party and I have to give them credit for pulling together a really fun night of laser tag. Although I have had some criticisms of member nights here in the past, this event was a great time and brought together a nice cross section of abilities (players ranging from level 3 to level 7), a variety of formats to play (some advanced games that we don't typically play on public nights) and an overall chill attitude from everyone (read "egos checked at the door"). So this was well worth the drive out on a Thursday...and the fact that I didn't have to get up for work the next morning was definitely a plus! :)
 
Thanks to Sanch for hooking me up with my new chip card...
 
 
Hopefully this will be more universally usable when I travel to other sites and sign in as a visiting Syracuse player since using my laminated member card has been a little hit or miss.
 
We had pizza and I was feeling a bit domestic earlier in the day so I made some rice krispie treats for the group...next party I'll make them with peanut butter. ;)
 
We played a variety of games ranging from Photon (love it!) to Color Conquest (sat that one out because 1. I really dislike that game and 2. I was more interested in seeing what Mallory had to say when she went live tonight) and even DnD (which I don't even try to keep track of). We played some SM5 with zero drama breaking out (huge success!) and when Tom loaded up Vampires I asked "why do you hate us?" so he switched it to something WAY more fun...shadows played completely in the dark!
 
 
Had some interesting chats about tag in between the games. I got some feedback from Sanch about a few sites to make sure I visit on my next few travels out of the area...even one I may have to check out in St. Catherine's, Canada on my next trip up to Toronto. Zammy chimed in about some other systems and I was truly shocked when he told me he had actually played Photon. I was shocked because he's only about 20 years old and he said he played Photon in Florida when he was 10, which would have put him there roughly in 2007. He insists he played using the whole helmet/heavy belt combo. Now, I showed him a pic of Photon and will take his word for it, but can anyone drop me a note if you know where in Florida it could have been plausible to play Photon in 2007? I'm genuinely curious and there's got to be a Photon warrior out there who remembers.
 
We also chatted a bit about the last time we played on a team at Baltigeddon. It led him to comment that our team was all Force players "except for Tivia and Lenny" (and I'll add RNT to that for him). So Sanch asked what does he think Lenny is if not a Force player? And then I had to ask "and what category does that mean you put me in?" to which he answered "you play everything!" So I will take that a compliment because I may not fit into any particular box, but I am glad that my label is that I'm versatile and have played "everything". Just FYI, so far I've played 18 different laser tag systems and hopefully I'll take that up to 19 when I visit Mississippi in about a month.
 
And the night ended with some news... Unfortunately Snowmageddon will not be happening this year, however there is some optimism that another event I've been hoping for (but not holding my breath) may actually happen this spring. So I may have to ready a couple of guys from work to rep for our office in a couple of months. More on that if/when it develops. But as far as I'm concerned that meant the night ended on a high note and I had a great time so thanks to everyone who came out for a really enjoyable members party!
 
 
Comments or Questions?
Contact: tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com
Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Office Tag

Anybody who stuck around my office past 5:00 tonight got quite a show as Spencer and Ethan (the IT guys) and I tested out some laser tag equipment throughout the building.

 

 

I wanted to try out the new home laser tag game units that I bought the other night. While I was out shopping I stumbled upon these intriguing boxes...

 



"Laser Tag Battle Weapon" is an infrared laser tag blaster with a built-in integrated target that can sync up with multiple other game units for a mobile game of laser tag anywhere you want to play. I actually found these at Five Below and for the investment of only $5.00 per unit it seemed like a pretty good value. So I bought a few to try out.

 

They came in red and blue with a thumb trigger on one side, LED lights and sound effects.

 



Unlike a traditional laser tag phaser these slide over the hand with a handle grip. To start the game players would have to aim their sensors at the other units and press the reset button. We successfully did this with multiple blasters at once.

 




Spencer and Ethan played the first round against each other...

 


You can take five shots before needing to reload ammo using a button on the top of the unit. Sound effects indicate a successful tag as well as when a reload is needed. Each player can be hit up to six times before all lives are depleted and the three LED lights indicate number of lives with each one flashing on the first hit and going out on the second, so once all three lights go out that player is out of the game.

 

I was looking forward to trying this out myself!

 






I've got to say I was really impressed with these game units. They were an exceptional value for the price, had some decent features to make for a good game and they were a lot of fun. Based on this first experience I would highly recommend!

 
One of our coworkers took notice and so this round of random office laser tag landed in his vlog too...




 

Comments or Questions?

Contact: tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com

Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com

A Great Gift Idea

My inbox has been blowing up lately with holiday offers from every laser tag arena that has me on their mailing list (which is a lot!), and most of them would make wonderful gift ideas for someone who loves laser tag (hint, hint...), but I wanted to showcase a particularly fun promotional video for iCOMBAT gift cards...
 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDWJ4eDQKZ8
 
This made me smile! This video was recorded at the iCOMBAT headquarters and features lots of the people I met when I visited Wisconsin last month. Very fun video with a great gift idea and nice to see all those familiar faces! :)
 
 
Comments or Questions?
Contact: tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com
Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Interview with an Industry Innovator: Martin Shoebridge

Martin Shoebridge has had a tremendous influence on the laser tag industry. He was the designer, technical director and co-founder behind the Actual Reality laser tag system and his work had great influence on other laser tag systems including Veqtor, Laser Force UK and Pulsar. Mr. Shoebridge is one of only two recipients of the International Laser Tag Association's Industry Innovator award which he received in 2012. I am very appreciative that he made the time to answer a few interview questions and share some background about his time and work as a true innovator of the laser tag industry.
 

Interview (conducted by email Nov-Dec 2017, all photos courtesy of Martin Shoebridge)
 
TiviaChick: Could you tell me a bit about your background and what led you to work in the development of laser tag?
 
Martin Shoebridge: I’ve been involved in electronics for over 50 years...It started when I was 11 and my Uncle bought me a transistor radio kit to put together with his help. I think that gave me the bug... At 15, I started to work for a small local company in my home town of Aldershot making valve amplifiers for record players. I used to go to his shop on a Saturday, collect all the bits and take back the completed amplifiers the following Saturday. At 16 I left school with a few O Levels and gained an electronics apprenticeship at the world famous Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough Hampshire. This gave me core training in electronics. Skip a few years and a few jobs and I set up a company in Fleet Hampshire to sell home computer bits and pieces. This was 1980. We had a retail shop and offices above that we used to make things. I gave myself just 3 months to get profitable and make enough money to support the family. A big gamble that paid off handsomely. We made a lot of money in a very short time thanks to the boom in home computing explosion- Commodore, IBM/clones Apple Macs, Amstrad, BBC Home computer, etc. I designed and made several ‘add ons’ most notable memory packs for the Commodore VIC20. We went to a World of Commodore exhibition in Toronto and sold out all of our stock in a few days. Our prices were significantly cheaper than any other products. It wasn’t long before we owned three factories in Fleet and employed 18 people designing and making all sorts of computer related products. 
 
One of the major sellers was a plug in memory expansion card for IBM clones. In those days, the standard RAM configuration was a mere 256K! We designed and sold shed loads of 256K and 512K add in cards.
 
In another factory nearby, there was a guy who was making a very crude laser tag system, having seen a product in New Zealand (or was it Australia?). I think that was an early Laser Force system?..... Anyway he came to me for help assembling the kit and I was fascinated.... It was very crude. Built with HeNe laser tubes that required high voltage to make them laze (very dangerous and difficult to manufacture without arcing). The functions were very crude with almost no flexibility as to options. In fact none. Packs were hard wired with ID and the game time was fixed using crude chip timers that had +/- 10-15% timing tolerance. They managed to sell a few but got into deep trouble when they took a contract to deliver a radio based version that was impossible to deliver and that was the end of them.
 
So I thought I could do a far better job (I didn’t realize just how hard it would be to make something reliable). I went on holiday with the family and spent the week writing the core code for a laser tag system on bits of paper. This basic core code is still being used today in various laser tag companies including Veqtor. When I got back from holiday, I set about getting the code into a computer for editing. I also set about designing the hardware and it wasn’t long before I had prototypes working. The basic hardware design was very flexible with all the basic parameters being set up as variables so they could be changed by using a hand held custom programmer. We could change the game time, shots, lives, etc. We soon started selling systems and very soon the software bugs started to show..... 
 
I had been doing some work with a guy called Pete on a project that would automatically record medical programs overnight from TV transmissions. His software work impressed me immensely. I asked him to look over my code to see if he could find the software bugs which he duly did in next to no time. That was amazing as he had not seen the code at all. (He had a small amount of prior knowledge as I had commissioned him to write the scoring program).
 
Following that, I offered him a full time job which he accepted. It was to be one of the best decisions I had ever made. His comments were that what I had written was ok, but he could do a far better job and had a vision of a new super system which was later to become what is known in the industry as the AR system. His vision and enthusiasm was staggering and I had doubts as to whether he would be able to deliver such complexity. How wrong I was. To this day (radio excluded) I think the AR system would stand up against the best. Not many people know the true extent of the capabilities of the AR system and just how clever it was/is. All or most of the software is modular across all the components of the system- the gun processor, jacket processor, network controller, network targets, scoreboards, etc. How Pete managed to conceive that structure across all the devices is beyond me.
 
One little known feature is the ability of the guns to be used in a ‘round robin’ laser tag game as used in inflatable mobile arenas..... each gun knows what game it has been playing and knows if another competitor’s gun is in the  ‘current game’ or is from a ‘previous game’. If it was from a previous game, it automatically knows that.
 
And so the AR laser tag system was  born......
 
TC: What was the progression of your involvement with the various tag companies you worked with?
 
MS: Firstly, I felt that most of the companies that I worked with were intent on taking advantage of my naivety and their own financial greed. Veqtor was the only company that to this day, have conducted themselves in an honourable and ethical way when dealing with me/Fleet Micro Computer Systems Ltd.
 
My first involvement was with Laser Force UK and for a while, things went well. 
 
(Clarification: Laser Force UK was unrelated to the Laserforce company out of Australia with a similar name) 
 
They decided to get a copy made using the software in the guns and redesigned hardware. The company they took it to, to get the job done may or may not have been aware what was going down. Whatever... but the down side was that I had a big drop in sales and we relied on sales to support a loan from Laser Force that would enable us to continue with development and support on the Laser Guns. For my goodwill, I had to repay the loan which caused substantial hardship and nearly took us to the wall.
 
Then along popped Pulsar. A new start, or should I say another bad move. They wanted me to design something different to the current design. They had produced a vacuum formed gun shell (that was a nightmare to put together) and had visions of a ‘V’ shaped vest electronics display and target arrangement. (This was later taken on by Veqtor). So their system was duly designed and manufactured and they had good success with the sales and we were back up and running. But then Pulsar decided it would be more profitable to get the system manufactured elsewhere.... I thought I had the system reasonably secure at that time by introducing a dongle based scoring system but Pulsar managed to bypass that.
 
Eventually Laser Force (UK) went bust, having had some substantial investment from a company in Holland to develop a radio based system which they were unable to deliver. As far as I know, the Dutch company forced the winding up of Laser Force, but the directors started up a new company and a new venture involving/combining laser tag and Go Karts (as far as I remember).
 
Pulsar, in the mean time also went bust but the details escape me.
 
Around this time must have been when someone from Laser Chaser came to get hold of my technology and start to develop his own system. I only came across this by accident when someone told me how much it sounded like my system. Sure enough, when I came across his system at an exhibition, I discovered that my hand held controller would operate his guns/jackets. Thus proving that his I/R communication control had been copied from my system....
 
Having made good progress in the reliability of the laser gun systems, I came across Tim Dallyn at an exhibition (who at the time was working for Tim Shurruck if I remember correctly). He had decided to go on his own and do his own Laser Tag thing and chose our system to start out in Canada.
 
TC: How did Actual Reality (AR) get started?
 
MS: So this is how Actual Reality Inc came into being. The first system he bought went into a mobile inflatable operation that was a big success and from there he employed more people and premises to deal with sales and servicing. What had been in my mind a really reliable gun cord turned out to be bad news. It was to be a long time before I came up with the coiled, easily replaceable cable idea as used on the AR system.
 
TC: Who else was involved in the start up and in what capacity?
 
MS: I’m not sure, but you can find the information on the Laser tag museum archives. I remember his brother was involved in the early days in looking after repairs. While we were developing the new AR system, we agreed to pay half of a software programmer’s wages for a year to help with development costs. That guy was Al Levsen, who was just amazingly enthusiastic and was tasked with writing the core software known as PROSITE. Our programmer designed the comms system structure and spent a lot of time in Canada working with Al getting everything together. One of the major tasks was porting the software from Windows 98 to Windows XP. (Or was it Windows 95 to 98?) Al also designed the Prosite Games Wizard which basically allowed anyone to develop any game strategy that could be loaded into the guns and targets just prior to starting the game, giving great flexibility.
 
TC: How did you approach the development of this system? Can you describe the process for creating both the hardware and the software and what made AR unique compared to other laser tag systems?
 
MS: The approach to developing the hardware and software was to end up with a modular system that had great flexibility and reliability. We had our own injection mould tooling produced that would allow easy reliable assembly of the gun housing. 
 



One critical feature that was essential for safety was the inclusion of a front safety touch trigger. This meant that to operate the gun, one had to make contact with the two front ‘touch buttons’ before the main trigger would operate. 
 


This prevented anyone from using the gun as a ‘physical’ weapon and smash someone in the face. This had happened in the past with ‘pistols’. Touch sensitive buttons were used as it would improve the reliability over mechanical switches which would always be liable to fail....
 
The other design upgrade was the manufacture of the front/rear covers. In the past, we used off the shelf boxes and we had to up the image so we came up with the ‘octagon’ design with recessed windows for protection. 
 


An injection mould tool was then designed along with an aluminum back plate to which everything was bolted. There was also a separate aluminum back plate to cover the battery pack in case of any malfunction of the pack or associated electronics. 
 



We also looked long and hard at the connecting cable between the gun and jacket as this had been our ‘Achilles heel’ for a long time. We eventually decided on both a hardware and software solution. The hardware solution was to utilize a standard RJ45 network cable, but implemented using a custom made coiled version. The customer would also be able to use a regular off the shelf cable as a backup. 
 
The software was something special.... It was implemented in such a way that the jacket processor software would know if it lost communication with the gun ( i.e. the gun/jacket cable was defective). This allowed a cable to be replaced in the middle of a game with no loss of historic information for that game. When a cable was replaced, the jacket processor would update the gun display with all the current information and carry on as if nothing had happened.
 


As part of the jacket system software, it was able to discriminate three separate incoming I/R sources using software polling. It had been said it couldn’t be done, but it was. At the time, it was perceived to be impossible with the available technology, but our programmer Pete achieved the impossible..... With today’s technology, it would be simple to have, say, eight or more separate I/R channels.... I think we were also one of the first (if not the first) to introduce the feature ‘Good Shot’!  Another superb achievement by Pete!
 

With careful design, we didn’t suffer from ‘cancelling’ either and never had done. Our I/R transmission and reception algorithms were infallible in this respect.
 
Downloading was another area that we put a lot of effort into making it simple. Our early designs (including current Veqtor systems) relied on utilizing a custom download ‘box’ into which you had to point the gun and pull the trigger at the end of the game. Pete came up with a scheme (in conjunction with Prosite and targets) whereby one only had to point the gun at a target and the download process would be automatic, ending with a voice confirmation ‘download successful)’. This meant no more queues waiting to download as the arena targets were automatically switched over to ‘download stations’ at the end of the game and a player could point his gun at any target to download. It wouldn’t matter how many concurrent targets were designated as download stations as they all buffered the incoming I/R data before passing it back to Prosite for processing.
 
The ‘download box’ was a black box that took score data from the guns and fed it back to the scoring PC. It was a feature of all our equipment ( up to AR kit) including laser force, Pulsar, Veqtor and probably many others.... Planet Trog was the full blown AR kit with targets that could be designated as download stations at the end of the game - essentially a SMART download box.
 

Another interesting feature was that of partial downloads.... Whenever a player went to a target to reload, or get a feature, the data accumulated in the gun was sent to the target as well and then forwarded to Prosite for intermediate processing, giving a sort of real time update on the scoreboard. As close as you can get to radio based scoring without radio..... That was my biggest regret- not bringing a radio based system to market. We did some development work that was very promising but it never came to fruition....
 
Other notable features? I’m not sure, but certainly at the time the Games Wizard allowed infinite variations to be put into a game scenario at game start time. I don’t know of any other manufacturer at the time that could do that. Nowadays it’s old hat with the advent of radio based systems.
 
TC: What would someone need to know about this system (and the games) to be successful playing AR?
 
MS: Depends on how much you want to ‘cheat’. It was possible to cover up the front gun I/R sensors and front jacket sensors and thus could only be hit from behind.... I never used to do that but saw plenty who did. That detracts from the fun. Hiding and sniping the unsuspecting is always good and making sure you get off a few good shots to wipe out their shields. Having good rock solid designed software meant we could achieve a fast rapid fire or machine gun fire. Limiting the shots prevented players from going round just using the machine gun feature to wipe out players.
 
TC: What was the biggest challenge your company faced?
 
MS: Making the whole system as reliable as possible and future proof with the advent of the Games Wizard.
 
TC: When was the height of success for AR?
 
MS: For me personally, being invited to quote for the Disney Toy Story Laser Tag themed arena....
 
TC: Could you please share more about the Disney Toy Story laser tag arena?
 
MS: AR, somehow, were spotted by Disney scouts and were asked if they would be interested in putting in a bid to build the Toy Story Laser Ride in Disney Orlando. I had just arrived back in the UK from a visit and had to fly back to Edmonton the next day to help get a bid back together. The outcome was that we would have won the bid, but Disney were not happy with the equipment being designed/built in the UK so the bid went to a company in Orlando....
 
TC: What were some other successes?
 
MS: Installations in Sweden ( Cybertown and two others). Cybertown is still going almost 20 years later, all be it with an upgraded radio based system from Holland. And the Robot installations in Holland.
 

The Robot was a special feature ‘target’  that was bought by the company that put our systems into Holland. They had one Green and one Red that acted as reload stations once they were ‘destroyed’.
 
The installation in West Edmonton Mall. AR overcame numerous obstacles before getting approval.
 
And I guess all the other installations in the USA and Canada that I know little about. Especially Planet Trog that somehow is still managing to function with equipment ‘out of the Ark’.
 
TC: How many laser tag sites used AR and how many were located in the United States?
 
MS: Sorry, I don’t know
 
TC: Can you talk about expanding into Xtreme Themes and Design (arena building)?
 
MS: This was a Tim Dallyn dream that as far as I can tell never came to fruition, although I did do some work on the electronics design.
 
TC: What was the laser tag industry like when your company started and how did that compare to the state of the industry in 2002?
 
MS: We started around 1989 and there was only Laser Quest and Laser Force in the UK. (as far as I know). By 2002 there were countless offerings.
 
TC: What was AR's relationship to Darklight?
 
MS: Tim Dallyn tried to team up with Darklight with a view to being able to offer a radio based system to potential customers in the USA and Canada but it never came to anything.
 
TC: What was AR's relationship to Veqtor?
 
MS: They didn’t have one, but Fleet Micro did. During the AR development years, Fleet Micro continued to assemble and build the Veqtor systems who were very successful.
 
TC: What are your thoughts about the state of the laser tag industry today?
 
MS: It seems to be healthy and well alive, although I have not had any direct involvement for years. It’s nice to see it is still a thriving industry for many.
 
TC: What did you go on to do after your time working on AR?
 
MS: In 2007 ish, I decided to retire and sold out to Veqtor. In 2009 I came out of retirement to work as a test engineer for a large electronics manufacturer. Originally it was for a three month contract, but I stayed there for seven years and ended my time as Principle Test Engineer. Very rewarding and interesting time. I finally retired in December 2016.
 
TC: In 2012 you became the second recipient of the Industry Innovator Award for your contributions to the laser tag industry (the only other recipient was George Carter III in 2005). Tell me about your reaction to being honored at the ILTA dinner where you were recognized.
 
MS: I was absolutely dumbfounded to the point where when I was asked to speak to the assembly, I just couldn’t. I regret that sincerely. I should have at least said something to all those that were there. But I will be forever grateful for the award.
 


TC: Do you have any additional thoughts to share?
 
MS: I wish Tim Dallyn had not taken me for a ride in the final throws of ARs existence. My wife has always said I should have stuck with Veqtor and by and large I agree with her. The problem with that is Veqtor would not move away from their custom network system and I advocated that they should switch to the AR network system. Had I and Veqtor gone down that route, who knows what magic could have been developed. That’s not to say that Veqtor hasn’t succeeded. They have. And both Fleet Micro and AR have disappeared into the ether. They now have some truly unique and innovative products that not many people know about. They keep their heads down and get on with bringing new products and ideas to the market.
 
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This concludes my interview with Martin Shoebridge and I wish to extend my thanks and appreciation to him for taking the time to answer my questions and share his insight from some of the early days of the laser tag industry. For more information about the history of Actual Reality please visit the Laser Tag Museum website, specifically the page linked below.
 
 
 
Comments or Questions?
Contact: tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com
Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com