Tracee and I took a trip out to the Xtreme Fun
Center in Largo, FL so we could play at the first Zone location in the United
States to have installed Helios 2 with the new video bases that I had seen making
their North American debut that same week at IAAPA. I love to be in on a first!
After all, I rushed to travel to Lansing, MI so that I could be there first to
play the first installed Helios 2 arena in the country, so to find out the
first installed video bases were so close to where we were was amazing luck!
Let’s check out these video bases…
Of course there are plenty of game options
where these video bases are far more interactive, but for playing in a standard
public game it was still pretty cool to see the way they react. The base target
is located right underneath the video screen.
The arena has a distinctive neon look and lots
of ramps and places to gain higher ground. I love that it is distinctive and
unique. So many arenas I walk into have the same CW look that I see over and over
again, so when I see something original, both in map design and aesthetic, I
appreciate it all the more.
There’s a hand-painted look to these walls and
some structures where the bases are now placed vertically a little above eye
level. That’s a little different as I’m accustomed to looking up to find the
base and I wondered where the bases were previously located.
One feature that I liked was the abundance of cut-out
shapes where you could be protected and still see your target.
Many were very thin, which is interesting when
juxtaposed with the new Helios 2 beams that were very thick! I knew that these
phasers had a wider beam option, but this was the first time I experienced that
fully and it felt more like I was wielding a sword than a phaser with the way
that wide beam cut through the darkness of the arena…my new codename is now
We left for a bit to go have some sushi and
then returned later in the night in hopes of playing with a more competitive
crowd. I missed meeting up with Allie (the marketing manager for this site who
I had met at the Zone booth at IAAPA) however, the staff was kind enough to hook
us up with an extra game so I had plenty of chances to target those cool bases…many
And after spending a really enjoyable evening
tagging video bases (first priority, lol) and players we headed off to explore
the boardwalk of nearby Madeira Beach.
I had to take a picture by this gecko pole!
And it rounded out a really nice day spent
with a good friend.
Such a wonderful way to end an amazing week in
Following IAAPA I wanted to pay a visit to see
my friend Tracee who now lives just outside of Tampa. Since she is living so
close to one of the longest running Q-Zar locations (and one of the distinctive
few still operating in the country) I suggested we go play some laser tag at
We walked in and were immediately greeted by Zac
Adams, the general manager who I had met at IAAPA earlier in the week when he
was kind enough to share his perspective of Q-Zar as a longtime player who has
been enjoying the game since 1987. Here’s what he had to say during our
Zac then showed us around the place that still
has a wonderful retro feel and we took a moment for some photos by their new
selfie wall. This is a smart new addition (and great marketing tool) that had
been added sometime after my last visit to this site.
Having learned from Zac about the history of
the Q Babes I had to take a pic next to this creatively placed sign as well. ;)
Then he set us up for the next game and I
observed the staff during the briefing as they did a commendable job with a
very enthusiastic birthday party group. I took special note that one of the teenage
game masters had a really nice demeanor with a particularly boisterous child as
he walked over to the boy and said, “hey buddy, do what I’m doing…take a deep breath
in and out” and he calmed the child down so that everyone could pay attention
to the instructions. It’s nice to see staff who know how to work that well with
Tracee and I suited up to go into the game.
Playing in a real Q-Zar arena is something
pretty special because there are only three like this left in the entire United
States (the others are located in Carle Place, NY and Concord, CA where I have
played also). For Tracee it was a first time experience, so that first game we
got familiar with the space, the energizers and bases. By the next game we were
ready to play with a more suitably competitive group of teens who had purchased
the wristband option. I figured they were familiar with the game so Tracee and
I teamed up and took turns taking out the other team’s base.
We both had a great time! Tracee gave me her
take on the experience as a new player and Zac had offered perspective as a
longtime player and both came to the same conclusion that the game is just
tremendous fun. I was glad she enjoyed as much as I did…She was also very proud
to report to her boyfriend later that night that she took second place in both
I had a chance to meet owners Brad and Ilya
and let them know we had a great time. Tracee particularly appreciated being
able to take her scorecard home and I commented about how much I love the atmosphere.
I love that they have kept a wall mural (I featured on this blog the last time
I visited) that has been up since 1996 and someone got a little creative
turning a broken phaser into this adorable truck on display at the front
I told Brad that the staff’s enthusiasm was
what really made an impact. I also mentioned that it was the fact that they are
still operating with Q-Zar that was the reason we were at this particular location
(as opposed to any other laser tag site in the area) because that was what made
it a special draw for me. If you are near Tampa (or either of the other two
Q-Zars I mentioned) it is definitely going to either be a trip down memory lane
or a fun new experience…it just depends on your perspective!
One other thing that is just a matter of perspective…the
weather. In Florida this is how you know that the holidays are just around the
I’m glad I got to experience some sunshine
before returning to the reality of winter in New York! Thank you Q-Zar Tampa for
being part of a fun day out with Tracee.
I spent three wonderful days in Orlando
attending this year’s IAAPA Expo conference and trade show where my time was
spent seeing the latest in laser tag, visiting with friends and interviewing
some of the founders and key players from the major laser tag manufacturers in
This year I was not simply there for the
enjoyment of seeing all the latest innovations that they were introducing at
the show, but also to record some history and stories about how each of these
laser tag companies began and the origins of their systems. There was so much
great information and historical perspective offered which will be incorporated
into a video series I am producing for the Laser Tag Museum. Keep your eyes
open for these interviews to be shared in the near future, both here and as new
content for the museum’s website (www.lasertagmuseum.com).
Meanwhile, let me share some of the other highlights I experienced at the show.
Last year I was particularly excited to check
out the new Zone Helios 2, so this year the introduction of the interactive
video bases was an exciting addition to build on that, which I really enjoyed
getting to try out for myself as they made their North American debut at IAAPA.
At the show I got to experiment with how these video bases could use animated graphics
to react to events in the game and become an even more integral part of the
experience by depicting the imagery to match the game scenario. For example,
watch how during a game of Kaboom the goal of obtaining a key by tagging three
targets in a row is shown on the screen and how once the tagging sequence is
completed you can see the results of the “unlocking” with that key.
After the show I made a trip out to Largo, FL
to try these bases “out in the wild” at Xtreme Fun Center which that very week became
the first site in the United States to install them. You know how I love to be
there for a laser tag first!
Next, I took a look at something new from
Delta Strike. There was buzz about the new Delta Strike Genesis stepping things
up this year and I think they really accomplished that. I got a chance to chat
with founder and CEO or Delta Strike International, Doug Willems about the new
system, which was recognized with the IAAPA Brass Ring second place accolades
in the area of Best New Product Concept.
One of the Delta Strike reps gave me a thorough
overview of the Genesis packs that include some attractive new features
including the colorful rainbow lights on a vest style pack, the selfie camera
on the phaser and a starburst effect around the beam.
I really like the feel of tagging with this
Laserforce was also unveiling some new features
for their Gen 8 equipment. I visited with a few friends at the booth, met some
new faces like Jason Wallace and had a great time talking with Maree Harris who
is not only the only female laser tag installer in the world, but she is also
the longest running female laser tag operator in the world!
Together we took a look at the new live events
feature that shows in-game activity in real time right on the phaser screen.
Here’s a better perspective of what the player
sees as the game is happening.
As a frequent Laserforce player I know this
will be very interesting to see implemented in real games.
Getting to chat with a few laser tag founders
was a particular highlight for me this year. I really appreciate that LASERTRON
founder Jim Kessler took some time to do an interview with me first thing in
the morning on the final day of the show.
What I found most interesting about talking
with Jim is his unique perspective about the industry. The full interview is
one of many that I look forward to sharing soon.
I also enjoyed learning firsthand about the
history of Laser Blast from founder Tim Ewald and his son, Laser Blast Sales
Director Mike Ewald.
It’s really fascinating to be able to meet the
minds behind the games that I have enjoyed so many hours playing. One of my (reasonably)
local sites operates with Cyber Blast, so I do get to play it with some regularity.
However, so far I have only encountered the projection theme targets like this
once while visiting another arena, so it fun to be able to get a chance to try
it out here.
How about a look at something new in the
tactical world? I’d like to thank my friends at iCOMBAT for again arranging my
access to this show. I looked forward to seeing what was new at their booth and
they definitely had something pretty cool to show me…
While iCOMBAT features several product lines in
different styles, I think they are probably best known for their realistic
looking tactical laser tag. I thought when they introduced the irShotgun that
was impressive, but this year they took it up a notch with the irSAW style tagger.
It’s a very cool (and heavy) addition to the Gen 3 line that is intended to be
used in a defensive role, such as guarding the respawn area.
If you want to talk about getting some exercise
let me tell you, walking the tradeshow floor will do it. This is a HUGE event
and I certainly got in my paces going from the iCOMBAT booth in one corner all
the way down to the Laser Storm booth in the far opposite corner!
Laser Storm is a brand making a comeback and
co-owners Gord Armstrong and Bill McChesney are passionate about the game which
is very apparent from talking with them both.
Laser Storm as a company has had some ups and
downs, but ultimately with the enthusiasm these new owners have for keeping
this game alive I am excited to see where Laser Storm goes. They have a long
history with loyal players and can claim the longest continuously running
national laser tag tournament in the U.S. And while Laser Storm is known for
being the gear with the headset and remote control-style phaser they are
offering some options with shoulder style sensors that add a different flavor.
There are a few systems that I have had
limited experience with so I looked forward to learning more about them at this
show. Adventure Sports HQ is one such system that I have only played a few
times. Founder Derek Petit gave me a really nice background on the company and
I respect that he also gave credit to the innovators whose work made the
outdoor laser tag industry possible.
A few notable people who Petit gave a nod to
include George Carter III who is of course the grandfather to the entire laser
tag industry, but also some less familiar names of note including David Bodger
who he credits with inventing the lens assembly for outdoor laser tag and Phil
Higgins of the former Spartan FX of England who he says developed the
technology for the individual boards.
Another system I have only experienced once
before is Steradian, so it was great to get to chat with Kevin McDonald who has
been with Steradian Technologies from the very beginning and Amy Baker who has
been involved for the past 15 years.
And for the second time in my life I got to
play some Steradian against Kevin right there at the show.
I was intrigued to see that they incorporated
LED targets for what I had considered to be basically a tactical/outdoor game
system. However they showed me that this system was all about bringing the indoors
to the outdoors and that they have plenty of accessories to make that happen.
Then there was one company that I have never had
the chance to play at all (though I’m hoping to be able to very soon in NY) and
this was Laserwar. This Russian-based company was started by CEO Sergey Tereschenkov
and his twin brother, Business Director Alexey Tereschenkov. I really enjoyed
learning about the system from Alexey.
I had the chance to try a short game against
the master himself. :)
I also learned about some of the additional
…and got a demonstration of the durability of
their product line.
I look forward to having an opportunity to
play using the Laserwar Cybertaq system very soon!
There was also a unique product being
showcased by a new company that I only first learned about at this show. ZTAG
promotes themselves as “Laser Tag Without Guns” (or phasers as most prefer to
say). This company has only been around for the past five years and was showing
for the first time at IAAPA this year. I had a chance to interview co-founder
Stan Liu who, along with his business partner Quan Gan, has a different take on
how to play tag. He told me that ZTAG means tag for generation Z.
This system utilizes
IR technology, but is played differently from traditional laser tag and is not
intended to take its place, but rather to offer another option that might be find
greater acceptance in schools, churches and more due to its appearance and versatility.
The game is contained within an armband unit that identifies the player’s role,
points, energy and health status.
Here is my first experience learning how to
I know of at least one buyer at the show who
intends to open a traditional laser tag site, but saw the value of a system
like this as being an entry opportunity for making connections with schools for
promoting his business. This definitely makes you rethink the possibilities for
using traditional technology, but re-working it in new and innovative ways.
ZTAG may not be competing in the same pool as some of the larger manufacturers,
but as a new player in the industry they are certainly one to watch going
For me, IAAPA 2019 was an incredibly busy time
talking with the laser tag manufacturers over the course of three very full
days, but that’s exactly what made it so worthwhile. I came back with so much
knowledge, history and above all else great interviews which I’m really excited
to be able to share with you soon. I want to offer my sincere thanks to all the
industry leaders who took the time to talk with me and provide some great
insight into the rich history that has led to the vibrant, flourishing laser
tag industry that we enjoy today.