Bob Cooney, co-founder and
former CEO of Laser Storm made time for an interview with me during last
month’s Amusement Expo in New Orleans to reflect on the 30th anniversary of
Laser Storm and the history of this system.
Enjoy this latest installment
of the Oral History of Laser Tag video series!
One of my favorite things to do is play laser tag in support of a
worthwhile cause. On my last trip I was able to tag to help not just one, but
two great causes. The final stop of this journey ended with me tagging at Laser
Quest Phoenix at a fundraiser for the Doreen Katz Memorial Cancer Foundation. This
charitable organization helps the children of parents who have been diagnosed
with any form of cancer and was founded by Adam Katz in memory of his late
wife, Doreen, who was from my area of upstate New York.
I arrived at the LQ site and was immediately greeted by Adam.
There were a few participants already there, however this event was
significantly impacted by the concerns about the coronavirus as it was taking
place just before everything in the country really started to lock down (for
reference, I am writing this post a month after the event actually took place).
It wasn’t due to the virus itself, but rather because the community of cancer
families the foundation serves is already immune-compromised, so it was better to
not take any chances with having those individuals attend a group event of this
nature at that particular moment in time. So, this fundraiser was much smaller
than the previous events that the DKMCF has hosted, but for those who were able
to come out to support it was such a great time and the event raised over $2,100
for the foundation!
Adam introduced me to a few of the players and we socialized a bit
before the games got underway. I had a great time getting to know some great
people and by the end of the night we all felt like one big family!
We started the night with a solo game, which was a lot of fun. We
would play several game formats before the night was over, but this was a good
way to kick things off.
Annie and Daniel were ready to be fierce competitors in the arena!
And I had a great time giving a few pointers to our youngest player, Emma, who I suspect
will become a regular at this site in the future because this girl simply fell
in love with the game. :)
After the first game we took a break for a delicious dinner
provided by a local restaurant in town. It was a chance for everyone to get to
know one another before moving into our next game of Team Frantic. Our teams
were randomized and the game had a much faster pace. I got to play on a team
with Sky and Raana who were local LQ players and we went up against Pinkbeard’s
team (Adam’s codename is a given because he always dyes his beard pink for
these events to be symbolic of breast cancer, although this time he added some
blue to symbolize that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month). Again, lots
of fun, but I was most excited about trying something a little different. That’s
when the game marshal explained our next game…Lasermeister!
I don’t typically have opportunities to play any special format
games since there is no longer a Laser Quest in my state, so this was a real
treat. For this game we would each go into the arena wearing two packs at once and
trying to shoot with two phasers. “Trying” is the operative word there. Pretty
much everyone found that they did well tagging with one hand while doing lousy
with the other. For a frame of reference, I scored 1061 points with the phaser
in my right hand and with the one in my left hand I achieved a pretty dismal 67,
After playing three formats and having a really enjoyable night of
tag we were told that for our last game we could either play a standard game or
try something a little different. We all agreed to let the game marshal surprise
us with something more interesting, so the night ended with a game of Outlander.
This was the only elimination game we played. For this format we each started
with 15 limited lives, so we had to play WAY more cautiously because once you
lost your lives you would be eliminated from the game. This one was played very
stealth and quietly and, although I came in second on points, I must admit I
didn’t hang in to the very end…but I was close.
I did end the night with the overall top placement, so I appreciated
receiving a Target gift card as a prize.
However, above all else I appreciated getting to play a really
enjoyable evening of laser tag with some great people and know that it helped a
terrific cause. In hindsight, it means even more as I look back on that experience
from my perspective now a month later. You see, that night of tag was not only the
last time I was able to play personally, but it was also the last night that anyone
would be playing at LQ for quite a while. The manager mentioned they would be
having a conference call the following day to determine whether all the Laser
Quest locations in the U.S. would temporarily close as businesses all across
the country began responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and that is exactly what
was announced two days later. So, as it turns out, this final night of laser
tag was all the more significant because it truly was the last night before
everything really started to change. I’m grateful that I was able to return
safely (and healthy) from that trip and I have been in stay-at-home mode ever
since I got back. As I think about all the memories made during the course of my
last trip I am so thankful that I was able to enjoy one last laser tag adventure
to look back on fondly until the time comes when businesses can safely re-open
and we can all play laser tag together again. Stay safe and healthy my friends!
I had my first opportunity to play laser tag using a vestless Veqtor
X Blaster while in Tucson, Arizona. And even though that was an amazing and unexpected
surprise, you may be shocked to hear that laser tag was actually NOT the main reason that I traveled to this town.
I’ll start with the tag talk and then at the end of this post I’ll
share the real reason I drove out to Tucson in the first place, which fulfilled
a dream I’ve had since childhood and dates back almost as far as my connection
My day started with a trip out into the desert to see one of the
coolest non-tag related places I could have asked to visit, but as for what I’d
call the coolest laser tag site in Tucson, it isn’t necessarily the one you’d
expect. For me, I had the best time visiting Golf N Stuff, not because of the
arena itself, but because of the unexpected laser tag gear that I found there
once I arrived.
The laser tag arena is actually a mobile inflatable structure
nearly identical to the one my friends in Syracuse use when taking laser tag on
the road. However, this one is not intended to move, so I am counting it as a
I arrived at a quiet time when there was nobody playing laser tag,
so of course I asked if a staff member could play against me. When I requested
this I didn’t expect anything particularly out of the ordinary from the
experience. I just wanted to count the site and make the most out of my detour
to Tucson. At first I was told that this would not be allowed, but sometimes
being a blogger does help to open doors and after explaining a bit about this
blog to the manager he was kind enough to make an exception and allow me to
play a 1v1 with a staff member after all. I am SO glad because what I discovered when I
headed out to the arena was the best tag surprise of the day!
As I approached the arena, I was intrigued to see a row of taggers
in a rainbow assortment of colors displayed out in front. I was not familiar with
what I was looking at. When I took a closer look I was overjoyed to discover I’d
get to have my very first laser tag experience with a Veqtor product!
These vestless Veqtor X Blasters have the entire game contained
within the tagger unit that uses the body mold of the old Actual Reality
phasers.There is no traditional trigger. There is instead a solid state metal
touch sensor “trigger” that you tap with your finger to shoot while keeping the
other hand on the metal circle in the front.
There is also a speaker on the back.
Since I have only gotten to play Actual Reality once (and couldn’t
take photos at the time) I really enjoyed getting a close look at the body of
this phaser. I did have the chance awhile back to interview Martin Shoebridge who
was the co-founder behind the Actual Reality system and had great influence on
other laser tag systems including Veqtor and it was interesting for me to review
some of the history he shared with me in that interview after I returned home.
You can find that interview here…
As for what was right here in front of me, I couldn’t wait to try
it out. I was told that before entering the arena I would have to remove my
shoes (ok, that’s the first time I’d been given that instruction at laser tag).
So I did and placed them in a cubby.
And time to play!
I tried taking some video, but for reasons I don’t understand there
was an unexpected strobe effect that appeared on the video (which was not present
in the arena), so this clip just gives you an idea of what it sounded like.
And we played a light game of Veqtor where I was just enamored
with every beep and buzz and sound that the phaser made because this system was
all new to me. I had such a great time! I’m so glad I stumbled upon this site,
never anticipating that I’d get to experience something so unexpected. At the
end of the game we compared scores.
I know you can’t see my score, so just trust me for the result.
Sometimes when visiting a laser tag site you really can’t judge a
book by its cover. This was well worth taking some time out of my day for the
simple novelty of the system and I’m very appreciative that I got a chance to
play Veqtor here at Golf N Stuff.
My other Tucson tag stop was a little more typical. Following my
Veqtor adventure I headed over to Funtasticks Family Fun Park for some Zone.
This site is 5200 square feet and three stories high. They say it
is Tucson’s largest indoor laser tag arena. Perhaps I missed something, but
since the other site was an outdoor inflatable arena I’m going to venture to
say that this may also be Tucson’s only indoor laser tag arena. If I’m mistaken
somebody please correct me.
Here you can experience the Atlantis Laser Odyssey.
I don’t feel like I have enough to say about this experience to really
warrant a separate post. It was an enjoyable game and the arena is indeed huge.
A true three-story arena is a rarity to come across.
The base structures are a little unusual in that the bases are
placed vertically inside, almost as if placed against a wall.
However, the thing that I will remember most is that it was dark…really
dark. So dark that I don’t have much to show or share besides a quick selfie to
capture the essence of it.
It was an enjoyable game, but if I could make one suggestion it
would be that lighting makes a HUGE difference and with a huge arena like that,
I would love to be able to see it better next time I visit.
So, after all that, what would be the one thing in Tucson even
more exciting than getting to try out a laser tag system that I’ve never
encountered “out in the wild” before? For me that would be getting to spend the
morning visiting the set of one of my favorite television shows from my youth that
dates almost as far back in my life as Photon. I’m talking about Hey Dude,
filmed at the Tanque Verde Ranch in none other than Tucson, AZ.
Yes, I paid a visit to the set of this nostalgic television series
and I am delighted to say that over 30 years later it is still standing out in
the desert on a tucked away piece of land on this ranch that is iconic to those
of us who grew up watching Nickelodeon in that era.
Before I share the pics I should preface this and say the Tanque
Verde Ranch that is open to visitors is GORGEOUS and not reflected by these
pictures that are just showing the remnants of the tv set. Admittedly after 30+
years the set is crumbling, but the ranch itself is a beautiful place where I
would love to return to and stay. But these photos show something even more
special and it is wonderful to know that the set is still here.
The main lodge exterior:
The registration desk and mail slots:
Thank you for indulging this little trip down nostalgia lane. It
was such a treat to visit this set and made driving over two hours from Phoenix well
worth it…especially since I got in some awesome laser tag as well!
To reiterate an important timeline, the Saturday night I’m talking
about here actually took place about a month ago, which I think needs to be
noted at this point in time.
Saturday night at Stratum was something that I really looked
forward to. Since the last time I was here they have installed the new Helios 2
equipment and this would be an opportunity to spend the evening experiencing
the system in an amazing arena. Stratum is the world’s largest technotainment
laser tag arena and is quite an experience! Although they do not permit photos
inside the arena, you get the sense you are entering something special from the
moment you “leave reality” and enter the vesting room via this sense distorting
rotating vortex walkway.
Once inside the arena the place is huge and I’ve written about it
a couple of times before. Although this is only the third time I’ve been able
to visit this site just outside of Phoenix in Mesa, AZ I was pleased to be
greeted as a familiar face as the manager remembered me and introduced me as “a
regular here” while allowing me to join the briefing in progress so I wouldn’t
miss any games.
I signed up for the AYCP wristband pass with plans to hunker down
at this site and play for the full course of the night. Apparently so did quite
a few others because this was a packed house! I was told that sixty vests are
the maximum capacity for the arena, although they may hold back a couple. Well,
at least one game I played had 54 players in the arena at once and barely a
vest left on the rack, so for this site to be able to accommodate groups of
that size really puts the size of the arena into perspective.
I have been fortunate enough to get to play Helios 2 in several
arenas at this point. In fact, I was at one such location the day that I heard that the installation was happening at Stratum last year, making it the fourth site
in the nation to add the new system. None of the other sites where I’ve played
it are anywhere near the size of Stratum, so getting to play multiple games
here was really the most thorough experience I’ve had with the gear and it
feels very natural and intuitive to me. I topped the scoreboard for most of the
night and had a really great time getting to play with a group this large. I
easily could have kept on going until closing time. However, I decided to call
it a night a bit earlier than I would have liked. Why? Well, remember I
mentioned in my last post that call to confirm an unexpected detour thanks to having
an extra day in Arizona? I had to get some rest that night because first
thing in the morning I would be headed for an adventure in Tucson that would speak
as deeply to memories from my childhood as Photon itself…and probably even more
So, I got my fill of games at Stratum, but then left early enough
to get a good night’s rest before heading off the next day in search of those
man-eating jackrabbits and that killer cacti!
It has actually been over a month now since this story happened,
but it’s been difficult to motivate to finish sharing the remaining adventures
from my last trip that took place shortly before the self-quarantine kicked in
for most of our country. I tried to convince myself that I was stretching these
blog posts out, but honestly I’ve felt more like I’ve been stuck in a time trap
ever since getting home. However, now I would like to finish writing about the
last leg of my trip that took me to Arizona. I think that the context and time
frame of these events is important to note because when this all was happening things
were still business as usual…if only by a matter of a few days.
Where I left off, I had just left Las Vegas a day earlier than
planned. While waiting for my flight to Phoenix I made a call from the airport
diner that confirmed an opportunity for me to detour to a place I’ve wanted to
visit ever since I was young…more on that later, but it turns out that extra
day in Arizona was going to make a BIG difference! So I rearranged my plans and
when I arrived in the Phoenix area I started calling around to see what laser
tag sites I might be able to play that day. One caught my eye because it didn’t
sound familiar at all…Mavrix. Hmm…a new site?
As it turns out, yes. Mavrix Entertainment in Scottsdale, AZ was a
brand new family entertainment center featuring food, bowling, arcade and a sparkling
new Lasertron arena…yes, sometimes new arenas feel sparkly to me! This place
had actually only opened the previous Friday, so it was about as new as I could
have asked to stumble upon. :) I love to be among the first to play in an arena.
Now, timing being what it was there were enough people there for me to see this
place will do well, however it also happened that I showed up at a time when
the tag was a bit quiet, but I appreciated that the manager I spoke to was
accommodating enough to let me go in for a 1v1 with staff member Max.
As they had only just opened they were stepping lightly into the
game options and offered me a chance to play King of the Hill which is
apparently what they are running as a standard game. I mused that I wondered if
this was a choice they made themselves or with the guidance of Lasertron, as I
gather that perhaps the manufacturer’s emphasis may be shifting towards some of
their newer game selections instead of the standard and shields up options that
are commonly offered in settings like this.
I’ll say that playing King of the Hill as a 1v1 is a very
different dynamic, but enjoyable nonetheless. Sort of a call and response kind
of game, but I had a great time, Especially since Max gave me a very good run! I’d
capture a sector…
And of course I’d hold it as long as possible, but it’s not like
he couldn’t figure out where in the arena I would be headed next!
The bonus targets were not in play during the game, but this is
the closest I’ve gotten to stand next to one for a bit of size perspective.
And when it was over we checked the scores and I had won, but only
by a very slim margin, demonstrating that this was about as balanced a game as
I could have asked for with a 1v1. Thank you Max for giving me some good
When I was ready to leave I thanked the manager again and he
suggested that it would be well worth my time to stop next door to Octane
Raceway. This is actually operated by the same ownership and I understand that
in the future there may be plans to connect the two businesses with a direct
pathway between the two. However, it is literally right next door so I figured
I’d check it out.
Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t have taken time away from finding another
laser tag arena, but the reason it was suggested I stop over to Octane is that
they operate Velocity VR, which has a laser tag-like quality to it as it is
played in a free-roam open space with virtual reality taggers that I was told operate
with IR in a way somewhat similar to laser tag. I take that at face value
because I have no idea how the technology for this kind of VR works.
That point really bears repeating, I am NOT a VR expert. I know almost
nothing about VR so please forgive my complete lack of technical knowledge. I
can count on one hand the number of VR experiences I have had and that includes
playing Beat Saber and watching the dinosaur movies on the home VR goggles that
I won at that tag tournament in Utah so my frame of reference about VR is
admittedly quite narrow. My most recent experience prior to walking through the
doors of Octane was trying out the Arenaverse VR laser tag demo at the Amusement
Expo, so that’s the bar I had set in my head for what would impress me. But the
idea of playing something similar to laser tag with a different twist was
definitely intriguing and I was game to try something new. The Velocity VR that
I would be playing here is powered by Zero Latency.
Of course, considering the times we were in I asked about their
sanitization process for the equipment and felt comfortable enough to give it a
go and let the staff member assist me with putting on the pack and headset
while explaining a bit about the game.
I arrived slightly behind the group of players I’d be joining so I
was fortunate to get a one on one briefing and tutorial before entering the “arena”
which was hidden behind these doors.
And what does a free roaming VR arena look like? Well, it’s basically
a big, empty room with plenty of space for players to keep their distance from
The session included three rounds including the Turbine Station,
Dark Wreck and Mining Canyon which were each played twice during the course of my
45-minute session. Once the goggles are on and the game begin you are
completely immersed in the experience. What is shown to you inside your screen
is all you can see and all you hear clearly is coming through the earphones,
although there is a microphone attached to the headset so you can communicate with
your teammates. I joined a game with seven other players, so we had a total of
eight in the room on two teams of four. I was on the orange team.
Inside the game we could see four tubes of “light” which served as
our respawn stations during the game and in between rounds. We would step into
the tubes if we were tagged out during the game (I’m using my terminology there
because I’m not partial to saying “kills” or “deaths” even though that is how
the points are attributed on the scoreboard).
The visual images inside the headset were absolutely stunning!
There seemed to be two objectives in each round…completing a mission goal
(which I was not particularly good at) and targeting shots against the opposing
team (which felt like I did pretty decently). If an opposing player was in my
sights I had no problem tagging them and that certainly had a laser tag quality
to it. However, most of the experience involved navigating around walls and
structures that appeared to create the vibrant virtual reality all around. My
biggest challenge here was feeling a bit tentative about my actual reality
movements. Since this was my first time really free-roaming I found myself
moving very slowly and cautiously. Especially after another player and I bumped
into each other! There was no harm done, and there are warning cues built in to
keep you aware of proximity to walls and other players, but I was particularly
cognizant of how careful players would have to be to avoid getting too close to
anything because you are operating without the benefit of true sight. So, slow
and steady was how I approached this game.
Outside of laser tag I am not a “gamer” and I don’t play video
games so I can’t really compare this experience from a gamer’s perspective, so
I will let the video do the talking as you can get a better idea of the experience
from what you see here.
What I can compare it to is a laser tag experience. This is
similar in quite a few ways and I certainly enjoyed the experience I had.
However, this particular experience was not what I would consider an equivalent
and left me thinking “that was fun, glad I tried it,” but it didn’t leave me
with the same feeling I get from tag, so I tried to figure out why it felt different
in spite of having some amazing visuals and many parallel elements.
To me, the key things that laser tag has that I have not yet felt
like I experienced with VR are the social element of the game and the
adrenaline of the physical workout. Even though I played on a team I did so
under the isolation of a mask and to me that feels like it keeps you from being
as social as you would if you could see more than your teammates’ avatars. I never
actually saw any of their faces until the end when we came out to check the
Perhaps because I didn’t have any memorable interaction with any
person on my team that may be why I didn’t feel this was a particularly social
game. Maybe that’s something that gamers perceive differently since so many
video games are played in isolation with others in different physical locations
(and considering the times we are in now that may become a whole other kind of
social experience), but for me I need that face to face element. I like meeting
new people, swapping stories, friendly challenges and the camaraderie that I
get from a game of laser tag. I didn’t find that in the VR experience even
though the quality of the game was very good.
The other thing that laser tag has is a physical, somewhat athletic
component. Now, I’m not suggesting that laser tag players are necessarily great
athletes, but because you can see where you are going you can move much more
quickly, particularly in reacting to the players around you, and that means
there is a greater physical element to the game that I do enjoy. I always say
that laser tag is what I do instead of going to the gym. It’s about as athletic
as I choose to get, but it does require me to get up and move (something I’ve
been missing in the last month) and I often leave the arena sweating and riding
high on the endorphins of the burst of exercise that occurs when you play a
really intense game of tag. Because in this VR experience I had to (or chose
to) move much more cautiously I didn’t feel the same rush from playing the game.
Now, these are my impressions based on VERY limited experience
with VR and I want to emphasize that I did enjoy the games I played. However,
at this point I do not see VR in and of itself being comparable to laser tag. They
are still apples and oranges to me…both fruit (so similar), but also completely
different in their own right. What I look forward to seeing as the future for laser
tag will likely be more of an augmented reality experience that can combine amazing
augmented visuals with the reality of the game and I think whoever gets to that
achievement first will be the real game changer for the industry. However, I am
very glad that I got to try out the free-roaming VR experience so I have a better
perspective to compare and contrast it with laser tag. And between Octane and
Mavrix this company certainly has the best of both to offer visitors to their
site in Scottsdale and it was a great way to start my visit to Arizona!