The Rest of The Story…Tagging Face to Face and in Virtual Reality
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!