Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Blasting in the New Year

It's New Year's Eve and I am off to a party at the laser tag center. I will be enjoying six hours of game play tonight and blasting in the new year. So this year I am passing on wearing a little black dress in favor of a little black t-shirt (always wear dark apparel so you don't stand out, especially if there are black lights in the'll almost always learn this lesson in the briefing room first).

However, it wouldn't be New Year's without a little bling, right?

So my duffel bag with a crystal blinged-out tribute to my favorite laser sport is the ideal accessory!

Just kidding...I travel light when I'm actually playing, but wanted an excuse to show off my custom bag. In actuality it's toting my tae kwon do uniform and sparring gloves, but that's fodder for a whole different blog :)

Happy New Year!

If you have questions or comments please visit my website at or email me at

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Faking Photon

Yesterday I was offered an opportunity to play a Photon emulation game and I couldn't pass that up! :)

During the first hour at the laser tag arena there were a handful of players there and they played a couple of rounds before disappearing. They were some older teenagers who had clearly come as a group and they were traveling as a pack. Then they disappeared all together for a short time, leaving Paul and I the only ones there for a brief window before things got busy and more players arrived. I had been chatting with Mike, the staff member behind the counter, about my trip earlier this year to play some old-school Photon at the PhoCon 30th anniversary event that took place at XP Lasersport in Laurel, MD. He shared with me that the game system at this center had been designed with an option for a Photon-like playing and scoring style. He said that as long as we were the only ones there that we could play a Photon game if we wanted. Um...yes!

I'll refer to an earlier post where I noted that as much as I love Photon as a concept and am good at laser tag in general, when I was in Laurel playing real Photon with people who had played it intensely back in the day I was no competition at all. In fact, I was quite pitiful (which was a blow to my ego having spent so much time honing my skills in my home laser tag arena). Here's the proof...

So, if for no other reason than to redeem myself, a one on one game of Photon with Paul sounded like a great idea while we had this opportunity.

Of course there were some key differences - most obviously, no helmets - but having the opportunity to play anything even similar to Photon-style was very cool and I was appreciative of the offer. Another difference was quite obvious...there were only two of us. True Photon is played with two teams of up to ten players each and one of the things that makes it a bit unique is that you must clear your phaser after hitting the same player three times consecutively. If you hit a player three times in a row without firing on a different opponent or a base in between then your phaser will stop registering hits after the third shot. To clear it you must  fire at something else before returning to target the first player. The idea is that by limiting the number of hits, then an experienced player could not just follow around a less experienced player and take continuous cheap shots for easy points (as often happens in other laser tag games...PSA - don't do that, it's not nice). So, that posed an interesting question. With only two of us, how would we clear the phasers? Having missed the original wave of Photon I really didn't know if there was any better answer than simply going for the bases in between shots. However, to simplify the clearing and give us an additional target in the arena the game master (a really nice girl whose name escapes me) went into the game with us. So now we were playing something similar to Photon with three individual players.

We had fun and I felt redeemed by the end (wow, have I been hanging on to that for five months?) and even though the game master did have the upper hand on both of us, at least it felt like we were in it. Photon is scored quite differently than other games...point values are significantly lower and it is possible to go into negative scores. I honestly don't recall all the specifics of Photon scoring, but I think it can best be illustrated when you look at my stats surrounding this game...

If you didn't know that the game was scored differently you might look at that stat page and be surprised. I look at it and recognize that I was playing some light games in the first hour, but I wanted to record this for posterity because who knows when I'll have the opportunity to play Photon style again? It was great to be afforded the chance to do so and so it's with great appreciation that I thank the staff for letting me have the experience of faking Photon.

FYI, if you have questions or comments for me I invite you to visit my website at or e-mail me at

Monday, December 29, 2014

Seven Miles Down The Road

I am a creature of habit. Although I have played various laser tag arenas in my travels, my scope of experience has largely been based on playing at one favorite arena reasonably close to my home. I had played in a handful of arenas that I found within a fifty mile radius courtesy of an excellent resource,, and felt I had explored these places well enough to decide that the place where I play regularly offered the best experience out of the options I knew about. However, there are so many systems and game options in the world of laser tag that I thought it would be cool to seek out some other centers with the intention of making day trips to places a little further away, so I expanded my search to a one hundred mile radius. To my pleased astonishment, there was a laser tag center merely seven miles from where I typically play and it had not yet been on my radar simply because it was just a hair beyond the fifty mile radius I had specified in my original search. Better still, due to the school holiday break they were offering special hours and all day play options today, so Paul and I took off to explore a new (to us) place to play some laser tag.

We arrived and were among only a handful of players there right at the start of the day, though it was obvious that the others there had experience and wanted to get the most out of the special hours too. This center used the Laserforce system (I am more familiar with playing Zone using Rift Blaster phasers), so the game was a little different and the arena was unfamiliar. However, after one game (and yes, one victory) I was hooked. This was an exceptional playing experience and I wanted more...and more I got. I immediately signed up for a membership there and got the one thing that I missed so much at the other arena...they have a code name system where you can pick your player alias and track your game statistics. TIVIA IS BACK!!! And I could tell that this was going to be my new go-to arena.

Before this gets confusing, let's call my Zone arena "center one" and this new Laserforce arena "center two" since I plan to play regularly at both and don't want to name names.

Years ago I had played at "center one" when they had a similar code name/progress tracking system and I loved it. That's where my online handle originated (as my player name) and the thing that caused me the greatest disappointment upon my return to laser tag was learning that they had updated to a system where they no longer allowed the option of using a code name. So I can't over-emphasize how much I loved seeing my old player name back in force with the addition of my membership at "center two". I know in the grand scheme of things it's a minor point, but lots of laser tag arenas do offer the code name option and it really does make me feel like I'm playing "for the honor of the name". OK, that's my cornball moment of the day.  :-)

As more people started to filter in throughout the afternoon I enjoyed the fresh rounds of competition and played every game over the course of five hours. All I wanted from each round was to see the name Tivia at the top of the displayed rankings. It was more than my usual desire to play well...this was for old times sake. And I was particularly pleased that for most of those games I was playing on all cylinders and achieved my goal...

Yes, although I was playing on a different system in a different arena, this place and these game matches made me feel like the old days when I first started playing laser tag. And after chatting with the staff member behind the counter about differences in systems, upgrades in equipment, even this year's multi-system Armageddon tournament (so nice to be able to geek out about such things) I learned why it felt like the old days...apparently many of the staff members and a (former?) owner (hope I got those details right, apologies if I didn't) were all regulars at my old haunt, "center one" back in the day right around the time I had first started playing there MANY years ago!

It was great to experience several styles of game play (as generally "center one" sticks to one basic game format) and today I played several standard games along with super charge and individual challenge rounds. One of my favorite matches of the day was the final game where we played individual supercharge. Although I generally favor team play, I liked this because rather than playing on teams it was every man (or woman) for themselves and you got a steady reinforcement of how you were doing based on the color your pack turned throughout the game. If you were in the lead position your pack would turn red, second place was yellow, third place green, etc. and so it was obvious how well you were doing each step of the way. Once my pack turned red I was determined not to let the lead slip away and I ended the five hours of laser tag play on a high note...

In addition to the variety of games played today, a kind staffer shared details about the myriad of other game play options available with the Laserforce system. I appreciated how the staff here, Mike in particular, really knew about laser tag and how he was so full of information about upcoming events and tournaments. While "center one" will always hold a special place in my heart and is a place I will continue to frequent, I can tell that "center two" is the place I need to be for upping my game and raising the bar. I can't believe it was so close this whole time and I never stumbled upon it before!

Now it is obvious that continuing to explore more options and laser tag experiences is exactly what I need to do to keep my love of the sport growing, for even though I may have a preference towards one style or another, you just never know what you might find seven miles down the road.

FYI, if you have questions or comments for me I invite you to visit my website at or e-mail me at

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tale of a Broken Phaser

I am very competitive and I find that most often I feel like I'm in the greatest competition against myself and the standards of what I hope to achieve. So every time I go into the laser tag arena I do so with the desire for coming out in first place. However, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes there are factors you can control (like how intensely you are focused, how strategic you are in getting the bases, how many shots you take....Wayne Gretzky said "you miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take"), but often times there are factors over which you have no control (how many players are in the game, how skilled - or aggressive - they are, whether they are using team strategy or playing to achieve their own individual goals). And there is one factor from which I can almost always tell right away whether it will make or break my game...the functionality of the equipment. Now, I am certain that most places work hard to maintain their laser tag equipment and try to keep everything working smoothly...but, every now and then something may go wrong with a pack. What about those times when you just get a dud phaser?

I recently began a game where right out of the gate I knew there was a problem. It wasn't that my phaser wouldn't shoot at all. However, I play Zone with the Rift packs that have a targeting light on the phaser that allows you to see where you are aiming and that light had gone out on my pack. That is so frustrating! I spent half the game trying to convince myself that this would only raise the bar for me to just go ahead and play it through with the hindrance of a gun that only gave me half the functions I was accustomed to. But I soon realized that by rationalizing while playing it was eating away at me and taking a mental toll which was causing me far more problems than the pack itself. This was mentally blocking me from doing the things that were within my control. I had lost my focus. I was probably taking more shots, but aiming them more randomly since I could not see where I was aiming, but it wasn't because the phaser couldn't do it's job...I wasn't doing mine. I knew that many of my shots were not landing and I was just opening myself up as a target. Again, this was less about the pack not working, and more about my own head space...but still, it was a factor impacting my game negatively regardless. So with only about five minutes left in the game (the time remaining is periodically announced in the arena where I play) I decided that it was time to either make a real effort to play it out or simply resign myself to blaming the pack for my failure that round...and that's not what I ever want to do.

Even when there is something wrong I don't think a player should blame the pack (even if it is occasionally justifiable, it just sets up an easy excuse...and as a sporting player you are better than that). Either do something about it or suck it up. Well the latter had already been tried, so at this point I decided it was time to do something about I switched packs. What this means is that I was in essence forfeiting any points I had achieved for the first half of the game and starting from zero again with a new player identity and only five minutes on the clock. Knowing this was the case I decided to play my heart out and let the chips fall where they may. If I did well I would have saved what was otherwise a lost game. If I didn't, I would think "well, I only played for five minutes, what could I expect?" But either way I would not have resigned myself to defeat when there was in fact something I could do to take back my sense of control. So I went back around to the bases I had taken earlier and I shot at them again, racking up those points on my new pack. Then I made my way through the arena targeting any sensor that came within my sight knowing that I had to make up points quickly. This round was less about strategy and more about just score as many points as possible as fast as you can. Then, all too quickly, the game was over. We went back to the vesting room and I looked down at my pack to find out what name I was playing under (as I switched packs so quickly I didn't even look during the game). My new pack carried the name "Chaos" (appropriate for this round) and I left the room to check out where I ranked at the end of this game.

The display monitor with all the scores showed Chaos in fourth place. OK, I didn't win, but I accepted that this was still pretty good considering it only represented half a round of game play. Then I analyzed a bit closer and realized that even with only playing a partial round on that pack my fourth place position was only within 600 points of first place! That's essentially the difference of 3-6 well placed shots. There was no question I could have easily made that up in the first half and probably had at least that many points even while using my broken phaser. So to be that close to first place with the obstacles and loss of time that I experienced means to me that this loss was not defeat at all. After getting my head back in the game, even for five minutes, this loss felt exactly like a win. And I left the arena with my head held high knowing I had played hard, done my best and been successful. I do not place blame on the pack...instead I give it credit for helping me to achieve that outcome.

FYI, if you have questions or comments for me I invite you to visit my website at or e-mail me at

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Night I Returned To Laser Tag

Ever since I was young I've had a fascination with laser tag. I was a child of the 80s and my first exposure to the sport wasn't actually in an arena. Instead I became familiar with it by watching a children's TV show based on the original laser tag game, Photon. And while this show took lots of space themed twists and turns with plots that some might argue have little to do with laser tag itself, the point is that it succeeded in peaking my interest. Now, at the time I was too young to play and there was no center at which to play nearby anyway (at least not to my knowledge) even if I could, but there was home game gear and for a kid that seemed cool enough to suffice.

Later on I developed an enthusiasm for the sport when I was in my early twenties. I took to it immediately and would go out to play every week or so. At the center where I played the system that was used for players to track their scores and their progress required an electronic key attached to a unique player identity. As a nod to the TV series that sparked my interest so many years earlier I adopted the player alias of Tivia2 naming myself after the lead female character (she rocked as a role model for girls on a show that seemed predominantly geared towards young boys). For awhile the name Tivia was one that I used exclusively for laser tag. Then in time it spilled over into other areas of my life and became my online handle. And as I was the "chick" who played as "Tivia" the variation now you know the origins of the name Tiviachick.

I remember when I first began playing laser tag I was very interested in it for a few reasons. First, it was a sport at which I could do well and play at my own pace. That's a big deal for a non-athlete. I've never been particularly inclined towards sports and as such have never sought to be involved with many athletic pursuits. However, this was a good workout...and only lasted about 15 minutes, so you got some good, short bursts of endorphins. Second, I am a highly competitive person, but due to my lack of athletic ability I have never been much for team sports. And while laser tag does generally involve team play it is also something where high points garner individual success. It's entirely possible for the player with the highest point total to not be on the winning team, so for me I saw it as a chance to strive to compete against myself and to come out ahead with points while hoping that any individual success I had would benefit my team, though I honestly didn't put team play as my top priority. Finally, I found the adrenaline and feeling of success after a good round to be intoxicating. There is nothing quite like the feeling of playing hard, knowing you are on your game and coming out of the arena to find your name at the top of the ranking chart. I loved that! The last game I played years ago I topped out at over 15,000 points (a number that was impressive in this arena, though could be totally arbitrary depending on what system you are playing) and I left feeling great...until I was involved in a minor fender bender upon leaving that night which soured my experience and left me feeling irrationally like the two things were somehow connected. I had a little bit of fear that going back would bring up bad feelings about the accident. And if I'm being totally honest I also felt like after hitting my all time high score that I probably had nowhere to go but down. So I didn't go back the next week, or the week after, or the week after that. In fact, I couldn't believe it when I realized that over six years had suddenly gone by and I hadn't been back to play even once in all that time. How could that have happened?

Well, there's no sense analyzing why I got away from laser tag for all those years. I could blame the distance (the arena is about an hour and a half away from my home, so I have to REALLY want to go in order to make the effort) or the lack of free time on the weekends as my work schedule got busier or even just the way life sometimes just points you in other directions. No matter the reason, I let a good chunk of time slip by before it occurred to me to want to go back. Then something happened...

While randomly exploring some key words on the internet I discovered a link to a video about an upcoming event. PhoCon, a 30th anniversary/birthday celebration of laser tag and specifically of the original game, Photon! It was scheduled for the summer of 2014 and I had found this information in time to make plans a few months out. It was billed as a last chance to play Photon using original equipment that was being rebuilt for the occasion. Now, I had been watching the Photon TV show in the eighties as a child, but really missed out on playing and having the actual Photon experience, so this was my opportunity. I immediately signed up for both Paul and I to go down to Laurel, MD and participate in the event. Then I realized that I would likely be playing against people who were hard core players (after all, you must be serious to show up at something like this 30 years after the fact) so I decided I had better get serious too. So off I went to the laser tag arena, vowing to play every weekend until I was decent enough to hold my own at PhoCon.

Sidebar...I got back into the swing of laser tag very quickly, but I was NOT in any way competitive when it came to playing actual Photon. The equipment was heavy and I was not as familiar as I thought I was when it came to the game itself. It was a blast and I'm glad I went, but it was incredibly different from what I was accustomed to, so my idea that I was going to get good at Photon by playing laser tag at home was well...silly of me. Back to the story...

So I drove out to the same arena where I had played  laser tag so many times all those years before. The aesthetic was similar to what I remembered, but they had updated their gaming system and key tags and unique player identities were now a thing of the past. Sigh...I miss seeing the name Tivia on the board. Instead your pack was synched up to the system with a pre-designated name and you simply had to remember it at the end, therefore your playing identity would be different every time. I hadn't done this in ages...I just hoped I'd be decent so it wouldn't be an embarrassment to report the outcome to Paul later that night. The first game I did well, but to be honest I was really just getting my bearings back. Exploring the nooks, crannies and hidey-holes of the terrain while getting the feel again of my two-handed phaser (meaning the "gun" you shoot at light sensors on an opponent's vest) was the focus of that first game back. I didn't pressure myself for anything beyond getting familiar with everything all over again. But right away I could tell it was like riding a bike or slipping your hand into a custom fitting glove. Ah, then it was time for the second game and I was ready to get serious. I felt a confidence that was beyond anything reasonable as I entered the briefing area before the next round. I don't know quite where that feeling came from, but without more than a perfunctory game for practice I felt like I was ready to conquer...and miraculously that is exactly what happened! Everything clicked and I was maneuvering and aiming and strategizing my way through what felt like a perfect game. It was like no time had passed and it felt great! I had no idea what my scores would be like at the end of that round, but I figured I had to be doing pretty well. What a rush!

At the end of the game all the players (and there were a LOT) exited the arena. I didn't realize until counting up the maximum number of packs in the vesting room, but that game I was playing against the maximum number of people that could play at any one time...40 players. I was playing that round with the pack connected with the name Marine. We all funneled out into the hallway where a large monitor displayed the rankings for our position and scores. I looked at the list and there at the top...

Unbelievably, I had achieved the top score in a packed arena on my first night back! Even though there was no longer a need for personal aliases while playing, that night I felt like I had done the name "Tivia" proud. Even more so when I played a follow-up game after that and for the second time that night my name appeared in the top spot on the ranking display. I don't share this story with the intention of sounding arrogant, but rather to illustrate the excitement of that first taste of victory that led me back to being a frequent player of the sport I have such an enthusiasm for...laser tag. For the better part of this past year I have been back to playing almost every week and a few amazing encounters with people who played a part in my early connections to the sport have made it all the more important in my life. I will explain more about these experiences in the future, but for now I am just going to take a moment to be grateful that laser tag is currently a part of my life that gives me a feeling of fulfillment and achievement whenever I get the chance to play. I am also thoroughly amazed that my appreciation for Photon not only led me back, but that it continues to play a role in my life 30 years later. 

FYI, if you have questions or comments for me I invite you to visit my website at or e-mail me at