Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tivia and Tivia Have a Chat - An Interview with Loretta Heywood

Somewhere in London a talented musician was on the verge of releasing her new album and beginning a series of live shows. She was not thinking the least little bit about laser tag or Photon...until responding to an email from me from completely out of the blue. Amazingly, that was nearly seven months ago and since then it has been such a pleasure for me to get to know singer/songwriter Loretta Heywood, known in the music industry for her work with Bomb The Bass in the early '90s and for co-writing the song "Winter In July" and adding her vocals to many other songs, but perhaps best known to any fan of Photon as the actress who played the role of Tivia on the Photon television series in 1986. For me, communicating with Loretta over the last few months has been a bit surreal because in 1986 I was seven years old and watching her on the television screen having intergalactic adventures with the rest of the cast of Photon. For anyone wondering "what does this have to do with laser tag?" let me fill in some of the gaps.

Photon was the original laser tag, invented by George Carter III and launched commercially in Texas with the opening of the first Photon center in March of 1984. To do the math again...I was five in 1984...I was NOT playing first generation Photon, though I certainly wish that it could have been an option. As the Photon laser sport game grew in popularity with players who were primarily in their teens and early twenties at that time (give or take) the idea must have occurred to someone to expand the marketing of Photon to younger kids. This was accomplished by way of a Photon home laser tag set (which showed up in toy stores in roughly the same time period as its competitor "Lazer Tag") and a live action television show aimed at a young audience, which apparently also aired in roughly the same era as the animated show "Lazer Tag Academy". All of this was happening well before the wide variety of laser tag systems, equipment and arenas started popping up and becoming a mainstay of family entertainment. It was a good time to be a kid first learning about laser tag in the eighties and many people have called the Photon television series a genre predecessor to things like Power Rangers. Now, this was almost thirty years ago. This was my earliest exposure to laser tag, even though it would be many years before I would play the game in an arena or take it seriously as a kind of sport.

The Photon television series only lasted for a season, but one season was all that it took to turn it into a cult classic...well, ok, cult classics aren't made overnight. But fast forward about 15-20 years, those kids grew up and with the boom of the internet came a crop of fan sites, message boards and communities of people who were now grown adults remembering memories of the first laser tag game along with those remembering this sweet, campy nostalgia from this show from their youth. Fast forward even beyond that to July of last year and there was even a 30th anniversary celebration of Photon held in Laurel, Maryland (which I have mentioned in this blog before and will likely reminisce about in more detail in the future). Although I had played laser tag many years before this event, it certainly was the catalyst to getting me back into the hobby in the last year. This was also where I first met actor David Stay who played Mandarr and Tamara Johnson who played Barbara Jarvis on the show as well as the creator of Photon, George Carter III. All this while playing A LOT of Photon and laser tag with people who grew up on the original sport. What a weekend that was! Upon returning from the event I reached out to Loretta and after several months of communicating about Photon, video projects and sign language we had the opportunity this past weekend to put together an interview about her experiences on the show all those years ago as well as her musical career and life since then.

Click here to watch the interview

Most everyone knows that my laser tag code name of "Tivia" originated as an homage to Loretta's character on the show...the laser tag playing ninja princess. So when you see me playing laser tag in any arena where I have a membership or can utilize my player name this is my I.D. (and the nickname used among a group of my closest friends). So the notion that this Tivia has the chance to chat with the other Tivia is just one of those crazy things that I wish I could go back in time and share with my seven year old self...it would blow her mind :)

Loretta was just getting ready to release her new acoustic album "The Boy Across The Road" when we started communicating from across different continents. I must say, it's remarkable how one thing led to another in these conversations which resulted in my performing one of the tracks from her new album in sign language at a show I was directing here in New York. Then subsequently that resulted in the production of this video for the latest version of her hit song "Winter In July" re-recorded for the new album. I am so pleased to share it here...enjoy!

Click here to watch the music video

So that is the story of how Tivia and Tivia had a chat. Big thanks to Loretta Heywood for being such a sweet person and taking the time for this interview in between her busy schedule as she is continuing her live shows.

To follow what is happening with Loretta Heywood you can visit her website at:

And please like her Facebook page at:

If you have comments or questions please visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or email me at tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com.

The Zeta Answer

When I wrote about my recent laser tag experiences in Canada I invited anyone reading to clarify for me the differences between Hyper Blast and Zeta Blast. Well, I am appreciative of this reply that I received in my email this morning...

Dear Tivia,

I was the game master when you came to play at Area 51 Laser Tag. You asked what made zetablast better and I was not sure. Since then I discussed it with my boss and he told me the software allows us to customize our games. Because of zetablast we are able to do custom games such as Eliminate VIP, Search and Destroy, Capture the Flag, and the stealth match. It allows us to have complete control over how the game plays and allows us to create our own custom games very easily.

Thanks again for visiting our arena. We all loved the article you wrote about us.

Daniel, thanks for getting back to me with an answer. We had a great time and I certainly hope to visit Area 51 Laser Tag again!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

It was a VERY interesting night...

It took me over an hour and a half to get to the laser tag arena last night because the snow was coming down hard and the slippery roads did not make for easy driving. So upon arrival I really hoped that I would not be the only one who had braved the weather. Fortunately, there was a packed house and an interesting mix of players and situations that took place in the arena throughout the evening.

I had decided before I got there that if the first game didn't feel like one where I had "something to prove" that I would take it as an opportunity to experiment and try out something that I read about on the internet. Most people hold their phaser from the bottom (I'm right handed, so right hand on the trigger, left hand on the bottom touching the heat sensor). Pros often play with a thumb on the heat sensor and the rest of the fingers wrapped around the top for more protection of the phaser as a target. But what I was interested in trying was a little different...I had read about playing with the phaser upside down and I had never done that, so I thought, why not try it out in a game that doesn't matter and just see how it goes? So I played the entire first game of the night holding my phaser like this...

...and occasionally repositioning my hand to play like this...

To be honest, I found this to be a bit burdensome. I'm not sure how accepted a practice it is to play this way, but it's not a position I felt had tremendous value for me anyway. I did notice that, at least when playing Darklight, that this practice is not permitted, though so far I have not been able to find anything definitively addressing it as endorsed or not for other laser tag systems.

Side note...I found this very interesting breakdown of laser tag rules by system that is worth reading:

I have played most of these systems including Zone, Laserforce, Darklight, Laser Quest, Lazer Runner and Laser Blast (and of course Photon, which for obvious reasons is not on this list), but honestly I learned a few things by reviewing these rules and want to thank whomever put this page together for doing a great job!

I didn't find a whole lot of value in flipping the phaser anyhow, but I did relish the fact that I seemed to be a trendsetter this game. Several players made comments about "check out how she's holding the gun" or the like and I had a very quick moment of eye contact with one player who checked me out, paused for a split second, flipped his phaser over like mine and continued on his way in the game. Kinda made me feel like one of the cool kids leading the pack with a trend...but that was purely my experiment for one game just to see how it would work.

My score that first game was not great...I believe I ended in fifth place...but I cannot attribute that to playing with a flipped phaser. No, I have a REALLY good excuse for why my focus was off that game and it had nothing to do with the equipment. It had to do with something sharp that I ran into in the arena.

In the middle of that first game I brushed up against a wall of the arena and I got caught on a sharp edge and it ripped a really big hole in the side of my jeans at my upper thigh. It was all I could do not to curse out loud when that happened. I took a split second to assess the damage. I couldn't keep playing with this rip in my jeans all night, but I was in the middle of the game and didn't want to forfeit and walk out, so I un-tucked my t-shirt to cover the hole and kept playing. You know I am not one to make excuses, but in this case I think I have a pretty legit reason for why I couldn't get my head back into this game!

When I left that game I was appreciative that the arena was located in a  mall. I heard a voice call my name as I was walking away and I turned around and said "I'll be back for the next game" then I high-tailed it to JCPenney's to do the fastest clothes shopping I've ever done, returning in a new pair of jeans and completely out of breath just in time to get into the next game of the night.

From here on in my night was not quite right. I can't recall a single night previously where I haven't taken the top score at least once...but this was the night. I was actually playing pretty well and the arena was packed, but I kept getting second place (and occasionally even third place) for the entire course of the evening. I know full well which player was beating me too. And I congratulate him for doing a good job (one of his buddies told me "he really wanted to beat you")...well, successfully done as he managed to do so several times. To that guy, if you are reading this now, my highest kudos to you is that I will give you the nickname of Bhodi Li and that's how I will refer to you in this blog from now on...I will also pause to feel old as I recognize that you were not even born when that reference had mild relevance, so moving on with my story...

Sometimes I feel like I am a trophy to be hunted when we go in to the arena. Whether or not this was the case with this one player is irrelevant, but I know it occasionally happens each time a player reacts with a little extra excitement if they tag me. A few of the younger players saw me getting second place several times in a row and they were impressed by that. This is a bit of an ego boost that helps me to not grouse in my own mind about not getting the number one spot, because they think number two is equally cool. Some of them asked me if I play Call of Duty. When I said no they asked "oh, then what do you play to get so good?" and I have a simple answer... "I play laser tag."

Someone else was really good last night too...and apparently it was inadvertent! Midway through the night there was a really intense game going on with the arena at nearly a full capacity. I played hard on the green team that game and I came out of it quite certain that I was going to be the top score. In fact, my score was over 11,000, so I was shocked to see that I actually came in third...WHAT? My player name that round was Kestrel. Since "Bhodi" was playing on the red team I figured he had to be playing as Cyclone. But someone on my team hit 16,000 points that game...and I had no idea who!

I don't mean this arrogantly, but I thought I knew who all the really good players on our team were and I hadn't the foggiest idea who was playing as Shadow. Even though I don't like to lose, I have to give respect to a player who can do that. Now, I don't have empirical numbers of how high the scores typically go for Zone players. I have stumbled upon videos and entry information for the Zone Laser Tag Nationals and World events (unbelievably it appears that in 2011 the Zone World Championships were held in the local area where I play often, so I wonder if it happened to be held in our home arena? I'm really going to have to do some more research on this!) and I don't have enough stats to say what is common in other places using this system, but I will say that in all the time I have been playing Zone with Rift Blaster in this particular arena I have never seen someone get a score that high, so I was impressed. So I had to find this player and congratulate him.

I asked around to see if anyone knew who played as Shadow and someone said "I think that was my buddy over there in the white shirt". So I went over to the guy and complemented him on his achievement. I told him I write a laser tag blog and asked if I could include him on it and was very surprised by his answer. He quite modestly declined because he didn't feel like he really did anything. He said "I just stayed in one spot the entire game and shot at people when they came by". Whew...now that goes against all my traditional laser tag logic. The basic thing that was drilled into my head from the very first time I ever played laser tag was that to get high scores you must keep moving...but, how can I argue with a result like that? Now, Paul thinks that he plays better when he does this same thing. Sometimes it can work (obviously). However, I am a more aggressive player and I don't like the idea of waiting for players to happen by. I prefer to believe that you make your own fate, both in laser tag and in life, and the only way to do this is to go after what you want (i.e. points by finding other players to tag) instead of waiting for them to come to you. However, I will not diminish the fact that this player managed a score that I have not achieved in this particular arena (those words are key, because a number is only impressive in context and in another arena there may be an entirely different scale to measure by), so I offer my sincere congratulations on that.

Fast forward to the final game of the night. Also in all the time I've played in this arena I have never been offered the chance to play anything other than standard team games. Of course I know that the system is capable of other types of games, but the game masters here have never (in my experience) given players the choice of any other format. So I was a bit surprised when the game master offered the choice of playing free for all for the last game. However, I'm sure I was less surprised than most of the other players who had no idea what free for all is. Mind you, I just returned from playing several arenas in Canada where all I experienced up there was free for all (and when I've played Laserforce I've experienced other game formats as well), and even though I'm not generally a fan of this format, I did think it could be fun to play this way against others who had never experienced it before. It was a good final round (interesting how people seem to forget the basics...like positioning on the bridge...when they don't have the security of a team to back them up) and I enjoyed it. However, since we were playing as individuals, top player names were announced over the loudspeaker as we left rather than announcing the team positions. When my name was announced third place that game I resigned myself to the fact that this was simply not my night. But you know what? Like Arnold Schwarzenegger...I'll be back :)

If you have comments or questions please visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or email me at tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why I'm Just Not Wild About This

Every now and again I think that I want to eat lobster. I have a tendency to forget that I am actually allergic to lobster and that it will make me ill. But I know that other people think lobster is the greatest food on earth, so I occasionally try to convince myself that I can enjoy lobster too...and every time I am wrong. In a way, that is my weird analogy for playing Quest in Canada, at least so far.

(author's edit - I've since come to really enjoy playing Laser Quest)

My friends and I decided to play a little more laser tag and called ahead to a local Quest center to make reservations (I had never before experienced a time when a laser tag reservation was necessary - let alone on a Sunday night - and I have played arenas at full capacity, but I appreciate that they gave us the heads up that they were busy). So we ventured out and bought a three game package for the evening. As soon as we arrived I remembered we had played at this center once before with mixed feelings about it. This was about a year ago I believe. I remember I left that first Quest experience feeling like I hadn't played laser tag the way I like to, but thought it was possible that this was a result of not placing as high as I normally do and maybe that was the reason I didn't like it as much. Time to give it another go.

I should start with some positives, as this center really did have a number of good things going on as well. I was impressed with the aesthetic of the briefing room. I really like to play in arenas that make an effort towards a cool atmosphere and this briefing room did have beautiful space-age art on the walls and attractive black lighting. I don't understand places that don't offer seating for briefing, but it was short and a young female game master (or "marshall" as she preferred) gave us the quick run-down on two out of three games. On the third game she got a little creative with her speech and asked everyone to raise their key tag with their left hand and put their right hand over their heart while pledging in unison to follow the rules...a little over the top as almost everyone playing was an older teen or an adult that game.

Another thing I noticed and appreciated was that this center was making an effort to involve their players in special events. There were posters all over the place for special days and hours including a family day and, get this...50 Shades of Lasers where you could "show your skills in a variety of games" at an upcoming late-nighter...that is clever ingenuity and I give them props for that.

Finally, I like that the staff here is clued in to other forms of laser tag. I always find that impressive when someone knows what they are talking about in terms of other systems and equipment and are not just there to recite the company line. I have experienced this twice at this center. When I was there a year ago it was the first time anyone had talked to me about the Armageddon (the multi-system, multi-team annual tournament) and that impressed me. This time the guy behind the counter noticed me wearing my Photon hat and commented on it. I love when people recognize Photon (as it's a sign they've been into laser tag for awhile) and he mentioned a few people with whom we were mutually acquainted. So in my book they score points for knowing what's going on in other laser tag realms also.

So, yes, this place did have some good stuff going on and, yes, it was laser tag so that's a positive right there. However, there are a few things about my experience that I just generally was not wild about. First is the equipment. It's a matter of preference...everyone has their favorites and I think my heart belongs to Zone...I still think the Quest phasers are a little big and bulky. They feel like a bazooka or a cannon! The barrel of the phaser is quite long in my opinion and it is heavier than I like and does not feel natural to carry. It also is tiresome to shoot. I found myself alternating between pulling the trigger with my forefinger and middle finger because the repetitive motion of firing the phaser started to ache a bit...and I'm a trigger-happy kind of player.

I will say the arena was cool with lots of mirrors (always interesting to aim at the colorful lights and find you're shooting at yourself) and multiple levels of play (and any experienced player quickly found their way to the top for the best vantage point). However, in spite of the impressive playing space, the experience was marred for me by some of the unruly players...and I literally mean "un-rule-y". I mentioned there were plenty of older teens and adults playing there. Every game was a free for all (with nearly a packed house I didn't understand why...I prefer team play and there were more than enough people there for that to make sense, but I was told this is their standard format at this center unless doing a special event). Now, I know how it feels to walk into your home center and feel like you are about to rule the roost...which is exactly what must have been the case with a few of these players...however, that only means something if you play and win fairly. I was annoyed by one older player in particular who on two separate occasions grabbed my phaser by the barrel and physically pushed it down because he was irritated I had gotten a shot on him and was continuing to keep him in my sights. To this I have two things to say...first, if you don't want me to shoot at you then just WALK AWAY FROM ME! I can only shoot what's in front of me. Don't just stand there in my face and complain about it...take cover and play the game like we came here for. Second...ahem...did you forget the pledge you recited? One of the basic rules in every laser tag arena is NO PHYSICAL CONTACT. Grow up and play right. He and his friends seemed to both simultaneously gang up on me and fear (or respect?) my playing as they tended to travel throughout the arena in a pack and periodically made comments that I regarded as a badge of honor on my ability. I'm fine with that. However, in a similarly irritating incident, one of my friends later commented that someone in the arena had taken their vest off to play citing that "the rules say not to cover your sensors, but don't say anything about taking them off"...really? I don't know if it was the same guy I had an issue with or one of his cronies, but I hate hearing about stuff like this. It's unnecessary and unsportsmanlike.

All that said, I was determined from the first game that I wanted to play really well just to put these guys in their place for the nonsense we experienced playing with them. I scored decently the first couple of rounds, but not to the level I was trying for (I know 5th out of 36 is good, but not good enough if these guys were the four people ranking ahead of me). However, I didn't know my placement coming out of that first game and that REALLY irritated me. Instead of pausing long enough to put the scores from that round up on the display monitor so we could see who had done what, they didn't acknowledge the scores from that round AT ALL! They said we'd get our scores from that game handed to us on a score card after the next game, but we would not see them on the screen because we were sent back into the arena immediately. WHAT?!!! Now, as it turns out I placed 5th in both the first and second rounds, but that is entirely beside the point. If I had been number one I would have wanted to relish knowing that I had prevailed over these guys who were breaking the rules. And if they were in fact placing higher I would have wanted to identify who was in those positions so as to adopt a better strategy next time to counterbalance their antics. Instead I felt totally cheated out of the results of that first game. I'm sorry, I am a results driven person and I need to see my name on the monitor. It's just part of why I like the game. I think this was my biggest beef with playing at this facility.

So at the end of the second round we got the satisfaction of at least seeing the scores. It barely felt like a pause in between before we were whisked back in for the third game (I like to play lots of successive rounds, but the pacing to get us herded in and out seemed a little bit too quick). By this point I felt like I had a handle on the arena and I definitely had more than enough fueling me to want to do well. So I pulled out my inner warrior (my tae kwon do instructor says the "kyap" - or the hi-ya scream - is really the warrior within...my warrior's name is Tivia and laser tag is where she gets unleashed) and I gave it everything I had left after burning up for the first two games. I will say, I apologize for some collateral damage as I inadvertently ended up shooting at my friends more than I intended...yes, "Milky" and "Waltz" took multiple hits while they were tucked into a hidey-hole, but I swear I didn't realize it was them when I first began shooting...sorry guys :)  And Garth was still doing well moving around the arena, so we did cross paths a few times as well. But my main focus was on targeting "those pesky kids" and getting to the top of the scoreboard. This would have been easier if Paul didn't keep getting in my way. He plays quite well, but was literally in my way all night and hindering me...yet another reason I prefer teams is that you can have a few allies rather than treating everyone in the arena as an obstacle...he should be an ally, right? But in this case we were still playing free for all, so everyone was up against everyone and I had to work around this. I know I played well that game. I can just feel it when I'm on. So when we exited the arena this last time I felt pretty positive about the outcome. We looked at the screen and...

Paul and I had the top two spots...although he had edged me out of the top score by a margin of just 27 points! Sheesh...and congratulations. Mostly the latter. I'm glad he had a good game also and I'm glad we did what we were trying to do and that we outscored the rule breaking kids. That felt like a victory. And our other friends were doing a great job that round too, so we left on a high note. We even bought some goofy souvenir swag bags and took a moment to just have fun hanging out in the lobby. 

So the experience ended well...and in hindsight it's really more about particular interactions that I wasn't wild about more than the game itself. But I will definitely be back for more Laser Quest!

If you have comments or questions please visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or email me at tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com.

Going Stealth

Our final laser tag stop on Saturday night was to Planet Play and Area 51. They have a very cool looking website and upon walking into the center we found there was a wall of monitors with cameras tracking the activity of the current game being played in the arena.

The outer part of the center was deceptively sparse compared to the arena  in the back, but once we were led down a very artfully painted space-battle themed hallway we found ourselves in a small, but impressive briefing area. OK, briefing areas are hardly ever more than a small room with risers, perhaps accented by cool lighting or design concepts, but this one was the most impressive we'd been in today, mostly by virtue of the large screen they used to project the briefing video, which was also the best we'd viewed today.

I found it a little bit interesting that every place we went to today used a video to go over the equipment and rules of the game (all similar, but different) when up until this point I believe a gaming attendant has given the instruction in person at every other facility I've gone to. However, this video briefing was clever and engaging, so props to whomever put this one together.

When the video was done I asked the game master about the system in play. I knew going in that this facility was using the Laser Blast system and according to what I found online I was expecting that they too used Hyper Blast (like the center we went to in Hamilton). However, their display monitor identified the game as Zeta Blast. I asked what the difference was between Hyper Blast and Zeta Blast since until today I had never played either. He didn't have an answer for me on that, so I resorted to the internet for answers, but I am still not sure I have a handle on it, so if anyone reading can clue me in I welcome you to post a comment or send an email to enlighten me.

The game master gave us the choice to play a stealth game as the final game of the night. He explained that once the round started the lights in the arena would be turned off and so would the lights on our packs (although they would still register hits) and the only things we would see lit up were the tiny screens on the back of the phasers. There were no bases active for this game. Ultimately that meant we had to basically rely on the accuracy of our shots in the darkness. I had never played a game like this before and I must say it was a blast (a Zeta Blast - tee-hee) to maneuver a new arena in the darkness. This was one of the coolest forms of laser tag I've played. I appreciate the flexibility that was offered to afford us this option of game play.

The phasers in use at this arena were one-handed. I personally feel a greater sense of control with my shots when I play two-handed (even if I don't need to) so I held mine the way I am more comfortable. Even when I play Laser Runner with the odder shaped phaser I still feel like something is off-kilter when I am only using one hand. What can I say, I'm a creature of habit. I liked the entire experience I had at this center (except for Paul coming in ahead of me this round...eh, it happens). And although this was not an enormous arena in terms of total square footage and it was only one-level I thought they used the space well, had creative cutouts in their obstacles (so you couldn't feel too secure in your cover) and was definitely a place I would happily play again.

Laser tag is something I really love to do, so I was glad to be able to share the experience with some of my closest friends that I don't get to see all that often because of geography. I enjoy playing laser tag with Paul almost anywhere because he is competitive like I am. Ankur seems to get into it with an enthusiasm that is similar to mine. Garth has a good time no matter what we're doing and moves very stealthily through the arena. TJ is game for almost anything and did well plunged into a sport he didn't know much about before today. Thanks guys for making this trip even more fun for joining me for a few rounds and experiencing Canadian laser tag with me :)

If you have comments or questions please visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or email me at tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com.

Meandering the Maze

One of the laser tag systems I enjoy playing is Laserforce. So when we started to plan our Canada trip I was enthused to learn that there was a center running the Laserforce system in nearby Vaughan. I figured if it was anything like the place where I play locally that it would be packed on a Saturday night and I was ready with my membership card in case it could be used to get my standard games number up while playing on vacation. Meanwhile, the friend I was coordinating the trip with agreed that playing in Vaughan sounded great...but he did his internet research separately and we discovered that even though we were planning the arrangements together we had independently been looking at websites for two totally different laser tag centers in the same town! So we explored them both, starting with the one that ran Laserforce, which was Lazer Maze.

We pulled into the parking lot and were surprised that there weren't more cars there...on a Saturday night I typically expect at least 30-40 people where I play locally. But this was Valentine's Day, a very cold Saturday and a relatively new facility in the area, so we walked in and found that our little group of five would be it (unless we waited for a group that was expected to show up later in the evening). OK, this was different from what I expected, but laser tag is always fun even with only a few players, so we decided that this would be a good starter game, especially as one of the guys in our group had never played any laser tag before. We figured this would ease him into it.

Unfortunately my membership card did not scan in this system, so I was unable to adopt my preferred code name and get my scores added to my stats record, but that was ok. We went in, game for the experience nonetheless. They showed a short video in the briefing room that appeared to feature members of the staff. A quick tutorial on the equipment got everybody in our group up to speed and we entered an arena that was a combination of a rainforest/lost civilization theme on one level. It was a smaller arena than what I am accustomed to, but since we were a small group of adult players the game master gave us some leeway in having a more custom experience. She let us enter the space for a few minutes before turning on the smoke machine and turning out the lights, so the atmosphere was enhanced and the game was a bit more challenging. We played as a free for all and Paul was definitely making an active effort to hunt me down throughout the game. Meanwhile everyone was maneuvering through the maze and doing well...although TJ may have mostly been searching the maze for a tiki bar to try and exchange his phaser for a cocktail :)

Playing in a smaller space makes me appreciate the vastness of the arenas I get to experience every week by comparison. Although smaller arenas have their assets as well and one of those benefits is being able to tailor the game experience when you have a night like this. I really wish that my score would have gone towards my stats, but since it was free for all it's probably just as well that we played as we did. It's nice to take a group with you as an assurance that you can play a round no matter what. It was a good time and I wish this new facility lots of success as their business continues to grow.

If you have comments or questions please visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or email me at tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com.

Oh, Canada...So Much Laser Tag, So Little Time

Paul and I recently visited some friends in the Toronto area. In addition to all the fun things we wanted to experience while in Canada, top of my list was getting a chance to try out as many different laser tag centers as possible. That seemed easy enough since there are quite a few in close proximity to where we were staying. But I had the itch to play even before arriving at our final destination, as I had mapped out a few options I found on www.wheretoplaylasertag.com before we had even left. So upon crossing the border into Canada we headed towards Hamilton where Lazer Mania was our first blast of the day.

I was intrigued by what turned out to be a typo...on the website listing where it identifies what system the center uses it listed the system as "Lazer Mania" which I was unfamiliar with. There's a good reason I was unfamiliar with it...it's not a laser tag system at all. I didn't connect the dots that the name of the facility had inadvertently been listed here in error. They actually play Laser Blast using the Hyper Blast game. By a happy accident this turned out to be a perfect place to start as I had never played this system before and we were intending to go to another Laser Blast facility later on once we connected with our friends. So a practice round seemed like a good idea to get familiar with the format.

We entered a game with two small groups including a party that had already been playing earlier (and were vocal about their dismay to have to watch the briefing video again with us "newbies"), then we were randomly allocated to three teams by the game master...who wisely separated Paul and I from being on the same team (we get competitive). I played on the blue team this time.

The vests had a large triangular target on both the front and the back, along with shoulder targets. The phasers were two handed (my preference) and the equipment would rumble if someone registered a hit on you.

There were two levels to the arena and some unique features within including multi-colored flashing targets...I'm not sure I had grasped the technique of smartly utilizing these even though it had been touched upon in the briefing video. The arena had a bit of an unusual feel, from the compact briefing area to the maze that appeared to have a cross between a space age theme and an island flavor (as all the bases were located under huts). The easy shots were those taken from the top level above while targeting down on the players below...and players had to make their way down because if you wanted to score a base you had to be on the lower level as that's where they were all located. As with the games I play at home you could rack up big points by tagging the bases from both opposing teams. However, I picked up on something important during the game that was not addressed in the briefing video...unlike in my local arenas where a base can only be tagged one time per game, here the bases could be gotten more than once for a major point advantage (I confirmed this with the game master during the round). Sometimes you just have to experiment a bit while in the game :)

With that piece of useful base knowledge coupled with the points acquired from tagging my opponents, I walked out of the game and found my player name at the top of the rankings (I am Batman). This center did something that I really like...at the end of the game they passed out individual score cards with stats and results of your individual performance in the game. Upon analyzing my score sheet, while pleased to have gotten the top score by a pretty good margin, I was not sure why the additional base hits I know that I got while playing did not appear to register on this paper. It identified two base hits on the green base and none for red and blue? Well, obviously I wasn't going after my own base, but am quite certain that I got the red base more than once. So before playing this system again I may want to get some further clarity about multiple base shootings. Regardless, it was a fun round on a system that was new for me. I decided it would be interesting to compare and contrast this experience with the other Laser Blast facility, so more details to come on my second LB experience.

If you have comments or questions please visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or email me at tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Strategy Session

I feel compelled to write about strategy this morning, even knowing full well that by putting this out there it may come back to bite me next time.

This is a map of the arena where I was playing laser tag last night. The goals are two-fold...tag as many players as you possibly can while making sure to tag each of the opposing teams' bases once per game. Let's assume for the sake of the following examples that I am playing on the red team (FYI, my strategy will change based on which team I am on and I suspect next time I will end up selecting a different team just to keep a few surprises). There are several things I can do right out of the gate. Mixing them up so the other team doesn't know which is about to happen is key to not having a tactic predicted by an opponent. My first strategy might be to make a hard run on one or both of the bases immediately. If I'm going after the green base I will "walk quickly" from the red entry door directly to the base. However, if the green team is smart they will have already sent some of their players up the bridge, so I will pause at the first X, look and shoot left for protection and then storm the green base (second X), which may also have some players there to guard already. In my opinion those guards are simply acting as martyrs because that frees up other players on their team to go after points, which is how the game is won. If I am quick I will take this base right away. If I am not and there are more guards than I care to take aim at then I can skirt around to the next base or just kill time tagging some players while I wait for them to clear out.

Now, to mix things up I might start out differently and go for the blue base first. This is actually easier and I don't know why more people don't start here more often. You could call this a patience play because once the doors open if you patiently await the others getting deeper into the arena first you can scoot around and the blue base is generally open right there. I would anticipate there could be a guard, but I would also expect that the team is more interested in getting the red and green bases for themselves this early into the game, so it's not a bad place to begin.

An alternate tactic along this same route is to perform a sneak attack. There will be a grace period while players are entering the arena when the packs are not armed, so if I enter and then simply follow behind or mix in with the blue players (or any team...this is just a for instance) then I might catch them by surprise when the packs turn on and I have several of them with their backs turned to me. I performed this maneuver several times last night and was surprised that only the last girl in line seemed to catch on and try to give her teammates a warning, while the others were asking "how'd you get here so fast?"

I like this arena because there are two levels and those levels are the bridges. If you are on the bridge there are advantages and disadvantages. On this first bridge if you stake out the spot with the X you can see a direct shot line down to the outer part of the green base. If you are a good marksman this is a place where you can rack up points. However, it is also a vulnerable spot and, in my opinion, it's easier to get a shot from below aiming up the bridge than the other way around. So use this position, but don't stay open for too long.

Undoubtedly, there will be opposing players trying to stake out the other bridge. There is a sweet spot where you have a double advantage if you head down the first bridge and cut across. Hiding behind one barricade by the X until you are ready, you can often catch one player on the top of the bridge off guard (because they don't tend to suspect fire from below) and you can also aim directly into the blue base, which by this time probably either has someone guarding or someone trying to capture it. Either way, catch them while they are distracted and you can rack up some points by ducking back into this hidey-hole and repeating the process. Just watch your back, as this is another spot where you could become vulnerable if you hang out for too long.

Last night I was fairly consistent in my playing. Almost every game I was either in the first or second place based on points. I was not concerned with team ranking as the teams ended up being a complete mish-mash with no particular coherence. Our team from last week ended up splintering between the three team colors so I felt the teams were less coordinated and more effort was put out by individual players, yet every team had at least a couple of really solid players, which always makes things interesting. There was only one game where I really slipped up and I put the blame squarely on myself...and my scores reflected that (I think I was in 7th place...I didn't even bother to document that game). I fell victim to another team's strategy that in hindsight may not have actually been a strategy at all.

There was one guy and a group of three girls who were staking out a corner in what used to be the blue base reload station (reloads are no longer used here). They did not appear to be playing very intensely...rather they seemed to just be idly hanging out, which is why I thought this would be easy. I had the same preconceived idea about these girls that other players sometimes have about me. That said, I was hoping for fish in a barrel, but that's not what I got. I came around from the far wall by the doors and tried to shoot into the reload station. I knew they were there and they knew I was there. Unfortunately, each time I'd go for a hit on one, another would tag me. I'd try it again...same thing. They say insanity is the act of repeating the same action and expecting a different result...I should have remembered that. Instead I wasted too much time and took too many unnecessary hits while trying to prove that I could take out this corner single-handedly. If I had some team support it could have happened, however this game was part of the splintering off and I was working this area alone. Precious seconds of game play were lost.

If I had been playing it smart I would have just left them there and found my points elsewhere. Especially considering I could have better viewed this situation in a different light. I should have banked on the universal truth known by every soul living on planet earth...teenage girls are a tremendous distraction to teenage guys. If I had just let them keep him distracted over there I would have had one less aggressive opponent and could have just focused on the rest of the arena. Chalk that one up to "things I'll do better next time". And truth be told, this wasn't my only mistake that game. I also didn't properly recognize what an excellent marksman one of my fellow team members from last week was until I was opposing him (props to you Joe), so I take that entire game as my learning experience of the night. It's good to have those now and again to keep you analyzing things and striving for success in the next round. This morning I feel like a football coach reviewing my own plays in my head. I know what I'll be doing differently the next time I play this arena. However, I have at least three new laser tag experiences in my sights in the meantime, so my next strategy for this map may just have to wait :)

If you have questions or comments please visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or email tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Words To Live By

This t-shirt has some good advice for life...

It's also good advice when you consider it relevant to strategy, which I will address further in my next post. However, that will wait until morning as I have just returned from a full evening of laser tag and an extra long drive back on some very slick roads, so I am ready to call it a night!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Out of the Past

Yes, Team Toronto...that title is for you ;)

I came across a neat little blast from my laser tag past...the key tag that I was assigned when I first started playing laser tag years ago. In an earlier post I mentioned that some years back I played at a center that used a code name system, but in the years since they had updated their system and these key tags are no longer used there. But if you roll the clock back a few years, this tag contained all the statistical data from when I first began playing. It was given to me upon my signing up for a membership. Back in the day I would attach this button to the front of my laser tag pack and it would retain my player information and the results and statistics from how I had played in that game as well as all my previous games. At the time I played under the name Tivia2 (that's not a typo...I added a number 2 to the end because just "Tivia" must have been taken...presumably by someone else paying homage to Photon?) and this is what the tag looked like...

I can't believe I still have this! Not that it's of much use to me, but I have to wonder if somehow my old scores are still encrypted on it? I wonder if the information stored on it makes it unique to just the system that it was originally linked to or if it could be pulled up if you found another location using similar hardware? Ah...wishful thinking. But I was curious and upon closer examination I can see some writing etched on the surface of the tag...

It's a 1-wire device with the website ibutton.com on the surface. So, what is ibutton? Here's what I found when I did a quick search...


Apparently there are plenty of applications for these little tags. I'm certain there are still laser tag centers using similar progress tracking tags elsewhere (it's not like I kept this from all that long ago...in fact I think they had something very much like it for game to game player tracking when I last played in Mississauga), but I'm just guessing that they wouldn't be compatible with this one. Still, it would be interesting to take this back to the same center where I played before and still go to play all these years later and see if they have any means of retrieving those old scores to compare and contrast the progress over time. It would probably be like comparing apples and oranges, but it's an interesting thought...and makes me a little nostalgic too.

If you have questions or comments please visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or email me at tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Attack of the Jim Jim Squad

Some nights you get a feel for how the games are going to go...and other nights you get some cool surprises. I showed up at laser tag right at the start of the night and in the briefing room I was the only woman (not entirely unusual) among a swarm of overly confident high school jocks who came to the arena as a group and loudly determined that this game would just be their "warm-up" until more people started to arrive. I'm not sure if they even noticed me...yet.

I do love being underestimated and they sure didn't see me coming. Typically I can tell when players don't expect for me to have any laser tag skills and I love the moment of realization that hits at some point during the game. I won that round on points and that set the tone for the evening, but things got better after the next game. A few more players arrived and I found myself playing on the red team with three young guys who just showed up while all the jocks joined together to make one big team of double our size...clearly they thought a victory was imminent. What was really cool about the guys on my team was that they too were flying under the radar at that point...all were great players and our little team easily dominated the game in spite of having significantly fewer participants on our side.

After the game the guys from my team came over to me, offered me a congratulatory Mountain Dew and introduced themselves. They suggested teaming up again and it was the start of a victorious night for what became called "The Jim Jim Squad" (I don't know what it means either...they came up with the name and some little rubber ducks from the prize counter became our mascots...cool by me).

(Tyler, Joe, Will and me...The Jim Jim Squad)

Our team had a few things going for us. Besides experience, there was some decent strategy involved with playing on a team with people who knew the arena and understood the scoring values. We anticipated what the other teams' players might do and we knew what had to be done in a logical order to keep the scores high. Plus good teamwork makes a tremendous difference in trying to scoot a group of opposing players away from a base you need to rack up team points. Our team continued to be a powerhouse all night long. I had a particularly good streak personally (top score every single game of the night...I'm not sure if I've ever had an unbroken streak that good happen before or not, but it sure helped me keep my momentum strong). Credit goes to my team for that also because I know I had solid players watching my back too. Thanks guys! One game I hit a personal best for the night at 12,300 (playing Zone) which I was really happy with. And we all had very good rankings. Every one of us was always in the upper tier of the scores and our team solidly held at least two out of the three top placements in every game. So it was a really good night for the JJS! :-)

During the height of the laser tag night there were around 30 players in the game, but by the last round we looked around and realized that there were only six of us left. The four of us, plus two additional players who teamed up with us somewhere in the middle. Since we had been playing together all night and were all quite good we knew that this would be interesting. We split up into three teams of two and had a great final round. The scores were all really close and it was a fun match playing against each other since by that point in the evening we pretty well knew each other's playing strengths and strategy. Of course I prefer to play in a packed arena, but sometimes the smaller games are better when you are more evenly matched across the board.

By the end of the night we had played hard and won all of the games (well, ok, there was one round where technically our team came in second to the jock team, but that was really just a numbers variable...our players still held the top three individual scores that round...but our team collectively won every other game of the night outright). And, as testament to the fact that I waste WAY too much cash killing time in the arcade in between rounds, I took home an extra goodie tonight...a giant stuffed Butters from South Park.

So we took a victory photo with Butters and the Jim Jim ducks. Awesome night of laser tag!

Side note...my teammates are part of a band called Dusk Till Dawn. Here's their Facebook page...www.facebook.com/vengeanceofficialbandpage.

If you have questions or comments please visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or email me at tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com.