Sunday, November 12, 2017

Laser Storm Out In The Wild

This post is appropriately titled because my visit to Michael's Fun World in Davenport, Iowa was my first time playing Laser Storm in an actual Storm arena. Up until now I have only ever played Storm when it the system was brought in and set up for 'geddon tournaments using Logan's packs inside of whatever the arena of the day happened to be. That means that I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually gotten to play this system, so it was really cool to play in an arena that was intended for it.
The first thing that stuck out to me were the vests. When I walked into the briefing room and saw these packs I was dumbfounded because they looked like some kind of Storm/Q-Zar hybrid unlike any that I had seen before, either in person or online.

I wondered if they were customized because they looked so unusual. I'm sure the guys at this center were surprised by how fascinated I was by their packs.

What it seems to be was that these were probably from the time when Storm packs were sold on fannypack-like belts as apparently some centers did come up with their own vests to attach the packs. It looks like that might have been the case here.
We headed into the arena which was constructed with large plastic tubing.

The bases hung from the ceiling in cone structures so you would have to shoot up into them to deactivate. There were two recharge stations on each side of the arena that sort of resembled gas station pumps.

I played against some of the employees and a few public players who jumped into the game while I was busy taking pictures. Because I've only played at 'geddons I have no concept of how typical these scores are, but I do know that I won the top score and I was flattered when one of the employees on my team commented after the round that "yeah, she carried us." So here is how my first game of public Laser Storm played out.

Actually, if anything this makes me think I need an explanation of the scoring...but since I play this so rarely I guess I'll just hold onto my questions until Snowmageddon. :)
If I lived near this center I do believe I would play Storm all the time...especially at these prices!

I had a great time at Michael's and give a shout out to the staff members who I got to talk tag with while I was there.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017


From what I have been able to determine it appears that there are only two locations remaining that still operate with Intersphere laser tag equipment so it was especially cool that I had the opportunity to play at one of them in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


When I arrived at Westdale Bowling Center I met up with owners BJ and Kim who told me about  how they purchased their Intersphere packs 20 years ago and have been able to maintain that original equipment all this time with the help of a skillful engineer. BJ told me that years ago when they were first looking at systems to purchase he knew that two engineers from a well known manufacturing company were also starting their tag business and he figured if they were choosing the Intersphere system that it spoke well to the system being a solid choice. Apparently so as it really is remarkable that the packs have held up for all this time!


They have mostly the O packs that I understand were manufactured in Holland and then they have two additional X packs (made in Iowa) that were acquired later from another site.


They referred to them as the hard shell versus the soft shell as the vest on the O packs was a more rigid design...


...and the X packs had a canvas type of vest.


The phaser was unusual in shape, but very comfortable to use. You can shoot it one handed, but two hands keep it stable.


I was appreciative to get a chance to play with both, although there appeared to be no significant difference between them that I could see while playing the game.


It's interesting to note that in the mid-'90s Intersphere USA filed for a trademark on the name "Laser X" which was apparently the name of a corporate owned site at the Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, Iowa (the city where Intersphere was based) and it makes me wonder if they were the original system at the Laser X locations that I've had the chance to visit in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and Sacramento, California. My guess would be yes (since they all seem to share similar branding elements), but I can't say for certain.


So, back to my visit to this still active site in Iowa. They showed me into the vesting room just to the left of their bowling alley.


About 20 years ago they removed several bowling lanes in order to construct the arena (which I am told Intersphere designed). At some point So if you go there to bowl you will see things begin with lane 5 at the edge of the arena.


Inside the arena is small (about 2200 sq. ft) and pretty much split lengthwise down the middle. There's a space age industrial  theme with lots of "galactic contamination" barrels augmenting the playing area.


And there was a base station where you could activate it for various power-ups.


I'm told that at one point they had two, but somewhere along the lines the second one had been removed. I looked forward to trying this system out.


And it's always kind of cool to see scoring done on older software.


So this was a thoroughly unique experience and I am glad I had an opportunity to play Intersphere for the first time while traveling through Iowa. Many thanks again to BJ and Kim for the hospitality at their site!


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Touring iCOMBAT

Last month I received an email from Brandon Mijokovic, VP of Operations for iCombat Laser Tag with a unique invitation to tour the iCombat headquarters in Waukesha, WI. This sounded very interesting as I have never had the chance to see the inner workings of a laser tag manufacturing company. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn more about this brand of laser tag and also to use the visit as the catalyst for another tag trip, this time leading me to play in three more states including Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.


When I arrived at the iCombat office building I was really excited to learn more about this company. I met Brandon first and then was introduced to the marketing and design team as well as to Ocie Mathenia , VP of Sales who were all working on the top upper level of the office.



Then we went down the stairs to the lower level where Brandon introduced me to the software team.


After a preliminary tour of the office I had the chance to sit down with Brandon and Ocie who were kind enough to take some time out for an interview to discuss the iCombat company and their position within the laser tag industry. I learned that iCombat has a great deal more to offer than just a tactical game. Their equipment has been used to help with law enforcement training, they have a non-gun option for kids and they are making strides towards bridging the gap between tactical and traditional laser tag. Listen to what they have to say...


After our interview I got a chance to see and try some cool new products. When we walked through the downstairs offices I saw something that Brandon was also seeing for the first time...a prototype for the irShotgun.



And I had the chance to try this out for myself.


This was a lot of fun and so different from what I am accustomed to. Their tactical line has a tremendous amount of realism. I appreciate that they let me try some of the new things they are creating. I was also especially excited about seeing their latest addition, the Invictus, which they will be showcasing at IAAPA next week. The Invictus is a more traditionally styed phaser with the game with multi-colored lights and everything needed to play built right in. It looks a lot more like the laser tag I am accustomed to.



And it sounds more like a traditional laser tag game too, and yet completely fresh and new.


This is a product I can get excited about! Although I am gaining an appreciation for tactical, this new phaser really has a lot of appeal to me as a person who plays a variety of traditional systems. I really hope there is a site close enough for me to play this soon.


Additionally Brandon showed  me some of the other products from their tactical line. Everything was quite realistic in appearance. You can see how some of the products modify Tippmann paintball guns.



And I was interested to learn that they had made special vests for tournament play, however these were not sold to customers.


It's obvious that they are always working on new innovations here.



And it was interesting to see how things go from prototype to product. For example, I saw the "bucket"...


...which was an early step towards the creation of the Dominator tubes which I was familiar with from playing some Domination during my recent travels to Washington.


It was really interesting to get this behind the scenes look at the iCombat headquarters. Many thanks for the invitation and the tour!



When I left the offices in Waukesha I headed for Universal Electronics to visit one of their manufacturing plants.


Although at this point most of the manufacturing is done in their East Troy factory I was still able to see what takes place at the plant. Mike hooked me up with a smock and safety goggles before entering the facility.


I got to see what was going on inside the manufacturing plant.


And see some of the iCombat equipment that was boxed up and ready to ship.


And after I left it was just about time to return for my session at the iCombat company operated field where I would be able to play a few games...and by a few I mean 14 game rounds over the course of about an hour! I definitely got to experience a wide variety of game options.


I arrived at the field on Friday afternoon.


And then Ashley and the staff got me all set up to play beginning with setting me up with a membership card.


And with some time to kill before we started I enjoyed shopping for some tag swag to take back with me.


Ashley then gave me a tour of the playing field starting from the observation deck and then walking through a pretty impressively decorated "city" where I was told a Hollywood designer had put together the look behind "Battlefield Baghdad" which was the theme of this arena.


They got me suited up with the irM4 including headband and vest and I played with a small group of employees who taught me about the games as we went along. I experienced quite a few game rounds including Team Deathmatch, Sniper, UBL, Juggernaut, Blackhawk Down and Domination. My favorites were Sniper (I'm sure that's no surprise to anyone who reads my blog) and Domination, which I had enjoyed learning previously in Seattle. Here's how we fared (stars on the left indicate the games I got MVP, however to be fair we were only playing teams of partners).

I learned quite a bit since it was my first time with a few of these game formats. Many thanks to the iCombat crew that I played with in Waukesha!



And big thanks to everyone at iCombat for inviting me out including owner Rick Jensen who I didn't get to meet personally, but who I understand saw the article about me tagging in Alaska and that was what sparked the invitation that got this whole adventure in motion. I had a wonderful time and can't wait to play iCombat again!



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