Sunday, August 19, 2018

Half a Name + Half a Game = Whole Lot of Fun in Charlotte!

How did it happen that I ended up playing half an Ironman? Here’s the story…

I left Archdale and was bound for Charlotte, NC with plans to play the 10:00pm Ironman at Laser Quest for which I had called in my reservation earlier that afternoon. I had been driving for most of the day at this point. I started my morning in Greensboro, NC, drove over two and a half hours to Blacksburg, VA, then another three hours to South Boston, an hour and a half to Burlington, half an hour more to Archdale and from there it was about an hour and twenty minutes more to Charlotte. Now, I had played a lot of laser tag along the way, so I have no complaints about all the driving required to get me there. But I had to push myself to make that extra hour and a half drive to get to what would be my 199th laser tag arena. And time was against me (you know, what with only 24 hours in a day and all). So I was driving along being mindful of the clock and knowing that if I timed everything right I’d get there just a few minutes before they started getting people checked in. It was a Saturday night and, yes, I hit lots of traffic, but my GPS had me routed to the address of a shopping plaza which was still comfortably within range. When I pulled into the plaza I drove slowly through the parking lot looking for the familiar LQ logo, but I could not find it anywhere. So I called the number I had saved in my phone and asked for some assistance. The woman who answered asked me what was nearby and as I started listing the stores within view she paused and asked me what address I had gone to. I told her…and she told me that this was the address of their old location and that they had moved across town six years ago. Their current arena was between 20-30 minutes away from where I was now. Oh-no!

Now, I don’t fault LQ at all because I did not find this address on their corporate site. I found the outdated info on an unrelated site that steers you towards where to play laser tag (and Bill, this one needs an update, please). So, I explained that I had driven quite a ways to play in this game (isn’t that an understatement!) and that I’d drive across town right now if I would be able to jump into the game once I got there. She said absolutely, so I put pedal to the metal and got to the other side of Charlotte, making very good time. I parked and ran into the lobby where several employees were waiting for me. One asked me what name I wanted to use and I said “Tiv”. I figured no sense signing in for a partial game and if I was only going to play half a game I would only use half of my player name instead of the whole “Tivia” that I use with Laser Quest Arena. In record time they had me signed in and throwing on a pack (whisking me through the briefing room…marshall, marshall, marshall) and then I was in the Ironman game with almost two thirds of it left.

There were a couple of competitive players there and I found them pretty quickly in the arena. One asked me if I was going to snipe him the entire game and I cheekily said “sure looks like it”. I smiled as he recounted that story to his buddy later on while we were waiting for our scoresheets.

I played hard. REALLY hard. I thought it would be amazing if I could somehow pull a win out of this even with only playing a partial game, so I went full out. And honestly I was pretty pleased with my score even though I came in third (right behind that guy and his buddy).

This was one of the most enjoyable LQ experiences I have had. I want to thank the staff for getting me into the game. They could tell it was urgent, but until it was all over they didn’t know why. Then I explained to them that this was my 199th arena and if I didn’t get to play here tonight it would throw everything off for when I play my 200th arena in a little over a week. So THAT is why it was super important for me to play at Laser Quest Charlotte even if I didn’t get an entire game. I got the experience and I can check this off.

And I’ve got the magnet to prove it! I so wish I had been collecting these all along…sigh, regrets, but happy to have this one to take back with me.

So even though I played half a game with half a name, Laser Quest Charlotte definitely was a whole lot of fun. And it sets me up so the next arena I play will be number 200. Get ready!

Comments or Questions?

Lazer X...and Lazer X

My first stop upon crossing the border into northern North Carolina was to Lazer X in Burlington. I am intrigued by the history of sites that are called Lazer X and yet operate completely independently of each other, because I have played at a few of them including Lazer X in Fort Wayne, IN (with Cyber Blast) and Lazer X in Sacramento, CA (with Helios Pro). At this point I believe most (if not all) are independently owned sites, but since the ones I have been to all pretty much use similar logos it seems logical that perhaps they must have at once point had origins connected with Lazer X and Intersphere. But if that is the case here I will need to do my homework. It’s coincidental, but just so happens that the next two sites I would play back to back are both called Lazer X, but they are completely separate businesses running completely different laser tag systems.

The Burlington site has moved on to newer equipment and a new owner, Jeff, who has very recently taken over this site. It’s now known as Lazer X – The Family Zone (as they now operate using Zone Nexus). I was really looking forward to playing Nexus again the way I know and love it.

I went in with a group that I took for regulars at this site. The guy in particular seemed to be “the one to beat” and even though this was a small game, it was really a lot of fun!

We went into a single level arena with a typical CW maze and I scoped out the bases.

One was in a far corner to the right, but the other was in a separate alcove of the arena on the left, both housed under large, open structures. The arena played well and felt like a larger space than what I’m sure it was. And the game itself played well too…my Nexus timing has returned! ;) I was definitely ON this game and it felt good. My thanks to the other players for going in strong and making this a fun round.

When the game was done we collected our scorecards. As the game master asked who played with which pack the guy (who was easily the strongest player and probably the usual winner) pointed to me and said “she’s DEFINITELY Olympia”, indicating he knew I won the game even before it was announced. And…yeah. Like I said, I was really on my game that round. It felt gratifying to do that well against people who play here often.

After the game I chatted with Jeff, asking my questions about an Intersphere connection, but as he is a new owner he did not know the full history of the site. However, they made my day by offering a nice selection of Lazer X tag swag (t-shirts, long sleeves, lots of cool options) so I had souvenirs to take home!

Thank you Lazer X Burlington!

And then I was off to a totally unrelated laser tag site, coincidentally also called Lazer X, this one located in Archdale, NC. At this site the owner, Sylvia, had much more insight to offer about the history, but I had to wait because I arrived just as a game was entering the arena and because of time I was eager to get in and play.

Lazer X of Archdale runs Laserforce, so it was a completely different tag experience. The game had just started and I joined a small game with two players who I’m certain were surprised to see me suddenly appear in the arena too!

I smiled when I walked in and discovered…those walls!

And then I went off to locate the bases (there are four hidden within this double level arena, but one is in a very unexpected place…I won’t ruin it for you). 

Of the two players I went in with, once again it was the guy who stood out as the most experienced player between them. This was good. I think we both gave each other a pretty decent chase. Although I was tempted to announce my experience level and ask him his I suspect that it didn’t much matter as I was told I would not have been able to sign in with my Syracuse membership anyway. But I could tell this guy definitely understood the shot timing…which made it all the more perplexing when we left the arena and I saw that I had taken the bases and he had not deactivated any. If he had fully understood the game I believe he would really be a “force” to be reckoned with. But regardless, I enjoyed the game with them both and the chance to scope out both levels of this site...which is really BIG!

Then I was able to chat a bit more with Sylvia about the Intersphere connection and she confirmed that yes, they had originally started the business using the Intersphere laser tag equipment before replacing the system with Laserforce in the subsequent years. I appreciate being able to chat with longtime operators who can shed light on what the industry was like when they started and how it is different now.

Based on information from the Laser Tag Museum website, it appears that after Intersphere (which originated in Holland) began to distribute in the U.S. there were two separate efforts to get trademarks on the name “Lazer X” (which I understand was the name of their flagship U.S. arena location in Iowa). I will refer you to this link for more details on the who, what, where, when and why on this one.

So that does align and make sense based on my personal experience with several distinctly different tag sites in various parts of the country, unrelated, but all still using a similar name. Clearly there are still some independent operators continuing to be successful with their businesses, only now operating with other laser tag systems of their choice. I am still of the belief that there are probably only two places left in the U.S. still running with Intersphere. But to most people this bit of historical minutiae is totally irrelevant to the fun there is to be had playing with the new equipment. And for me Lazer X of Archdale was definitely a great time! I appreciate that they got me into a game quickly to keep me on track for my next stop and I particularly want to thank Sylvia for chatting with me and giving me some insight about her experience as an operator who transitioned from her previous system to the Laserforce system that people can enjoy playing their now. This was a very educational visit!

Comments or Questions?

World of Sports Was a World of Fun!

After leaving the Appalachian Laser Tag Festival I was ready to get back to some more traditional tag. I was also eager to get my arena count up because I am quickly closing in on playing my 200th arena. :)

I had made a decision earlier in the day to alter my plans and only play one arena in Virginia this trip (opting to skip a skate/tag site in favor of picking up a Laser Quest later in the evening instead) so I checked out the routes and decided to take a chance on making the three hour drive from Blacksburg to my next stop, World of Sports in South Boston, VA. I’m happy to report that this was the right call and I found this stop absolutely worth driving that extra distance.

When I arrived I made a beeline for the laser tag area (although this site has plenty more to offer including bowling, go karts and more, you know I am “laser” focused on getting to the tag so I didn’t actually check out anything else). I got to the counter and Megan was the first person I met. She was great to coordinate a group quickly so that I could play this double level arena and still keep pretty close to on schedule for the night. My first game included some employees and a couple of public players for a standard round of Laserforce.

This was my first chance to check out the arena. There were two bases on the bottom and one on top, so you have to either play both levels or be aware enough of the layout to recognize that you can shoot the green base from below (as it is not protected by a structure for cover)

From the top level I had a great view of the arena aesthetic. There is some cool airbrushed art on the perimeter walls…

And the maze structure below has a mash-up of bricks and blocks interspersed which are vaguely reminiscent of Super Mario Brothers.

That seems particularly appropriate for certain custom game modes…they actually have one exclusive to their site that is themed around Super Smash Brothers!

Sam the Man (who I was told was THE laser tag guy at this site) made sure I had an opportunity to try a couple of the games they have customized here. The Laserforce system allows for a certain amount of customization based on the specs of existing game modes, which opens up a lot of possibilities, although not every site is either set up to or inclined to tailor the games like this. I am always intrigued to see what creative sites come up with, although most places reserve this kind of thing for member nights. But at this point things were a little bit quieter with the public players so there was an excellent opportunity for me to play against a few of the available employees. After learning a bit about their Smash Bros and Fortnite themed games (variations on vampires and other typical Laserforce games) we decided on a round of Humans vs. Warbots. Their warbot is positioned on one side of the arena and mounted on the wall at roughly the height of the second level floor.

At my home site the warbot’s main function is to keep people from hanging out around the emergency exit door, so it’s way more interesting to see it functionally incorporated into actual game play! :) So we played a round of this special format, which was basically played like a standard game, but the warbot could be targeted to be used against the opposing team. I played as Hunter.

To be honest I don’t know how the scoring was done for this game because these are obviously NOT typical standard game scores for any of the players involved. I’ll just suggest that if you are curious enough about the scoring details that you visit World of Sports and find out for yourself. And while you’re there you should DEFINITELY ask to play a round of Super Speed Run. This is another site-exclusive game, but different from any other experience I’ve had.

In Super Speed Run only one player goes into the arena. They put 2:30 minutes on the clock and the goal is to see how many times you can deactivate all three bases in that limited window of time. Now THAT was interesting to me! To be honest I had not spent enough time in the arena to have found the “right” path until probably the final :30 seconds of my run, but I gave it my best shot and came out with a score that, although not high enough to unseat Megan (who at present holds the top score of I think 53,500 or something close to that), but for my first time through I’ll show it anyway.

I have no idea how many bases I hit (I believe more than what you can see in icons on the screen) and I also have no idea how many points those bases are worth in this game, but this was one of the most inventive games that really got my competitive drive going! I had figured out the right path to maximize bases a bit too late in the game, but I was ready to give it another run. Why? It’s not just a matter of personal pride, but also the top score player gets their picture on the wall…and I have a good one at the ready, LOL!

I think this is a VERY motivating incentive. However, when my round was over I could not go in right away because a party group was on deck to play. So I’ll just say that if ever I pass through southern Virginia again the challenge is on! ;)

But because I had a schedule to keep in order to play all the sites I wanted and make it to Charlotte, NC in time for the evening’s LQ Ironman I had to say farewell to World of Sports with my thanks for letting me experience something cool and different with your custom game modes. I had a blast!

Comments or Questions?

Monday, August 13, 2018

Appalachian Laser Tag Festival

I believe it was a year or so ago that I first learned about the Appalachian Laser Tag Festival hosted annually by the Laser Tag Club at Virginia Tech. I was intrigued. Based on the photos from their website I knew this was a COMPLETELY different kind of laser tag experience than anything I had done before (even compared with outdoor tactical) so I contacted the organizer, Scott, back in March to make arrangements to be part of it. This year’s event was moved to a different location than where they normally play, so I started my morning driving north into Blacksburg, VA and searching for the road that would take me to Pandapas Pond to meet up with the group.

I got there and met up with some of the early arrivals who were setting up “home base” under a tent with some chairs, bottles of water and about three good sized storage containers filled with a mix of very different looking phasers.

These were all home-use laser taggers that are compatible with each other. They would be considered “toy tag” within the industry. However, I learned that there’s actually a bit of a tie back to early laser tag in that these were basically all Lazer Tag (history lesson Cody: Lazer Tag spelled with a Z was the Worlds of Wonder brand that competed with the LJN toy home version of Photon. Those two brands combined were the number one toy category during the Christmas season of 1986 (cite: my interview with George Carter III).

So what is the connection? I’ll let Erik field this one with some history about Shoot the Moon and Laser Tag Team Ops developers David Small and Paul Rago from the Laser Tag Team Ops page on the Laser Tag Museum website.

OK, so that’s where we started and Scott gave me a lesson in the various phaser choices (they call them taggers) and the differences between them. For instance, the first one he showed me was a Tag Master Blaster with auto reload…

…a bottom button for the shield…

…and a realistic distance (by his estimation) of about a 600-800 foot range. And as he pointed out, the larger lens = a larger beam.

There were a few smaller options as well.

And one looked particularly familiar to me.

This looks a lot like something I had purchased a couple of years ago and only used a couple of times with an app on my old iPhone 4S. I really knew very little of what it could do (besides shooting at imaginary aliens on the phone screen that I could chase around my living room…I digress), but this weekend I learned a lot more about it. This would fall into the realm of LTAR (Laser Tag Augmented Reality). It has a shield activated by the front of the circle opposite the trigger and a manual reload. I must admit I was clueless about it even though I actually own one. So this was a great chance to see what it was truly designed to do. With a dome sensor on the top of the barrel to aim for these phasers all are self contained taggers that worked well together in combination. 

Now, with the right set up using a computer you could potentially run hosted games where you could track more information about the total game and individual results on a screen, but we were set up in a wooded area and the games for this event were non-hosted. It was explained that for the games today objectives and meeting a goal were more about working with your team than about individual score. The first game we played was Alamo with one team going out into the field to defend a little wooded “Alamo”.

My team hung back until they were positioned and we got some strategy suggestions while looking at the map of the area that spanned about 1100x700 feet in the woods along the pond.

Basically the opposing team would stay around the Alamo to defend while the offense would come up and attack from all directions.

For me the biggest challenge was the terrain. I showed up in sport tag attire and the rest of the players were in camo looking ready for battle. So I just stayed close to players who knew the field and just did my best to aim my phaser and not trip on a root and fall down. I was 99% successful. :)

The next game we played was Zombies. Ah, something familiar! Or so I thought…and I was wrong.

The game was described very similarly to how Zombies is played with traditional tag (only with a better back story that I’m told is akin to Resident Evil. I’ll take their word for that.), but in actuality it played VERY differently. In this game one person was assigned to be the “zombie”.

He could take ten hits and then reload for as many as ten more. The rest of us “humans” could take ten hits before becoming a zombie, which would be identified by putting a red velcro band around your arm.

To my knowledge none of us had to put the red arm band on. It was NOT because we were so exceptionally great at this game. It was because nobody actually found the zombie player for about half an hour! So this game ended up being more about tracking down the one player in what felt like a really big field of trees. Again I stayed close to players who knew the terrain because I did not want this to end with me getting lost in the woods.

But once the zombie was found the game ended with a few good shots being placed rather quickly and no humans turning zombie in the process.

Then we played a game called The Cube. It had a special prop.

This cube was assembled from PVC pipe and had a special phaser suspended by bungee cords in the center. On the heels of the longer Zombie game this was intended to be a quick ten minute adventure for two teams where the goal was to tag players and get as close to the cube as possible for extra points while you are “up”, but if you are neutralized the cube can shoot at you very quickly (from the dome) and tag you repeatedly. 

Each player could take 99 hits before being deactivated, but that sure doesn’t feel like as many as it sounds like when the cube is after you and opposing team players can pick up the cube and chase you with it! This game was a little confusing, but we all did our best. I think the cube won…lol.

After a few games the group returned to the home base.

Here I learned a little bit more about the modifications that could be made to some of the tag equipment with a bit of ingenuity. Scott showed me a large phaser that was basically modded from the smaller phaser design he showed me side by side.

This world of tag modifying is both interesting and baffling to me as it feels so far removed from what I know and yet the principles behind all forms of laser tag are so similar. I came here wanting a unique and different laser tag experience and that is exactly what I got. It was such a cool opportunity to learn about and play tag using different equipment than I ever have before. I want to thank the Laser Tag Club at Virginia Tech for hosting this event and I hope I have an opportunity to participate again!

Comments or Questions?

Do You Have the Spare Time for Some Midnight Tag?

It feels like no sooner did I get back from California before hitting the road again, this time for southern Virginia and northern North Carolina. This trip was built upon two objectives...playing at the Appalachian Laser Tag Festival and getting my arena count a smidgen closer to the big 200 that I plan to hit on my next trip. So I set out on Friday afternoon with hopes of getting on a flight to Roanoke, VA. But as so frequently happens, my travel plans took a turn and I actually ended up getting a different flight that put me in Greensboro, NC and I arrived at my hotel just after midnight. It was late and I was tired from my full day of work and travel, but I knew there was a Spare Time in this town so I looked it up and was pleased to learn it was only about eight minutes away from my hotel! So I changed out of my travel attire and showed up ready for a late night game of laser tag…by the clock in this photo it was closer to 12:30 (whether you want to all that a late night or a really early morning!).

Yes, of course I called ahead as I knew it would be hit or miss as to whether there would be anyone there to play against. But TJ was kind enough to give me a manager’s comp to treat me to a game against game master Jeremy who really brought a good game for that hour of the night. It woke me up and set the tone for another fun tag weekend!

As I had expected this site uses Zone Rift packs and when we walked into the vesting room I put my hands on the first red pack I saw and as luck would have it which one do you think I picked up? The Legend pack (hello my old friend…I look for Legend whenever I play Rift in ANY arena. It’s always there and it’s always my favorite).

We went into a nice double level arena. One thing I have to say for Spare Time locations is that each one I have been to has had a unique arena theme (albeit all from the CW repertoire) even though it would be very easy for a corporate structure to just go with one design across the board. This one had a bit of a jungle design with barrels scattered throughout.

Jeremy gave me a VERY good chase considering it was a one on one. I thought I was tired from my travel when I walked in. But the adrenaline had definitely kicked in and I was wired and awake by the time I left! And honestly the best part of this game was that when we walked out neither of us could tell who had won because we kept the balance pretty tight the whole time. As it turns out…

Yes, my Legend pack had made it to the top of the screen by a margin of only 100 points. That’s how good a game it was! So thanks Jeremy for indulging me a fun game and thanks to Spare Time Greensboro for getting my trip off to a great start. And even though I would have loved to stay and play for the remainder of the night I knew I had better return to the hotel and get a couple of hours sleep because morning would come quickly and the next day would be a very early start to drive the two and a half hours north into Blacksburg, VA. Can’t wait!

Comments or Questions?