Sunday, September 30, 2018

Soldier of Light: Photon Video Game

Laser tag is my game. I do NOT know anything about video games. But this relates because it has to do with Photon. I recently acquired an oddity, a version of the Japanese Nintendo game Photon that someone had translated into English and adapted to make playable on a vintage classic NES. I know nothing about how this was accomplished from the technical side, but I do know it was sufficient motivation to get me searching my attic for the old Nintendo system I kept from back when we were kids (yes, our family's original 8-bit one from 1985....stop doing the math on that!). And then I was able to experience this game that was based on Photon and only ever released (to my knowledge) in Japan.
I should point out that the Japanese version does not play on a US system without the adaptation.

Well...I love all things Photon, but other than the character's attire this game really has nothing to do with the source material. It is a maze game where I believe the objective is to accumulate objects along the way while using what I presume was intended to be a digital phaser to shoot down alien enemies who attack you in different rooms along the way.

As I have such limited knowledge of video games and am still stumbling around this one I'll refer you to this site I found that explains the specifics of this game far better than I could at this point...
But it is a treat to finally be able to play this game because it is another piece of the Photon history that has remarkably managed to be preserved. 
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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Tron at the End of the Rainbow

Someday I hope to be able to say that I've visited every laser tag facility in New York (and right now I'm not too far off from being able to accomplish the that). However, there is one site I have been aware of for several years and yet somehow playing there seemed constantly out of reach...until this past weekend. I'm talking about the Lasertron arena located inside Rainbow Skateland in Lockport, NY.


Part of why I have missed this location is distance. It's several hours away from me, so it's not like I'm passing by it often. So I've made efforts only on the sporadic occasions when I'm already nearby. Another reason is timing. I'll take the fault here, but it sure wasn't for lack of trying. From calling ahead to just taking my chances stopping in, I've made roughly half a dozen efforts to work this site into travel plans since learning about it, but when you're working around other events (as has been the case during the handful of times I've found myself out in Western NY) sometimes the timing is just off. I figured I had a good shot at catching them open on my way back from Canada. It was a Saturday afternoon and I figured if I detoured to Lockport I should arrive around 5:00. All FECs are open on Saturday afternoon, right? Wrong! 


You see, this place is primarily a roller skating arena with specific open skate times and the Lasertron is a secondary attraction, mostly just for the skaters to have something extra to do between skating sessions. Owner Carrie told me that they rarely have walk-ins and when they do that the people already know they must have a group of six ready to go for them to run tag.


Well, I arrived between skating sessions when the place was closed until the evening, but fortunately Carrie and a few employees were still there getting the place ready for later when they would reopen that night.


After explaining my blog (and my odd persistence...she remembered me stopping the last time I passed through back in January) they were kind enough to open the arena so I could play a quick one on one game against one of the employees still there. Thanks to Patrick for stepping up!


Although the sign outside still says Laser Storm...


...this site has been running Lasertron 10 since the new owners took it over a few years back. So Patrick and I suited up and took to our opposite corners of a small, but traditional looking Lasertron field.


The game was only five minutes, but that was ample time to give it a decent run.


Lasertron is not a game intended to be played 1v1, so it was mostly about keeping the opponent running back to recharge while keeping enough ammo to take a decent amount of shots at the base.


We flip-flopped the lead several times during the course of that short game right up to the final seconds, so thanks Patrick for keeping the scores tight. Nice game!


And many thanks to Carrie for opening the arena up during their off hours just so I could finally check this site off my list. I appreciate it!



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Sunday, September 16, 2018

First Time Playing Gen 8 Infinity

This weekend I hit the road for St. Catharine's, ON Canada to play the latest from Laserforce, the new Gen 8 Infinity system, during the very first weekend it was open for the public to play at Parkway Lanes Sports and Entertainment.

It was definitely worth the drive across the border to get to be the first from my site (obviously with the exclusion of Sanch and Beanz) to get to try this new gear for myself. I knew that the guys had just completed the installation of the system last week and I was appreciative that Tom, the owner of the facility, welcomed me to be among the first to play at this new arena.

We entered the briefing/vesting area...

...and I got my first peek at the new Gen 8 packs.

They have really upped the game with Gen 8 in so many ways! The lights are encased in opaque plastic and the shield has a sharp, new redesign that features a digital screen in the center with the pack or player name lit up right on the front. There's also a screen on the back.

The phaser feels sturdy and solid with a rubberized plastic grip and the opaque plastic gives a very different lighting effect from the blinking LEDs that I'm accustomed to seeing. It also has a much larger, rectangular button on the side for special features.

One of the really distinctive features of Gen 8 is the touch screen on the phaser that gives you up to date info during the game.

You can change things from the particular sound associated with your shots (which is of dubious value, but a fun feature anyhow) and the language.

And then we had a chance to go into the 3400 square foot arena that was built where previously they had more bowling lanes. Tom told me that four lanes had been removed to make room for an impressive arcade and then another six were taken out to make room for the laser tag. If you look carefully at the floor you can get an idea of where the bowling lanes had been.

But I can promise most people won't be looking at the floor when they walk into the bright and colorful (and, yes Beanz, with very nice, artistic lighting!) arena designed by Art Attack. They used every inch of the space well to create a really impressive atmosphere.

I had heard that they decked it out with all the bells and whistles. There are a TON of targets in this arena! Some were typical, like the bases, beacons and generator...

...and others were programmed in ways I was surprised to see. For example, one target in the middle appeared to be a circuit of three small targets (one on each wall) that had to be sequentially hit to then shoot the final one in a rectangular base housing.

At least I think that's what was was different!
And I enjoyed getting to take control of the gate and see that work in the game as I've only played at one other site that had this particular feature.

Ten of us went in to play the first game, an individual (but not color ranked) game and here are a few of the players who were among the very first to enjoy a game here.

We all enjoyed meandering the maze and taking our shots.

As I am a level six, of course I had to take three shots to deactivate an opponent. Now, what I'm about to say is anecdotal from my first game and I am NOT certain that I perceived this correctly, but I'll relay what I thought I experienced anyway.  To my mind it felt like there was a bit of difference in the three shot timing. It felt like I was able to lock on a bit earlier while a player was down that I could take my first shot, but there was a beat in between and I could not complete the three shot sequence until they came back up. I would like for someone to corroborate what I "think" I was noticing there, but in the middle of a game sometimes it's tough to tell for sure what has just happened! :)

After that first round was finished I went in again, this time with Tom, just to play around with the gear and take better note of what was going on. As I'm not used to looking down at a screen it took me a moment to get acclimated to watching as the meters on the screen went up and down. Honestly, I will need to spend a little more time getting fully adjusted to the differences in the gear, but I can already tell that Gen 8 is going to be fun to learn to play to the fullest!

And when we were done I learned a bit more about the facility.

Parkway Lanes has just celebrated 60 years as part of the St. Catharine's community. While it is an impressive bowling alley with 22 regular lanes and 8 VIP lanes along with the arcade...

...and now laser tag, it is also part of a larger facility including a restaurant, 22,000 square foot convention center and 181 room hotel all part of the property. Although this time I was only in town for a day trip, as a traveler I think it is VERY handy to know that there's a hotel right there before making my next visit. Parts of the facility are still being remodeled, but I hope to return to see the completed project and have another opportunity to play tag here because I had such a great time getting to experience Gen 8 for the first time.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Playing It By The Numbers

After getting to 200 laser tag arenas I thought it would be interesting to analyze exactly how many sites per system I had played along the way. What can I say, I had some free time on my hands. :)
First I color coded each laser tag system that I have played. So far I have played 22 different laser tag systems (by which I really mean manufacturers...I did not break down upgraded software, versions or equipment lines any further than that) and here's how the numbers shake out.

I'll recap it because I realize the image is blurry. Here are the systems/manufacturers and number of sites I have played as of today...
Zone - 69
Laserforce - 28
Lasertron - 22
Laser Quest - 19
Laser Blast - 19
Lazer Runner - 11
Darklight - 7
Delta Strike - 7
Q-Zar - 3
Laser Storm - 1
Photon - 1
Intersphere - 1
LaserTrek - 1
Actual Reality - 1
Steradian - 1
Laser Mania - 1
Laser Maxx Laser Trooper - 1
Adventure Sports - Tactical - 1
Battlefield Sports - Tactical - 1
Laser Tag Pro - Tactical - 2 (includes XP)
LazRFit - 1

I guess Zammy was right...I DO play everything. :) If you are adding them up and notice that the total comes to 201 It's because XP Lasersport in Owings Mills previously had both Lasertron and Laser Tag Pro and I played them both the last time I was there. And although the XP Laurel location typically operates with Lasertron I counted it for Photon because I have personally only ever played at that location during Phocon, the one weekend a year when Tron takes a backseat and they bring out the Photon gear instead. Everything else is pretty self explanatory on this color coded list of the sites I have played.

A few of the things I found notable once I looked at the data in spreadsheet form...
1. Although I love all forms of laser tag, I have always considered myself more a Zone player than anything else. This list backs me up as it confirms empirically that just over 33 percent of the arenas I've played were in fact Zone sites, leading far and away as the tag brand that I play more than any other.
2. I was surprised to see that Lasertron came in so high as it was third on this list. I really thought I had played more Laser Quest sites than Tron at this point (although the numbers were still relatively close).
3. There are 12 systems that are so few and far between that I have only had an opportunity to play them once (not counting if they were imported or otherwise part of 'geddon events). I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to play these systems at all. I also find it a little amazing that I have actually been able to locate sites that are still actively operating systems like Intersphere and LaserTrek.
This was interesting to put together as a totally non-scientific sample, but still a pretty decent snapshot of where my tag experiences fall. It will be interesting to compare and contrast after I hit my next milestone number to see how those numbers might change...and if all the pieces fall into place I might get to work on my next round fairly soon!
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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Talking Tag with Bob and Sheri

Over the weekend I had a chance to visit with nationally syndicated radio hosts Bob and Sheri when they paid a visit with their affiliate station in Hudson, NY. It was about a year ago that they had invited me to "talk tag" with them on the Oddcast, so it was nice to have an opportunity to meet in person and strike a tag pose. :)

I appreciate that they have expressed such support for my efforts to tag in all 50 states and Sheri was nice enough to reference it in signing a nice message on my bag.

It's amazing how far my journey has evolved since this interview, but now certainly seems like a good time to revisit it and share a link to that fun memory from last year with Bob and Sheri.


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Sunday, September 2, 2018

My 200th Laser Tag Arena

I wanted to celebrate the milestone of playing my 200th laser tag arena with friends, so I decided to make it happen at Scene 75 Cleveland.

My friends Jansen, Christine and Holly joined me.

We walked into a pretty impressive facility that Jansen dubbed as "Chuck E. Cheese for adults." With a bar in the center, a huge arcade area, go karts, mini-golf, virtual reality and more we had plenty of options in front of us. We started with Food Truck Alley.

Then we hit the laser tag arena. 

Game master Anthony led us into the briefing room.

And then we suited up with the Gen 7 packs in the vesting room.

Time to play some tag! We entered a very uniquely designed double-level arena themed around with an old abandoned town theme.

The bases were housed in structures like this.

And there were beacons at various points at both ends of the lower level and one on the upper level. Although there were plenty of hiding nooks and wall areas to make the playing field of this large arena feel a little more compact it was simultaneously more open than I would have expected. For example, on the top level there were ample walls to duck behind, but the corners were so narrow they didn't actually provide much cover and there were many spots in that he arena where a sniper could place a clear shot virtually from one end to the other (at least on top, not as much on the lower level). 
I asked about who designed this arena. What they could tell me is that the same designer does all of their arenas and like a hidden Easter egg each one has an image of this character (by my banner) painted somewhere within it.

I enjoyed introducing my friends to laser tag as this was a first for them. And they hooked me up with a little something to mark the milestone.

Then an opportunity presented itself for us to play a second round with a couple of public players accompanied by Anthony and manager Samantha. Everyone had a good time, but this was not an appropriate game for going all "try hard" so I held back a bit. But that only led to a further challenge and comparing of skill sets so I told Anthony that we needed to settle it with a one on one...his military training vs my level 6 experience. This was a GOOD match and my friends were watching the play by play on the screen outside. Well, a very solid game, but with a home field advantage this one went to Anthony...although I challenge him to a one on one rematch if ever he gets over to my home turf in Syracuse, lol! Great game!

The managers at Scene 75 were kind enough to send me back with a tag swag souvenir.

And remember the gift card from earlier? Well we put it to good use at the photo booth. :)

We all had a great time at Scene 75 Cleveland and I am so glad we were all there together as I checked off my 200th laser tag arena!

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