Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Laser Tagging for a Cause with Olympic Athletes

The most exceptional part of my weekend was laser tagging for a very worthwhile cause while playing alongside two Olympic athletes. For those who don't know, I lost my brother several years ago to cancer, so when I heard about a laser tag tournament happening in Denver, Colorado to benefit the Doreen Katz Memorial Cancer Foundation I was immediately interested in being part of it. This amazing organization raises money to benefit the children of parents dealing with cancer and is operated by Adam Katz in memory of his late wife Doreen who was from upstate New York, not far from where I live. Obviously the reasons for me wanting to be involved were plentiful from the start. However, it wasn't until right before the tournament that I learned I would be playing laser tag with two Olympians, gold and silver medalist Nick Thoman who would be joining my team as well as two time Olympic swimmer Chloe Sutton.


This was not a tournament in the traditional sense, but it was an amazing evening that began with dinner and drinks set up for about 80 people in the large party room at Gameworks of Denver. I had showed up ahead time to check out the arena.


This site is operating with Gen 7 Laserforce packs...


However, when I called ahead twice to find out about their system both times I was told it was "G Force". I kind of understand the employees' confusion.


In terms of laser tag itself, I was one of the two most knowledgeable attendees. The other, another early arrival, was Josiah from the Loveland Laserforce site.


And as people began to arrive we all sat down for a social hour complete with hors deurves and a delicious catered dinner. I must say this was quite an enjoyable mixer! I sat to eat at a table with the athletes and their significant others, Chrissy and Jake. During the course of the night they took lots of pictures with the kids and their families that were part of the foundation. Nick brought his medals, which everyone enjoyed seeing...including me!


And when it was game time we organized into our teams of four. Our team was made up of Tara, Joe, Nick and me.


Now, as I mentioned, this was not a typical tournament. In fact by the end it was really more social fun than anything else. It began with five teams of four going into the arena. Nick is a gamer so he wanted to know all the tips I could share about how to do well with tag. Because of our tag experience Josiah and I ended up being more like de facto coaches to some of the players. In fact, we were being referred to by everyone (including the Olympians) as the "professional laser tag players". Now, it was only last week that I was reminding one of the guys at my home site that he should really not go around telling people he is a "professional laser tag player" because there is no such thing...but if these players want to call me that in this context I will happily wear it as a badge of honor in this setting. :)


During most tournaments I would be acutely aware of scores (and to be honest, yeah, I was watching the boards here too), so I know that my team was on top all night, but about midway through it really stopped being about anything but having a good time. There were some kids involved and most of the players here were not regular laser tag players, so we mixed up the team line-ups and balanced things out, both to make sure everyone had a good time and to compensate when players had to call it a night.


Before leaving Chloe signed a photo for me (and in hindsight I should have asked for Nick's autograph, but by the end of the evening we were just chatting on a friendly basis so that thought flew right out of my head).


After the Olympians had said their goodbyes for the night we played the final round with the last three teams remaining (somewhat reconfigured by this point) and I was pleased with the end result. :) I was all the more pleased that everyone agreed that the honors for the night should go to the last of the kids still participating in the end, so congratulations to this young man for playing so well throughout the night!


And big thanks to Adam and the foundation volunteers who give so much time and energy to raising funds in support of so many families dealing with cancer.


I know personally the pain of losing a loved one to cancer and I am heartened to see this organization focusing on what they can do for the children of families facing it. This was a tremendous event. Playing laser tag with Olympians was just the icing on the cake for me. I truly believe that Doreen must be looking down and smiling at the good work being done for families in her name.



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Tagging at American Paintball Coliseum

The majority of the laser tag I play is traditional, so on the rare occasions that I get to play tactical it is always an interesting experience. When I paid a visit to American Paintball Coliseum in Phoenix, AZ I had a terrific time playing with the iCOMBAT Barracuda system with the staff who gave me a great game in a really unique arena atmosphere at their multi-functional facility where they offer paintball, airsoft and laser tag.  
The manager, Alex, put together a game for me to join with staff members Travis, Marie and Jacob.

We each selected a Tippmann paintball marker that had a Barracuda all-in-one laser tag unit attached above the barrel.

Before playing our first game I was given a tour of the indoor arena that is used for both airsoft and laser tag. They have a separate arena for paintball. I've noticed that tactical tag arenas often look intentionally like a war zone and this was no exception, which gave it a "battle worn" kind of feel. However, it had some unique elements throughout and the space had multiple rooms and themes ranging from the refrigerators (where you could open the doors for cover) to the kitchen...

There is a sniper's nook with steps leading to a raised platform...

...and my favorite piece of decor would have to be the airplane!

I love to play in interesting environments and this was definitely going to be the case here. My initial thought was that this space would be too large for a game with only four people (they can accommodate significantly larger groups), but it turned out to be a great space even for a small game. We finished the walk-through and got ready to play.

This was only the second time I have ever played using the Barracuda model and I selected the one called Tango. The entire game is housed within the box unit on top of the marker with sensors on the front and both sides, so I employed some strategy by holding the Tippmann marker on its side to reduce the amount of sensor that would be visible while I maneuvered around the space. In traditional arenas I use my eyes to discern where my opponents are by watching for indicators of light from the vests. However, tactical requires a different way of playing and for this game I listened to identify the whereabouts of the others. I stepped very lightly and took my shots in bursts. This strategy seemed to serve me well because when the game was over (and we deliberately opted for a short game) I had the high score on the board.

I played as Tango, Travis was Rambo, Jacob was Predator and Marie was Juggernaut. This screen looked familiar to me from the other iCOMBAT games I had played. The icons indicated how many tags you got (gun icon), how many times you were tagged (skull) and the medic sign indicated that health was set to 50 for all of us for a one shot tag.
We took a break between games, and I had a chance to watch through the observation window as an airsoft group went in to play. I know nothing about airsoft so I asked a few questions. Then Conrad, one of the airsoft players, gave me a demonstration of some of his "grenade" equipment that can be used in airsoft before he joined us for another game of tag. It was really a great time and I learned a lot from playing in this kind of environment which is so different from the typical places where I play traditional tag. I would love to return to play again! Since they have other locations in Denver and Brighton, CO perhaps I will have an opportunity on my next trip to this part of the country. Thank you to Alex and the entire staff of American Paintball Coliseum for providing me with one of the most memorable laser tag experiences I had while in Arizona!

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Something Different at Stratum

Typically once I know a system I assume that there won't be too much difference in playing it between arenas. However, there are some interesting and unique things that I noticed the last time I played Infusion at Stratum in Mesa, AZ that I got answers about when I played there again this past weekend. The major thing that I wanted to know about were their totally unique "crystal" plastic panel bases.

They have two very unique base designs. One looks like a series of five crystal panels like what you see here and the other is a four sided rectangular crystal box. Now, they have very firm rules about not taking photos in the actual arena, BUT the manager on site did give me the go ahead to photograph a couple of interesting things in the briefing and vesting rooms including this example of what the bases look like. Since they run Infusion these are not the typical domes I would expect to see. When I played the game I was less invested in the other players and more interested in figuring out what was up with these bases. They deactivate with one shot instead of three (ok, just a change of settings there), but what fascinated me was that I could not figure out where the sensor was located or what I was actually shooting at.

Greg was kind enough to shine a flashlight to show me just what I wanted to see. These are custom bases designed just for Stratum and the IR sensor is actually built into the crystal itself. Tough to see, but there are a couple of bright sensors at the top. However, due to the reflectivity of the crystal design the IR light bounces around until it hits the sensor so with one shot it is virtually impossible to NOT hit the base. Very clever design!

This site does a great job of making you feel like you are entering another world. When the briefing is done  you cross into the vesting area by way of a bridge with a forced perspective rotating tunnel with lights turning 360 degrees around the walkway, which feels VERY trippy and like you are losing your balance walking on solid ground. This is a FANTASTIC touch and I do appreciate being permitted to snap a pic this time around.

And then before you enter the arena you pick your vest from the vesting room. Another lingering question from my last visit was why do these Infusion packs look so different. Greg was able to answer that question as well. What was unusual to my eye was that these were clear cased packs instead of the black molded plastic that I have played with before. I did not realize that this was a second generation of Infusion pack until that minor difference was pointed out to me.

So getting answers to these questions that have been rattling around in my head since the last time I was in Arizona made this return visit to Stratum totally worthwhile. It claims to be the world's largest technotainment laser tag arena and I must say it is HUGE and the maze is complex enough to keep things really interesting during the games.

I enjoyed playing here again and also getting to chat with Greg who is about as interested in all aspects of laser tag as I am. Hope to play some tag with you at Armageddon sometime and thanks for the tour!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

So Much More To Say

So many things happened this weekend that I don't really know where to begin...but this time it won't be from the beginning. The next couple of posts will be a little bit out of order. You see, as I was traveling through Colorado and Arizona I had a few particularly noteworthy things happen and a few of the more interesting parts of the adventure really warrant more detailed posts. So for the moment I'm just going to begin with an overview of the things that happened in Arizona and then circle back to take a bit more time to share the other things that particularly stood out, such as intriguing custom crystal bases, checking out a unique tactical arena and...I kid you not...playing laser tag with Olympic athletes. So consider this an overview of the more typical parts of the trip and check back soon because all those stories are coming as quickly as I can type them. :)


My trip began in Denver with a really amazing night of tag in support of a really great cause, but I will dedicate a post specifically to that night soon. At the end of that experience I got about four hours sleep and the next morning I boarded a flight for Arizona. When I arrived in Phoenix on day three of my trip I was met at Whipple's Fun Center by my family members from Tucson including Mike, Ivon and their five kids. It was my niece Mary Anne's birthday the day before so we all celebrated with some laser tag.


Although Mike and Joshua had played laser tag before, this was a new experience for the girls. I helped them put on their Helios vests and showed them what to do, then we all entered went the colorful arena.


The double level arena was decked out with all the CW aesthetics that I have seen countless times, but the kids were definitely in awe of the space and thought that it was very cool. I thought it was really special to watch how they took it all in and immediately got into the fun of a family game. Meanwhile, Ivon and the younger kids were enjoying the trampoline park in another part of the center. We played a few rounds of tag, took a turn on some spin zone bumper cars and all the kids really seemed to enjoy the arcade. I was glad that I could introduce them to this place and see them really get into laser tag. After spending some time visiting I set off to explore a few more sites in the Phoenix area.


The next stop will also get a separate post because my time at the American Paintball Coliseum was also a standout part of my trip. Suffice it to say that this was a really fun time in a tactical environment that I would love to visit again!


From there I headed off to Main Event Phoenix. I'm glossing over it here only because it has all been said before. There was nothing particularly new here. In fact, looking at these pics just give me a sense of deja vu from the other Main Event locations I have played.


I appreciate getting to play Delta Strike because it is a novelty I don't get to play in very many other locations.


However, the only really notable thing for me to say here is congratulations to the player on the other team who tied with me for top score. This game was tighter than usual, but otherwise pretty typical.


And from there the sense of deja vu continued as I made my way to Stratum in Mesa (you see the last time I was in this part of the country I played at Main Event Albuquerque followed by a visit to Stratum). This time I got some additional insight into some unique aspects of their arena and Infusion system, specifically their custom bases, so we'll discuss that separately as well.


From there it was off to Laser Quest Phoenix. First I remembered to ask about magnets! :)


Then I went into the game and found myself in a full game that looked like it would be intense, but turned out to just be a great time.


And from there I decided to visit one more site and set off for Uptown Alley in Surprise, AZ.


This place felt like a Dave and Busters kind of atmosphere with bowling (I assume...I never actually saw the lanes), arcade, laser tag and a bar and grill area where I got a burger for the road. When I walked over to the tag arena I discovered that I would be playing on Rift with a group of mostly teenagers and one VERY little boy who I would guess was about three years old. Let me take a moment on this. In my opinion this child was probably too young to be playing with this group and certainly too young to be doing so without a parent (although I believe one of the teenage girls was probably his sister who should have been watching him). This was not an especially aggressive game, but there were much bigger players moving quickly and I worried that this child might get overrun by the teenagers, so I kept my eye on him during the game. He had no idea what he was doing and aimed the phaser without having a clue how to hold it, but watching this gave me an idea. I was able to see everything that was going on from a distance as there was a good view from the top level of their two floor arena.


So, I watched this boy aim his phaser at various players throughout the game. From where I was positioned above them I could easily tag the other player out for him. It was great fun because the little boy thought that he was the one who got the shot so he was very happy and proud of himself. And even better, I think the older players also thought that he was the one getting the shot since their attention was on him and they never saw me giving him an assist from above. So for a good part of the game I would "help" him to get tags, which made him feel good about the game and made me feel better that he wasn't getting trampled. Although I still think he was too young for playing alone in this particular group I am glad that he had fun. I had a good time too. And once I got my "Uppy Burger" from the grill I was off again to the airport to return home after a wonderful weekend of memories and experiences tagging from Denver to Phoenix and having a blast every step of the way.



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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

League Begins: We Are The Mood Killers

The fall laser tag league in Syracuse got started this past weekend and if night one is any indication I think this is going to be a fun eight weeks. After updating our roster a couple of times we were ready to go in and have a good time playing some tag without taking ourselves too seriously, which I think is evident by our team name...we are "The Mood Killers". :)

Here is the roster list of the other teams involved. You can see by the levels that this is a pretty decently balanced group for the most part.

Actually, there's a decent amount of experienced players in this league, so overall the quality of games is good and so are the attitudes. We're playing three team standard games of Laserforce and that adds a different dynamic from the two team games that we play more frequently. I think it's a little early to think there are any team alliances forming, but I suspect a couple of the teams are riding similar thought trains. Ours is of the mindset to...let's just say "keep the status quo." :)

Each team is playing six intense games out of ten every night. On the first night each team took at least one first place finish and at least one third place. I could speculate on frontrunners, but it's still early. However, what I will say is that I am optimistic that this will be a worthwhile experience and that we will have a good time in the process of getting to the finals. Best of luck to all and let's play some tag!
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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Practical Practice

Playing laser tag in a league in Syracuse always seems to be preceded by two or three (or 12) rounds of musical chairs. But I was feeling a little too much like Roger Murtaugh for that last night, so I opted instead to get in some practical practice in Queensbury so that my Cyber Blast skills are dusted off and ready for qualifying in New Hampshire in a couple of weeks.
So I headed off to Adventure Family Fun, the closest Cyber Blast site near me in Queensbury so that I could get in some practice time and refresh myself on this system that I really only get to play every few months or so. This turned out to be a great night to be there because they had a steady flow of players rotating in and out with those of us who had the all night wristbands playing consistently all evening. I tend to get in more games at this arena in a shorter amount of time than I do anywhere else because the wristbands just go into back to back games all night, which I appreciate. It's a good value for the money. But it can be hit or miss as to numbers because they have so many other attractions too, both at this site and in the area in general. So having a decent group to play against all night was notable because it is their off season and the long weekend seemed to draw more players in.

I played a perfect game streak, which was fun, but I did so while paying a lot more attention to switching modes and making conscious decisions about things that I'm often times a little casual about (when to shield, when to use a photon vs a burst, etc). It will be a couple of weeks before I see if this makes any difference in a different arena where I understand they'll be using a lot of custom settings on their packs (the most notable being that they set them to disallow back tagging). I understand that part of the score considerations will be based on accuracy. Although I am quite consistent with getting my tags, I often feel that my accuracy suffers because the timing is such that I tend to take two shots to make one tag, so that might be my Achilles heel. We'll find out. Regardless, I'm glad I had the chance to get in some final practice before this site closes for the season. This was the only weekend that I would be able to get there, so I'm glad all the stars aligned to make it a worthwhile evening of tag.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
The league line-up has morphed a couple of times, but as of tonight it seems like we have landed on our team's final roster of me, Tom, Max, Peanut and Jared. So...let the games begin!

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