Thursday, November 29, 2018

Full Day In Florida

There are a couple of stops that were particularly interesting while I was in Florida and I will write about them separately, but outside of that let me give you an idea of how I spent a really enjoyable Saturday in Florida.


I had one day to pack in a lot of activity because I was set to fly home on Sunday. So Saturday I woke up early and drove out to Melbourne, FL to start my day at Funtown Family Entertainment Center. It was early in the day and I was not expecting there to be many people at that hour, but I introduced myself to the assistant manager Britney (who had also been at IAAPA this week) and she was great about connecting me with an employee, Monica, to play a quick 1v1 so I could check out their arena. This was a small, single level arena with painted wooden walls and a real retro vibe.


The arena and the vesting room connected and there was a lot of fog in the air as we started the game.


They were using Rift, which normally feels like second nature to me, but this time something felt slightly different. I noticed that the vests seemed to flash a little differently when I landed a tag. Sometimes they just flashed when hit, sometimes going white and then dark  when deactivated. And the sound cues seemed a little more like a "chime" than what I am accustomed to hearing.


I asked Britney and was told that they have been using the Rift software for quite awhile, but they had the vests replaced within the last 8-10 months, so I guess it's possible these new vests could have accounted for the differences I noticed. It's too bad IAAPA was over or I'd have asked a few more questions. ;)


This arena is an accent attraction to their skating rink, but I was glad to get to check it out and play a game to start the day. Thank you Funtown!


Then I was moving on to Andretti Thrill Park, also in Melbourne. They had a fun little arena upstairs above the arcade. It was just a small part of this FEC where go carts appear to be the main attraction.


It was still early in the day and I had to wait for a group to show up for tag, but eventually I was joined by a family who were also interested in playing some Delta Strike.


This clearly used to be a Lazer Runner arena. All the hallmarks were there, from the entry to the bases...below the bases.


This was a really light game. I was definitely not going to go hard against this group, especially since there was no game explanation given at all so I don't think they really understood that you need to take multiple shots to deplete and deactivate with this system. But it was a fun little break from the day and they had a nice snack bar so I could get some lunch before proceeding to my next stop.


From there I headed for Tank America, which was AMAZING and needs a more thorough write-up, so look for an upcoming post about that. Then I returned to Orlando where I played at Hukoos Family Fun (more on that soon as well because of a special feature that they have inside the arena) and Zombie Outbreak, which is not exactly a laser tag arena, but they do use laser tag equipment. All those adventures warrant a little more detail, so I'll skip over them just for the moment. What turned out to be my final tag game of the night was at Wonderworks Orlando.


Wonderworks are very popular attractions, but the tag offered there is usually pretty basic. At this location they run Lasertron equipment.


It was a cute little arena, but really there's not much to say about it that hasn't all been said before. It's definitely an attraction I'm glad to see included at Wonderworks, but there's little to the game other than target and tag. By this point in the day I was hoping for something a little out of the ordinary. So after one game I proceeded on. But I just said that this was my last game of the night and here's why...


There was one more tag location in Orlando I was interested in. It was in a very active open mall sort of setting just across the way from Wonderworks, so I walked (my car was already in the parking garage anyway). I saw the site on an upper level so I walked up excited to spend the rest of my night tagging here. Where is here? Well, I won't name it because my experience was not what I had hoped. I arrived at 7:50 in the evening (after checking their website which says they are open on Saturdays until midnight). Not even 8:00 yet and I got there to find a bored looking attendant who told me that they had already taken all the players they were going to for the night. WHAT?! She said they were going to be done with public games at 8:30 so I was getting there too late. Apparently there was a private event planned. This was frustrating and disappointing. I don't always play this card, but sometimes knowing that I'm there in part to write a blog helps me to get access, but no dice with that tonight. Sheesh, glad I made the effort! I left feeling a little irritated that I didn't get to play at this one spot I was particularly looking forward to, but I guess those are the hard breaks...or knocks if you will. Sigh, maybe next time I'm in Florida.


At least I had a good, full day of tag by this point. I returned to my hotel to pack for my flight the next day (which was probably for the best) and instead of dwelling on missing out on this one experience I instead reflected on what an amazing trip I had and how many great things I did get to experience during my travels. Thanks to all who made my Florida adventure so memorable! And keep watching because I do have more stories to share soon about the other interesting experiences I had along the way. :)



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My Q-Zar Trifecta

Following the closing of IAAPA, that Friday evening I decided to make the drive from Orlando to Tampa. There were several tag sites I wanted to visit in that part of the state, but unfortunately there was a traffic accident on the highway that helped turn this into a three hour trip and with the clock ticking the night away I had to make a choice. I knew I would not be able to get to all the tag locations I wanted, but there was one that was an absolute must...Q-Zar Tampa.


The reason Q-Zar Tampa was the most important site for me to visit is because there are so few actual Q-Zar locations left. Now, you may still be able to find the equipment in use here or there, but as far as "main Q-Zar sites" (quoting RNT on that) actually still running Q-Zar in the United States we are down to three of these locations...Concord, CA, Carle Place, NY and Tampa, FL. I have already been to Concord and Carle Place, so getting to Q-Zar Tampa completes my personal Q-Zar trifecta.


I arrived just a couple of minutes before a game was about to start. The staffer at the front desk asked me if I had played before and when I said yes I was allowed to go right into the briefing room on the second call, skipping over the video briefing for new players. I had a moment or two to glance at the arena map before going in.


And then we went in to suit up in the vesting room.


One young woman on my team sized me up and wondered about me. She asked me if I had played there before. I said not at this particular location, to which she replied, "oh, then you really should have been in the briefing to learn how to play." Now, I am in no way a Q-Zar expert, but I told her that I was familiar with how to play the game and I had done so at other Q-Zars and 'geddons. She seemed to accept that, albeit while looking a little skeptical, and we entered the arena.


First stop, energizer...


Next stop, the base.


Even though the guys on the other team put on a good defense I was able to take the base out several times several times throughout the game, shooting up the tube to the sensor and causing it to light up and sound the noisy alarm.


Although that same woman continued to give me "tips" during the game (clearly still assuming I was a newbie), but I think I held my own just fine. I was second place in the game, but came in first on our team, so whether she believed that I had any experience or not I was pleased enough with that result. I hung back in the arena afterwards, so I didn't see the scores right away, but the game master said to me "you and that other girl were really holding it down for your team" so I was satisfied with that. :)


We chatted a bit and he told me that one of the things he likes about this arena is that it still has a real 90s feel. Absolutely, I agree and love that also!


In fact, there's a really cool mural on the wall in the lobby that (although you can't see it in these pics) he told me is dated 1998...twenty years later, still up and still relevant!


Since I could only make it to one laser tag location before the end of the night I'm glad it was Q-Zar. And now I can say Concord...check! Carle Place...check! and Tampa...check! Q-Zar trifecta completed. And I took home a couple of t-shirts for the tag swag collection too. :)


Thank you Q-Zar Tampa!



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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

From Zone To Dome

My first night out in Orlando following a full day at the IAAPA trade show was a Thursday evening...not the ideal night for tag, but I was intent on finding some anyway.


Ultimately a very full day ended with me getting to play some excellent tag with this awesome group celebrating a birthday...Happy Birthday Brandon!


However, before we got to this point in the night I started by taking a drive up to Ocoee to visit the Ultrazone that had recently been taken over by new management.


If this were a Friday or Saturday evening I'm certain this place would have been packed. It's a good size arena with an upper level overlooking the whole space.


However, since it was a Thursday night I knew it would be hit or miss (like most places on a weeknight), so when I arrived during a quiet time I was appreciative that game master Matthew was willing to go in for a 1v1 so I could still experience the arena.


I circled around the arena once, checking out the top level view and I could tell that this is the area that a lot of people would find the most interesting. It's an upper level corridor on only one side of the arena. If there had been more players this could have been a place to find some excellent vantage points. However, with a one on one game it was better played on the lower level where Matthew and I played a pretty solid cat and mouse game. I found cover throughout the maze of walls.


With only one opponent to seek out I focused my attention on trying to predict his patterns. He was quick and I was quiet on my feet...until my leg brushed against something unexpected. For a moment I jumped thinking that I might have brushed up against a spider web, but it quickly became apparent that what had actually touched my leg was a string of holiday garland. That didn't make much sense to me until the next day. You see, after the game the employee at the counter invited me to come back for a busier game on one of the weekend nights and was kind enough to give me a free game and the new owner's card.


The next day when I was at the Zone booth at IAAPA I got to meet Jeremy (the owner) and tell him I had a great time visiting his newest site. That's when he shared with me that they were still working on it and part of their transition including clearing out some Christmas decorations...a-ha! So THAT explains the holiday garland! Even though it was quieter evening, I definitely enjoyed my visit to Ultrazone Ocoee and really hope to get back there to play again.


Once I was done with Nexus in Ocoee I headed back to Orlando to get in a game at Whirlydome.


These were the two sites that I found that were open on a Thursday, but similarly it appeared that they were having a slow night. Unfortunately the staff at Whirlydome were not able to accommodate me with a one on one game (which I always find a little dubious if there's actually nobody there), but I accepted this and left to do some shopping. After getting my fill of Florida souvenirs to take home with me I decided to swing back around to see if anyone had shown up for tag in the meantime. I was lucky to find that in fact a great group came out to play tag and celebrate Brandon's birthday, so I got to join them in the arena upstairs above the bumper cars and the bar.


The vesting room was across the hall from the ocean themed arena. They were also using Nexus at this site. When I entered the arena I found that it was narrow, but quite long with bases at each far end. I liked the fish decor hanging from above.


We had a couple of false starts (the game master restarted the game twice), but when we got into the game this group definitely played hard. I was really impressed! A couple of the guys were quite good and one especially stood out as being a top player. I later came to find out he plays a lot of tag and is usually the top score, so when he got to the scoreboard before me and asked "who was Krieger?" I knew that I had taken him by surprise by pulling the top score. However, we left that game giving each other mutual props for being good competition. I was really glad that I got into a couple of tag games on an evening like this and it was a great way to end the first day of my trip to Florida.



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Saturday, November 24, 2018

IAAPA 2018: A Player's Perspective

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 100th anniversary year of the IAAPA Attractions Expo, an major annual conference and trade show of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

This was a really impressive event and definitely the place to be if you have anything to do with operating a business within the amusement industry. However, I viewed the show from a different perspective because I was not there as a buyer, but rather as a laser tag player and enthusiast I am a potential end user for the new products that were being showcased. So for me this was a chance to get an early look at some of the newest things that will be finding their way into laser tag arenas soon (if not already). Almost every laser tag manufacturer there had something new to offer. I had the chance to try things out, ask my questions directly from the pros who know the equipment best and bring back some insight and information along with photos, all of which were taken with permission from their respective booths.
I was invited to attend the show as a guest of iCOMBAT laser tag so they made sure I was registered and had a pass waiting for me upon my arrival to the Orange County Convention Center.

The first thing I saw upon entering the grounds was an enormous IAAPA 100 Year Anniversary prop outside of the Exploration Station which all attendees were encouraged to sign.

So I left my mark on the structure before entering.

This show was so big that even though I had both my map and the IAAPA app on my phone to help guide me it did take me a little while to get my bearings. I had identified about 20 booths related to laser tag that I wanted to visit during the two days I spent at the show. The first one I came across was Laser Storm. I met Gord Armstrong, co-owner of Laser Storm and admitted to him that I had been under the impression that Laser Storm was no longer an active laser tag manufacturer. He took some time to explain to me a bit about the history and transition of Laser Storm along with some of the new changes that the company has made to the vests to give them a revamped design with shoulder sensors in place of a headset.

My thanks to Gord for filling me in on how Laser Storm is continuing as a company.


It was great chatting with him and also with John Mator II from the Pittsburgh Storm site that I hope to visit soon.
From there I made my way over to the main exhibit hall. My next visit was with Lazer Runner president Paul Savard who showed me the latest updates to their fiber optic battle vests (carbon edition) and their new Gen 4 phasers.

The archway on display seemed to have a fresh, but familiar design and the vests have a new skin that feels richer and gives it more of a sleek look. Their new phaser was the most interesting thing to me as for many years Lazer Runner has a phaser unit that resembled a price scanner. However, their new phaser design looks and feels great!

This phaser feels like a real step up. It's narrow where you would grip the bottom, but the height gives it a substantial feel even though it is still lightweight. I took a couple of shots at the vests and it felt really good to aim. I look forward to finding an arena where I can try this out in an actual game.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to collect tag swag, so I also appreciated Paul sending me off with one of the Lazer Runner movie-style posters showcasing the new design.

Over the course of the two days I spent at IAAPA I got to try out a lot of cool things. At the iCOMBAT booth I got to visit with the team I met last year in Wisconsin including VP of Operations Brandon Mijokovic, VP of Sales Ocie Mathenia and VP of Business Services Marc Haag.

Steve and Pudge made sure I also got to try out the full variety of products ranging from their more realistic offerings like this rifle... the new Invictus that debuted at IAAPA last year. I took some time to experiment with the Commando, Titan and Medic modes that are all self contained within the phaser.

And I learned about how they offer the option of a sensor sling, which I had not given much thought to previously (however I recognized the benefits when I saw it in action later that night while I was out at an attraction in Orlando). And I had my first experience playing Hero Blast, their non-gun option (more suited to kids) when I played a round with Pudge at the booth.


Over at the Laserforce booth I got to visit with some of the team that I already knew from the Syracuse and Loveland locations while taking a closer look at their latest laser tag advancement, Gen 8 Infinity.

I had actually had the chance to play this new version of Laserforce in St. Catharine's, ON Canada (one of only a few places that had it prior to IAAPA), so I had experienced the feel of the completely revamped pack design, which includes motion and avatars on a five inch chest screen. It feels good (particularly the rubberized touch-screen phaser) and it played well. However, I had not really gotten a good look at the new elemental "colors". Really, the motion between the screen and the lights surrounding it are what make the look of these packs really pop.

And picking up more tag swag as I go...

As I continued around the exhibit hall I saw something new at the Delta Strike booth. To be fair, I haven't had all that many experiences playing Delta Strike outside of at Main Event locations. I do remember once playing at a site that had their video base stations in use, which was cool (although I still struggle to understand why any system includes a quiz game in the middle of playing laser tag). However, here I got a peek at something new...the Hex Base Station.

I really like a traditional base, but I was excited to see this new design. It has a rainbow strobing lighting effect and the size is substantial at 27 inches. It's kind of a good counterbalance to their new micro targets. I enjoyed taking a couple of shots at the base.

 Thank you for more tag swag...

Laser Blast had some cool upgrades to the Cyber Blast equipment including new triangulation (is that the right word for it when it's inside a circle?) on the beam, which you can see on this screen where it is totally missing the animated gorilla target. :)

That animation was pretty cool as well and was showcased on a HUGE screen (quite different from the size of the targets I was shooting at the last time I played Cyber Blast. Mike and I chatted a bit before he handed me one of my favorite pieces of tag swag from this event, a t-shirt that I will have an appropriate occasion to wear in a few weeks.

When I visited the Lasertron booth they did have something new to roll out, but in this case it wasn't the was the new game formats they were introducing. I learned that there would be opportunities to play some new game formats including King of the Hill, Headquarters and their version of Domination. These will be accessible at designated public play times at their Buffalo and Rochester area locations, which I'm glad to hear as a New Yorker within driving distance of these sites. :)
Every system with Domination seems to have their own variation of how to play the game. In the case of Lasertron it will be about changing the "tubing" at each sector from neutral to either red or green.

I am looking forward to getting out to Lasertron to try these new games soon!
I was curious to learn about Battle Company because it was a name that I did not initially recognize...however, when I stopped by their booth I did recognize their equipment! This gave me a moment of questioning my own memory and when I was approached I said I hope it didn't sound rude, but what I was looking at looked a lot like Laser Tag Pro. Well, the answer was that's because in fact it was formerly Laser Tag Pro and they have simply gone through a re-branding with a new name. And they had a really fun way to try out their system at their booth. Playing off the popularity of a hot current video game they set up "Fort Battle" with a little wooden fort where people could try out a game using their equipment. The goal is to shoot at a target enough times to make the walls fall down. It was fun!

When a young man happened by the booth while I was there we were matched up to play a round and set up on opposite sides of the fort. It was a good time and nice to play a light game!

LaserMaxx Evo6 has not yet made its way to the U.S., so seeing it for myself was a real treat. The only incarnation of LaserMaxx that I have experienced firsthand was Laser Trooper at Kip's site down in Topeka, KS. Well Kip was at their booth along with Mitchell (who I had met in Kansas), Bran and David from the Netherlands showcasing this system where the word of the day was "durability". It seemed like everyone at this show wanted to show me just how rough you could be with their equipment to hammer home the point that it was fact I'm almost surprised nobody actually brought out a hammer! LaserMaxx was definitely the one that seemed to get deliberately dropped the hardest. When I was treating the pack delicately out of habit they insisted I drop the phaser and had no hesitation with throwing the entire pack on the ground...I am told they have tested driving a vehicle over it. Well, having seen more than a few phasers hit the ground over the years I can appreciate the importance of truly durable equipment. I also got to see the variations in the phaser options available in Europe where customers can opt for either a black phaser or clear molded plastic like this one.

Hopefully I'll have an opportunity before too long to play this system here in the states. by Zone:
One of the things I was particularly excited to see for myself was the new Helios 2. Before I left for this trip I had gotten specific requests from blog readers about wanting to see this, so I made a particular point to get over to the by Zone booth a couple of times. The Helios 2 had only been out for about three weeks as of the time IAAPA took place, so this was as new as I could have asked to see.

Jack Turner, formerly the owner of Lazer Blaze in Kentucky (home of the Laser Tag Museum) was the first person to show me the new equipment. He walked me through some of the features of the Helios 2 phaser including speakers on the phaser itself and three sensor points on the bottom.

A few of the additional features include a color display screen with feedback and a choice of a shotgun or rifle, wide or narrow beam. Then he showed me the new base design option.

You'll notice that the box next to the base has two buttons giving operators the means to start the game, but also to pause it without losing the game's data. Now that's a very practical feature!
After looking at the newest from Zone I expressed interest in the Phasor Strike pack hanging next to it on the rack. Jack laughed as he jokingly  said "don't look at that, it's only for the South American market," but gave me a chance to check it out nonetheless.


I returned to the booth the next day and was in time to watch as Erik Guthrie, VP of Sales, gave a brief description of the Helios 2 features to a group of potential customers who had gathered around. I learned that they have magnetic charging connections and run a self diagnostic report after every game with links to youtube for on-the-spot solutions. Part of Erik's demonstration was to say to me "here, catch" as he tossed the pack on the ground in front of me in yet another durability demonstration. I'm impressed that these days there are so many laser tag products that are designed to take the abuse that they will inevitably go through later on.
I met some wonderful people and had especially nice chats with Victor and Jeremy from the Zone team. However, one particularly nice surprise was getting to meet Patrick Holmes, the chairman of Zone Laser Tag Group. I have known his name and it was really great to have an opportunity to meet him.

As the final day of the show neared an end I was invited to sit and visit at the by Zone booth and before too long they were closing up the venue and businesses started to pack up their booths. I appreciate that I was able to see so much during this incredible show, but also that I had a chance to spend time catching up with old friends (I was amazed how many people I knew at the show) and also to meet so many people who are advancing the laser tag industry. It was such a treat.

My apologies that there seemed to be too few hours in the day and unfortunately I was unable to visit with Adventure Sports HQ, Laserwar or Steradian, which were the other laser tag companies also represented at the event. Additionally, there were also a couple of companies there that are not exactly laser tag, but related which I'm glad I was able to learn about. For example, Laser Ammo USA is not a tag game per se. They do firearms training simulations using laser guns that can be used with an on screen target, but could also interact with traditional laser tag equipment because it uses IR. Or Magnetag which does not use a laser or phaser, but was described to me as "a cross between laser tag and sword-fighting" with a computer that talks smack during the game...I could see that fitting right in with some laser tag!

I am so glad that I was able to attend IAAPA for the first time this particular year. Not just because it was a special 100th anniversary, but also because I was so impressed with just how many new things were being showcased this year for the laser tag industry. Although this event is so much larger than that, what a remarkable time to be able to be there appreciating just how business is thriving for the world of laser tag. Thank you to all the laser tag companies who take part in IAAPA and I look forward to seeing how your efforts and innovation help this industry continue to grow!

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