Sunday, April 28, 2019

Look Who's Tagging!

Today I launched a new feature on the website called Look Who’s Tagging. Check it out!

Here's a sample video...

And here's the full feature...

Look Who's Tagging:

This section will be dedicated to spotlighting people of note who enjoy laser tag. Right now you’ll find some videos featuring celebrities talking about their experiences playing laser tag (including Melissa Joan Hart, Joey Lawrence and Perez Hilton just to name a few) and some pro athletes offering their thoughts about tag and tips for tournaments and competition. Watch for this area to expand soon to include articles and links to tag on tv, tag in the news and more from people you probably never knew also love laser tag too!

Comments or Questions?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Member of the Month and Views on Memberships

Over the weekend I went out to play some laser tag as usual. I had been playing for almost the entire night before something caught my eye. Apparently this had been flashing right in front of me all evening and, oblivious me, I hadn't actually noticed it until the last fifteen minutes of the night.

I didn't even see the whole message at first, just my name blinking on the new LED board. I asked Jared why my name was flashing and he informed me that I was the member of the month. Well...that's a nice surprise! To be perfectly honest I have no idea what that means or how I was chosen, but I was told that it's a new promotion that they are starting and I appreciate that they picked me to start it off. Many thanks! The Fun Warehouse is a great place to play laser tag and I enjoy being a member...I must, because I have roughly seven or eight memberships here!

This actually gives me an opportunity to bring up something that I've had a few interesting discussions about recently...memberships in general. 

Most places where memberships are offered there are a few incentives that make them particularly appealing to the players. Things like choosing your own custom code name, tracking personal stats and unlocking achievements or power-ups are among the typical perks common across most laser tag systems that have membership options. Sometimes there may be discounts or other perks made available depending on the individual business location as well. And often times the more frequent, dedicated players won't mind paying a little extra to have access to these perks. 

Like with anything, there can be pros and cons, so from the site operator's perspective there may be reasons both for and against implementing memberships. Here are a few varying perspectives.

When asked about memberships at this particular Laserforce site where I was playing in Syracuse, NY manager Michael Brandt explained why they see memberships as a benefit to the business, saying “We use memberships to help create a customer database and a repeat customer. All of our memberships come with special member pricing, access to member only events, and in game features that makes the laser tag experience a much more interactive one. We encourage all of our customers to become members if they want to be involved in leagues and tournaments, as these are required to access them.

Meanwhile Laser Quest has taken a different approach in recent years. Although traditional memberships were once offered at Laser Quest locations, that is no longer the case. However frequent players can become an LQ Arena member and use their app instead which allows access to other kinds of incentives. In this excerpt from a February 2019 interview, Laser Quest Vice President Jeff Morris related his take on memberships...

I've also heard opinions from some people about reasons to NOT have memberships. During a recent discussion I had with one site owner who has seen and helped laser tag establishments all over the world I learned that for his own business he opts against offering memberships. I asked him the reasons why and, I'll paraphrase, but the essence of what he said is that sometimes members can feel a bit too entitled, can start to take over and become overbearing when playing with the public and he also told me that most of the highest grossing laser tag facilities actually do not offer or encourage memberships. I was a bit surprised to hear that last part (let me say the source is quite knowledgeable, but this was a casual conversation so I have no statistical info at hand to corroborate that). I can certainly understand his point, but personally I think there is also potential for these same members to have their “enthusiasm” redirected in ways that can be helpful to a business. As you can see there are a variety of opinions about the value of memberships and what they can mean to a laser tag operation.

As a player I think memberships are a way of adding to the sense of community that I value in the tag sites I visit the most. And while I'm not deterred by the lack of it, I definitely feel that I am more likely to actively take interest and engage in the activities at the sites where I feel that sense of community the strongest, whether it's local or from afar. I don't become a member everywhere I go of course, but I do have active memberships at laser tag centers in North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, California even Hawaii (codename "Tivia in HI") just to name a few. To me being a member is more about the experience and the people, so when I decide to become a member somewhere that means more than just having a means having a connection.

Comments or Questions?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

First Impressions

This is a customer service cautionary tale more so than my typical kind of review, so I won’t be naming any names or posting pics. In fact I held this for awhile before deciding it was worth posting.

A new laser tag arena has opened up near me and you may be surprised to hear me say this, but...I'm not exactly in love with it. I'll just tell you why I had a less than favorable first impression and I'll try to make this a constructive criticism because I really do want all laser tag to thrive.

I had showed up at this new FEC several weeks ago only to find that, although the rest of the business was open, the laser tag arena had not yet been cleared to open for players. Sigh, but OK, I understand that delays happen and the manager told me they should be ready to go in two days. And yet, by the following weekend (when I called ahead rather than just showing up again) I was told there was still no tag open. That was a few weeks ago, so when I at last heard through the grapevine that their tag arena had finally opened I made plans to check it out.

There were two employees at the front counter when I walked up to purchase my game pass. Neither initiated a greeting. I had to start the conversation myself, which consisted of only four words from the employee..."ten dollars" and "sign here". 

So that was my experience before even getting into the arena. And as for the arena itself? Well, I'll start with a positive...they do have a pretty arena. It's obviously a CW design with a few elements I don't recall seeing before.

However, it is rather unbalanced with the green base on an upper level (there is only half of a second level as the ramps take you to an upper deck that only runs along one side of the arena) and the blue base in the center with the red base on the lower right side. 

I walked into the briefing room alongside a family group of five that included a couple of younger kids. A proper division of this group of six players would have been two teams of three and I would have tried to be helpful to the little ones as this appeared to be their first laser tag experience. The two game masters played the introductory briefing video. Then the two employees had some discussion between themselves. One employee said that he'd already played a few games in a row so the other could play again this time. Ok...

So one of the employees (we'll call him Karm...maybe short for Karma) announced that we would be divided into two teams (so far so good) and he would also play as his own one player solo team against all of the rest of us...sigh. THAT is where Karm made a big mistake! This is a new business (and a very corporate FEC at that) and while I have no problem at all with employees stepping in to fill out or balance a game as needed I think it is a HUGE mistake to let them feed their own ego by playing hard or going solo against the paying general public while they are there on the clock. I've seen this happen all too often (usually at locally owned establishments that are a bit more lax), but that's no excuse to start out with this poor practice. Usually I find that it's the corporate FECs that tend to be more stringent with their policies about this.

There was no reason for him to play at all, let alone as a separate solo team of one, and especially not against presumably inexperienced players (hey, he doesn't know me from Adam...he probably figured we were all fish in a barrel). Whenever this scenario is set up it means that the one solo player has ALL the targets available for tagging for the most potential points while the players on the other teams have significantly less targets, meaning inevitably less potential points from the start. It messes with the fairness of the game as the odds heavily favor the one solo player taking the top score if they are even moderately skilled. It's mildly annoying when it's a customer doing it, but totally unacceptable for an employee to pull that move in a public game.

Please understand that I'm not saying this with any concern for my own score. My goal this game changed when I heard what he had in mind and instead I decided to settle it like a laser tag vigilante! Rather, I say this because a new laser tag business will simply not be well served by this practice continuing. This place is less than eight miles from an established tag site operating with the very same tag system so customers do have other choices and most will not pay a premium per game just to have new staff members try to farm points on them. The staff should be there to make sure customers have a safe and enjoyable experience, not just to play free tag for meaningless bragging rights.

Well, since that's how they decided to separate the teams, I decided if this guy was going to act all "Cody" in this game that it was now ok for me to play harder than I intended and be a bit more renegade. Please understand I did NOT make a point of going after the other team unless they happened to land right in my path. Instead I focused all of my attention on keeping this guy's pack down for as much of the game as possible. That's the only way to counter the one man solo team approach. I took my bases and made sure I had the points. I also accomplished a bit of my earlier goal by helping the young ones to at least get a team victory. And in the end I feel like I settled the game in the appropriate way…yes, I beat his solo score.

So now here's the constructive part of my criticism. This is a perfectly easy thing for a business to fix. With a new business especially it's important to start out with clear employee expectations. I am not a fan of the blanket rule that some corporate centers impose saying employees can never play in public games. That can be equally counterproductive if you have someone (like me) show up at an off-hour and want to play when there is nobody else around. And sometimes you really do need a more experienced player to add proper balance and an employee might fill that need perfectly. There are sometimes appropriate situations for this. These things happen often enough and at those times it is perfectly reasonable for a staff member to participate because they are making sure that you walk away as a happy customer. And in those instances I really WANT the employees to play well and give me a challenge. But when there is a group of paid customers ready to go and the game is not in need of any extra balancing then the employee (guided by a best practices policy from the management) should know enough (i.e. just have some good common sense) to not insert himself into the game unnecessarily. Come back and get good at the game on your own time, not your employer's and not the customer's. That's my two cents on that matter. And for the record, with this as my initial reaction to this site I decided to exercise my consumer’s choice to leave after that one game and did in fact go eight miles down the road to play elsewhere for the remainder of the evening. So, while I'm always happy to play in a new arena, I hope this account provides food for thought because you really only get one chance to make a first impression.

Comments or Questions?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Talking Tag In The Community

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to a local community group about my favorite topic…laser tag. :)

Before I had even arrived I had a really nice surprise. While I was in route I was listening to one of my favorite nationally syndicated radio programs, the Bob and Sheri show, when I was pleasantly startled by my own voice! At the beginning of the third hour (roughly at the 47 minute mark) they had included a pre-recorded plug for Laser Tag Day that I did not expect would be used after the fact, but how nice to hear that it was included on the show anyway!

Shortly thereafter I arrived at the meeting destination. I had been invited to speak about my adventures laser tagging America and give a presentation as part of the literary program to members of the Floyd Grange. I appreciated being welcomed to talk to the group about my journey. There were about 14 attendees who gathered in a member’s home this night instead of the meeting hall, so it was a really intimate gathering and an informal discussion, but also an opportunity for me to raise awareness about what laser tag is…and what it is not.

I began my talk by bringing out a Laserforce Gen 6 pack from my collection and explaining how laser tag works and showing them the features of the pack.

Because I know that sometimes people who are not familiar with the game tend to have questions about the phaser I also took a moment to explain that this is called a “hand held unit” or “phaser” and it’s used to deactivate the lights using the words “zap”, “tag” or “target” because this is a non-violent sport game so the semantics matter for anyone who might have been concerned that it could resemble a weapon. After addressing this point I moved on to share some of my favorite memories from my trips to various states.

I shared photos of some particularly unique experiences like the time I got to play laser tag with Olympic athletes in Denver, Colorado and how members of the National Guard came out to play tag with me in Wasilla, Alaska. I showed them some of the more interesting arenas I’ve played in and related the stories I had been told about how people were housed at Laser Tag of Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I shared the fitness focus of the laser tag/parkour hybrid of LasRFit in Los Angeles, California and the finale of my journey playing laser tag with George Carter near where it all started in the area around Dallas, Texas. It was such a nice opportunity for me to reflect on the memories as well as share them with others. I thank the Floyd Grange for inviting me to give this presentation.

When the meeting was over one member hung back to ask me a question that I really appreciated having a chance to answer. She wanted to know if I think that games like this have any connection to the gun violence and the school shootings that we hear about in the news. I was glad she asked me about this because it gave me an opportunity to explain that I definitely do NOT believe that there is any connection. Just the opposite really. Laser tag is a very social game. It is completely family friendly and non-violent, right down to the terminology that is used. There is no physical contact permitted in this game. Laser tag fosters friendly competition and is also a great form of exercise that releases endorphins. For all these reasons I think laser tag is a very healthy activity for people of all ages to enjoy, so I disagree with any suggestion that there could be a connection. And yet I am very glad that she asked me about this because it gave me a chance to address her question with facts about all the positive benefits that people of all ages can experience through playing the game. I left the meeting feeling like I had shared some great memories, but also brought some enlightenment about the game that I love so much. Thank you to the Floyd Grange for the opportunity to talk about tag!

Comments or Questions?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Lazer X Texas Is My 250th Laser Tag Arena!

Once I realized that I could play my 250th arena in Texas I decided to look for a really special site where that milestone number could happen.

The reason I chose Lazer X in Longview, Texas is because of the current rarity of being able to play using their system. Lazer X is one of the last three laser tag centers in the United States where you can still go to play Intersphere and that made this site a MUST for me to visit.

As soon as I arrived I was greeted by owner Bill and his wife Cindy. A short time later I met game master Kathy and Bill took me for a tour of the equipment and gave me some history of the business and the Intersphere equipment that they have been using since they opened in 1999.

Originally this business was located in Tyler, TX and there was a different Laser X location established in Longview. The first Longview site opened in 1998 using the version 6 packs (O packs) which were made with a harder plastic. Later on some of the version 6 packs had plastics with a tendency towards breaking at the joints. However, by the time Lazer X in Tyler opened in 1999 there had been a change in EPA regulations that resulted in a change in the plastic formula they used on the subsequent Beta packs used a softer plastic. They have a Y front pod and the O design style and when compared side by side (Beta on the left, version 6 on the right) you can see some of the subtle differences.

The fact that these packs are still holding up speaks well to the quality. Today Lazer X has packs with the original yoke and only the inner shell removed.

A later generation, the version 7 packs had a distinctively different design with the square front featuring the X that were manufactured in Des Moines, Iowa, circa 2000.

These packs also featured a double strap on the sides, while the earlier version only buckled with a single strap.

Here’s a better look at the single strap Beta…

…and the double strap version 7.

There was also a change in battery between the two.

The differences between the Beta (left) and the version 7 (right) are much more apparent.

The phasers have a comfortable, ergonomic design.

And the screen on the back of the phaser has pertinent in-game info including credits, points and rank.

Lazer X moved from Tyler to Longview in November of 2004. Here they are able to run up to 30 packs in the games played inside their over 6000 square foot double level arena with six wall unit targets and two switch back ramps leading to the upper level.

My first peek at the arena came when I was able to join the local venture crew who came out to play a few games. We watched a video briefing before entering the briefing area and being assigned packs for the game.

The public games were all Solo Invis (basically stealth) and when you successfully tag an opponent you earn 20 points, meanwhile the tagged player loses 2 points. We entered the arena passing by Mike and Jerry…

…and I got my first peek of the spacious playing field. The lower level is more your typical maze while the upper level (which everyone gravitated to) featured more obstacles like barrels and separated “rooms”.

I didn’t immediately notice the gem style wall units that count down and fire back during the game, very similar to those used in Darklight.

Actually, during the first games I was just shooting at everything, so although I took first in every game I was accomplishing that with ridiculously low accuracy.

It wasn’t until Bill gave me some guidance about targeting the shoulder sensors (they would stay off until hit and then would flash to indicate the tag had been made) and showed me how accuracy factors into the scoring with this game that I made strides towards really developing some skill for this system. He explained to me that the accuracy is multiplied by the enemy score to give you what is called a “sniper bonus” so higher accuracy really does matter in this game (unlike in many others). So in the next couple of games I played I made a concerted effort towards getting my accuracy up and it jumped significantly.

Bill indicated this poster on the wall for a reference on how to read the scorecards.

After about five games in the arena with the venture crew we took a break and had a second night of celebration with party snacks and cake.

And before too long I had a chance to play with a few of the center’s more experienced players for an “Owner’s Game” which means that Bill got to join in the fun too!

Here’s a look at how that went with a GoPro view of a game of Intersphere at Lazer X Texas!

I had such a great time here! By the end of the night I really felt like I was getting some skill with the game and I had to lament that unfortunately there is nowhere I can go to practice this system. However, I am so glad that I got to really play this system properly and learn so much more about it in the process. It was a fantastic evening of laser tag and I want to thank Lazer X Texas for hosting me and becoming my 250th laser tag site. Whenever I make it back to Texas I would definitely like to play here again!

Comments or Questions?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Making My Way Across Northeast Texas

The next morning I woke up filled with appreciation for the opportunity I had to celebrate the previous evening at Laser Quest, but there was still plenty more to my Texas trip still ahead of me. A lot of people have been asking me “what are you going to do after you play all 50 states?” Although I haven’t come up with a perfect answer to that question just yet, I do know that I have no intentions of stopping my journey just because I’ve hit that one big milestone. So I figured that, at least in the short term, my next step was to strive to hit a second milestone number while I was still in Texas. I knew that I could end up playing at my 250th laser tag arena that same weekend with a little strategic planning if I could play in just three more arenas in Northeast Texas before making my way to Lazer X Texas. However, that would be a bit more of a challenge only because in order to do so I would need to play in the less ideal hours in the middle of the day on a Friday to allow enough time to get where I was going by the early evening, so I knew I’d have to find some willing staff members to make this happen. I set out to play at several more sites before making the drive that would let me end my Friday night in Longview.

All of the places I stopped while on route were family entertainment centers built predominantly around bowling alleys with plenty of additional activities besides laser tag…but we all know what I was there for!

The first stop along the way was to Alley Cats in Arlington, TX.

I got there early in the day when it was unlikely I’d find a group for a game (this was the middle of a Friday mid-morning after all), so when I was introduced to game master Dennis he said he’d indulge a game as soon as he got everything set up for the day. I said that was fine and while I waited I killed a bit of time in the arcade. I won a few tickets…

…and took home a souvenir.

Then we entered the two level arena and suited up with Gen 7 Laserforce packs.

Come on Dennis, game on!

We played what I would call a light game, but with enough energy to be worthwhile and wake us both up. The only particularly interesting element was the warbot on the second level. Otherwise the arena was a classic CW design and I meandered knowing fairly intuitively where I expected to find the bases and beacons. I think in spaces like this the familiarity of the design has made it much easier for me to predict the flow patterns. I felt like I knew this arena well even though I’d only walked into it for the very first time.

I enjoyed my experience at Alley Cats. It was a good way to start the day and a convenient first stop because it was relatively close to my hotel.

From here I moved on to Pinstack Plano. 

Apparently this was the first Pinstack location ever built (there are several others, but this is considered the “headquarters” site). Inside the two -level arena they are using Hyper Blast and I got to play against Destin and Ethan.

Similar to the last stop, this was a typical CW design (although the walls looked very new) and there were all the recognizable hallmarks you would expect.

There was also a bit of original airbrushed art scattered throughout.

I took my bases first before figuring out what was a little more unusual here.

There were a few things that made this arena a bit more distinctive. The LONG ramps are very playable as there were some really good sightlines to several targets and both levels when you are between levels.

The targets by far were the most interesting part of this experience. The multi-colored flashing targets were connected to unusual sound files and it was interesting to see what each one would “say” when it was tagged.

There were at least 10 distinctive sounds including familiar jingles and phrases like “plop, plop, fizz, fizz”, “read my lips”, “It’s alive!”. “Yahoo!!!” and a baby crying “waaahhhh!!!” The guys told me that these sound effects are signatures of the Pinstack arenas and I have to agree that they made this one stand apart. I can definitively say that this was the best sounding arena I have ever played and that made it a lot more fun!

Next I was off to Shenaniganz in Rockwall.

This is where I met up with game master Hunter who gave me an EXCELLENT one on one game in their really cool, aztec two level arena. I had a great time playing This place had a completely different look than the others I’d been to today. I loved the way the d├ęcor really came to life under the black lights.

We suited up with Helios vests and went in. I immediately noticed something unusual…two bases were both positioned on the upper level, although they could be tagged from the lower level. This was just a little different from the norm that made the game a little more interesting.

To get up to the second level you would have to ascend the ramps, BUT these ramps were a little different also because they had colorful half-barrels acting as speed bumps for players inclined to move too quickly. Although they were a little inconvenient, I definitely see how this can be a smart thing to keep the player speed down in regular games.

The base housings looked a little ominous sheltered under “guarded” rooftops. It was a very cool look all the way around.

And when the game was over I left the arena area…

…and I headed over to the restaurant where I ordered something delicious for lunch. I’m not usually one to post photos of my food, but THIS was something special.

I ordered an Avocado Bomb, which was a fried whole avocado stuffed with chicken and cheese and it is quite possibly the BEST thing I have ever tasted!!! Well done Shenaniganz!

Well, these stops along the way represented arenas 247, 248 and 249 on my list. Longview, here I come ready to play number 250!

Comments or Questions?