Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Intersphere in Addison

Having a chance to play Intersphere is a really special experience because right now there are only three laser tag arenas left in America that are still operating with this system. One of them is Lazer X in Addison, IL and I am so glad I had the opportunity to pay them a visit while I was traveling in the Chicago area this past weekend.

When I arrived I introduced myself and Carlos, the game master, was kind enough to show me around the arena. This is a really spacious facility at 6500 square feet with the multi-levels of the arena accessible by ramps along the back wall.

There were a few things I recognized as familiar hallmarks of Intersphere, but there were also some really creative elements and surprises to be found throughout during the game. Here are a couple of my favorites among the motion activated “inhabitants” of this arena…

…and a few other surprises.

I joined up with a family group who came out to play that night.

There was a tutorial about the game in the briefing room…

And then we put on our packs (they had the X style packs at this site) and we went in for our 20 minute game session. This was such a great time! Everyone was really getting into it. I tried to apply the skills and knowledge I acquired in March when I was playing at Lazer X Texas and it all felt familiar again.

Some of my favorite places of note in the arena were definitely along the upper level, the access points to the ramps and in the tunnel on the far right side. We meandered through the maze and I located a base unit that I did not believe was active.

However, based on my scorecard I’m guessing there had to be some hidden wall units that I did not take note of while I was in there.

It is truly remarkable to see a facility like this continuing to operate with the equipment that has served them well for so many years. Although I made a special point to come her because they had Intersphere, I can tell that place is well loved simply for the fun that customers enjoy. I showed up as their party groups were finishing up and they were getting ready for the public games so the timing was perfect to see what they have to offer. Many thanks to the staff for showing me around. If you’re in the Chicago area and want to experience something unique then I would highly recommend paying a visit to Lazer X of Addison for a great game of tag playing with Intersphere as they are keeping a piece of laser tag history alive. 

Comments or Questions?

Happy 2nd Year Anniversary iCOMBAT Chicago!

Happy 2nd year anniversary iCOMBAT Chicago! It was coincidental that they were running anniversary specials on the same weekend I was already planning to be in Illinois, but once I realized this I knew I would definitely make a point to stop in and play some tactical laser tag at this location in Schiller Park, IL. I had a great time playing with this awesome group of guys who came out to enjoy some laser tag as well.

When I arrived at the site I was greeted by the manager, Mike, who was kind enough to give me a tour of this impressive facility that houses two double level arenas themed to really immerse you in an atmosphere while the game is going on. Our first stop was to the briefing room to check out the gear.

There were two rows of lockers storing and displaying the equipment. Mike told me they have 70 sets of gear and are one of the largest indoor laser tag facilities in this state. That’s impressive in and of itself. However, seeing what was new since the last time I played was even more interesting to me as he showed me the features of the new GEN 3 iSMG equipment.

iCOMBAT’s tactical line is all about realism and this unit is modeled after a sub machine gun aesthetic and feels very solid with some weight to it. In comparison to the irMR models I have played with in the past this felt much larger and it took a little time for me to acclimate to different feel of this gear considering I typically play more traditional tag. One thing that really sets this unit apart from the previous generations is that these use a battery charge instead of the CO2 mags that I had played with the last time. When you run out of shots you still release the mag and push it back into place to reload, but you don’t have to replace it the same way and I immediately preferred this new method.

Each of the iCOMBAT corporate locations has a different and very distinctive theme. I played “Battlefield Baghdad” when I visited Waukesha, WI, but in Chicago the arenas are themed as “Alcatraz” and “Shanty Town”. I arrived while a session was in progress in Shanty Town, so I took a tour of the rest of the facility first starting with the command center that they call “Isis”. This is where I watched as Josh was busy behind the computed console running games, playing the music and announcing updates throughout the game.

Then Mike showed me around the Alcatraz arena. This space is designed to make you feel like you are targeting an enemy inside an actual jail. There are lots of well-considered design elements throughout the floorplan.

The jail cells are the most distinctive aesthetic feature of this arena.

However, there is also a prison shower…

…and even an intimidating chair to add to the atmosphere.

I noticed that stairs were the means of getting to the upper level and, while I’ve gone on record that I’m not a big fan of stairs in arenas, Mike gave a very reasonable explanation that more than anything they serve as a strategy point for the game.

I could certainly appreciate that more once the game was in progress. Then he showed me a few of the features on the upper level of this arena.

This flashing bell is used in certain games like “Hells Bells” and essentially acts as a base in those games. An interesting thing to note from a player’s strategy is that it can be shot from either the upper level or from the lower level by aiming through these floor grates.

I learned quite a bit about the system from Mike as he told me about the way they approach cadet sessions for younger players and how iCOMBAT has patented live score tracking that can break down almost every in-depth tracking criteria you could want from the games. It takes more of a video game approach to player stats which was very interesting to hear about. 

I also enjoyed hearing that Norwegian Cruise Lines now has the iCOMBAT Invictus (which I’m dying to try in an arena!) installed on their two biggest ships, Joy and Bliss.

Before too long it was time for me to suit up in the gear and enter a game in Shanty Town.

This arena was less about realism and more a tribute to the colorful graffiti art design you might find as part of the culture of Brazil.

The structures inside this arena were more paneled rooms and allowed for artists to add their personal mark…

This space was bright and functional. Our team leader, Tom, led us to the spawn point where we would begin the round and return to when we need to respawn by pushing the button on top of one of the tubes.

We played about eight games over the course of a solid hour in the arena. The session began and ended with rounds of Deathmatch (essentially just go out there and target as many opponents as possible) and also included Juggernaut which I have played before, but my favorite games included two that I had not previously played. I really enjoyed Whack-A-Mole, which is a little like Domination in that there are three tubes placed throughout the arena, but rather than trying to dominate them all simultaneously the announcer would randomly announce which tube was active (and it would only stay active for a short time) and that was the one you had to shoot into to turn it your team’s color before a few seconds later a new active tube would be announced. My team played this with more of a zone strategy. Props to JaceMace who held things down at tube one while I spent more time in the center of the arena trying to defend and activate tube two. There was a rhythm to the flow of this game that I liked and understood.

The other game I really liked was called SWAT. One team would go out into the arena and each player would pick a room. Once inside that room they were not permitted to leave and had to defend from there. One team would be the SWAT team and the other would be the Thugs. I found that I did better at defense than offense in this format, but enjoyed playing both positions. It’s nice that when you play a session here you get to experience a wide variety of game formats.

And, of course you know my very favorite part is always shopping for tag swag!

I had a wonderful time playing tactical laser tag at iCOMBAT Chicago. Big thanks to Mike and the staff who showed me around and helped us to have a really fun experience. I don’t get to play tactical very often, but I would definitely like to return and play here again!

Comments or Questions?

Monday, May 20, 2019

My Next Goal…Or Should I Say My Next “Quest”

Ever since I got back from Texas people have been asking me “what’s next?” I’ve very recently figured out the answer to that question. My next laser tag goal will be to play in all the remaining Laser Quest centers in America (maybe I’ll add Canada down the road), so I went to Illinois this weekend to play at Norridge, Rockford and Downers Grove. I’ll only have seven more in the U.S. left to go after that.

To clarify, I certainly haven’t been to every LQ site that there ever was or even as many as I could have if I had this goal at another point in time, but looking at the current active site list I have already been to quite a few locations and I would love to play at all the rest in America. So I flew to the Chicago area and began with a visit to Laser Quest Norridge.

This was a great place to begin. I chatted a bit with manager Priscilla who has been with the company and this particular location for 17 years. That’s really impressive! She got me into a game right away which kept me right on schedule and gave me a chance to explore an arena that appeared to have a similar theme as the Sunrise location, but significantly amped up. Remember I said that I liked the “crystal castle” theme on my last trip? Well at Norridge this theme is present, but so much bigger and brighter matched up with a green sponge garden and a red space theme in the other tower areas. I really wish I could get some arena pictures for comparison, but trust me, this was a good one.

The game was light considering it was early in the day and I was sent in along with a party group, so I didn’t play hard. At the end of it all the staff announced my new goal to the group and were kind enough to present me with a monthly pass to help me along my journey. Thank you so much, that was incredibly nice!

Then we got some really special pictures with staff member Nicolina and Ranya…and the iconic spider-monster creation they call Og!

I left with a couple more magnets for my collection and some great memories of LQ Norridge.

The next LQ I visited was in Rockford.

When I walked in I could tell that this site had their hands full with a very enthusiastic (and somewhat chaotic) group of players anxious for the next game, There was a little more even a mix of players this time around with several teen and adult players mixed in among the group of exuberant twelve year olds. Now, I don’t know exactly what the hold up was, but once we got into the briefing room and the game had been explained there was some sort of delay for several minutes. Kudos to the game marshals who managed to keep this group in check with nothing but a big rubber ball that they started bouncing around the space until they got the go ahead to proceed. Once we did everyone was really ready to get into the game.

Now, most of the players enjoyed a typical game, but a few of those twelve year olds acted like…well, twelve year olds. A very noisy group of these kids tried loudly ordering me to “leave their tower” in that “delightful” way that boys that age sometimes behave when they’ve had too much sugar. Well, there may be strength in numbers, but there’s also satisfaction in understanding how the game works and where to aim for the sensors, so before too long they shared “their tower” after all. They decided to travel as one big group of fish in a barrel, so it was hard not to take the points after that. Due to them being so loud they were also tough to miss as they went around the arena as a pack. Because they didn’t know my name they started calling me Karen…I don’t know why, so every time I crossed paths with them they would yell “it’s Karen again!”. Then when we left the game they all raced over to check out the scoreboard.

They all started loudly asking “who’s Tivia?” and I must say I appreciated their awe when I said “I think you mean ‘Karen’.” So maybe that should be my alternate LQ codename. :)

The final LQ stop of my trip was in Downers Grove. I took some time for an excellent sushi dinner before heading over for an Ironman game.

Now this was more interesting competition. The group of players was entirely made up of young adults…except for one. There was a guy in a bright orange t-shirt who was clearly a regular there and chimed in to assist the new game marshal with the briefing. In the darkness of the briefing room this guy looked to be older than the rest of us, although later on in the light of the lobby I realized he was probably closer to my age. He played like someone who understood the game, but didn’t opt to move from his tower perch which he adopted early and where he stayed for the majority of the game. Meanwhile, the other players were on the move and I chose to pursue them directly. Usually I pace myself during an Ironman, but this game I expended a lot more energy early on and after a full day of tag (which included some non-LQ locations also) I was feeling a bit drained and although I put in all the effort I had left that guy beat me out for the first place score be a few hundred points. Nicely played Chevelier!

So by the end of one long day in northern Illinois I had checked three more Laser Quest centers off my list. I am really feeling fired up about playing at the rest and am formulating a plan to get to them all within this year, so watch for more travels to happen very soon!

Comments or Questions?

Mom Learns to Laser Tag

You can probably tell from the way I'm dressed that this was an impromptu visit to play laser tag at Zero Gravity. I took my mother into Albany for an event and thought that this was a perfect opportunity to introduce her to the game.

Yep, we played laser tag like this, cute polka dot dress and all. Now, she has a vague notion of what I do. She is supportive and wears the wristband (and maybe reads this blog now and again), but she really didn't have any real idea what it was all about. When we entered the vesting room it was all completely new to her. Fortunately, we arrived late enough in the evening to get a private game and she was able to learn at her own pace.

Mom got an equipment tutorial before touring the maze. Her face upon entering the arena was one of total astonishment. We walked her through the space with a tour of the ramps, bridge and bases. Then she put her fierce game face on...

...and it was time to play. She did well! The game master went in as well for a little in game coaching. Mom took her first base and then proceeded to stalk me. I think the time flew by and at the end she seemed to have really enjoyed the experience. I'm glad we had this opportunity for her to finally play a game of laser tag. Rematch soon? :)

Comments or Questions?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

"Wilsoning" According to Al (aka Richard Karn)

It's interesting how laser tag terminology evolves. There are unusual terms used in many systems, but today I want to talk about a term used in Laser Storm called "Wilsoning". What this means is to peek over a wall while keeping your headset sensors low and behind cover with only your eyes and the top of your head visible over the barrier. Originally this was called "Webbing" named after a player, Mike Webb, who first started using this tactic while playing in Michigan.

This concept is rather unique to Laser Storm because (credit Logan for this explanation)... "in standard Laser Storm our arenas are traditionally made from movable plastic walls hanging from a grid to divide the arena. From this players take different positions based off size by Wilsoning over the top or the side."

However, over time the more descriptive term of "Wilsoning" came to be used by the player base. It's probably obvious that this is named after the character on the nineties tv show Home Improvement who peeked over the wall to call out "Howdy Neighbor!" So for a more thorough explanation we turn to Al (aka actor Richard Karn) to explain a bit more about "Wilsoning"...

Thank you Richard!

Comments or Questions?

Monday, May 6, 2019

Leon Loves RePlay Magazine Too!

Even my gecko Leon is enjoying this month’s issue of RePlay Magazine!

I want to thank them for including this item titled “Laser Tag Celebrated” along with a write-up about my tag in Texas on the 35th anniversary of laser tag and a photo of me with George Carter III. It was very cool to see this printed in a national industry publication, especially considering the May 2019 issue also features some excellent coverage of the Amusement Expo with which the Laser Tag Convention was co-located this year in Las Vegas. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and seeing some great pictures, especially several pics of familiar faces in the laser tag industry.

It is ironic that this magazine arrived today including this piece that references the event at Laser Quest in North Richland Hills because I just learned today that this particular LQ site closed its doors for good last night, barely a month after I was there. It is always sad to see any laser tag site close, but having worked so closely with them over the last few months this one left me feeling particularly empathetic for the players in Texas who will be saying goodbye to their tag home. I remember very clearly how I felt when my home site in Dewitt closed down unexpectedly and it is especially hard when you have no advance notice to appreciate when you are playing in an arena for the very last time. However, I also feel very fortunate that I was able to experience this site and mark my 50th state playing in such an appropriate location while they were there. To all the staff at Laser Quest North Richland Hills, I thank you for giving me a wonderful experience in March and I also thank you on behalf of all the players who enjoyed your site for so long. Best wishes my friends!

Comments or Questions?

Unexpected Surprises

Advertising works, my friends, advertising works. I don't say that just because it's my business, but it’s the reason I have this story to share, so here's an anecdotal example of how I know it to be true.

While driving north on route 75 heading through Fort Myers towards the Sarasota airport again (the less obvious route home from Miami, lol) I noticed a billboard that said "HeadPinz...more than just bowling. Laser Tag. Next exit." Well, I just about flew across several lanes of traffic to get over to the exit for this! It was an unexpected surprise because even though of course I had done a search online for laser tag along my route, it didn't look like there was much opportunity for tag until closer to Tampa. When I saw this opportunity I was very excited (and ready for a break from driving) so I was ready for whatever system of laser tag they had to offer. Pulling into the parking lot I noticed the side of their building had a wall mural (more good advertising) featuring some Zone imagery. I hoped that was what we'd be playing, but I've learned not to put too much stock in the photo as quite often the reality is something completely different…and that was the case here as the actual system in use was Cyber Blast. But that's still among my favorites, so I was definitely ready to play. 

What I found to be the next unexpected surprise was that this arena was awesome! Such a terrific find! Sometimes I have a tendency to think that laser tag takes a backseat in FECs where the main emphasis is on bowling, but that was certainly not the case here. This was a spacious arena with a really "cool" (play on words) and ironic theme. You see after getting a sunburn on South Beach the day before and spending a large part of this day out in the blazing Florida heat it was kind of funny to walk in and find that this place turned up the chill with an ice cave theme!

The entrance was designed to look like an igloo or cave covered in ice. Then they kept the theme going through the briefing area....

And then into the arena that was decorated with snowshoes, sleds and more to add to the motif.

You could get a good view of it all from the upper half-level running along one upper wall and accessible by ramps on either side.

And something else that you could see well from that vantage point (which unfortunately I could not get a picture of) was the projection on the wall. This I did not expect at all and wish I had noticed a little earlier in the game. An animation of a gorilla popped up every so often. The game master said it correlated with a timer. There was also an avalanche animation that I believe may have been synced to base deactivations. I'm not certain as I could not see it when I took my bases, but that's what I believe was happening there. This was not a full wall projection, but that didn't matter. It was an incredibly impressive touch. I do not believe it was one of the interactive projection targets like I had seen at the Laser Blast booth at IAAPA (someone please correct me if I am mistaken), but it was very cool nonetheless.

I left that game feeling pumped up and thoroughly impressed with this site. I'm so glad that I saw their billboard and was able to add this final stop before leaving Florida. It was a great trip with a lot of great memories. Here's one that has nothing to do with tag, but is worth sharing. I've mentioned that I am a gecko mama to my little lizard Leon. However, one of the coolest things about touring the Everglades was getting to visit with the alligators this region is known for. So here I am with a significantly bigger Casper the alligator!

Here's another wristband challenge. If you think you know WHY my lizard is named Leon and what the laser tag connection is then drop me an email. If your answer is correct I'll send you a glow in the dark Laser Tagging America wristband (U.S. entries only, please). And thank you to HeadPinz of Fort Myers for a great tag experience. Getting to play at your arena was a wonderful unexpected surprise!

Comments or Questions?