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Night of the Unexpected

I suppose the first unexpected thing that happened last night was that I got to play laser tag at all. This weekend I am running the sound equipment for a production happening just outside of Albany, so I was at rehearsal last night and didn't expect that we would get done as early as we did. I figured I might get the opportunity to go out the following evening, but I did not make plans in advance to play laser tag last night. However, since I had some time available I checked out and found there was an arena within ten miles of where I was, so I headed into the Albany area to explore. I had not brought appropriate clothing for the night. In fact I arrived wearing a dressy sweater and cinch belt and my glasses (as my contacts had been bothering me all day), so I probably looked more unassuming than usual. Thankfully, I had a pair of jeans and sneakers in the backseat of my car, so at least I wasn't running around in the tights and ballet flats I was wearing earlier :)


I arrived at Zero Gravity just as a game was being called in to the briefing room and I hurried up to the counter to see if I could still get into this game. I was told yes, but that it was a group of kids they had been keeping in a game all together and he suggested I wait for the next one in fifteen minutes, which was perfect because the place was full of adult players that would be going into that one. So I agreed, took the token I was handed to join the next round and waited in the lobby while watching the scores flashing on the display monitor. Scores were not as high as I expected...I wondered how old the "kids" were that he was talking about. The next game was called into the briefing room before I had a chance to find out, but based on the uproar I could hear coming out of the arena I imagined the kids were not really all that young. Regardless, I figured I was heading into a more appropriate game as there were only adult players going into the round with me. There were 18 of us playing that round. We first entered the briefing room and it looked like a little black box theater with a good amount of space and risers up against a dark wall of stars. You know I do love a good space-themed arena and based on the Star Trek like doors to the vesting room I was pretty sure this place would not disappoint.


We walked into a vesting room that was lit up with black lights from above and two team colors flashing. We had the option of red or blue (no third selection). At first the other players were calling out for the women to play on one team and the guys on the other, but that mix didn't work out very evenly, so moments later the teams were mixed and I grabbed a red pack with the name "Blaze" and lined up against the far wall.


This center plays Zone Infusion. I asked the staff members a few questions about the system before going in and looked up some details on my phone. I wondered if power ups were the main difference between this game and what I was playing the last couple of weeks (besides playing only two teams). Although I play Zone frequently with the Rift Blaster I was not sure if I had played Zone Infusion before...until I got the phaser in my hand.



This harkened back to some of my laser tag experiences from years ago. It was an older game system (but then I still sing the praises of Photon, so to my mind there's nothing wrong with that) and what clicked in my memory was seeing the hands on the back of the phaser light up in warning when you took your hand off of the heat sensor. Yes, that was very familiar and I'm quite certain the place I played years ago used this same system before upgrading. Very cool to experience it again, as everything felt both new and familiar at the same time. I slid on the vest and secured the sides to make sure my sensors were properly positioned.



Then we went in. The arena was impressive! I was told by a staff member that the arena was painted by hand. It included plenty of day-glow neon touches along with "brick" barriers and barrels to hide behind. Lots of cutouts. And there were multiple levels including a bridge that could be accessed by a steep incline on one side or various ramps. Generally I love to get to the top of the arena as quickly as possible for the best vantage point. However, I decided since I had three games in front of me to play this first one differently. Instead of going all out from the start I decided to familiarize myself with arena first and I simply walked the perimeter looking to find the bases and get acclimated. Within moments I was being shot at...a lot...and I just let it happen. Of course if someone was in my sights I would take a shot too, but for the first few minutes I had a different agenda and I didn't even have both hands on the phaser while I was taking my little tour.




Because I knew I was taking a lot of hits and not defending myself much I didn't expect anything out of that game other than an education about the arena space. I stumbled upon the bases and learned which was which through trial and error (they both looked identical with red lights, so only once I deactivated the "blue" base was I sure of where it was. At this point I was getting tired of hearing my pack register all these hits (they are noisy things, but they gave excellent feedback on hits scored and hits received) and I started shooting back. Actually, one of my favorite moments in this game was while I was still taking my time exploring and someone was shooting at me from behind. In agitation at being looked at as an easy mark I took a very cavalier over-the-shoulder shot behind me and the pack responded with a confirmation I had made that shot blind and tagged my opponent without even looking in his direction...I know that was just pure luck, but it was a cool moment. Outside of just taking a few random shots here and there when they were right in front of me I literally was not even trying until the tail end of that game, then I started to get into it. At the end of it all I had my next unexpected experience of the evening. We walked out and I knew I had done nothing that game and was ok with it because I had accomplished the goal of figuring out the arena. The next game would be different. Everyone gathered around the display monitor and out of 18 players my name was up there in third place...WHAT?! My numbers were not that far behind the other two players ahead of me either. How in the world was it possible for me to score over 11,000 points when I literally WAS NOT EVEN TRYING?


I was blown away by this outcome, simply for the fact that I knew how little I had put into that game. So...if I could pull third place without making any real effort, I was sure that I could knock it out of the park if I was bringing my "A" game. Time to unleash the Tivia.

I asked the staff member at the counter how much time I had before the next round, hoping to change into a t-shirt since I was still wearing my sweater outfit (I may not have exerted a whole lot of effort, but it's still quite hot to play in a sweater). However, the next game was going right in, so I didn't bother. The next game there were only 13 players, once again all adult players and there were several novices were on my team, but I barely noticed because I was getting "in the zone". That game I brought it. I was playing hard, scoring every time I turned around and taking out one blue team player after another quite consistently throughout the whole game. I was in the right head space and I was positive that I had this one. When we walked out of the arena after that round I left with a confident stride simply KNOWING that I had to have won the round. Then the next unexpected thing happened. We got to the monitor...and I was in third place again...double WHAT?!?! I was completely astounded that I had ended up in virtually the same position between the first game where I played the absolute least and the next game where I thought I tore it up. All I can figure is that because there were novices on my team they must have made for easy marks and lots of easy points for the blue team. I was at least in first place for the red team...of course that and fifty cents will get you a cup of coffee...but the players who outscored me on the blue team did approach me afterwards and ask about my pack name (I used the same pack all night because I play favorites). One of them said "Were you Blaze? I didn't see you in there once!" and another acknowledged this as a high compliment from him, so I accepted the acknowledgement with thanks. Then I bought a t-shirt so that I could change before the next game.


I was ready to go in and take the next round. Unfortunately nobody else was. This was a Friday night and things got quiet by the end. Nobody stuck around for another game, so I hung out for a few minutes just waiting to see if anyone else would show. I got to chat with the staff about some of my usual questions...average scores, typical turnout on the weekends, whether or not they participate in tournaments and the like. I learned they have a good clientele of college students...knowing that would definitely be incentive enough to return, as that would be the competitive age range I like to play against. I want to thank Jordan, Dominick, Mike and Kyle for answering all my questions and giving me some great info about this arena. It was nice to chat with you guys!

There was one final unexpected thing that occurred last night. As nobody else was showing up that late in the evening and I still had one game left I was told that I could either swap it for a game pass to use another time or, if I wanted, I could play one on one with one of the staffers. first reaction was that going up against a game master on his home turf would not likely end well for me (as any game master would certainly know their own arena like the back of their hand and I had only just figured out the lay of the land). But, then again, I never run from a challenge, and I was in the right mindset to play it out, so I accepted. However, first I asked if I might be able to take a tour of the arena and snap some photos for my blog. Jordan was kind enough to show me through and let me ask more questions. While talking I learned that they have the capability to use a key tag system to assign personalized names to the packs (I wrote about this a few weeks back...should have asked how interchangeable those tags are). I offered my two cents on the matter, which is that I always like that option and would happily pay extra to become a member in an arena that offers it simply because I like being able to use my player name and have "Tivia" register on the monitor. I greatly appreciated getting to snap some pics from the top of the bridge also, as I think it's cool to look down on the layout of an arena (even though the camera on my phone has some limitations in really showcasing the full picture).

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Then it was time for my one on one game with one of these guys. Dominick stepped up and suggested that to make it interesting we could play in stealth mode with the lights on the packs turned off. Excellent! We had a blast playing stealth mode in Canada a couple of weeks ago and the opportunity does not present all that often, so I took him up on the challenge. We went in and I got the first shot off the bat. It occurred to me that one of two scenarios might present...either he might be exceptional on his home turf and I would be about to have my lunch handed to me or he might play it soft and not give me a real run considering I was the "customer". I told him not to go easy on me. Kudos to him for meeting me somewhere in the middle. It felt like a pretty evenly balanced game and I could tell he really was not going easy on me...thank you for the respect to play it out for real. At the same time, I also felt like I was totally on my game too. It felt more like the kind of "real deal" game you have when there are just a few really good players in the arena and everyone is gunning for the win. Except, of course with a one on one match you really only have one target, so it was that vibe with a bit of sniper suspense.

There was one point in the game where he was on the bridge and I was hidden behind a barrier with a cutout (from which I took my shots) on a raised level. We both knew where the other was at this point, but he seemed to have the upper hand and get multiple shots on me rather easily when I was in this spot. That makes me wonder if the cover was not as good as I thought and the height difference between there and the bridge was enough that he was shooting over the barrier? Or if he simply tagged my phaser through the cutout that many times from that position I have to give him props for being a really good marksman. I had my best advantage when I was on the bridge and shooting downward at him. The full view of the arena is an advantage, but especially so when you have your eyes peeled for a single point of motion. It was a solid game with a worthy competitor and I could tell we both played it fully. At least, right up to the end when we broke off early for a couple more questions. I asked him if a "courtesy shot" was built into this game (if you're not familiar, don't worry, I will explain the strategy of the courtesy shot in a future post). He suspected it did occur, but was not explicitly addressed in their handbook. And from there we somehow ended up on the topic of National Laser Tag Day (which is coming up on March 28th...plan for it). I suggested checking out the Laser Tag Museum website for some resources for it...the site is I hope they are able to use that tidbit to celebrate the day in style, as 2015 marks 31 years of the laser tag industry.

When we were done with the round we chatted about our respective laser tag experiences in the vesting room (he has apparently played at this center for about ten years, long predating his time as a staff member). Jordan came in and asked who was "Terra" and who was "Blaze". I had once again taken the Blaze pack and he informed me that I had won. Cool. Good way to end the night, especially considering it was with really good solo competition. Dominick said it was the first challenge he's had in a long time. I take that as a high compliment. I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing at Zero Gravity. Since I am not local to the area and was only there because of the show I was working on, I left thinking I would not likely be in a convenient position to return again soon. However, while making the drive back home it occurred to me that, simply in travel time, this facility is not much further away than the places I frequent in the opposite direction. So I think there's a very good chance I'll be back. Zero Gravity is definitely an impressive facility with a terrific staff and a cool arena where I'd love to play again.

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