Appalachian Laser Tag Festival

I believe it was a year or so ago that I first learned about the Appalachian Laser Tag Festival hosted annually by the Laser Tag Club at Virginia Tech. I was intrigued. Based on the photos from their website I knew this was a COMPLETELY different kind of laser tag experience than anything I had done before (even compared with outdoor tactical) so I contacted the organizer, Scott, back in March to make arrangements to be part of it. This year’s event was moved to a different location than where they normally play, so I started my morning driving north into Blacksburg, VA and searching for the road that would take me to Pandapas Pond to meet up with the group.

I got there and met up with some of the early arrivals who were setting up “home base” under a tent with some chairs, bottles of water and about three good sized storage containers filled with a mix of very different looking phasers.

These were all home-use laser taggers that are compatible with each other. They would be considered “toy tag” within the industry. However, I learned that there’s actually a bit of a tie back to early laser tag in that these were basically all Lazer Tag (history lesson Cody: Lazer Tag spelled with a Z was the Worlds of Wonder brand that competed with the LJN toy home version of Photon. Those two brands combined were the number one toy category during the Christmas season of 1986 (cite: my interview with George Carter III).

So what is the connection? I’ll let Erik field this one with some history about Shoot the Moon and Laser Tag Team Ops developers David Small and Paul Rago from the Laser Tag Team Ops page on the Laser Tag Museum website.

http://www.lasertagmuseum.com/brand/l-p/lazer-tag-team-ops

OK, so that’s where we started and Scott gave me a lesson in the various phaser choices (they call them taggers) and the differences between them. For instance, the first one he showed me was a Tag Master Blaster with auto reload…

…a bottom button for the shield…

…and a realistic distance (by his estimation) of about a 600-800 foot range. And as he pointed out, the larger lens = a larger beam.

There were a few smaller options as well.

And one looked particularly familiar to me.

This looks a lot like something I had purchased a couple of years ago and only used a couple of times with an app on my old iPhone 4S. I really knew very little of what it could do (besides shooting at imaginary aliens on the phone screen that I could chase around my living room…I digress), but this weekend I learned a lot more about it. This would fall into the realm of LTAR (Laser Tag Augmented Reality). It has a shield activated by the front of the circle opposite the trigger and a manual reload. I must admit I was clueless about it even though I actually own one. So this was a great chance to see what it was truly designed to do. With a dome sensor on the top of the barrel to aim for these phasers all are self contained taggers that worked well together in combination.

Now, with the right set up using a computer you could potentially run hosted games where you could track more information about the total game and individual results on a screen, but we were set up in a wooded area and the games for this event were non-hosted. It was explained that for the games today objectives and meeting a goal were more about working with your team than about individual score. The first game we played was Alamo with one team going out into the field to defend a little wooded “Alamo”.

My team hung back until they were positioned and we got some strategy suggestions while looking at the map of the area that spanned about 1100x700 feet in the woods along the pond.

Basically the opposing team would stay around the Alamo to defend while the offense would come up and attack from all directions.

For me the biggest challenge was the terrain. I showed up in sport tag attire and the rest of the players were in camo looking ready for battle. So I just stayed close to players who knew the field and just did my best to aim my phaser and not trip on a root and fall down. I was 99% successful. :)

The next game we played was Zombies. Ah, something familiar! Or so I thought…and I was wrong.

The game was described very similarly to how Zombies is played with traditional tag (only with a better back story that I’m told is akin to Resident Evil. I’ll take their word for that.), but in actuality it played VERY differently. In this game one person was assigned to be the “zombie”.

He could take ten hits and then reload for as many as ten more. The rest of us “humans” could take ten hits before becoming a zombie, which would be identified by putting a red velcro band around your arm.

To my knowledge none of us had to put the red arm band on. It was NOT because we were so exceptionally great at this game. It was because nobody actually found the zombie player for about half an hour! So this game ended up being more about tracking down the one player in what felt like a really big field of trees. Again I stayed close to players who knew the terrain because I did not want this to end with me getting lost in the woods.

But once the zombie was found the game ended with a few good shots being placed rather quickly and no humans turning zombie in the process.

Then we played a game called The Cube. It had a special prop.

This cube was assembled from PVC pipe and had a special phaser suspended by bungee cords in the center. On the heels of the longer Zombie game this was intended to be a quick ten minute adventure for two teams where the goal was to tag players and get as close to the cube as possible for extra points while you are “up”, but if you are neutralized the cube can shoot at you very quickly (from the dome) and tag you repeatedly.

Each player could take 99 hits before being deactivated, but that sure doesn’t feel like as many as it sounds like when the cube is after you and opposing team players can pick up the cube and chase you with it! This game was a little confusing, but we all did our best. I think the cube won…lol.

After a few games the group returned to the home base.

Here I learned a little bit more about the modifications that could be made to some of the tag equipment with a bit of ingenuity. Scott showed me a large phaser that was basically modded from the smaller phaser design he showed me side by side.

This world of tag modifying is both interesting and baffling to me as it feels so far removed from what I know and yet the principles behind all forms of laser tag are so similar. I came here wanting a unique and different laser tag experience and that is exactly what I got. It was such a cool opportunity to learn about and play tag using different equipment than I ever have before. I want to thank the Laser Tag Club at Virginia Tech for hosting this event and I hope I have an opportunity to participate again!

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Contact: tivia@tiviachickloveslasertag.com

Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com

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