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Qualifying in New Hampshire

On Saturday I finally made my way up north to Tamworth, NH to spend the day getting my qualifying scores for the finals that will be hosted in December at the area's local Cyber Blast arena. This was quite a day...and yes, it was snowing already in the White Lake mountain region where I drove in late October without my snow tires changed over yet!

However, snow did not slow me down from accomplishing what I wanted to at this site where I played 13 consecutive games of Cyber Blast, earning my two game minimum average with an eligible score in each of five categories.

When I first arrived Bob gave me a tour of the tag site at White Lake Speedway with an arena that at first looks deceptively like a Lasertron arena, but it's not.

Actually this arena was designed by ARC arenas and it is unusual to see a design like this paired with this kind of tag system.

They did ask me to sit through watching the typical briefing video in the front lobby area/briefing room.

But the more I learned about this arena the more I realized that there is very little that you would call "typical" here. Bob has done some really interesting things to stretch the capabilities of this system far beyond anything I've ever experienced with Cyber Blast before. You'd definitely take note that there is a really impressive lighting design going on, but really it's the software modifications he has made that are probably the most interesting features here. If you've played Cyber Blast before this element will look familiar and you'll know that it can usually be triggered to target players during the game...

...but you might be taken by surprise when the custom tracker system kicks into gear and this arena "attacks back" on its own, making this arena come alive in a whole new way that you must be attentive to. If you see one glowing red you have a very short window of time to escape it. If you see it blue you can trigger it and if you see it pink or another color you can use it to unlock one of the gates. Do not walk under a red gate or you'll be tagged as well.

Another interesting modification relates to back tagging or, more specifically, discouraging it. Most of the games are set so that if you tag a person on the back sensor 500 points will transfer from your pack to theirs and your pack will make a distinctive noise and deactivate for several seconds. This was a deliberately modified setting to discourage people from following/tagging from behind. Bob says it makes the arena feel larger. To me it's just one more thing to be conscious about and a habit I had to be attentive to try to break.

There was also a trivia screen in the far corner of the arena.

Even though this is not exactly a custom feature (though it is also not one I come across very often) the questions presented during the game could be customized based on the group that was playing the game. After two failed attempts at answering questions (and wasting too much game while time doing so) I decided that the trivia kiosk was not for me, regardless of the potential points you could earn. Case in first question was "Who is the front man for the band Coldplay?" and my second was "Who is the lead singer of Maroon 5?" I'm sorry, but unless there's some trivia about Debbie Gibson or Madonna thrown into the mix I won't be scoring well here. But it is cool to see unusual features like this built into an arena...I just question its practicality in a serious game.

Although the briefing went through the traditional rules of Cyber Blast (as seen on the poster out front)...

...I felt like I had to quickly un-learn a lot of things that I would typically do in a laser tag game. For example, my first move is usually to try to take out a base.

However, Bob has modified the point values so that tagging bases and tagging players are worth LESS points than tagging targets and elements. Without the back target (usually worth 200 points) being available to hit I guess this would be the default result anyway, but it is hard to wrap my mind around the idea that it is better to tag a target than to tag another player, but in this case that is exactly right.

When I asked about the reasons behind making this adjustment he told me that giving extra incentive to focus on the targets in the arena was partially a response to parents in the area not liking the idea of players "shooting at a person" within the game, which I think shows an unfortunate lack of the public understanding what this game is really about. Most laser tag goes above and beyond to promote itself as a non-violent form of entertainment and reinforcing that by using terminology like the word "tag" or "zap" (it is NEVER "kill") or using the word "phaser" to describe the equipment that you would use to send the IR signal and deactivate the lights on another players pack. That's all you are doing...temporarily deactivating lights. Really a game of laser tag is just a sophisticated version of pointing a remote control. In fact 35 years ago when George Carter III was working out the IR technology for Photon he did so by taking apart a television set and actually using a remote control to figure out how to make it work! How unfortunate that these elements of the game are not better understood as I believe laser tag is really a very healthy outlet for competition and exercise. I digress...

Regardless of my own opinion, these are the parameters that were set up for the games at hand. To be eligible in each of the five qualifying categories I had to acquire a two game minimum average in each while meeting an accuracy percentage that prevented me from tagging willy-nilly and I did have to pay extra attention to taking my shots conservatively. The games were played in a mixed order, but ultimately I played at least two times in each of the following game types:

Surrounded - Free For All with trackers

Surrounded - Free For All without trackers

Tactical Takeover (aka Domination)

Hide and Seek (aka Rabbit with trackers)

Mind-Control (aka Zombies)

I felt I made a reasonable showing (although far from my best performance with all these new things thrown into the mix) in most of the games and I thought Domination would be my strongest suit based on the fact that in Cyber Blast it isn't about holding specific targets at once, but rather as many targets as possible. But in the end, to my surprise (and no doubt to the surprise of anyone who knows my game preferences) it was Vampires that looked like it was going to result in getting me to the best average of all of them...unbelievable!

I left White Lake Speedway pleased that I had accomplished what I came up for and educated about the arena and many of its customizations. I took home a piece of tag swag...

And from here I just let the chips fall as I set out for home. A fair portion of my trek through New Hampshire was driving through the snow, so let there be no doubt that the next time I venture to Tamworth I will definitely do so with studded snow tires on my car! It was an awesome and very full day of interesting tag experiences and I hope to return in a few weeks!

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