I recently had the opportunity to attend the 100th anniversary year of the IAAPA Attractions Expo, an major annual conference and trade show of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
This was a really impressive event and definitely the place to be if you have anything to do with operating a business within the amusement industry. However, I viewed the show from a different perspective because I was not there as a buyer, but rather as a laser tag player and enthusiast I am a potential end user for the new products that were being showcased. So for me this was a chance to get an early look at some of the newest things that will be finding their way into laser tag arenas soon (if not already). Almost every laser tag manufacturer there had something new to offer. I had the chance to try things out, ask my questions directly from the pros who know the equipment best and bring back some insight and information along with photos, all of which were taken with permission from their respective booths.
I was invited to attend the show as a guest of iCOMBAT laser tag so they made sure I was registered and had a pass waiting for me upon my arrival to the Orange County Convention Center.
The first thing I saw upon entering the grounds was an enormous IAAPA 100 Year Anniversary prop outside of the Exploration Station which all attendees were encouraged to sign.
So I left my mark on the structure before entering.
This show was so big that even though I had both my map and the IAAPA app on my phone to help guide me it did take me a little while to get my bearings. I had identified about 20 booths related to laser tag that I wanted to visit during the two days I spent at the show. The first one I came across was Laser Storm. I met Gord Armstrong, co-owner of Laser Storm and admitted to him that I had been under the impression that Laser Storm was no longer an active laser tag manufacturer. He took some time to explain to me a bit about the history and transition of Laser Storm along with some of the new changes that the company has made to the vests to give them a revamped design with shoulder sensors in place of a headset.
My thanks to Gord for filling me in on how Laser Storm is continuing as a company.
It was great chatting with him and also with John Mator II from the Pittsburgh Storm site that I hope to visit soon.
From there I made my way over to the main exhibit hall. My next visit was with Lazer Runner president Paul Savard who showed me the latest updates to their fiber optic battle vests (carbon edition) and their new Gen 4 phasers.
The archway on display seemed to have a fresh, but familiar design and the vests have a new skin that feels richer and gives it more of a sleek look. Their new phaser was the most interesting thing to me as for many years Lazer Runner has a phaser unit that resembled a price scanner. However, their new phaser design looks and feels great!
This phaser feels like a real step up. It's narrow where you would grip the bottom, but the height gives it a substantial feel even though it is still lightweight. I took a couple of shots at the vests and it felt really good to aim. I look forward to finding an arena where I can try this out in an actual game.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to collect tag swag, so I also appreciated Paul sending me off with one of the Lazer Runner movie-style posters showcasing the new design.
Over the course of the two days I spent at IAAPA I got to try out a lot of cool things. At the iCOMBAT booth I got to visit with the team I met last year in Wisconsin including VP of Operations Brandon Mijokovic, VP of Sales Ocie Mathenia and VP of Business Services Marc Haag.
Steve and Pudge made sure I also got to try out the full variety of products ranging from their more realistic offerings like this rifle...
...to the new Invictus that debuted at IAAPA last year. I took some time to experiment with the Commando, Titan and Medic modes that are all self contained within the phaser.
And I learned about how they offer the option of a sensor sling, which I had not given much thought to previously (however I recognized the benefits when I saw it in action later that night while I was out at an attraction in Orlando). And I had my first experience playing Hero Blast, their non-gun option (more suited to kids) when I played a round with Pudge at the booth.
Over at the Laserforce booth I got to visit with some of the team that I already knew from the Syracuse and Loveland locations while taking a closer look at their latest laser tag advancement, Gen 8 Infinity.
I had actually had the chance to play this new version of Laserforce in St. Catharine's, ON Canada (one of only a few places that had it prior to IAAPA), so I had experienced the feel of the completely revamped pack design, which includes motion and avatars on a five inch chest screen. It feels good (particularly the rubberized touch-screen phaser) and it played well. However, I had not really gotten a good look at the new elemental "colors". Really, the motion between the screen and the lights surrounding it are what make the look of these packs really pop.
And picking up more tag swag as I go...
As I continued around the exhibit hall I saw something new at the Delta Strike booth. To be fair, I haven't had all that many experiences playing Delta Strike outside of at Main Event locations. I do remember once playing at a site that had their video base stations in use, which was cool (although I still struggle to understand why any system includes a quiz game in the middle of playing laser tag). However, here I got a peek at something new...the Hex Base Station.
I really like a traditional base, but I was excited to see this new design. It has a rainbow strobing lighting effect and the size is substantial at 27 inches. It's kind of a good counterbalance to their new micro targets. I enjoyed taking a couple of shots at the base.
Thank you for more tag swag...
Laser Blast had some cool upgrades to the Cyber Blast equipment including new triangulation (is that the right word for it when it's inside a circle?) on the beam, which you can see on this screen where it is totally missing the animated gorilla target. :)
That animation was pretty cool as well and was showcased on a HUGE screen (quite different from the size of the targets I was shooting at the last time I played Cyber Blast. Mike and I chatted a bit before he handed me one of my favorite pieces of tag swag from this event, a t-shirt that I will have an appropriate occasion to wear in a few weeks.
When I visited the Lasertron booth they did have something new to roll out, but in this case it wasn't the equipment...it was the new game formats they were introducing. I learned that there would be opportunities to play some new game formats including King of the Hill, Headquarters and their version of Domination. These will be accessible at designated public play times at their Buffalo and Rochester area locations, which I'm glad to hear as a New Yorker within driving distance of these sites. :)
Every system with Domination seems to have their own variation of how to play the game. In the case of Lasertron it will be about changing the "tubing" at each sector from neutral to either red or green.
I am looking forward to getting out to Lasertron to try these new games soon!
I was curious to learn about Battle Company because it was a name that I did not initially recognize...however, when I stopped by their booth I did recognize their equipment! This gave me a moment of questioning my own memory and when I was approached I said I hope it didn't sound rude, but what I was looking at looked a lot like Laser Tag Pro. Well, the answer was that's because in fact it was formerly Laser Tag Pro and they have simply gone through a re-branding with a new name. And they had a really fun way to try out their system at their booth. Playing off the popularity of a hot current video game they set up "Fort Battle" with a little wooden fort where people could try out a game using their equipment. The goal is to shoot at a target enough times to make the walls fall down. It was fun!
When a young man happened by the booth while I was there we were matched up to play a round and set up on opposite sides of the fort. It was a good time and nice to play a light game!
LaserMaxx Evo6 has not yet made its way to the U.S., so seeing it for myself was a real treat. The only incarnation of LaserMaxx that I have experienced firsthand was Laser Trooper at Kip's site down in Topeka, KS. Well Kip was at their booth along with Mitchell (who I had met in Kansas), Bran and David from the Netherlands showcasing this system where the word of the day was "durability". It seemed like everyone at this show wanted to show me just how rough you could be with their equipment to hammer home the point that it was durable...in fact I'm almost surprised nobody actually brought out a hammer! LaserMaxx was definitely the one that seemed to get deliberately dropped the hardest. When I was treating the pack delicately out of habit they insisted I drop the phaser and had no hesitation with throwing the entire pack on the ground...I am told they have tested driving a vehicle over it. Well, having seen more than a few phasers hit the ground over the years I can appreciate the importance of truly durable equipment. I also got to see the variations in the phaser options available in Europe where customers can opt for either a black phaser or clear molded plastic like this one.
Hopefully I'll have an opportunity before too long to play this system here in the states.
LaserTag.com by Zone:
One of the things I was particularly excited to see for myself was the new Helios 2. Before I left for this trip I had gotten specific requests from blog readers about wanting to see this, so I made a particular point to get over to the Lasertag.com by Zone booth a couple of times. The Helios 2 had only been out for about three weeks as of the time IAAPA took place, so this was as new as I could have asked to see.
Jack Turner, formerly the owner of Lazer Blaze in Kentucky (home of the Laser Tag Museum) was the first person to show me the new equipment. He walked me through some of the features of the Helios 2 phaser including speakers on the phaser itself and three sensor points on the bottom.
A few of the additional features include a color display screen with feedback and a choice of a shotgun or rifle, wide or narrow beam. Then he showed me the new base design option.
You'll notice that the box next to the base has two buttons giving operators the means to start the game, but also to pause it without losing the game's data. Now that's a very practical feature!
After looking at the newest from Zone I expressed interest in the Phasor Strike pack hanging next to it on the rack. Jack laughed as he jokingly said "don't look at that, it's only for the South American market," but gave me a chance to check it out nonetheless.
I returned to the booth the next day and was in time to watch as Erik Guthrie, VP of Sales, gave a brief description of the Helios 2 features to a group of potential customers who had gathered around. I learned that they have magnetic charging connections and run a self diagnostic report after every game with links to youtube for on-the-spot solutions. Part of Erik's demonstration was to say to me "here, catch" as he tossed the pack on the ground in front of me in yet another durability demonstration. I'm impressed that these days there are so many laser tag products that are designed to take the abuse that they will inevitably go through later on.
I met some wonderful people and had especially nice chats with Victor and Jeremy from the Zone team. However, one particularly nice surprise was getting to meet Patrick Holmes, the chairman of Zone Laser Tag Group. I have known his name and it was really great to have an opportunity to meet him.
As the final day of the show neared an end I was invited to sit and visit at the Lasertag.com by Zone booth and before too long they were closing up the venue and businesses started to pack up their booths. I appreciate that I was able to see so much during this incredible show, but also that I had a chance to spend time catching up with old friends (I was amazed how many people I knew at the show) and also to meet so many people who are advancing the laser tag industry. It was such a treat.
My apologies that there seemed to be too few hours in the day and unfortunately I was unable to visit with Adventure Sports HQ, Laserwar or Steradian, which were the other laser tag companies also represented at the event. Additionally, there were also a couple of companies there that are not exactly laser tag, but related which I'm glad I was able to learn about. For example, Laser Ammo USA is not a tag game per se. They do firearms training simulations using laser guns that can be used with an on screen target, but could also interact with traditional laser tag equipment because it uses IR. Or Magnetag which does not use a laser or phaser, but was described to me as "a cross between laser tag and sword-fighting" with a computer that talks smack during the game...I could see that fitting right in with some laser tag!
I am so glad that I was able to attend IAAPA for the first time this particular year. Not just because it was a special 100th anniversary, but also because I was so impressed with just how many new things were being showcased this year for the laser tag industry. Although this event is so much larger than that, what a remarkable time to be able to be there appreciating just how business is thriving for the world of laser tag. Thank you to all the laser tag companies who take part in IAAPA and I look forward to seeing how your efforts and innovation help this industry continue to grow!
Comments or Questions?
Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com