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The Rest of The Story…Tagging Face to Face and in Virtual Reality

It has actually been over a month now since this story happened, but it’s been difficult to motivate to finish sharing the remaining adventures from my last trip that took place shortly before the self-quarantine kicked in for most of our country. I tried to convince myself that I was stretching these blog posts out, but honestly I’ve felt more like I’ve been stuck in a time trap ever since getting home. However, now I would like to finish writing about the last leg of my trip that took me to Arizona. I think that the context and time frame of these events is important to note because when this all was happening things were still business as usual…if only by a matter of a few days.

Where I left off, I had just left Las Vegas a day earlier than planned. While waiting for my flight to Phoenix I made a call from the airport diner that confirmed an opportunity for me to detour to a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since I was young…more on that later, but it turns out that extra day in Arizona was going to make a BIG difference! So I rearranged my plans and when I arrived in the Phoenix area I started calling around to see what laser tag sites I might be able to play that day. One caught my eye because it didn’t sound familiar at all…Mavrix. Hmm…a new site?

As it turns out, yes. Mavrix Entertainment in Scottsdale, AZ was a brand new family entertainment center featuring food, bowling, arcade and a sparkling new Lasertron arena…yes, sometimes new arenas feel sparkly to me! This place had actually only opened the previous Friday, so it was about as new as I could have asked to stumble upon. :) I love to be among the first to play in an arena. Now, timing being what it was there were enough people there for me to see this place will do well, however it also happened that I showed up at a time when the tag was a bit quiet, but I appreciated that the manager I spoke to was accommodating enough to let me go in for a 1v1 with staff member Max.

As they had only just opened they were stepping lightly into the game options and offered me a chance to play King of the Hill which is apparently what they are running as a standard game. I mused that I wondered if this was a choice they made themselves or with the guidance of Lasertron, as I gather that perhaps the manufacturer’s emphasis may be shifting towards some of their newer game selections instead of the standard and shields up options that are commonly offered in settings like this.

I’ll say that playing King of the Hill as a 1v1 is a very different dynamic, but enjoyable nonetheless. Sort of a call and response kind of game, but I had a great time, Especially since Max gave me a very good run! I’d capture a sector…

And of course I’d hold it as long as possible, but it’s not like he couldn’t figure out where in the arena I would be headed next!

The bonus targets were not in play during the game, but this is the closest I’ve gotten to stand next to one for a bit of size perspective.

And when it was over we checked the scores and I had won, but only by a very slim margin, demonstrating that this was about as balanced a game as I could have asked for with a 1v1. Thank you Max for giving me some good competition!

When I was ready to leave I thanked the manager again and he suggested that it would be well worth my time to stop next door to Octane Raceway. This is actually operated by the same ownership and I understand that in the future there may be plans to connect the two businesses with a direct pathway between the two. However, it is literally right next door so I figured I’d check it out.

Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t have taken time away from finding another laser tag arena, but the reason it was suggested I stop over to Octane is that they operate Velocity VR, which has a laser tag-like quality to it as it is played in a free-roam open space with virtual reality taggers that I was told operate with IR in a way somewhat similar to laser tag. I take that at face value because I have no idea how the technology for this kind of VR works.

That point really bears repeating, I am NOT a VR expert. I know almost nothing about VR so please forgive my complete lack of technical knowledge. I can count on one hand the number of VR experiences I have had and that includes playing Beat Saber and watching the dinosaur movies on the home VR goggles that I won at that tag tournament in Utah so my frame of reference about VR is admittedly quite narrow. My most recent experience prior to walking through the doors of Octane was trying out the Arenaverse VR laser tag demo at the Amusement Expo, so that’s the bar I had set in my head for what would impress me. But the idea of playing something similar to laser tag with a different twist was definitely intriguing and I was game to try something new. The Velocity VR that I would be playing here is powered by Zero Latency.

Of course, considering the times we were in I asked about their sanitization process for the equipment and felt comfortable enough to give it a go and let the staff member assist me with putting on the pack and headset while explaining a bit about the game.

I arrived slightly behind the group of players I’d be joining so I was fortunate to get a one on one briefing and tutorial before entering the “arena” which was hidden behind these doors.

And what does a free roaming VR arena look like? Well, it’s basically a big, empty room with plenty of space for players to keep their distance from one another.

The session included three rounds including the Turbine Station, Dark Wreck and Mining Canyon which were each played twice during the course of my 45-minute session. Once the goggles are on and the game begin you are completely immersed in the experience. What is shown to you inside your screen is all you can see and all you hear clearly is coming through the earphones, although there is a microphone attached to the headset so you can communicate with your teammates. I joined a game with seven other players, so we had a total of eight in the room on two teams of four. I was on the orange team.

Inside the game we could see four tubes of “light” which served as our respawn stations during the game and in between rounds. We would step into the tubes if we were tagged out during the game (I’m using my terminology there because I’m not partial to saying “kills” or “deaths” even though that is how the points are attributed on the scoreboard).

The visual images inside the headset were absolutely stunning! There seemed to be two objectives in each round…completing a mission goal (which I was not particularly good at) and targeting shots against the opposing team (which felt like I did pretty decently). If an opposing player was in my sights I had no problem tagging them and that certainly had a laser tag quality to it. However, most of the experience involved navigating around walls and structures that appeared to create the vibrant virtual reality all around. My biggest challenge here was feeling a bit tentative about my actual reality movements. Since this was my first time really free-roaming I found myself moving very slowly and cautiously. Especially after another player and I bumped into each other! There was no harm done, and there are warning cues built in to keep you aware of proximity to walls and other players, but I was particularly cognizant of how careful players would have to be to avoid getting too close to anything because you are operating without the benefit of true sight. So, slow and steady was how I approached this game.

Outside of laser tag I am not a “gamer” and I don’t play video games so I can’t really compare this experience from a gamer’s perspective, so I will let the video do the talking as you can get a better idea of the experience from what you see here.

What I can compare it to is a laser tag experience. This is similar in quite a few ways and I certainly enjoyed the experience I had. However, this particular experience was not what I would consider an equivalent and left me thinking “that was fun, glad I tried it,” but it didn’t leave me with the same feeling I get from tag, so I tried to figure out why it felt different in spite of having some amazing visuals and many parallel elements.

To me, the key things that laser tag has that I have not yet felt like I experienced with VR are the social element of the game and the adrenaline of the physical workout. Even though I played on a team I did so under the isolation of a mask and to me that feels like it keeps you from being as social as you would if you could see more than your teammates’ avatars. I never actually saw any of their faces until the end when we came out to check the scoreboard.

Perhaps because I didn’t have any memorable interaction with any person on my team that may be why I didn’t feel this was a particularly social game. Maybe that’s something that gamers perceive differently since so many video games are played in isolation with others in different physical locations (and considering the times we are in now that may become a whole other kind of social experience), but for me I need that face to face element. I like meeting new people, swapping stories, friendly challenges and the camaraderie that I get from a game of laser tag. I didn’t find that in the VR experience even though the quality of the game was very good.

The other thing that laser tag has is a physical, somewhat athletic component. Now, I’m not suggesting that laser tag players are necessarily great athletes, but because you can see where you are going you can move much more quickly, particularly in reacting to the players around you, and that means there is a greater physical element to the game that I do enjoy. I always say that laser tag is what I do instead of going to the gym. It’s about as athletic as I choose to get, but it does require me to get up and move (something I’ve been missing in the last month) and I often leave the arena sweating and riding high on the endorphins of the burst of exercise that occurs when you play a really intense game of tag. Because in this VR experience I had to (or chose to) move much more cautiously I didn’t feel the same rush from playing the game.

Now, these are my impressions based on VERY limited experience with VR and I want to emphasize that I did enjoy the games I played. However, at this point I do not see VR in and of itself being comparable to laser tag. They are still apples and oranges to me…both fruit (so similar), but also completely different in their own right. What I look forward to seeing as the future for laser tag will likely be more of an augmented reality experience that can combine amazing augmented visuals with the reality of the game and I think whoever gets to that achievement first will be the real game changer for the industry. However, I am very glad that I got to try out the free-roaming VR experience so I have a better perspective to compare and contrast it with laser tag. And between Octane and Mavrix this company certainly has the best of both to offer visitors to their site in Scottsdale and it was a great way to start my visit to Arizona!

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