Monday, July 9, 2018

Off to the Laser Tag Museum

Isn't it amazing that laser tag, which was thought to be a passing fad when it was invented, is more popular than ever today? You've got to admire Erik, the curator of the Laser Tag Museum, for using his extensive connections in the industry to round up examples of nearly every known commercial laser tag system. The Star Laser Force pack has been refurbished expressly to be set up for display in the Laser Tag Museum at a future date. My primary goal was to get it to light up, giving it the same appearance as it would have had in its native arena. It wasn't too hard, but some parts, especially the helmet, were time consuming.

After some experimentation, I found that I could feed power into the BOOM sound module as well as the main board, so the restored helmet's new speaker now works as well, instead of just the lights. You may ask, who cares if there's a hit sound, if it's just sitting on display? If you've been following along, you know that you weren't allowed to take pictures in the arena at Star Laser Force for a reason. So consider it an Easter egg of sorts, that when you shoot a flash picture of this pack, you'll actually be shooting the pack and you may be able to score points. Since it's designed to score using strobe flash only, I found it to be a bit tricky with a mobile phone LED, but it can be done at close range, and I have been blinking the "flashlight" feature on my phone at the pack to carry out most of my shooting tests.

So if you should happen to visit the Laser Tag Museum some day in the future, you may come across this Star Laser Force pack on display. If so, please shoot it. You may hear in response, through the display glass, a tiny burst of sound, a faint sigh from the past.

Plus you'll score 10 points. Hooray for our side.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Restored Star Laser Force pack (suit)

Here are a few photos of the restored Star Laser Force pack.
Front view.

Side view.

Back view.

Powered up and ready (no gun available).
Powered up and functional, excluding gun.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Musings on my own bad memory

Memory is a fickle thing.

For instance, I believed the helmet on this system had over a dozen LEDs. Obviously I had confused it with another project. I imagined there was a speaker in the gun itself for the shooting sound. Maybe this was the case in some suits, but from what I've seen the speaker is in the helmet where it can be more clearly heard over the arena music track.

After seeing some of the old equipment, I seem to recall there being those peanut lights on either side of the face, but why are they there? My working theory is that they were originally meant to add a faint edge-lit glow to the face shield, but the shield wasn't used in the game so they may have fallen by the wayside. A second example of the equipment has LEDs there and so my refurbished helmet also does.

I had once imagined all discrete decade counters and 7-segment display encoders running the score display. Thank goodness the 74C925 was available when this unit was designed; it runs all 3 digits with its multiplexed output, a perfect choice for this application. There are decade counters but that's for counting scored points (and, by extension, for timing the delay before you can be hit again).

Monday, July 31, 2017

Home stretch

Reconstruction of the display pack is almost done. There seems to be a flaky connection somewhere causing the score to go up; this was a VERY common symptom back in the day. If I can find it I'm going to fix it. The helmet needs to be lined, and another polish would be good too. There's some crud to be scrubbed off the boxes and dirt on the plastic shell, and more work to be done on the fabric trim.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Reconstructing the helmet

The helmet being reconstructed has been gutted and its insides blown clean.

Helmet cleaned up and being rewired.

The team color LEDs were not so good. One LED was too dim and did not match the others, and another one had a cracked leg. Both of these and their dropping resistors were replaced, and the whole chain rewired neatly.

There was no speaker; a 1980s vintage paper cone speaker was added. It fits perfectly in the recess provided.

Laying out the new wiring.
The terminal strip is new and serves to make repair easier, should it ever be needed.

The original harness was also secured with duct tape, but it was just trash. Sloppy connections, wads of wire, and a big pillar of ground wires soldered together in free space. I went with a terminal strip since this will be for display purposes only.

All of this was removed, including the peculiar stubby cable that was too short (and doesn't actually plug into any known connector). This new cable uses the correct mil-spec connector, plugs directly into the suit, and matches the original in appearance if not durability.

Incorrect helmet connector on left. Correct connector on right (plugs into back box on vest).

All this and some layers of felt for appearance's sake complete the display helmet.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Considering the helmet

Time to catch up on posts. First, some reflection on the helmet I'm refurbishing.

The holes in the helmet being reconstructed do not match the one that was on display at the Laser Tag Museum, nor do they line up with my recollection. On the helmet for refurbishment there are two cheek holes; the next LEDs (one on each side) are only a few inches back; and there are no holes on the sides, front, or back for hit detectors.

Side has two LEDs and a light bulb, but no hit sensors.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Star Laser Force's Light Gun

Why are there no photos of people playing Star Laser Force?  You're about to find out.

The only available weapon for the Star Laser Force suit (pack) was the attached light pistol, which was holstered at the left side of the logic box. Unfortunately I don't have one of these for the pack that I'm restoring. However, I was able to visit the Laser Tag Museum and examine both of the available extant pistols for future reference.

Side view of light gun
Pistol on display at the Laser Tag Museum, November 2015

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Project update

More posts coming on the Star Laser Force equipment soon; in the mean time, have a look at Tiviachick's tour video of the actual Laser Tag Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, featuring none other than the curator, Erik Guthrie. There is a different story behind each piece of equipment, and you'll get to hear a small sampling of them in this video. The exhibits are free to visit, by the way, and you can play laser tag while you're there!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Color brochure

The museum site posted a full-color scan of the Star Laser Force sales brochure from 1985, including a full-color copy of the promotional photo that I posted back when this blog first began. Now I can update my sidebar with a decent copy of this iconic image.

Inside a bi-fold black brochure with white text, color photo, and a map

This confirms the original pricing of $3 for a 7 minute game. (The play price was reduced in 1986, after the arrival of Photon in December 1985 ate into sales. According to the Gina Seay article, "member" pricing had fallen to $1.25 per game by summer of 1986.
Text of the brochure follows:

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Front box and logic

On to the logic board inside the front box of the Star Laser Force pack, or suit. I was personally eager to see this system again after so many years, and while it looks exactly as I remembered it, it's actually much more plain in both design and function; memory utterly failed me in several details.

With no computer, no radio, and no networking or communication, Star Laser Force's simple, low-power logic board operated independently, offering up only the player's own score with no way of knowing which of your opponents (or teammates) attacked, or whether you were the careless victim of the Reactor at the center of the arena.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tackling the battery box

The back box of the Star Laser Force pack is pretty much all batteries, which is not uncommon in the industry to this day, although technology has vastly improved since then! Each of the three separate power supplies used conventional NiCd cells.

View of the aluminum box on the rear of the suit, packed with rechargable batteries of various sizes
All hand built, too.
The single remaining AA cell was removed due to corrosion.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Workspace shift

Took two weeks off to set up, play, and tear down laser tag, and one more for a pinball project. Since then I've decided to move the restoration project to another room with better lighting and more space. I'm tackling the battery box next.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Deconstructing the helmet

As hinted in the last post, I have the exceptionally rare opportunity to inspect and clean up one of the Star Laser Force packs for the Laser Tag Museum.  Part of this will involve making sure it's in functioning condition, or at least that it might light up while on display as it once did when it was being used.

A quick inspection shows the helmet to be worse off than the vest, so I'll tackle it first. Besides, it is not ready for polite society. The padding is rotted, the leather is moldy, and the wiring is trashed. There's no ID number, so I can't pull the service logs, but going by appearance it seems to have seen a lot of battles.

Front view of battered red helmet
I was a teenaged Xenon Red Raider.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Megatron 100

It's almost time to blow the lid off this system.

Extreme close up of circuit board with text "Megatron 100  Rev. C copyright 1984 by Lee Weinstein" appearing in solder-coated copper

Hardware geekery to come.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Poster Giveaway!

The Laser Tag Museum seeks to preserve and commemorate the historic foundations of the game (or sport), documenting the efforts of the laser tag pioneers and collecting the original equipment used in those games.

Starting last year, the 30th anniversary of Photon, the Museum issued the first International Laser Tag Day poster depicting the battle gear actually used in arena Photon games.

The new 2015 posters
The 2015 International Laser Tag Day poster honors the 30th anniversary of Star Laser Force with a photo of the newly recovered battle suit of the Starship Blue Force.  Thanks to the Museum I have a limited number of these 18x24" posters to give away to readers.  Here are the rules:

  • First come, first served. Email me at the address on the sidebar to request a poster.
  • If you are in or near the City of Houston, I can probably meet with you and give it to you directly.
  • If not, I may ask you to pay for postage.
It's as simple as that. If this message is still here, posters are still available.