Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fun summer action

I said that I'd found no mention of Star Laser Force in my newspaper-research sojourn this year, but that wasn't strictly true; there was one article that I couldn't find in the archive, and this one, which I already had.  For the sake of completeness, here are the hours and prices, part of a longer list of things to do during the summer of 1986.

Houston Chronicle
July 6, 1986
Fun summer action for those on a budget
Gina Seay

Most parents struggling to make ends meet will have to tell Johnny and Suzy to put their dream vacations on hold. But that doesn't mean the summer has to be long and boring.

There are lots of indoor and outdoor activities in the greater Houston area that fit within a teen-ager's budget....

Getting to the point...

Star Laser Force, 5810 S. Rice Ave., allows visitors to live out their "Star Trek" fantasies in laser gun duels. Everyone gets a light-sensitive helmet and shoulder pads. Purchase a lifetime membership for $3.50. Games for members are $1.25; for non-members, $4. Hours are 2-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 2 p.m-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and noon-11 p.m. Sunday.

In case you're wondering, the other attractions were Fame City, AstroWorld, Water World, Sea-Arama Marineworld, Galveston Island, Armand Bayou Nature Center, The Houston Zoo, The Oil Ranch, Games People Play, The Children's Museum, and Splash Town USA ("scheduled to open in early August").

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Death, you old toad, where is thy sting?

I hope that my two or three loyal readers will not mind another article about Photon. Beyond  repeating the same press-release bullet points, this one gives brief accounts of some municipalities' reluctance to accept laser tag as a business acceptable to the morals of their communities.

It's fair to say the inhabitants of Houston and surrounding communities (both then and today) would generally be comfortable with guns, and that there was scarcely a moment of fear that the game would transform the visiting child into a killing machine. Finding a jackrabbit in the city limits might have been tough, though, even back then. The fathers of some of those inhabitants picked most of them off a generation before.

For those not aware, the Houston City Council will issue a proclamation for the asking. It is of no particular significance and just shows that Sheil was doing her due diligence.

Spokane Chronicle - Mar 27, 1986
For Photon's warriors, death's just an inconvenience
By Fred Grimm

HOUSTON — A sudden buzz, like a burst of radio static, and a phaser-wielding assassin leaps, giggling, from ambush and disappears down a darkened maze. The victim (me) was zapped, fatally.

But death is only a minor inconvenience there amid the rising fog of Photon.

Just four seconds. Just a four-second sojourn into that darkest void. Sort of lacks finality, doesn't it? Death, you old toad, where is thy sting?

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Laser Tag in Houston

(Here's the text of the article posted last year. Errors have been left unchanged.)

April, 1986
pp. 49-52

Two Firms Offer Space Fantasies

In a distant galaxy, warriors like Gandalf, Thorin, Mr. Micro and the Chameleon battle continuously with Sgt. York, Rambo, Captain Kirk and the entire Cleaver family—Ward, June, Wally and the Beaver—for control of the Photon. A few light years away on South Rice Avenue, the Starship Blue Force struggles against the Xenon Red Raiders on the planet Xenon.

Armed with infrared phasers, chest pods and sonic helmets, the Photon warriors zap each other until they have exhausted their energy and their time. After six and a half minutes, the Photonians relinquish the field to two fresh battalions who begin the battle again.

Packing turbo phasers and armor similar to that of the Photonians, the Blue Force and Red Raiders attack, the flash of lasers and rumble of battle sounds flooding the planet like a violent thunderstorm. The battle on Xenon lasts slightly longer, about seven minutes, before the soldiers call a truce to assess casualties.

As the Photonian warriors leave the battlefield and remove their gear, the reveal their true identities. Gandalf is an accountant, Thorin a lawyer, Rambo a truck driver, and the Cleavers are college students. Sgt. York fudged only slightly. He's a private on leave from the U.S. Marine Corps. The group has just finished playing Photon, a high-tech version of "capture the flag." The Starship Blue Force and the Xenon Red Raiders have just played Star Laser Force, a game similar to Photon.

Photon warriors don helmets, slip into chest pods and arm themselves to battle for control of the "planet."
Photon warriors don helmets, slip into chest pods and arm themselves to battle for control of the "planet."
Native Houstonian Bill Lewis began thinking of ways to stage a mock laser battle after watching Star Wars. He built and sold several businesses, including a driving school and a day care center, before embarking on Star Laser Force.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The view from the Target Audience

We've seen the calm and even reticent reactions of the self-proclaimed 'fuddy-duddies' to the as-yet unnamed sports of laser tag and paintball in the last two posts. Ken Lanterman, the reporter in this final article swings the other way, glib and giddy about "the new photon/laser games" and "the paint pellet war games" and dripping with enthusiasm (and sweat). He takes the trouble to describe the games in detail, making the summer-activities feature piece perfect for inflaming kids with hype and ensuring parents would soon hear, "Can you take me to....?"

Photos accompanying the article reproduced quite badly in microfilm, unfortunately, and are probably lost to history.

No. 1 rule of the game: Shoot to thrill
Ken Lanterman
Houston Post
May 23, 1986

Some may deny it, but deep down inside we are all curious to know how we'd do in battle. If nothing else, we are looking for a little adventure-- something more than the vicarious thrills we get from the movies.

We want to know what we'd do if our lives were put on the line. If we'd fight back. If so, [how?] Would we react like the noble unaggressive creature we may think we are or like the animal we all fear we might be?

Beyond that, how would we do? Would we survive? Are our instincts and skills good enough?

Besides providing the simple exhilaration of hide-and-seek and tag, this is what weekend warriors who play the paint pellet war games or the new photon/laser games learn about themselves.

In the past three years, several versions of these games have sprung up in and around Houston. We visited the newest of each of these: Adventure Games of America and Photon.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Eric Gerber on Photon

Continuing the side trip through articles written about Photon Houston, here's columnist Eric Gerber's first-hand account from just a few months after their opening day. There are all kinds of interesting details in here. (Seriously, the head of the Houston school district, superintendent Reagan, endorsed Photon?)
Electrifying Fantasy
Eric Gerber
Houston Post
February 2, 1986
When I was about 8 years old, I would put a colander on my head, use a raggedy bath towel for a cape and go flying about the house blasting space monsters with a rotary eggbeater — uh, ray gun.
And here I am today, nearly three decades later, more or less in the same situation.
The colander's been replaced by a high-tech space helmet that would turn Darth Vader black with envy. Instead of an egg beater, I've got a phaser, a sleek light-beam weapon. I'm also wearing a control module over my chest, and a 13-pound battery pack is cinched around my waist.
I'm not exactly flying — and the targets this morning aren't space monsters but other people wearing this space-age gear.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"At least it doesn't make you bleed"

Let's start with this editorial by David Westheimer. published in the Houston Post back on September 24, 1986.
"I understand kids whose parents have the wherewithal to buy the latest weapons needn't argue about who got whom first these days. They wear sensors at head and heart that glow when hit by a beam from the opponent's gun."
Westheimer briefly mentions both laser tag and paintball in this essay about playing with guns, and how different generations react to this new trend. There's a lot of food for thought here. How much have people of my generation, and those following, been changed by increasingly realistic entertainment?

Image of article from microfilm

 Click to read.

Further research

Vintage Houston Yellow Pages.
From the author's personal collection.
There's Photon, accidentally
listed as Synchro Management!

I have had the pleasure this past Spring to visit our downtown library to see if there were any obvious traces of Star Laser Force in newspapers of the day. To avoid suspense, I'll tell you now that I did not find anything mentioning SLF.  Photon was a national phenomenon sufficient to generate TV features, news coverage, the cartoon spinoff and of course the home version.  There was none of that for SLF which seems to have been just a bit of whimsy for a short season, and even when it was here in Houston it seems to have been nearly ignored by the major papers, the Chronicle and the Post.

To put that into perspective, though, in those same papers I found zero coverage of video games, either home or arcade, in an era where both dominated the amusement sphere of a large chunk of the next generation - kids, teens, and up. The people who edited the paper did not foresee the significance of games in the culture, and only those who beat the publicity drum in the right way could expect to be noticed. Movies were well represented in the entertainment sections; amusement parks were reliable news generators as well. As for laser tag, well, they didn't even have a name for it at first. Still, when Photon showed up, I imagine it was played up as the amusement park of the future, based on various accounts. In the next few posts, I'll document the response of the press here in Houston to the curious newcomer, Photon.

While on this trip I also visited the delightful Texas Room where a collection of local ephemera and documents of all kinds awaits the determined researcher. They pulled the entertainment file for me, and it was fascinating seeing what was meant to be fun throughout the past 100 years. There wasn't anything about SLF there either, sorry to say, but I enjoyed seeing first-hand entertainment ads for the defunct Busch Gardens Houston, which I had never heard of; wrestling, sports events, and much more.