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.

* Photon, 6025 Chimney Rock, is played in a old supermarket remodeled both inside and out to resemble a futuristic planet. After viewing a short orientation film about how to play Photon and waiting in line a few minutes to give the clerk my "clinks"-- Photonese for money-- I am given a travel passport and assume a new identity.

I am then taken down a long, brightly lit corridor to the supply room and don helmet, light phaser gun and battery pack.

My passport number and identity is then recorded by the computer, and I'm led to a small foyer. The pulsing and popping of futuristic music fills the air as I wait for others to join me.

Once assembled, we walk through a door and enter the heart of the land of Photon, a dark world of hidden passageways, steel catwalks, steep inclines and subdued red and green lighting obscured by a haze of scented fog.

Our team captain divides us into defense and offense. We are four men and a woman. All, except me, are in their early 20s. I am placed on offense and told to shoot out the other team's home base and "disrupt" or shoot as many of the opposing team's players as possible without getting hit myself.

Based on the same concept as capture the flag, the object of the game both for the individual and team is to accumulate the most points. To do that, you must line up or “fire” a small infrared light emitted by your phaser gun at one of several sensors located on your opponents helmet and breast plate.

If your light hits a sensor, your opponent's gun is shut down for four seconds and a computer tallies your points on a video monitor placed outside the playing field for spectators to observe.

Every time you make a hit, the computer gives you 10 points and subtracts 10 points from your opponent. You also receive 200 points if you hit the opposing team's home base three times in a row uninterrupted. Thirty points are deducted from your total every time you accidentally hit your teammate. (One team wears red helmets and the other green, but in the dark and frenzied world of Photon, colors often are hard to discern.)

A soft, yet coldly authoritarian female voice (via headphones in our helmets) tells us to begin the game.

Everyone scatters like water on a hot skillet. My team captain tells me to follow him. He leads me down a dark corridor. I have no idea where I'm going. Inside my helmet, music and the sound of a space ship taking off begins to race to a high pitch.

In a few seconds, we have arrived at our destination. The captain tells me to fire three times at the other team's home base, represented by a large red half-globe situated on the wall about 10 feet overhead. As I aim my light phaser and fire, an invisible light connects with a sensor and the sound of small electronic explosions go off in my helmet. It's the sound of the other team's home base being destroyed.

The captain finishes his assault on home base long before I do and then seems to vanish in the fog. I panic and start running like crazy through a maze of corridors and passageways. Along the way I encounter members of the other team. They fire at me, and I hear my gun go dead. It is disabled or disrupted for a few seconds then once again starts working. In the meantime I run and hide to protect myself.

I crawl into a small cubby hole, but the sound of my disruption continues. Then I look up. Four kids about half my size, standing on a catwalk I didn't notice before, smile sadistically while firing at my helmet. Panic strikes again and I run and hide. Along the way I fire at a few people, none of which are hit, and run up to the catwalk where the kids were.

Someone steps out from behind a wall and I fire.

"Damn," I say to myself. "It’s a member of my own team." Sweat breaks out on my back. Then finally the woman's voice fills my helmet telling us that the game is over.

"Thank God," I say under my breath and wearily leave the playing field six and a half minutes after beginning. Our team won but I was miserable. The computer says I scored a negative 140 points. Not bad for a first time, say my teammates who play nearly every day. Thankfully, though, the captain and others on my team scored in the positive 300s. Their effort is what save us as a team.

One Photon game is the toughest and most frenzied six and a half minutes you'll ever endure. Even so, it gives you a rush of excitement. Every sense in your body comes alive and is bombarded by sights, sounds and scents that transport you literally to another world. Photon is like stepping into a video game or jumping into a Star Wars movie and doing battle with Darth Vader.

Created by George Carter III, a Dallasite with a background in mechanical engineering and a love pf science-fiction movies, Photon now has a playing field in every major Texas city. Groundbreaking on a second Houston location is scheduled within the year.

In addition to two playing fields, one for beginners and another for advanced players, Photon features
a snack bar, observation deck to watch the game from and a lounge for private parties.

Height is the only limitation in playing Photon. You must be at least 54 inches tall. That's because
the equipment weighs about 15 pounds and anyone much smaller would have a difficult time toting
it around. Also, wear tennis shoes. The playing field is carpeted and tends to be a little slick in other shoes.

Spectators may watch for free but if you want to play, it costs $3 a game and a one-time $6.50 pass-
port fee, which sets you up on the computer and gives you a game badge.

Photon is open 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, noon to 2 a.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. to midnight on Sunday.

For more information, call 667-8848. And may the force be with you!

* Adventure Games of America, Inc. is played on 40 wooded acres of pasture land 5 miles south of Arcola.

I arrive early on a Saturday morning. Dew is still on the ground and a light mist hovers over clearings in the woods. Following a brief indoctrination under a huge army field tent and the assignment of equipment. we are divided into teams and given our marching orders.

My team heads north into the woods, while the opposing team heads south. Along the way, our team leader quickly but quietly divides us in to offense and defense, tells the offense (whom he'll command) his plan and makes some suggestion about where those on defense, including me, should dig in.

Minutes pass and boredom threatens to set in. The muscles of my left leg begin to ache slightly and a small bead of sweat rolls down my spine, yet I remain stiffly silent squatting next to the base of a rotting, sweet-smelling tree.

The cow lolling in the pasture behind me munches on grass. Her chomping seems as loud as the airplane flying overhead. Then off in the distance, I see the dark shape of a man crawling toward me. A cool breeze whips across the back of my neck.

He sees me, and I know he knows I see him. My hand squeezes the handle of my gun, and I quickly stand up to put as much of me behind the tree as possible. He keeps coming. I hold my ground.

Suddenly another shadow next to him begins to move. I start to panic and fire off a couple of rounds. My gun makes two quick popping noises, followed by the sound of leaves and tree limbs being hit.

One of my opponents fires at me wildly. Shots whiz past my head. I duck behind the tree, and out of nowhere one of my buddies jumps into the open, firing shot after shot until he runs out of ammunition -- but not before one of the shots hits its target.

"Cover me while I reload," he shouts. I say nothing and fire two more shots at the guy lying on his
stomach. Both shots miss again. I can't believe it. I fire a third and then I hear a loud "thwack" followed by a few choice vulgarities and "You got me, damn it. I'm out."

In almost the same instant, our team leader and his unit return running furiously through the woods -- twice as sweaty and dirty as when we had seen them last. The team leader is holding the red flag of the opposing team high over his head, a grin splits his face from ear to ear.

"All right," I shout. And to myself I think, "I survived." That's what the paint pellet war games is all about -- winning and surviving.

This was my second game and unlike the first time out, I was a bit calmer. The adrenaline didn't pump as much and it became more of a sport.

The first time you play, though, is truly the wildest experience you can imagine. It's similar to the
rush you get from riding a good roller coaster.

Two states of mind predominate: confusion and fear. First, you are confused because you never know what to expect or what's going to come next.

Second, you fear being struck by one of the small paint pellets. For much of your first time out that's all that you think about. But once you are hit, the fear quickly vanishes before the start of the
next game. The reason: It doesn't hurt. You are so caught up in the heat of the battle that the sting of the paint pellet is deferred until later when you are resting, and even then it feels no worse than
being zapped with a wet towel.

But there is more to the paint pellet games: camaraderie and competition. It is truly a team sport. You pick sides, you plan strategy and try to execute your plan better than the other team. If you do, you win and grow closer to your teammates.

The beauty of the game is its simplicity. It is just a modified version of capture the flag. After dividing into teams of 10 or 12, one of two Adventure Games judges takes one group to one end of a heavily wooded field while the second judge takes the other team to the other end of the field.

Each team is given time to devise strategy and hide its flag. In a typical game, the team leader will
divide the group into defense and offense. Offense goes after the upposing team's flag. Defense stays
back to protect the flag and home base. Usually, less athletic players -- like me -- play defense. Less running is involved. Defenders just dig in and wait for the battle to come to them.

The team that successfully brings the opposition’s flag back to base or "eliminates" all of the other teams players, wins.

During the course of a day at Adventure Games, you will play from eight to 10 games over a five-hour period. And to make the day more interesting, Steve Wells and Woody Wooldridge, owners of a franchise of the Canadian-based game, have devised five variations on the basic game and constructed a small village and urban-like setting on their playing fields.

Depending upon the players’ inclination, for example, you'll play Combat, which is capture the flag
without the flag (in other words, the goal is to eliminate all of your opponents); Search and Destroy,
in which one entire team plays defense and the ether plays offense; and POW, which is similar to Search and Destroy except instead of the flag, the offense tries to rescue a 50-pound dummy.

In the Village Game the object is for one team to storm and take over another team that is hiding out in four straw huts. The Urban Game is similar except you play in a reconstructed bombed-out building.

What makes Adventure Games different from the other paint pellet games available in the Houston area is that each player is supplied with an eight-shot repeating spot marker or "gun." All the other games use a single shot gun that must be cocked each time before shooting.

Adventure Games headquarters in Canada also recently supplied Wells and Wooldridge with paint grenades and field mines. The grenades are sold to players for $2.75 each, and the field mines are placed randomly throughout the playing field. Neither side is in control of the mines.

Adventure Games charges $27.50 a player a day and you must be at least 18 years old to play. And although only one woman played the day I did, Wells says women are starting to play with more frequency.

Games can be arranged during the weekdays but most are played on weekends. You don't need to make reservations, but call ahead anyway to make sure a game hasn't been canceled for some reason or another. For more information, call (713) 667-GAME.

Click the pages to enlarge.

Image of first page from microfilm

Image of second page from microfilm

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