August 22nd, 2001 - I've decided to give these old pages a new home. The content is old, but perhaps it is still useful.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed on this pages (and, in fact, on all of my pages) are just that. OPINIONS. I'm not speaking for any of the gaming centers I mention here, nor do I get paid for saying good things about them. I simply enjoy playing laser tag, and I found three really nice places to do that while on a recent trip. So...
Early in the month of February, 1998, I took a work trip to the wonderful city of Ottawa in Canada. As a capital city, there certainly was alot to see in the way of museums and historical sights, but those who know me realize one of my first visits is to the hotel room Yellow Pages.
I checked out the usual listings under "Amusements" and "Entertainment", noting there was a LaserQuest arena in town and some place called CyberDome which, I assumed, was a video arcade. I made plans to stay over the weekend (thereby saving $1200 on the plane ticket) and spend my Saturday exploring what high tech "fun" places I could find.
My first stop, after eating at a strange feeling Canadian "50's" restaurant called Johnny Rocket's, was the St. Laurient Shopping Center, home of CyberDome. This "virtual theme park" was located downstairs near the movie theater, and it wasn't even going to be on my list of "things to do" until I found a link to their site from the Ottawa City Web Page which showed ride simulators, virtual reality games, and ... LaserTag! They have an outside ticket counter, but it costs nothing to go in and look. None of the arcade games take currency - you buy cards which are "charged up" and then inserted into readers on the machines. Everything operated that way, with the possible exception of their snack bar.
While there, I played a Jurassic Park Lost World game to pass time while waiting for them to get enough people together for a round in their Laser Force lasertag game. Then I played Missile Command 3-D VR (yes, based on the same game with Virtuality and Atari were developing for the now-gone Jaguar game system), also to pass time while waiting on a game to start. I even played a very interesting (and expensive) enclosed full motion simulator game by Sega before, finally, a game could be had.
The equipment used was radio linked and played alot of digitized voices to let you know when you were "dead" or "reactivated", but there was no display which I would suspect might make it less than fun for someone who was hearing impaired. Their suit up room was fairly generic, and the maze even more so - mostly just dark, boring, black walls. There were some nice targets to shoot at and the in-game soundtrack was apparently controlled by the same computer running the show, as it made various announcements while you played. Powerups were available, such as rapid fire and the like, and while system response was good, the game didn't warrant a second play. Laser Force is good equipment, but I have seen better. CyberDome themselves told me they had only been open about five months and alot more work was still to be done on their game area. (Oh, I also disliked not being able to pick a team name - I was known by the name on my suit. Apparently that is only available to members. Frankly, I'd rather be a generic suit number than an assigned name.)
Next stop, LaserQuest, which was directly down the road (and across the street from a McDonald's I was later stranded at with a flat tire for about an hour waiting on the car rental company to fix for me). Their center was very much like the one I'd visited in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a nice briefing room (filled with lots of props and tubes and stuff), and the actual game equipment was activated by a coded "arrow" with a metal tab on the end. This is apparently how they know who uses what pack. When you sign up for a game, they take your team name and give you the arrow.
Their playfield is "three levels" tall, with tons of zig-zags, fluorescent paint, ramps, mirrors, grids, and road pylons attached to the wall. It was one of the most complex playfields I had ever seen. Their equipment was nice, giving possibly a bit "too much" information on it's LCD display panel. Do I really need to know that "GUNNER" hit me in the "Right Left" sensor? I believe it was their equipment that didn't have any sensors on the front of the units. They said it was due to so many people covering them up. Personally, the more sensors, the better, I say - you can't cover 'em all up :) Anyway, I played and almost did a second round but the front counter person told me about two additional tag centers I hadn't heard of.
It's refreshing when you encounter workers who also are players (and not just at their own center due to free games). Two of the working staff told me about DSL and how to get to it. There was also a Laser Runner site further away which I never made it to.
Driving to DSL was very easy - it was right off the major highway through Ottawa and you could see the large white building right at the exit. Approaching the building didn't seem to interesting - just a white warehouse looking place with a big sign. I stepped inside and they had a very unique waiting area - it was rounded and had "portholes" along the walls, as if looking out at space scenes from, I suppose, a space station. There was a snack bar, small game room, and signup counter with a large jumbo screen monitor behind it showing game stats. Oddly, none of the centers seem to have viewing areas to let the public see the game grid.
I signed up for a game, which was starting immediately. Inside they briefed us on where all the sensors were on the units, and also - take note here - on all the power ups in the game. I was amazed to hear someone actually explaining how they worked! (I've played at LazerX here in Des Moines, Iowa for three years and still haven't heard anyone really tell me how they work.) The guy doing the spiel kept talking about the "aliens" inside and how you could zap them and get the power they have. I noticed he didn't use any "death" terms - it was all "zap", and "go to heaven" type things. If more centers in the U.S. took this approach, perhaps some of the anti-lasertag folks would lighten up on them as being "too violent" for kids.
Anyway, we entered a suit up room. They had so many paks I had difficulty finding mine - which must have been the only suit not in order. Oh, I should explain - they handed me a ticket which had my suit number on it (which was the first time I've seen that done). There was, basically, a large garage door which opened up to reveal the playfield as the game started. Their music was very futuristic (not the techno or heavy metal I am used to here), and the game playfield was quite different. Tons of "tunnels" you could walk through, and alot of long zig-zag ramps that let up, then turned, and went up again, leading to little "towers", almost, in the center. It seems there were two such ramp setups at opposing ends, and whoever got that position seemed to have a real good advantage over anyone around it, but a disadvantage from whoever was across the room at the other one (good line of site shot).
The equipment was interesting as well and had an amazing similarity to Intersphere, at least in the display. NICE stereo sound effects from shoulder mounted speakers and a funny little antenna on the back of the suit gave it an interesting look. The readout showed when you were shot, and when you got credits or were temporarily out of the game. There was also a variety of "band" type lighting used - with rotating beams, spinning "dots" on the floor, and haze generators. (Don't worry - no disco balls were to be found!) This made their arena a bit different than any other I had been in, although the LazerX site local to me does have some very nice lighting as well.
I soon found out what they meant by aliens. All through the game field could be found different "scenes" such as one in an enclosed "mesh" fence with an alien sitting there amongst wires and cables with a sensor on it. If you got close, it was activated and if you didn't zap it quick, it would zap you (our of impatience, no doubt). If you did zap it, the friendly alien would give you some special ability (assuming you had enough credits, which were gained by zapping other players). There were "flying" aliens coming down from the ceiling, the classic "big eyes, big head" alien standing in a corner section, and even one rather bothersome fellow who was partially hidden behind a wall and would pop up only a second or so before he'd zap you. This one was a real pain to try to get, and one I learned to just avoid :)
The level of interactivity they had added to an otherwise person versus person game was interesting. While the Laser Force center told me their equipment could play rather complex role playing missions, Deep Space Laser also seemed to be able to do a variety of things with their game, even while it was in progress. I saw the lead officer (their name for a game marshall) extend a game right as it was shutting down, and also saw how they could switch game "modes" or handicap better players in real time. It seems they have quite a bit of technology to play with here. Even their membership cards were special - actual credit card style material. I mean, imprinted name and everything. (They looked just like a Gold Card, though I'd say the DSL cards were more fun.)
This was the center I wanted to play more games of. I never made it to the Laser Runner site as I ended up hanging out at DSL getting to know the folks and what all they could do with their center. The owner is a Canadian distributor for Dark Light Systems who manufacture the packs that DSL uses in their own arena setup. I will say, though, that the Dark Light units in a less interesting play area, such as the still-under development CyberDome, wouldn't quite feel the same as they did at DSL. (Plus, "DSL" is just such a cute short way to refer to the place.)
In case you haven't guessed by now, my laser tag "centre" (Canadian spelling, eh?) of choice is DEEP SPACE LASER for it's unique interactive arena, good equipment (with customized sounds), and delicious pastry-spinach kinda snack things (and, of course, Snapple). I don't have numbers for the other places I visited, by the DSL one was easy to remember: (613) 8-20-20-20. If you visit Ottawa and have time to play only one tag center, make it DSL.
Oh ... and if you do ... tell 'em Al sent you. Then tell me if they even know who you are talking about :)