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Lasertag is a sport loosely related to the original game of tag. While seen by some as having more relation to the sport of paintball, lasertag differs mainly in the technology used, rather than just the environment it is played in. Indoor, or Arena style lasertag usually features less realistic environments such as mazes, different modes of gameplay, and is often accompanied by music and theatrical fog. Outdoor Lasertag is also a popular way to play, with players using parks or wooded areas, or even going to commercially run outdoor lasertag, or Laser Skirmish fields. Similar to paintball, there are styles of play that lean heavily toward full mulitary simulations, and other types that are quick firefights to determine the best player on a small field. This variation means that there's a style of lasertag that can appeal to almost anyone, from mil-sim fanatics to Sci-Fi LARPers to kids just having fun.
In 1977, George Carter III conceived the idea for lasertag while watching Star Wars. After spending years working on the technology, the first "Photon" center opened in Dallas, Texas in 1984. Players could come to the center and compete against each other, but the equipment was not sold in stores. In 1986, the first "Photon" toys hit the market, soon followed by "Lazer Tag" toys from Worlds of Wonder. The Christmas season of 1986 was the real beginning of the lasertag, and soon millions of kids would be playing lasertag with each other anyplace they could. Worlds of Wonder went out of business around 1988, and Photon soon followed in 1989, as the fad of the games wore off. Today almost all lasertag play takes place in facilities specifically designed for the game.
In 1980, the United States Army developed and deployed a system using infrared beams for combat training. The MILES system functions like lasertag in that beams are "fired" into receivers that score hits.
The game of lasertag
Commercial Lasertag systems vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and centre to centre, but usually consist of a tagging device (which may or may not resemble some sort of handheld gun). The tagging device emits a laser beam, and usually an infrared (IR) beam as well, which carries information about the device doing the emitting. Typically, the laser is merely a special effect, although it is not unheard of that the laser itself is the carrier of the information. This is less common, as the tight beam of the laser requires the user to have extremely accurate aim to hit the sensor which is typically a TV remote control receiver which is only about 3 to 5mm square with a beam only about 2mm across.
The player wears a pack, usually in the form of an open vest, with sensors placed in various locations such as chest, back, shoulders, and in the gun. The signal, when striking a sensor, transmits the pertinent data to the pack. All packs may be connected to a central server which records points, the location and number of tags on other players, the location and number of tags on oneself, and a beam/tag ratio, or this data may be transferred at the end of each game. At the end of the game a player will typically receive a scorecard with this information.
The typical indoor commercial lasertag system does not function very well in bright lighting such as sunlight; this is more due to lack of a need to retain sensitivity in light than a real limitation, as for effect most lasertag mazes are dark, and lit by blacklights. A maze can feature fog machines as well, to help illuminate the laser beams, which would be otherwise invisible when passing through clear air. This fog is often invisible to the participants, but it is noticeable when looking into the maze from a room with normal lighting.
Outdoor commercial systems are not too different on the surface from their indoor cousins, quite a bit different under the surface. Real lasers are not usually used due to the hazards to players and anyone within blinding range, partly because of the increased laser power required when playing outdoors and because there are no walls to block the laser from traveling miles. Range is required to be much greater so better lensing is used, and full sunlight requires improvements in both sensor and IR emitters. Sensor placement is similar to indoor commercial systems.
Consumer systems are quite a bit different from commercial systems. Most have a more toy-like appearance to avoid being mistaken for a real firearm, and lack any kind of muzzle flash or realistic sound effects for the same reason. Sensor placement varies amongst systems. Some have a single sensor on the tagging device or worn on the head, chest, or back, while other systems have a combination of several or even all of these. Range varies from ultra-toylike systems that are only good for 10 to 20 feet, to systems that can hit at more than 300 feet in full sunlight. Usually, there are no score cards and no central server. Rather, each tagging device has a stand-alone computer in it and missions are scored by team results. Some Lasertag systems are more complex than others, it runs the gamut from simple systems that only keep track of how many times the sensor was hit, to systems that keep track of who hit you and even when they hit you.
There are also a number of Homebrew systems, some of which rival and even surpass many commercial systems. Modifications to store-bought Lasertag devices are quite common, from simply adding a telescopic sight to modifications of the electronics and moving the guts to a different body.
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