Skribe – September '93 – The Zone 3 Experience and October '93 – In Search of Quasar

Transcribed by Elaine Walker. Since Doug has been doing some writing on the current laser tag type games, we thought it would be nice to put up some articles he wrote on the topic in earlier times.

The Zone 3 Experience

By Doug Burbidge

The countdown ticks; we move around quietly, finding good positions, staying in contact, not bunched up. It reaches zero; power up. We move quickly, trading shots with some enemy seen briefly below us, moving up to find protective cover.

Zone 3 is a sport not every one has heard of; it’s a fast-paced and exciting game, where players put on vests containing infrared sensors, and carry guns that fire harmless infrared beams. Players either work as a team to take an enemy base station, or just play solo and all vape each other.

I break cover, diving forward to the next barricade. Red lasers split the air, but they’re too slow; and now I know where they are. I lay down suppressing fire at the two enemy, while the rest of my squad cover valuable ground. There are more enemy hidden, but only two have line of sight on us. Careless, and we’ll make them pay.

Zone 3 is a three team game, with up to six players on each team. This makes Zone 3’s competition games interesting, with each team constantly maneuvering to avoid being sandwiched between the other two. Players score points for shooting the enemy, and by shooting the enemy bases. Since each player can only shoot each enemy base once, it’s necessary for a team to rotate their players between defending their own base, and attacking each of the enemy. This shows good planning by the designers of Zone 3, because it means that the players are given a reason to move around the game area; and this generates action when players inevitably run across each other.

The Perth Zone 3 centre has a fairly large game area by world standards, and this means that even in a full 18 player game, the game area does not become overcrowded. The game area is basically two storey, with more three-dimensionality added by smaller mezzanine levels. The playing area is also scattered with barricades. This means that there are some long lines of fire, and players must move from one barricade to the next, using them as cover.

There are two enemy behind me, and one to my left. But I’ve got my back to a barricade for cover, and I know they’re not smart enough to come and get me. Just me and the man on my left. But if I move to get a shot at him, I’ll be exposed to enemy fire. When I move, it must be fast. Launch. Run, dive, roll, fire. Boom. Too slow, my enemy, much too slow.

The packs are designed to communicate what’s going on clearly and simply, both to the player using the pack, and to other players around. The packs contain flashing lights of the appropriate colour, so that everyone can instantly recognise which team a player is on, and make a variety of sounds to tell the wearer what is going on. They also have an LCD display on the front and a laser in the gun to help players shoot straight. (And you can’t shoot straighter than a laser.) Zone 3 is a challenging exercise in tactics, communication, speed and accuracy; or, just an opportunity to blast your friends. I suggest you try it.

Their base is clear. My squad members cover the approaches; I kneel for a clear shot at the base. Shoot once; lights, sirens. Shoot again. Pause for the final shot: boom. Game over, man, game over.

In Search of Quasar

By Doug Burbidge

We rock up into the foyer of Quasar Fremantle, hyped up and ready to shoot something. The foyer is large, white, contains videou games and about 80 people. A fair proportion of them fall into the “anklebiter” category.

Our group is called through into the briefing room where a staff member tells us how to play in a bored monotone. We done our packs and follow him to the re-energisers. The game starts as soon as the first player energises. I already know this, and I’ve made sure I’m at the front, meaning that for a few seconds I’m the only live player in the game. In those seconds I stroll up and hit the enemy base.

Quasar Fremantle’s game area is interesting in two respects: firstly, it’s about the same size as the foyer, and secondly it is at once too enclosed and too open. Let me elaborate. If a game area has too few barricades for players to hide behind or leap out from, then no-one can ever miss hitting anybody, which may become boring. If a game area has too many barricades, it becomes too twisty-turny, and play becomes a long series of steps out from behind corners to see if there’s an enemy there. The basic floor concept at Quasar Fremantle is all right: re-energisers in the middle, bases at either end. But it is too enclosed in the middle and too open at the ends. This means that you spend what seems a long time returning to your re-energiser, and when you go attack the bases again, you die quickly because there is little cover.

But there is another problem: there is only one re-energiser for each team of up to fifteen players, so when you get back to your re-energiser, you usually find half your team already there, waiting to re-energise. This is made worse by the design of the Quasar system itself: the re-energiser will not work properly if there is more than one person in it, and in a full game there are generally about four people in it at any one time.

The packs use a mixture of sound and voice effects. This may sound novel, but after a few minutes of your pack saying “Danger, danger” and enemies hearing it and vaping you, the novelty wears off. The speech and sound effects aren’t clear enough either, so that it is often difficult to understand what it is your pack wants you to do.

Also instead of just the one team colour, some packs have both red and green LEDs, and at certain stages both colours light up. This means that you cannot tell if a player is friend or foe.

My remaining complaint is the guns: these are extremely heavy, because they contain the laser, computer and battery. The gun is designed to be held two-handed, and it takes a reasonable strength to wield it one handed. Small kids may not be able to carry it at all by the end of the game. I like to use the gun one handed, and I am (just) strong enough to do so, but I am further hindered in this by the gun strap. You are required to wear the gun strap around your neck at all times. (Why? So you don’t drop the gun and break the laser, which is made of thin glass.) The strap has to be short enough that the gun won’t touch the ground when being worn by a child, and as such it’s too short for me to hold the gun at arm’s length.

The Quasar system has some design weaknesses; and the Fremantle centre would be the right size, if only they had half as many packs, or if they traded off some of the foyer area for the play area. Nevertheless, Quasar is a great way to keep the kids occupied for a couple of hours while you experience the pleasures of Fremantle.

Of course now we are down to Laser Blaze (formerly Dark Zone) in Malaga and Willetton, and Dark Light in Joondalup, and the big Perth Zone 3 centre(s) are no more. But a form of the game is still going.

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