Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ten Years in the Making!

On July 3rd, most people were impatiently waiting for their Independence Day celebrations.  Cookouts, Fireworks, and get-togethers were planned for this big American weekend.  While the rest of the country was waiting, we were busy getting a leg up on celebrating the only way we know how: Laser Tag!

We kicked off the 10th Annual "Independence Eve Blast" with our usual pot-luck cookout.  I think this is the first time we've ever had dogs and babies at the game, though... so we all had a lot of fun!

We also enjoyed record turn-out for the event.  We had 32 in the picture but picked up another 5 through the rest of the event, so I was pretty stoked about the support we got.  I've been complaining recently of low turnout numbers but this event made me realize that these events are more about the games, it's about getting together with everyone.  Whether there's 5 or 35 players, it's still a good time.  In the same way that Nerf and Laser Tag enthusiasts tend to get too caught up or serious about their hobbies, I tend to get too worked up on the details of these games and forge to enjoy it.

One thing that made it easier to to enjoy was the return of some well-missed veterans.  Many good friends who have been with us from the start made it out to this event to celebrate with us.  Some of them don't even live in town anymore, so it was a real treat to reconnect with them and play alongside (and against) them in this awesome scenario that is simply known as the "Independence Eve Blast".  Many of them were THERE for the first one we held back in 2006, so it was great to have them here again!

For those who don't know, this event is my FAVORITE one in the entire schedule.  Not only is there great food and lots of fun games to be had, but the event carries with it a unique atmosphere not easily recreated.  As the evening of Laser Tag goes on into the night, local fireworks explode overhead giving a sort of battlefield environment as players battle through flashes of light, the booms of shells igniting overhead, and the thick smell of smoke and gunpowder.  Its awesome to play under these conditions to make for an unforgettable evening.

2015 marks our 10th year doing this.  Here's a video I made from last years event in case you missed it!



Hope all my US readers had a Happy 4th of July!  And I guess all the readers in other countries will want to host games on nights when there are fireworks in the forecast.  It's a grand ol' time!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Food Fight

Wanna come over?  Eh... Maybe.  Wanna have fun outside?  Uh, I dunno.  Want food?  COUNT ME IN!!

Yeah, that seems to be the solution.  I realized this last Friday at another one of our Laser Tag games this summer.  I had previously speculated that the drop in attendance was because weather wasn't really cooperative this season but, upon enjoying upper 70s with a slight breeze and mostly sunny skies on June 26th for our 6th Game this season with a mere 7 players, I can only summarize that the key to having a big event is by offering food.

Lame.

Yeah the big events each year are usually those with a cookout, but I was hoping there'd at least be SOME kind of interest in just the game itself.  It's not really looking that way this season, which we are supposed to be celebrating our 10th Summer doing this.  This season looks more like "we're really not interested unless there will be food."  How do I know this?  Well, after 6 weeks of games, here's the attendance turnout.

Week 1: Season Opener (Food) 38 players
Week 2: Mostly rained out, but we had 10 people show up
Week 3: Humid.  8 players showed up
Week 4: Humid again.  11 players showed up
Week 5: Humid, but cloudy.  12 players showed up.
Week 6: Beautiful weather.  7 players showed up.

Week 7 is our 10th Annual Independence Eve BLAST with about 20 players already signed up.  The event is scheduled for this Friday.  We'll have a pot luck cookout, like we did the first week.

This next event will mark the mid-point in the season.  If it's going to take food to bribe people to come to these events anymore, there probably isn't going to be a Season 11.  Being almost 30, having a home, a full-time job, and other interests now... it's no secret that I haven't had as much time devoted to all this before.  Weekly games do take up whatever free Hobby time I have, but if I could be in my workshop getting something rolling instead of getting out there with 5-10 players every single week... well there's more productive things I could be doing with my time.

We'll see what the rest of the season holds.  Weekly games are getting to be a weekly strain, so maybe it's time for a change?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Weather Woes hurt Turnout



Since we started hosting outdoor laser tag games every summer, the one thing that is always unpredictable is the weather.  The Midwest is known for having a myriad of mixed conditions throughout each summer from Hot Humid weather to pleasant evenings to strong storms dumping buckets of rain.  While that weather IS unpredictable, the attendance with each game gets very predictable.

This season is no exception, as the weather this summer has either been rainy and wet or unpleasantly humid.  The first game of the season was cancelled due to rain.  The second game was (which became the first) had record-breaking 38 player turnout and wonderful weather with a slight cooling breeze.  The third game was pretty much rained out, but the 6 players who showed up managed to have fun watching movies together.  Both the Fourth and Fifth games this summer were very very humid and we struggled to break 10 players for those.

I'm hoping weather cooperates a little more for the rest of the season, as we're almost at the halfway point.  There's our big Independence Eve BLAST coming up on July 3rd that's a very popular event, but we're still at the mercy of what Mother Nature decides to do!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cam ECS-12 LT Concept

It never fails.  Even with a handful of unfinished projects, I still can't help myself from thinking of more ideas.  Today's tinkering involved tearing into an N-Strike Elite Cam ECS-12.  Upon learning just how easy it was to remove the camera section of the blaster, I found the blaster to be a nifty looking standalone rifle.  However, with this big hole in the top of it, I was eager to find a clever way to seal up the top.  On my workbench was a fresh-out-of-the-box Lazer Tag Augmented Reality (LTAR) blaster waiting to be added to my armory.  It was the same color white as the ECS-12, so I instantly started thinking of an integration.

If I didn't know better, I'd say this was a legitimate Nerf product!  The gap left by the Camera Optics on top of the ECS-12 is almost perfect for the top-half of an LTAR blaster.  The lower portion of the LTAR has the Trigger, Shields, Reload, and Lock-on sensor housed, which could be omitted as it is in this mock-up.  The trigger could easily be manipulated to double for both the Dart Blaster and LTAR (just as I have in my Demolisher Project), and there's already a button on the grip of the ECS-12 that could be used for either shields or reload.

With most of the internals and components of the LTAR wouldn't need to be relocated with a design like this, I could see this project being relatively easy to complete, as opposed to my M41A Pulse Rifle and Demolisher projects that require more labor-intensive integration.  Does this concept seem cool enough to pursue?  Or should I leave it alone and refocus on what I already have?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

NERF Doomlands 2169

It only took a weekend for our answers to surface about the new Vagabond and Lawbringer Nerf Blasters that were leaked.  That logo sitting in the middle of the Vagabond has been confirmed to read "DOOMLANDS - 2169" (bow chicka bow wow).  Ironically, this cyber-western lineup was confirmed while I was out of the Midwest visiting friends and family in New England.  Mr. SBNC and I had been talking about the name and the possibility for future blasters and we share  a lot of the same hopes for this lineup.  Here's his High-Res Photoshopp'd logo!


In true Tactical Tag form, instead of breaking the news to you, here's another angle on things.  We already have the Vagabond confirmed, which is a shotgun-style rotating barrel long pistol thing.  Then there's the Lawbringer, which we still don't have any photos of.  We do know it's going to cost about $35, which puts it in rifle-range money.  I like to think it'd be an automatic, but I'm also hoping that the Rebelle Fearless Fire design would get some DL treatment in the same way that some of the Rebelle blasters are just reshelled N-Strike Elite blasters.  The function of the blaster seems like it could work in the DL lineup, although technically a Tommy Gun would work better for a roaring 20s gangster theme... and I don't see Nerf doing an Al Capone spinoff line anytime soon.

However, like I explained earlier, a Cyber-Western-Themed lineup is sure to get requests from TV Shows and Moves with a similar theme.  While Mr. SBNC is hoping for a Long Colt (which I would totally support), I almost think a Caster Gun from Outlaw Star might be more feasible in size and function.  In a similar fashion to the Proton's rear-loading design, the darts could be inserted via a spring-loaded pop-out sled.  Push the sled back in to prime the blaster and fire!  Instead of using Gene Starwind's Caster Shells, I could easily see a blaster of this size being used as a MEGA dart shooter, too!

There are countless other Sci-Fi and Anime blaster designs that could work well with this, but I don't expect Hasbro to be making a conscious attempt to replicate fan-favorites from these kinds of shows.  I still also feel like we got a lot of Cyber-Western-esque designs from ZombieStrike, too... so while I'm excited to see the new blasters, pinning on a new name is sort of irrelevant to me.  The SledgeFire, HammerShot, FlipFury, and SlingFire could all easily fall into this same kind of theme for blaster design, gimmicks, and function.  Maybe I'm missing something that distinguishes the ZS line from the DL line that will be come more clear later on as the line is developed, but it all seems pretty Space Cowboy Browncoat to me regardless of what logo is on there.  It won't stop me from getting one or two or five, but I'm still struggling to see a big difference between the lines.  I do know that I'm probably not alone in my enthusiasm for seeing more of this kind of stuff from Nerf!  Keep 'em coming!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Cyber Western Lineup Thoughts

Earlier this week, Mr SBNC showed us signs of yet another lineup coming for Nerf that would make any Trigun fan weak in the knees.  With news breaking of the Vagabond and the Lawbringer on the way, it's pretty easy to see that there's a Cyber-Western-Themed lineup coming to Shelves soon.  We don't know what the name, I imagine we'll find out soon, as there looks to be one printed just above the back of the rotating barrel section.  Likely the Baidu guy who took the photo knows, but the blurry sasquatch photographic evidence is all we have to go by for now.  The DCPI codes found at Target by RS09 list them as "N-Strike", but there's a clear Space Cowboy theme going on with these two new blasters. 

There are now N-Strike, N-Strike Elite, N-Strike Elite MEGA, Rebelle, ZombieStrike, Vortex, the new MODULUS stuff coming, and the new Rival line (thanks for the reminder, harpuia)... PLUS whatever name the Vagabond and Lawbringer will fall into.  Around the same time news of these new blasters broke, I essentially pronounced the Vortex lineup dead.  Whether I'm right or not, let's do a quick count of what we will have on the shelf.  I'm seeing 9, unless you count N-Strike and N-Strike Elite together. 
According to what BlasterLabs told us about their time with Hasbro Executives, they were fed the following answer about Vortex:
"...Vortex had been oversaturated in the market, and it basically needs time to cool down (i.e., clear shelf space of models that didn’t move as quickly as planned). Therefore, retail reception to more in the Vortex line is not likely to be strong, which would tend to make a better case for integrating Vortex into other lines (like Zombie Strike)."
If that's true, wouldn't having N-Strike Elite, MEGA, Rebelle, ZombieStrike and this new Cyber Western line still contribute to the oversaturated market?  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a shotgun-style long-barreled revolver and a whole lineup of gunslingers like it.  But I think that Nerf might be getting too technical with all these names and lineups.  Think about it for a second.

Much like what the ZombieStrike lineup is, I almost feel like Nerf wouldn't have to worry about oversaturating the market with different lineups if they didn't divide them all up like they have.  In the same way that the SideStrike looks good in ZombieStrike colors AND N-Strike Elite colors, I don't really know that having different purposes for lineups is good.  Couldn't they just label blasters as "N-Strike" or "Rebelle" or even just "Nerf" and simplify things?  Disks didn't HAVE to be Vortex, as proven by the Fusefire.  They used to just list ammo charts at Toys R Us to tell you what type each blaster needed.  Now there's just Elite darts, MEGA darts, and Disks.  Easy!

I don't see the un-complication of the lineups happening any time soon, but at least focusing on 2 or 3 lineups at a time would help out.  Modulus is essentially an accessories-focused N-Strike blaster.  ZombieStrike already has N-Strike and Vortex stuff in there.  It's do-able.  Maybe separating everything up is good, but if it means that it can be used as an excuse to let things like Vortex or Dart Tag slip off, I'm not so sure.

WHEW!  And I got all of that just by looking at the Vagabond!  Whatever name they give the new stuff, I just wanna get my hands on 'em and shoot!  I can't imagine what others are thinking, so feel free to chime in with your thoughts.  I'm on vacation from 6/5 to 6/10, so it'd be nice to have some reading to do. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Epitaph for Vortex

In 2011, Nerf came out with a new lineup that shot Foam Disks that was unlike anything they had released before.  Boasting "Xtra Long Ranges" and featuring SciFi alien advanced tech looking designs, the Vortex blasters were completely new to the Nerf world that had centered around foam darts.  The initial launch included 4 blasters, each with unique abilities, that ranged from a small pistol to a full-auto rifle.

When they were launched 4 years ago, the Vortex line was pitched as an opponent to N-Strike (Elite blasters hadn't come out yet).  With the disks out-shooting the darts by a large margin, seeing a matchup between Vortex and Nerf was an interesting battle to play out.  I organized a game pitting both types against each other.  The games were fun and I was excited to see where the N-Strike vs Vortex battle would go next!

Not too long after the Vortex launch, fans got a glimpse of N-Strike Elite.  They started off as fan favorite blasters redone in sharp blue and white paint jobs with ranges that rivaled those of the new Vortex line.  Suddenly, one of the major focus points of the Vortex lineup -Range- was already on it's heels less than a year into the lineup.  Although the N-Strike Elite lineup wouldn't be released until late summer of 2012, fans were already looking forward to high-powered versions of familiar dart blasters.

Vortex still managed to hang around during Elite's initial release, but the "N-Strike VS Vortex" bit was nowhere to be seen and there seemed to be much more focus on the Elite blasters. We got a few more blasters that were still holding true to Vortex innovation. There was Dual-Disk blasting, a clever drum-fed blaster, and then that drum turned on it's side like a crazy revolver thing. While N-Strike Elite continued to pump out Tacticool designs with the same dart-blasting tech we already knew, the unique systems of Vortex sort of got pushed aside.

Aside from a couple of ZombieStrike-branded Vortex blasters, the lineup flatlined. In February of 2015, Blaster Labs put up a formal petition to send to Hasbro to keep Vortex going. They noted at an All-Access Event in 2014 the following:
"...on the wall behind the Nerf designers and marketers at Hasbro HQ, they clearly had Elite, Mega, Zombie Strike, Rebelle and Super Soaker brand marquees on display, but not Vortex. When we tried to pin-down two Nerf execs for an answer this time, we were given a more nuanced explanation that Vortex had been oversaturated in the market, and it basically needs time to cool down (i.e., clear shelf space of models that didn’t move as quickly as planned). Therefore, retail reception to more in the Vortex line is not likely to be strong, which would tend to make a better case for integrating Vortex into other lines (like Zombie Strike)."
While this doesn't confirm the discontinuation of disc-based products, it does affirm that Vortex has more-or-less bit the bullet.  Or Dart.  Or whatever you'd like to call 'em.

Surprisingly, the fan-led Blaster Labs Petition is still sitting at 449 signatures on their Petition of the 1,000 they were looking for.  This seems odd considering that there seems to be a lot of fans still pulling for Vortex.  Blogs, websites, and YouTube channels alike seem to be teeming with support for the brand, but fewer than 500 that have put their names on this petition doesn't bode well. 

There's a laundry list of reasons fans have noted in support of Vortex.  Among them have been durability of the disks used for ammunition, range and consistency in performance, and the innovative designs being used.  Still, I think the Nerf Dart camp isn't just bigger because darts have been around longer, but Vortex still seems to be something that fans and hobbyists have trouble getting into.  Outside of paintjobs and torsion spring upgrades, there's not much you can fiddle with on a Vortex blaster.  They are admittedly more complicated than say a Firestrike or Retaliator or Stryfe.  I can understand marketing reasons not to get behind it, but if all the hype and hopes for Vortex seem a little idealistic or empty at times.

With the 2015 lineup littered with N-Strike Elite, Rebelle, MEGA, and ZombieStrike, I'm not expecting a comeback or resurrection of Vortex any time soon.  And if fans can't rally behind Vortex to get it going again, then we really have spelled the end of Vortex.  That's my non-refundable 2 cents.