:: AN INTERVIEW WITH JONATHAN PLACHE (VEQTOR UK) ::
TRUTNEE: - A question about your history: as far as I know, VEQTOR trade mark appeared in late 80-s as a brand of laser tag equipment produced by a specialised manufacturer. In 90-s (according to the information published in Internet), some other laser tag manufacturers used your technical developments or were inspired by your laser tag system. Can you confirm this information and - if the answer is positive - can you please tell a few words about that co-operation? What other laser tag brands were inspired by VEQTOR?
VEQTOR: - The original VEQTOR system was designed and developed by Martin Shoebridge (a stakeholder in VEQTOR UK). During the late 80s and early 90s Martin worked on a number of projects as an electronic design engineer to produce a variety of laser tag systems. The most successful of these became known as Actual Reality, Laser Force UK, Pulsar, Laser Chaser and Laser Runner. All of these systems in their early forms utilised a common proprietary communication protocol and bullet structure owned by Martin Shoebridge. Most of these companies when they became successful choose to move away from Martin’s technology and developed their own proprietary communications protocol and bullet structure.
TRUTNEE: - Special question concerning Actual Reality, another laser tag manufacturer that merged with VEQTOR in 2002: what was the idea of merging and what benefits did that synergy bring to you?
VEQTOR: - Actual Reality (AR) has always been well received by die-hard laser tag players due to its play ability and features. It had the largest penetration in Canada, USA and Sweden. VEQTOR maintained a professional working relationship with Martin Shoebridge throughout the 1990s. In 1995 Martin sold to VEQTORIAN Limited his early copyrights and data protocols (for the pre-Actual Reality range). During this same period Martin signed some limited marketing and assembly rights to a Canadian firm for his Actual Reality product range.
The early years of the relationship between Martin and the Canadian firm was good. But, in the last 1990 and early 2000’s there were a number of alleged breach of contract by the Canadians. Martin chose to sever his relationship with the Canadians and needed an organisation to help him retain control of his product, reputation and carve a way forward for his role in Laser Tag. We at VEQTOR wanted to add some new features into our mainstream VEQTOR product range. VEQTORIAN saw benefits of absorbing AR into VEQTOR and we at VEQTOR UK had a good history with Martin.
So in 2002 VEQTORIAN took over the AR IP, and had their legal advisors assisted in cleaned up the control of Martin Shoebridge’s IP. As part of the deal, Martin became apart of the VEQTOR UK organisation. Martin Shoebridge is still actively involved with VEQTOR UK and is deeply apart of the latest XBlaster, MAXBlaster, PAQ and venturSCAPE projects.
TRUTNEE: - By the way, what company is servicing the old arenas equipped with Actual Reality systems at present time?
VEQTOR: - VEQTOR UK has been supporting AR sites since the 2002 take over. It was not cost effective for VEQTOR USA to taken on AR spares and train up service engineers. So VEQTOR USA was never involved in support of AR technology. This decision did make it difficult for the few USA and Canadian sites still operating. Actually, most AR sites have now ceased trading or moved to an alternative suppliers or VEQTOR laser tag product. AR technology is no longer supported. There is not plan to fabricate another production batch of AR systems.
TRUTNEE: - The product range: at present time, you are marketing five different laser tag systems - X-Blaster (indoor/outdoor phasor-only system), X-Blaster-TFS (outdoor phasor-only military-styled system), Outdoor MAX-Blaster-TFS (outdoor radiocontrolled military-styled system), MAX-Blaster and PAQ systems (the indoor/outdoor systems of a "new generation"). The other systems were: Veqtor Lite (up to 1998), Veqtor Classic ("classic" IR-system, 1998-2002) and Veqtor Max (radiocontrolled IR-system with some advanced features, 2002-?). What are the basic marketing differences between these systems and what system is the most popular now? What system is the best-seller at present?
VEQTOR: - The VEQTOR XBlaster is our most popular system. It has a very low entry price for a full featured laser game system - 395 GBP. It is a physical miniaturisation of the original VEQTOR Lite (and Classic brands) without compromising the game. We generally sell it as a ‘Blaster only’ system, but it will work with either our wired body armour, or most recently with a new version of our wireless PAQ. The reason why XBlasters have been received so well is that the laser tag market had changed dramatically from the 90’s. The market is now party driven and quite ‘PC’ (politically correct). It demands lightweight, robust, child and family friendly product (not military style look and feel). Therefore we choose to take our core ‘entry level’ product ‘Lite and Classic’ and make these the basis for XBlaster.
In parallel with the XBlaster initiative, we started to merge together the new stuff we had acquired from AR, and our radio control developments. Over the last four years we have been able to refine the MAX product range into a state of the art radio based laser tag system than can compete with the best radio based laser systems on the market. The first iteration of MAX was a traditional wired blaster/vest design (2002 to 2006). But we changed due to the success and reliability of the XBlaster. We decided that MAX had to become a MAXBlaster (gun centric system). Therefore the MAX system was reborn in 2007 as the ‘MAXBlaster’ with optional wireless PAQ body armour. This has allowed us to crash through a price barrier of offering Radio Based real-time scoring laser tag for less than 1,000 EURO per player (695 GBP)
In parallel to this focus of our VEQTOR Laser Tag product range we saw rapidly expanding interest in outdoor laser tag. Most of the outdoor market was offing simplistic equipment without much intelligence over glorified toys in metal jackets. Therefore, we choose to migrate the XBlaster and MAXBlaster (sophisticated systems) out of doors where play could be done in bright sun light with radio and full scoring and game scenarios potential. To do this we designed new IR driver circuits and lens system so that the infrared had the power to ‘punch through’ bright sunshine. Our primary decision was how far must we shoot. We decided that for outdoor market we wanted to hit a target slightly further than the effective ‘paint ball’ hit. This resulted our systems achieving 25 - 30 metres in bright sun and 50 to 75 metres in dusk lighting conditions (specific performance will vary on weather conditions).
TRUTNEE: - MAX-Blaster: In fact, this new system is a real revolution in laser tag industry: the vest was completely redesigned (actually, it's more target than a vest now), the system became completely wireless (no cable between the phasor and the "vest" anymore), it is said to be featuring both IR and Laser based "bullets", and it looks very futuristic. So, we may for sure call this system "unique"... During the grand presentation of the new system at IAAPA-2007, what was the impression of the visitors, your customers and representatives of the other laser tag manufacturing companies: were they puzzled, shocked, surprised? How did they comment the VEQTOR's innovations?
VEQTOR: - VEQTOR’s design teams in Europe have always prided themselves in being unique and somewhat daring. The nature of customers is that they are always cautious to take up new ideas. To some the MAXBlaster and its wireless PAQ companion may be seen as too new to risk purchasing this year - a wait and see policy. This is always a conservative business strategy - especially in a market with over 30 manufactures of laser tag equipment, and a market with profit margins much lower than they were in the 90’s. The market has watched VEQTOR move its focus to areas other than Laser Tag. Some manufacturers may have mistaken this to mean that VEQTOR had turned its back on the Laser Tag industry. The fact is our investment and innovations strongly demonstrate that we believe in the Laser Tag industry. VEQTORIAN’s strategic investment has produced one of the more exciting laser tag products to take this industry into the future.
TRUTNEE: - By the way, can you please explain how one and the same system can feature both IR and Laser based "bullets"? And what is the idea of such combination?
VEQTOR: - Over the last few years there has been miss-information spread by one dominant North America Laser Tag supplier about ‘Laser bullets’ versus ‘IR bullets’. Our view is that both styles of bullet have a valid place in shooting games. It is NOT that one is bad and the other is good. They simply do different things.
Most manufacturers use IR. We believe that the IR beam generates a hit pattern most realistic to a burst of machine gun fire (namely, when a machine gun fires the bullet splatter pattern is around 600 mm factoring in hand-jiggle due to recoil). Most IR beams from the well known manufacturers offer a hit pattern similar in diameter to machine gun fire - we think this is effective. Our XBlaster and MAXBlaster both offer this narrow machine gun pattern IR burst. In addition the MAXBlaster has a second WIDE angle IR which is used as a ‘grenade launcher’. This sends a large 6 to 10 meter close range hit pattern that mirrors a grenade detonation. In addition on the MAXBlaster we have a THIRD beam - a pulsed laser beam which can be used with the optional ‘laser sharp-shooter’ target that sits on the PAQ’s right shoulder.
A laser beam by it’s nature is about 1 cm in diameter. Therefore more precise. This feature allows a ‘sniper’ type of effect. This is what the ‘laser only manufacturers’ rave about as their unique selling point. Unfortunately, these laser only system manufactures do not tell you is that they DO NOT offer a machine gun or grenade launcher type of beam - only a sniper. For most players a machine gun is more fun. With MAXBlaster you can have the best of both worlds.
TRUTNEE: - "Wireless" phasor: the idea looks great (the cable cannot be damaged or broken because of its absence; and the player can enjoy more freedom in his/her movements), but from the other point of view - the phasor which is not connected to the vest can be easily dropped during the game, and even thrown... So, does this idea really contribute to the safety of the game and durability of the system in general?
VEQTOR: - The risk of equipment being dropped or thrown onto the ground is a valid risk. This exists for all styles of equipment and is increased each time a player robes and disrobed from the laser tag system. With the MAXBlaster we mitigate some of this risk by featuring a wrist strap to minimise accidental dropping. In wire based laser tag systems the guns are often ‘yoyod’ (dangled and bounced by the cords) and banged into the floor or arena objects. So in one respect the nature of wired systems creates a greater risk as compared to the MAXBlaster wireless design. In a wireless approach the PAQ (body armour) is put on, and then the MAXBlaster is removed from the docking station. Therefore when all things are considered the durability risks are in favour of the MAXBlaster and PAQ wireless approach. In addition the wireless system offers unique features (some of which you have sighted) like freedom of movement, lightweight and comfort, multi colour interoperability between MAXBlaster and PAQ (so any Blaster works with any PAQ), less moving parts and service costs. These are often the important things for an operator that drives customer satisfaction and lower cost of ownership.
TRUTNEE: - How durable is the new "vest" ("target"?) of MAX-Blaster system? It looks so airy and lightweight, you know... What material is it made of?
VEQTOR: - Over the last 6 years VEQTOR has focused on developing a range of sport lifestyle products offered by companies like Reebok UK, Macdonalds, Shokk. Through these developments we have learned that top sports equipment needs to be ergonomic, lightweight and high strength. We employ engineered materials like polypropylene, poly-carbonate and reinforced polymers to gain high strength and flexion where required with minimal weight.
This has resulted in MAXBlaster and PAQ being streamlined, durable product that can take impact and provide long service life. Secondly, light objects tend to break less than heavy objects - it is simply due to mass. Therefore we have made the internals largely surface mount, and moved our whole range to intelligent lithium battery technology to reduce weight and increase mass induced damage. Again this reduces weight, allows streamlining, and improving performance.
TRUTNEE: - The most interesting question: can you quote the price of MAX-Blaster system? Is it VERY expensive?
VEQTOR: - The MAXBlaster’s price during the 1st quarter 2008 has been selling for 695 GBP and the wireless PAQ is 295 GBP.
TRUTNEE: - Proximity Tag (PAQ): can you please explain how laser tag game can be played without a phasor? When two PAQ's (=vests) are in proximity they start exchanging data, and - ? Who of the two players wins?
VEQTOR: - The Proximity TAG games are VEQTOR copyrights which draw on some of VEQTORs other copyrights and patents. Its sole purpose is to effectively recreate a series of electronically enabled games similar to ‘It’, ‘Chase’, ‘Tag’, ‘Tiggy’, ‘Gotcha’, etc. in which one players chases the other and physically touches the opponent with their hand to ‘tag’ them.
This game requires ‘direct proximity’ to the other player - a touch that is ‘seen’, ‘doggable’ and ‘expected’ - as opposed to Laser Tag which does NOT have to be done in ‘proximity’. Generally, Laser Tag is done where one player ‘shoot at distance’ at another player to tag them - tagging is often ‘unexpected’ and there is limited chance of dogging or escaping.
The Proximity Tag PAQ solves the health and safety, or social risk of players actually touching each other. With a PAQ they make ‘digital contact’ at approx. 2 metres. Your question as to who wins the ‘attack’ if two players encounter each other is accomplished in a number of ways:
- In some simple PAQ games, there is only one (or small group of catchers). The defenders do not have the ability to tag others or digitally ‘fight back’. So the contention issue you raise does not arise in these games.
- In other games the action of being ‘tagged’ by another player will result in an immediate ‘capture’, a conversion on to the other team’; where in some versions the attacking person can only dislodge one of your energy points at each tagging encounter which gives the ‘tagged’ player the chance to run away without loss of all its energy.
- In other PAQ games in which all players have the power to ‘tag’ other players, we deal with the point you raise “which of the two players wins”, in two unique ways: Firstly, by ‘direction of attack’; and secondly by a ‘energy level’. If a player attacks another player from the back or side, the attacker’s forward power field is stronger and more focused than that from the side or back of a player being attacked. Therefore the attacking player will win the encounter. Depending upon how the game has been set up by the operator, the winner will either instantly ‘assimilate’ the captured player or, if the game has ‘energy levels’ the attack will lower the captured person’s energy by one notch as described above.
If two players come face to face with each other, then the two systems will start to ‘digitally fight for supremacy’. This is done through the PAQ paradigm of energy levels. Each player starts a game with a set of energy values (generally equal to other players energy values). As the game is played players encounter other players and/or arena devices that take and give energy. These encounters effect their energy levels positively or negatively by increasing or decreasing their energy level. The player’s energy level can be observed by other players visually by the light intensity and position on the other players PAQ. Therefore, if a more powerful player with more energy level comes into direct ‘frontal’ contact with another player with less energy level the more ‘powerful’ player will win the encounter.
In some PAQ game scenarios two or more weaker players can move around the arena together so that their ‘collective’ energy can be used to defend against a more powerful individual player.
As you can see the concept is essentially simple:
- Check your energy against the opposition
- Get close
- TAG in the safest direction depending upon energy
- Run away
It reflects the natural law of ‘Survival of the Fittest’.
TRUTNEE: - Can you please explain the meaning of and the difference between the "PAQ-TAG games" ("Zombie Attack", "Fire and Ice", "Eliminator"), "PAQ-Sport games" ("Run, run...", "Quest Terrain"), "PAQ-Exploration games" ("Treasure hunt", "ClueMania", "Spy Kids") and "PAQ-Educational games" ("My first alphabet", "Math is fun", "Geography for kids", "Animals world")?
VEQTOR: - ZOMBIE ATTACK is a marketing name for one of our copyrighted PAQ Proximity Tag games in which one zombie team converts other players into members of their zombie team.
FIRE and ICE is another marketing name for one our copyrighted PAQ Proximity Tag games in which one to one team can make members on the other team turn to ice. This means that those players in which this happens have to find ‘fire’ to turned back on.
ELIMINATOR is another marketing name for one our copyrighted PAQ Proximity Tag games in which one or more players tag players to knock them out of the game.
We have introduced a sport focus to using the PAQ in which we have other copyrighted games where players run from location to location in an orienteering style of game activity. Players collect points when finding the correctly destination markers in the correct order and loose points if they come close to the incorrect marker. There are also some hybrid versions of this game that allow an individual (or group of individuals) on each team to act as a marker’s defenders to block incoming runners by using the proximity tagging method described earlier.
TRUTNEE: - Indoor/outdoor modes: X-Blaster and MAX systems are indoor/outdoor switchable. How the indoor and outdoor modes are selected and switched and how much time it takes to switch the phasor to another mode?
VEQTOR: - Both the MAXBlaster and XBlaster are sold as Indoor units, Outdoor units and ‘Hybrid’ units. The hybrid features an interchangeable IR emission kit and lens assembly that allows a high powered IR bullet for outdoor play and a slow power bullet for indoor play. The time it takes to change from indoor to outdoor is between 10 to 15 seconds per blaster.
TRUTNEE: - Outdoor MAX-Blaster-TFS: among other features of this system there is a very special one. I.e., "Electro shock 'on hit' module". Is this that adrenaline-boosting feature some players so admire? Can you tell the details, please?
VEQTOR: - For outdoor laser tag to emotionally compete with paint ball you need the pain element. Player of paint ball play the game for the primary reason of inflicting pain and avoiding pain. It’s this cause and effect that creates the adrenaline rush - the ‘buzz’. At VEQTOR we recognise this need, and added an ‘optional’ wrist strap that features a high voltage - low current shock. This shock is triggered when you get hit. Most family entertainment customers won’t use this feature as they service the family and youth market. We see this feature becoming more popular in the next few years as the outdoor laser tag market matures and starts to penetrate the paint ball fields.
TRUTNEE: - I'm aware there exist networked interactive maze devices, special effects control units, targets and hubs that players can shoot at and that shoot back, but I never seen their pictures and lack to know their technical parameters... Can you please tell a few words about them?
VEQTOR: - The VEQTOR interactive arena elements are driven by our venturSCAPE system which was launched in 1996 at IAAPA as an interactive game and shooting gallery target system. One of its first implementations was in our Fireball laser tag and ball shoot system which provided up to 31 interactive targets. The venturSCAPE system was also tailored to support the laser tag game control and game play. The first location to use venturSCAPE was the HoloWorld themed diner, bar, and amusement center project in Denver Colorado USA in 1997 which featured 30 targets interconnected with alien special effects across three playing arenas. Since this point venturSCAPE has been deployed within hundreds of systems operating world-wide. Within laser tag games the system can be programmed by site operators within a ‘Timeline’ methodology. This timeline allows the launching of specific functions within a play environment (i.e. HQs, Medic Points, Ammo Dumps, Snipers, Grenade Launchers, Detonators, Air Raids, etc.).
The system also controls the various IR emissions and RF (Radio Frequency) transceiver traffic to and from player units and arena units. The building blocks of venturSCAPE is a node (the point of delivery device like a target, or data emitter) which is attached to the central nervous system of the venturSCAPE layout by way of CAT5 cables, or IR point to point communications, or by RF transceivers. The second device is a Scene Control Hub - this device can have attached to it up to 31 nodes, sound system, scoreboards, button pad controller and an RF transceiver. The purpose of a Hub is to drive the functions of the scene which may include turning on targets, sending animation signals to special effects devices, causing emissions of localised IR data to give players good stuff or bad stuff. Clusters of Hubs can be interconnected together by way of another hub or a PC using USB or serial communications.
The PC runs a piece of software called venturSCAPE server. This server software controls up to two displays attached to the PC and the PC’s audio and Direct X functions for the purpose of displaying live video, animations and scores. At the core of venturSCAPE is an SQL accessible database so information can be uploaded to other data module and the internet.
TRUTNEE: - How do you support your customers: do you organize marketing seminars for them, provide them with marketing materials, etc.?
VEQTOR: - VEQTOR’s focus is different from other dedicated Laser Tag suppliers. We manufacture a wide range of sports and entertainment products. The full range is sold through non-exclusive distributors. Some distributors will focus more on the sports market, others on children’s play and others on indoor and outdoor laser tag. We are always looking for professional distribution channels who want to represent and service our product. So if any of your readers are interested in distributing our product range contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Our first line of support comes direct from the regional distributors. They deliver and install our products, and then perform the exchange of damaged or faulty goods.
We believe the business of laser tag is a corner stone of any entertainment center. But it is no longer a stand alone attraction (in most countries). The old franchise model is dead. The reason for most training programmes was that this franchise method was employed by many late Laser tag companies, and even a few still distributing today. There is inexpensive and free advice available for operators on the internet and from publications. There are a number of unbiased operator associations that publish general and specific information on ‘how to’ for new and existing operators. Therefore, we see limited value in reinvent the excellent work these organisations perform.
One thorn in the flesh of this industry is that there are still a few biased ‘Laser Tag specific associations, newsletters and pamphlets’ which are really ‘marketing organs’ for specific manufacturers (wolves in sheep’s clothing). These companies do not do the industry any favours as they spread biased statements and seek to steer, under the disguise of ‘education programmes’ and literature, potential buyers into their products. We have always chosen to take a higher ground and attract customers through our market reputation, innovation, reliability and most importantly motivated distribution network.
If our equipment “does what it says on the box - and it does it for a fair price” - that is what operators need and expect. All VEQTOR equipment comes with operational and technical instructions. We also provide within our web sites VIP area (for existing licensed operators) proprietary forms, manuals, and training videos. This way product knowledge can be at our customers finger tips when they need it.
TRUTNEE: - What are your plans for the future: will we see another "revolution" soon?
VEQTOR: - We here at VEQTOR UK, our sister teams at VEQTOR USA and the head office at VEQTORIAN would hope that our continued Research and Development activity will yield new and exciting extensions to the VEQTOR product line. One such extension is the recent integration between our legacy XBlaster and the PAQ. We will give TRUTNEE LaserTag Portal a market exclusive within this interview that VEQTOR has just finished new software set that will make its XBlaster customers able to add a wireless PAQ to their system. This give an exciting upgrade path for the over 800 XBlaster sold over the last 4 years the opportunity to add wireless PAQ body armour onto the XBlaster systems - WOW!
VEQTOR’s corporate credo is “Vis cum Cursus - Force with Direction” - for Laser Tag we seek to keep our operators VEQTOR investment alive and flourishing!
TRUTNEE: - Thank you for your answers!
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