:: AN INTERVIEW WITH DOUG WILLEMS (DELTA STRIKE) ::
TRUTNEE: - Let's do a brief survey of your Company's history: as far as I know, many years ago (i.e., in 1985) you were involved in operating Laser Strike arena. In 2003 you developed a new version of that equipment. And than, in 2004, you decided to start your own business. They say, at that time you received a grant of some kind from the side of Government of New Zealand. Is it true? If 'yes', can we say that laser tag industry is governmentally supported in New Zealand?
DELTA STRIKE: - I bought a Laser Tag Business in 2002. It was called LASER STRIKE. The equipment was at the end of its life, 20 years old and incredibly unreliable (still using analogue technology) The batteries weighed about 2kg – it was a real work-out using that equipment :)
I decided to build my own equipment – being an electronic engineer, I thought it would take me about 18 months to build. I contracted another engineer – David Lowe – a younger (cleverer) engineer than me. It took us 4 years and 5 times the budget I expected. We managed to get a $60,000 technology grant from our New Zealand government – looking back at that now, that was a drop in the bucket considering the total cost, still it all counted.
TRUTNEE: - How many laser tag arenas worldwide are using Delta Strike equipment at present?
DELTA STRIKE: - As the new kids on the laser tag block, we currently have 11 Arena’s arenas around the world.
TRUTNEE: - Phaser: I guess Delta Strike phasor is the only one in the laser tag industry equipped with both rear and forward facing speakers. A very bright idea, I should say. But how powerful these forward speakers are? Laser tag maze is rather a noisy place, you know...
DELTA STRIKE: - Yes, Laser Tag places are very noisy, and some manufacturers have attempted to get around this by providing shoulder speakers. However these have always sounded very shrill.
Additionally, if they were too loud, the player couldn’t move the speakers away from their ears.
With two speakers on the phasor, we wanted a very powerful forward facing speaker which would project the sound of the weapon forward to players being tagged. This speaker also provides vibration of the shot as it is being fired. A wanted a communication speaker facing toward the player on a different audio channel – to provide the player with gaming messages during the game. From the feedback we get, this has worked out fantastic.
TRUTNEE: - Another distinctive feature of Delta Strike phasor are four additional buttons. What are they used for?
DELTA STRIKE: - Either of the two front buttons are held down for the phasor trigger button to work. This is pretty standard for most laser tag guns – we have one on each side to cater for left or right handed people.
The back right button is used to change weapons.
The back left button is programmable depending on the game you are playing. For instance, it’s not used for the default game, to keep the game simple. For more advanced games, it can be used for other things, like the game score, selecting extra game powers etc.
TRUTNEE: - I am positively sure that your phasor is the only one indoor laser tag phaser to be equipped with a sight. As it is said at your web-page, the sight can be used for line-of-sight aiming when not using the laser. What's the idea of this - why shouldn't player use the laser?
DELTA STRIKE: - Interestingly, this feature has received more positive feedback from the players than we expected. The line of sight channel on the top of the gun allows players to line up their shots quietly – without having to pull the trigger. But the real interest is… people just love to look down site of the phasor gun - when they 1st put their guns on, it’s the first thing most of them do!
TRUTNEE: - Vest: why using leather vest instead of the so common synthetic-based materials? I think, leather is more expensive than plastic. So, is leather vest really worth paying extra money for it?
DELTA STRIKE: - The leather has worked fantastic. I remember when I first bought Laser Strike – we had the 20 year old equipment. Every time a game would end we helped people put the guns back on the rack, the equipment really smelt of old sweat, it was pretty gross. Well we talked to a lot of material suppliers and found out that leather inherently prevents this. Because leather is treated with tannin, it kills the bacteria that cause the smell, and this works incredibly well. Another advantage is that leather looks better as it ages – take a look at any old flight jacket.
TRUTNEE: - Available team colors (team illumination) are 'red, green, blue, magenta, gold and silver' (as it said at your web-page). Everything is clear with the four 'simple' colors, but how can you produce gold and silver colors with the help of LEDs? Or, 'yellow' and 'white' colors are meant?
DELTA STRIKE: - Yes, lol, Dave and I had fun naming the colors. We wanted more than your four primary colors and we also wanted the colors to sound cool. Magenta is a vivid purple color, Gold is a vivid orange. The silver is white with a very slight blue tint to it. (I wouldn’t create a game with one team white and one silver team – the colors would be too easily confused)
TRUTNEE: - The control station ('base') looks marvelous! How big is it - what are the dimensions?
DELTA STRIKE: - Yes, I will shamelessly say, our control stations are not only the “prettiest” on the market – they also have the most features. The control stations are about 1.1m high by 0.8m wide.
TRUTNEE: - The Light Columns: looks like another unique feature of Delta Strike system. Can you please present a more detailed information:
- what is the size of a light column,
- what material it is made of and
- how durable is it?
DELTA STRIKE: - When illuminated, light columns are also very bright and intense – we sometimes refer to them as light crystals since the have a similar surface scratching. They are made of acrylic plastic and are just over a foot long by 80mm wide and 20mm thick.
TRUTNEE: - Computer equipment: in case of the PC's failure, the operator can use the back-up PC or the remote control. And if the remote control fails - phaser packs can be operated in 'safe mode' where they can function independently of either PC or the remote control. Can you please give a more detailed description of this feature?
DELTA STRIKE: - Actually we have now changed the computer system design so only one computer is required. It goes like this… If the computer breaks down for a short time, the guns keep on functioning and store all the game data within their own memory. When the computer is functional again, all the data is loaded straight back to the main PC and the players still get a score sheet – they would have been totally unaware of any problems – this works great even if the main computer is re-booted.
Next, if the main computer goes down all together, then the guns can be operated just with the remote control – stop, start, reset, change color, etc. We recommend two remotes just in case one remote also fails. Additionally if the remotes don’t work, the PC can still operate the games
Lastly, if the almost impossible chance occurs that both the PC and the remotes don’t work – the guns can be booted up under a “Independent Play” mode where each phaser gun is set to a non-changeable team color.
TRUTNEE: - Your default game settings are configured so that it takes about three quick hits to tag another player (yet, in some situations operators may decide to reduce this back to 'the good old-fashioned One Shot - One Tag' system). What are the advantages of this 'three hits' system? Do the players like this idea?
DELTA STRIKE: - The three hit idea came from the computer games we played - kind of a shield or health feature used in most of these games
Actually, we implemented the three hit system into my laser tag business a number of year ago and an experiment we then disabled the feature a few weeks later to see if people would say anything - almost all the players complained…and loudly! We change back to the three hit system immediately.
TRUTNEE: - What are the other programmable features and game modes used in your system?
DELTA STRIKE: - I’ll be a little brief on this subject since this could take a number of pages to detail…
Game Modes: We have ten standard games we provide with a system. Operators can create their own games, adapt the current games or clone games to creat new games. Programmable game features: To name a few, During game play players can pick up weapons and special powers from the control stations, have messages sent to their guns, control stations can change functions completely depending on the game etc etc.
TRUTNEE: - Membership features: it is said, that Delta Strike members (= regular players, am I right?) are able to create and develop their own personal 'character' by earning points during the game play, and then using these points to equip themselves with exciting upgrades and weapons. Can you explain this? What are these upgrades and what types of 'weapons' can they chose? Looks like the more player plays, the more powerful his phaser gets, am I right? From the point of view of new players, doesn't this look like a little bit unfair?
DELTA STRIKE: - Here’s how the membership works:
• A member becomes a member by buying a special electronic tag. With this tag they can log-in to any gun.
• During game play, they accumulate membership points which are logged in against their membership character.
• Later the player goes to a membership computer in the foyer. They can log-in to their membership and they will see all the points that have accumulated from their previous games. They can also configure their membership character by attaching special weapons as well as special upgrades.
• The beauty here is that the next time they play, these weapons and upgrades will be available to them on the phasor gun they log-in to
It works really well since it provides regular players with a lot of game depth – it keeps them wanting to come back…
Like you mentioned above, what happens if the members become too powerful…
The solution: With the membership feature, we had to be really careful - we didn’t want the members to become too powerful compared to the standard players. To do this we created a feature where during the standard default games, members can still log-in and they can still accumulate points but that’s it – they are not able to use their extra powers and extra weapons, they are only able to use these during the member’s games. This also encourages members to come during the quieter times of the weeks where operators can organize special member games
TRUTNEE: - What unique features of your system you're especially proud of? And what are the features your system's operators like most of all?
DELTA STRIKE: - Our systems operators have different favorite features - depending on if the are an FEC, standalone or mobile set-up…
FEC operators: love our quick turn-around time – (One centre is operating a three minute turn-around) – providing more games per hour which in turn mean more income per day. FEC’s also love the automated arena features – we have game messages announced through out the game like which team is winning and who has the highest score – this is all done automatically. It provides a Disney attraction feeling to the game play
Stand-alone Centers: tend to love the membership. Membership really encourages repeat business (and therefore more income). Another feature they like is the interactive arena features
Portable Laser Tag Operators love the speed and ease of putting games through without the need for a computer. As well as the score at the end of the game… as well as the continuous play mode
Personally I think our Laser Tag systems best feature is its income earning capability. We designed the whole system with one main intention – to maximize the operators earning potential. This has been achieved through many different features.
TRUTNEE: - A 'bad' question. Being a rather complicated equipment, every laser tag systems may fail and malfunction from time to time. Can you please tell what are the typical technical claims of Delta Strike operators? How much time it usually takes you to solve such problems?
DELTA STRIKE: - We have a fantastic back-up service for our current clients because we use a lot of technology based communications like Skype. If customers have a problem, we can basically be there for them straight away through audio/video communication over the internet – we set that all up when we install a system.
TRUTNEE: - Wireless programming: Delta Strike phasers can be completely reprogrammed through their wireless modules, eliminating the need to open the phaser every time a software upgrade is provided. How often do you release software upgrades and do you sell them or distribute for free?
DELTA STRIKE: - These upgrades come every 3 to 6 months and most are free. Others are charged are the 1st three years.
TRUTNEE: - As an additional option you offer reload/recharge stations. How do they look like? How popular are they?
DELTA STRIKE: - These are about the size of a packet of matches and players are able to shoot them during the game. They can provide extra points, or weapons and upgrades – depending on what games being played.
In terms of popularity - yes – very much so, almost all systems ship with these nowadays.
TRUTNEE: - 'Systems - Free!' program: Delta Strike buyers have free access to a wide range of system documents specifically designed for the laser tag industry, among which are (but not limited to!): vesting speech, quotation letters, birthday party shopping list, phone messages sample form, etc. Looks really great! Yet, for an English-speaking operator only. If the operator is doing business, say, in Russia - he/she won't be able to use these samples due to the language difference. Alas, when buying Delta Strike equipment he/she pays probably the same money, as English speaking operators do... So, the non-English speaking operator may feel a little bit discriminated... Probably, taking into consideration the mentioned above, it could be a good idea to provide him/her with some kind of special discount?
DELTA STRIKE: - I agree! We like to establish a good working relationship with all of our potential customers. After determining their requirements and their specific situation, we provide the best price we can.
TRUTNEE: - By the way, can you please quote a standard average price for your system?
DELTA STRIKE: - Actually that is a very common question. Any one can now get price estimations from our website www.deltastrike.net; There is a “reports” page which provides for prices, as well as providing a lot of other free information.
TRUTNEE: - What are your plans for the future: are you going to present some new unique features soon?
DELTA STRIKE: - Over the last six months we have completed our INTERACTIVE ARENA functionality. This is the Disney type experience I mentioned earlier on. Most of our current operators having upgraded to this and we are getting really positive feedback.
Even more recently, we finished our CRM database feature. This enables operators to create a database of members and players who play at there site. From there the operator they can mass email or mass mail letters to specific targeted players on their database. It's working fantastic.
TRUTNEE: - Thank you for your answers!
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