:: AN INTERVIEW WITH REPRESENTATIVE OF FRAGTAG, MANUFACTURER OF ELECTRONICS FOR OUTDOOR LASER TAGS – Mr. GREG SMITH ::
(Please, Read more » about FragTag)
TRUTNEE: - As I understand, being a manufacturer of electronic laser tag components, FragTag sells the products not only to commercial laser tag facilities but to individual enthusiasts (commonly known here as Home Style LaserTag players) as well. But what category is your basic customer belongs to - is he/she an individual or a commercial operator?
FRAGTAG: - Currently the majority of our gear is going to commercial fields. We do get quite a number of smaller orders from individuals and non-commercial groups, but most is going to either upgrade existing fields, establish new fields or to manufacturers who are either now or in the future producing their own complete guns.
TRUTNEE: - Producing electronic components, why not to offer to your customers a finished product, i.e. a phasor as a ready-made product? Doesn't such approach limit the range of your customers?
FRAGTAG: - Making our own complete taggers is a project that we currently have in development. We've shown a few proof of concept devices to select customers and received some great feedback.
TRUTNEE: - As far as I understand, one of the key features that make your equipment unique is variable damage (Note for our readers: variable damage is a system where some virtual "bullets" from a tag gun are programmed to do more damage to the player you hit than the others; this is intended to more closely model a real firearms). Frankly speaking I think this probably makes your equipment second to none within outdoor laser tag systems, and even positioning FragTag at some intermediate stage between commercial laser tag systems and military laser based combat simulators... Can you please briefly explain this feature and the technologies it is achieved with?
FRAGTAG: - Variable damage allows us to create weapon configurations that create a great variety of game play. Many of our competitors systems have the same fire rate for all guns and no variable damage, which means that you really can't do a proper Sniper or Heavy Machine Gun or similar high powered weapons and maintain balanced game play. The best you can do with that kind of system is make it big and heavy and maybe stick a Scope on top, but with a variable damage system we can adjust the damage to give balanced game play. For example, we have a Sniper config that can only fire 1 round every 2 seconds (simulating a bolt action rifle) yet does 30 points of damage, 3 times more than that of a Submachine gun. The low fire rate is compensated for by the higher damage.
Or, we can create a Heavy Machine Gun that is very powerful and gives the players true fear as they know they will not last long if they attack it in an inappropriate manner. This is the same approach used by modern First Person Shooter video games like CounterStrike and Battlefield 2.
As far as technology behind it, there are two aspects:
a) our infrared protocol sends actual meaningful data bytes through the air, not just simple pulses. We transmit and receive coded numerical values.
b) we have a "weapon library" in the code that has a selection of weapon configuration presets (about 20 at the time of writing.) We have this divided up into "player carried" weapons, and "Emplaced" weapons. The Player carried weapons cover the common weapon types that a player would carry during the game such as Pistols, Submachine Guns, Assault Rifles, Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, Squad Automatic Weapons, and Grenade Launchers.
The emplaced weapons are much higher powered and intended for fixed installations or special scenario play. This library has Rocket Propelled Grenade, Light Machine Guns, Heavy Machine Guns, Rotary Canons, and 50 cal Sniper Rifle. Each configuration in the player carried library is carefully balanced in terms of damage, fire rate, and ammo to ensure that no one weapon is substantially overpowered, and each brings new variety to game play. The Emplaced weapons are some of the most powerful weapons in the industry, and as such are generally only made available to field owners.
Each mainboard has 2 channels of infrared output, and the weapon library allows the customer to select a secondary weapon to go with the primary one e.g. you can select an Assault Rifle with an underslung M203 grenade launcher, or a Sniper with a backup pistol, or dual pistols or whatever.
Some configs even drive both IR channels together to give massive fire rates (up to 800 rounds per minute) without led burnout.
TRUTNEE: - By the way, what is the maximal and minimal limits of the variable damage feature? I mean, what kind of real weaponry can be modelled with its help?
FRAGTAG: - We can model anything from 1 point of damage up to 100 for normal weapons, and up to 279 points for special cases like Explosives. A player typically starts with 100 points of Health, so this corresponds to 100 hits to tag out the player, up to 1 hit. This fine control allows for tiny damage from radiation, up to high explosives or artillery, and anything in between.
TRUTNEE: - Your equipment is compatible with both main outdoor laser tag protocols - WOW and MilesTag, meaning that it is possible to use it together with any other system. What are the usual impressions of the regular players who used to be accustomed to other systems' phasors and then tried guns equipped with FragTag electronics?
FRAGTAG: - The usual reaction of players who are used to Wow-mode systems is that of suprise. We've had some customers go so far as to immediately refuse to ever play a Wow mode system again! Player's seem to really appreciate the weapon modelling in particular, along with the field accessories like Thors Hammer and the Utility Boxes, as they add a whole new dimension to game play and allow player's to be much more immersed in what’s happening. Scenario play with accessories like Thor's Hammer brings a whole new level of excitement.
TRUTNEE: - Can you please give a brief description of the near miss detection feature?
FRAGTAG: - The Near miss detection feature is an idea that originated from the Military MILES system; its purpose is to inform the player that they are under fire, and should seek immediate cover. In technical terms is triggered when the system knows it was shot at, but for whatever reason it wasn't able to fully recognize the signal (reflected or weak signal etc.) We've had some great fun with it, with things like Sniper hunt games where the Sniper sees someone a long long way off (out of range) but gets impatient and tries to shoot them; the other player gets a near miss and hits the deck hard, panicking and not knowing where the shooter is. These kind of experiences get the heart racing and add great excitement to game play. Its similar to real combat, where if you heard the thud or whiz of a bullet nearby you'd be seeking cover quick smart and trying to determine your next action. Without near miss you wouldn't even know you were being shot at and would continue along until you actually took a hit.
TRUTNEE: - Utility box: it is written at your webpage that it can be programmed to be either a Medic box (i.e., to add health points to a player), or Ammo box (i.e., to add ammo clips to a player), or Respawn box (i.e., to set health and ammo to full). But somewhere further a new definition appears: Engineer's Repair box. What is it - is it another type of Utility box?
FRAGTAG: - The Engineer's box setting ties in with the Emplaced weapons mentioned in above. Emplaced weapons cannot be healed, but instead can be "repaired" by an Engineer if they get damaged. It allows further variety to game play by allowing player's to assume the role of a specialist.
TRUTNEE: - Thor's Hammer, a simulated time bomb device: looks really great, especially "radiation leak" mode. It's true that this device may add new styles of missions and add excitement and variety. By the way, it is stated at your webpage that Thor's Hammer is a "Special order to trusted customers only, due to current political climate". Why? Do you have any official limitations concerning selling these devices to European and American laser tag facilities? And what is the criteria for a customer to be regarded as a trusted one?
FRAGTAG: - With global concerns about Terrorism, we are concerned that Thors Hammer might be misinterpreted by uninformed people that it is some way promoting terrorism or similar acts. The product itself is off course completely safe and no more suited to Terrorism than an Alarm Clock, but we still decided that we would simply request the customer let us know of what commercial field they will use it on. We have no official restrictions as to who and where we can sell it, but simply wanted to play it safe and not be seen to be acting irresponsibly in any way.
A trusted customer is just one that can identify themselves as being affiliated with a commercial field, or in some other cases is known personally to us. In practise we have never had to refuse a sale and the customer's have not had any concerns with this requirement.
TRUTNEE: - Proposed by your Company Proteus upgrade serves to add advanced features (e.g., variable damage, full individual scoring, support for Medic / Ammo / Respawn / Engineer's Repair boxes, full remote configuration, near miss detection, etc.) to BattleFieldSports guns. How do you think, what is the reason for BattleFieldSports not to equip their phasors with these features themselves? May such disregarding be caused by the fact that additional features are not highly demanded by commercial operators and serve the needs of advanced individual players only?
FRAGTAG: - We cannot say for sure why BFS have not implemented such features themselves. We could speculate but that’s not fair on them. We have heard some people claim that these advanced features are only desired by Military Simulations players, but in reality most of our systems are used by the usual Kids during birthday parties and similar. The owners love that they can do timed games and remote configuration, and get a game going very quickly and with little effort, which maximises their profits. Features like individual scoring can tend to more suited to the advanced players, but team scoring is very suitable for all players including the kids. Our philosophy is why target one market segment when you can target both? By making our system advanced yet having some of the advanced features optional (like individual scoring), it can be quickly and easily tailored to suit any group of players, which helps maximise the field's appeal and turnover. It means more work for us to develop a versatile system, but we are happy to do this if it means that our customers can reap the benefits. From a customers point of view, what’s batter: A basic system that keeps only the kids happy, or an advanced one that can keep both the kids AND the advanced players happy?
TRUTNEE: - Odin Master Controller (game Marshall): what unique features does this device has?
FRAGTAG: - The most unique feature of our Odin Master Controller is that it can collect all scores from the players, and then display the rankings directly on the device without the need for a PC. We are not aware of any other system in the industry that can do this (others require a PC to display rankings, or simply don't offer any form of scoring.) This allows an intermediate solution for scoring, more accurate and less time consuming that counting respawns, faster and more convenient than having to go back to a PC. Of course if you want to print score sheets then Odin can be connected to a PC and you can use our FragScore PC application to do this.
Odin is a very powerful product overall that can manage all aspects of game control and setup, from configuring players, to starting and stopping games, respawning, to configuring accessories like the Utility Boxes. We get a lot of feedback about how much the operators and referees love Odin, as it makes there jobs so much more pleasant and easy.
TRUTNEE: - Frankly speaking, being just a marketing guy, I was greatly impressed by your products. Tell me the truth: is really your equipment so perfect, or is it my lack of technical background that prevents me from seeing some hidden imperfections of FragTag products? Do you receive any claims from the side of your customers?
FRAGTAG: - Well, that’s probably a better question for our customers! Of course we fully believe that our system is exceptional in what it can do. We do get a lot of positive feedback from our customers, and if at any time we receive some constructive critism, we do our best to investigate and address it.
Many features in the system came as a direct result from customer feedback (like from Laser Combat Technologies, who really helped us a lot early on and continue to do so.) We don't think its possible to achieve perfection though, and we are always working to enhance and improve where ever we can identify the need, or just take advantage of new technologies.
TRUTNEE: - For a hypothetical person who is neither an engineer nor even a technician, but just is looking forward to open his/her own commercial outdoor laser tag facility, can you suggest what exact components he/she must purchase to equip, say, a 12-players set? What will be the average estimated price for such set?
FRAGTAG: - For a typical 12 player set, the recommended products would be:
- 12 x Mainboards;
- 12 x Sensors;
- 2 x Utility Boxes;
- 1 x Odin;
- 1 x PC interface cable.
Depending on whether the customer wanted sensors in kit form or fully assembled, the cost for that would be between approximately AUD $5000 and AUD $6000 plus shipping (and local taxes for Australian customers). In addition to this, we can also provide cable sets (to save on wiring labour) and optical components like lenses and infrared leds.
The Mainboards can be utilized fully without the Master controller (using key switch menus as per Wow system) so the cost can be spread over time.
TRUTNEE: - XXI century has already brought to laser tag arsenal such fantastic devices as advanced game controllers, time bomb devices, medic and ammo boxes, variable damage feature, etc. Just as a matter of curiosity, what is your vision of the future developments of laser tag technologies? What other technical advances in laser tag shall we expect within the nearest time?
FRAGTAG: - We try not to forward sell our new developments too much as we don't think its fair to tell a customer that something new and exciting is just around the corner, and then make them wait a year or more before they see anything (some other manufacturer's have made claims that have not come to be years after.) That said, we currently have 6 major development projects underway. Some people have had sneak previews of a few of these (at the annual Lazer Storm MilSim event for example) but generally we are keeping pretty quiet on them up until the point where they are fully ready for sale. Some of the projects are enhancements, some are completely new products. As always, we have great respect for our past customers, and wherever possible we make our new developments fully compatible with existing systems in the field. For example, with the addition of a $10 plug in chip the very first production mainboard we ever sold back in 2003 can run the very latest firmware with full functionality.
(C) 2007 TRUTNEE.COM