Lasertag founder George Carter talks about his sequel Tzuum

You may have heard of Laser Tag, and if you’ve been attending local Dallas area startup events religiously over the last couple of years, you might have been lucky enough to run into the inventor of Photon, the first version of laser tag, George Carter.

Carter’s game that introduced the world to laser tag debuted in 1984, but he is crashing back into the scene working once again with a new augmented reality competitive combat and strategy mobile game called Tzuum, currently in development for iOS.

LaunchDFW recently had the opportunity to sit down with him near our downtown offices and learn about his new project (which he’s alluded to in press interactions over the last two or three years, but not announced officially until this weekend, via a brief teaser video on his Facebook page).

For Carter, Tzuum is the culmination of the idea he had for laser tag four decades ago and is once again breaking boundaries and changing the gaming landscape.

Carter first envisioned laser tag while watching Star Wars in the theater in 1977 but it would take a handful of years before the technology caught up to the demands of the idea.  By the early 1980s technology had started to catch up to Carter’s imagination, and they went on to create a game that was really cutting edge and looked like something that had come straight out of science fiction.

Carter has always been an inventor and a businessman.  When Star Wars came out, he was running a go-cart track in Las Vegas and already had amassed a lot of experience in the amusement business.  Watching Star Wars Carter could see what a great game it would be if there was a mechanism to keep score and make rules with players able to shoot lasers at each other; like an advanced version of the cops and robbers game young children play.  Just without the fights about who got who and who won and lost.

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Photon left no room for argument because a computer kept track of the score using multiple sensors and emitters.  When the first Photon arena opened in Dallas in 1984 the response was immediate and the game was a hit.  Looking back, in 2016 the technology used in 1984 is outdated and ancient.  Over the many years since the introduction of laser tag there have been some improvements made but even if the vests are slightly less clunky, the technology is only workable in controlled environment, something that increasingly limits the audience of today’s more demanding interactive entertainment consumers.

Tzuum, his current project, is the next generation of laser tag using a handheld computer that nearly everyone already owns–their smartphone; which is already capable of outperforming the old laser tag system that has been around for more than three decades.

One of the stories Carter is fond of conveying to describe laser tag is that it’s simply the old make-believe game of cops and robbers kids play all the time, with scoring and technology introduced to the mix. As far ahead of cops and robbers as laser tag itself is, Tzuum is as much of a leap forward from Photon.

“It’s a completely different technology than has ever been used for laser tag,” said Carter. “It works on the orientation sensors and the GPS in the phone. It’s called geo-pairing, which is a concept that the military developed probably about 10 years ago.”

Tzuum is the spiritual successor to Photon, but instead of wearing a heavy gear pack, the smartphone is the gun, the map, the scoring system, and the communication tool.  Using GPS technology and the magnetometer in the mobile device, the system updates each player’s location twice a second offering up to the second accuracy of location. The phone has replaced all of the equipment and thanks to the capabilities of mobile devices it is possible for the game to become even better.

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Carter is also very adamant that his audio-first approach to Augmented Reality is a more intelligent approach to AR than the visual-first approach taken by most of the industry.

“The eye forgives what the ear does not,” said Carter. “If you can create a polished aural experience, it will cover a multitude of sins in any other part of any type of interaction in the entertainment experience.

George made audio work a centerpiece of the original Photon experience, and plans to do the same with Tzuum.

“You can make the audio emanate from high and to the right, or low and to the left, that sort of thing,” said Carter. “Speaking of development in augmented reality and audio, there’s something called binaural recording, which is great, because it gives true three-dimensional sound.”

To play Tzuum there is no special equipment needed (other than a iPhone and a headset), but there will be the creation of special weapon mods (that he prefers to call a “pistol grip iPhone case”) that allow for the phone to be held like a pistol that will also protect the mobile phone from accidental damage.  While Tzuum appears to be a modern update of laser tag it is so much more.  Tzuum is a strategy game, involving territory control and defense with features like a personal shield that prevents the player from taking or receiving damage and other tools such as being able to call in a drone strike and other weapons and tools.

Photon was the world’s first experience playing in a videogame, and Tzuum is the next progression of laser tag. No longer is there the requirement to play within an arena, as Tzuum is meant to be played outside. With Tzuum, there is the ability to set bases, set enemy and friendly lines, set minefield all through the GPS capabilities of the software and the iPhone.   Instead of helmets piping in loud music players wear earbuds, and they hear a soundtrack with the game music but the player also will hear the flyby of a missed shot in their ear.

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[Editor’s Note: Feature image credit to Roger Wilco, reused under Creative Commons BY-SA. Other art courtesy George Carter. -mrh]

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