17 July 2017

FWS Topics: Are Military SF Video Games in Trouble?

In 1977, sci-fi received an earth-shaking boost in popularity and respectability that still echoes on onward even to this day. At the same time, video games technology was emerging as a new favorite pastime fueling a new sector of the economy and industry. These two titans fused together to fulfill the wishes and dreams of sci-fi fans and moviegoers: living the events of their beloved films. By the mid-1980's, fans of Star Wars could embark on the iconic trench run at the Battle of Yavin IV at the joystick of an X-Wing. This is still being recreating to this day with modern computer technology. However, the once promising relationship of sci-fi and video games has fallen on hard times with the failures of Destiny, HALO: 5 Guardians, TitanFall 2, COD: Infinite Warfare, COD: Black Ops III, and the mixed reception of Space Hulk: Deathwing, We fans of military sci-fi are left with a painful question: Are Military Sci-Fi video games in trouble? Let us review the evidence.

The Failure of Destiny 1 and the Rebooted via Destiny 2
There is little doubt that Bungie redeveloped the video game and Military SF landscape with the release of 2001's HALO: Combat Evolved. For a decade, Bungie released HALO games to celebration and massive profit. Then around time of HALO 3, Bungie decided to move on, spin off HALO, and developed an new game/universe to usher in a new era for the company. That game was Destiny and hints of its existence were easter egg'ed in HALO 3: ODST. For years, Bungie and her business partner, Activision, poured half-a-billion dollars into this new game...and then results were mixed at the time of release in 2015 with most scores falling the "6 out of 10" category. HALO it was not in both gameplay, setting, and generating the same like of response among fans and critics. This is did not hurt sales though due to a lack of pre-release reviews by the company's orders and actions. Millions of players and dollars flowed in with Destiny becoming of the biggest games of all time in terms of preorders and sales, especially on the new generation of consoles.  But, mere sales figures did not fully tell the tale of Destiny and its bloody, dark, development.
Prior to the release of the DLC packs, "vanilla Destiny", as it has become known, was a short campaign of a muddled story, and new multiplayer that excited many. If you wanted to know more about the space fantasy-post-apocalypse world of Destiny, you had to dig via in-game cards, videos, and internet sites. For a long-term player of HALO like me, Destiny was a welcomed change and I rather liked it, and I played it continuously for nearly a year on my Xbox One. That is longest I've ever played a game continuously without switching games. After The Taken King, the game became stale and unless you wanted to form a team or battle online, you were basically done until the next DLC save for grinding and random reviews. My involvement in Destiny faded and so did the public. While still profitable, fans and critics lashed out against the lack of in-game explanation, short vanilla Destiny campaign, and need for continued investment by the player to use the game to its full potential.
While it was a success technically, it was bloody one, and Bungie knew that they needed to make a change for the incoming sequel. Now, we know the level of surgery that Bungie performed and it looks like the world of Destiny 1 has been burned to the ground, the lore altered or forgotten, and a new Destiny is being formed right before our eyes. But, is that a good thing? Certainly. Destiny 1 was a mixed bag to us fans of military science fiction, but there was an interesting world to be explored and now many online feel like answers we were promised about the Exo Stranger, the Darkness, and the 9 will not come because Bungie wants to distance their new game and themselves from the issues of Destiny 1.
This means the abandonment, on the surface, of the extensive lore. To me, this is a sign of serious trouble for the company and the long-term future of Destiny. If the second full game fails to solve the issues of the first and attract old and new fans, this universe and its lobbies will grow dark and cold. To me, witnessing the most expensive game in the history be rebooted is cause for concern and is another sign of the trouble that Military SF video games are having.

The Mishandling of the TitanFall Games
Combat Mecha is one of the bedrock technologies and symbols of military science fiction, serving has an instant indicator that "this is the future". Anime and Manga have full realized this connection with works like ROBOTECH, Gundam, Armored Trooper VOTOM, and Fang of the Sun Dougram. In the West, works like Battletech and Exo-Squad would reinforce this concept, that it fueled our imaginations of future warfare. For decades, we fans of Military SF with badass mecha have waited for a video game that would allow us to suit up and fight like we were metal gods of war.
It was hoped by EA and Respawn that TitanFall would capitalize on both the long-term love affair with mecha and online shooters. It helped that the developer had Call of Duty experience. However, there was one fatal flaw sown into the very DNA of the original game: multiplayer only. No single-player campaign at all. This, while fine at the time of launch for some players and the current climate of gaming, would artificially limit the longevity of the game. Much like what the Tyrell Corporation did to the NEXUS-6 Replicants, a limited lifespan to deflate the risk of another off-world revolt, Respawn and EA did to their new IP. Without the benefit of an single-player campaign or even some sort of shared experience like Destiny, TitanFall was sentenced to a limited lifespan, Very limited.
The story of TitanFall could not be effectively total, even as a COD game, and this would limit player involvement and relationship between the game and the players. This hurt sales as well. For players like me that bought their Xbox Ones later and were not on Xbox Live most of the time, TitanFall was not a worthy investment even at 1/2 off. By the time I could have bought the game, the lobbies were becoming empty and I would have to invest in Xbox Live to even play the damn thing. Despite this, the game sold very well, 10 million units, and was a fun mecha-based shooter that generated great reviews.
 The success empowered EA to greenlit Respawn to forge a sequel. Building on the good elements of the original 2014 game and would correct the mistakes, namely constructing an single-player campaign that would allow TitanFall 2 to have a life outside the lobbies and being on the PlayStation 4 as well as the Xbox One and PC. It was hoped by all that TitanFall 2 would be a even bigger success than the first game. But it wasn't. TitanFall 2 was not the success the original game either in terms of day one sales, secondary merchandise, or in the population of the lobbies despite the general good reviews.
Unlike the original game, EA did not invest the same amount of money in advertising/promotion, poor communication that TitanFall 2 would be on the PS4, EA released the game into a feeding frenzy. At around the dame time,  Battlefield 1, Skyrim, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (another future shooter) were all released causing gamers to have to pick-and-choose what shooter to invest in. While firm sales figures were never released by EA, there were bad enough neither Respawn nor EA will comment directly on them, only stating that success can be measured over time and by different standards.
The poor decisions by EA (surprise!) as placed the future of TitanFall into jeopardy with the planned for 3rd game being now in question and the mobile was outright cancelled. The TF2 DLC is said to be incoming...we shall see. All of this is such a pity for such a promising MSF game franchise. TitanFall looked like, in 2014/2015, that it would spawn an live-action TV show, a possible movie, books, toys, comics. Those have not materialized or have been curtailed. The worst part of the "failure" of the TitanFall franchise is that the entire genre of Military SF was impacted via being robbed of an new IP that could have generated a wider experience for us fans of the genre, similar to HALO. Time will tell if TitanFall will survive this storm and EA...hopefully it turns out better than it did for the rebooted Medal of Honor franchise.  

Call of Duty Goes Back to World War II 
There is no doubting the juggernaut that Call of Duty is with $15 billions in sales and 250 million games sold. However, at one time, COD was just another World War II shooter that had not yet unseated the king of the WWII shooters: Medal of Honor. In 2003, when the original game was released on PC, no one had any idea that COD would become a cultural touchstone. In fact, its first shooter on the original Xbox and PS2 was a terrible piece of dog shit. However, by the time of COD III release, the brand was established as well as their domination over MoH. However, in the year that the 3rd WWII themed game was released, 2006, that setting had been exhausted.
There were rumors floating around that Activision would be setting the next COD in Vietnam or Korea or even World War One. None of those came to reality with the next game. Instead, COD would be going into the modern setting with the global War on Terror and the conflicts in the Middle East. It was a earthshaking event in the world of shooter video games. The bar has been rest by COD 4: Modern Warfare and everyone else had to play catchup. Modern Warfare propelled the COD franchise and popularity at a rockets pace with the online lobbies packed with hunters and victims. That only increased with the release of MW2, which many have said was the apex of these games.
The next game was developed by another studio and set new characters into a Cold War/Vietnam world of Black Operations. It was yet another massive success and Black Ops would became a standard of online play (Tomahawk'ed across the map!) However, the stage was set for another issue. With the released of MW3 in 2011, that storyline came to an natural conclusion and developer Infinity Ward to look elsewhere for another world to set the chaos of COD into. That became Ghosts. Treyarch would be the first to set the COD universe into a near-future setting with the release of Black Ops II in 2012. For many, including myself, Black Ops: II would be the apex of the online shooting enviroment of COD with gameplay that kept you returning for more and more digital bloodshed. There was a period of an year that I drank Jack&Coke on Fridays and Saturdays and played Black Ops: II online until the wee hours. Those were good times. With the future setting ventured into by Treyarch, the other studios attached to COD games would follow. This would signal the end of COD as we know it. Then came Ghosts in 2013 by Infinity Ward...and it was the first of the COD games to fail in everything but sales. While the plot was a break from the world set up by Modern Warfare and Black Ops, it was still "America under invasion" scenario with uneven online play that could not hold a candle to Black Ops: II or MW: 3. The game was panned and the lobbies dried up with players leaving for other games and even returning to Black Ops: II.
This was the first blow to the COD franchise and given the "wash-and-repeat" formula of the games and their yearly release schedule, gamers became jagged and burned out. The futuristic setting of the COD games would be pushed by Advanced Warfare, Black Ops: III, and then lastly with Infinite Warfare. That last game has the "honor" of being one of the most disliked videos on the whole of Youtube.com and it was a sure sign that the entire COD empire was heading the wrong direction. With their rival Battlefield going back into the past to World War One, it was clear that it was time to travel back to the past to save the future of COD. This might that the long-held dream of some of us Military Sci-Fi gamers to see COD in the far-future was DOA with the failure of Infinite Warfare. Be careful what you wish for I guess. With it clear that the COD games set in the future a losing venture, the wider world of Military SF games has taken a serious blow in terms of overall popularity and further investment of future warfare games by other developers/publishers.

The Nosedive of Mass Effect: Andromeda
In 2007, BioWare released the first game in the best Military SF RPG video game series of all time. Mass Effect forged a new, unique universe packed with beloved characters. For three games and a number of DLCs, the universe of Mass Effect was explored (and probed) that apexed in an end to the galactic cycle of the Reapers that was met by heated fan reaction that forced changes and was a black eye to the 3rd game and the whole series. After the end of the original trilogy in 2013, we fans wondered what, if anything, would happen to the Mass Effect franchise after the end of the galaxy as we know it?
BioWare conducted a poll asking what direction Mass Effect should take with the next game: the past or the future? The past path was to show the First Contact War or go forwards. The fans chose forwards as the path of the future of Mass Effect and the more exploration-centered mission to the Andromeda galaxy was told...with very mixed results that are still being patched. We all know that the latest and possible last Mass Effect video game is a half-baked mess with creepy facial animation that could be enjoyed if these were overlooked and with a cold six-pack. The game is a result of a internal war at BioWare with studios fighting one another. People left, the planetary generation mechanic was scrapped, but the deadline was not. Most of what we got in ME:A was completed in the final nine months prior to release, allowing for little time to test and correct. For such an Triple-A title as this to suffer and stumble via mismanagement, too hard of deadlines, and nosebleed high expectations is heartbreaking and may have cost Mass Effect its life and its status among us players (I am playing ME:A at the moment for the record).

The Uncertain Future of Killzone

Back in 2004, the video game industry was still under the shadow of the success of HALO. With the game being exclusive to the original Xbox console, PlayStation needed their own military SF shooter or "HALO Killer" as the gaming press titled it. This was a common title and theme in the industry at the time and it was challenge to game developers. One such HALO Killer game for the Sony PlayStation came from a Dutch company: Guerrilla Games. Their Military SF first-person shooter featured the arresting imagery of a gas masked black stormtrooper that channeled an "space nazi" feel. This became the cornerstone of the marketing for the game, which excited the gaming public and the gaming press. When the first Killzone was released on the PS2 in winter of 2004 it was not the HALO killer that it reported to be. Instead we got a good MSF shooter that was rough around the edges and with a storyline that was buried. Still, the foundation was there and with the success of the first game, Guerrilla Games got on the sequel.
Released on the PS3 in 2009, Killzone 2 would see the ISA invade Halghan to put an end to the threat. It was the high mark for the entire franchise with the best sales and ratings along with a damn cool teaser trailer. After this, the entire franchise entered into a plateau with the 3rd game in the original trilogy being well received...but, Guerrilla Games had written themselves into a corner with the end of the planet Halghast and it showed in Cold War Berlin setting of the fourth game: Killzone: Shadow Fall. 
While the game was praised for its beauty, it failed to excite beyond the base nor create anything new. The game sold 2.1 million copies, making it one of the best selling games on the PS4, but for some reason, the passion for the Killzone franchise was simply not there and there was not the generation of an secondary market of goods as we have seen with other gaming franchises. The developer, Guerrilla Games, moved on to develop the PS4 exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn, but they stated in early 2017, that they will indeed return to the Killzone universe soon. We shall see if the fifth major game in the series will finally break through to be the wider success of other military sci-fi shooters.

The Shit Show that was ALIENS: Colonial Marines
With 1986's ALIENS being the best military SF movie of all time and having one of the best hostile alien enemies, translating the dark sci-fi world of the ALIENS universe into a video game has been a goal of 20th Century Fox and the video game industry. Despite many attempts, all of fans of MSF and ALIENS still wanted an solid military sci-fi shooter based on the United States Colonial Marine Corps. Since 2001, Sega has been attempting to develop just that: an shooter based in the ALIENS universe using the Colonial Marines as characters. After a bloody long development we finally got an impressive demo at E3 with the Gearbox CEO that took us back to the colony site on LV426 in 2011.
We had high hope...we were fools. When the "game" was released in 2013, it was a half-baked mess that completely shit the bed and broken all of the promises it made. It was so bad that day one reviews prevented people like me from buying it. While there have been some improvements made via patches and some fun to be had in the multiplayer and the "Status Interrupted" DLC, it is still a black mark on the world of Military SF games and the collective memory of us fans. After all, these studios and the publishers soiled the good name of ALIENS and the Colonial Marines in the same game and that level of emotional trauma will take time to heal. This is all in conjunction with the box office failure of ALIEN: Covenant means that the ALIENS might be put back into hyper-sleep. Maybe in 57 years...maybe.

So...Are They in Trouble?
Yes, I do believe that the wider world of military science fiction games are in trouble if things do not change. It seems that every major Military SF video game franchise has been battered and bruised in the last few years with the release of games that were not ready to leave the nest. But, that is not just limited to our beloved specific genre of sci-fi...the inflection has spread much deeper. It is also concerning the entire video game industry as a whole. Some believe that we are the edge of another video game crash as we were in 1982. Will 2018 be the same as 1983, where the whole of the video game industry crashed only to be rebuilt again in 1986 with the NES? We can only hope that the video game community and industry are aware of the similar conditions that this pothole can be avoided...it is not too late...yet.

The Real Enemy: Video Game Companies Themselves
After reading over the common failures of these Military Sci-Fi games, I've arrived a one major underlying issues: the video game publishers and the studios themselves. Most of the games on this list had all of the right pieces in place, but they are assembled in a such hurry and rushed out to meet some deadline imposed by the publisher for the game to generate a profile that were broken, unpolished, or cut to create a DLC pack to finish the original game for more cash. However, that business strategy has badly backfired to the point that it could jeopardize the entire industry and bring about another Video Game Crash. What the video game companies have done is break the bonds of trust. Trust is at the heart of business, not greed. We, the customers, have to trust that the products being advertised is worth of our money and time. When they release a half-baked game that could have been great, these companies erode the trust that we the consumers have placed in their brand and this has led to the shelving of Mass Effect by EA and Call of Duty going back to World War II. There is no better example that HALO 5: Guardians and the recent COD games.
When a video game franchise has forged a foundation based on solid games that were worthy of our invest in time and money, it has dutifully earned our love and trust. That love and trust can be used against us, as we have seen with the recent HALO games. These companies traded on the good name of their franchise to push out an product that is NOT of the same caliber as the others, and while they got their money from us, they crack the bedrock of trust. There comes a time when those half-baked games cause us to hesitate at the time of release when prior we would have gladly forked over our money. Pain is always a good reminder. These are some of the most trusted, profitable, and respected video game franchises of the 21st century, and via the mismanagement of the recent games, many of us will not pre-order the game or buy it on day one. We will wait to see if the game has earned our hard earned money. It doesn't fucking help that these companies milk the consumers with DLCs and in-game purchases more than Thufir Hawat had to do to that creepy pasta Harkonnen cat-and-in-mouse-in-a-box (I'm looking at you Destiny!). Video game companies and developers need to understand that our patience is running thin and time is running out. Video games cannot be viewed as a vehicle for short-term monetary gain, they are important to us and if that fact is not respected by the companies creating and releasing them, we will be a crisis point.

Next Time on FWS...
For many years, FWS was a smooth operation with blogposts leaving the nest often and my life was relatively stable and okay. Over the last few years, my life has grown more complex and painful...and 2017 is some of the most bloody. With the selling of my house, my family will be moving into a rental house in the next three weeks, coupled with trying to find another job in the middle of this latest storm. Thus, making the next blogpost a bottom priority. I am hoping to get the next blogpost about the 10 most influential Military SF works out quickly before the chaos. Fingers crossed!

12 July 2017

7th Anniversary of Future War Stories!

It is that time again when FWS celebrates another year of being active and kickin'. This year has been one of the hardest for me personally and that has reflected in the work output of FWS. Seriously, there have been dark times. I moved to Austin without my family, traveled around the nation opening medical clinics for my new/old company, and tried to support my wife has she took care of our three kids. I've never missed my family so much or felt more alone. While this was going on, our foster daughter returned to us four months ago was an answer to our hopes, the stress of moving and selling our house has been extreme. In the middle of all this, I've been attempting to keep FWS going and it was not always successful. I've been terrible at returning messages and emails, and I think I've alienated some fans and business partners. For that, I am truly sorry. This has been the worst of times and some of my life is still up in the air with the fact that lost my job during my writing of this. blogpost. That's right. The job I moved down to Austin to take fired me for lame causes. I guess It doesn't matter anyways, I wasn't happy in Austin and I missed home. FWS and my family will be staying in the Dallas area! I'm back and I'm staying! Anyways, thanks to everyone that reads, comments, and shares...you make FWS live and breath. I am grateful to all of you and I hope that we celebrate many more FWS anniversaries! Now back to writing the next military science fiction masterpiece..and trying to find a job. Kill me now.

29 June 2017

FWS Military Sci-Fi Oddities: SPACE RANGERS (CBS 1993)


Back in the early 1990's, science fiction exploded on the American airwaves like a supernova propelled by programs like The X-Files, ST: TNG, and Deep Space 9; along with increased public interest in anime. As with any trend, the major American networks attempted to cash in on the popularity and get onboard with the winning team. CBS always seemed like an "Me too!"American network of late, and they did the same with the sci-fi trend with their own early 1990's entry: Space Rangers. This military sci-fi oddity came and went in the space of a few episode and was largely unknown by many, including me at the time. It was only after running across a list of very short-lived TV shows on WatchMojo on YouTube that I learned of Space Rangers. I originally was only going to mention this one on a Top 10 list, but after some of the responses and enjoy I had writing the FWS article on The Osiris Chronicles, I decided it was high time to give Space Rangers an full Military Sc-Fi Oddities article and take its forgotten, but oddball, place in Military Sci-Fi history here on FWS.    

What the Hell was Space Rangers?!
This very short-lived 1993 military SF/Space western television show ran for four episodes on CBS out of six that were produced with the filming of the pilot "Fort Hope" taking place in April of 1992 and the show airing in January of 1993. It was developed and created by Pem Densham (the pilot was co-created with Jay Roach) for the production company Trilogy Entertainment Group. This relationship between the two had forged films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Backdraft. Pem actually pitched Space Rangers among three other pilots at one meeting with Trilogy Entertainment. Space Rangers was the show funded to pilot. Production on the pilot was briefly halted due to the Rodney King Riots in LA. The majority of the cast were unknown, however, three of the show's stars where known prior to their enlistment in the Space Ranger Corps. Linda Hunt is well known today for her starring role on the CBS show of NCIS: Los Angeles, but many of us know her due to her role in the 1984 DUNE  film as the "Shadout Mapes". The role of the proud alien warrior was played by Japanese actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who many knew from the film Rising Sun in the role of Eddie. The pilot of the Space Ranger sling FTL vessel was Marjorie Monaghan, who played a Mars Resistance leader in Babylon 5 last season and was up for the role of T'Pol in ST: Enterprise. 
The creator of the show, Pem Densham was taking a more realistic, rock-n-roll approach to sci-fi television over the vision of Star Trek. He said that he wanted his show to be an adventure-centered show with things happening than just talk and meetings. Several actors would call Space Rangers more "blue collar" than TrekSpace Rangers would draw from a familiar concept in sci-fi: the blending of historical frontier law enforcement officers with "Wild West" sci-fi angle. These "space rangers" have endured since the early days of science fiction and the overall concept of "space rangers" has been recycled time after time. The term "space rangers" is as bedrock, generic,  and overused as "space marines", laser blasters, faster-than-light travel, and killer robots. Growing up in the 1980's, I would see the space rangers concept used in the Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, and Bravestarr. It was seen in a 1988 comic book by the same name and relativity concepts and there is even a current kid cartoon running under the name Space Ranger Roger along with the short-lived 1954 kid's Black-&-White kid's show called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. This means that this 1993 show was well rooted in traditional sci-fi themes and ideas, but that did not seem to matter to the network nor the viewers when Space Rangers premiered on January 13th, 1993.

The Plot and Universe of Space Rangers
The year is 2104 and humanity has begun a period of colonial expansion that causes a gap between the central and the frontier systems. In addition, we are not alone. Other aliens races and humans ban together to form a law enforcement/peacekeeping organization, called "the Space Ranger Corps". They are based on frontier outposts and patrol in "sling-ships" that use acceleration rings to propel them to light speeds without taxing the fuel tanks while getting the small teams of Rangers out to the latest interplanetary crisis. The series follows only one such team led by experienced Space Ranger Captain John Boon (who is heavily channeling Sonny Crockett!) and based out of Fort Hope on the newly established world of Avalon.
They get out to the frontier via an aging broken down slingship #377 or "Lizzie". Fort Hope is rapid become a place of commerce, relaxation and crime on the frontier. It is here that Boon's team battles for peace on the frontier and at home. This team is composed of an Amazon warrior woman that pilots the ship, an rookie, an mechanic that lost body parts on many worlds and had them replaced via cybernetics, the mad scientist, and the noble/proud alien warrior named Lt. Worf...I mean Zylyn of the Graaka. The main enemies of the Space Rangers are the Banshees that slip into our dimension and are akin to Native American raiders in our Space Western setting here on Space Rangers.
They appear to be an unholy love child of H.R. Giger's creation and are never fully developed. Another enemy is Central Command. Throughout the series, Central battles the Space Ranger Corps over budgets, overtime, logistics, and the role of the Space Rangers. One of the major faults of the show that pertains to this section of the article is the underdeveloped nature of the universe of Space Rangers. While only four episodes aired, there was still no clear direction or unifying concept/vision of the Space Rangers universe, which badly wounded the show and caused viewers to be lost.

What Happened to Space Rangers?
The trouble all started for this forgotten TV show during the filming of the pilot in April of 1992. It was filmed among one of the worst race riots in US history and did not get much better. The original pilot was viewed by the studio, the cast, and the network as weak and it was shelved. Instead, CBS aired episode #2 "Banshees" as the premier in the first week of January of 1993...the same week as the premier of Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Which one do you think sci-fi fans watched? This show could not catch a break and with DS9 premiering, there was just enough oxygen for both. When two of the actors were interviewed by Starlog Magazine in mid-1993, they both spoke about waiting on a final decision on the fate of Space Rangers. That call was made around April or May of 1993 and the show of only six episodes slipped away into forgotten dusty realms of science fiction history. After its demise, the show was released for a time on VHS and later DVD with only a good boxset being released recently as in 2013. But, it did received a interesting second life as a series of television "movies"or as series of three"chronicles" that packaged two episodes to form some sort of unified story. It is worth noting that Space Rangers was received with greater interest in Europe than America.  

Why is Space Rangers an Military SF Oddity?
There four reasons why I assigned Space Rangers to the Military SF Oddity category. First, is that this show actually aired on a major US TV network despite the quality, plotting, themes, and overall style of Space Rangers. It is hard to believe that it was not an syndicated television in a similar vain to Andromeda, Babylon 5, Cleopatra 2525. Instead, this military sci-fi show of uneven writing, low quality SFX, and oddball design was run on one of the Big 4 networks in America: CBS....all be it for 20 days...but still, CBS. That is almost as odd as Max Headroom on ABC. Almost. This is likely due to the timing of when Space Rangers was pitched and accepted by the network can explain some of this. After all, NBC had no less than two sci-fi shows: Earth 2 and SeaQuest DSV, Fox had the X-Files, and there were a number of syndicated sci-fi shows, most notably ST: TNG.
Secondly on the oddity reasoning, is how half-baked the entire universe of Space Rangers really is. You can expect elements of the show to alter between the pilot and it being picked up as a regular series as we saw with Star Trek and Space: Above and Beyond. But Space Rangers was born too premature and it cost it fans and continued production. Science Fiction fans of the time were a custom to filled out sci-fi universes were the events and characters lived. When comes Space Rangers that is still having its universe figures on the fly with scripts being finished as the episode is being filmed. This is reflected in interviews with Starlog when the actors were told by the production staff that things still needed to be ironed out and ad-libbing was acceptable. This is reflected in the design of the alien species, especially the big bad aliens of the series: the Banshees. They are poorly done from top to bottom with the basic design being borrowed from ALIENS. Yawn.
This leads into our third reason: welcome to sci-fi cliche city. With vast issues with fleshing out the universe and stories, Space Rangers liberally mined common sci-fi cliches and tropes to a fatal level. Honestly, there is little originality presented in the four episodes aired that it grimly harms everything and everyone. You can nearly guess the next plot event or dialog due to this and makes the show boring to watch. Hence, why it only lasted four episodes. The last reason for Space Rangers being an oddity is the most sad: howe forgotten it is. Despite the explosion of the informational on the internet, it is very odd and telling how unknown this series is today, even to someone like me. I was a sophomore in high school in 1993 and very much active in watching all science fiction at the time ( I had no life). But this show escaped me.
I literally have no 1993 memories of Space Rangers. It simply came and went without me or anyone else I knew even noticing it. Space Rangers just disappeared off of the collective radar until the age of the internet and those damned lists. That is how I discovered that Space Rangers existed at all via a top 10 list. And it is true that Space Rangers does appears on some websites via articles...there is no internet site devoted to it and there is only one episode on Youtube in English. Hell, the Photon tv show from 1987 has more internet space devoted to it than Space Rangers...and that is just sad. Even locating images for this blogpost was tough and to watch all of the episodes without buying the boxset on Amazon, I had to watch them in German with English subtitles...and I wasn't missing much. Oh, another oddity is that great composer Hans Zimmer created the main theme and that Industrial Light & Magic was approached to handle the special effects. Taking of these reasons together shows how Space Ranger exists in the realm of an military science fiction oddity rather than an forgotten classic.

Could Space Rangers have been saved from the Hangman's Noose Back in 1993?
The first part of that question is answered by a simple review of the entire series: it just isn't that good and too under-baked for its own good with a stupid title to boot (should have called "Fort Hope" instead). There is a great deal of assumptions here, but IF there had been better writing, designed, some recasting, more support from CBS or it being laid out as weekly franchise show like Babylon 5 on PTEN then perhaps Space Rangers could have lasted for longer than just six episodes. The creator of the show agrees with this theory and lays the blame on CBS for the failure of Space Rangers. Pam stated in an interview the network never gave the show a fair chance and aired on the wrong day (Wednesdays) and airing the episode completely out of order (Firefly anyone?) with the pilot being aired last and the second episode being the premier did not help forge fans and or even a cohesive universe of 2104.

The Weapon of the Space Rangers...an old friend
One of the most interesting elements of this 1993 show was the primary weapon of the Space Rangers Corps and it is old favorite of sci-fi prop: the Mini-14 Muzzelite MZ14 Bullpup kit. The Mini-14 and the AC556 were developed by Ruger to chamber the 5.56x45mm round and it was close in appearance to the M14 battle rifle. This "jamless wonder" was used as the blank-firing prop gun in many films and when fitted with Muzzelite MZ14 bullpup kit, it became an instant sci-fi prop classic. This carbine has appeared in Starship Troopers as the Morita, in hands of the Mars troopers Total Recall, also on the grim battlefields of 2029 being used by the human resistance in Terminator 2 as an phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range, as the weapon of DELTA Force operators in Delta Force 2: the Columbian Connection, and even in SeaQuest DSV.
By far the strangest places the Muzzelite bullpup has been seen is in Highlander 2: The Quickening. Yep...it is in there on the planet Zeist. In the X-Files, the Muzzelite was seen being used by "the Blue Berets", the US Government black ops UFO crash recovery teams. Indeed, this gun gets around more Lindsay Lohan after a binder. In Space Rangers, the Muzzelite was fitted with a number of plastic pieces to give it sci-fi look via an micro grenade launcher, a comically oversized tactical light, and an old style gas tube laser sight being used as a optical sight. However, it was not made to fire laser beams, but good ole fashioned bullets. In several interviews I read discussed how much the use of bullet-firing weaponry set Space Rangers apart from the majority of sci-fi at the time and that it angered some fans of the genre that rangers used bullets over beams.

Next Time on FWS....
Video games and military science fiction have enjoyed a close relationship for many years dating back to heady days of arcades and the ATARI...however, it seems that relationship has soured with the failures of several AAA military SF video game titles like TitanFall 2, HALO 5: Guardians, and Mass Effect Andromeda. This begs the questions: are Military Sci-Fi video games in trouble? Join us next time for the answer.

07 June 2017

FWS Military Sci-Fi Toys: The Great Laser War of 1986-1988 (LAZER TAG vs. PHOTON)


Today, in the United States, laser tag is an $700 million dollar-a-year business with over 3,000 locations serving up close quarters battles in darkened arenas with IR beams dancing about as the young and the young-at-heart battle for domination and a good time. In 1977, fellow Texan George Carter witness the power of Star Wars, and the exchange of directed energy bolts fueled the inspiration for a high-tech gaming system that featured invisible "laser" beams and sensors that all upgraded the game of tag into the computer age. This system that George Carter invested years and thousands of dollars became known to entire generation has: Photon: the Ultimate Game on Planet Earth. On March 28th, 1984,  the first dedicated Photon arena center in Dallas, Texas and just six months later, Lazer Zone would follow. By 1986, George Carter's emerging Photon arenas was on its way to become a profitable franchise business opportunity as an home based laser tag came onto the scene of the wider laser tag industry: Worlds of Wonder's sleek system known as Lazer Tag. This set the stage for economic contest for the hearts, minds, and cash of laser tag warriors both young and middle aged broke out between the two system and there could be only one victor in the Christmas 1986 season. This was the Great Laser War of 1986-1988 and it was defining moment of my childhood just as much as the battle of the video game consoles and the bloody Cola Wars. Sit back and let FWS tell you the tale of high adventure and IR laser beams in a time called the 1980's...

Thanks Goes To...
Without these people, this blog article would not have been as complete: Erik Guthrie, the curator of the Laser Tag Museum in Louisville, Kentucky and Laurie Jean of Photon Forever and Tiviachicklovestag.








What Does "Lazer Tag vs. Photon" have to do with Military Sci-Fi?
When you read the genesis stories for the early laser tag systems, there is a common threat: the blaster battles of 1977's Star Wars, that desire to engage in those types of futuristic combat led to the invention of an nearly billion dollar industry here in America. Much like the impact of toys, cartoons, tv shows, movies, and books; these laser tag systems inspirited a new generation of military science fiction creators, like me, and they served as part of their overall experience in becoming an contributor to the wider world of Military SF. This economic contest between Lazer Tag and Photon was a brief moment, but I thought it was worth discussing because it is just damned interesting that two competing laser tag systems duked it out in Christmas of 1986 and I was there, man. This is one of those blogposts I just had to do and so bear with me.

The Historical Context of the Great Laser War of 1986-1988
The idea of using IR beams and IR sensors for upgrading and enhancing the classic game of "tag" and "war" has been around since the 1970's and is not only used in family fun centers and backyards, but also as a Force-on-Force tool for military/law enforcement organizations, like the US Military MILES gear. The general term of this is"laser tag" and generally means that specially coded IR beams are used to trigger IR sensors worn on the body. At times, the "gun" and the sensor are one in the same.  One of the first commercially available laser tag sets were created for Star Trek by Mego and Milton Bradley. When the first Trek film was released in 1979, Milton Bradley, which was incorporating a electronics into toys, they released a electronic phaser set that allowed players to engage in laser tag battles with just the phasers...which served as IR beam emitter and IR sensor. The previous Mego Toys electronic phaser was designed to knock down sensor-targets and came out in 1976.
With the technology being proven and the inspiration being taken from Star Wars blaster battles seen on-screen, three laser tag businesses would open between 1984 and 1985. George Carter III would open the first Photon center in Dallas in March of 1984, another "laser tag" combat center business emerged in Houston called "Star Laser Force" around 1985 and it was one of the largest indoor laser battlefields at the time, then there was "Lazer Zone" that opened in 1984 by Michael & Kim Dragos in Chicago. This company would last for 25 years and is the longest running laser tag business in the USA. While lost to time, Star Laser Force would be a major inspiration for Worlds of Wonder's Lazer Tag system. When the titans of laser tag would face off in the Christmas season of 1986, they were representing a special time in history. The public was embracing the idea of the future and its technology via the Space Shuttle, the VCR, the ATARI 2600, and the personal computer. This ideal of the future and a hope for a bright one populated with cutting edge technology gave companies the foundation to launch more electronic items, especially toys, to the market.
These electronic toys were aimed at people of my generation and I was the prefect age for the time, around 10 when the Great Laser War broke out in 1986. While this historical article will focus on the home market laser tag sets, it was the not the only application of this IR based technology. There were several other toylines during the Great Laser War that made use of the technology, such has the TV-interactive Captain Power and the Soldiers of Tomorrow that used signals from the television show and other toys to have the toy react and interact. Then there was the Space Western cartoon of Bravestarr that sold an copy of the Marshall's "netura laser" sidearm that allowed kids to play a form of laser tag and even activate certain breakaway panels on the playsets. Much like the two sides in the Great Laser War, these toys quickly disappeared.

The Three Sides of the Great Laser War of 1986-1988: Worlds of Wonder, the Photon Arenas, and Entertech

Worlds of Wonder
The goal of Worlds of Wonder (WoW) was to incorporate the latest in consumer electronics into the red hot American toy market of the 1980's. The California-based company was founded in the early 1980's by two former ATARI employees Don Kingsborough, David Smalls, and Ken Forsse. This mission statement was first fulfilled by the company's first big hit and the toy of Christmas of 1985: Teddy Ruxpin. This creepypasta talking animatronic teddy bear was considered a vision of the future, but in reality it was just a expensive lip-syncing fuzzy bear feed by audio cassettes tapes. The line and world of Teddy Ruxpin was expanded by an oddball cartoon and other animatronic friends based off of the cartoon. The technology was applied to other toys, like "Pamela: the living doll". In Christmas of 1986, Worlds of Wonder would reveal their answer to Photon: Lazer Tag. With WoW scoring two Christmas "it toys" in a row, the fortunes and fame of WoW rose quickly...too quickly in fact for its own good. WoW would move on to an much forgotten video game console that used an light gun and the VCR, the Action Max along with an line of electronic infused school supplies. Yeah...that happened.
This was the Class Act school supply line and it was expensive and featured an hard-shell trapper-keeper that was later used in as an futuristic briefcase in the first season of ST:TNG. These were sold in major toy stores, and I can remember them at my local Tulsa Toys R Us. Within this line was a locker answering machine. While Worlds of Wonder was riding high in 1985-1987, the flame that burns twice as bright, burns out twice as quickly...but more on that later. For many of my generation, Worlds of Wonder was one of the iconic toy company of the 80's and is continued to be known by its signature products: Lazer Tag and Teddy Ruxpin.

Entertech and Photon
The story of Photon and its partnership with Entertech is not where the story starts, rather it is where it ends in a way. The idea of Photon was generated by 1977's Star Wars when George Carter III, who was in the Go-Kart business, watched the laser blaster battles, and he wanted that to be reality. In 1981/1982, George and technical engineer James L. Dooley began work on developing an IR based tagging system for a rental-based gaming center where players of all ages came to engage in laser battles on a futuristic arena designed by J.C. Collins. The original investment $50,000 was to design and prototype the laser tag equipment with a later $300,000 infuse of capitol to get the the original arena opened in March of 1984 at 12630 E. Northwest Highway, Suite 300, in Dallas, Texas.
For about $10 you paid for about 10-12 minutes of laser combat, and it was local hit especially after the RNC convention in Dallas in 1984. This led to the business becoming a franchise that would allow new buyers to invest and bring the world of Photon: the Ultimate Game on Planet Earth to their local town. In 1985, the first franchised Photon center was opened in Toronto, Canada. By time of the Great Laser War, there were 45 Photon centers across the US and Canada with 70 franchise licenses sold with sevveral international Photon centers. Birthday parties, corporate events, and even Photon league teams were all bring life to these centers. I personally paid at three centers in three separate states during the Great Laser War. With the success of Photon came the attention of big toy companies. With the rising interest in laser tag gaming system and rumors of Worlds of Wonder's home system, other companies wanted in.
This were the tale of Photon breaks into two different systems and paths: the commercial and the home toy systems. The commercial Photon system was featured and used in the corporate and franchised Photon arenas around the globe. The Photon company was approached by then DiC Entertainment President Andy Heyward after he watched a news program on Photon to gain the license for Photon. At the time, DiC Entertainment was looking to expand their business into more live-action and Photon seemed organic for that and to develop further  spin-off merchandise. DiC would partner with another companies to bring the experience of Photon into the home market through other commercial ventures. It was actually DiC Entertainment that got the toy system into the Tom Hanks movie Big in 1988.
That is where Entertech, the marker of realistic looking battery powered water guns, came into the laser tag business. These water guns were one of the great toy gun lines and I had a few prior to the parentally safety mafia crackdown. Entertech itself was owned by toy giant LJN who is (in)famous today due to their heavy involvement in the video game industry, especially the NES era. LJN at the time was more known for its Advanced D&D figure line and the failed DUNE and E.T. toylines. Later, LJN would score a major victory with The Thundercats toyline. Photon seemed prefect for Entertech and a partnership was founded between the three companies to bring the rental commercial laser tag system to the masses in the form of an home laser tag system for sale at the Christmas of 1986 season complete with other spin-off merchandise and a sci-fi storyline to tie it all together, however, founder of Photon, George Carter thought the partnership with DiC was a mistake because it lowered the age of the demographic he was targeting with the Photon arena centers, young adults and watered down the brand of his laser tag system.

What is Worlds of Wonder's "Lazer Tag"?
From the very conception of Worlds of Wonder's own laser tag system, it was to be an home toy system and not bound for an commercial arena market. It was aimed at the kid toy market and the every aspect of the Lazer Tag toy home system was aimed at that demographic with all manner of accessory and marketing including an Saturday morning cartoon on NBC and one badass commercial that all mined the "story" of Lazer Tag being the ultimate game in the year of 3010. The public would first see Lazer Tag when it was featured on the October 1986 cover of Sharper Image catalog with a female model decked out in Lazer Tag finery. It was an arresting image that signaled the coming of Lazer Tag to the market and under Christmas trees. One of the best elements that set WoW's Lazer Tag apart from rival Entertech Photon home system was the amount of accessories available besides just the base game system. Lazer Tag would come out with a vest, helmet, extra StarSensors, an Starbase, a cap, and even a badass Starlyte Rifle complete with strap! This made, along with the excellent 1980's "futuristic" packaging, Lazer Tag a clear favor among people I knew. It has been claimed by the founder of laser tag and Photon George Carter that WoW people saw Photon at a toy trade show and pattered Lazer Tag after it to direct compete against Photon on the home marker.  I disagree with that given the vast differences between the two systems and how long it would have taken WoW to develop Lazer Tag. Here is an breakdown of the entire Lazer Tag line of accessories.  This will not cover the other lines of Lazer Tag game home systems that came after the original 1986 system.

The Game Kit
Given the mount of accessories sold by Worlds of Wonder for their home laser tag system, there was one gateway product for the easy access and sale of Lazer Tag: the Game Kit. This is how I got Lazer Tag and this how most people did as well. The Game Kit included an StarLyte blaster, an StarSensor, one StarBelt or StarHarness, an Story/Game Rules handout, an blueprint-like care manual for the hardware and an fan club membership form. Each sold for about $50 in 1986 money and not only a nice way to sell it, but to store it. Most of us kept our Lazer Tag gear in the box for storage due to the wonderful design of the Game Kit. This allowed for more of the boxes and original packaging to survive to this day.  It is worth noting that all of the items could be bought separately save for the StarBelt/StarHarness. In 1986, the Game Kit sold for between $44-$50 ($97-$110 today).

The StarLyte Blaster
The piece de resistance of the entire original Lazer Tag toyline was the Starlyte blaster. This sleek futuristic weapon was designed to be an sexy beast and it still one of the best designs of laser tag blasters. This forward IR emitter was fueled by 6 AA batteries that loaded in the rear of the StarLyte and could be aimed via an real red dot electronic sight. The "beam" could be widened or narrowed, and the laser blast sound effect could be muted, if desired. These were sold separated or in the game kit. When the batteries were fresh, the range of the beam was around 80 feet, but this thing eat batteries and they be misaligned. While the production Starlyte blaster was painted in black and red, the sales/manufacturer's examples were painted white and about 20 were known to exist with six still surviving today.

The StarSensor
For any laser tag system, there has to be an IR emitter and IR sensor, and that is the role of the StarSensor. This oddly shaped hexagon device was powered by an 9volt battery and when turned on, it tracked the amount of tags, sent out tag alerts, and emitted an heartbeat like sound through it being on and sped up when the tags mounted. No ninja moves here in Lazer Tag folks. After 6 hits, it alerted everyone on planet Earth that you were "out". The StarSensor could be used for target practice, and attached to the StarBelt, StarHarness, or the StarVest, making it a modular IR sensor due to the large Velcro patch. These were not just sold in the Game Kit, but sold separately for around $19 in 1986 money ($41 today). That will be important later.

The StarBelt, StarVest, and the StarHarness
To hold the StarSensor and the StarLyte while Identifying your team side, there were three methods: the StarBelt, the StarVest, and the StarHarness. In the Game Kit, two versions of the included StarSensor load-bearing equipment were made. One was featured in the original run of the Game Kit and was a belt with an chest slash that an Velcro patch and an holster. This was the one I got in Christmas 1986. It was later altered to an "H" harness that was more secure and not so flimsy. The preferred method of attaching your StarSensor and looking fashionable in 3010 was the StarVest. Featured in nearly all of the commercials, the cartoon, and printed advertisement, this puffy silver vest had the Velcro team identification strips and ability to thread an holster. This was sold in stores like KayBee and Toys R Us and it was the only piece of the Lazer Tag accessory line I owned and I seriously doubt I could get into mine today. The StarVest sold for $17 in 1986 or $37 in today's money.

The StarHat and the StarHelmet
How can it be the future without an space helmet? In the world of 3010, the StarHelmet was the answer to that! For the Lazer Tag line, the StarHelmet and the StarCap served the same purpose: being another tag point with different styles and both feed from an 9volt battery. Both could be worn in place of an chest mounted StarSensor, and unlike Photon, it was optional. Both were know to be more sensitive to incoming IR beams and that they were not very comfortable give the battery compartment. In the promotional photos that featured models wearing the StarHelmet, it had an very cool 80's dark visor. I originally thought as a kid that the helmet did indeed come with an visor. Not so. The StarHelmet sold for $36 in 1986 ($79 in today's money) and the StarCap sold for $19 in 1986 ($41 today)

The StarLtye Pro Blaster Rifle
One of the most revolutionary pieces of equipment developed by WoW for their original Lazer Tag home line was the StarLyte Pro rifle. An honest to god laser tag rifle that had burst fire, an sling, adjustable stock, and was based in style on the sexy StarLyte blaster. There are few home laser tag systems that ever developed an rifle based IR emitter, save for milsim laser tag rental systems. Even the GI JOE Lazer Tag was just an OD blaster. This was not part of the original 1986 release, but was in the planning stages. This is why it is not featured in the original Ridley Scott commercial and the cartoon, and this caused its evolution from being originally painted in black to white, due to the accidental law enforcement shooting over an original Lazer Tag blaster pistol. How few WoW company painted black StarLyte Pro rifles are there? According to Erik Guthrie, the curator of the Laser Tag Museum, around 3 to 8 handmade black StarLyte Pro rifles were made and these differ in small ways to the white production model. The one in the Laser Tag Museum is called "SP8" or "SR8". The commercially sold StarLyte Pro rifles were painted in white and represent the final gasp of the original WoW Lazer Tag home market line.
This StarLyte Pro was an overall improvement to the StarLyte blaster with longer range (up to 300 feet due to a narrow beam and larger "C" batteries), burst fire, red dot electronic scope, and an increased coolness factor. This sold for about $50 when new in 1986 money, which is the same price as the Game Kit, and works out to $109 in today's money! This is often cited as one of the pieces of Lazer Tag gear that many of us lusted over back-in-the-day, but did not own...which includes me. This has led to people to seek them out today to fulfill that childhood wish, but oddly, there does not exist any YouTube videos on the StarLyte Pro rifle, despite some retro video series, like RetroBlasting, devoting an episode to the home market version of Photon and Lazer Tag. One day, I will own one...one sweet day.


The StarBase
One of the most mysterious piece of the original Lazer Tag accessory line was the StarBase, and it often of the pieces of Lazer Tag equipment overlooked. Date of release is under some debate with 1988 and 1987 thrown around, but it was designed to served as game enhancer to the base game play. It could serve as a base for one team, or as an IR beam firing drone that engaged players and raised defensive shielding. It could be set for up to 99 tags and was powered by six "C" batteries. I never say this back in the day nor did I know anyone that did.

The StarTalk
Walkie-Talkies have a part of toylines for sometime, and even Lazer Tag got in on the action with the StarTalk. These futuristic-skinned Walkie-Talkies were sold in a pair for about $10 in 1986 money and bare a resemblance to cellular flip phones of years past with the Lazer Tag colors. These are an item was to enhance the gameplay with coordination. Information is limited and I doubt there is anything revolutionary in the StarTalk. While I saw these on the shelf in the mid-1980's, I never wanted to own them










The StarSlinger
When the original Lazer Tag home market line was released in Christmas of 1986, there was some room for improvement, like the original StarBelt and the original holster. That is where the StarSlinger comes in. It is an upgrade to the original floppy holster that came with the Game Kit, but I never forked over the cash to get one when I would see on the shelves of Toys R Us in Tulsa.









Unreleased: The StarCade and StarStrobe
When Worlds of Wonder went out of business, they were in the process of developing two more target-like system called the StarCade and the StarStrobe. Little is known about these products and they were never released after the demiss of the company. Guesses include an form of an IR emitting grenade to active targeting system. We may never know until the prototypes emerge from the shadows of history.

What was Entertech's "Photon: The Ultimate Game on Planet Earth"?
Once again, it needs to be made clear: the system that Entertech was marketing was an home-based toy system and while the toy Photon system was similar in style to the commercial arena system, they are not the same, as curator Erik Guthrie summing it as: "the difference between an Ferrari and the Hot Wheels copy.". Here is some of the differences between the home and commercial systems. Unlike Lazer Tag, the commercial Photon is a reverse IR system that has the gun be an receiver rather than an emitter of IR beams, as the case with most laser tag gaming systems. This was due to the expensive and optical work that would have been required. The IR emitters were cheaper than the receiver, pennies vs. dollars, and this allowed Photon to be brought to the market for the money available. In addition, the commercial system was fitted with an heavy battery power pack belt that would bring down your pants if not careful and accounted for a great deal of weight. The home system was an traditional IR laser tag system with the pistol being the IR beam emitter or an "forward IR system" and it was powered by an mix of 9 volt and AA batteries. You could not use the Entertech toy system in the arenas against wears of the commercial system. You also had to have an red and green colored set to wage bloodless laser combat...no friendly fire in Photon...unlike like Lazer Tag. This difference in power source created a difference in weight. The commercial system was about 13-15 lbs, while the home system was about 6 lbs. What the home and commercial systems share is a similar look and that all of the pieces of the "Photon warrior system" was linked via cables. This was in deep contrast to WoW's Lazer Tag. All of the LJN/Entertech Photon items were compatible across the toylines...so, the LJN Photon figures would be interactive with the Photon Phaser and so on.

The Photon Electronic Warrior Battle Game Sets (Single and Double)
When Entertech ported the rental equipment to the home toy market, it was altered and wrapped in the marketing that corresponded to the DiC live-action TV show, but it also presented some limitations that Lazer Tag did not have. Entertech had to use to basic structure of the rental commercial equipment as the foundation in which to construct their equipment. This means the same inter-linked equipment, the Red Helmet vs Green Helmet, and some of the technology. The complete toy "warrior" system was sold in two forms: single and double. This was smart of Entertech to sell a double set allowing for out-of-the-box play, instead of wanting on your friend to get a red or green helmet so you could wage backyard laser battles. It was available in a single warrior set that forced you to pick green or red. The single set retailed for around $70 ($154 today) and the double set was about $127 ($280 today). Here is the equipment of the Photon warrior. The entire system was powered by two 9volt batteries and 12 AA batteries.

The Helmet
One of the most famous or infamous pieces of Photon equipment is the helmet. This futuristic space helmet was fitted with speakers, lights, an IR sensor, and an visor. Originally, George Carter disliked the helmet, but the engineers believed that the visor/face shield would be needed to protect the combatants from barrel stuffing each other in the darkened chaotic arenas...and he may have been right. What divided the Photon warrior teams at the arena and at home was the color of the helmet: Red or Green. Entertech borrowed this item from the commercial equipment and it made sense with the intention of Photon arenas of being an team sport.
The helmet in both systems was not removable, and you could only flop the helmet between games to relieve yourself from the heat and the weight. There are rumors that say that Entertech looked at painting the their toy systems other colors, like yellow or blue. To be honest, I think that red and yellow would have been better than the green color, especially considering the conditions of the arena battlefields. If the commercial Photon centers had stayed around, the "2.0" system would have deleted the helmet. Speaking to its iconic status, some Photon fans have said, "No helmet, No Photon."

The Chest Module Piece
The heart and brains of the Entertech Photon system was the chest piece, known as "the module" that kept track of the hits, a total of 3, and be the connector for all of the pieces. The helmet and the Phaser cord was linked into the chest piece and featured an speak to relay the sounds of your Phaser and tags. The cord from the Phaser into the chest module was connected via an pin adaptor that was the very same as the ATARI 2600 controller. Information on the chest module is limited online and I am unaware of all of its functions, but it was powered by 4 AA batteries.



The "Phaser"
The tool of laser warfare is the IR emitter, and the Entertech home Photon equipment took the basic design of the commercial Phaser blaster, but altered its technology. The commercial Phaser was an reverse IR system, and the Phaser blaster was an not an emitter like Lazer Tag's StarLyte. For the home system, Entertech made their Phaser an traditional forward IR system and made the Phaser another tag point and had an effective range of about 40 feet with a fresh single 9volt battery feeding it. The Entertech catalog makes mention of 100 feet. After you tagged out, the Phaser was shut off and you to reset the gun to reset the system. Unlike the more laser blaster look of the Lazer Tag StarLyte, the Photon Phaser was more akin to an Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers vintage atomic blaster that would feel at home in pulp-era sci-fi magazine covers or an classic Doctor Who episode.  If the Photon centers had continued, there was going to be an xenon infused system that allowed for a flash if they had been allowed in the 2.0 commercial system. The Phaser was sold in the warrior set and in the Phaser targeting game. One of the major advantages of the Photon Phaser over the StarLyte was the batteries.The StarLyte AA batteries did get dislodged and put the

The Practice Sensor
This 4x4 hexagon shaped IR sensor was similar to the Lazer Tag StarSensor and was used in a similar manner. This came packed with the warrior kit or the Phaser target game. It was designed to be an practice sensor and could be used to form a version of Photon without the full warrior gear. It was powered by a single 9volt battery, but never considered as sturdy as the StarSensor.






The Belt
One of the most misunderstood pieces of the toy Photon home system was the plastic-fantastic belt. In the commercial system, the belt was a heavy power pack that fed the system, however, in the home system, it was just a belt that mimicked the style of the commercial system. This was also the cause of the difference in the weight of the home system vs. the commercial equipment. The belt in the Entertech system served no real purpose besides rounding out the "look" of the Photon warrior and being an attachment site of an holster for the Phaser. Since the home system was aimed at kids, the belt is quite small and will not fit most adults, nor do the square sections on the belt offer any type of storage as some sites have claimed.

The Phaser Target Game (Single or Double)
While Entertech's home Photon system was not as populated with accessories as the Lazer Tag line was, it did attempt to market a cheaper or "entry level" system: the Phaser Target Game. Avaible in either single or double, the system allowed for diet version of Photon via an Phaser and an hexagon shaped 4x4 target sensor, both were powered an 9volt battery. You could run around and tag each other or used it to brush up on your laser blaster accuracy skills. The double phaser set sold for around $44 ($97 today) and the double at $64 ($141 today).




The Photon Shootback Target (Unreleased)

In the 1987 Entertech catalog, there is informations and photos of unreleased toy similar to the WoW Lazer Tag StarBase drone: The Shootback Target. This drone would fire IR beams, defend its six IR sensor targets via mechanic doors, and search for ugly meatbag Photon warriors to destroy. There was an skill level setting system and it was compatible with all LJN/Entertech Photon items. This is the only mention or information on the Shootback Target drone system and it is believed that it was never released. 

The Great Laser War of 1986-1988
There are many economic rivalries that pit two sides of the same business against one another. We have the current battle between the Apple iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy, we continue to have the nearly century-long battle between Coca-Cola and Pepsi and there seems to be one home video game console completing against another continuously. These competitions between two sides forges industries and shapes each side to evolve. During The Great Laser War, we know that Lazer Tag and Photon waged a similar battle for the heart, mind, and wallets of consumers during their primary battleground: the Christmas season of 1986. The weapons of this war were competing ad campaigns, rival TV shows, and packaging.
This battle, like the Cola Wars or the Bit Wars, was not waged just in the board room or on the airwaves, but also in the lunchrooms of America. We kids of the 1980's had a choice in our laser tag home systems and just as much as we had to chose Nike or Reebok, the NES or an ATARI, we had to choose between Photon and Lazer Tag. We debated the systems in middle school lunchrooms, pour over the comic book adverts, and the glossy commercials. That is the moment of decision: time of purchase. Just as customers wrestle with which system to buy just as much as they choose a fizzy drink among dozens...it all comes down to that moment.
When the Christmas season rolled around, both were carried by the major toy realtors and even featured on the same page of the Sears Christmas catalog of 1986. Due to the expense of these systems, the majority of kids at the time asking for an IR beam tagging combat simulation system on their Christmas List meant that you had to choose a system and hope to the gods that your parents bought the one you wanted. That means you had to pick a side in The Great Laser War of the mid-1980's and stand by it, because nearly no one had both. I picked a side for my Christmas list of 1986 and it was WoW's Lazer Tag for me.
There were several major issues with The Great Laser War that defined this economic showdown. One being that the Entertech home Photon system and Lazer Tag were not equal. Photon had the name recognition due to the Photon arenas and this allowed people to access the Photon laser tag system prior to showdown in Christmas of '86. WoW's Lazer Tag had no such arenas or name recognition until the massive ad campaign rolled out. They were not also not equal in terms of the toyline. Lazer Tag had more accessories and was completely geared to the home market. The toy Photon system was a cheaper retrofitting of the rental system ported to the home market, and lacked the accessories. Both systems received media attention, good and bad, at the time due whole "kids to shooting of laser beams at one another" aspect.
The second element surrounding The Great Laser War was that ultimately the "laser tag craze" was just that, a craze or fad that would later morph into the laser tag we know today. Fads burn bright then fade away, destine to define an moment in time. That is what home Photon system and Lazer Tag were cashing in on and hoping to generate a successful toyline and move on to the next big thing. Lastly, there was the storages of the systems during the Christmas season. In some ways, the ad campaigns worked too well, and consumers, along with retailers, were having trouble with the supply of these rival laser tag systems. This mainly effected Worlds of Wonder at first, and this caused some consumers to buy Photon for their kids over the requested Lazer Tag. But, this also started to cause supply issues with Photon as well. The companies pumped out more after Christmas, but it was then too late...the moment had passed. It was there that many believed that the victor in the rivalry between Photon and Lazer Tag would be decided...but it wasn't that easy and victory for either side would not emerge.

What Happened to Lazer Tag and Photon? Was there a victor in the Great Laser War?
The primary battleground for The Great Laser War was Christmas of 1986, and the fate of two companies: WoW and Entertech rested on the sales figures. These toy lines represented millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs as well as the hope & dreams of kids on Christmas morning in 1986. According to everything I've been able to research, Lazer Tag did indeed win the battle over Christmas of 1986 with Entertech's own system selling nearly as well...but, the victory was short lived. Despite having two consecutive hot Christmas toys and millions of dollars in sales, the greedy toy industry was always looking for the next big item. The stunning growth of Worlds of Wonder, one of the fastest growing America companies at the time, caused the evaluation of the company to be overcooked and with the failure of several of its new toylines, the party was pretty much over by 1988 with the company entering into bankruptcy with $260 million in debt and CEO Donald Kingsborough forced out of the company. What happened? Worlds of Wonder was overvalued, it owned too much money, and it could not produce another hit like Teddy Ruxpin or Lazer Tag before the ball dropped
This combined with the failure of their new products like the ActionMax video game console and Pamela, the Living Doll. Worlds of Wonder had bet on the red-hot console market with the VHS-based ActionMax home console. This sold less than 10,000 copies with only five games released at a price tag of $99 ($216 in today's $). The failure of these new products combined with the company being so reliant on innovative toys that were infused with technology/electronics, it needed R&D capital and time...but, time ran out for WoW.
Despite the attempts to expand the Lazer Tag and Teddy Ruxpin toylines with new products, they failed to live beyond their moment in the sun and when fads end, they end hard. Not helping WoW was the April 1987 accidental police shooting of Leonard Joseph Falcon in California. The County Sheriff mistook the Lazer Tag Starlyte pistol for an real firearm, and used his shotgun with deadly results. Falcon had only recently bought the Lazer Tag system and was involved in a nighttime game when the behavior of people running around with guns was called into police. This, along with other incidents, caused the Federal government in 1992 to pass new laws and regulation. Prior to this, toy gun makers had started to recolor their toy guns in garish neon colors to promote safety and appease the the crusting public pressure. By 1990, Worlds of Wonder formally ended and its products were sold off, including Lazer Tag that was sold to Hasbro and Shoot the Moon.
This could, in theory, hand the title of victor in The Great Laser War over to Entertech's Photon system and the corporate Photon arenas...but that is not a happy story either. While WoW had won Christmas of 1986, Entertech's Photon did also well and for a time, the home Photon system was there on the toy shelves alongside Lazer Tag. Much like Worlds of Wonder, Entertech suffered from bad press from criminals using their realistic looking water guns for crimes and even accidental police shooting. With this pressure, Entertech altered its toy guns, but it was never the same and after the sale of LJN to Acclaim, Entetech was sold off in 1990 for $1.7 million. There is little hard information on when Entertech stopped selling the home version of Photon, but it is likely around 1988 or even as late as 1989.
What happened to the Photon centers? The franchise stores and the company stores were not the same, and there was often conflict between the franchise and the company stories in terms of fields, rules, and operation. The largest and the best, according to the founder, was in Fountain Valley, California that was a double playing field that cost about an $1.2 million to build and equip. The relationship between LJN and George Carter III was rocky, and LJN was actually suited by Carter over unpaid royalties. Then timing caught up the corporate Photon plans. The public's laser tag fever had cooled somewhat for the game of laser tag. It was during this, that the Photon corporate made the decision to turn the lower preforming and rouge franchise stores loose with spare parts to find their own path. Despite the end of the Photon company, some stores remaining open and operating for years to come.
The company attempting to go public with stocks to generate capital to grow their business with bigger and better corporate stores. The original backers of Photon were brought down by the crash of the Stock Market in 1987 and that along with the S&L scandal that bottomed out the real estate holdings of the Photon investors. All of this came at a fragile time for Photon corporate. The setup for going public cost had cost the Photon corporation a great deal of money and when the investors pulled out of the stock offering due to the grim economic climate at the time in 1987, the Photon Corporate office was on hard times and this pretty much ended the corporate office and their stores. The next-gen design of "Photon 2.0" with a vest, the battery pack belt and no helmet was never brought to market and the remaining stores operating the Photon equipment slowly died off with a few operating until recently with some laser tag centers breaking out the old equipment for time-to-time for retro play nights. By 1989, the titans of laser tag where gone...but not forgotten nor is their struggle. I remember because I was there, fighting in The Great Laser War.

What Killed Off Home Laser Tag?
At one time in the mid-1980's, there was a belief that laser tag would be the next big thing and a real sport would be formed out of the leagues that played serious Photon. Alas, that did not happen, but the laser tag industry is still around and nearly a billion dollar a year business that can be found the world over. But, there has never been a home laser tag system that has come close to the levels of Entertech's home Photon system or Worlds of Wonder's Lazer Tag. Why? Home laser tag matches cannot replicate the experiences that are found in commercial laser tag centers bar none. And when kids of the 1980's wanted to come together and beat the shit out of one another, there was the renewed home video game console market with the juggernaut that was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Home laser tag could not hold a candle to the fun we kids of the 80's had with the NES. Video game system like the NES, the SEGA Master System and the ATARI 7800 were more accepted by the parental safety mafia that existed in the 1980's that put pressure on toy companies to make their toy guns safer and these groups wanted kids to stop playing with their laser tag blasters and MILSIM water guns and play some Mario Brothers. In addition, these home laser tag system were expensive as hell at the time and they just had naturally limited market and play. After all, if you wanted to play laser tag, you simple go down to the local centers, put down a few bucks and have a great time...no string attached. This was not so of Lazer Tag and Photon. They were a serious investment in time and money without the payout of an NES or a few hours at your local Photon center. 


Which One is Better? Lazer Tag or Photon?
It is easier today to make decision between completing items due to the internet being packed with customer reviews and comparison videos. However, back in 1986, there was no internet review culture to really spell out the difference between these two home laser tag systems and we kids relayed on our gut feeling and the limited, if any, experience we had with the Photon center's equipment. However, today is different, and we can now judge these two IR laser tag system based on a head-to-head comparison, which the 10 years old me could not do in 1986.

Equipment
On the surface, the Worlds of Wonder Lazer Tag system is just a better made and styled system with a ton of optional equipment to allow you the player choses in how you played and how you want to look while playing. Lazer Tag gave you options and had an awesome pistol and rifle to chose from. The presentation of the Lazer Tag equipment outshines the Entertech Photon system easily. The Photon equipment by Entertech did not present well on the toy shelf or in the backyard and it was dumbed down from the rental gear. Even today, some thirty years(!) out from The Great Laser War, and I can still tell you that the Lazer Tag gear, especially the StarLyte, still look amazing.
WINNER: LAZER TAG!






Economics
Neither one of these home laser tag systems were cheap and they were a bad deal when compared to getting an NES or Commodore 64 instead. This made even more clear when factor in the batteries needed to power these hungry systems. According to the 1986 Sears Catalog: the base Lazer Tag system was $44 in 1986 money, which is about $98 in today's money. The base system for Photon was about $72 ($156 in 2016) for a single system and they sold a double system for $124 ($270).  I originally believed that Lazer Tag was the more expensive of the two at the time, and it is so odd that the home Photon system was more expensive. To put those numbers in some perspective. the base NES system was $89 in 1985 money or around $185 in adjusted 2016 dollars.
WINNER: TIE!









Marketing
I originally was going to hand this section easily off to Lazer Tag for their blitzkrieg marketing in 1986. Worlds of Wonder blanketed the airwave with a damned impressive commercial showing a darkened future stadium where two teams of laser tag warriors battle. This million commercial was produced Ridley Scott and it still looks slick today. This ad was run over and over and to us kids in the 1980's, it was transformative. We were hooked and we wanted Lazer Tag for Christmas. Even our comic books were not a respite from the bombardment of the marketing of Lazer Tag. Peppered throughout the major comics of 1986 where several ads for Lazer Tag that showed this king of sports in 3010. Once again, I was right to own this and use it. However, the same cannot be said for Entertech's Photon. I cannot recall any real ad and only one lame TV spot. Nor did Photon have the interactive displays in major retailers. My local Bartlesville Wal-Mart got one of these in 1986. This would mean that Lazer Tag had the drop on Photon, but my extensive research on The Great Laser War reveals that many more people recall the DiC Photon show than the soulless Lazer Tag Academy cartoon, more people discuss their love for the Photon tie-in books. There is none of that love for Lazer Tag. In someways, Photon lost the marketing war, but won in the nostalgia department. WINNER: TIE!


Playability 

While Lazer Tag was fully developed for the home market, it missed an important element that Photon nailed: Playability. Any laser tag system had to be ready to deal with the rock-n-roll of play combat, and on the surface it would seem that Photon would be the loser here with the heavy gear and all of the equipment being tied together, but that made it more stable for aggressive play both on the Photon arena field and at home. Lazer Tag's Achilles' heel was the StarSensor or rather its method of attachment to the player's body. Velcro was not up to the task of being a reliable means of attaching the heavy IR sensor to the wear's body and expect it stay on during during running. Often, we had to hold to the StarSensor to prevent from falling and smashing. That could cause arguments over you covering your StarSensor. This may been the genesis behind WoW selling the StarSensor outside of the Game Kit. While Photon being a laser tag system born on the battlefield was designed to suffer through the rigors of laser close quarters warfare. If the equipment was not tied down properly, it would bounce all around like Kate Upton jogging, but if tided down, it was more solid. In the end, that is true test of any laser tag equipment, how good is it to play with, and both Photon system had the lock on that and makes Photon the winner here and the overall winner.
WINNER:PHOTON!


The Photon Arena Centers: Pure 80's Laser Combat Magic!
Overall, the Photon brand of laser tag was born, grew, and ultimately died in the arenas. It was the core business and experience for those of us that knew Photon during The Great Laser War. George Carter III invented the sport of laser tag and founded the basic principles of commercial laser tag and its business via his Photon centers. These Photon arenas were either corporate or franchise, and were found across the United States and the globe until about 1989 with the arenas being found in strip malls, malls, standalone buildings and warehouses. During the apex of the popularity of the Photon centers in the mid-1980's. they were a place of community, celebration, and laser battles in a futuristic maze where adults and kids tested their skills.
Physically, the arenas were divided into two areas, one being the lobby where new Photon warriors were inducted into the game via these photo ID card and awaiting warriors could gather or play games of pool and arcade games. This made the Photon centers more than just laser tag, and those in the malls, where hangouts as much as the food court and the arcade. In the lobby, Photon swag could be bought and tales of laser combat could be toasted with an sugary fuzzy drink.
The heart of the Photon center was the arena designed by J.C. Collins with the music by Ken Caillat, that featured towers, catwalks, ramps, and mazes obscured in smoke. When a game was ready, you were assembled then divided into either red or green team, and then moved into the staging arena to kit up. On these equipment rakes, you donned your gear only after placing a surgical cap on your head to protect the helmet from sweat and lice. Photon staff often helped the first timers with the gear, including the heavy ass battery pack belt. Once your were kitted up, your ID card was scanned while the Phaser blaster was inserted into a slot. After that you waited in a corridor for the countdown. It was here that a instruction video was on loop and experienced team members formed tactics. When the final countdown head, you were ready and nervous, then you hit the massive cavernous space of the Photon arena. For the next few minutes, all hell broke loose as you rushed around the low visibility arena firing at the enemy and their base. It was glorious.  
After less than 10 minutes, it was over and your score was posted on TV monitors according to nickname (I believe mine was "Khyron"). You would rehydrate, load up, and do it again...and again. This was not just a place for birthday parties (I had one there...and yes, it was awesome!) and parents to drop off their kids, it was place for league play and champaign matches to be waged. The excitement of these centers was short lived for the most part. The majority of Photon arenas were gone by 1989 with some franchise locations holding on longer.
Some of these former Photon centers morphed into general laser tag business with newer equipment.
It is believed that the last Photon center was closed in 1995 at Harvey, Illinois. Some modern laser tag centers breakout the vintage equipment for special events, like during PhoCon at XP Lasersport in Laurel, Maryland, which also has pieces of the original Photon Alpha arena still in use.
For the record, here the physical locations for the Photon Centers I played at back in 1986-1987:
-Dallas: 2630 Northwest Hwy #300
-Tulsa: 49th and Memorial in an old tire store
-Albuquerque: located on the lower level of Montgomery Plaza shopping complex on the corner of San Mateo Blvd and Montgomery. It became an movie theater and I saw Cliffhanger there in 1993 and fondly remembers my grandmother driving me to the Photon center during the summer of 1987. Good times.

Were There Ever any WoW Lazer Tag Arenas?


Entertech and Worlds of Wonder where both toy companies heavily involved in the titanic struggle over wrestling the hard earned cash out of the hands of parents and put a IR blaster in their kids' hands. One way that the corporate Photon hoped to perform that task was via their nationwide network of 45 Photon arena centers, which is how DiC and Entertech came to see Photon as a viable commercial venture. This was simply an piece of the Photon empire that WoW's Lazer Tag did not or would not possess during the Great Laser War...or did they? There were rumors running around my grade school in 1987 that Worlds of Wonder had indeed founded their own prototype laser war gaming arena center in California, where the company was based and it was opened under a year. during the apex of WoW's success.
According to these rumors, it was similar in design to the advertisement futuristic 3010 style presented in the very cutting edge ads in print and television. Players would don special versions of the helmet, cap, sensor, pistol and rifle and battle in arenas that appeared to be like the world of 3010. Today, internet searches produces no hard evidence or even a mention of these rumors.When I spoke to Erik Guthrie of the Laser Tag Museum, he shed some light on if Worlds of Wonder was ever planning on their own copy of the Photon centers. He informed me that WoW was a toy company and not in the business of opening laser tag centers, and this was just a playground rumor. This is a real shame, if there was indeed a WoW Lazer Tag center that was patterned after the art style seen in the ads and printed material, it could have been pure 80's awesome...especially, if you could have rented that awesome rifle!

Wasn't There an G.I. JOE Lazer Tag System?
Yes, there was, and it was even designed and branded by Worlds of Wonder as well as being comparable with the Lazer Tag system. This partnership between Worlds of Wonder and Hasbro would continue, but the G.I JOE Lazer Battle Game Kit would be a one-off product with an oddball laser designator game that followed later. The Game Kit came with an futuristic-like military olive laser blaster that fit well into the laser guns used by the Joes in the animated series. The military version of the StarSensor was an oval-shaped olive piece that tracked tags and seemed to be attached to the player via a belt or even could be used as shoulder strap. Information is limited on this 1987 laser tag system and it is uncertain how well it sold or did not sell.
Other Branded Merchandise and Products

Lazer Tag Academy NBC Saturday Morning Cartoon
Since it was the 1980's and cartoon tie-in shows were huge, it makes some sort of sense that WoW's Lazer Tag got their own Saturday morning 30 minute cartoon/ad. Based on some of the 3010 world developed by Worlds of Wonder, Ruby-Spears Production was brought in to develop the game and world into a cartoon vehicle. Ruby-Spears Production had much experience in the cartoon world of the 1980's with shows like Thundarr the Barbarian, Rubik, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. In the show, 3010 Earth is a near-utopia with Lazer Tag being the game of choice with nations and factions settling their differences with Lazer Tag matches. The champion of Lazer Tag was an 13 year old girl named Jamie Jared and she possessed the power within her genes to use her StarLyte pistol to travel through time and other tricks. Her powers and abilities were explored by the Lazer Tag Acedemy and the team there.
After a relative of Jamie's named Draxon Drear was resurrected from 21st century deep sea shuttle wreck that put him into deep freeze due to released gases did the story really get going. Draxon was a criminal from 2061 and with the technology of 3010, he wanted to exploit the past and the future. Jamie and Draxon chasing each other through time and space as he could also use the StarLyte to travel through time. Jamie first mission was to protect her 1986 ancestor, Beth Jaren, who Draxon wanted to kill to prevent her from creating the StarLyte gun and the StarSensor.
During this mission, Jamie enlisted the help of her 20th century teenager ancestors to help her on her quest along with watching out for Beth Jaren. The show would run for just 13 episodes from September to December of 1986, and be rerun on Sci-Fi Channel's cartoon block as the retitled "Laser Patrol". It was released on VHS in three separate tapes. Much like everything these days, it can be found on Youtube to remind us of lukewarm this production was. While WoW's Lazer Tag was superior in toy production and quality, the same cannot be said for the cartoon. Lazer Tag Academy is simply dreadful and soulless, especially when compared to the other 3010 Lazer Tag universe books.
What could have been something interesting that expanded the lore of the world of 3010, like the Photon TV show did, Lazer Tag Academy de-evolved into a boring, skin-deep show that lacked the insanity of the Photon TV show. I actually watched a few episodes of Lazer Tag Academy back in 1986 and it was hard to find. It seems that is was moved around the Saturday morning timeslots due to its poor ratings and being tied to a fad product. The show seems to have been on the drawing board for some time due to the inclusion of an teaser for the show in the 1986 Game Kit. The art included varied from the actually production. Most of the Jared family characters are radically different, mostly Jamie and Beth. Today, Lazer Tag Academy is not as fondly remember as its rival, the Photon TV show, and it often discussed along side the Lazer Tag system, rather than standing on its own, as the Photon TV show is today.  

DiC Entertainment/Saban Entertainment Photon live-action TV Show
In 1980's. one of the common vehicles of prompting a product line was via an cartoon or even TV show, as we saw with Transformers, STARCOM, Masters of the Universe, and even the Care Bears. DiC Entertainment approached the marketing team of Photon to develop a television series to promote the brand and other emerging goods associated with the brand prior to the release of Lazer Tag. What DiC Entertainment would develop was an live-action 30 minute television show that fleshed out the fictional universe of Photon, promoted the arenas and gave a foundation for the LJN toy company to created products. It was originally sold to Photon corporate as an animated show, but DiC wanted an live-actions. The show itself was a franchised to local TV stations, like many of DiC's other shows at the time.
What makes Photon the TV show unique is where it was made and who made it. Much of the show was made in Japan with a Japanese crew with a mix of Asian and non-Asian actors, while some scenes and production were done in the United States. Photon would be created by Saban Entertainment after they had bought DiC Entertainment in 1986, and much of the staff behind the show went on to created the Japanese tokusatsu show Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger that formed the foundation for The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. 
Unlike Lazer Tag, Photon did not have a fleshed story/universe, and it was up to DiC to create the world of Photon that would be used to market the products generated out of license and TV show.
This story was centered around beyond ancient energy crystals that created and sustained life in the known universe. These crystals are called "Photon". There are two sides that fight for dominance over the Photon crystals, the Warlord of Arr and his dark minions led by Mandarr (David Stay) and the Guardians of Light, led by MOM the computer. The plot introduces us to one of the best Terran Photon players, Christoper Jarvis (Christoper Lockwood) who goes by Bhodi Li and how he is teleported away to an alien space station and told of his unique destiny to become an Guardian of the Light. The game of "Photon" was used to recruit new Guardians across the universe, much like the plot of The Last Starfighter. Over the course of 26 epsiodes, the Darkness and the Light battle as Bhodi Li battles his being an intergalactic warrior and being an high school student. Like many 80's kid shows, it wrapped social issues in wit the laser blasting alone with notable 80's music. The tagline for the show was "the light shines" and it often used by fans of the show and the actors involved to this day.
Photon only ran for a single season around 1986-1987 and there was going to be a second season when it was cancelled by DiC. Overall, the show was poorly received and aired at oddball times despite loyal fans and the cast & crew giving it their all. The creator of Photon George Carter III was unhappy with DiC and the show's quality/direction. Interestingly enough, some of the characters were named for key players in the Photon arenas and some of the voice talent were later involved with ROBOTECH and Pokemon. The big star of the show, Christopher Lockwood as Bhodi Li, was a 18 year old Navy brat living in Japan, and was scouted by a Japanese talent team stalking around the naval base for an American kid. Christopher Lockwood was recruited and brought onboard as the lead actor who had never really acted. Christopher Lockwood joined the USAF as an Air Police member and served for years around the globe. And yes, the actors did play Photon at the Dallas center, but where not fans nor players of the commercial game.
The show, while basically forgotten until the rise of the internet, has several fan sites today and on-line articles. The actors themselves have been interviewed and some have attended gathers of Photon fans. It viewed by fans today as an important piece of their childhood and the heart of the show really shows through. Despite the show never being released on DVD, the poor quality VHS tapes have been uploaded to Youtube for your viewing pleasure. I did see the Photon television show back during The Great Laser War running on local Tulsa independent stations, but I quickly dismissed it. It was clearly cheap and even more cheap looking than my Godzilla films I watched...and besides, I was on of the side of Lazer Tag anyways! It is worth noting that Photon is more celebrated, remembered, and discussed than the soulless Lazer Tag Academy. For them, the Light still Shines.

The 1987 Takara Limited NES Japanese Photon Game (Hikari no Senshi Foton)
It came as a surprise to me that Photon had a NES video game cart release that I'd never heard of before the research phase of the article. The reason behind that was that "Photon: the Ultimate Game on Planet Earth" was actually released only in Japan in 1987 by Advanced Communication Company under the title of "Soldiers of Light Photon". It is unknown why this odd little game was only released in Japan...where the DiC TV show was being made. The game is pretty basic with your Photon warrior being guided via a 3rd person perceptive through an organic dungeon that appears to be similar in art style to Meteoroid.  At the end of the game, you face off with Warlord Arr from the show. If you like to watch an long-play of this game, click here.


The 1987 Probe Software Lazer Tag Computer Game
Probe Software developed an licensed Lazer Tag video game for the home gaming computer market in and around 1987 and was published by Go! This 3rd person POV computer "shooting" game was released for the Commodore 64, Amstead CPC,  ZX Spectrum and seems to have been more common overseas than in America given the popularity of home video game machines. The game takes place in 3010 with the player taking the role as a Lazer Tag training school cadet that is suffering through the trials of the Lazer Tag Academy. The player must "tag out" other computer generated players in timed matches to move up in rank and even had a two-player mode that each player take turns. It was often called an "Commando" clone by the press at the time with many reviewers calling in lackluster with a limited tie-in to the Worlds of Wonder product or the cartoon.






The Lazer Tag Official Game Handbook from TSR 
Here is one of the most mysterious items of The Great Laser War, the TSR "Lazer Tag Official Game Handbook". This was released by TSR, the same RPG company that gave us Star Frontiers and D&D in 1987. TSR would gain the Lazer Tag license for the printed media and it is a shame that they did not develop an RPG around the game and the world of 3010. I saw this in local comic book stores in Bartesville and Tulsa and since it was under plastic wrap, I could not figure out if it was an RPG manual or some oddball book. The cover price at the time was $7.95. This item is not well known and there is few entries about it on line, but from some Amazon entries, it seems that this TSR book was an Lazer Tag gaming handbook that allowed users of the Lazer Tag system to vary their IR battle matches. This book was heavily advertised n comic books at the time and it informs of the popularity of these laser tag systems at the time along with the believed continued popularity which sadly did not last.

Photon Tie-in Books by author David Peters and Michael Hudson 
In the mid-1980's, DiC was moving fast to capitalize on the popularity of the Photon centers via their newly formed licensing agreement. To that end, DiC Entertainment developed a live-action show with entire universe and backstory. This allowed noted comic book writer Peter David to pen several Photon tie-in books for the youth reader in the 1980's via an nom de plume of David Peters. The first book, which was outside the adventure series was written by noted sci-fi author Michael P. Kube-McDowell under the nom de plume of Michael Hudson. These six books in the "Photon Adventure" series were published by Berkley books around 1987 through 1988 and were set in the same universe as the television show, airing around the same time, along with the same characters. The Amazon reviews of these books are pretty amazing and speak to the impact the television series and the world of Photon had on the kids of the time that are now adults rebuying their past.  




Lazer Tag Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Books by TSR
The 1980's were also a time of the massive popularity of the Chose-Your-Own-Adventure books genre and TSR got into the action with their "Endless Quest" series of books related to their various RPG universes, like D&D and Star Frontiers. They also printed a number of non-related books and the Lazer Tag Adventure series falls under that category. Three books were published with a fourth being unreleased due to the waning popularity of the entire laser tag fad. All three of the books revolve around the world of 3010 and how Lazer Tag was used to solve the issue of conflicts and wars in human society. via international and interstellar teams in grand laser tag matches.  They often cover issues surrounding the rivalry of the high-stakes laser tag matches and teams on Terra and beyond. A number of them surround the world of intelligence and spying in the Lazer Tag universe. These are not directly linked to the cartoon. I never read these, but I did see them from time-to-time at local comic book stores and books stores.

The Photon LJN Action Figures...Yes, there were Action Figures!
With the DiC Photon television show, there was a market for an line of interactive action figures on the level of Captain Power and Bravestarr, and were sold by LJN, the owner of Entertech. The limited run of oversized figures (about 8 1/2 inches tall) was sold in an interesting two figure pack of one "Light" Faction and one "Darkness" Faction of the Photon War. The most common was the "Bhodi Li vs. Warriarr" combination pack. Besides being normal action figures of unusual size, they were able to figure IR beams at one another at a range of 15 feet with accompanying beeping and such. Only three figures were released and by far the Bhodi Li vs. Warriarr was the most common with the only other released figures being larger single figures of Destructarr and the lizard Leon.
This two pack of figures were commonly seen on toy shelves and in catalogs, and I can clearly remember them on the shelf in a Service Merchandise in Eastland Mall of Tulsa around 1986/1987. If there had been an series two of the Photon warriors, it would have included the rest of the cast of the show and even an interactive playset as seen in display at a toy show in 1987 and in an LJN catalog. While no firm facts or figures exist, it is likely given the short lifespan of the LJN Photon figures that this spin-off toyline bombed. Some of the prototype figures were sold online at eBay for about $400 a piece and rumors state that the seller was a former LJN employee that got hold of some of the prototype toys.  

The Impact and Legacy of Lazer Tag and Photon
At the time of The Great Laser War, the impact of this contest between Photon and Lazer Tag was felt in sales figures and the continued survival of these companies. However, it was a wide, but shallow impact crater at the time. Fabs came and went, and the home laser tag craze was one. With the laser tag craze of the mid-1980's dying off so suddenly, taking with it both home toy systems, it was hard to gauge the full legacy until the recent rise of the internet and the preoccupation of internet culture for nostalgia of types and items
With the internet flooded with tons of videos and pages about topics of nostalgia, there has been a number of people that have discussed both of these systems in length and even the economic contest between them, Some have purchased these laser tag home systems secondhand to fulfill some long-held childhood desire and that speaks to the true legacy of these completing laser tag home systems: the memories. There are many adults of my generation with memories of waging laser battles in Photon arenas or in backyards and there are even adults today that have memories of Photon birthday parties and playing with Lazer Tag due to my direct involvement...you're welcome. These systems represented a time and a place for many of us and they had a direct impact on our memories and lives. So much so, that vintage laser tag systems have appeared in films and TV shows depicting the 1980's.
There is a more direct impact of the contest between these two home laser tag systems that resonates onto today: the fall of the home market toy laser tag systems. For the most part, there has been no successful home (toy) laser tag system since The Great Laser War of 1986-1988. The apex of the home market laser tag systems was 1986 with Entertech's Photon and WoW's Lazer Tag. While oter companies attempted to sell laser tag home system over the years, including several under the iconic name of "Lazer Tag", it did not catch like it did in 1986. Each of these systems as died and wind up on clearance. There have even been attempts to market home laser tag systems under the Star Wars brand around the time of Episode I release in 1999.
The game/sport of laser tag, in general, needs and wants to be played in the arena setting. Home IR battles are just not the same, when you had the full arena experience, the other pales in comparison. Today, when kids and adults indulge in the most dangerous game, hunting humans with laser blasters, they stalk and fight in rental facilities located in strip malls, family fun centers, and outdoor grounds, not in the home. That is were the game of laser tag has proven to be a successful business venture and that what George Carter III proved when he invented the entire laser tag industry back in 1984 in Dallas, Texas, when the first laser tag arena opened.


The Attempt to Resurrect Photon 
Photon spoke to an entire generation, and for many, the Light of Photon still shines. That passion has allowed the progenitor of all laser tag to live on to this day. The vintage rental systems are still broken out for special games and some have even been upgraded with new technology. In 2008, there was an attempt to resurrect an classic commercial Photon arena in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. This hits me where I live. I grew up around Tulsa, and the Photon center there was familiar ground, and having the attempted resurrection of Photon arenas in my old hometown was awesome! Shame it only lasted a few months or even weeks depending on the source. Jim Strother attempted in September of 2008 to open an new classic Photon center. with the right equipment, arena, and even the equipment stands. It is a real pity that it is not still open...really wished I had gotten a chance to play and relive my youth.

Next Time on FWS...
The continuing mission of Future War Stories is to explore and explain the world of Military SF, and at times, we must each back into the distance epochs of time and space to uncover forgotten chapters of military science fiction and next time, we will do just that. In 1993, major American television network CBS aired an MSF show about Space Rangers on the frontier in the 22nd century. We will explore and explain this 1990's Military SF oddity.