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.

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.

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.

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!


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.

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.


  1. Sean Robert MeaneyJune 7, 2017 at 10:29 PM

    Its called Zone3 in Australia. https://www.zone3darwin.com.au/what-is-laser-tag.

  2. This is a great read. I was too young to remember this being a craze but I'll be sure to ask my coworkers "Where were you during the Great Laser Wars of the 1980's?" for a good laugh. A couple of Laser Tag arenas in St. Louis shows that Photon's and the original Laser Tag's legacy lives on for those looking for a more family friendly alternative to Paint Ball and Air Soft.

  3. I remember having a sleep over at some kids house and getting my one and only crack at Lazer Tag. We must have played that game for HOURS. Don't think I ever got to play it again. Also remember the Captain Power show, though I never had a toy to use with it. Nowadays it seems like Nerf has cornered the home combat market :)

  4. This is probably a long time overdue, but what are the chances of you going over Ghost Recon Future Soldier? It's very near future military sci-fi in the same way as Black Ops 2.

  5. Also worth looking into is 1988's "Survivor Shot" game by Japanese toy company TOMY, same company that made Zoids. Although Tomy's American port of survivor shot had garish day-glo yellow guns (for safety reasons), their design of pistol and headgear conveyed the Ron Cobb/military sf design far better than any American hot design could, probably because of their use of neighboring toy company TAKARA as their design studio. In fact, I am convinced that Survivor Shot's headgear mounted target was inspired directly by Colonial Marines Vasquez and Drake.

  6. I remember having a sleep over at some kids house and getting my one and only crack at Lazer Tag. We must have played that game for HOURS.

    thanks for sharing...


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  9. I agree, modern laser tag arena equipment is far from the one that was presented by Photon after Star Wars, but it still uses Star Wars, Star Track and Guardians of the Galaxy images for making arena. But there is another sort of laser tag that you didn't mention in your article, it is tactical equipment for laser tag military games. It is also popular and it is used indoor and outdoor, it also has software for running scenarios and getting live scores. Moreover, it becomes even more popular than arena battles.