Q-Zar (or Quazar, Quasar in Europe) used to be a very popular variation of laser tag played in the early 1990s. I played it regularly up through about 1995 in St. Louis at the Exhilarama arcade, when the novelty of it seemed to fade and the crowds dwindled. The objective of Q-Zar is to take your weapon, which is about as long as the average teenager's forearm, and use the infrared signals to trigger sensors on the opposing team's sensor packs. The sensor packs, of course, had sensors in both the front and rear of the vest in rectangular formation. There were also sensors on either side of the phaser, as well as a sensor directly above the barrel of the phaser. These hits scored points for you. Hits scored against you removed points from both you and your team's score, but as long as you tagged your opponent more than he tagged you, you were good. (Your hits were worth +2, every time you were hit you lose -1). One of the cooler things about this game was that it was programmable - you could modify all sorts of things through the computer interfaces either on the floor or at ticketing. Games were time-limited and usually (in our case) lasted ten minutes.

A secondary objective was based around the defense and attack of the enemy base. The base was a sensor mounted in the ceiling, usually surrounded by a wall or a series thereof. You had to hit the base at least once, and in most arenas, you had to hit the base multiple times in a particular sequence in order to score a successful capture. Typically, a capture awarded ten points to your team.

Physical contact was strictly forbidden in the game, so you tended to have to get crafty when trying to avoid shots. Often individuals would cradle their phasers in the crooks of their arms in order to block the side ports of the phaser from getting shot, and by holding your arm in front of the sensor in the front of your pack, you would often avoid getting hit there. Then the key was just to make sure nobody was behind you. Of course, when you're carrying a 5-10 lb phaser in your hand made of hard ABS, people were bound to get hurt, and so the pace was often urged to be slower. Little kids rarely had this problem, but adults and teens were always moving too fast. There were quite a few aggressive incidents I witnessed during my six years as a regular player, some ending in hospital visits.

Once shot, an additional effect typically involved you being "disabled" for six seconds. You could not shoot for all six of those seconds. For the first three seconds you were invulnerable, for the next three you could be shot. In addition, every time you were shot you could fire off a "reflex shot" if you were quick enough on your toes, which would permit you to score a hit on the enemy before your shield went active. You had about a second to do this.

The environment of a typical Q-Zar arena went a little like this. The teams were sent to either one or two "briefing rooms", based by team. You were briefed and told the rules of the game. The briefings were almost never optional, though some arenas were lax about this and allowed experienced players to "suit up". Teams were taken into the arena and set near their base. You were not allowed to move until the music started. The typical arena has between 20 to 100 obstacles, two bases, and 4-10 "recharge stations" which also permitted your scores to be downloaded. Depending on your status, you would have to recharge your weapon at various times, but usually just at the beginning and end of the game. The rooms were always very dark, lit by blacklights and paint on the obstacles that glowed. The laser packs themselves were also glow in this light, and are usually either green or red/orange.

The anatomy of a Q-Zar pack consisted of plastic ABS (like a BMX vest), with the front and back sensor packs screwed onto the vest. The phaser was connected to the vest via a coiled, flexible cord.

The subtlety of this game cannot be understated. You had the opportunity because of the characteristics of the guns to bounce shots off of walls, shoes, clothes, and people. You could cancel another individual's shots by shooting at the same time they did. There were also a number of variations, such as Supercharge, solo, Eliminator, and Battlefield, as well as objects (such as packs) which you could detonate with well placed shots and splash damage everyone in an area.

Q-Zar was hellaciously fun. The game was fast-paced, but as you got more experienced with it you avoided the hoopla. It was pretty funny to be able to just sit in an opponent's base and kill them just because you knew the game dramatically better. Four of us went up against a whole team of U.S. Marines and slaughtered them.

Q-Zar is still played in both Europe and the U.S., but is only really popular as a game for birthday parties now. The competition just doesn't cut it any longer. The new version is called Q-2000.

thanks to andersa for some help on this node today.