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TODAY’S TOPIC: ‘Photon’ Puts Space Buffs in the Game

January 20, 1986

CHICAGO (AP) _ A new futuristic fantasy game is ″beaming up″ would-be warriors for fast forays in deep space.

Photon, played out against a six-minute clock in an arena with space-age trimmings, attracts people who fidget while watching science-fiction movies and want to grab their own laser weapons and stalk intergalactic bad guys.

″It can be exciting, it can be frustrating,″ said Mike Hastings, 33, in real life a U.S. Air Force air traffic controller and, off duty, a regular player at the Photon Amusement Center in Denver, one of five now operating.

Working out strategy for Photon is a challenge and ″it gives you a good workout. If you’re vigorous and really try to score points you’re going to be running all over the place,″ he said.

The game’s computerized scoring system, keyed to the opposing team’s helmets, chest plates and home base, gets high marks from Hastings.

″When you’re a kid and play Army or cowboys and Indians, you never had the opportunity to tell whether you zapped somebody,″ he recalled.

″This provides an environment to play in and lets you know ... how you did.″

Photon isn’t kid stuff.

Players are decked out in 15 pounds of gear - the computerized chest plate, helmets with stereophonic headphones, a battery belt and a pistol beaming infrared light.

″When they’re too little and they put on that heavy equipment, it’s not fun for them,″ said Janice Younger, a spokeswoman at Photon’s Houston center.

Hastings said he hopes it will become the winter alternative to softball games for himself and his co-workers.

″A lot of older people - I consider myself older - get a kick out of it,″ he said.

In addition to the five operating centers in Dallas, Denver, Houston, Toronto and a Newark, N.J., suburb, 94 are planned in North America and Japan by franchise-holders, said Kathy Davidson, director of advertising for Dallas- based Photon Marketing Ltd., which developed and franchises the Photon centers.

Photon founder George A. Carter III was inspired by the original ″Star Wars″ in 1976, Davidson said, but his plans were delayed until March 1984 while technology caught up.

The game opens with a statement from a disembodied female voice that begins, ″Attention Photon warriors 3/8″

After the countdown, teams - distinguished by the tiny red or green lights on their helmets - compete on a 10,000-square-foot, two-level playing field that is a warren of ramps, tunnels and hiding places. A central column emits smoky ″Martian mist,″ music plays, highly focused beams of light spear the haze.

There’s an observation deck for onlookers.

Light-zapping the opposing team’s base, targets placed at opposite ends of the field, three times is worth 200 points.

Zapping an opposing player on the helmet or chest plate is worth 10 and ″disrupts″ him for five seconds, turning his helmet lights yellow and deactivating his gun.

Computer noises through the earphones signal hits and misses.

″I’ve heard some people say they think it’s a way to get your anger out, but that’s just not true,″ said electronic-equipment repairman Ronnie Lesseraux, 20, who plays regularly as captain of a league team in Houston.

″To me, it’s just scoring points. It’s not like shooting a gun.″

Scores are kept for teams and individuals in each six-minute game, which costs $3 to $3.50 per player.

″It’d be hard for me to go and play one game,″ said Hastings. ″I always play at least three.″

One-time purchase of a Photon ID card, which costs about $6.50, also is required.

Houston Mayor Kathryn Whitmire declared ″Photon Day″ when the center there opened last month.

But the game has its detractors.

Plans for a $1 million Photon Amusement Center in the Chicago suburb of Palatine sparked opposition from parents and local officials concerned about its impact on youngsters.

″Some people question whether it’s a good idea to have people joining in little groups and shooting each other,″ said Donna Kaminski, a village trustee.

She was on the losing side of the recent 4-2 vote that granted a special- use zoning permit to developers David Hubbard and Dennis Brinkman, who want to put up the Photon center in Palatine.

Concerns about the game were resolved with a provision requiring parents’ permission for players under 18 at the Palatine center, to open in April.

The five centers already operating require players to be at least 4-foot-6, but Palatine’s age restriction is a first, said Younger.

The median age of Houston buffs is 22, while league players’ median age is 28, she said.

James V. Wilson, a Palatine village trustee, supported the local center after playing Photon in Houston.

″I would describe it as a game of skill and strategy, as well as amusement,″ said Wilson, father of two teen-agers.

″I think it can give kids in the suburbs something to do other than hang around,″ he said.

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