George Carter III, the Dallas inventor who brought the world laser tag 32 years ago, wants to bring the still-popular game into the 21st century.
The 71-year-old entrepreneur has developed an app that allows combatants to play virtual shoot-em-up anytime, anywhere using iPhones and earbuds as the gun, map, scoring system and communication tool.
“You don’t need to go to a paintball or laser tag center,” says Carter, founder of Tactical Entertainment LLC. “You can quickly gather a group of friends through social media and play. We’re also going to find ways for meet-ups to happen.”
Carter has named his laser-tag sequel Tzuum – pronounced zoom – as a tribute to Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese general, philosopher and author of “The Art of War.”
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“We’re trying to make this game very tactical and strategic,” Carter says. “He’s the guy universally known for that.”
Krasamo LLC, a Plano-based app-development company, has been working on the project for two years. These days, it’s churning out slightly modified versions twice a week. With each adaptation, Carter and a small band of field testers have endured 100 degree temps to suggest further refinements.
The idea stems from a military project that Carter has been working on for eight years. He has three U.S. patents for systems that create live simulation training for soldiers using common digital camera optics mounted on actual combat rifles that shoot blanks. Smart devices and computers keep score.
When the military proved slow on the draw to buy his innovations, Carter switched his focus to a platform for games two years ago. He’s used his military patents as stepping stones for a fourth patent and one that’s pending that protect key aspects of the game. He’s kicked in those two patents and $100,000 to get Tzuum up and running.
“I’m all in on this one,” he says.
So are friends and friends of friends, who have invested more than $700,000 thus far.
Among those is Fred Mullins, who previously directed the U.S. Army’s procurement of live-training simulation equipment before he retired as a colonel in 2010.
When Richard Osteen, a 61-year-old tax consultant and former neighbor, learned that Carter had shifted gears, he asked if he could be an investor.
“My high points are that it’s an outdoor game that can be played in teams, and it does require some strategy like all good games do,” says Osteen.
Does Osteen expect to make gazillions with this?
“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m really excited about the variety of games that can use this platform. It’s only limited by our imagination. It doesn’t have to be a shooting thing. It could be more of a hide-and-seek or capture-the-flag type of game.”
NO SWEATY VESTS
Carter sees his competition as mainly outdoor laser tag games that use screen-based technology – which can be problematic in sunlight – or are smartphone based but require additional hardware to shoot an infrared beam.
Both types of systems usually require vests with sensors to score hits, he says.
Carter is figuring out who his market is.
“My experience with laser tag showed that only about 15 percent of the players really get into it as their main form of entertainment.
“We’re trying to determine who that 15 percent is going to be.
“So far, it comes down to young adults, mostly male and college age,” he says. “But we think we’re going to get a more female audience than laser tag, Airsoft, paintball or other combat games. It’s just a phone, and you don’t have to wear a sweaty vest that someone else just wore.”
One optional piece of gear will be a pistol-grip case your iPhone fits in. It doesn’t add any software features, he says, just makes the phone easier to aim.
Players hear more than 30 types of battlefield sounds through a 3D audio effects.
“The first few times I played it with the sound effects, and I’d hear a helicopter, I’d look up thinking it was a real one.”
Each player’s location is updated in real time using GPS and geo-pairing capabilities, Carter says. “Geo-pairing means I know where you are and you know where I am, therefore we can shoot at each other.”
Carter is recruiting 1,000 qualified players to do live-action beta testing. Wannabe testers sign up on playtzuum.com and are asked a series of questions to see if there’s a fit. Carter is looking for active gamers in specific geographic markets who can set up a squad of four players. He wants at least 300 to be in Dallas.
So far, 700 have met his requirements.
“We’re not trying to work bugs out like you are with a lot of beta tests,” he says. “We’re trying to get the playability right.”
Figuring out what players will pay for is another aspect of the beta test. “We’re considering a weekend pass where everything would be unlocked and available for 48 hours. We’ll basically do what the players want.”