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LaserTron (NZ)

Founder: Peter Kitchener

Date Established: 1986

Date Closed:
1987

Number of Locations: 1

First Location: 35 Cavendish Dr, Manukau City, Auckland

Key Personnel:
Richard Wallath - Inventor, Co-owner
Peter Kitchener - Co-owner
Phillip May - Co-owner
Rick Adkins - General Manager                       


Equipment:
What was unique about Lasertron is that they had developed a pure laser system without any infra-red or radio transmission. Furthermore, they used solar sensors as targets, worn front and back which were capable of determining if it was an enemy hit or a friendly one.

History: From Nick Kitchener via the contribution form dated May 12, 2012:

"My father co-founded Lasertron with two other men, and I was 13 when it was launched so it was quite a while ago. Bear in mind that this was before the advent of digital photography and the internet so I’ll have to ask him if he kept anything.

The business wound up under some very difficult circumstances and it’s quite possible everything was destroyed.

I’ll share with you what I know and will follow up in a few months when I get a chance to sit down and talk with my father.

I spent a summer working in the fledgling business where I helped construct the maze, maintain the equipment, referee games and act as a fill-in to make up numbers on the odd game (to this day I’m a crack shot lol!).

I remember that the inspiration for the game layout and equipment came from Battle Star Galactica and we spent hours watching the series to get design ideas for the maze, doors, vests and weapon designs.

The maze itself had a central 2-storey tower with a spiral ramp leading to the top.

There were mirrors on all four corners of the warehouse ceiling so that a shooter on the ground could still hit a person defending the tower unless they were careful.

On the ground floor under the tower was a mirror room which meant that if you happened to be in there when another team fired into the room you were basically toast. There was also a permanent laser aimed in there that randomly fired and killed all people that were inside. There was a similar laser aimed up the tower ramp which took out anyone who happened to be on there but this one had a countdown timer on the ceiling that everyone had warning.

The walls of the maze were wired with different colored LED’s indicating proximity to the team bases which were located at opposite ends of the maze.

The maze exit was via the top of the tower and when a team member was hit, they remained deactivated until they passed out of the maze and through their team “gate” which electronically reactivated their weapon. This was the same gate that every team member passed through at the start of the game and was situated at the top of a slide (one for each team), which transported the players to their respective bases down in the maze.

The effect of this was that when a player was shot by the opposite team, they had to relinquish their strategic position and were out of action for as long as it took to return via the slide.

This meant that most of the maze had a high amount of traffic but the LED lit areas were especially good areas to shoot the opposition.

The maze also had moveable walls which were operated by game referees during the game. This changed the maze layout and added to the general mayhem.

The equipment itself was developed before laser diode technology became freely available and so HeNe laser tubes were used for both teams (green lasers were prohibitively expensive). As these tubes were very fragile, they were encased in an aluminum tube (barrel) and packed with Silicone rubber. Even then, we would lose roughly a tube a day due to people hitting each other with the weapons.

Anyway, they had a solar cell mounted on the front and on the back. It registered hits from the opposing team only (and the mounted lasers of course) and one could be shot more than once while deactivated so getting back to base as quickly as possible was a big deal.

The whole thing was played to the Star wars theme including the pre-game hype which was a thing to behold on its own. We initially underestimated the effect that atmosphere had on people and we went way over the top. A game lasted 15 minutes and there was an additional 5 minute briefing to equip the players and instruct them on the game concept, rules etc. This time was also spent immersing them into a battle mindset. Lighting, music and narrative were used by the staff to get everyone really keyed up for the countdown…

By the time they got to the bottom of those slides there was so much adrenaline flowing that we had people run right through the maze walls made of 2X4 framed ½ inch construction board without even slowing down. We had people jump off the top of the tower onto the concrete floor without even remembering that they did it. We had people hit each other over the head with the guns hard enough to break them open and continue to play; oblivious to the high voltage electric shocks they received whenever they pulled the trigger!

There was so much damage done to the maze and equipment that we had to cut most of the pre-game hype and include a 5 minute debrief at the end.

I remember, as a 13 year old referee having to pull 200lb guys aside who were so wound up that I could see in their crazy eyes that they were barely conscious of what they were doing. If you’ve ever seen a person high on PCP, it was similar to that.

The police tactical units used to come and train there and they were the worst. You’d be surprised what the human body can do under those circumstances…

The business lasted for about 18 months to 2 years before folding. The cost of replacing the broken laser tubes was a big factor as were the long hours. The business required skilled staff to run it during this fledgling time as you can imagine so the founding partners had a very rough ride."

From the Curator:
This laser tag system was one of the most exciting one's that we have ever researched because it was sent in through our newly formed website that was very much in its infancy. 

Add to that the outlandishness of some of the claims in Nick Kitchener's email that we did not publish above.  Then add to that we could not find any evidence to verify Nick's claim of a company called Lasertron in New Zealand.  There were no public records we could find; no fan websites; no physical evidence of any sort. Emails to Megazone NZ and Delta Strike were responded with no knowledge of this laser tag system.

Simply stated - Lasertron did not exist.

We kept correspondence with Nick going over several months and each email was just as detailed as the first one.  But the story was bizarre because the inventor disappeared; criminal elements allegedly took over the business and everyone had distanced themselves from Lasertron.

Then in late December, 2012, we came across a recent post on Flikr.  A collector in New Zealand of candy wrappers and soda cans had posted a picture of a Lasertron sticker.  In the posting, Steve Williams, the collector, stated how he enjoyed playing at Laser Strike and Lasertron in Auckland!

Finally, physical proof of the business.  Then Nick found a post on a gamer website dating back to 2003 by Rick Adkins, the General Manager of Lasertron.

Nick was able to supply a phone number for Richard Wallath, the inventor of Lasertron.  I called the number but it was not Richard's...it was his parents who were on holiday.  They provided a number to Richard.

When I called Richard, he and I had an enormously enjoyable conversation, and he was able to share with me the story of Lasertron, including how Lasertron ended with "an offer that could not be refused".  It was fantastic!

He was able to recall with amazing clarity the part number and manufacturer of the HeNe tubes that were used in Lasertron.  He even remembered the prices from 1985.

Richard is alive and well and is a serial inventor having recently created an electronic wheel barrow with a 4HP motor.  He told me the idea for inventing Lasertron was by watching the famous Star Wars laser battle scene on the Millenium Falcon, the same scene that inspired George Carter to create Photon just 2 years earlier.

And the candy wrapper collector who had the only known sticker left in existence? Steve has agreed to sell it to the Laser Tag Museum.  We will have it preserved and mounted and put on display for the over 10,000 visitors who come through the museum annually.

From the Curator -  Updated August 24, 2013:

The conversation started in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Auckland hotel.  Peter Kitchener, co-founder of Lasertron, sat down with me and discussed how he and his business partner, Phil May, came up with the idea to create a laser tag system.

Phil May brought the concept to Peter after visiting Laser Strike in Christchurch in the June of 1986.  Peter and Phil liked the concept so much that they then hired an engineer, Mr. Richard Wallath, to create the actual laser tag system.

Mr. Wallath had been a sales rep for Boeing selling commercial grade Helium Neon (HeNe) lasers.  Richard had the technical background that when presented with the concept of laser tag, he immediately started to create prototypes.  The Lasertron system would be different than what was on the market in that it had visible laser beams since Richard had familiarity with the HeNe lasers.

The pack sensors were solar cells designed to recognize a tag when the laser beam struck the solar cell.  This concept has not be replicated in the industry since this inception.

Peter Kitchener and Phil May located the space at 38 Cavendish, Manuka City, Auckland and proceeded the buildout of the arena while Richard Wallath was developing the laser tag equipment.  The location was a two-story space and Peter's son, Nick, has already provided a detailed description of the facility.

Peter did reiterate that the guests were extremely rowdy and physically abusive to the equipment.  In fact, the pre-game hype had to be toned down to prevent too much adrenaline flowing before the game began.

From the time of concept to the opening day of Lasertron on December 6, 1986 took only 120 days.

Peter and I concluded our 4 hour interview by going to the old location on Cavendish Road as well as another location that Lasertron relocated after its first 24 months on Cavendish.  The second location was 146 Karanguhaupe Road.  More research into that address will be conducted in the future.  Peter's visit to the Cavendish Road location was the first time that he had been to the old location since he sold the business over 24 years ago.

A special Thank You must be extended to Acting Manager Regional Heritage & Research of the Manukau City Library branch, Ms. Jane Wild and her staff who were kind, courteous and patient with me as I sorted through a couple of years of newspapers on microfiche.  Jane had even located the listing in the 1987 Auckland phone book for LASERTRON.

Lasertron Phone Listing 1988

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