From Pong, to 2D platforms and onto online first person shooters, our desire for an increasingly realistic gaming experience was always going to see platforms emerge where we combat our friends, foes and flesh-eating zombies using our real-world bodies. Skirmos, the latest take on the laser tag system, uses gun-mounted LCD display, radio-based dynamic scoring and open-source programming in an attempt bring the complex and varied experience of the modern multi-player shooter to life.
While it is true that laser tag games and equipment are widely available, they are generally guided by the same principle: you shoot somebody, their gun deactivates for a certain amount of time and you are rewarded with points. A great excuse to shoot at your friends, celebrate your birthday or put that finely tuned army roll to the test, but probably leaving the more enthusiastic gamers wanting with regard to technical details.
It was here that Allen Ivanoviv and his friends saw an opportunity for a laser tag game that offered something a little extra.
"We were always on Xbox Live playing Call of Duty or Halo, and we also played Airsoft a lot," Ivanoviv, co-founder and hardware designer at Skirmos, told Gizmag. "But if you want to play a video game in real life, the laser tag systems that exist are of very limited functionality. We wanted to take the things that happen in video games and combine them with the core functionality of laser tag, expanding it to create a huge open-source game system."
Central to the Skirmos system, and one of several factors designed to set it apart from other laser tag systems, is the color LCD screen mounted on the gun. This displays key game information such as a health, kill count, time, shield, and ammunition. These are fed information though radios embedded in the guns allowing each device in the game to communicate with one another and scoring and game events to be displayed live.
"If somebody gets killed, somebody takes the flag or the score changes, it will update live on screen, meaning that the radio keeps all the scoring and game events automatically updated, just as they are when playing a game on the internet," said Richard Rice, co-founder and software designer at Skirmos.
In addition to syncing game information across the devices, the display is central to the flexibility of the Skirmos system. "It opens up some fun possibilities," said Ivanoviv. "Users will be able to select different types of weapons for example, each with different fire rates and different damage, something existing laser tag sets don't allow."
While the team's efforts so far are intended to take laser tag to a new level, in creating an open source platform, it hopes that the users will buy into their vision to help create something truly groundbreaking.
The software for the Arduino-based Skirmos system can be altered to make minor changes to existing games, be it enabling different weapons, allowing overshields or changing mission objectives, or used to revamp the platform altogether.
"You can go into Arduino and write your own software," says Rice. "Or you can download games that others have created from the internet. This we hope will add to the longevity of the product."
"We will have some default basic game types for people to play, such as free for all, team deathmatch or territories," adds Ivanoviv. "But later on people will be developing their own game types and we think these will get very creative."
According to the team, the Skirmos gun has a range of over 500 ft (152 m), and with a transparent shell, is able to change colors courtesy of LED lights on the inside, adding yet another element to the gameplay.
"This means you could have a red team and a blue team, or purple and yellow," Ivanoviv explained. "The lights could correspond with different aspects of the game, for example your gun could turn yellow when you have an overshield, green when you have the flag or turn off entirely if you have an invisibility cloak."
The gun also features a sound card which allows for further customization. "You can take regular WAV or MP3 files and upload them through the gun's SD card slots," said Ibrahim Pasha, co-founder and hardware designer at Skirmos. "This allows you to give the gunfire different sounds, so your gun could sound like its from Star Wars or it could sound like an AK47. The sound card also adds to the game experience in that it allows gameplay announcements, for example an alert when your team's flag has been taken."
The gun is powered by 9V rechargeable batteries, runs on an ATMEL 328p Arduino Bootloader and is housed by injection molded plastic casing. With an infrared LED laser, it also sports built-in speakers and a female USB port for data input.
The team has functioning prototypes and is looking to fund mass production through a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. While its principal aim is to see this basic model hit the market, the team has identified a series of stretch goals if extra funding is raised, which could see added features such as smartphone integration and built-in accelerometers.
Shipping is estimated for December 2014 if all goes to plan, with early pledges of US$99 available for a single Skirmos gun, while $390 put you in line for a set of four.
You can hear from the team in the video below.