Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Laser Dart Nerf Tag?

Laser Dart Nerf Tag!  Or is it Nerf Laser Tag Dart?  Maybe it's Dart Nerf Tag Laser.  Yeah, that's gotta be it.  What's this I'm talking about?  Oh just the "TekStrike Storm Shield" that surprised us at Toy Fair 2014.  Remember that tinted shield we saw on the Rampage nearly two years ago that never made it as an accessory?  Yeah, it's kinda like that... but it's a lot more than a simple blast shield.  It's a whole battle system that combines the Foam Dart goodness of Nerf with the electronic scoring and Smartphone integration of Laser Tag for a super-cool nifty awesome way to play!  ...or is it?  Yup.  Time to be a skeptic!

First, the details.  The TekStrike system uses a smartphone, special screen, and RFID programmable chip-embedded darts.  The concept is simple: aim the Smart Darts at the gigantic screen on the end of your opponents blaster to score hits.  The darts will work in clip-fed blasters just like your Elite Darts and have a distinctive green tip on them.  They carry information with them and as the dart hits the Storm Shield, the type of ammo it was hit with and who the shooter was, are recorded, displaying the damage on the built-in LCD screen and sending the appropriate points to the shooter’s screen.  To start playing, the user selects an ammo type, wirelessly programs the Smart Darts by swiping against the Storm Shield and then begins firing at the opponents shield, instantaneously being alerted of successful shots, similar to how team games work with the Lazer Tag systems.  Also, like the LTAR, advanced battle scenarios can be unlocked by using a smart phone or tablet as a remote base to track team stats and select mission objectives with the free app for this system.  The smartphone can also be attached to the Storm Shield for GPS tracking, blaster upgrades, accuracy stats and other options.

Now that you understand how it is designed to work, it's time to take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages this system could provide.  Obviously, having a cool heads-up-display scoring system is a game changer for Nerf.  No more honors system.  No more "I got you!" quickly followed by "Oh no.  Oh no.  Oh no.... oh no you didn't!"  It also avoids the ever popular face-shot issue, since users will be looking through the shield as they fire at eachother.  You're still technically aiming for their face.  However, the hit confirmation is probably more pleasant than the deleted expletives your opponent would normally yell when they get hit in the face with a dart.  You won't shoot your eye out, kid.

There are other obvious advantages with adding a smartphone from a marketing standpoint, but this is where the TekStrike's wheels fall start to off for me.  I think smartphone integration with simple gaming not only complicates things, but also makes the game less accessible to people.  In order to play along with the TekStrike system, you've gotta have special equipment, special darts, a certain kind of phone, and a blaster with a top-mounted tactical rail system.  Granted, it's not too hard to find a Nerf blaster with a tactical rail anymore these days, but the limitations this system has already shrink the possibilities for this.

Probably my favorite aspect of the two hobbies I cover here on Tactical Tag is the social aspect of gaming.  Getting folks together to get out and enjoy the game, be it Nerf or Laser Tag or otherwise.  In the games I have organized over the years, one of the things I enjoy about Nerf is the ability to to be as inclusive as possible.  If it fires a foam dart, whether it's a Dart Tag, Rebelle, or even another brand like AirZone, you can join in the fun.  Although I love Laser Tag, one of the major setbacks is that if you can't bring a Laser Challenge blaster to a Lazer Tag Team Ops game and join in.  In the same way, you can't show up to play a Nerf Game using the TekStrike system if you've got a Swarmfire or a Magnus.  You've gotta have the right darts, the Storm Shield, and a smart phone to play... so it takes a once-accesible game and makes it exclusionary all of a sudden.

Let's say everyone has a smartphone.  Lets say everyone can afford the TekStrike.  Actually, if I may side-track myself for a second... can I just say that I think having something like this that has RFID chips, Bluetooth, and all the other neat tech in this system that it's incredibly well-priced?  How on earth do we get an affordable system like this but the Cam ECS-12 has a prehistoric camera system that's overpriced?  Okay... back to my idea.

If we got everyone playing and all was well, there's still one crucial problem with this system that I see in the long-run: the darts.  That smartphone integration, the special sensor shield, none of it means anything if you don't have the right darts... and darts do eventually get worn out and stop working.  They get jammed in blasters, stepped on, bent beyond recognition, so this whole battle system revolves around an element that gets pretty beat up under normal circumstances.

In the end, I have no idea where TekStrike will go from here.  I've seen a lot of smartphone-based stuff come and go and it's all gimmicky to me.  It doesn't stand up to the test of time like a good ol' fashioned game of Nerf does.  The constant drive to make things MORE like video games is annoying to me since I'll always choose going outside to go play a game with the neighbors than to sit inside all cooped up an sit on a couch watching keyboard warriors mop up the n00bs.  TekStrike takes a game that I love and, quite honestly, ruins it for me.  It doesn't matter if this system is a smashing success for a year if it doesn't last because gimmicks will always inherently die off.  The Smartphone integration with the LTAR didn't get people hooked on Laser Tag during our 8th Summer Season of games last year... the GAME and the PEOPLE did.  It's the same way for Nerf, so this smartphone fad may catch on for awhile, but it if it does... it won't last.  By the simple nature of Smartphones constantly getting outdated and upgraded, it doesn't have the ability to last.  However, the Rampage that's firing the darts... that'll still be kicking long after the Smart Darts are chewed up and the Storm Shield breaks.

Long story short: keep looking forward to the new dart blasters from Nerf!  Enjoy the TekStrike while you can if you want to, but it's the bones of the game you'll always enjoy more.


  1. This looks cool, but not for normal Nerf play. I see this as a great scenario/LARP accessory!

  2. I must agree with you, also, is the only thing you can hit with the darts the shield? If so, that takes away a lot from Nerf games too. I'm groovy with having to tag the blaster for Laser Tag, but for Nerf? It just seems so much more trouble than it's worth. Not having much experience with Laser Tag, I can only imagine that the game types and how the guns work lends itself to shooting the blaster and that makes a very good game if you're playing a set that doesn't have external sensors, but Nerf is a much closer range game, you don't have the range and ease of use that comes with Laser Tag, you have to hitt the person with a dart that is physical and can more easily be avoided, so using the shield as the only target seems like the wrong thing to do.

  3. So does this mean that people on the Android OS will be able to finally play with Nerf tech or is it going to be exclusive to Apple POS, thusly being further exclusionary?

  4. Yank the shield off, make it a chest plate. Now that's your permanent set of health. You've got your tagger for hits that determine when you go out and respawn but get hit too many times by the Nerf darts in the chest plate and you're out until the next round.

  5. From what I have read, you don't NEED a phone for it to function. It has it's own life and score counter built in, with no phone needed. You only use a phone as a base to keep team scores, and as an optional gun upgrade.

  6. This is what the LTAR Should have had, simply put... a clear plastic holder. Then players wouldn't be frustrated when playing without their phones, etc. Instead of having a big blind spot with it little window they could just paint a U shaped iron sight in a given space.