Ken Teer stands in line for two to three hours on some nights for an opportunity to gun down the person standing next to him. Dressed in equipment out of Star Wars, he joins a team that stalks out another group, trading blows with a harmless light gun.
This organized mayhem, called Photon, takes place inside a 10,000-square-foot area in Dallas that is filled with a maze of tunnels, balconies, and battlements. Zap -- an invisible light beam strikes a player, putting him out of action. Puff -- a machine fills the room with a thick fog, hiding some of the players. The object of the game is to ring up points during the six-minute spree by knocking off the enemy and capturing his home base.
George Carter, Photon's founder, expects to have 100 centers operating by the end of 1985, mostly through franchises. Photon is part of a trend toward interactive amusement -- the players determine the course of the action -- that started with sophisticated video-games a few years ago.
Photon patrons pay $3 each to play for six minutes, and Carter says that the game takes in about $15,000 a week. An average customer, usually male, spends $7.50 a visit, but some people blast away $100 in a single day. Ken Teer has played as many as 20 games during his daily visit.
Developing the first center, open since April, took about four years and $750,000, raised by private investors. Much of the electronic equipment had to be designed to Carter's specifications. To register hits, for example, engineers developed special helmets and breastplates that transmit signals to the Photon computer, which records the appropriate number of points.
To open a center in a city the size of Dallas would cost about $350,000 including the franchise fee, Carter says. The first franchisee, Photon Canada Ltd., plans to start building a center in Toronto this fall.
Photon players say they like the variety offered by human opponents, who are much less predictable than, say, the electronic blips in video games. Paul Taylor, an aircraft-instrument technician, says he plays about five games every couple of nights, often to work out his frustrations after a hard day at work.
"It's an emotional release," he says. "Where else can you shoot somebody and go shake their hand later?"