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visit The Funstation, Tallahassee, FL

     This map is the end result of an internship spent with The Funstation, in Tallahassee, FL. The Funstation is a "FEC" or Family Entertainment Center, which includes attractions such as go karts, bumper boats, batting cages, arcade and redemption games, and of course, laser tag. When they brought me on board, their existing laser tag arena had been there since the facility had opened, and was in a bad state of disrepair after years of use. It had used a jungle theme, with fake plants, rocks, and statues littered throughout the arena. To reinvigorate business they decided they wanted to completely overhaul the arena by tearing out the existing walls, choosing a brand new theme, and starting over from scratch.

     I was fortunate to get this rare opportunity to design an arena that could take advantage of my level design skills, while applying it to a real world situation. During my time as a manager at Adventure Landing, an amusement park in Jacksonville, FL, I was sent by the company to attend industry conventions like IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions). At these conventions I would meet and speak with other people working in the industry, and I came to know some of the people at The Funstation. They were aware of my love for level design, so when it came time to rebuild their arena, they offered me an internship in a move that was mutually beneficial for us both.

     Being that I don't live in Tallahassee, most of the design work I did for them was from my home. I took multiple trips to Tallahassee to sit down with them and brainstorm theme possibilities, as well as sketch out some concept drawings, and then gather reference images. I extensively documented the existing arena through hundreds of pictures, videos, and measurements, so that I could accurately recreate the dimensions at home as I designed a brand new arena.

     After I felt I had enough information to begin, I returned home to begin work on the 3d design of the arena. We had settled on a bombed out urban theme for the arena, with the background story being that aliens had invaded earth, and the human resistance was fighting back. One of the great things about the space I had to work with is that it was two stories tall, creating the opportunity for exciting vertical combat. We decided to go for a hyper-realistic look, with the idea of creating actual miniature buildings within the arena, and the second story of the arena would look like elevated walkways and a highway overpass.

     This was a very unique proposal for a laser tag arena that hadn't really been attempted within the industry before. If you're familiar with laser tag arenas, they almost exclusively fall into two different types of designs. Either they're designed as a maze, where you run down closed in corridors searching for your opponents, or they're designed with generic blocks that provide cover in a more open room. My challenge was to create an arena that felt more like a real place, while still retaining exciting gameplay that would keep guests coming back to play again.

     With a deadline of one month, I created two versions of the arena for them. The first was created in Lightwave 3D with accurate measurements. This version was intended for the contractor who they would hire to construct the arena. Regrettably, the 3d model and blueprints created from them for construction are held by the company and I do not have permission to show them publicly. The second version, that is shown in the pictures below, was built in Valve's Hammer Editor for Counter-Strike source. They wanted this playable version to be created for use in a local viral ad campaign to get Florida State University students to come to the park and play in the arena.

     As you can see in the pictures, many elements of the real life arena were retained for the game version. The Funstation management wanted me to implement all the things people would see in the arena, so in addition to the architecture and theme, I was to implement things like safety and exit lights, and emergency exits. Designing this arena was unlike any level I've ever made for a game. I had to be conscientious of many safety concerns in the design. For instance, there could be no steps anywhere in the arena. Any changes in elevation had to be done through a ramp. In addition, every balcony needed to have some form of railing at a certain height to discourage people from jumping over or climbing the walls. Many things such as these are a departure from typical game design where you have the freedom to implement anything your mind envisions. At the same time, I wanted to keep a lot of exciting gameplay opportunities for players moving within the arena. There's areas that feature both long range and close combat, and you always have to be aware of who is above or below you. The ramps are typically more open, so that combat strictly isn't between the first and second floors, but can come from in-between them as well.

     Everything you see in the pictures had to be able to be reproduced in the actual arena construction. Through special effects, things such as the bombed building that's on fire are able to be achieved in real life as well. Also in the pictures you can see two different lighting schemes. The traditional white fluorescent lights would be how the arena appears when it is not being played by guests during a game. The purplish lighting you see in the last pictures is meant to simulate black lighting that is used to lit the arena while games are being played by guests.

     I submitted my final design to them in my last visit to Tallahassee in August '06. Construction on the new arena began in late Fall of '06. It has since been completed, and is open for business to guests of the park. Regrettably I have not been able to travel back to Tallahassee since then to take pictures of the new arena, but I'm told that it looks fantastic. The owners of The Funstation were extremely happy with the final product, and I've heard that ticket sales for the arena have risen as well. I'm very pleased with the entire project, and I'm thrilled that one of my creations has been brought to life in a very real way.