THE REDS are armed and waiting, hiding in ambush somewhere in the fog. Perhaps behind that bunker over there, or around the corner, or down the next corridor. The Reds have names like Savage, Condor, Viper. All armed with Phasers, waiting to "kill" me and other members of my Green Team -- the less aggressively named Fido, Rover and Rex.
What's going on here?
What's going on is Photon, the new participatory game that seems certain to burn up the Boardwalk in Ocean City.
Photon, "the ultimate game on the Planet Earth," is the high-tech evolution of Cowboys and Indians. Players are divided into Green and Red teams and then equipped with a battery belt, a helmet and visor, a control module and a pistol-like Photon Phaser. The Phasers shoot a beam of light to score hits. The helmets contain receivers and the control module registers the scores. Players choose a game codename, get a quick briefing on use of the Phaser and tactics, and then are set loose into a two-level, 12,000-square-foot arena that is a maze of bunkers, corridors, tunnels and ramps. There, amid machine-made fog, swirling lights, eerie music and the general feel of a dark alley, the players begin hunting down the opposition.
In Ocean City, where Photon has taken over the former Ripley's Museum on the Boardwalk, a newcomer strapped on the 15 pounds of equipment and then listened as a "game commander" briefed us on how the game is scored: 10 points for hits on opponents, 200 for disrupting the enemy base goal, minus 10 for being zapped and minus 30 for blasting a teammate. Hits on an enemy result in a video-game-like sprrawwningoing tone in the helmet. Misses made another, less satisfying sound; hits on teammates made a third.
"Got that?" the commander asks.
"Yeah, yeah," we grunt through our visored helmets.
"Then go!" he shouts.
"Lock and load, dude," one Green team member says to another. "Right, dude, time to rock 'n' roll," his mate replies.
We hit the maze, fanning out in the fog. It looks like we're entering the scene of the show-ending shootout on "Miami Vice."
The fog and shifting shadows make it difficult to identify people, much less tell whether they are Green or Red. Which brings the first moral dilemma to the fore: Blast away indiscriminately? Or wait to identify allegiance, at the risk of being zapped.
Surprisingly, caution prevails. Besides, there's no one to shoot at but Green teammates. In fact, I cannot find any Red members.
Then paranoia strikes: Perhaps they are following me! I double back to make sure.
Still no Reds.
Then it begins. Reds everywhere! McCarthy was right! I blast away and move. Shoot some more and keep running, duck into tunnels and cul-de-sacs to hide. After a while, you stop trying to identify soldiers first and instead blast anything that moves, even the game commanders who act as civilian observers in the arena.
Then it ends, just 6 1/2 minutes after the "ultimate game" began. Unlike many high-tech games, this seems to last much longer than it really does.
After the troops take off their gear, the scores, recorded by computer during the battle, are posted. The Red team has won, with Condor registering 280 points, edging out the vicious and deadly Savage, Savage 2 and Viper. The meek Greens have done okay, with each registering about 100 points. Except for one player -- low man on the team. Score: minus 20 points. The codename is Fox. I carry a pen. HAVING A BLAST
The Photon game is played by teams of up to 12 players each. Players must wear shoes that do not have leather soles and must be at least 4 feet 6 inches tall to play. (The height requirement mostly insures players can carry the heavy equipment.) There is no age requirement. The cost of playing Photon in Ocean City is $9.50 for newcomers: That gets you a "passport" (a photo ID that entitles you to future discounts) and two games. After obtaining the passport, games cost $4. Other discounts are available. If being in the thick is not your thing, pay $1 and be a Photon sniper from the observation deck.
in Ocean City is open 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. during the summer. 401 S. Boardwalk. 301/289-1700. Other locations are in Virginia Beach (across from the Lynnhaven Mall off Exit 5, Route 44; 804/427-5550), and in Baltimore (at the North Point Shopping Center, Exit 40 off I-695; 301/284-5200 or 301/284-3232).