Combat-sim startup seeks crowdfunding to level up

Kiwi company Level 13 to offer "Real Life Alien Shoot em up" experience

We received an interesting heads-up last week, from a Kiwi startup by the name of ‘Level 13’. The company plans to launch a simulated combat arena, a sort of hyper-advanced laser tag utilising live actors, CGI and military-grade weapon simulation systems.

Level 13 will be located in Rotorua, a popular tourist destination in the central North Island better known for its geothermal activity than its alien invasions. Creators Brendon Amundsen, special effects artist Jeff Flitton and costume designer Debbie Rowles aim to change that.

The simulation aims to “recreate the scenes from your favourite sci-fi movies and games, to stimulate all your senses while working your entire body, and to give you a real sense of fear and adrenaline”. Compared to current entertainment-grade laser-tag systems, the website claims “no plastic laser guns or flashing coloured vests here”.

The project is open for crowdfunding via its website, with a $370,000 goal to reach by 30 October, 2013. At the time of writing, 3 investors had pledged a total of $102, with 68 days remaining.

We asked Amundsen to answer a few questions around the technology and business of Level 13, and he responded via email:

PCW: What sort of technology is involved in the arena? Computing, display, projection, the weapon sim tech you're using -- anything you'd care to tell us that will whet the appetite of our more techy readers?

L13: The weapons are airsoft converted to IR (infrared), using the MilesTag systems similar to those used by military and law enforcement around the world. The weapons are accurate to 200m with only 1m beam spread at that range. We already have 7 weapon types ready to go with more added as the year progresses and as pledges choose their own weapons from a list.

When the creatures are shot in their vulnerable points, they will "burst" open in response. The arena contains dozens of motion sensors and IR beams that activate modular interactive components, including a 5 screen setup that displays an in-game storyline involving a team fighting to clear the floor above your team. An elevator takes you down 13 floors to the start of the level. An HD projector displays the "portal", which must be closed with the failsafe explosives built into the facility itself.

PCW: Have you considered any sort of live web/Facebook/Twitter integration, so people can track or even watch games remotely?

L13: It is an option we are looking at, however at this stage "kill cams" on the weapons are our current choice as showing life footage of the arena via feed would give away a lot of the surprises. We have several radio control, camera mounted sentry cannons in the arena, allowing anyone who cannot physically play (wheelchair bound or outside our obstacle-based size requirements) to enter the game either helping or hindering the team inside the arena. Bullets don't discriminate...

PCW: With technologies such as Google Glass and its various competitors on the very near horizon, are you considering the use of heads-up-display technology of any sort? The HUD is a staple of video game and sci-fi combat, and it does seem very achievable now. (We’re aware that many laser-tag systems include a very basic heads-up hit/health counter -- I'm thinking of something a little more in line with modern games.)

L13: I have been overseas trialling several HUD options, and though very cool we are trying to keep this as realistic (as realistic as shooting alien creatures from another dimension can be!) as possible. The SAS don’t have HUDs showing remaining ammo and life, neither do we. They may be a future option if the funding goes exceedingly well. However, If we reach a certain level of crowdfunding, night vision goggles for your entire team are available.

PCW: You're using a custom crowdfunding solution powered by IgnitionDeck, rather than one of the established sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo or NZ's PledgeMe. If the target amount is not raised, what happens? Are investors refunded, or are pledges not actually billed until the close date?

L13: That is up to each individual pledger. If they wish they will be refunded, but lose the offers available to them. We WILL be launching within a year, crowdfunding or no, the pledging simply allows people to be a part of the experience rather than just coming and playing.

PCW: Level 13 will be located in Rotorua -- do you think this will limit the size of the target audience compared to, say, Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch? Or do you expect people to travel from around the country to visit?

L13: Only a little. Rotorua has very cheap commercial rent compared to the bigger cities, with a very high influx of tourism and several other cities within an hours drive. I designed the system to be recyclable, we can use minimum space and manpower to maximum effect. In addition, Rotorua has high gamer (PC and console, as well as airsoft and paintball) numbers, which are our primary target market. We envision players coming down/up/across for games on weekends with friends similar to spookers or cornevil mazes.

PCW: How much do you intend to rely on one-off/occasional/tourist business, versus organised teams returning to the arena on a regular basis?

L13: Tourism will be a strong part, we already have deals in place with a bus company. In addition, several large companies (200+ employees) have expressed interest in using us as team building and training exercises. We will be starting local teams of interested players in competitions including timed, last man standing, and objectives modes.

PCW: If Level 13 is a success, do you have plans to expand into other cities or countries?

L13: Oh my yes. We envision Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch all having a facility, with their own background stories and ingame experiences. Think of Rotorua as the baby brother. Due to gun laws in Australia and other countries, we could (and may) set up operations there too but the experience would lose a lot of realism due to those laws, meaning our weapons would not look, feel or act with the realism demanded by today’s gamers and milsim (Military Simulation - Ed.) players, and the interaction with the aliens would be different too. New Zealand has the perfect balance of options for us, as well as being home for me and the birthplace of my dream!

PCW: Any ideas on pricing, for one-off or repeat customers?

L13: We are looking to price in the $30-40 range for first timers with cheaper recurring games.