Makowskes combine teamwork, strategy, fun in laser tag experience

News Photo by Mike Gonzalez Jim Makowske, owner of Laser Team Challenge in Alpena, gives a laser gun to a player and directs them to a referee to get their headband properly placed at the business on Sept. 20.

ALPENA — What once was an armory in Alpena is now a building filled with teamwork, tactics, and lasers.

Laser Team Challenge, the laser tag operation that’s held its ground in downtown Alpena since 2004, continues to give players an inexpensive experience unlike any other laser tag joint.

That is because Jim and Carol Makowske, owners of the business, hold the largest U.S. indoor facility with Battlefield Sports equipment. The equipment and program they use originate in Australia, with each laser gun costing about $1,200 to $1,500.

Each gun can be programmed for different classes of weaponry. From machine guns to muskets, the Makowskes can change the fire rate, reload speed, and more to have each gun feel as authentic as a real weapon.

“We have over 100 guns here we can run,” Jim Makowske said as he scrolled through different weapon types on his laptop. “We can set all kinds of different parameters. We can change muzzle flashes, we can change all kinds of things with the guns.”

News Photo by Mike Gonzalez High school students exchange laser tag blasts in the arena at Laser Team Challenge in Alpena on Sept. 20.

Teams that face each other can sometimes have different rule sets between the two to replicate different themes. As an example, Makowske said that he can replicate the Battle of Normandy by having one team on the second floor to play the Axis troops as the other team runs through the main floor’s double doors and play the Allies landing on the beach.

He said Allies players can get shot and “die” in-game, but they can revive themselves at a respawning point as many times as they want to replicate the large number of soldiers that invaded. Axis players only get one life, but Makowske said the upper-level advantage allows them to last longer.

“The amazing part is we have adults playing with kids, and there’s no particular advantage of either being an adult or being a kid,” Makowske said. “You cannot run the speed of light. It doesn’t matter how fast or agile you are. But strategy and teamwork is paramount to winning in this game.”

Each playing session is $20 and lasts for more than two hours, with different game modes switched around every hour. Carol Makowske handles the financial and business side of Laser Team Challenge, while Jim Makowske handles the games and rules.

When there are new players who don’t know how it works, they get placed in a military tent to learn how it works from Jim Makowske. What they get is a clear explanation of the game and a small amount of comedy blended together into a tutorial.

News Photo by Mike Gonzalez Jim Makowske looks at the program to change weapons and rulesets at Laser Team Challenge in Alpena on Sept. 20.

“Here’s our safety rules: no physical contact during the course of the game — pushing, shoving, tackling, hugging, kissing, we don’t do any of those things here,” Makowske said to a chuckling audience of high school kids. “Keep your feet on the floor and be careful when you’re running places in his building where the floor is uneven. Other places in this building turned 100 years old three years ago. Anything that old has the right to have a few wrinkles of bumps here and there.”

The armory in which the Makowskes set up shop over a century old, so the three different levels of the building have an older, run-down look. To Jim Makowske, that fits the theme of a battlezone and gives players more immersion in the game.

Makowske cares most about making sure players enjoy their experience at Laser Team Challenge. People with different disabilities are accommodated with altered rule sets to give them a chance to play and have fun.

According to him, one of the alterations include invincibility for the playing session. The player is not assigned to a team and is tasked with taking out anyone. The altered ruleset gives the disabled player a feeling similar to a juggernaut as they barrel towards opponents who cannot hurt him.

“Nobody has ever complained about our accommodation of a player who’s just not able to get around in the same way that everybody else is able,” Makowske said. “And that’s OK. In the end, everybody has fun.”

News Photo by Mike Gonzalez High school students anticipate opponents will come around the corner of the arena at Laser Team Challenge in Alpena on Sept. 20.

Makowske got the idea to run a laser tag business after playing some in Reno, Nevada. He visited the city but does not drink or gamble, so he decided to go to the downstairs area of the hotel and played a few games with friends.

For him, it was the type of fun that he wanted to bring back to Alpena.

“You got to shoot some people that you wanted to shoot, and I’m sure there’s a number of people who wanted to shoot me,” Makowske said. “They got to shoot me, and, afterwards, we kind of hung out in the hospitality room and we’re just talking about it, having fun. And, after I came back, my friends and I talked about it for the next couple of years.

“They got to know me in a different way and I got to see them in a different light,” Makowske continued. “So I thought I could replicate that for other people.”

News Photo by Mike Gonzalez Headbands, respawn medical kits, and more wait to be used in a room before a beginner’s rule explanation at Laser Team Challenge in Alpena on Sept. 20.


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