In The Paint(less) with SFX
SFX runs a Star Trek themed Paintless Paintball Experience
By Matthew Troy Parker

Everyone knows that SFX is adept at running sound for everything from big-budget Broadway shows and musicals to smaller, more modest community theatre productions. But with some ingenuity and know-how, SFX can run even more applications. Case in point, The Phazer Zone, a wild combination of Laser Tag and a "paintless" paintball experience. Sound engineer, Matthew Troy Parker, combined his love of good sound design with his knowledge of SFX and developed a totally unique arena for Phazer Zone. This month, Matt shares his knowledge of SFX and talks shop. Let's boldly go where no sound designer has gone before!

I have been using SFX since 1998 in my “Day job” as Sound Engineer and Designer at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida. I have always enjoyed utilizing as many of SFX functions as possible. In addition to the audio playback functions, I have used it to play video, control DVD players (and chase the time code from the disc), video projectors, reverbs, mixers and light boards. Also, using relay cards to control group mutes B.D.M. [Before Digital Mixers], and a douser for a video projector.

This summer I had an outside job fall in my lap, my local audio dealer was working on an install at the local Livingston’s Amusements Center that involved special FXs, lighting effect, and audio playback. The project was for a “Phazer Zone” paint-less paintball game with a Borg Spaceship theme. The game uses paint-ball guns loaded with fluorescing non-bouncing balls (which glow under black light), the players score by shooting other players in their protective sensor vest that transmits the hit to the scoreboard. I was originally brought on to the project just to produce three unique 6 minute tracks to play during the game, but my role escalated due to my knowledge of SFX and how to use it to automate all the elements.

The system is based around a small case SFX SoundStation DAW from Stage Research with a Echo Audiofire 4 audio interface and MOTU MIDI Express 128 midi interface. The Audiofire 4 drives 6 full range speakers and 4 subwoofers. The MIDI Express 128 sends MIDI commands to a MIDI Solutions R8 MIDI-controlled relay array, Elation Stage Setter 8 DMX Light Controller, and receives commands from an Akai MPD16 MIDI pad. The lighting controller runs six red beacons, one red rope light, and two strobe lights. The MIDI Solutions R8 controls the scoreboard and two electromagnetic releases that drop prop computer panels as if they had exploded.


The scoreboard was supplied with a project box controller with two buttons. The box had one normally closed button that is used to reset the scoreboard, and one normally open button that starts the clock, pauses/resumes the clock during the game, and sets the length of a game from 1 to 15 minutes in 1 minute increments. We cut off the project box, connected the button wires to the MIDI Solutions R8, then programmed the R8 to treat relay 1 (the play button) as normally open and relay 2 as normally closed. The R8 can be programmed to respond to MIDI notes or MIDI patch changes. A MIDI command can cause a relay to open, close, or open and close after a set amount of time (like pushing and releasing a button.) Multiple commands can be assigned to one relay (i.e. relay 1 close, relay 1 open, relay close for 10 sec and open. TIP: when sending a note on message set the velocity greater than 0.) The scoreboard tended to be finicky on how long the relay needed to be closed for it to respond appropriately (remember if it remains closed for too long it will set the game timer) so I used a wait effect in SFX to tweak the timing of the relay closure. Relays 3 and 4 on the R8 operated as normally closed to control the drop panels.

I built nine cue lists to operate the system. The goal was for the operator to push a button to start a game, have 1 of the 3 game tracks play, cycle through, and repeat for each 6 minute game. The first cue in the main list would trigger a cue list that played engine sounds that the players hear when they enter the arena. The next cue triggers the cue list for game track 1. When one of the game tracks is run it starts the scoreboard timer by triggering cue list F which has cues to operate the R8. If the relay trigger has to be edited the modification only has to be made to cue list F. Next, SFX’s timecode is started (track 1 has the hour set to 1, track 2 hour set to 2 ect.). The first few cues are linked by waits, but after the alarms that start the game, everything is triggered by timecode. The game tracks are a mix of Cyborg voice overs, explosions, spaceship sound, and high energy music.

The lights are triggered in their own cue list. Cue list G is the main light cue list that sends MIDI notes that operate the bump buttons on the light board. One of the lighting effects needed was making a red rope light flash. To accomplish this I created cue list H which turns the rope light on, waits, turns the light out and then restarts the list. To get out of the loop the main light cue list would panic the rope light list and auto-follow in the lighting list with the out command for the rope light. There are two DMX strobe lights and each uses two DMX addresses, one for strobe rate and one for intensity. An issue that I ran into with the light board was that when a channel level command ( a MIDI note with velocity) was sent it would remain at that level for 7 seconds and then go out. Since, the strobes are only on for a few seconds it wasn’t affected but it prevented us from using the board in its 16 channel mode to control chasing rope lights in two infinite windows. The owner wants to add lasers and moving lights, so we may upgrade the lighting controller to LightFactory.

To operate all of this the referee has an Akai MPD16 MIDI pad. This was a last minute addition to the design (otherwise it would have been a MIDISolution’s F8 with custom button interface), the referee stands in a small glass viewing platform in the arena, the computer is 3 feet away behind glass doors. Aside from booting the computer the operator never has to touch the computer itself. The MIDI pad starts the game, pause/restarts, resets the scoreboard, sets the game length, and provides a pad that works like the start button on the original scoreboard controller. I had to set the triggers to activate on a velocity of “0” because the MIDI pad sends a note off signal as “note On velocity 0”, if I had set SFX to trigger on a velocity of 128 (any velocity) it would “double punch”. That is why I set it to trigger when the pad was released. However, I used this to my advantage with the button that mimicked the scoreboard start button. For this I made cue list “I” triggered with a velocity of 128, the first cue is a relay closed command (triggered when the pad is pushed), the second is relay open (triggered when the pad is released) with a restart list linked to it.

All in all, I have to say SFX was a lifesaver on this project and if you ever find yourself in Sarasota, stop by and play a few rounds paintless paintball, check out the SFX system and help destroy some Borgs in the process!