by Elizabeth Lee
Imagine being on the bridge of a ship navigating through space with your crew’s survival at risk, then stepping onto a river raft to battle aliens in a swamp, and finally flying through the air, all in one night.
All this and more are possible at a futuristic micro amusement park called Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles.
“I think it takes a whole arcade game venue to the next level, and there’s a couple of games I played tonight where I was out of breath and actually sweating,” said visitor Kelly Bentall, who had just finished playing a game where she had to roll a plastic ball and watch a cartoon version of it on a screen, while trying to knock an opponent off a virtual arena.
Many of the games at Two Bit Circus can be described as traditional carnival games on steroids where sensors, cameras or virtual reality goggles add to the experience. There is even a robot bartender that mixes drinks for customers.
“I have not had a robot make my drink before. That was actually pretty cool. He even managed to shake it,” said customer John Duncan.
Just like a movie theater is a venue for the latest films, the Two Bit Circus is a platform for innovative games. Many of these experiences are created in an in-house workshop.
“We can build stuff here in the morning and test it out there (Two Bit Circus) in the evening,” said co-founder and chief technology officer Eric Gradman, a roboticist who used to build prototypes for the military. “We have a really incredible team of creative people who are always experimenting with new forms of entertainment, and we have the most important ingredient of all — people to test this stuff on.”
Two Bit Circus’s other co-founder and chief executive officer is Brent Bushnell, an engineer, entrepreneur and son of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.
“My dad wants to move in here. He freaking loves this place,” Bushnell said. “He comes back. He’s always got ideas — what things we should change, what we should do differently — but he’s obsessed.”
The two founders of the high-tech amusement park also happen to be trained circus clowns.
“I was touring around the country, doing crazy stuff on stage in front of thousands of people, and this place is a great way to combine those two loves, making stuff and performing,” said Gradman.
It is no coincidence that Two Bit Circus is about the size of a department store. As online shopping increases, brick-and-mortar stores are shutting down, leaving large empty spaces that are perfect entertainment venues for innovative games that can be tested and improved.
“We have built it (Two Bit Circus) to be able to just slot right in. And so for me, that brings real scale, right? That format exists in a hundred cities across the country so we can then iterate and test-optimize this version here and then replicate it across the country,” said Bushnell.
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