By Liz Gebhardt
Imagine playing human-sized video games by manipulating a giant trackball. Imagine joining five of your friends in a real-world sci-fi story in which you have to safely pilot a spaceship to save the day. What if audience members could become the co-creators and performers of their own entertainment?
That’s the vision of Two Bit Circus, a technology-powered playground and funhouse opening this spring in the heart of Los Angeles’ Arts District. The brainstorm of CEO Brent Bushnell (son of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell) and CTO Eric Gradman, Two Bit Circus uses Silicon Valley techniques to create a sort of next-generation Disneyland.
The indoor amusement park brings together steampunk Cirque du Soleil style, human-sized video games and immersive theater, with several surprising twists.
Unlike a traditional videogame, in which players use tiny joysticks while sitting on a couch, Two Bit Circus will play with scale to create its own version of “King of the Hill,” with competitors using their bodies to maneuver three-foot-wide trackballs that control objects projected onto a large screen. Expanding on simple Pokemon Go-like augmented reality experiences on smartphone screens, Two Bit Circus will project images of multiple participants onto large screens so players can interact with each other along with computer-generated elements. Each visitor will create his or her own distinct journey, with an underlying network of sensors subtly guiding the way through a quirky world.
“When you walk into an arcade, what you see is what you get,” Gradman says. “When you walk into Two Bit Circus, we want you to feel that this place is infinitely deep and constantly unfolding.”
The world of Two Bit Circus is clearly the result of the creators’ video game-infused childhoods. It also reflects the entrepreneurial world of Silicon Valley startups: The project has been funded by $21 million of venture capital investment and hopes to open outposts around the world.
“I want people to be curious about what else is going on around the next corner or behind closed doors — to wonder what might be,” Bushnell says. “We’re about reinventing social fun in the physical world. Social is the underlying fabric of the Circus.”
“We want to break out of the confines that keep people on their couches and their phones,” Gradman chimes in. “Spectacular things don’t have to be dangerous.”