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Nerdy inventors to open country's first micro-amusement park in DTLA

A group of inventors is betting they can get millennials to put down their phones and play together in the country’s first micro-amusement park. Two Bit Circus is opening the first of a chain of small-scale amusement parks here in downtown L.A. in early 2018.  Their unique style of entertainment combines old school carnival fun and cutting edge technology — and they even have a robot bartender.

I see our micro-amusement park as completely disrupting the entertainment industry, the world has nothing like this: there's no place that takes advantage of smaller spaces like we intend to do. There's no place that's filled with content that's constantly being rotated… there's no place where new technologies can come and live and be showcased in a place that allows everyone to play with them, and when they get old and stale we replace them with newer, cooler stuff.

– Eric Gradman, co-founder of Two Bit Circus.

The games and scenarios will change, so guests won’t get sick of the same thing. Gradman says this is a problem with other circuses and the out-of-home entertainment industry as a whole. Besides being a computer programmer and roboticist, Gradman also used to be a professional fire dancer and acrobat. He’d preform acts like hanging upside down by his ankles from a giant crane 40 feet above the pavement while spitting fire. Today, he’s the company’s resident technology officer and self-proclaimed mad inventor.

Gradman was introduced to Brent Bushnell by a mutual friend and the two immediately clicked. They both loved tinkering and inventing games, and Bushnell also used to perform in the circus as a nerd clown. Aside from being goofy, he’s got invention in his blood, his dad, Nolan Bushnell, founded Atari and Chuck-e-Cheese. Bushnell senior exposed his son to the business of entertainment from a young age. 

The moment Bushnell met Gradman, they began working on projects together and pretty soon they were getting paid to bring their kooky inventions to events thrown by Intel, Honda, Microsoft and others. They founded Two Bit Circus in 2012 and not long after, their inventions were being featured at high profile events as the NFL and the Olympics.

 

“Eric is incredible, we could talk about something in the morning and he’ll literally have a working version in the afternoon,” said Brent Bushnell.

The Two Bit Circus headquarters is at the Lincoln Heights Brewery Arts Complex. On any given day their staff is sawing, welding, building electronics, experimenting with VR, writing code and even etching their own circuits. Their company’s DNA is built on being able to rapidly make and test prototypes.

For the past year the shop’s been focused on creating new games for their micro-amusement park.  They’ve got a robot that paints the image you draw, by shooting paintballs at a wall. There’s a magic mirror that interacts with you and changes your face in many different characters. Not to mention the 5-foot-tall robot bartender that looks like an old-time jukebox. 

 

But perhaps even more impressive is a motion platform that uses simulation technology--- originally meant for training pilots-- to make the player actually feel what its like to drive a tank or fly a plane.  While these games may seem all over the place, they are all intentionally geared towards getting people moving and playing together. 

They don’t see themselves as having any direct competitors but they say there will still some be challenges.

One is of course durability, where building stuff that has to last, it has to withstand the most powerful destructive force in the world… that being kids and drunk people.

– Eric Gradman.

Their micro-amusement park is betting on two trends says Bushnell. One is glut of newly available real estate in malls as retail moves online. And the other:

People want new life experience you could think of their Instagram as kind of a new kind of currency rate and is not wearing the shirt that has the Porsche logo that says you're cool, it's what kind of cool new experiences you’re getting into, and so this is about a place for new life experience.

– Brent Bushnell.

Angelinos will be able to judge the experience for themselves when Two Bit Circus opens in downtown LA in early 2018. 

To listen to the full interview, click the blue play button above.