Co-Founder Brent Bushnell on Engineering Entertainment and Social Fun at Dallas’ New Two Bit Circus » Dallas Innovates

Brent Bushnell
Founder and Chairman
Two Little Circus
…with the official launch of Two Bit Circus’ “miniature amusement park” at Dallas’ Shops of Park Lane.

After a soft opening two months ago, Two Bit Circus officially launched Tuesday at Dallas’ Shops of Park Lane, including 35,000 square feet of enhanced entertainment. Attractions include arcade games; VR, AR, and “augmented reality” experiences; “newsrooms”; carnival games reimagined; and more.

There is even a robot salesman named Guillermoand “classic carnival eats” to complement “molecular mixology” cocktails.

The second location of Two Bit Circus, a concept launched in Los Angeles. “We always knew the Dallas community was the right audience for our next location,” Bushnell said last spring.

After its first official day, Two Bit Circus had a launch party—and it was full of investors Capital Factory, many local startups, and startups looking to don a VR headset and kill some zombies. (Top golf senior chairman Erik Anderson is among the company’s other investors.)

Founder and Chairman Brent Bushnell flew the launch, as did the founder and CTO Eric Gradman and the CMO Andy Levy.

The two founders of Bit Circus are Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman [Photo: Dallas Innovates]

Bushnell’s father founded both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese

Bushnell’s father Nolan founded both Atari and Chucky Cheese before the age of 40, so young Brent grew up as a “beta tester” for all their games and video games. Early in his career, Brent Bushnell developed games for corporate sponsors and activated events such as the Super Bowl. That led him to create a STEAM carnival—a part of STEAM education, to bring those kinds of games to kids. That’s when he and Gradman decided, “You know what, let’s have a permanent home for all of this.” And the Two Bit Circus was born.

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Co-founders Gradman and Bushnell met about 15 years ago. Both had “regular” engineering careers before going into small recreation. Gradman has a colorful history as a circus performer, professional referee, roboticist, and inventor. He previously worked with a government contractor building robotics prototypes. Consider the work of the DoD.

“It was a really good job,” Gradman said at the launch party last night. But, he says, Two Bit Circus suits his personality. Now that he’s creating things that entertain Two Bit Circus guests — and that end up working in tiptop fashion, Gradman seems right at home.

Bringing people together through multiplayer games

The HoloGate. [Photo: Dallas Innovates]

One thing we saw at Two Bit Circus last night was an endless stream of groups walking down the concrete floor, finding their way to everything from the Hungry Hippo game to the futuristic, vibrating, floor-shaking VR HyperDeck to the newsrooms (their version of escape rooms), where groups he was running around doing things like keeping the “operating room” dummy.

All those interactions are part of the plan, Bushnell told us.

“In the entertainment industry, a lot is built around single-player games,” he said. “It is in the industry that it must be a single player. That was one thing we said no to. Most of the things here are multiplayer, and you’ll get two to four people together. That was a fun design hurdle. But it’s important, especially after COVID, to bring us all together and live in person. We are slowing down in the mental health business.”

The group creates 70% of its ‘circus’ games—and VR and AR drive the attractions

AR/VR dinosaur flying in Two Bit Circus. [Photo: Dallas Innovates]

The CMO Andy Levy he told us that the company’s team created 70% of the games on the full site.

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“You remember Rampage, a video game where you have to demolish buildings?” Levey showed us a game that has two real wrecking balls that players can swing for destruction to earn points. “This is the physical version of it. That’s the thing about our games—they’re really meant to be physical games that you can play together.”

There is also a real life version of Candy crusha VR roller-coaster, and much more.

Bushnell said a lot of the fun in Two Bit Circus is watching people go to other countries in VR—or experiencing it yourself.

It shows why people ‘cheat’

Attended the grand opening of Bit Circus. [Photo: Quincy Preston]

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It shows the power of the mind – how much people are scattered, Because it stands on solid concrete. There is nowhere for your body to go in real life. But in VR, you’re holding on to a rope and a wobbly ladder. It’s vibrating and all those things together” make people feel like they’ve escaped to another world.

“In HyperDeck, people are crying about zombies. Your rational brain is like, ‘I’m down. I’m in the middle of the mall, right? I’m alive—and then you get these VR zombies coming at you and you’re in the game.”

There’s also the old-school Two Bit Circus SkeeBall, and a cool retro-modern shooting gallery with rifles and shotguns that shoot down vintage cans, spinning ducks, and other targets.

“Because, you know, we’re in Texas after all,” Levey said.

Other places to stay in Two Bit Circus:

Guillermo, the robotic bartender. [Photo: Dallas Innovates]

HoloGate in Two Bit Circus [Photo: Dallas Innovates]

Two Bit Circus’ Hyperdeck [Photo: David Seeley]

“Newsroom” at Two Bit Circus. [Photo: David Seeley]

Old school Skee-Ball at Two Bit Circus [Photo: David Seeley]

Brent Bushnell. [Photo: Dallas Innovates]

To find out more about who said all things North Texas,
check out All the Last Words.

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  • With investors including Capital Factory and the CEO of TopGolf, the facility will have 35,000 square feet of advanced entertainment. Attractions will include arcade games; VR, AR, and “augmented reality” experiences; “the story (of escaping) the rooms”; reimagined carnival games, and more.

  • THE LAST WORD on Dallas Innovates.  Find out "who said" in our collection of quotes on Dallas-Fort Worth Innovation.

    Read “who said what” in our compilation of quotes about all things North Texas, including ENO8’s Jeff Francis; MyndVR’s Chris Brickler and Ted Werth; John Olajide of Axxess; Ron Pressman of the Urban Land Institute; Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson; Katie Edwards of the Mavs Foundation; UT Arlington by Yi Hong; Ben Caballero of; George Baker Sr. of ParkHub; and more.

  • Like all the others, the Deep Ellum location offers interactive, digital games played by groups in “smart fun rooms.” As you can see from the non-goggle players above, it’s not about AR or virtual reality. Instead, the “game boxes” feature a range of technologies including projection mapping, touchscreens that use the company’s patented Lidar, 3D motion tracking, and surround sound.

  • Enable Games claims to offer “the next level in entertainment, fitness, and gaming.” Its six locations in Canada and the US have up to 11 rooms with laser mazes, touch-activated climbing walls, arcade-style target walls, shiny basketball hoops, and more—your score is tracked by an RFID bracelet. You can “test your brain and body” when a new Plano location opens soon later this year.

  • The eighth annual HackDFW, sponsored by Say Yes to Dallas and presented by Google, connected hundreds of emerging professionals at several Fortune 100 companies. It was a unique 48-hour race that challenged more than 550 people from 80 universities. Technology groups have created ways to deal with waste management, climate change, better understanding decisions from the Supreme Court, and much more.


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