Two Bit Circus Took The Tech We Love And Built An Amusement Park

Carnival games are simple to pick up, designed to provide a little bit of entertainment in exchange for your game ticket. Given that the main point is just to have some silly fun with your friends, most game vendors have little reason to innovate. But we are people who play with microcontrollers and gratuitous LEDs. We look at these games and imagine bringing them into the 21st century. Well, there’s good news: the people of Two Bit Circus have been working along these lines, and they’re getting ready to invite the whole world to come and play with them.

“Interactive Entertainment” is how Two Bit Circus describe what they do, by employing the kinds of technology that frequent pages of Hackaday. But while we love hacks for their own sake here, Two Bit Circus applies them to amuse and engage everyone regardless of their technical knowledge. For the past few years they’ve been building on behalf of others for events like trade shows and private parties. Then they worked to put together their own event, a STEAM Carnival to spread love of technology, art, and fun. The problem? They are only temporary and for a limited audience, hence the desire for a permanent facility open to the public. Your Hackaday scribe had the opportunity to take a peek as they were putting on the finishing touches.

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Modern Strongman Games Test Your Speed Instead

Step right up! What would a Makerfaire be without some carnival games? And being a Makerfaire, they could of course be modernized versions. In [avishorp]’s case, he made a series of games that test your speed and look very much like the old strongman game, aka high striker or strength tester.

In the strongman game, you smash a lever with all your might using a hammer. A puck on the other end of the lever then shoots up a tower, hopefully high enough to hit a bell, winning you a prize. In [avishorp]’s games the puck, tower and bell are all replaced with an LED strip. In the swipe game, the faster you swipe your hand sideways over two optical proximity sensors, the higher the LEDs light up. In the drum game, the speed with which you drum on a rubber disk with embedded accelerometer, the higher the LEDs light up. The chase and response games both involve buttons that you have to rapidly hit, to similar effect.

For the brains, each game is controlled by an Adafruit Trinket board. [Avishorp] chose to use the PlatformIO IDE instead of the Arduino IDE to write them, preferring its modern editor, but he didn’t like that it doesn’t print and that it doesn’t tell you the final file size. The latter issue caused him to overwrite the bootloader, something that he understandably considered a major inconvenience.

Check out his page for more details, Fritzing diagrams, links to code, and all game videos. Meanwhile we’ve included clips of the drum and swipe games below.

And if it’s more carnival games you’re looking for, how about this adult-sized Sit ‘n Spin made using a rear differential and axle assembly out of an old car or truck. Or maybe you prefer something less likely to make you woozy, in which case you can try fishing with the Bass Master 3000.

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TwoBitCircus: The Business of Building Interactive Entertainment

The Hackaday 10th anniversary was an awful lot of fun, and part of what made it awesome was all the cool things that the community brought to the event. We hadn’t really had a chance to get down to meet the guys from TwoBitCircus before now but they were more than happy to bring along their excellent Hexacade machine. The 6-player custom built arcade game that was an absolute blast!

After the party TwoBitCircus’ fearless leaders [Brent Bushnell] and [Eric Gradman] invited us over to their space for a quick look at their workshop, and to give us a personal invite to the Hacker Preview day for their upcoming STEAM Carnival. No this isn’t Steam as in Steam-punk, but STEAM as in Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics.

TwoBitCircus Workshop

Their space is really quite amazing, part of The Brewery Art Colony near downton Los Angeles. The building is actually an old steam power plant with incredibly high ceilings. The TwoBitCircus crew is now about 30 people all building interactive games and art pieces for events. They call themselves a digital circus and a lot of their work harkens back to old carnival games of yore with a new digital twist.

[Eric] and [Brent] spared a few minutes to give us a quick run down of what sort of games to expect at the STEAM Carnival. There will be a wide array of entertainment: giant marble runs controlled by see-saws, whack-a-mole/twister mashups on huge glowing button walls, laser based foosball, and the more extreme immolation dunk tank! It will be a most entertaining and educational event. The main public days are on the weekend of 25th – 26th of October, but there is an invite only hacker preview for the local community on Thursday October 23rd which we will be attending. If you’d like to go to the main event, use the code HACKADAY for $5 off the ticket price of $25.

What was most interesting about TwoBitCircus for me as a maker of things was how these guys have turned their hobby into a thriving events business. Brent tells us that they’ve been at this for 8 years now and the company has been around for 3. They’re doing pretty well too, making incredible things for some of the biggest companies around. This really is the best possible job for any inventive hacker sort, building crazy stuff all day for people to play with! I left the place feeling incredibly envious.

Check out the photos below for some impression of the sort of craziness you might see at the carnival!

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