‘STAR AUDITION’, THE SECOND TITLE FROM NOLAN BUSHNELL’S VIRSIX GAMES, BRINGS “CINEMATIC TWIST” TO TABLETOP GAMES
Star Audition, the latest title from original Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell’s new company Virsix Games, is a new offering that merges traditional board game mechanics with a cinematic twist, allowing players to use their smart speaker systems to enhance gameplay.
“I’m always looking for the edge, and the edge is a great place to be where it’s something that is a new technology but hasn’t been applied in this weird way before,” Bushnell tells VENN. “I like to have an open playing field, you can figure things out. Innovation is not a straight path.”
Co-founded by Bushnell and Zai Ortiz in 2019, Virsix Games is focused on creating titles with a bit of an unorthodox twist on traditional board games. Last year, the company debuted St. Noire, a “cinematic board game” murder mystery utilizing Amazon’s Alexa.
Bushnell, long an icon in the gaming industry, met Ortiz through a Saturday morning breakfast club. “It seemed like every time we’d get together, we’d invent 10 new products,” Bushnell says. “There was some really good synergy.”
“That’s how the magic started,” Ortiz adds. “We experimented with our first game, and partnered with Amazon on that, and we’re on our second game right now, and that’s Star Audition.”
Star Audition is a party game that allows players to select a character and scenario to act out, providing a script for them to use. “The script could be a robbery and all of a sudden you’re acting out as Bugs Bunny and another person is Darth Vader,” says Ortiz. “You get roses or tomatoes, depending on how good your performance is.”
Star Audition goes beyond traditional tabletop games by mixing analog play with cutting edge technologies using smart speaker systems such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home to deliver cinematic elements that enhance gameplay and help set the stage.
“You could play it like you would a normal card game, but with the enhancement we did you can add a director’s commentary where the director will guide you and select scenes randomly,” Ortiz says. “When you act the scene out, let’s say it’s a saloon or Western scene, your smart speaker will play that sound effect — you’ll hear doors open and hear footsteps as you’re acting out the role.”
A kickstarter launched early on Tuesday for the game. People who donate to the campaign will have the opportunity to submit a script to be used in the game. All submissions will be reviewed by Bushnell and a panel of Hollywood professionals.
“We noticed we were hiring script writers from Los Angeles and ended up getting a standard style, which is exactly what we did not want,” Ortiz says. “We were trying to figure out a platform to make [the game] feel organic, that it was written by totally different people. And the platform we came upon was Kickstarter. We’re crowdsourcing talent.”
The tabletop game genre is new to Bushnell and Ortiz, who has a film and TV background, but the transition was easy. “My family plays a lot of games and are always looking for new venues,” says Bushnell. “Then the whole idea that the smart speakers could turn into a non-playable character, that idea was cool.”
The current gaming landscape also bodes well for the release of Star Audition, and Bushnell and Ortiz believe creativity trumps the money of the larger corporations.
“In some ways, this could almost be the golden age of board games,” Bushnell says. “There are games right now that the instruction manual is a small book…but there’s really good stuff that is well designed and well done.
“I also think the smaller companies, the misfits, are making such amazing games from the global gaming toy companies,” adds Ortiz. “And I think the rise of video games and also mobile games help boost tabletop and we’re seeing it happen a lot.”
While there are no current plans for Star Audition to go digital, Ortiz says it’s on the table: “We definitely want to branch out the IP to different things, you just don’t know what will come first.”
Star Audition is available now and Ortiz hopes it will “be in every home by the fall.”
Photo courtesy of Virsix Games