Gamifying Technology with Nolan Bushnell and Zai Ortiz

San Diego, CA – The world of games is an ever-evolving space when it comes to technology.  Video games are the obvious space where you can see technology take the experience forward in leaps and bounds, whether that be ever-improving graphics or the new worlds that VR creates.  The board gaming space is one that we often don’t think about as a place where technology can help gaming evolve, but Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and Zai Ortiz, President, and Chief Creative Officer at X2 Games.  Their latest creation St. Noire is the fruit of their combined labor.

An immersive, mystery game powered by Amazon’s Alexa AI; the game is a board game with character acted parts respond to your choices in the game.  Like a choose your own adventure book, but with professionals telling you the story as you go along! With the creators stating that there are over a thousand unique playthroughs of the game.

The panel started with Bushnell discussing how he got his start in gaming.  “My life has been a series of happy accidents,” he said about the start of his career.  While working at an amusement park he was also going to the University of Utah. The university was one of only four places in the country to have a computer with a monitor at the time, and his first thought was that if he could find a way to put a coin slot in the front of a computer playing a game he would be rich.  

“Innovation is always art,” Bushnell also said, talking about how Atari was one of the first companies to focus solely on outcome over process.  Come in in flip flops, wear a toga to work, don’t even come in; as long as what you were creating was up to par with what Atari was asking for it didn’t matter.  All that mattered was harnessing creativity into products that they could sell.

Continuing the theme Zai talked about how important it is for technology companies to harness the skills of people outside of the industry.  Often people from outside the industry can bring a vision and creativity that others aren’t seeing. Zai himself transitioned from one field to another.

Starting his work in film as a cameraman (after going to school for that craft), he found that the work he was doing wasn’t fulfilling or exciting enough so he took on computer design and animation.  His background in being a creator pushed him forward, and he ended up being one of the creators of Iron Man’s look, the reboot of Tron, and into teaching others how to create and do the work that he is doing.  Both speakers emphasizing chasing after what you want for yourself, “Your failures are invisible,” Bushnell said encouraging people to not give up on their goals when the hit a roadblock.

The two men combined their creative forces to make a new kind of board game that utilizes AI.  In St. Noire you get to, “be the detective in ST. NOIRE – the first voice-controlled murder mystery board game

There’s been a murder in the small town of St. Noire – and the killer has promised to strike again! Can you solve the mystery before time runs out and the killer gets away? Find the clues, question suspects and trust absolutely no one. Someone is lying, and if you’re going to crack the case, you’ll need to figure out who…your move, Detective.”

Debuting at San Diego Comic-Con, St. Noire promises to use Alexa, voice actors, and immersive experience to create a whole new kind of gaming experience that Ortiz promises you will, “Lose yourself in.”  In some ways, the game seems like it harkens back to the era of VHS powered board games like Nightmare or, VCR 221 B Baker Street, but without the hindrance of inferior technology.  

St. Noire looks like an amazing game that will give a new spirit to the board game in the information and AI age!