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Bally Technologies: Tidal Wave

From the new Alpha Pro Wave cabinet to a mind-boggling collection of new games, Bally keeps on rolling

Bally Technologies: Tidal Wave

You may have heard that Bally Technologies is on a roll in the systems world—setting world records with networked tournaments and virtual races, providing casinos with the ability to custom-tailor bonuses and rewards at the slots, creating a core system that feeds content to online and mobile channels as well as the gaming floor.

But you may also have heard that Bally makes slot machines.

And it does a pretty good job of it.

As its Systems Division has been doing its thing, the Bally slot development team has been getting larger, more spread-out and more diversified. And the product innovations have been pouring forth, out of a development team with no less than 32 game studios from Las Vegas to Arizona to California, to Australia, to India, and more. And by the way, that number is 32—and counting.

It’s a lot for Mike Mitchell, vice president of game development and engineering, to keep up with, but Mitchell insists he’s not done building his game design empire for Bally. “We’re constantly building on to our studio system,” Mitchell says. “Some of our newest studios are in Sydney, two in India, two new ones here in Las Vegas and a new one in Reno.”

He adds that when Bally, as expected, completes its acquisition of SHFL entertainment, it will add more studios in Sydney, and even one in China.

Mitchell says all of Bally’s designers have a constantly growing palette of hardware platforms on which to work, using the unrivaled Alpha 2 slot platform for both video and stepper slots. From the workhorse Pro 22/22 video and Pro Stepper cabinets to the wildly popular V32—the first in the business to use a 32-inch vertical portrait-style monitor, and still Bally’s most popular format—and the newer V22/32 and V22/42 cabinets, plus two new cabinets being launched at this year’s G2E show, Bally hardware provides a huge playground in which Bally game designers can romp.

The most groundbreaking of the new cabinets is the Alpha Pro Wave. Like nothing seen on the slot floor before, the Pro Wave features a 40-inch monitor in a concave curve shape. It’s like someone stretched the V32 eight inches, then took the top and bent it toward himself, so it could be comfortably played like a slant-top.

“It’s a slant-like product, but it can also run all of our V32 game content, so it’s a crossover cabinet,” Mitchell says. “We’re aware of nothing in the market similar to this. Its flexibility is unprecedented as it relates to all our content. The V32 is our leading product currently, but the Pro Wave will display anything that’s on the V32, or anything on the Pro 22/22. The team has found a way to knit the muiltple screens onto this one screen. It composites everything on that curved screen.” Like the V32, the Pro Wave features 1080p high-definition video.

The other new cabinet is the Pro Jumbo V55, a behemoth with a 55-inch monitor and giant cabinet. “This plays on the success of reel-spinning and video jumbos already in the field,” says David Schultz, senior director of video game development. “It allows us to take all of our successful V32 content and put it in a jumbo version.”

In addition to these, the V22/42 cabinet is being put to use as the format of two groundbreaking new video slots—the large 42-inch top monitor, previously used to display the dual bonus wheels of last year’s “Dual Wheel Hot Shot Progressive,” is being combined with the Pro Sound Chair in a new merger of sights and sound that promises to wrap the player in the themes.

“Our hardware at Bally inspires our game designers,” says Mitchell.

Startin’ Somethin’

Speaking of inspired, there’s no better word to describe the premium games Bally is bringing to G2E this year, starting with the follow-up to last year’s “Michael Jackson King of Pop,” on the V22/32 platform.

You know those movie sequels that are better than the original? It’s kind of like that.

One can think of no better tribute to the late entertainer than a game theme centered on the opening song of his breakout album Thriller. Those old enough will remember when that LP, the top-selling album of all time, was first put on a turnstyle and the pounding beat of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” first came out of the speakers.

“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,’” the slot machine, captures that same feeling as the reels spin, planting the song—one of seven singles from that epic LP—firmly in the player’s head.

“Startin’ Somethin’” reprises the format—the high-definition video merged with the booming Pro Sound Chair—that made King of Pop a runaway hit for Bally, but what it does even better than the original is to weave Jackson’s legendary music videos seamlessly into the bonus rounds.

The “Billie Jean Free Games” event is a prime example. The event features Bally’s “Locking Wild Multipliers.” Wild symbols landing during free spins lock in place for the remainder of the spins, but they also carry multipliers, the level of which are determined by MJ himself—his famous dance in the “Billie Jean” video, in which he lights squares on the sidewalk with his dance steps, merged into the game screen so he activates multipliers as he does the steps.

Then there are the “Leaning Wilds,” which turn reels wild as a mystery feature during the base game. The reels are turned wild as Jackson leans into them—Jackson, that is, in white jacket and fedora, doing the legendary anti-gravity lean from the “Smooth Criminal” video. The “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough Free Games” event uses the iconic pre-Thriller video promoting the young Jackson’s 1979 Off the Wall LP in a free-spin sequence employing the popular Bally “Hot Zone” wild zone feature, in which a wild “zone” descends over the screen during spinning to land on a block of symbols, turning them wild.

Other bonuses incorporate the sights and sounds of “Bad” and “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Use of the videos—and five different songs—keeps the game fresh and captures the spirit of Jackson’s music and dance, while providing the player a generous pack of bonuses.

Michael Jackson, however, is not the only musical icon Bally is bringing to the slot floor this year. Bally has used the V22/32 “Digital Tower” cabinet to bring the legendary Texas blues/rock trio ZZ Top to the slot floor.

“ZZ Top Live from Texas” uses the same format as the Michael Jackson slot, but instead of iconic music videos from the 1980s, it captures the essence of the band using high-resolution video footage and audio of one of the band’s recent concerts in its home state of Texas.

The energy of the live performance comes through with a lot of power—as with the Jackson slot, thanks to the combination of video and the booming sound chair. Four of the most well-know hits from the concert—“Gimme All Your Lovin,’” “La Grange,” “Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man”—are woven into the bonus rounds.

The band—Mitchell says they were great to work with, superstars or not—even visited the sound studios at Bally’s Las Vegas headquarters to record custom voice-overs for the game.

All of the audio and live footage was woven together into a complete package of primary-game mystery bonus events, free spins and picking bonuses by producer Jason Stage of Bally’s Arizona studio. A rock musician himself, Stage injected a lot of his own passion for music into the endeavor, a fact that is obvious in the finished product.

A third licensed game on the V22/32 format is “Titanic,” based on the blockbuster 1997 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The theme of the slot centers not on the Titanic disaster, but on the love story in the movie—to the backdrop of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from Titanic).”

Still, since the film began with the story of the discovery of the famous shipwreck, many of the reel symbols reproduce the ship’s early 20th century artifacts in a superlative package of artwork. “The symbols are very detailed,” says Mitchell, “and come directly from what was on the Titanic.” The love-story theme, he adds, very much appeals to the female demographic.

As with the other new games using the immersive format, scenes and visuals from the movie are woven into the game, including a main bonus event that takes the player on a 3D journey through various parts of the ship, including the bridge and the elegant first-class ballroom areas.

New Frontiers

Other new games Bally is debuting at G2E take full advantage of the company’s newest cabinet styles—namely, the V22/42 and the Alpha Pro Wave.

The former makes its debut here in a form using the huge top portrait screen for bonus video clips and animation as opposed to the dual wheels of the Hot Shot games for which it was launched. One of them is the sequel to last year’s game based on the musical fillm Grease starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

“Grease Pink Ladies” is centered around not only on the two stars of the film, but on the four other top female cast members of the popular 1978 movie—Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo, Didi Conn as Frenchy, Jaimie Donnelly as Jan and Dina Manoff as Marty Maraschino. Scenes involving them all are built into several bonus events to make the game completely different than the original game.

Also on the big new format is “The Magic of David Copperfield,” which incorporates high-definition footage of the best illusions of the famous magician and Vegas icon into several bonus events.

As for that radical new Pro Wave format, it will be the basis of 22 new games at G2E. Among the new titles is the colorful “Red Phoenix,” with a free game event that allows the player to choose the volatility by picking from free game/multiplier combinations; and “Fu Dao Le,” which incorporates an Asian theme using beautiful artwork and stacked symbols that appear as game logos at first, but are then revealed as a line or wild symbol.

Repeating Success

Joining the new formats on the Bally stage this year will be an impressive array of new products in all of the slot-maker’s popular formats.

In the top-earning V32 format, standouts include “Jackpot Empire,” one of two new titles in the “Quick Hit Pro” series. The game employs an art-deco design that recreates the 1920s era depicted in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, only with a generic theme.

Jackpot Empire employs the latest version of the Quick Hit brand, which awards multiple progressive jackpots based on the number of “Quick Hit” symbols appearing on the reels. The new version employs “Locking Quick Hits.” Any Quick Hit symbol appearing on the third reel is locked in place, and the reels re-spin until no more Quick Hit symbols appear, increasing the likelihood of winning one of the progressives.

Other V32 games employ a new game mechanic called “Reel Blast,” which is featured in 15 games to be launched at G2E, and in a total of 31 titles for the coming year. It is a mystery feature in free-game rounds, in which reels 3 and 4 become one big reel, with one symbol covering a total of 12 game spots on each of three reel sets.

Other V32 highlights include “Sunset Beach,” with a “flip-a-card” jackpot feature in which the player matches two of four cards for a corresponding jackpot; “Bandita,” with the Hot Zone wild feature; “Run With The Pack,” a “1,024 Ways to Win” game; and “Playboy Down Under,” an Australian-themed version of the Bally Playboy franchise.

On the Pro Curve cabinet, which features reels curved to replicate mechanical spinning reels, Bally will feature 20 new games and “an explosion of different ideas,” according to John Vallejo, senior director of game development. “We’ve found that more traditional slot games from the mechanical-reel series resonate best on this platform,” Vallejo says. “The Quick Hit progressives are doing super well on the Pro Curve—we’re taking the mechanical reel and bringing it into a new era.”

This year’s Pro Curve lineup includes several classic Bally reel-spinning titles, with the celebratory animation and other video-like features the format permits. Included is a multi-game unit incoporating classic titles “Bonus Times” and “In The Money,” and stand-alone Quick Hit versions of “24 Karat,” “Black Velvet” and “Black & White.”

The core titles included on the Pro 22/22 cabinet will total 32 new games at G2E, with 40 titles to be launched within the next year. Many games incorporate new bonus features and game mechanics.

For instance, “Red Phoenix” and “Rise of Ra” feature “Radiating Wilds”—when wild symbols appear, they turn all symbols to their left and right into wild symbols. “We’ve gotten tons of positive response on this feature,” says Vallejo.

“Ocean’s Glory” incoprorates “Super Symbols,” which cover four reel spots and function as stacked symbols. “Wild Blue” and “Wild Red” are the first Quick Hit-branded progressives to appear on the standard Pro 22/22 cabinet. In addition to the trademark progressive feature, both games include multiplying wild symbols. “Wild Rose” features mystery stacked multipliers.

Finally, “Connect Four” replicates the plastic disc game in which different-colored discs fall into a grid of seven rows and wins are paid when four like-colored discs fall adjacent to each other.

The industry-leading Bally Systems division also will be well-represented at the show, with demonstrations of new networked bonus events for the iVIEW Display Manager and Elite Bonusing System, as well as the Bally iGame Platform, which places internet and mobile versions of Bally games on the same core system platform as games in the brick-and-mortar casinos.

System and i-game innovations demonstrated at Bally’s Systems User Conference last summer will be highlighted at G2E as well.

But mainly, G2E for Bally is about the games. And there will be a lot of them—280 in all.

As Mitchell says, “This is what we do.”

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.