Call it weapons of mass technology. This year, Bally is marshaling its entire arsenal.
Three hundred games, 134 unique titles, new cabinets, new play mechanics and new system technology add up to what has become a typically huge G2E display for Bally, which has created a game development culture matched by few other slot manufacturers.
The completion of the Alpha slot platform, and more recently, Alpha II, was certainly the key development at Bally over the past decade. However, over the past several years, the company has assembled an enviable team of engineers, game design veterans and even third-party designers to maximize the potential of the superior technology.
“We have 19 (game design) studios now,” says Mike Mitchell, vice president of game development for Bally. “The studios are maturing, and getting better at what they do. And now, they have the proper technology in their hands to do what is successful. We’re going on 30 months worth of effort to bring this technology into play.”
Important additions to Bally’s studio teams have come during the past year. In January, the company acquired Games 4 You, the Arizona-based independent game design firm headed by former Atronic game development chief Jason Stage. Shortly after that, game designer Michael Gottlieb—whose former family business, the legendary D. Gottlieb & Co. (founded by his grandfather), was once Bally’s fiercest competitor in the pinball market—joined Bally, and is designing slots from his San Diego-based studio.
In June, Bally named former IGT game development VP Jean Venneman as vice president of product management and licensing.
Bally keeps adding talent because the potential of the Alpha II platform is still being tapped. “Alpha II is still growing; we’re still building on it, and learning from it,” Mitchell says. “We’ve had the same philosophy for years—the hardware is a springboard for game innovations and concepts.”
Among those concepts this year are three new patented game-play mechanics that will be introduced on new games at G2E. “Hot Zone,” which will debut on a new game in Bally’s Playboy series, creates a wild “zone” over the game screen at the end of random spins—turning anything from one or a few symbols to the entire screen wild.
“The Hot Zone acts like a free sixth reel,” says Dan Savage, Bally’s vice president of marketing. “Any outcome can suddenly become a huge win; you can have nothing, and suddenly, you’ve won on all 40 lines.”
Another new game-play addition is “Bullseye Bonus.” During free-spin rounds, bulls-eye symbols landing on the reels add up above each reel. Once four bulls-eye symbols are collected above the fifth reel, that reel becomes all wild, and locks in place for the remainder of the free spins. This can happen again with the fourth reel, then the third—up to four of the five reels can end up with wild symbols.
Finally, some games feature “Directional Wilds,” which are wild symbols superimposed with dials. All symbols in a direct line from where the dial on one of these symbols is pointing become wild symbols—vertically, horizontally or diagonally.
Each of these game mechanics pays a player twice for one spin—the initial spin, and the spin improved by the wild symbols.
In addition to the new play mechanics, hardware improvements in the Alpha II format are resulting in new game features. For instance, there is now an interactive button deck formed by a single flat-screen LCD—covered in Corning/3M “Gorilla Glass” for protection and to provide a multi-touch function. With up to 20 different touch points on the surface, the “iDeck” can become a third interactive game screen for bonus events, in addition to a screen for celebration displays after jackpots—or for the operator to communicate with players.
“The iDeck is all about the applications we put on it,” Mitchell says. “For operators, it opens up a world of opportunities. Level 2 will be for the players, with bonus events on button decks that will give players features they can’t experience today.”
Other variations on the Pro Series cabinet are creating new looks and new capabilities for games in all of Bally’s categories. And all will be well-represented at G2E.
Bally’s diverse group of game developers is proving itself with a group of distinctly unique new slots for the G2E display, beginning with what Venneman predicts will be the “best of show,” the first game on the Alpha II Pro Series platform—“Cash Wizard.”
All the benefits of the new format are visible immediately on Cash Wizard—the top screen curved toward the player for easy viewing; the ergonomic cabinet design; and most of all, a sleek spinning bonus wheel on top of the slot, above a top-box display of three progressive jackpots.
The game is packed with bonus events, including quick on-screen events like “Invisible Ink” and “Potions,” picking bonuses that award up to 20 times or 620 times the total bet, respectively; a free-spin bonus that triples jackpots for 15 games; the “Wild Wizard Feature,” in which the wizard character turns from two to five symbols wild after a spin; and of course, the “Mystery Wheel,” in which the top wheel spins to credit values, free spins or one of three progressives.
The Wizard Wild and Wizard Wheel features are activated with an ante wager of 20 credits times the line bet—one of many Bally features designed to raise the average bet.
Cash Wizard also is the first Bally slot to feature the iDeck button panel.
The new Alpha II format also provides a great backdrop for “Playboy Hot Zone,” the latest game in Bally’s franchise Playboy series. The game theme centers on the 1950s and 1960s culture of Playboy magazine, with the young, pipe-smoking Hugh Hefner surrounded by traditionally garbed Playboy Bunnies. The Hot Zone play mechanic makes its debut here, with the “zone” dropping down with graphics covering the entire face of the game.
Then there’s “Golden Pharaoh,” which features a new twist on the “U-Spin” game mechanic launched last year with “Cash Spin,” and a new variation on the Pro Series cabinet—the “Hammerhead.” The game is configured with a 32-inch vertical main screen and a second monitor in a top box that is wider than the base. Yes, it looks like a hammer, and when they’re together side-by-side on the floor, the monitors touch each other. “It creates kind of a video wall,” Mitchell says. “It projects a big presence in the casino.”
Golden Pharaoh’s U-Spin bonus uses both the main screen and the top box. The player touches the screen to physically spin a wheel—as with Cash Spin last year, the force applied by the player determines the speed of the spin—and a horizontal wheel in the top box rotates simultaneously to land on an award.
The game also is the fist to feature the new Directional Wild mechanic for the wild symbols, and Golden Pharaoh has one more innovative feature—the first use of the iDeck panel for a random bonus event. Three different games are loaded—a pick-a-tile game, a wheel bonus and a genie’s lamp for which the player uses the advanced touch-screen surface to “rub” to reveal a bonus.
A clone of this game being released simultaneously is “Money Vault.” Other games using the new U-Spin technology are “Vegas Hits” and “Vegas Hits Road Trip,” with toppers re-creating the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.
Bally’s G2E lineup also includes new takes on old favorites. From Gottlieb’s San Diego studio comes “Betty Boop’s Love Meter,” a completely new version of the Betty Boop game of the same name released in the late 1990s.
The game uses the 1930s cartoon vixen as the theme for a carnival-style “test-your-strength” bonus game. The new version uses three main LCD monitors plus the iDeck as a fourth monitor. (“Our operating system can run four screens; no one else can do that,” Mitchell says.)
In the main bonus round—called “How Hot Are You?”—the player puts a hand on the iDeck to get his or her “love temperature,” which rises on the meter from “Loveable” to “Irresistible!” with bonus awards corresponding to the level.
There are nine different bonus events in this game, including a free-spin round with multipliers going up as the spins wind down; and there is a triple-progressive feature, with a top wide-area $1 million jackpot.
Another new take on classic Bally slots is “Cherry Red,” one of a series of traditional-style Bally games in a series called “Classic Deluxe.” This game adds a free-spin bonus and the first use of the Bullseye Bonus feature to a classic bar-7-cherry game setup.
Bally also will display a refined version of “Meet Me In The Middle,” the two-player community slot first displayed at last year’s G2E. Bullseye Bonus symbols are added into the mix, which involves two players playing adjacent screens but working together in the bonus round.
The Bullseye Bonus is also available on the first joint-venture game with Ainsworth Game Technology. Ainsworth’s operating system and game content is placed on Bally’s V32 portrait-style monitor in “Amazon Gold.”
In addition to the complete slate of game offerings, Bally will bring new system developments to G2E, including the Command Center server-based solution, enabling dynamic management of the slot floor; the iVIEW Display Manager, which allows operators to design games and promotions to be offered through the iVIEW displays in Bally slots; and “Bally App,” an application to allow players to receive casino promotional messages through mobile phones.
“In our organization, we see a lot of independence among the designers, with a lot of people having a lot of fun,” Mitchell says. “At the same time, this equates to good communication, and good teamwork. It shows up in the products. Success breeds happiness, pride and energy.
“These games represent a lot of hard work by a lot of people. Here we come—it’s our turn.”