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In the Game

Aruze creates new interactive experiences while expanding its worldwide markets

In the Game

It is fitting that the parent company of Las Vegas-based slot-maker Aruze Gaming America has reverted from Aruze Corp. back to the company’s original name, Universal Entertainment Corporation.

It’s not just that Universal was a name well-known for its slots in the 1980s; the term “universal” clearly now applies to its slot-manufacturing subsidiary. Aruze now owns the No. 2 spot in both Macau and Australia in terms of ship share. In addition to Las Vegas, the company now has game development studios in Australia, Manila and Tokyo. In January, Aruze will display for the first time at London’s ICE Totally Gaming trade show, the major gaming trade event in Europe.

But the real core of Aruze’s growing success lies closer to its Las Vegas home, where the company is now following up the phenomenal Las Vegas success of “Paradise Fishing” with new games that it hopes will capture the same magic as the popular community-style fishing game.

The key appeal of Paradise Fishing, still drawing full banks and crowds of onlookers more than a year after its introduction, is player interaction. That interaction is not only between player and machine—thanks to the “Reel Feel” technology that has players using joysticks and feeling the tug on their lines as they “fish” for bonuses—but interaction among players on the bank, cheering and celebrating as the bank goes into the fishing bonus, displayed on a wall of video monitors above the game bank.

Aruze strives to repeat the experience with the follow-up game “Amazon Fishing,” which basically moves the interactive fishing pond into the Amazon jungle. Amazon Fishing, first displayed at last year’s Global Gaming Expo, will be going into the market shortly after this year’s show.

 

Interactive Reels

This year, Aruze again calls upon the power of player interaction in a follow-up series to last year’s hit stepper group, “Innovator With Radiant Reels.”

The Innovator stepper series features large reels—at 18.1 inches across, which each reel strip measuring 3.54 inches, they are the largest strips for a five-reel format in the business—backed by multi-colored LED lighting and variable reel speeds, with lighting and colors varying according to game conditions. Radiant Reels spin forward and backward at various speeds, building anticipation before the reel results are displayed.

Aruze’s big launch at this year’s G2E adds Aruze-style player interaction to this stepper mix with the “Innovator Deluxe” series. “These are Innovators with Radiant Reels in the bottom cabinet, but they have a top cabinet that is highly interactive,” explains Steve Walther, Aruze’s vice president of marketing.

This interactivity draws on the same types of features that have driven success of prior games—a sculpted object jutting out of the machine like the hands in Aruze classic “Jackpot Battle Royal;” a sense of control over the game’s outcome as in Paradise Fishing—plus some totally new hardware features that will surely become staples of future games.

The first two Innovator Deluxe games are “Aladdin & the Magic Lamp” and “Alibaba.” The Aladdin game employs a variation of the “Reel Feel” technology with Aladdin’s famous lamp, a sculpted object located just above the reels. In the bonus round, the player actually rubs the lamp to call forth the genie, who then performs various acrobatics between the top screen and the reels.

“It’s really been a focus for us, because it’s so new to actually be interacting with more than just the screen,” says Walther. “Just like we used the reel controller for fishing, we’re using the lamp as a touch-it device to interact with the game, and build that player engagement to a new level.”

Once the genie is released, the show switches to the video screen and the physical reels. The “rub” can release multiple genies to the top screen, and they fly down to the physical reels to transform them into wild reels. It’s a video technique accomplished adeptly on mechanical reels through lights, sound and reel speed. The genie seems to leap down to each reel, causing it to spin at high speed until stopping on the full-reel image of the genie that is already on the strips. “It’s an awesome-looking sensation,” Walther says.

Alibaba, its theme dedicated to the medieval Arab adventure tale “Alibaba and the Forty Thieves,” uses a different technique to bring life to Innovator Deluxe—a physical device that combines with the LCD top-box monitor to achieve various special effects. The technique, called “RVL Technology” (it’s pronounced “reveal”), adds a physical “Random Visual Layer” to the interactive top box containing physical devices that slide in front of the LCD monitor in various game situations.

RVL Technology can block the monitor from view, unveil a small percentage of the monitor, or even vibrate to provide the illusion of a shaking monitor.

In Alibaba, RVL Technology creates a door to the Forty Thieves’ cave—it can reveal either riches or thieves. The physical layer moves and catches the player’s eye, drawing attention to what lies behind the barrier.

 “We can use 50 percent or 77 percent of the video screen; the doors close and then open up to reveal awards,” explains Walther. “It’s a neat effect, but it tells a story—Alibaba goes into a cave to find riches. When half the door is open, you can see him go in and come out the other side with riches. Or, the doors can open and thieves will appear. We occlude the video screen with the sliding doors, and then when certain events happen, the doors open and you get surprised with treasure, surprised with thieves… surprised with the bonus event.”

The cave doors even have holes in them—you can see thieves peeking through from the video screen behind.

Innovator Deluxe is the next evolution in a stepper series that has been a major hit for Aruze with games such as “4 Chinese Beasts” and “Fu Lu Shou.” “Putting (our steppers) in a deluxe cabinet will take them to the next level,” Walther says.

However, the original level—the standard Innovator with Radiant Reels series—is not going anywhere, with several new titles to be displayed at G2E. The two featured titles are “D’Artagnan and the Musketeers” and “Seven Rush.”

D’Artagnan and the Musketeers uses math similar to the popular 4 Chinese Beasts and combines it with a theme more from the Western world. Four Musketeers each have their own free-spin bonus events, with various themed picking events determining the numbers of free games and multipliers.

It’s all determined by the Musketeers Bonus, in which a video wheel in the top box spins to one of the free games or a jackpot prize—one of four progressive jackpots, with the “Grand” resetting at $200.

 In Seven Rush, the main feature is a rapid-fire free-spin round in which the reel set is loaded only with blanks and the triple-7 symbol, which is wild during the primary game. Every time the 7 symbol lands, bonus credits are awarded and an extra free spin is added to the round. Walther notes that this is another first for a stepper slot. “It’s a unique concept—we took the reel strips and changed them to different reel strips for the bonus through the use of light. We’ve used a light technique to physically change the look on our reels, so the main symbols go away during the bonus event, and the only thing you see are the 7s.

“Our goal with Innovator and Innovator Deluxe has been to be that bridge between normal stepper players and traditional video player. We’re building upon what would normally be a stepper group of people playing. Video people are migrating over and playing our stepper games. So, we are among the best-performing stepper products wherever we’ve placed the Innovator games. Our Innovators are blowing other steppers out of the water, and we believe it is because of that new type of presentation.”

 

Strength in Video

The new emphasis on stepper games (there are several other titles being launched in both the Innovator and Innovator Deluxe groups) takes nothing away from Aruze’s video lineup, which this year includes 20 new titles in all of the manufacturer’s game groups—the G Series, G-Deluxe, G-Link and G-Station—in the manufacturer’s largest-ever video offering.

In the G-Deluxe video group, one standout is “Knight of La Mancha,” based on Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century masterpiece Don Quixote and the 1965 Broadway play inspired by it, Man of La Mancha. Comic relief in the main game, as in the literature, is provided by the interaction between Don Quixote, the knight-errant created by Cervantes in the story as a masquerade to avoid the Spanish Inquisition; and Sancho Panza, his manservant.

However, the most prominent feature of the game is a top-box wheel shaped like a windmill (a central event in the story is the delusional Quixote mistaking a windmill for a four-armed giant). The wheel turns with wind sound effects to award free spins and multipliers. “It hits quite frequently, so the player is often engaged, but the result of the wheel is not just credits; it’s something new and different each time they spin the wheel,” Walther says.

Another innovation in the standard video category is a new play mechanic called “Double My Feature,” found in the games “Bengal Riches” and “Lucky Africa.” If the player makes an ante wager, it doubles the free-spin feature. There are four free-spin choices, and the player is prompted to pick one according to volatility—high volatility in the choice with five free spins and a huge multiplier, down to low volatility in 20 free spins with a low multiplier. There also is a “Mystery Reel” that can award up to 500 times the line pay.

With the ante wager made, the player gets to pick two features instead of one, and if the feature re-triggers during a free spin, another feature is added (a log keeps track of how many features are left).

In the community-play G-Link series, Aruze is launching a two-station, head-to-head game called “Rich Life.” When two people are playing, a random feature called the “Versus Event” takes place on a 60-inch video monitor in front of the two machines. The two players compete head-to-head for a prize, and choices made by one player affect the outcome of the other player.

For instance, in a mining-themed event, the goal is to find credits by selecting mounds inside a mine. Once the first player selects a mound, it is out of play for the other player—which could help that player or hurt him. In another event, players are spinning reels to line up three symbols to spell the word “JACKPOT,” and every time neither player spells the word, the jackpot increases.

“It engages both players to play either against each other or for each other,” says Walther. “The two players are watching each other’s reels. It’s an interesting dynamic. That head-to-head competition is unique to the gaming industry.”

Finally, Aruze will display the complete lineup of its games in the G-Station multi-player electronic table games. “Our Shoot To Win Craps and Lucky Big Wheel games are going out and performing well globally,” Walther says. “Our roulette and sic bo games are doing well in the clubs in Australia, which is not traditionally a multi-player terminal market.”

In all, Walther says the company’s G2E collection could catapult Aruze to the top of the slot market. “We’re redefining the ‘Top 5’ slot manufacturers into the ‘Top 6,’” he says. “We’re on our way to displacing some of those other people at the top.”

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.  

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