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Konami Gaming: Making Noise

Konami Gaming continues to refine its in-house brands while calling on its video game roots

Konami Gaming: Making Noise

Amid all the upheaval last year in the slot supply sector, a few companies—like Konami Gaming—simply concentrated on doing more of what they do best, building on prior success without mergers, acquisitions or new subsidiaries.

That’s not to say Konami sat idle while others evolved to meet the changing market. Quite the contrary, in fact. Konami Gaming, the U.S. subsidiary of the amusement and gaming giant Konami of Japan, has spent the past year preparing to meet soaring demand for its products in the U.S.

The company has completed construction to double the size of its Las Vegas facility, adding 200,000 square feet of plant space and renovating the 160,000 square feet in the original facility. The expanded corporate campus houses management, assembly and a central U.S. research and development team that regularly collaborates with R&D teams in Japan and Australia.

Konami’s G2E booth will cover 11,000 square feet, but Matt Reback, vice president of marketing at Konami Gaming, says the real distinguishing factor of Konami’s product this year will be consistency. He says the absence of corporate upheaval is a key to the company’s success, through “consistency in management and continuous dedication to quality.” He says the slogan for Konami at G2E this year is, “You don’t have to shout to make noise.”

Konami, he says, makes noise not with a “cacophony of brands,” but with its products. This year’s G2E follows a familiar pattern for the company, as existing product lines are augmented, a new hardware platform is launched, and new game ideas draw on the video game pedigree of the Japanese parent company to inject skill factors into games that will please the younger demographic just coming into the casino market.

The Concerto

Hardware has been one of the keys to Konami’s rise from relative obscurity in the U.S. casino market to become one of the top slot-machine manufacturers in the industry. Cabinets and slot formats from Podium to Advantage Revolution, from Rapid Revolver to Podium Monument, Podium Slant, Podium Goliath and others, have housed the innovations that have propelled the company forward.

That tradition continues at this year’s Global Gaming Expo with the launch of the Concerto cabinet—a video cabinet, the company’s launch literature says, “characterized by a purely magnetic quality in its design, investment value and aesthetic attraction.”

The new cabinet features twin 27-inch HD game screens set against a smooth black surrounding surface, which “creates a very cinematic experience for the player,” says Reback.

“We chose black for the Concerto’s surface so everything but the game disappears, like you’re in a cinema,” says Steve Walther, Konami’s director of product management. “Gone is the chrome—there are chrome elements on the outside, but they disappear when you play.”

Walther adds that the extra real estate on the cabinet and top box was added without surrendering any operator flexibility. “What’s unique in the Concerto upright is that its twin 27-inch horizontal high-definition monitors still manage to fit onto a standard base for an upright,” he says.

Other strong features of the Concerto are signature holographic side lighting elements and a 19.5-inch video topper. “Those elements are a way to capture people’s attention from across the room, but when you sit down, everything but the game disappears,” Walther says. “The digital topper can display the game theme, logos, marketing messages like ‘hot new game,’ etc., and also has lighting elements synchronized with the game theme itself.”

Walther adds that the new “DynamicDash” digital LCD button employs haptic feedback to give the player the feel of old-fashioned buttons, only with animation, and instantly changeable appearance and content—and without the operator headaches of button failure. “It’s a nice combination of letting the players feel the buttons and being able to customize the content,” he says.

“What the Concerto cabinet delivers is a collection of multi-sensory components for a harmonious player experience that is memorable and entertaining,” Reback says. “That was the spirit behind how we named Concerto.”

Along with the new cabinet comes the next evolution of the core game platform for Konami’s slots. The original KP2 video platform, launched in 2006, has been identified by many as the main reason for Konami’s success since then. It was enhanced a few years ago with the introduction of KP3, and this year, the company introduces the KP3+ platform, a further enhancement of its basic video technology.

KP3+ features enhanced processing speed, and a variety of changes to basic game features that are the result of customer feedback, Reback says—such as replacement of the line-based maps to show where players have won with easy-to-understand squares framing the reel spots, and new game mechanics for the KP3+ titles.

“The best thing is that KP3+ will run the entire library of KP3 games at launch,” Walther says. Even so, Konami has designed launch games specifically for the new platform. Heading those at G2E will be Radiant Queen and Fortune Stacks.

Radiant Queen is an original-math Roku Reels Xtra Rewards game with nudging full-reel wilds during the free-game feature, as well as a “gigantic symbol” feature, creating effective symbols stacks by extending a giant symbol over several reels. Fortune Stacks is a five-reel game that adds bonus multipliers to Action Stacked Symbols appearing on reels 1 and 2 during the free games.

“These KP3+ Concerto games leverage the dual screens with larger-than-life art and animation unlike anything before,” Reback says. “Everything vividly flows and interacts, from the video topper to the button panel, to the holographic side lighting, really leveraging the KP3+ platform in the best way possible. But at the same time, operators can still place their proven KP3 top performers on Concerto, so it’s a very versatile machine for whatever content and configurations they need.”

Playing on Strength

While the new Concerto cabinet adds another dimension to Konami’s G2E offerings, three highlight games in this year’s collection exploit the strengths of another Konami platform, the Podium Monument, with its oversized display on a tall top box surrounding a 32-inch vertical monitor.

Expanding on last year’s hit release of the two inaugural “Dungeons & Dragons” slots, based on the legendary Hasbro role-playing game, Konami is introducing four new themes for the series on the Podium Monument.

The new titles, featuring dungeon maze bonuses, monster battles and a full medieval merchant city to explore, are distinguished by custom bezel options for each title—a brick bezel, a fire bezel and a marble Waterdeep city bezel.

In Dwellers of the Dungeon Keep, players continue their campaign from the first series through the eyes of a female archer character, armed with magic flying arrows to help conquer the monsters that awaken in the game’s four-level progressive bonus feature. The random outcome of her battle is animated through the spins of a 20-sided die—a core mechanism of the classic table-top game—and her victory helps determine the potential progressive award.

In Fortunes of the Forgotten Realms, players explore the depths of the dungeon, and during a mystery dungeon bonus, players navigate through the darkened caverns, encountering treasures, traps and monsters through the eyes of the game’s stalwart dwarf character.

Fortunes of the Waterdeep allows players to collect 12- sided dice for a chance at one of four progressive jackpots. “What we’ve done with these two games,” says Walther, “is to continue along the journey we started in the original Dungeons & Dragons, which featured the forming of an adventuring party. That party has now reached a true ‘dungeon’ in D&D lore.”

But the fortune hunt inside the game is the really fun part, he says—a journey through a maze, finding treasure, falling into a trap occasionally, but most of all, battling monsters for progressive prizes. The player chooses which direction in the maze he will take—the events are random, but players feel they are affecting the outcome.

Walther says the company drew more than 13 monsters “from the deep Dungeons & Dragons universe” to create a game any aficionado of the famous role-playing game will appreciate.

In addition to enhancing the game series based on the Dungeons & Dragons license, Konami this year continues to tap its legendary arcade and home video expertise, and beloved titles it already owns through its Konami Digital Entertainment unit. Last year, the company introduced the first slot based on its Neo Contra video game. This year, players will participate in a bonus event involving navigating a certain familiar digital frog through traffic in a video slot version of the legendary Frogger arcade hit.

The company will launch two debut Frogger game themes, called Great City Wilds and Woodland Wilds. Each will feature a bonus event on the classic Frogger street-crossing course. Both games feature four-level stand-alone progressive jackpots and the company’s trademark “Action Stacked Symbols.”

When the random Frogger bonus is triggered, tractors appear on the screen and push the reels away to reveal the classic Frogger course. The player gets three “lives” to get through the traffic to the top bonus, as the frog hops its way toward the top-box monitor. (It’s not the skill-based arcade game, but it hits all the buttons for Frogger fans.)

Woodland Wilds adds a free-spin bonus that uses the top screen. Players can win up to 20 free games, with two additional reel sets added on the top screen. Any full-reel wild symbols appearing on the upper-most set of reels are copied across the rest of the upper screen.

“Frogger is one of Konami’s oldest and most loved video brands,” comments Walther. “You’ve played the frog going across the street. This immerses you in the Frogger experience in the bonus, but it also is a great slot game—it’s got nudging wilds, wild reels, and free games that open with two additional sets of play areas, creating three unique playing fields. When frogs appear in any of the playing fields on the top monitor, they jump down to the play fields below. It’s really a lot of fun.”

Konami also will introduce two new titles for the Neo Contra series at G2E. Featured on a custom version of the Podium cabinet featuring an expanded top box, a dual topper and Konami’s new “Symphonik 3D Sound,” titles include Samurai Strike and Warrior Reloaded.

Rapidly Revolving

The new Podium Monument title will be flanked at G2E by new titles in another unique Konami platform, the Rapid Revolver cabinet. Around the same size as the Podium Monument, the distinguishing factor of this hybrid video-mechanical cabinet is the central display of stacked mechanical drums, which spin horizontally in a bonus display.

Highlighting the new Rapid Revolver games is Lucky Sticks, Konami’s first stand-alone progressive game for Rapid Revolver that can be combined with almost any KP3 base game on the lower screen—titles featured at G2E will include Riches With Daikoku, Lotus Land and China Shores.

Lucky Sticks is a mystery trigger bonus that transports the player to an animated fortune-telling game reminiscent of the Chinese Kau Cim, whereby engraved sticks are selected from a tall bucket to reveal hidden messages. Lower video reels activate the upper mechanical drums and assign random multipliers.

According to Walther, Lucky Sticks will run on 95 percent of Konami’s KP3 game library.

Other highlights in the Rapid Revolver format are Fortunes of the Waterdeep, which allows players to explore the fictional city of Waterdeep in one of the new Dungeons & Dragons releases, and a new game called Prophetess of Fortune, similar to last year’s debut releases in the format, Rising Dragon and Northern Treasure. Prophetess of Fortune uses the lighted upper drums for added effect in the bonus feature but adds a new multiplier mechanic that boosts wins up to 100X.

Progressives, in fact, will be something of a theme for Konami at this year’s G2E show. New progressive links applicable to most of the Konami library include Brothers of Fortune, in which a wheel determines the credit prize; Wheel Boost, another wheel-based progressive; and Riches Choice, in which a picking game with upgrades determines the progressive prize.

Core Video

In addition to all the specialty cabinets, there is no shortage of new titles for Konami this year in its core video slot group on the Podium cabinet.

Up front is Lucky Honeycomb, released near the end of summer. For fans of the classic Dragon’s Law Xtra Rewards game, Lucky Honeycomb is a clone title that replaces the iconic long-tailed dragon character with a friendly honeybee character. Randomly before or after any spin, he flies down to the lower screen to scatter extra wild symbols.

A new version called Lucky Honeycomb Hot Boost will be launched at G2E.

Golden Pumpkin is a new five-reel game that allows players to choose their own volatility during the free games. Players have the option to choose fewer free games with higher random multipliers, or more free games with lower multiplier awards.

Mayan Carnival recreates a Caribbean festival motif and animated full-reel wilds. It is one of Konami’s newest “MultipleLines” 4-5-5-5-4 games. Any three or more pyramid symbols trigger the free-game feature, and any additional pyramid symbols appearing during the free games award “Super Free Games,” higher-valued spins played after the free games are completed. Nudging full-reel wilds appear in both free-game features.

Splendid Butterfly is the newest addition to Konami’s “Reeleven” series of 11-reel games—two traditional reels alongside nine independent position reels. Animated purple butterflies are the primary method for transforming the game’s obscured Action Stacked Symbols throughout. The game also includes a gigantic symbol feature that allows players to complete pieces of a puzzle for increasing awards.

Majestic Diamonds is the latest in the company’s “Roku Reels” series, with bonuses and mechanics created for a six-reel format. The game’s wild symbol—a crowned Queen character—carries rich line pay awards, up to 10,000 credits times bet per line. In addition, during the free-game feature, at least three consecutive reels, beginning with the left-most reel, will be enclosed by a golden frame with the same symbol in all positions.

Other standouts include Volcanic Rock Fire, in which a volcano takes on an animated personality (think of the apple tree in The Wizard of Oz). The volcano—to be particularly imposing at the show, thanks to the giant Podium Goliath cabinet—randomly smiles, gets excited and throws lava rock down to the reels to turn them wild. “This one’s going to be hot,” says Walther, with no pun intended. “It’s unique, it’s got a great graphic, and it’s my sleeper hit of the show. This will be our show-stealer in standard themes.”

While this section is called Global Games, Konami’s systems business, centered on the popular Synkros casino management system, is spilling over into the realm of games this year.

Synkros now launches integrated loyalty promotions seamlessly across full-screen video slots, mobile devices and kiosk stations through the SYNKiosk module.

At G2E, Konami also will launch Synkros Progressive Management, or SPM. It is a single interface within Synkros for defining, configuring, launching and maintaining system-controlled progressive games across any slot machines with “Synk Box” hardware. SPM is integrated into Synkros to provide multiple configuration options spanning standard pay table progressives, mystery triggered progressives, carded mystery triggered progressives, and multi-game/single-game cabinet specifications.

For the future, Walther says Konami is working hard to design new games that will not only appeal to the company’s core players, but to incremental players outside of the current demographic. This includes not only games like Frogger and Dungeons & Dragons, but new titles such as Chart Topper and Sakura Lady, which feature Japanese anime artwork and characters.

“We’ve experimented with pseudo-skilled games, and every time we go outside the demographic, we do collect some incremental players,” he says. “But our core players respond best to our games. So, we’ll continue to push the envelope.”

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.