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New Frontiers: Bally Technologies

Bally continues to redefine the slot machine with new technologies and system prowess

New Frontiers: Bally Technologies

Ever since the former Bally Gaming became Bally Technologies, the world’s oldest slot manufacturer has remained true to its name with a continuous parade of technology: Alpha. The Pro Series. Alpha 2. The iVIEW DM networked slot system. The iDeck button panel. “U-Spin.” “UShoot.” The Hammerhead cabinet. The “Pro Curve” cabinet.

At the same time, Bally has increased its engineering and game development prowess, augmenting its Las Vegas and Reno game development teams by tapping noted game designers to create new studios for the manufacturer’s games, from Michael Gottlieb in San Francisco to Jason Stage in Scottsdale, Arizona to Randy Hedrick in Las Vegas and the newest addition, a studio in Australia to be headed by Ray Maras.

Bally’s “studio system” is unique in itself. Each game design studio has come up with a name for itself, and a logo, which is displayed at the corner of each slot machine. “Southern California Slot Shop” (Gottlieb’s studio), “Young Guns,” “Heads Up,” “Live Wires,” “Team Four”—each logo represents a game design team, and according to Mike Mitchell, vice president of game development, the system promotes a competition between the teams that is very healthy. “There is a lot of variety, and a good level of competition between the studios has raised the bar in the aggregate for game development,” Mitchell says.

For all the innovation that’s poured forth from Bally during the past few years, the company is still just beginning to tap the technology, says Dan Savage, Bally’s vice president of marketing, who notes that the progress at Bally during the past few years has simply set the stage for what’s to come. “The plumbing’s all in place; the hardware’s in place,” he says. “This year, it’s all about the software. It’s all about the content.”

Dazzling Display

That content will be on display in a remarkable array of formats at G2E, from the Pro Series 22/22 cabinet (two 22-inch monitors) to a new emphasis on core video in the Alpha 2 platform, and of course, in the latest Bally innovation, the Pro Curve cabinet.

The Pro Curve uses a curved video monitor, shaped like a row of mechanical reel strips. It creates games that look, feel and play like traditional mechanical reel-spinners, with the flexibility—and networking capabilities—of a video slot.

“It’s just a terrific additional innovation by Bally—a way to have a stepper and video combined in one cabinet,” says Bally CEO Richard Haddrill. “Customers love the good return on investment they have with the flexibility of having a stepper that can be easily changed. But the creative things we’re doing with it are great. For example, you might have a three-reel stepper in the main game, but when you go into the bonus round it changes to a five-reel stepper. How interesting is that to the player, to be playing a three-reel for a long time and have it change to a five-reel? That’s just one great example of how we’re using that technology.”

Bally is utilizing the technology to its maximum potential, releasing not only high-profile new titles on the Pro Curve but a number of traditional stepper titles like Blazing 7s. “It’s huge for all-video markets,” says Mitchell, who notes that a total of 15 titles will be shown on the Pro Curve at G2E.

Leading the group of new Pro Curve titles is the latest game in the Playboy franchise, called “Playboy Playmate Party.” It is a five-level “Quick Hit” progressive with a number of innovative features, such as “an infinite number of free games,” according to Mitchell. While triggering symbols on three reels start the bonus with a set number of free games, every one of the bonus symbols landing during a free spin adds an additional free game—the free spins can re-trigger indefinitely.

The free games provide an easier path to the progressive jackpots as well. In normal play, five or more of the iconic Playboy rabbit-head logos trigger the progressive jackpots—as in other “Quick Hit” progressives, the more symbols, the higher the level of jackpot won. In the free spins on the new Playboy slot, though, more rabbit-head symbols are added to the reels (an advantage of having video reels in a stepper-style format).

According to Mitchell, there are more than four times as many Playboy bunny symbols in the free games as in the primary game, resulting in an average of a progressive jackpot won every 20 free spins.

Another advantage of the Pro Curve is that stacked wilds can be used in a stepper-style format, and when bonus events are triggered, celebratory animation includes animated images of Playboy Playmates on the reels.

Premium Brands

Playboy is not the only high-profile brand to which Bally is applying all its new technology.

“We had under-invested on brands for four or five years, as we developed our core competency in highly creative games and in video games,” Haddrill says. “So now, our gaming operations segment is one of the best of anyone in the industry and growing fast. Our video content now represents 60 percent-70 percent of our shipments. So, we have the broad range of capabilities now, combined with our systems technology, to really leverage brands.”

The latest branded game from Gottlieb’s studio is “Betty Boop’s Fortune Teller,” a follow-up to last year’s “Betty Boop’s Love Meter” game.

This latest game based on the 1930s cartoon vixen uses the unique Pro Upright Hammerhead cabinet—the cabinet with the oversized top box—along with the iDeck touch-screen button deck to offer a feature-packed game with some 15 separate bonus events. There are two progressive jackpots available for any wager, along with the latest Bally wide-area progressive, “Cash Connection,” available at maximum bet.

The new Betty Boop game utilizes some of Bally’s innovative play mechanics, such as a top-box fortune wheel the player touches to spin using the “U-Spin” technology, the wheel responding to the amount of force applied. The bonus setup allows the player to pick his preferred style of bonus game in a new feature called “U-Choose,” and one of the most clever bonuses has the player placing hands on the iDeck surface—the buttons disappear to change into a touch-screen interactive play surface—to have “palms read” for a bonus award and multiplier.

Another premium brand being launched at G2E is “Grease,” another Hammerhead game based on the 1978 musical film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John—according to Mitchell, it’s the first license for a slot machine that Travolta has ever authorized.

The game features the first appearance of the new “Dual Play” style—there are two sets of reels, each with 25 paylines, which are played simultaneously. Bonuses triggered on either set of reels fill the screen with events based on various parts of the musical. There are “T-Bird Mystery Wilds,” the “U-Spin Yearbook Bonus,” two pick-style features and two different free-game events.

Two of the bonus events use the iDeck panel. In “Dance Off Free Games,” the player can dance fingers across the iDeck to add additional credits or more free games. In the “How Cool Are You?” bonus, the player selects one of four cars displayed on the iDeck to move the car up a ladder on the main LCD screen, with the “Coolness Factor” winning either a credit award or one of the four progressives.

New Ways to Play

The iDeck button panel/bonus touch screen is at the center of a group of new play styles that are being featured on several games in Bally’s G2E lineup. One of the first is “Fish’n for Loot,” which uses the iDeck as a substitute for a joystick in an arcade-style bonus.

Fish’n for Loot is the official debut of “UShoot,” a feature that turns the iDeck pad into a flat interactive panel for shooting at objects on the screen, just like an arcade or home video game. The player uses touch points on the screen to shoot bubbles at fish passing on the LCD screen, or to actually drag bubbles toward targets (in this case, blowfish swimming by on the screen).

The iDeck is becoming one of Bally’s hottest commodities. The company is still developing bonus games around the device, which is downloadable along with new game programs—the button deck and bonus games change with the new games. In other applications, the iDeck can be configured to shoot at targets in a mini-shooting gallery, roll a skeeball in a networked bonus game, or any number of other uses.

Other new play mechanics can be found in many of the core games to be launched at G2E. “Moon Goddess,” one of the Pro Curve games being launched, debuts a feature called “Big Bang Free Games.” During free spins, any moon symbols collected accumulate, and on the last free spin, they “explode” into wild symbols, applied to the last spin’s reel results.

“Flippin’ Wild,” a “243 ways to win” scatter-pay game that also is Bally’s first “Four Play” game, on the V32 vertical cabinet—four sets of reels are played simultaneously—also includes the Big Bang Free Games, with frogs collected on all four reel sets accumulating for the big bang into wild symbols on the last of 10 free spins. The game also includes a two-level mystery progressive that can be won on any bet.

Another Pro Curve game, “Money Works,” debuts a feature called “Rolling Wilds.” When wild symbols appear on two or three rows in stacks, the stack of wild symbols will move down one row on each subsequent spin until all the wilds disappear. On free spins, the first, third and fifth reels are wild for the whole bonus.

“Break the Ice” debuts the feature “Breakthrough Free Games.” During the primary game, the player collects pick, bomb and dynamite symbols to break through blocks of ice on a bonus screen, each stack of blocks corresponding to a reel. Any complete stack that disappears makes the corresponding reel wild for the remainder of the free spins.

“Big Vegas” features “Double Directional Wilds.” Introduced last year, Directional Wilds are wild symbols with a dial that spins to end in one position, making all symbols in its path into wild symbols—vertically, horizontally or diagonally. The new feature adds a reel—the Directional Wilds appear on both the second and fourth reels.

“Sea Goddess,” a new multi-line video slot on the V32 cabinet, includes the “Locking Hot Zone” feature. “Hot Zones” are floating zones that drop over the screen during the reel-spinning, turning whatever symbols they cover when the reels stop into wild symbols. During free games, the wild “Hot Zones” lock in place and those symbols remain wild for the remainder of the free spins.

“King’s Jewels,” a Four Play video slot on the Pro Series Upright cabinet, includes the new “Add-A-Wild Bonus.” During free games, new wild jewel symbols are added on each of seven free spins. “Hidden Paradise,” a core video on the Pro Series, includes the free-game “Bullseye Bonus,” in which Dragon Crest symbols are collected to lock reels from left to right as wild reels for the remaining free spins.

All Systems Go

The same technology resulting in the new Bally game mechanics is helping to advance the systems division as well. The iDeck has already been used in concert with the iVIEW Display Manager system in a few networked slot floors for floor-wide promotional bonuses, and the applications for the technology continue to multiply.

At G2E, Bally will show the latest applications of the iVIEW DM, from picture-in-picture bonus games to floor-wide tournaments to individual bonus games designed as player loyalty rewards.

The Elite Bonusing Suite, a software package that allows casinos to customize bonus games, tournaments and events, will be on display as well, as will new mobile and hand-held gaming applications that Bally augmented with the recent acquisition of mobile supplier MacroView Labs. “MacroView is a terrific, entrepreneurial company,” comments Haddrill. “They have over 20 customers in North America already using their mobile applications, so they’re a leader in the space here.”

Bally will be channeling games to be used on the MacroView mobile network, but also through online applications. “We clearly are designing our games to be applicable on all platforms,” says Haddrill. “You’ll be able to play Bally games on the core gaming device, and you will be able to play many of our best games across the gaming floor using our iVIEW and CoolSign network. You’ll be able to play them on mobile applications and out to the internet as well.”

Bally’s G2E collection, says Haddrill, is a sign the company is ready to tackle a wealth of new business opportunities in several areas. “We are really excited about the next year,” he says. “We have some great business opportunities in Italy that we’re going to begin rolling out at the end of the calendar year, where we have more than 5,000 machines we’re going to be placing. Aqueduct is going to be opening late this year, and that’s exciting for Bally because we have 50 percent of that floor.

“We’ve just got our first games in Australia, and they’re playing very well, so we’re really excited. That’s a big gaming market, over 200,000 gaming devices. We have markets in the U.S. like Ohio and Illinois that are evolving and developing. And then for us, the IVIEW DM product has just been commercialized with some great Elite Bonusing Suite products, and the Alpha 2 product is really doing good in the marketplace.

“Lots of good things happening for us—we just need to block and tackle well.”

Judging from the G2E lineup, Bally certainly has the players.

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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