Tapping the Potential: Konami Gaming

Konami brings its amusement game prowess to bear with groundbreaking new releases

For the past 15 years or so, the slot-machine supply business has increasingly been bolstered by expatriates from the amusement business. Most of the top slot manufacturers have someone on the game design staff who once worked at Sega, or Nintendo, or one of the other big amusement video game suppliers.

As it happens, one of the top slot manufacturers in the business is owned by one of those big video game suppliers. Las Vegas-based Konami Gaming’s parent company, Konami of Japan, is one of the prime movers of the home, PC and arcade amusement game business, with legendary hits from Frogger to Metal Gear Solid.

It is no surprise, then, that Konami, in its continuing march to the top of the slot market, has begun to draw on those video-game chops to create groundbreaking new games. “Konami has a lot of global mega-hit entertainment brands—Frogger, Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid,” says Matt Reback, vice president of marketing for Konami Gaming. “We’ve got a library of those games, and the list just gets longer and longer. Konami Gaming is starting to leverage that video-game IP for new slot games.”

One of those famous titles will be transformed into a slot machine this year, but for Konami Gaming, it is that amusement-game discipline that is guiding a lot of the slot-maker’s game development efforts. “It goes back as far as the Advantage Revolution product (launched in 2009),” says Steve Walther, Konami’s director of product management. “The rotating device on that game is right out of Konami’s core amusement division.”

With Advantage Revolution four years old and “Rapid Revolver,” last year’s hit on the Podium Monument platform, still gaining steam, Konami is embracing its video-game roots with its new collection of products.

“Rapid Revolver leverages development done in Japan, Australia and the U.S.,” says Walther. “That’s what’s possible with Konami, a company with development studios that cover such diverse gaming and amusement markets.”

That acumen in the creation of entertaining games is one reason Konami Gaming has soared to the top five (soon to become the top three) in the slot market. It’s one of the reasons the company is more than doubling the size of its Las Vegas headquarters.

And in the end, it’s the reason the company arrives at G2E this year with its largest collection of new games ever—more than 100 titles in all.

Those titles cover the company’s diverse range of products, from the consistently successful KP3 core video line to the Advantage stepper groups to groundbreaking new game mechanics, all designed with the edge brought to the design process by the Konami pedigree.

Dungeon Masters

While it’s not a Konami video game, the newest Konami game to carry a licensed brand—itself a rarity—draws on the ability of Konami game designers to tap into that video-game acumen to create a legendary entertainment experience.

“Dungeons & Dragons” is not even a video game, and it was never a Konami video game. (It’s currently owned by Hasbro.) It’s the board game that launched a genre of role-playing games that gained wide popularity in the 1980s. Players of Dungeons & Dragons each take on the role of a warrior, and under the regulation of the “Dungeon Master” referee, embark on adventures and battles within the fantasy world created by the game.

Dungeons & Dragons created a whole subculture of players, a fact not lost on Konami game designers as they sought to recreate the experience. “Dungeons & Dragons is a very experiential game,” says Walther. “For 40 years, people have put themselves into a fantasy situation where they believe they are fighting dragons, starting adventures in taverns, escaping into some fantasy realm. So we built the packaging along the same lines.”

By any measure, Dungeons & Dragons is a striking slot game. The game’s cabinet—the Podium Monument, with its oversized top box and 32-inch

vertical monitor—is encased in faux stone to represent the castle housing the dungeon.

On the side of the cabinet are glowing runes—an actual message in Draconic, which is the official language of Dungeons & Dragons (really), translated as, “The path to wealth is through the red dragon.” Topping off the game is a sculpted red dragon with glowing red eyes, and there is an optional larger dragon, complete with wings, that rotates to be seen by just about everybody in the casino.

“In places where we’ve placed it already, it is the centerpiece of the casino,” says Walther.

A voice-over welcome message greets players when they put their money in. “The first thing the game does is transport you into the experience,” Walther says.

The game itself features Konami’s trademark “Action Stacked Symbols,” obscured on initial spins but revealed to increase wins. “This is our Action Stacked Symbols game mechanic that has worked so well in games like China Shores and Mayan Chief,” Walther says. “By obscuring the stacked symbols, the player is engaged waiting for that opening to be revealed as to what the symbol could be. You could get multiple obscured Action Stacked Symbols, and the gates can open to reveal a 9, or the dragon, which is the top symbol. It’s a game mechanic that has been very popular for us.”

The game also features a giant virtual wheel in the top-box monitor, which is spun to reveal one of four sets of free spins or the Dungeons & Dragons feature, a picking bonus with the number of picks controlled by the 20-sided “gem dice” that will be familiar to D&D aficionados. The entire package is capped by a four-level stand-alone progressive, triggered during the Dungeons & Dragons feature.

Konami does not generally do immersive licensed themes. There is the “Rock Around the Clock” series, but the song is pretty much the only licensed element. The last immersive licensed theme Konami did on a slot was 2005’s largely forgettable “Rocky.”

Reback says the company moved very carefully back into the licensed-game realm. “There were two things we wanted if we were going to get into an IP licensing relationship,” he explains. “The first was a theme that’s popular—fantasy right now is a very popular genre, with Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and others in the market. It’s that escapism slot players are often looking for. Secondly, we also wanted a play mechanic that we could incorporate, so we’re not just taking symbols from a reality show and throwing them on a reel strip.

“We wanted something experiential, like Steve mentioned. So this 40-year-old best-of-breed role-playing game allowed us to have all of that adventure built into one package.”

The D&D game is being launched with two themes—“Enchanted Riches” and “Conquest & Treasures.”

Monumental Games

Dungeons & Dragons is only one of several new releases on the Podium Monument cabinet to be launched at G2E. Another standout is “Hammer Festival,” a mystery progressive slot that features a hammer-wielding Amazonian monkey that knocks cash prizes out of a stack of coins.

“It is a tropical-themed game where you have a monkey holding a hammer, and stack of coins,” explains Walther. “On the stack of coins are blocks with amounts. The monkey will swing the hammer knocking the amounts out until he runs out of energy, when you’re awarded the amount closest to you on the display. The progressive jackpot is on top of the stack—the monkey keeps knocking the progressive closer to you.”

There’s even a feature that gets the monkey another “life,” if you will. Some blocks might reveal bananas, in which case the monkey will stop, eat a banana and get more energy, and start swinging again.

According to Reback, there will be seven new titles in all on the Podium monument at G2E, including “Engines Ablaze,” a four-level progressive slot with an “auto-inspired” cabinet including motors, tailpipes and flames. Other titles include “Pick Strike Quad,” “Snow Stars” and a new version of “Rock Around the Clock.”

Moving the Podium

The Monument games join innovative offerings on both other versions of the Podium cabinet, the original Podium and the giant Podium Goliath.

Highlighting on the original Podium cabinet is “Rokureels,” a six-reel game that features a volatile program and a bonus feature of up to 600 free games. “Roku means six in Japanese,” says Walther, “and this is a six-reel game that

really adds a bit more volatility, which makes it a real gambler-style game.”

On the Podium Goliath is the “Reeleven” series of 11-reel games. In the inaugural “Exotic Princess” game, already in the field, the first two reels of the game screen are traditional reels; that is to say, all of the virtual stops of the game’s program are included, with three stops displayed. The remaining three reels displayed are actually nine reels, each displayed in the space of a single symbol, each with all stops in the program represented.

This gives game designers the ability to create some unique game-play features. In Exotic Princess, a 40-line game, it is a random feature that replaces all the symbols on the first two reels with a single symbol—the woman, jewel, horse, snake, bag, perfume or one of the poker symbols. The woman symbol is wild.

When the random feature is triggered, five free games are awarded with the single symbol locked on the first two reels. There is a feature within the feature: When coin symbols appear on a free spin, the symbol occupying the first two reels is “upgraded” to the wild woman symbol.

At G2E, the Reeleven game being launched is “Inari Riches,” which scrambles the 11-reel configuration a bit. On this game screen, the standard reels are on either end, with the nine individual reels in the middle of the screen. As with Exotic Princess, blocked symbols and stacked wilds are a frequent feature. One other Reeleven game, “Gorgeous Cat,” will be launched at the show.

Other Podium releases include “Rapid Blitz Riches,” a four-level progressive; “Wild Aztec,” a Latin American theme featuring Action Stacked Symbols; and “Fiery Sun Burst,” a stand-alone progressive.

“We have a couple more surprises coming at the show in game mechanics,” Walther says. “One game to look out for: ‘Sakura Lady.’ It’s a new art style for us.” The rest about the game will wait until show time.

Leveraging Konami Video

The ongoing effort by Konami Gaming to tap into the video game resources of parent Konami of Japan will go to the next level at this year’s G2E, with the first Konami Gaming adaptation of a hit Konami video game for the slot market.

Walther gives a “hint” what the game is: “If you ‘know the code,’ you’ll be pleased with the game we’re bringing out.”

That can only mean one game: Contra.

The “code” refers to what is sometimes called the “30 Lives Code” or the “Contra Code.” It’s a code that video gamers can tap out in directional buttons on their controllers to trigger an instant 30 lives. It was first used in “Gradius,” a first-person shooter game on Nintento, but it became famous with Contra, a futuristic, soldier-of-fortune shooter game released in 1987.

“Just as with Dungeons & Dragons, what we’ve done with our first Konami licensed IP game is to build a game that has strong play mechanics first, and then put the theming around it,” Walther says. “We’re introducing a game mechanic that will be seen in a Konami game for the first time, that really leverages the license nicely and makes for fun game play.”

Walther says it is likely the first game of many that will tap into the vast IP library at Konami’s disposal. “Konami has a wealth of entertainment IP, and Contra is our first foray into exploiting that,” he says. Certainly, it’s not the last.

Super Synkros

Konami’s largest-ever new game display will share the booth with the latest from the company’s fast-growing casino management system, Synkros.

“Synkros has really hit its stride with respect to installations,” says Reback. “Turning Stone and several ships of Norwegian Cruise lines are the latest additions.” He says Synkros is spreading because its “best kept secret” is that the system doesn’t go down, with an estimated uptime north of 99.9 percent. “Synkros was built from the ground up with the same technology as systems for the defense and banking industries,” Reback says.

The latest additions to Synkros are networked bonusing solutions, including the “Super Series” of bonusing modules, a proprietary bonusing engine, and “True-Time Tournaments.”

The Super Series is a customizable system to create networked bonuses or electronic drawings on the floor through an enterprise-wide network. The next generation of the bonusing system is called “Battle Bonus.” Instead of drawing numbers, players pick an object on the service window or picture-in-picture display—then the game proceeds, and a balloon with the object picked will float through the screen.

If it makes it across the screen without getting popped by a UFO or plane, the entire bank gets a bonus award. “People share in the prize,” says Walther. “Everyone’s cheering for that last balloon standing.”

Another new Synkros feature is the “Advanced Incentives Bonusing Engine,” a floor-wide interactive elimination-style bonus game with configurable patron eligibility settings.

Reback notes that the bonusing engine can be customized for each player, using any number of criteria—double points or sweepstakes entries on a birthday, double entries for slow business periods, etc. “It adapts to whatever the operator needs,” Reback says.

True-Time Tournaments enable enterprise-wide qualification criteria to be set for on-demand tournaments. Qualifications are set by the casinos—earn so many points, play a certain time period—and a message is sent to players that they have qualified for an on-demand slot tournament, with a leaderboard associated with it.

This functionality is enhanced by Konami’s new SynkStart, which allows groups of players to enter bonus tournament play at the same time. Both options are compatible across a growing library of Synkros tournament games launching during G2E.

Innovation in Synkros goes right along with the surge in creativity on the game side for Konami.

Twice the headquarters size in Las Vegas may not be enough.

Frank Legato
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 recently published book on gaming, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying.