Those bonus machines

12 February 2015
Ever since bonus play on slot machines made a big breakthrough in the mid-1990s, there has been a large influx of ideas and influence from casual, not-for-wagering games found in arcades, home gaming systems and in apps for computers and mobile devices.

Many of the people who design bonusing slots came from the casual games world. Larry DeMar, who was WMS Gaming’s director of slot design when Piggy Bankin’, Reel ’Em In and Jackpot Party made their breakthroughs, moved over from pinball and video games business at Midway Games/Williams Electronics. He’s since founded Leading Edge Design where his creations include Multi Strike Poker and Gems Wild Tiles. Joe Kaminow, who had been at Sega Pinball and Williams Electronics, moved in the late 1990s to lead IGT into the video slot age, and as an independent designer recently pioneered Bally’s new Wonder Wheels line with his Batman slot.

Still, for all the influence the casual games industry has had on the slots, there has been little outright borrowing of titles. Elements that are entertaining on your PS4, Wii U or Xbox One often might not work for wagering purposes, even as second-screen bonus events. And generations who grew up playing on home gaming systems or online are have just started enter the prime casino-going demographic.

There have been a few slot machines, though, that casual games players can look at and say, “Sure, I had fun with that in the arcade/at home/online.”

Pong and Breakout, Bally Technologies: In the mid-2000s, Bally turned to a couple of the earliest video game hits to launch skill-based bonuses. In the bonus events, you had the option of playing a round of the title game, batting the Ping-Pong-like ball back and forth on the bonus screen in Pong, or deflecting the electronic ball against a wall of colored rectangles to try to break through in Breakout.

If you didn’t trust your skills, you could choose to have the machine play out a round for you. Some kind of bonus was going to be coming, but skilled players had the best chance at the biggest bonuses.

Centipede, International Game Technology: Displayed at Global Gaming Expo 2013 and rolling into casinos in 2014, Centipede is based on an arcade classic and rewards skill in the bonus event. In the bonus event, you use a joystick to move into position, then one of four buttons to fire at the crawling centipede, eliminating some segments for bonuses and sending the remnants on their separate ways. Destroy the full centipede, and you move to a second level with more bonuses, more creepy crawlies and a higher degree of difficulty.

Zuma and Bejeweled, GTECH: Under a license from PopCap Games, GTECH turned to online games for a youthful appeal. In the social game version of Zuma, players who achieve a certain level need to fight a “boss.” On the slot machine, one bonus event has the player take the role of the Zuma frog as it shoots colored balls to hit the Kahtiki Khan boss. The Kahtiki Khan moves side-to-side, so there are elements of skill and timing.

Bejeweled slots test strategy. Players who choose the skill game rather than a free spin bonus must think ahead and strategize to make gem matches for payoffs, while leaving themselves in the best position to make future matches as the gems are eliminated. In a follow-up game, Bejeweled 3-D, GTECH uses imagery from the online game, but there is no skill involved.

Neo Contra, Konami: This isn’t a test of skill like the Contra game that has been so popular in arcades and on home game systems, but it nicely adapts features from the original into a wagering game. The guns, missiles and helicopters of the original are here. So is the Contra code, which home gamers used to pick up additional lives. In the slot, a video controller sometimes appears on screen and keys in the code to give you extra chances in a pick’em bonus. And a lock-on feature, used to target missiles in the original, locks onto and eliminates low-paying A-K-Q-J symbols in free spins, clearing the way for more high-paying combinations.

$pin-Up$, Multimedia Games: There’s no skill involved in either the casino version or online version here. There are two different bonus events. If three “Girls!” symbols land on the screen, you pick one to reveal bonus credits. And if you get three “Calendar Girls” symbols, you get a free spin bonus that alongside the reels displays a page from a pinup calendar, with a $pin-Up girls covered in balloons. When red push pins land on the reels, they pop balloons for credit prizes and extra spins. Pop all the balloons to reveal the full model, well covered in 1940s-style bathing suits, and you get more spins and a new calendar page. This is a video slot game pure and simple, marketed to casinos by Multimedia and available online in Playtika’s popular Slotomania app.

Look for John Grochowski at, on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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