Multimedia Games’ “Moneyball” puts the pinball theme into a world of its own
by Frank Legato
There are a lot of slot machines coming out these days which at least purport to let players use skill to some degree—not necessarily to gain an advantage on a game, but to increase their chances of doing well.
In the vast majority of games like these, the appeal is for a game to simulate the experience of a home or arcade video game: a joystick to shoot space ships, animated characters facing off on a video screen. For a whole lot of players, though—particularly those who count themselves part of the massive Baby Boomer generation—the thought of a “skill game” goes back much farther in time than the video arcades. It goes to pinball.
The problem with pinball for a casino, though, is not only that any Baby Boomer worth his salt will be able to beat it, but that pinball is a mechanical game with a lot of parts that can wear out or break. A few years ago, game designers at Multimedia Games got the idea to simulate the fun aspects of pinball within an animated video slot.
It would be called “Moneyball.”
The original concept for Moneyball was a community-style game in which players on a bank would each get one shot of a simulated pinball, with prizes resulting from the ball bouncing around on each screen going to the entire bank. However, as Multimedia Vice President and Executive Producer Clint Owen says, that was before Highrise.
Highrise is the Multimedia game style that features an upright cabinet equipped with the tallest top box in the business—a 37-inch vertical video monitor. The tall display makes for an imposing bonus board.
“Moneyball was a perfect fit for the Highrise cabinet,” says Owen. “We got more excited about the concept as a Highrise game than we were about it as a community game. That’s how it evolved—I had been looking at casual games and online versions of pachinko (the Japanese pegboard pinball game), and really wanted to figure out how to make our own game with a skill element that had little or no effect on the pay percentage.”
The solution was a game that would employ a real element of skill—the player can actually aim the virtual pinball—but not enough so as to gain an advantage on the game that was not available to those less skilled at pinball. Moneyball is a perfect “quasi-skill” game, done with a masterful touch. (A patent is pending.)
But the fact Multimedia had a clever pinball-style bonus in which the player controls the direction the ball is launched was only the beginning. Owen says his team at Multimedia wanted more than a one-trick pony. The idea was to create a game around the pinball feature that would contain enough variety so the player would never become bored.
“We wanted it to fit with any number of different base games,” Owen says, “with a bonus at least as frequent as the free-spin bonus in most games. Then, there are four unique layouts of pegs and bumpers on the top box.”
“The variety we’ve added into it is one of the big benefits of this product over anything else in the market,” says Brad Johnson, Multimedia’s vice president of product management and marketing. “There are four different game boards, and within those game boards, there are additional types of bonus features, where you can get a ball lock and go into another secondary screen, where you get to spin a wheel or spin multiple reels.
“The player is never going to get the same experience twice, just because there are so many little things within each game board and between game boards that are different enough so players are going to want to come back and see all the different aspects of the game.”
Games in Games
The first versions of Moneyball provide variety in their formats alone. There is one version with a new base game created specifically for the series, but other versions use Multimedia games that are already popular in their own right, like the great “Invasion From Outer Space.”
In that version, the hilarious “Alien Attack!” bonus remains with the base game. Each base game also has its own free-spin bonus.
However, unlike other games with various base games and a themed bonus event, the common top-box Moneyball bonus itself takes on many different forms, and different outcomes. When the bonus is triggered, the animated top-box pinball game takes on one of four different scenes—a tree with the pegs and bumpers as fruit, a desert scene with UFOs, a hotel, or a classic pinball layout.
In each game, the player manipulates a button to “aim” the pinball’s direction as it is fired to the top of the bonus board. “Every peg gives you a small award,” explains Owen, “and every bumper gives you a bigger award. Then, when the ball hits the bottom of the board, it lands in a prize slot or bucket, and that gives you an even bigger award.”
One very cool feature: Any pinball player knows the danger of a ball falling through the board and not hitting anything—it used to be called going down the “drain,” with no points registered. That doesn’t happen here. You will at the very least get the bonus award for the bucket into which the ball falls. “Even if you don’t hit the multipliers or ball features or ball lock, you’re still guaranteed a prize on every shot,” Owen says.
Ah, but there’s more. As the virtual ball rolls down the big video screen, it can hit classic pinball features for completely new games. A “ball lock”—the video equivalent of the physical pinball hitting a spot and staying there—triggers one of two secondary events. In one, a prize wheel appears, which the player spins for an extra bonus prize. In another, a set of three bonus reels appears, and the player gets three spins for bonus awards. In either case, after the mini-game, the feature reverts to the regular pinball bonus.
Another possible extra feature on the Moneyball board is a “ball split.” In another nod to classic pinball, the ball will split into three balls, and all will bounce down the board simultaneously, registering a cavalcade of bonuses. Yet another possibility on the big board is a “Fireball” feature. This multiplies all awards—every peg hit, every bumper hit, any ball-lock prize—by three.
At press time, the Moneyball series had been launched in Louisiana and points in the Midwest. By the time you read this, it will be spreading throughout the U.S.
And that’s just the beginning. Owen says Moneyball is definitely going to be a long-term series. “Now that we’ve got the basics under our belt,” he says, “we can go back and add all kinds of additional interesting features to the Moneyball board—different progressives, different kinds of ball locks… any number of things. This series will definitely go on for a while.”
Adds Johnson, “The most exciting part is that we’ve created an experience with enough variety that the player is getting a unique experience every time he goes into the bonus. The value of that is that we can put it on lots of different games without players getting bored with what they see.
“We can come out with a lot of different base games with this bonus on top, and it’s not going to get old for the player. We designed it to have a lot of legs.”
That should keep pinball players occupied for a long time to come. •
Five-reel, 30-line video slot; free-spin and second-screen bonus events; top-box video pinball bonus; penny through dollar denominations
Payback % Range
Average Hit Frequency
CA, LA, OK (other approvals pending at press time)