FAST AND FIERCE
AGS lights up the screen with the colorful and quick “FireWolf II”
By Frank Legato
Few slot players are well-versed on the companies that make the slot machines they play, even the largest ones. Players know the games, not the companies.
Small companies that are successful in the slot business live by player recognition of their games. Two companies that have been good at making memorable games in recent years were formerly known by different names, but after one company bought the other, the talents of each have blended together to create an entirely new vibe, and even more memorable games.
You no doubt remember the games of AGS. When it was known as American Gaming Systems, the company produced hits like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! and Family Feud.
But AGS has been busy reinventing itself since then, first acquiring a company called Colossal Gaming known for its giant red slot machine, Colossal Diamonds. Then, it created a table game division.
But on the slot side, perhaps the most important step in the reinvention of AGS was last year’s acquisition of Georgia-based Cadillac Jack, a top-notch game-maker in its own right.
Since then, AGS has been busy bringing the engineering talent in both former companies to bear in creating an entirely new identity. The result was the “Icon” cabinet and platform, which players have embraced. This state-of-the-art format is now breathing new life into some of the best games of the legacy companies, as well as creating new games— both in a style that is AGS’ own.
If you play in California, you may be familiar with one of the best games of the former Cadillac Jack, called FireWolf. It is a “ways-to-win” game, using the popular Cadillac reel setup known as PowerXStream. In this setup, the reels are configured like a big plus sign—three symbols on each of the outer reels, with four symbols on each of the second, third and fourth reels. There are no paylines; wins are registered by adjacent symbols, and those symbols register wins both left-to-right and right-to-left.
Meet FireWolf II, a new version of the game that is all AGS. The company took the best features of the original game and enhanced them, thanks to the new Icon platform, as well as adding new features and some of the most beautiful artwork you’ll find on a slot machine.
According to Andrew Burke, vice president of slot products for AGS, the combination of the two former companies, along with the state-of-the-art format, means a lot more players will now be able to appreciate a great game that had previously been under the radar.
“One of great things about the acquisition is that Cadillac Jack and AGS were both small, and didn’t have the licenses and distribution in a lot of premium markets,” Burke says. “FireWolf, the original game, was really a hidden gem. The game was doing really well in the limited markets it was in, but after we did the acquisition, we started putting the original FireWolf out everywhere, and it was doing huge numbers. So we realized we had to extend this franchise. FireWolf II is the next iteration in that franchise.”
The franchise centers around a game that is a strong “gambler’s game,” Burke says. The PowerXStream reel setup yields a total of 576 possible ways to win on each spin, which means good hit frequency, with just enough volatility to yield big wins. Those big wins can be amplified through a generous free-spin bonus.
Topping things off is a two-level mystery progressive jackpot— random top prizes that occur regardless of the results on the reels. Both are “Must Hit By” jackpots, a great feature that builds excitement on the floor by showing players a level at which each jackpot is guaranteed to hit. The lower jackpot resets at $500, and is guaranteed to hit before or when it reaches $800. The top jackpot resets at $1,000, and must hit by $2,000.
Players love this feature, which creates a sort of jackpot fever when each meter approaches the top threshold.
The Icon Treatment
FireWolf II on the Icon platform retains all those popular features, and adds a new one that is sure to enhance the brand even more. Called “Reel Surge,” the feature randomly expands the middle three reels by one to four rows—increasing the game field to a maximum of eight rows of symbols on those reels.
This can happen on any base game or free-game spin. In the base game, it lasts a random number of spins, but if the free-spin round is triggered while the reels are enhanced, the super-sized reel set extends into all the free games, with the reels not returning to the 3-4-4-4-3 setup until the first spin following the free games.
Additionally, if a Reel Surge happens during a free spin, those reels can grow again. The reels grow by one row for each free spin Reel Surge, to the maximum of a 3-8-8-8-3 set (eight symbols on each of the middle reels) during the bonus round.
And those free-spin rounds can last a long time. The base number of free spins is eight, initiated by one bonus symbol scattered on each of the middle reels. However, more bonus symbols mean more spins. In a Reel Surge, the maximum possible number of bonus symbols result in an astounding 128 free spins.
And a new free-spin round can be triggered during the free spins as well, tacking on even more free games.
According to Burke, one of the advantages of the new Icon format is that the free games occur very quickly. “Even if you get into the most extreme setting of the free-spin round on this game, those free spins move very fast,”Burke says. “On (some games), if you have 128 free spins, you’ve got time to go to the bathroom, or go get a drink. Using the quick-stop feature (pressing the spin button to stop the reels), these go very quickly.”
In fact, the entire game is faster than the original. “This is a nuance that players appreciate, but may not even know is happening sometimes,” says Burke. “The games that we design are for gamblers. We design them for players who want to be efficient with their play time. So, every reel stop happens very quickly. Every animation that happens, happens very quickly. Every bonus round happens quickly.”
Other advantages of the new format include the enhanced art. The two main FireWolf characters are dramatic figures—one blue and the other fire-red, with teeth bared and mist coming from their eyes. Intense artwork is carried through all the symbols and animation.
“One of the things that will strike you when you look at FireWolf II is that it is visually stunning,” Burke says. “It’s a very rich, dark-themed game, but with some really dramatic symbols, including the two Firewolves. They are really complemented by everything else. There is a very dark, intense feel to the game, and it really has a lot of drama. We wanted to keep all those elements.”
Finally, there is the Icon cabinet itself. “It’s so much better (than the previous AGS core cabinet),” Burke says, “starting with the fact it was designed internally by our team. Our previous cabinet was designed by manufacturer that was actually building it, whereas Icon was very purposely designed by our internal team.”
The team of 12 industrial designers and top mechanical and electrical engineers built Icon for comfort. The button panel is horizontal, flush to the cabinet—it feels like a table. The screen is angled precisely to make it easy for the player to see everything.
“The best aspect of Icon, from my personal perspective, is the sound,” says Burke. “When you’re sitting in that chair, you feel like you’re in a sound chair, although you’re not. The sound really comes out at you, surrounds you and pulls you into the gaming experience.
“Players who were familiar with the original FireWolf and liked it will really love the new experience on the Icon cabinet, because it adds so much more to the game.”
The Icon format is still new, and Burke says there is a large pipeline of games that will be released in the near future.
That’s going to include more versions of FireWolf, to be sure, including one on a revolutionary new premium cabinet the company is set to launch at the big industry trade show next month.
But for now, FireWolf II is set to be in all of AGS’ markets by the fall. That includes the two newest markets for AGS games—Mississippi, and the big one, Nevada. FireWolf II was used as the beta-test game in each of those markets.
And expect more games from AGS that follow what Burke calls the company’s “mantra of designing games for gamblers.”
“We want the games to be simple,” he says. “We want the player to play it, and go, ‘Aha. I get it.’ You put $20 in and you learn everything there is to know about the game pretty quickly.”
From there, it’s all fun. And profit.