What you know can pay in AGS’ revival of the legendary “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” theme
By Frank Legato
Americans have always loved oddities—from the circus sideshow to amazing feats of strength to unbelievable facts, we can’t get enough of things that bend reality to its limits. That’s where Robert Ripley came in.
Ripley started a comic strip in 1918 that eventually was syndicated across the country. “Ripley’s Believe It… Or Not!” contained amazing facts and illustrations of oddities, and its popularity led to decades of Ripley traveling the world in search of new oddities, freakish stories, hard-to-believe images and curious characters.
The Ripley’s legend has long outlived Ripley himself to become one of the most recognizable brands in American popular culture, from the stacks of books based on Ripley’s writings and comics to tourist attractions around the world like wax museums, theaters and 39 “Odditoriums,” museums dedicated to the strange people and things Ripley popularized during his career.
These days, the Ripley’s empire also includes licensing deals, and one of those deals resulted in one of the most memorable slot machines of the past two decades. That Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Machine was developed by game design whiz Olaf Vancura, Ph.D., when he was with the former Mikohn Gaming.
The game was extremely popular with players not only for its sampling of the famous comic strip and theme surrounding its oddities, but for an intriguing extra feature—a bonus that would let you employ knowledge to get higher awards.
Two years go, Vancura was enlisted by a new slot-maker, American Gaming Systems, as its vice president of game development. It was around the same time the manufacturer completed a video slot platform called “Roadrunner,” which provided the computer horsepower to incorporate just about anything a slot designer could dream up—it was used to great effect last year with “Blackbeard’s Treasure.”
But Vancura says it was always “in the back of his mind” to bring back the Ripley’s theme. Luckily, the Ripley’s license was still available, and AGS snatched it up.
Meet Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, AGS-style.
The central part of the game reprises the knowledge-based bonus—it is the first game in the new AGS “It Pays To Know Series,” which features trivia questions with the player receiving the highest possible bonus by getting the answer right the first time.
“People loved having the ability to affect the outcome of a slot game with their knowledge, and we wanted to retain that,” Vancura says. “We also wanted to build on that and add variations.”
For the core bonus of the new game, Vancura and his crew compiled hundreds of oddities, amazing feats and quirky facts from the Ripley archives and other sources to come up with a series of multiple-choice questions on everything from the tallest man in the world to sports, history, science and other subjects. “All the trivia answer are certified as true by Ripley’s,” says Vancura. “They even checked the incorrect answers!”
He adds that he was careful not to penalize the player for not knowing the answer. “You are rewarded more for answering correctly, but you always win something,” he says. “It’s always a positive experience.”
In fact, the game even helps you get the top bonus. Borrowing a page from game shows like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire and its “Lifelines,” the Ripley’s game lets you accumulate up to three “Assist Features” during play of the base game, which are banked for the next bonus round:
The “Eliminator,” which is automatically applied in the bonus if earned, eliminates one of the wrong answers, increasing the odds the player will get it right. The “Stats” assist, also automatically applied, presents historical data about how other players have answered the question on the first response. “It’s like an ‘Ask The Audience’ feature,” says Vancura.
The “Re-Do” feature kicks in if the player is wrong on the first guess. If you’ve collected all three assists, that means a multiple-choice question with four answers is ultimately trimmed to a choice of two with no reduction in bonus, even if you don’t know the answer at first.
Vancura adds that the assists are pretty easy to get in the base game. “They’re pretty common,” he says. “You will typically have one or two of the assists banked when you go into the bonus round.”
It’s all part, says Vancura, of a commitment AGS has made to give players a fair shake on all games. “Our mantra,” he says, “our company motto for R&D, is ‘Honor the Player!’”
Starting with Blackbeard’s Treasure, that mantra was evident not only in bonus rounds but in all aspects of the game. The primary games, for instance, are what Vancura calls “WYSISYG”—for “What You See Is What You Get.” The reel strips are not weighted, so each symbol appearing on the reels is equally likely to appear. All the bonuses are fair. For instance, the bonus wheel—Ripley’s has one, among a host of other special features—is what Vancura calls a “fair wheel.”
“Every segment on the wheel is equally likely to land, and in fact, we overloaded the wheel with the best segment.” It is an answer to all the mechanical wheel bonuses you’ve ever experienced that go one click past the top award. “It’s not contrived to land on a bad segment that is right next to the best one, like some manufacturers do,” says Vancura, mentioning no names in particular.
Believe It Or Not!
Like the Blackbeard game before it, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! is packed with wild features, free spins, picking bonuses, wheel spins and special surprises that happen randomly both in the base 30-line video slot and the bonus games.
During the base-game reel-spinning, in addition to collecting the “Assist” features, there are things like “Electric Wilds,” triggered with a Ripley’s symbol on the third reel. If the symbol morphs into a Van de Graff generator—that electricity-generating gizmo with bolts of electricity traveling between metal spheres—the machine spews lighting bolts that “shock” up to eight of the other symbols on the screen into wild symbols. The Van de Graff symbol itself also is wild.
The other possible outcome with the Ripley’s logo on the third reel is the wheel bonus. A single spin of the mechanical wheel ends up either with one of the credit amounts—they range from 35 credits to 800 credits—or on the question mark, which gives the player a choice between a big credit award or what is called the “Hyper Wild Super Spin” feature, which can result in a huge return.
As Vancura notes, the “fair wheel” is weighted toward the best result—there are 22 credit slices, and six of them are question marks, a one-in-three shot of landing the largest bonus on any spin of the wheel.
The Hyper Wild Super Spin, which you can choose when you land the question mark, gives the player a choice of two from a field of 11 objects. Those two symbols transfer to reels that already have the symbols in place and the rest of the reel symbols on the screen become wild for one “mega-spin.” “You’re going to tend to get monster wins here,” says Vancura, “because the five-of-a-kinds land all over the place.”
The main bonus event, the Trivia Progressive Bonus, carries a guaranteed prize—potentially one of five progressive awards if the player answers a question correctly. In fact, with a maximum bet, the player is guaranteed one of the five progressives, which include “Optimist,” resetting (in the penny version) at $25; “Smarty Pants,” resetting at $62; “Bookworm” at $100; “Brainiac” at $250; and the top jackpot, “Know It All,” resetting at $1,000.
“If you bet the max and get an answer right, you’re always going to win a progressive,” says Vancura. “It’s fun to answer questions and get them right for money, but it adds another level of coolness when you’re playing for a progressive.”
When the Trivia bonus is triggered, a multiple-choice trivia question from categories ranging from sports to Ripley’s oddities appears. If the player answers correctly on the first try, one of the five progressives is awarded. If not, a fractional portion of the progressive connected to the question is offered. A consolation prize is awarded after another incorrect answer.
Of course, the Assists give the player a good shot at answering correctly for the top prize. But in any event, “getting to the Trivia round means you’re always going to get rewarded,” Vancura says.
Spins, Bugs and Surprises
There is one more lucrative bonus in the Ripley’s game, a free-spin round with a lot of quirky surprises. It’s actually a combination picking and free-spin bonus called “Pick’Em and Spin.”
When the bonus is triggered, a field of objects appears on the screen, and you start picking from them. The icons all hide special features for the free-spin game, including guaranteed wild symbols, multipliers and extra spins. You pick until uncovering “Stop,” and then six free spins—plus whatever extras you picked up—commence.
Then there are the “bugs.” Bug symbols trigger the bonus, but during the free spins, if a bug wild symbol lands on the reels, it’s a “Roaming Wild Bug.” It comes alive and scurries around the reels for the remaining free spins, turning symbols into wild symbols. By the end of the free spins, there can be up to 10 of the wild bugs, popping around to new positions with each spin.
Even the re-trigger for the free games is unique. Instead of simply tacking more free spins to the end of the round, the wheel symbol gives you a spin of the top progressive wheel, and a “boomerang” that takes you right back to the picking bonus to collect more special free-spin features.
In addition to all these bonus features, Vancura says there are secret, hidden bonuses that are award free credits “when certain things happen.” He says you have to watch for it, but when you catch on, you’ll be able to win extra credits.
But you have to find it yourself. The only hint Vancura will give: “It’s something that’s different than the way it was before.”
Kind of like the whole game. •