Interview with Wonka Game Designer Daniel Louie
Here's Your Golden Ticket!
VegasTripping is proud to present our golden ticket interview with Wonka game designer Daniel Louie. How scrumdidlyumptious!
VT: Tell us about the development process for the Wonka machine. Did WMS take the idea for a Wonka-themed machine to Paramount, or were you approached by them?
Daniel Louie: We had pursued the Willy Wonka license for a long time. Like The Wizard of Oz, many of us had grown up with the movie, and we knew it would make for a good slot game. As a kid, one of us even used his cassette recorder to record the movie's soundtrack off the TV broadcast, just so I (I mean he) could sing along to the music before it aired again the next year. Our vice president at the time was a big proponent in getting the license, which helped a lot. We pitched some concepts, and I like to think that once they saw how lovingly we treated Oz and other games, they chose to go with us.
VT: How much input did Wonka brand reps have in the design of the game?
Daniel: Each piece from concept to completion was reviewed by the licensor to make sure we were faithful to the characters and movie. They weren't involved in the game design; it was mostly approving lines of dialogue, art, or whether a certain piece of music fit appropriately.
VT: How long was the creation and programming process of the game?
Daniel: It took about a year from conception to release.
VT: What influenced the decision to make a version of the Wonka slot with mechanical reels, in addition to pure video Wonka slots?
Daniel: Video players shouldn't have all the fun! We like to extend a successful license to different form factors. Wonka, with its many colorful characters, was a natural fit for this type of mech game with multiple bonuses.
VT: Is there a preference among certain players for machines with mechanical reels? Who?
Daniel: There's a core mechanical player who mainly plays quarter and dollar mech slots. This Wonka mech game is a bit of a hybrid, where at a penny denom, we hoped it would attract the more casual video player as well as the core mech player.
VT: Was this a specific effort to target that market?
Daniel: By doing a Wonka mech game, we wanted to introduce the world of Wonka to mech players, who may not normally play the video version of the game.
VT: When a bonus round hits, has the machine predetermined the outcome? Are the spins in the bonus round also random, or are they essentially "a scripted show" that provides set entertainment that will return winnings at the predetermined amount?
Daniel: The free spins are completely random.
VT: Similarly, are the events within the bonus rounds random? For instance, in the Charlie round, is the selection of the multiplier random?
Daniel: Yes, events in the bonus rounds are also random. You may be getting at whether the Charlie multiplier is dependent on the amount won in the spin (or vice versa). Both events are completely independent. When the multiplier is chosen, the machine doesn't know what the outcome of your spins will be. But yeah, it's annoying getting that 5x and a small win, eh?
VT: In the Violet round, the Oompa Loompas occasionally multiply the winning amount. Is this also random? Etc. for each bonus round.
Daniel: Here's an inside tip: the Oompa Loompas' multiplier actually occurs more often when you get a lower win. We curse a low credit prize as much as you do, and this way there's a good chance that it can turn into a bigger win. We thought about having the Oompa Loompas help out after any bonus, but we felt the other bonuses didn't need that potential surprise like in Violet.
VT: What can you tell us about the particular features in each bonus round? For instance, in a video posted to YouTube, a player claims he's figured out that Veruca Salt repays her winning spin randomly between 4 and 9 times, inclusive. Do you have any other details like this for any of the other bonus rounds?
Daniel: We can share that the Mr. Slugworth bonus may seem like the worst one, but you have a good shot at getting all WILD reels on the final spin.
VT: Are the bonus rounds weighted in terms of the likelihood of hitting? In other words, it appears as though the Augustus Gloop bonus round occurs more frequently than the Oompa Loompa bonus round. Can you share any stats as to each bonus round's likelihood of occurring (i.e. Gloop 60% of the time, Slugworth 55%, Violet 45%, etc.)?
Daniel: Good catch – some of the bonuses (such as Oompa Loompa) pay better than others, so yes we do weight them differently. But there isn't a huge difference. Unless you're talking about the progressive. The progressive happens way less often than the Oompa Loompa bonus.
VT: How much, if any, variation in game play is configurable by slot techs? Can a specific operator configure a machine, i.e. to determine how often specific bonuses will occur?
Daniel: Generally speaking in a typical game, we create multiple payback percentages that the casino can then choose to configure the game however they want. We do all the percentages ourselves, though, and we may alter things like the frequency of a bonus, the weighting of the reels, etc. The operator doesn't have control of how the game plays out, just which percentage to select.
VT: We're impressed with the length of the bonus rounds, particularly the Willy Wonka bonus. We've personally experienced rounds that last 20 minutes or more. Was this a conscious decision during the development of the game? What influenced that decision?
Daniel: We personally have experienced bonus rounds of greater than 20 minutes (we're allowed to play our own games as long as we aren't eligible to win the progressive). We knew that the Wonka bonus could last a long time, contrasted with the smaller paying bonuses which we made shorter. Because a bonus comes up frequently, we felt you're more forgiving of the smaller pays since the next bonus is right around the corner.
VT: Is there a maximum time that a bonus round can go on?
Daniel: As long as you keep retriggering free spins, it's possible for a bonus to continue forever. This causes our engineers headaches, as they have to account for it in history in case the power goes out. In Wizard of Oz -- Road to Emerald City, we added a spin counter so you can brag to your friends how many spins you won.
VT: Have you had any feedback from casinos regarding the length of the bonus rounds? For example, concern that the rounds go on too long without additional "coin-in" from players?
Daniel: There are some games out there where you can trigger 500+ free spins. Some casinos are wary of a player sitting for a long period of time without coin-in, but they know that usually that money will go back to the casino in some way.
VT: Is there a way to speed advance through bonus rounds?
Daniel: But sitting through the bonuses is the best part of the game! You could always check messages on your phone while you wait through a bonus.
VT: Do Wonka machines get updated software with different stories and bonus rounds over time?
Daniel: As fun as that sounds, we'd probably be too impatient if we were the player and had to wait for the next set of bonuses.
VT: Are there any "Easter eggs" or button codes that will unlock other sections of the game?
Daniel: Aside from inserting a bill upside down and pressing the min and max bet button together in order to win an easy $100, no.*
* Just kidding, there's no combination to win like that. You have to press the max bet button and pull the handle with your left hand.
VT: How is the Wonka machine performing for your company? How many Wonka machines exist?
Daniel: Wonka is one of our more popular brands. With this one and the two video versions, there are over 1000 Wonka machines out there.
VT: Has the success of the Wonka machine spawned any ideas for other machines featuring beloved childhood movies?
Daniel: We're always on the lookout for a good license. An Anna Kendrick game would be fun, but maybe just because we have a crush on her and would like to meet her. Maybe an Oompa Loompa spinoff. Or Mike TeaVee: Electric Boogaloo. Mike hasn't received much love in recent games.
VT: Thank you Daniel!