Title:
GAMING SYSTEM, METHOD, AND PROGRAM PRODUCT FOR CONTROLLING NEAR MISS OUTCOMES IN A WAGERING GAME
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A game symbol matrix, such as a symbol matrix produced in a reel-type game, may be modified to provide the player with an additional chance for certain types of winning symbol combinations. In particular, a first game symbol matrix which may be produced in a wagering game may be evaluated to detect if the game symbol matrix is close to, for example, a high value win. If so, one or more symbol locations may be repopulated with a respective game symbol to provide the player with another chance at achieving the high value win.



Inventors:
Watkins, Brian (Austin, TX, US)
Application Number:
13/622295
Publication Date:
03/20/2014
Filing Date:
09/18/2012
Assignee:
WATKINS BRIAN
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
MOSSER, ROBERT E
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Everi Games, Inc. (Austin, TX, US)
Claims:
1. A method for a wagering game, the method including: (a) producing a first game symbol matrix by populating each respective symbol location of a symbol location matrix with a respective game symbol selected from one or more game symbol sets; (b) evaluating the first game symbol matrix to detect the presence of a modification condition in the first game symbol matrix, the modification condition comprising a condition in which the replacement of a respective game symbol in one or more detected symbol locations has the potential to produce a win in the wagering game at least at a threshold win level according to a pay table of winning symbol combinations for the wagering game; (c) in response to the detection of the modification condition, repopulating each detected symbol location with a respective game symbol selected from one of the one or more game symbol sets, to produce a second game symbol matrix; (d) evaluating the second game symbol matrix for the presence of any winning symbol combinations defined in the pay table of winning symbol combinations; and (e) awarding a prize for each winning symbol combination defined through the second game symbol matrix, for each winning symbol combination defined through the first game symbol matrix, or for each winning symbol combination defined through both the first game symbol matrix and the second game symbol matrix.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein: (a) the symbol location matrix includes a matrix of two or more rows of symbol locations and two or more columns of symbol locations; (b) the modification condition comprises a condition in which the replacement of a respective game symbol at each symbol location in one of the columns of symbol locations has the potential to produce a win in the wagering game at least at the threshold win level; and (c) further including in response to the detection of the modification condition, repopulating the detected symbol location at each symbol location of the one of the columns of symbol locations with a respective game symbol selected from one of the one or more game symbol sets.

3. The method of claim 1 wherein populating at least one symbol location of the symbol location matrix includes spinning a video-generated or mechanical reel and then bringing the video-generated or mechanical reel to a stop to show the respective game symbol for the at least one symbol location.

4. The method of claim 1 wherein the threshold win level comprises a prize at least at a predefined prize value.

5. The method of claim 1 wherein the modification condition further includes the absence of a winning game symbol combination in the first game symbol matrix and wherein evaluating the first game symbol matrix to detect the presence of the modification condition in the first game symbol matrix includes determining if the first game symbol matrix includes any winning symbol combinations defined in the pay table of winning symbol combinations.

6. The method of claim 1 wherein: (a) the symbol location matrix includes a single row of symbol locations, and there is a single detected symbol location comprising a symbol location at a position along the single row of symbol locations, such position being defined prior to producing the first game symbol matrix; or (b) the symbol location matrix includes a matrix of two or more rows of symbol locations and two or more columns of symbol locations, and wherein each detected symbol location is included at a respective symbol location of a respective column of symbol locations, the column being defined prior to producing the first game symbol matrix.

7. The method of claim 1 wherein: (a) the symbol location matrix includes three or more columns of one or more symbol locations; and (b) when the replacement of either one of two or more respective symbol locations each has the potential to produce a respective threshold winning game symbol combination, applying a tiebreaker rule to identify which of the two or more respective symbol locations to define as a detected symbol location.

8. The method of claim 1 wherein the symbol location matrix comprises a one-dimensional matrix and wherein each of the one or more game symbol sets comprises a deck of playing card representations.

9. A gaming machine including: (a) a display system; (b) a player input system; (c) at least one processor; and (d) at least one memory device storing instructions executable by the at least one processor to: (i) cause the display system to display populating each respective symbol location of a symbol location matrix with a respective game symbol selected from one or more game symbol sets, the populated symbol location matrix comprising a first game symbol matrix; (ii) evaluate the first game symbol matrix to detect the presence of a modification condition in the first game symbol matrix, the modification condition comprising a condition in which the replacement of a respective game symbol in one or more detected symbol locations has the potential to produce a win in a wagering game at least at a threshold win level according to a pay table of winning symbol combinations for the wagering game; (iii) in response to the detection of the modification condition, cause the display system to display repopulating each detected symbol location with a respective game symbol selected from one of the one or more game symbol sets, to produce a second game symbol matrix; (iv) evaluate the second game symbol matrix for the presence of any winning symbol combinations defined in the pay table of winning symbol combinations; and (v) award a prize for each winning symbol combination defined through the second game symbol matrix, for each winning symbol combination defined through the first game symbol matrix, or for each winning symbol combination defined through both the first game symbol matrix and the second game symbol matrix.

10. The gaming machine of claim 9 wherein: (a) the symbol location matrix includes a matrix of two or more rows of symbol locations and two or more columns of symbol locations; (b) the modification condition comprises a condition in which the replacement of a respective game symbol at each symbol location in one of the columns of symbol locations has the potential to produce a win in the wagering game at least at the threshold win level; and (c) the at least one memory device also stores instructions executable by the at least one processor to, in response to the detection of the modification condition, cause the display system to display repopulating the detected symbol location at each symbol location of the one of the columns of symbol locations with a respective game symbol selected from one of the one or more game symbol sets.

11. The gaming machine of claim 9 wherein the threshold win level comprises a prize at least at a predefined prize value.

12. The gaming machine of claim 9 wherein: (a) the modification condition further includes the absence of a winning game symbol combination in the first game symbol matrix; and (b) the evaluation of the first game symbol matrix to detect the presence of the modification condition in the first game symbol matrix includes determining if the first game symbol matrix includes any winning symbol combinations defined in the pay table of winning symbol combinations.

13. The gaming machine of claim 9 wherein: (a) the symbol location matrix includes a single row of symbol locations, and there is a single detected symbol location comprising a symbol location at a position along the single row of symbol locations, such position being defined prior to producing the first game symbol matrix; or (b) the symbol location matrix includes a matrix of two or more rows of symbol locations and two or more columns of symbol locations, and wherein each detected symbol location is included at a respective symbol location of a respective column of symbol locations, the column being defined prior to producing the first game symbol matrix.

14. The gaming machine of claim 9 wherein: (a) the symbol location matrix includes three or more columns of one or more symbol locations; and (b) the at least one memory device also stores instructions executable by the at least one processor to, when the replacement of either one of two or more respective symbol locations each has the potential to produce a respective threshold winning game symbol combination, apply a tiebreaker rule to identify which of the two or more respective symbol locations to define as a respective detected symbol location.

15. The gaming machine of claim 9 wherein the symbol location matrix comprises a one-dimensional matrix and wherein each of the one or more game symbol sets comprises a deck of playing card representations.

16. A program product stored on one or more non-transitory computer readable data storage devices, the program product including: (a) player input program code executable by at least one processor to receive a game play input entered through a player input system of a gaming machine; (b) display and evaluation program code executable by the at least one processor to (i) cause a display system of the gaming machine to display populating each respective symbol location of a symbol location matrix with a respective game symbol selected from one or more game symbol sets, the populated symbol location matrix comprising a first game symbol matrix; (ii) evaluate the first game symbol matrix to detect the presence of a modification condition in the first game symbol matrix, the modification condition comprising a condition in which the replacement of a respective game symbol in one or more detected symbol locations has the potential to produce a win in a wagering game at least at a threshold win level according to a pay table of winning symbol combinations for the wagering game; (iii) in response to the detection of the modification condition, cause the display system to display repopulating each detected symbol location with a respective game symbol selected from one of the one or more game symbol sets, to produce a second game symbol matrix; and (iv) evaluate the second game symbol matrix for the presence of any winning symbol combinations defined in the pay table of winning symbol combinations; and (c) payout program code executable by the at least one processor to award a prize for each winning symbol combination defined through the second game symbol matrix, for each winning symbol combination defined through the first game symbol matrix, or for each winning symbol combination defined through both the first game symbol matrix and the second game symbol matrix.

17. The program product of claim 16 wherein: (a) the symbol location matrix includes a matrix of two or more rows of symbol locations and two or more columns of symbol locations; (b) the modification condition comprises a condition in which the replacement of a respective game symbol at each symbol location in one of the columns of symbol locations has the potential to produce a win in the wagering game at least at the threshold win level; and (c) the display and evaluation program code is executable by the at least one processor to, in response to the detection of the modification condition, cause the display system to display repopulating the detected symbol location at each symbol location of the one of the columns of symbol locations with a respective game symbol selected from one of the one or more game symbol sets.

18. The program product of claim 16 wherein: (a) the modification condition further includes the absence of a winning game symbol combination in the first game symbol matrix; and (b) the evaluation of the first game symbol matrix to detect the presence of the modification condition in the first game symbol matrix includes determining if the first game symbol matrix includes any winning symbol combinations defined in the pay table of winning symbol combinations.

19. The program product of claim 16 wherein: (a) the symbol location matrix includes three or more columns of one or more symbol locations; and (b) the display and evaluation program code is also executable by the at least one processor to, when the replacement of either one of two or more respective symbol locations each has the potential to produce a respective threshold winning game symbol combination, apply a tiebreaker rule to identify which of the two or more respective symbol locations to define as a respective detected symbol location.

20. The program product of claim 16 wherein the symbol location matrix comprises a one-dimensional matrix and wherein each of the one or more game symbol sets comprises a deck of playing card representations.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to wagering games, gaming machines, gaming systems, program products for such gaming machines and gaming systems, and associated methods. More particularly, the invention relates to wagering games which identify certain near miss conditions in which an outcome for a given play of the wagering game narrowly misses a certain win level, and then provides the player with one or more chances to achieve the certain win level.

2. Description of the Related Art

Numerous types of wagering games have been developed to provide players with new and varied gaming experiences. One of the techniques which has been used to increase player interest in reel-type games (games which display results via game symbols appearing on a number of mechanical or video-generated spinnable reels) is to respin certain reels after an initial result is displayed. The respin of one or more reels may increase the chance of the player hitting a winning symbol combination or hitting a higher paying winning symbol combination. U.S. Pat. No. 5,704,835 discloses a wagering game in which a player chooses a given reel of a unisymbol reel matrix to respin while the remaining reels remain locked in place. U.S. Pat. No. 7,074,127 and U.S. Pat. No. 7,195,559 both disclose reel-type games in which reels may lock in place under certain conditions and other reels may be respun in an effort to produce more or more valuable winning symbol combinations.

There remains a need in the field of wagering games to provide gaming machines and methods which capture and maintain the player's interest. It is also desirable that the techniques employed to increase player interest are applicable to both reel-type games and other types of games, such as video poker for example.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention encompasses methods, apparatus, and program products for modifying a game symbol matrix, such as a symbol matrix produced in a reel-type game, to provide the player with an additional chance for certain types of winning symbol combinations. In particular, the invention involves evaluating a first game symbol matrix which may be produced in a wagering game to detect if the game symbol matrix is close to a high value win (for example). If so, one or more symbol locations may be repopulated with a respective game symbol to provide the player with another chance at achieving the high value win.

A method according to some forms of the invention includes producing a first game symbol matrix for a wagering game by populating the respective symbol locations of a symbol location matrix with a respective game symbol selected from one or more game symbol sets. Once the first game symbol matrix is known it may then be evaluated to detect the presence of a modification condition in the first game symbol matrix. This modification condition comprises a condition in which the replacement of a respective game symbol in one or more detected symbol locations has the potential to produce a win in the wagering game at least at a threshold win level according to a pay table of winning symbol combinations for the wagering game. Some embodiments may define the threshold win level as a certain prize value, particularly, a relatively large prize available in the pay table. When the modification condition is detected, embodiments of the invention include repopulating each detected symbol location with a respective game symbol which may be randomly or pseudo-randomly selected from one of the one or more game symbol sets. This repopulating step produces a second game symbol matrix which give the player another chance at a winning symbol combination at least at the threshold win level. Once the second game symbol matrix is known, it may then be evaluated for the presence of any winning symbol combinations defined in the pay table. Methods according to the invention may conclude with the step of awarding a prize for each winning symbol combination defined through the second game symbol matrix if it is produced in the course of the game. In some alternatives of the invention a prize may also be awarded for any winning symbol combination defined through the first game symbol matrix. Of course, in situations in which the modification condition is not detected, a prize is still awarded for each winning symbol combination defined through the first game symbol matrix.

The present control arrangement for near misses in a wagering game is well suited for application to reel-type games. However, the invention is certainly not limited to reel-type games. In particular, the invention also has application to video card games such as video poker. In the case of video poker, the first game symbol matrix may be a one-by-five matrix of symbol locations each populated with a respective playing card symbol. This one-by-five matrix is produced by dealing out five cards in some fashion. When the modification condition is detected for this card hand (which may be an initial hand or one that is drawn to in some fashion), the playing card symbol which causes the modification condition may be replaced by another playing card symbol selected from one or more decks to give the player another chance at achieving the desired winning hand.

A gaming machine according to one embodiment of the present invention includes a display system including at least one display device, a player input system, and at least one processor. One or more memory devices are associated with the processor or processors for storing instructions which are executable to populate the symbol location matrix with game symbols to produce the first game symbol matrix, and to evaluate the first game symbol matrix for the presence of the modification condition as described above. The stored instructions are also executed to repopulate each detected symbol location in response to the detection of the modification condition, and to evaluate the resulting second game symbol matrix. Ultimately, the stored instructions are also executed to award a prize for each winning symbol combination produced according to the game rules and whether or not the second game symbol matrix is produced for the given play of the game. A prize may be awarded for each winning symbol combination defined through the second game symbol matrix, for each winning symbol combination defined through the first game symbol matrix, or for each winning symbol combination defined through both the first game symbol matrix and the second game symbol matrix.

Considering that the present invention may be implemented using one or more general purpose processing devices, the invention also encompasses a program product which may be stored on one or more tangible computer readable data storage devices representing non-transitory media. The program product may include player input program code together with display and evaluation program code. The player input program code is executable to receive the game play input for a play of the game. The display and evaluation program code is executable to control the display device for each play of the game and to evaluate the produced matrices, for example, according to the method described above. In particular, the display and evaluation program code is executable to produce the first game symbol matrix, evaluate that game symbol matrix to detect the presence of a modification condition, produce the second game symbol matrix if the modification condition is detected, and evaluate the second game symbol matrix for winning symbol combinations. Payout program code may be included which is executable to award a prize for each winning symbol combination produced in the first game symbol matrix, the second game symbol matrix, or both matrices depending upon the circumstances of the game.

These and other advantages and features of the invention will be apparent from the following description of illustrative embodiments, considered along with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a view in perspective of the front of a gaming machine which may be employed in embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a diagrammatic representation of the gaming machine shown in FIG. 1 showing various components of the gaming machine.

FIG. 3 is a diagrammatic representation of a gaming network in which the present invention may be implemented.

FIG. 4 is a flow diagram illustrating a process flow according to one or more embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 5 is a representation of a first game symbol matrix that may be formed in an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a representation of another first game symbol matrix that may be formed in an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 7 is a representation of yet another first game symbol matrix that may be formed in an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 8 is a representation of a further first game symbol matrix that may be formed in an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 9 is a representation of a symbol location matrix which may be used to describe the paylines available in a reel-type game according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 10 is a representation of the symbol location matrix of FIG. 9, wherein the symbol locations have been populated to form a first game symbol matrix according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 11 is a representation of the symbol location matrix of FIG. 9, wherein the symbol locations have been populated to form another first game symbol matrix according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 12 is a representation of the symbol location matrix of FIG. 9, wherein the symbol locations have been populated to form yet another first game symbol matrix according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 13 is a representation of the symbol location matrix of FIG. 9, wherein the symbol locations have been populated to form a further first game symbol matrix according to an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 14 is a representation of a first game symbol matrix comprising a playing card hand according to an embodiment of the present invention.

DESCRIPTION OF ILLUSTRATIVE EMBODIMENTS

In the following description, FIGS. 1-3 will be used to describe example gaming machines and gaming networks through which the present invention may be implemented. Processes which are illustrative of certain embodiments of the invention will then be described in connection with the flow chart of FIG. 4. Reel-type games embodying the principles of the invention will then be described in connection with FIGS. 5-13, and a playing card game embodying the principles of the invention will be described in connection with FIG. 14.

FIG. 1 shows a gaming machine 100 that may be used in implementing a game providing game symbol control according to the present invention. The block diagram of FIG. 2 shows further details of gaming machine 100 along with certain variations which may be included in the gaming machine. FIG. 3 shows an example gaming network in which gaming machines such as gaming machine 100 may be employed.

Referring to FIG. 1, gaming machine 100 includes a cabinet 101 having a front side generally shown at reference numeral 102. A primary video display device 104 is mounted in a central portion of the front side 102, with a button panel 106 positioned below the primary video display device and projecting forwardly from the plane of the primary video display device. In addition to primary video display device 104, the illustrated gaming machine 100 includes a secondary video display device 107 positioned above the primary video display device. Gaming machine 100 also includes two additional smaller auxiliary display devices, an upper auxiliary display device 108 and a lower auxiliary display device 109. It should also be noted that each display device referenced herein may include any suitable display device including a cathode ray tube, liquid crystal display, plasma display, LED display, or any other type of display device currently known or that may be developed in the future. One or more of these video display devices, and especially primary video display device 104, may be used to display game symbols which show the results for a given play of the game implemented through gaming machine 100. Such results may be shown by the manner in which game symbols are aligned along various paylines defined through a symbol location matrix presented by the display device. As will be described further below in connection with FIG. 2 and elsewhere, it is also possible for gaming machines within the scope of the present invention to include mechanical elements such as mechanical reels. Generally, the display device or display devices of the gaming machine, whether video display devices, mechanical devices, or combinations of the two, which are used to display the game symbol matrices according to embodiments of the invention, may be described in this disclosure and the accompanying claims as a display system.

The gaming machine 100 illustrated for purposes of example in FIG. 1 also includes a number of mechanical control buttons 110 mounted on button panel 106. These control buttons 110 may allow a player to select a bet level, select paylines, select a type of game or game feature, and start a play in a game. Other forms of gaming machines through which the invention may be implemented may include switches, joysticks, or other mechanical input devices, and/or virtual buttons and other controls implemented on a suitable touch screen video display. For example, primary video display device 104 in gaming machine 100 provides a convenient display device for implementing touch screen controls in addition to or in lieu of mechanical controls. The player interface devices which receive player inputs to initiate the play of a game through the gaming machine, such as controls to select a wager amount for a given play and control to actually start a given play, may be referred to generally as a player input system.

It will be appreciated that gaming machines may also include a number of other player interface devices in addition to devices that are considered player controls for use in playing a particular game. Gaming machine 100 also includes a currency/voucher acceptor having an input ramp 112, a player card reader having a player card input 114, and a voucher/receipt printer having a voucher/receipt output 115. Numerous other types of player interface devices may be included in gaming machines that may be used to implement embodiments of the present invention.

A gaming machine which may be used to implement embodiments of the present invention may also include a sound system to provide an audio output to enhance the user's playing experience. For example, illustrated gaming machine 100 includes speakers 116 which may be driven by a suitable audio amplifier to provide a desired audio output at the gaming machine.

FIG. 2 shows a logical and hardware block diagram 200 of gaming machine 100 which includes a central processing unit (CPU) 205 along with random access memory (RAM) 206 and nonvolatile memory or storage device 207. All of these devices are connected on a system bus 208 with an audio controller device 209, a network controller 210, and a serial interface 211. A graphics processor 215 is also connected on bus 208 and is connected to drive primary video display device 104 and secondary video display device 107 (both mounted on cabinet 101 as shown in FIG. 1). A second graphics processor 216 is also connected on bus 208 in this example to drive the auxiliary display devices 108 and 109 also shown in FIG. 1. As shown in FIG. 2, gaming machine 100 also includes a touch screen controller 217 connected to system bus 208. Touch screen controller 217 is also connected via signal path 218 to receive signals from a touch screen element associated with primary video display device 104. It will be appreciated that the touch screen element itself typically comprises a thin film that is secured over the display surface of the respective display device, in this case primary video display device 104. The touch screen element itself is not illustrated or referenced separately in the figures.

Those familiar with data processing devices and systems will appreciate that other basic electronic components will be included in gaming machine 100 such as a power supply, cooling systems for the various system components, audio amplifiers, and other devices that are common in gaming machines. These additional devices are omitted from the drawings so as not to obscure the present invention in unnecessary detail.

All of the elements 205, 206, 207, 208, 209, 210, and 211 shown in FIG. 2 are elements commonly associated with a personal computer. These elements may be mounted on a standard personal computer chassis and housed in a standard personal computer housing which itself may be mounted in cabinet 101 shown in FIG. 1. Alternatively, the various electronic components may be mounted on one or more circuit boards housed within cabinet 101 without a separate enclosure such as those found in personal computers. Those familiar with data processing systems and the various data processing elements shown in FIG. 2 will appreciate that many variations on this illustrated structure may be used within the scope of the present invention. For example, since serial communications are commonly employed to communicate with a touch screen controller such as touch screen controller 217, the touch screen controller may not be connected on system bus 208, but instead include a serial communications line to serial interface 211, which may be a USB controller or a IEEE 1394 controller for example. It will also be appreciated that some of the devices shown in FIG. 2 as being connected directly on system bus 208 may in fact communicate with the other system components through a suitable expansion bus. Audio controller 209, for example, may be connected to the system via a PCI or PCIe bus. System bus 208 is shown in FIG. 2 merely to indicate that the various components are connected in some fashion for communication with CPU 205 and is not intended to limit the invention to any particular bus architecture. Numerous other variations in the gaming machine internal structure and system may be used without departing from the principles of the present invention. For example, a gaming machine in some embodiments of the present invention may rely on one or more data processors which are located remotely from the gaming machine itself. Embodiments of the present invention may include no processor such as CPU 205 or graphics processors such as 215 and 216 at the gaming machine, and may instead rely on one or more remote processors. Thus unless specifically stated otherwise, the designation “gaming machine” is used in this disclosure and the accompanying claims to designate a system of devices which operate together to provide the indicated functions. A “gaming machine” may include a gaming machine such as gaming machine 100 shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, which is itself a system of various components, and may also include one or more components remote from a gaming machine cabinet (such as cabinet 101 in FIG. 1). Thus the designation “gaming machine” encompasses both a stand-alone gaming machine and a gaming machine (that is, the part housed in a cabinet such as cabinet 101 in FIG. 1) along with one or more remote components for providing various functions (such as generating outcomes for plays in a game, and driving display devices mounted in a gaming machine cabinet).

It will also be appreciated that graphics processors are also commonly a part of modern computer systems. Although separate graphics processor 215 is shown for controlling primary video display device 104 and secondary video display device 107, and graphics processor 216 is shown for controlling both auxiliary display devices 108 and 109, CPU 205 or a graphics processor packaged with or included with CPU 205 may control all of the display devices directly without any separately packaged graphics processor. The invention is not limited to any particular arrangement of processing devices for controlling the video display devices included with gaming machine 100. Also, a gaming machine implementing the present invention is not limited to any particular number of video display devices or other types of display devices.

In the illustrated gaming machine 100, CPU 205 executes software, that is, program code, which ultimately controls the entire gaming machine including the receipt of player inputs and the presentation of the graphics or information displayed according to the invention through the display devices 104, 107, 108, and 109 associated with the gaming machine. CPU 205 also executes software related to communications handled through network controller 210, and software related to various peripheral devices such as those connected to the system through audio controller 209, serial interface 211, and touch screen controller 217. CPU 205 may also execute software to perform accounting functions associated with game play. Random access memory 206 provides memory for use by CPU 205 in executing its various software programs while the nonvolatile memory or storage device 207 may comprise a hard drive or other mass storage device providing storage for game software such as game program code 204 (and associated program code such as player input program code, display and evaluation program code, and payout program code) prior to loading into random access memory 206 for execution, or for programs not in use or for other data generated or used in the course of gaming machine operation. Network controller 210 provides an interface to other components of a gaming system in which gaming machine 100 may be included. An example network will be described below in connection with FIG. 3.

It should be noted that the invention is not limited to gaming machines employing the personal computer-type arrangement of processing devices and interfaces shown in example gaming machine 100. Other gaming machines through which the invention may be implemented may include one or more special purpose processing devices to perform the various processing steps for implementing the invention. Unlike general purpose processing devices such as CPU 205, which may comprise an Intel Pentium® or Core® processor for example, these special purpose processing devices may not employ operational program code to direct the various processing steps.

The example gaming machine 100 which may be used to implement some embodiments of the present invention is shown in FIG. 2 as including user interface devices 220 (part of a player input system) connected to serial interface 211. These user interface devices may include various player input devices such as mechanical buttons shown on button panel 106 in FIG. 1, and/or levers, and other devices. It will be appreciated that the interface between CPU 205 and other player input devices such as player card readers, voucher readers or printers, and other devices may be in the form of serial communications. Thus serial interface 211 may be used for those additional devices as well, or the gaming machine may include one or more additional serial interface controllers. However, the interface between peripheral devices in the gaming machine, such as player input devices, is not limited to any particular type or standard for purposes of the present invention.

Reel Assembly 213 is shown in the diagrammatic representation of FIG. 2 to illustrate that a gaming machine which may be used for various embodiments of the invention may include mechanical reels. For example, a set of mechanical reels may replace the primary display device 104, or at least part of that display device. Alternatively, mechanical reels may be included in the gaming machine behind a light-transmissive video display panel. In either case, the mechanical reels represent a display device for displaying some or all of the game symbols in the course of a game play. Although the invention is not limited to any particular mechanical reel arrangement or control system, mechanical reels may be controlled conveniently through serial communications which provide instructions for a respective stepper motor for each reel. Thus some embodiments of the present invention which employ mechanical reels may use a serial interface device such as serial interface 211 to control communications with the reel assembly, and may not include a direct bus interconnection as indicated by FIG. 2. Details of a mechanical reel arrangement and various accent lighting arrangements which may be associated with mechanical reels are not shown in the present figures so as to avoid obscuring the present invention in unnecessary detail.

Referring now to FIG. 3, a networked gaming system 300 associated with one or more gaming facilities may include one or more networked gaming machines 100 (“electronic gaming machines” or “EGM's”) connected in the network by suitable network cable or wirelessly. Networked gaming machines 100 (EGM1-EGMn) and one or more overhead displays 313 may be operatively connected so that the overhead display or displays may mirror or replay the content of one or more displays of gaming machines 100. For example, the primary display content for a given gaming machine 100 may be stored by a display controller or game processor 205 of the given gaming machine and transmitted through network controller 210 to a controller associated with the overhead display(s) 313. In the event gaming machines 100 have cameras installed, the respective player's video images may be displayed on overhead display 313 along with the content of the player's gaming machine display.

The example gaming network 300 shown in FIG. 3 includes a host server 301 and floor server 302, which together may function as an intermediary between floor devices such as gaming machines 100 and back office devices such as the various servers described below. Game server 303 may provide server-based games and/or game services to network connected gaming devices such as gaming machines 100. Central determinant server 305 may be included in the network to identify or select lottery, bingo, or other centrally determined game outcomes and provide the information to networked gaming machines 100 which present the games to players.

Progressive server 307 may accumulate progressive prizes by receiving defined amounts, such as a percentage of the wagers from eligible gaming devices or by receiving funding from marketing or casino funds. Progressive server 307 may also provide progressive prizes to winning gaming devices in response to a progressive event. Such a progressive event may comprise, for example, a progressive jackpot game outcome or other triggering event such as a random or pseudo-random win determination at a networked gaming device or server. Accounting server 311 may receive gaming data from each of the networked gaming devices, perform audit functions, and provide data for analysis programs. Player account server 309 may maintain player account records, and store persistent player data such as accumulated player points and/or player preferences (for example, game personalizing selections or options).

Example gaming network 300 also includes a gaming website 321 which may be hosted through web server 320 and may be accessible by players via the Internet. One or more games may be displayed as described herein and played by a player through a personal computer 323 or handheld wireless device 325 (for example, a Blackberry® cell phone, Apple® iPhone®, personal digital assistant (PDA), iPad®, etc.). To enter website 321, a player may log in with a user name that may, for example, be associated with the player's account information stored on player account server 309. Once logged onto website 321 the player may play various games on the website. Also website 321 may allow the player to make various personalizing selections and save the information so it is available for use during the player's next gaming session at a casino establishment having the gaming machines 100.

It will be appreciated that gaming network 300 illustrated in FIG. 3 is provided merely as an example of a gaming network in which games featuring near miss symbol control according to embodiments of the present invention may be implemented, and is not intended to be limiting in any way. The invention is not limited to use in games offered through a gaming network (via the gaming website 321, or via gaming machines such as gaming machines 100, or otherwise). For example, games including near miss symbol control according to the present invention may be offered through a stand-alone gaming machine having a configuration similar to gaming machine 100 or having any other gaming machine configuration. Also, where games including near miss symbol control as described particularly below in connection with FIGS. 4-14 are offered through gaming machines included in a gaming network, the network need not have the configuration shown for purposes of example in FIG. 3. In particular, servers shown separately in the example of FIG. 3 may be combined in a single physical processing device, or the processing duties of the various illustrated servers may be split into additional physical devices.

FIG. 4 illustrates an example process within the scope of the present invention. The process shown in FIG. 4 from process block 402 through 416 represents a single game play according to one form of the invention and thus may be repeated for each respective play of the game. The illustrated process applies to a wagering game such as a reel-type game or a playing card game (such as poker) in which the results for a play of the game are shown by the manner in which an array of symbol locations are populated with game symbols for the given play of the game. The following paragraph will describe the overall process shown in FIG. 4 and then subsequent paragraphs will describe the individual process steps in greater detail, and describe certain variations on these steps.

As shown at process block 401, the electronic gaming machine (such as gaming machine 100 in FIGS. 1-3) is first initialized for game play. Once the gaming machine is initialized, the process may include receiving a game play input as indicated at process block 402, and then populating the symbol location matrix as indicated at process block 404. Once all of the intended symbol locations are populated with a respective game symbol, or at least once the game symbols assigned to the various symbol locations are known, the process evaluates the resulting matrix (the first game symbol matrix) for the presence of a modification condition as indicated at process block 405. If no modification condition is detected as indicated by a negative outcome at decision box 406, the process branches to evaluate the first game symbol matrix for winning game symbol combinations according to the applicable pay table as indicated at process block 408 and to award prizes accordingly as indicated at process block 416. However, if a modification condition is detected as indicated by an affirmative outcome at decision box 406, the process includes optionally evaluating the first game symbol matrix for winning game symbol combinations as indicated at process block 410, and repopulating each detected symbol location to produce the second game symbol matrix as indicated at process block 412. As noted earlier, the “detected symbol locations” are symbol locations in the first game symbol matrix having game symbols that may be replaced to potentially produce a winning symbol combination at least at a threshold win level. The process then includes evaluating the second game symbol matrix for winning game symbol combinations according to the applicable pay table as indicated at process block 414, and any indicated prizes are awarded as shown at process block 416. The process then ends for that particular game sequence and, as noted above, the process steps from 402 to 416 may be repeated for each subsequent game play input or activation in a gaming session by a player at the gaming machine.

The process of initializing a gaming machine for play of the game as indicated at process block 401 may include a number of different steps depending upon the nature of the gaming machine and the gaming network in which the gaming machine may be included. For example, many modern gaming machines may require a player login to initialize the gaming machine for play. This login may include receiving a player identifier at the game machine in some fashion either through a card reader or other reading device or input device at gaming machine. Other gaming machines may require no player login, but may require the player to insert cash or credits into the gaming machine in some fashion to initialize the gaming machine for play. For example, in ticket-in-ticket-out systems, a player may be required to insert a ticket into a ticket reader at the gaming machine to place credits on the gaming machine to facilitate play. Where the gaming machine accepts cash, the initialization process may include receiving cash from the player. Process block 401 is included in FIG. 4 simply to indicate that typically the gaming machine must be initialized for game play in some fashion, but is not intended to limit the invention to any particular type of initialization.

In some forms of the invention the process of initializing the gaming machine for play as indicated at process block 401 causes the gaming machine to display a symbol display area on a symbol display device of the gaming machine. The symbol display area includes a number of symbol locations for a wagering game. The state of this symbol display area (that is, the particular game symbols displayed in the symbol locations) may simply be left over from the immediately preceding play of the game. In other embodiments, the state of the symbol display area may be left over from an attract sequence executed by the gaming machine to attract a player to that particular machine. Yet other forms of the invention may return the symbol display area to a particular starting condition for each play the game.

The game play input received as indicated at process block 402 may include receiving a number of separate inputs to initiate the play of the game. For example, a player may be required to select a bet level for the play and/or may be required to select which symbol location combinations (paylines in reel-type games) are active for the given play. The present invention is not limited to receiving any particular input or inputs to initiate the play of the game. Unless stated specifically otherwise, for the purpose of this disclosure and the following claims, the step of receiving a game play input includes receiving any single input or sequence of inputs to initiate the play of the game.

The process of populating the symbol locations with respective game symbols as according to process block 404 may be accomplished in a number of different ways within the scope of the present invention. Where the gaming machine includes mechanical reels, at least some symbol locations may be populated by spinning the reels and then bringing each reel to a stop to show a respective game symbol at each symbol location. Video reel-type games include a video simulation of reels (which may be shown on video display device 104 in FIG. 1 for example) which spin and then come to a stop to show various game symbols in the primary symbol matrix. The invention is not limited to any particular reel arrangement, for either a mechanical reel or video reel implementation. However, each primary symbol location which may be replaced by a set of secondary symbol locations according to the invention requires some mechanism, such as a video device, for showing the modification of the symbol location.

It should be appreciated that some forms of the invention may not change all of the symbols for given play of the game. For example, one or more of the reels in a reel-type game may remain stationary for a given play. Such stationary reels may be selected randomly, may be selected under the control the player in some fashion, or may be selected in any other fashion. Where the player may select symbol locations to remain constant over the course of the given play of the game, the selection may be part of the game play input at process block 402, for example.

The invention is not limited to any particular arrangement for selecting the game symbols to be displayed in the various symbol locations of the symbol location matrix for a given play of the game. In a central determinant system, such as a central determinant bingo or electronic lottery system, for example, a given play of the game may be associated with one or more outcomes of the underlying game. In these cases, the reels of a reel-type game may be forced to stop showing particular symbols consistent with the outcome of the underlying game or a random outcome selection. In other forms of the invention the outcome for a given play of the game is obtained in some fashion at the gaming machine itself and the reels are forced to stop showing symbols consistent with the outcome. In yet other forms of invention, the reels may be stopped randomly or pseudo randomly to populate the symbol locations which are to be populated for the given play of the game.

The process of evaluating the first game symbol matrix for the modification condition which would lead to the second game symbol matrix is dependent upon how the modification condition is defined. In some implementations the modification condition may be defined purely in terms of whether the replacement of a respective game symbol in one or more detected symbol locations has the potential to produce a win in the wagering game at least at a threshold win level according to the pay table in effect for the game. In these implementations, the evaluation may involve analyzing the various game symbols in the first game symbol matrix to detect certain symbol combinations that are missing one or more game symbols to produce a win at least at the threshold win level. In reel-type games, the game symbols appearing in the game symbol matrix may be apparent from the angular position of the reel or virtual reel, or may be apparent from the result which forces the reels to stop at the given positions. In video poker games the game symbols (playing cards) appearing in the game symbol matrix should be known from the process which selected the game symbols for the play of the game.

The invention, however, is not limited to modification conditions based purely upon whether one or more game symbols may be replaced to produce a certain level of win. Some forms of the invention, for example, may require that the modification condition can only be met if the first game symbol matrix does not produce any win, or does not produce any win above a certain win level. In other implementations of the invention, only a single symbol location or a set of symbol locations may be considered for replacement to produce a win level at least at the threshold win level. For example, in a reel-type game, only a single reel or a subset of the total number of reels may be considered for showing a game symbol that, if replaced, could produce a certain level of win in the game. In yet other forms of the invention, the modification condition may have a random or pseudo-random aspect. For example, once a detected symbol location is found in the evaluation indicated at process block 404 in FIG. 4, it may be determined randomly in some fashion whether to repopulate the location.

The manner in which the threshold win level is defined is also subject to wide variation within the scope of the present invention. In some forms of the invention the threshold win level is defined in terms of a large prize level that is available in the pay table for the game. In other cases a threshold win level may be defined to require multiple large wins in a single play of the game (a win level corresponding to hitting two high value paylines in a play of a multi-payline reel-type game.

In forms of the invention which do not limit the position of the detected symbol to a single symbol position in the symbol location matrix, it may be possible for a given play of the game for multiple symbol locations to qualify as the detected symbol which satisfies the modification condition. Where two or more symbol locations may represent the detected symbol for a given play of the game, it may be desirable to apply one or more additional rules to choose between the two symbol locations for the repopulating step (process block 412 in FIG. 4). For example, where two symbol locations in the first game symbol matrix each contain a symbol that represents a detected symbol which satisfies the modification condition, the symbol location which could produce the highest level prize could be selected for repopulation. If that rule still does not select one of the two symbol locations over the other, then the rightmost (or leftmost, or uppermost, or lowermost) symbol location in the game symbol matrix might be selected as the detected symbol location.

The invention encompasses a number of different techniques for repopulating each detected symbol location to produce the second game symbol matrix according to process block 412 in FIG. 4. For games other than reel-type games, the game symbol locations may be displayed on a video display and repopulating the location simply includes modifying the video to show a different game symbol from the desired set of game symbols. Any suitable graphics may be used to display the game symbol change. For example, where the game is displayed as a poker game, repopulating a symbol location may be shown as another playing card being dealt to that symbol location. For video reel-type games, the video-generated symbol location to be repopulated is associated with a given reel and repopulating the symbol location may involve controlling the display device to produce a video representation of the given reel spinning and then eventually stopping to show another game symbol (potentially the same game symbol) is shown at that symbol location. In mechanical reel reel-type games, repopulating a given symbol location may be accomplished by respinning the reel and stopping it to show a respective game symbol (reel symbol) in that symbol location. Of course, if a video or mechanical reel-type game uses a reel which shows more than one symbol location of the symbol location matrix, spinning that reel will cause the detected symbol location and other locations to be repopulated with game symbols. Regardless of how a particular implementation of the invention repopulates each detected symbol location, the repopulation may be performed automatically in response to the modification condition, or may require one or more player inputs entered through the player interface system of the gaming machine. For example, prior to repopulating a detected symbol location, the gaming machine display system may display a celebratory graphic effect and then invite the player to make an input at the gaming machine to indicate that the player is aware of the additional chance for the win at least at the threshold win level. Such a celebratory graphic effect may also be produced separately from any player input invitation.

It should be noted that repopulating each detected symbol location according to the present invention involves selecting a game symbol randomly or pseudo-randomly from one or more sets of game symbols. Repopulating a symbol location according to the invention, and as set out in the claims below, does not include merely nudging a reel in a reel-type game one or more symbol locations from a given orientation of the reel.

The process of evaluating the respective game symbol matrix for winning game symbol combinations according to process blocks 408, 410, and 414 may encompass any suitable process for identifying game symbol combinations defined as winning combinations according to the applicable pay table. Suitable processes may include comparing each game symbol combination in the matrix (for example, a symbol combination along a payline defined in a reel-type game) to the various winning symbol combinations defined in the pay table which correlates each winning symbol combination to a respective prize value. Determining which game symbols are displayed at the various symbol locations may involve evaluating the reel stop position for a mechanical or video reel to identify the game symbols which are displayed. However, where the reel stop positions are dictated by a result such as a central determinant result, the game symbol displayed at each respective symbol location may be apparent from the result itself. Ultimately the evaluation indicated at process blocks 408, 410, and 414 will result in the identification of any prizes that are to be awarded for the particular play of the game.

It should be noted that process block 410 is shown in dashed lines in FIG. 4 to indicate that the step may not be necessary in certain implementations of the invention. In particular, where the modification condition requires that the first game symbol matrix include no winning combination of game symbols, there will be no reason to perform the step at process block 410. In still other implementations, the player may effectively give up any winning combination in the first game symbol matrix in order to meet the modification condition. In these implementations, the player may have the option of accepting the winning combinations in the first game symbol matrix or accepting whatever winning combinations might be produced after repopulating the detected symbol location(s) according to process block 412.

The prizes that may be awarded in accordance with process block 416 may be awarded in any particular fashion consistent with the particular gaming machine and gaming system. For example, prizes are awarded in some gaming machines by increasing the credit value on the gaming machine and the player may cash out from that gaming machine to obtain value for those credits. Other types of gaming systems maintain an account for the player's play at a remote accounting system, and the prizes are awarded by crediting the player's remote account and showing the updated account value at the gaming machine. Some types of prizes may be hand pay prizes which require a casino employee to manually deliver the prize or a voucher for the prize to the player. Hand pays are typically required for high-value prizes or for prizes in the form of merchandise or coupons. Other types of gaming machines may physically dispense prizes in the form of coins or other value. The invention is not limited to any particular system or arrangement for awarding the pay table prizes.

Specific examples of a process according to the invention may be described with reference to FIGS. 5 through 8. Each of these figures illustrates an example first game symbol matrix which may be produced in accordance with the process block 404 in FIG. 4. Each matrix is made up of a number of symbol locations 501 aligned in five vertical columns 504, 505, 506, 507, and 508, and three horizontal rows 511, 512, and 513. It should by assumed for the purposes of these examples that this particular 5×3 matrix of symbol locations 501 may be displayed with a five reel reel-type gaming machine where each real displays one of the three-symbol, symbol location columns of the matrix (namely, columns 504, 505, 506, 507, and 508). However, it will be appreciated that reel-type embodiments are not limited to this type of arrangement. Alternatively, each symbol location may be associated with its own separate reel. Yet other embodiments may include combinations of reels associated with only a single symbol location and reels associated with multiple symbol locations. It is also possible within the scope of the present invention that some technique other than spinnable virtual or mechanical reels are used to populate the various symbol locations of the symbol location matrix shown in each of FIGS. 5 through 8.

Each symbol location 501 in each of the FIGS. 5 through 8 is populated with a game symbol 515. For the purposes of these examples, the game symbols are shown simply as letters which are selected from a set of letters from A through K. Of course, reel-type games commonly use graphic symbols as game symbols, however, the game symbols comprising simple letters are shown in FIGS. 5 through 8 to simplify the description of the present invention.

For purposes of the examples shown in FIGS. 5 through 8 it is assumed that a pay table which is applicable to the game defines only horizontal paylines (that is, winning symbol combinations along paylines defined by the three horizontal rows of symbol locations, rows 511, 512, and 513). It is also assumed that this pay table defines combinations of game symbols B and C as winning combinations when three or more of the symbols are aligned along a horizontal payline, and that any four symbol combination of the C symbol and any four symbol combination of the B symbol represents a win at least at the threshold win level. Also for the purposes of these examples in FIGS. 5 through 8, it is assumed that each reel includes groups of stacked game symbols C and B such that it is possible for a given reel to land with all B symbols aligned along a given column or all C symbols aligned along a given column. All of the other game symbols in the symbol set, that is, game symbols D through K are assumed for purposes of these examples to be symbols that cannot contribute to a winning symbol combination of any type. It is also assumed for the purposes of the example first game symbol matrices shown in FIG. 5 through 8 that each payline pays only for combinations from left to right along the respective payline.

Finally for purposes of the examples shown in FIGS. 5 through 8 it is assumed that the modification condition comprises first that a single one of the reels (the five reels defining symbol columns 504, 505, 506, 507, and 508, respectively) may be re-spun to repopulate the respective symbol locations 501 with game symbols to potentially produce a win in the game at least at the threshold win level. It is further assumed that the modification condition is not met when there is any winning symbol combination in the first game symbol matrix, regardless of the value of the winning symbol combination.

Applying all these assumptions and the definition of the modification condition to the example first game symbol matrix shown in FIG. 5, it is first apparent that this first game symbol matrix does not include any winning symbol combination. Although this game symbol matrix includes three C symbols aligned along each of the horizontal paylines, the rule that paylines are only paid for symbol combinations from left-to-right prevents those combinations from being winning combinations. Thus the first game symbol matrix shown in FIG. 5 meets the condition that no winning game symbol combination be present. The first game symbol matrix shown in FIG. 5 also meets the condition that a single reel may be respun to potentially produce a winning symbol combination correlating to prize at the threshold win level. In particular, the second reel, the reel defining column 505, may be respun and could land showing one or more C symbols to produce a winning symbol combination of five C symbols aligned along one of the horizontal paylines. It should be noted in this case that since reel 505 includes a set of three stacked C symbols, it is possible for the reel to be respun and land showing three additional C symbols, one along each horizontal row/payline, 511, 512, and 513. Thus even if the modification condition was defined such that re-spinning a single reel had the potential of producing a win level corresponding to five C symbol combinations along all three horizontal paylines, the modification condition would still be satisfied, and the second reel would be respun according to the process shown at process block 412 in FIG. 4.

Referring now to the example of FIG. 6, it is apparent that the first game symbol matrix shown in that figure also includes no winning symbol combination. Thus the condition that no winning symbol combination be present in the first game symbol matrix is satisfied for the example of FIG. 6. Also, according to the above-described assumptions regarding the winning symbol combinations defined for the game, the third reel, that is, the reel defining game symbol column 506 in FIG. 6, may be respun to potentially produce one or more combinations of four B symbols along a respective horizontal payline. Thus this third reel which defines symbol column 506 would be respun according to the process shown at process block 412 in FIG. 4 to repopulate the detected symbol locations, that is, all the symbol locations 515 in column 506.

Referring now to the example of FIG. 7, it is apparent that this first game symbol matrix does not produce any winning symbol combination. Thus the condition that no winning symbol combination be present is satisfied for this particular first game symbol matrix. However, there is no single reel which can be respun, given our assumptions, to produce a winning symbol combination at least at the threshold win level. That is, even if the second reel, the reel defining symbol column 505 is respun and hits all B symbols, there would still be no winning symbol combination defined in the resulting second symbol matrix, let alone a winning symbol combination above the threshold win level of four or more C symbols or B symbols aligned along at least one horizontal payline. Similarly, even if the reel defining symbol column 506 is respun and hits all B symbols along the column, the resulting second game symbol matrix would not produce a winning combination at or above the predefined threshold win level. Thus in the example shown in FIG. 7, the modification condition is not met and none of the symbol locations are repopulated in accordance with process block 412 in FIG. 4. Rather, the process would branch to evaluate the first game symbol matrix shown in FIG. 7 (according to the process at process block 408 in FIG. 4) and since there is no winning symbol combination, no prize would be awarded for the first game symbol matrix according to process block 416 of FIG. 4.

Referring to FIG. 8, it is apparent that the first game symbol matrix shown in this figure does not satisfy the condition that no winning combinations be present. This is because the first three columns of symbol locations along the horizontal paylines defined by rows 512 and 513 produce winning symbol combinations of three aligned B symbols. Thus, even though the fourth reel, the reel defining symbol column 507 may be respun to potentially produce a row of five aligned B symbols, the modification condition is not satisfied in the example of FIG. 8, and thus no reel is respun according to the invention. Rather, the process branches to evaluate the first game symbol matrix according to process block 408 in FIG. 4 and award the prizes for the two aligned B symbol combinations produced in that matrix in the paylines defined by symbol rows 512 and 513.

FIGS. 9 through 13 may be used to describe another example embodiment of the present invention. Each of these figures shows another example game symbol matrix which includes nine different symbol locations arranged in a 3×3 matrix. FIG. 9 shows that each symbol location 901 is designated with numerical symbol location labels 1 through 9. These symbol location labels are not game symbols and will be used below to describe a set of paylines which may be defined through the matrix. The 3×3 matrix shown in FIGS. 9 through 13 defines three vertically columns 904, 905, and 906, and three horizontal rows 908, 909, and 910. It will be assumed for purposes of the examples shown in FIGS. 9-13 that this 3×3 matrix of symbol locations is produced using three reels of a reel-type game, with a first reel showing the symbols of column 904, a second reel shown the symbols of column 905, and a third reel showing the symbols of column 906.

FIGS. 10 through 13 each show a respective example first game symbol matrix that is produced by populating each of the symbol locations 901 with a respective game symbol. It is assumed for purposes of these examples that the game symbol set used to populate the various symbol locations 901 include three “7” symbols each with a different color identified by different crosshatching. Each vertical crosshatched “7” symbol such as those shown in FIG. 10 may be defined as a red “7,” each diagonally crosshatched “7” such as those shown in FIG. 11 may be defined as a blue “7,” and horizontally crosshatched “7” symbols such as those shown in FIG. 12 may each be defined as a white “7.” It will further be assumed that a win at least at the threshold win level is produced by three “7” symbols of a given color along a respective payline, and that three “7” symbols of different colors along a payline defines a winning symbol combination which is below the threshold win. The “N” symbols shown in FIGS. 10 through 13 are symbols that do not contribute to a winning symbol combination at the threshold win level for the game, and are shown as the same symbol for purposes of simplifying the figures. Of course, any suitable non-winning symbols may be used within the scope of the invention.

Referring back to FIG. 9, it is assumed for purposes of these examples that an applicable pay table includes nine different potential winning combinations of symbol locations (paylines) through the game symbol matrix. In particular, the nine winning paylines may be defined as follows, referring to the numeric symbol location labels in FIG. 9:

1, 4, 71, 5, 92, 6, 8
2, 5, 83, 5, 71, 5, 7
3, 6, 92, 4, 83, 5, 9

Finally for the purposes of the example first game symbol matrices shown in FIGS. 9 through 13, it is assumed first that a modification condition is defined as an arrangement of game symbols in which a single reel may be respun to produce a winning combination of game symbols at least at the threshold win level. As in the previous examples of FIGS. 5 through 8, the modification condition also requires that there be no winning symbol combination in the first game symbol matrix. Finally, for purposes of the examples in FIGS. 9 through 13, only the third reel, the reel defining symbol column 906, may be respun to satisfy the modification condition.

Applying these assumptions to the example shown in FIG. 10, it is apparent that this example first game symbol matrix satisfies the modification condition. In particular, the first game symbol matrix shown in FIG. 10 does not include any winning symbol combination, and the third reel, the reel defining symbol column 906, may be respun to potentially produce another red “7” symbol in the middle horizontal payline to produce a winning symbol combination at least at the threshold win level. Thus, referring to the flow chart shown in FIG. 4, the process for the example of FIG. 10 would branch from decision box 406 to follow the steps shown at process blocks 412, 414, and 416. It is noted that the step shown at process block 410 in FIG. 4 is not required in this example because the modification condition is only satisfied when the first game symbol matrix does not include a winning symbol combination.

The example first game symbol matrix shown in FIG. 11 also satisfies the modification condition because it does not include any winning symbol combination, and the third reel, the reel defining symbol column 906, may be respun to produce a winning payline of three blue “7” symbols in symbol locations 2, 4, and 8 (defined in FIG. 9).

The first game symbol matrix shown in FIG. 12, however, does not satisfy the modification condition applying the above described assumptions. This is because this first game symbol matrix of FIG. 12 includes a winning payline comprising three mixed color “7” symbols along the payline defined by symbol locations 2, 6, and 8 (defined in FIG. 9). Thus referring to FIG. 4, the results of the inquiry at decision block 406 would be negative and the process would branch through process blocks 408 and 416.

Finally, the example first game symbol matrix shown in FIG. 13 also does not satisfy the modification condition given the assumptions for this example. Although the third reel which defines symbol column 906 be respun to produce a winning symbol combination of mixed color “7” symbols along the middle horizontal payline, this potential winning combination is below the threshold win level associated with three like-colored “7” symbols aligned on a payline.

FIG. 14 shows a first game symbol matrix that may be produced in a video poker game embodying the principles of the invention. This first game symbol matrix is defined by a game symbol comprising an 8 card at a first symbol location 1401, a second game symbol comprising a King card at a second symbol location 1402, a third game symbol comprising another King card at third symbol location 1403, a fourth game symbol comprising a Jack card at a fourth symbol location 1404, and finally a fifth game symbol comprising another King at a fifth symbol location 1405. For purposes of this example, it is assumed the modification condition requires that a single game symbol be replaced to potentially produce a winning game symbol combination comprising four face cards of a kind. It is further assumed that the modification condition does not require that the first game symbol matrix include no winning combination. The pay table applicable to this playing card game may award prizes according to the hierarchy of playing card hands with the minimum prize-winning hand comprising a pair of Jacks, for example.

Applying these assumptions and the process shown in FIG. 4, this example first game symbol matrix shown in FIG. 14 satisfies the modification condition according to the invention. Even though the first game symbol matrix shows three of a kind, and would thus be correlated to a prize according to the assumed pay table, either one of the playing card game symbols at symbol locations 1401 or 1404 may be replaced (the symbol locations repopulated) to potentially produce a hand having four Kings, which is a winning combination at least at the threshold win level defined above. Thus the process shown in FIG. 4 would branch from decision box 406 to proceed through process block 410 (potentially), and then process blocks 412, 414, and 416. Because this example includes a winning combination in the first game symbol matrix, a process according to the invention may include the alternative shown in process block 410 in FIG. 4.

Because either the game symbol at game symbol location 1401 or the game symbol at symbol location 1404 may be replaced to potentially produce a winning symbol combination at least at the threshold win level, it may be necessary in some embodiments of the invention to select which of these two symbol locations to repopulate according to the repopulating step shown at process block 412 in FIG. 4. The symbol location to be repopulated may be selected randomly, according to some rule, or by the player through a suitable player input. An example rule might be to always repopulate the rightmost symbol location which comprises a detected symbol location. It is also possible for embodiments of the invention to repopulate both symbol locations 1401 and 1404 to allow the player two separate chances to produce a winning symbol combination at least at the threshold win level. Giving the player one or both chances may require an additional wager by the player. Thus the process shown in FIG. 4 may be modified to include, after decision box 406, the step of waiting for receipt of a player input (and perhaps a supplemental wager) to accept the repopulation of one of the symbol locations (possibly in return for forfeiting the winning combination produced in the first game symbol matrix). If no such player input is received, the process might branch to simply evaluate the first game symbol matrix in accordance with process block 408 in FIG. 4, and then award the prize.

Another variation within the scope of the present invention includes providing multiple iterations of evaluating for a modification condition and repopulating one or more symbol locations. For example, once the symbol locations are repopulated in accordance with process block 412 and FIG. 4, the system may again evaluate for a modification condition. Any such new modification condition may cause one or more symbol locations of the second game symbol matrix to be repopulated with another game symbol (or potentially the same game symbol) from the applicable game symbol set to product a tertiary game symbol matrix. This tertiary game symbol set may then be evaluated for winning symbol combinations.

Although example implementations of the invention are described above mostly in terms of standalone games, it should be appreciated that the invention may be applied in any number of different gaming environments and/or in combination with other games. For example, games employing game symbol control according to the present invention may be used as in-revenue or out-of-revenue tournament games or in side action games that are played in parallel or concurrently with one or more other games. Games employing the present game symbol control technique may also be employed as community games in which results at one gaming machine affect a community of one or more other players at different gaming machines. Games employing game symbol control may also employ additional features to enhance the player's gaming experience. For example, players may be allowed to save game symbols from one play (including trigger symbols) and apply the saved symbols to another play. This may be accomplished by freezing one or more reels for a given play of a reel-type game. Also, games employing game symbol control according to the present invention may incorporate progressive prizes. For example, one or more prizes in the applicable pay table may comprise a respective progressive prize. Avatars are among other game features which may be used in connection with games employing game symbol control. For example, an avatar may be used to indicate game symbol locations to be repopulated. Trailing touch screen graphic effects such as those disclosed in U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2012/0115599 may also be incorporated in games employing game symbol control according to the present invention.

As used in the foregoing description and the following claims, the terms “comprising,” “including,” “carrying,” “having,” “containing,” “involving,” and the like are to be understood to be open-ended, that is, to mean including but not limited to. Any use of ordinal terms such as “first,” “second,” “third,” etc., in the claims to modify a claim element does not by itself connote any priority, precedence, or order of one claim element over another, or the temporal order in which acts of a method are performed. Rather, unless specifically stated otherwise, such ordinal terms are used merely as labels to distinguish one claim element having a certain name from another element having a same name (but for use of the ordinal term).

The above-described example embodiments are intended to illustrate the principles of the invention, but not to limit the scope of the invention. Various other embodiments and modifications to these preferred embodiments may be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the scope of the present invention.