Casinos are under the influence from arcades to apps
By John Grochowski
Distinctions have been blurred in the modern age of slots, and to a large extent the games you play in the virtual world online are the same as those in the real—or reel—world.
For decades, there’s been a relation between slots and non-wagering, social games for entertainment. In the last several years, that relationship has become more overt.
Want to play IGT games such as Cleopatra, Wolf Run or Cats? You can find them online for free play in the Double Down Casino app, as well as playing for money when you’re in the casinos.
The same goes for WMS games such as Kronos, Jade Elephant or Super Jackpot Party, all available in the Jackpot Party Casino app. My wife Marcy first played Invaders from the Planet Moolah on the app, then was excited to see it in a casino—“Oh! My cows!” she exclaimed as she took $20 from her purse and headed over to see the spaceships beaming up the cow characters.
So it goes with a wide variety of games and manufacturers. You can find Aristocrat games on the Heart of Vegas app, and games designed by High Five Games for several manufacturers at the High Five Casino app.
That’s a normal part of a slot player’s life nowadays. In New Jersey and Delaware, you can play for money online or in person. Through most of the U.S., you can play the games for fun on Facebook, and you can play them for money.
That’s new, but ever since bonus play on slot machines made a big breakthrough in the mid-1990s, there has been a large influx of ideas and influence from casual, not-for-wagering games found in arcades, home gaming systems and in apps for computers and mobile devices.
Many of the people who design bonusing slots came from the casual games world. Larry DeMar, who was WMS Gaming’s director of slot design when Piggy Bankin’, Reel ’Em In and Jackpot Party made their breakthroughs, moved over from pinball and video games business at Midway Games/Williams Electronics. He’s since founded Leading Edge Design where his creations include Multi Strike Poker and Gems Wild Tiles. Joe Kaminow, who had been at Sega Pinball and Williams Electronics, moved in the late 1990s to lead IGT into the video slot age, and as an independent designer recently pioneered Aristocrat’s new Wonder Wheels line with his Batman slot.
Still, for all the influence the casual games industry has had on the slots, there has been little outright borrowing of titles until recent years when casino apps made it possible to give slot ideas a virtual trial. Elements that are entertaining on your PS4, Wii U or Xbox One often might not work for wagering purposes, even as second-screen bonus events. And generations who grew up playing on home gaming systems or online have just started enter the prime casino-going demographic.
There have been a few slot machines, though, which casual games players can look at and say, “Sure, I had fun with that in the arcade/at home/online.”
Pong and Breakout
In the mid-2000s, Bally turned to a couple of the earliest video game hits to launch skill-based bonuses. In the bonus events, you had the option of playing a round of the title game, batting the Ping-Pong-like ball back and forth on the bonus screen in Pong, or deflecting the electronic ball against a wall of colored rectangles to try to break through in Breakout.
If you didn’t trust your skills, you could choose to have the machine play out a round for you. Some kind of bonus was going to be coming, but skilled players had the best chance at the biggest bonuses. Neither game drew a huge following, but they drew enough play to earn their casino niche.
Bally has set games of real skill aside for the time being, but the ability and inspiration to produce them is there, waiting for the video games generation to take a bigger place in the casino scene and demand games that challenge their abilities.
International Game Technology
Displayed at Global Gaming Expo 2013 and rolling into casinos in 2014,Centipede is based on an arcade classic and rewards skill in the bonus event. In the bonus event, you use a joystick to move into position, then one of four buttons to fire at the crawling centipede, eliminating some segments for bonuses and sending the remnants on their separate ways. Destroy the full centipede, and you move to a second level with more bonuses, more creepy crawlies and a higher degree of difficulty.
Zuma and Bejeweled
Under a license from Pop Cap Games, GTECH turned to online games for a youthful appeal. In the social game version of Zuma, players who achieve a certain level need to fight a “boss.” On the slot machine, one bonus event has the player take the role of the Zuma frog as it shoots colored balls to hit the Kahtiki Khan boss. The Kahtiki Khan moves side-to-side, so there are elements of skill and timing.
In their original version, Bejeweled slots test strategy, although the new Bejeweled 3-D slot is not skill-based. Players who choose the skill game rather than a free spin bonus must think ahead and strategize to make gem matches for payoffs, while leaving themselves in the best position to make future matches as the gems are eliminated. In a follow-up game, Bejeweled 3D, GTECH uses imagery from the online game, but there is no skill involved.
This isn’t a test of skill like the Contra game that has been so popular in arcades and on home game systems, but it nicely adapts features from the original into a wagering game. The guns, missiles and helicopters of the original are here. So is the Contra code, which home gamers used to pick up additional lives. In the slot, a video controller sometimes appears on screen and keys in the code to give you extra chances in a pick’em bonus. And a lock-on feature, used to target missiles in the original, locks onto and eliminates low-paying A-K-Q-J symbols in free spins, clearing the way for more high-paying combinations.
There’s no skill involved in either the casino version or online version here. There are two different bonus events. If three “Girls!” symbols land on the screen, you pick one to reveal bonus credits. And if you get three “Calendar Girls” symbols, you get a free spin bonus that alongside the reels displays a page from a pinup calendar, with a $pin-Up girls covered in balloons. When red push pins land on the reels, they pop balloons for credit prizes and extra spins. Pop all the balloons to reveal the full model, well covered in 1940s-style bathing suits, and you get more spins and a new calendar page.
This is a video slot game pure and simple, marketed to casinos by Multimedia and available online in Playtika’s popular Slotomania app.
What each of these games point to is a history of influence by the casual games world and their integration into the casino games we all know, love and can now play in so many different places. And what could be better for us as players than to have the option of playing the games for free online as well as the chance at some wagering fun, and maybe even some big wins, when we’re in the casinos?