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Fruit Machines Inside Out: Design & Development


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#1 edwardb

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 03:18 PM

Hi All
 
Next instalment of FMIO, I will be talking about how you design a game and how it gets to production. Ready for a mammoth read?
 
1. Ideas
 
Well, everyone has ideas in this business, but it is usually a game designer (which wasn't an actual job title save for Barcrest's shrouded-in-secrecy MMG team) or developer who came up with the game. Most developers were players, in Mazooma certainly, and this showed in the games and how they played. I always felt this to be a good thing!
 
There is no set process, you have an idea, write it down and then when a new game is needed, out comes the notebook etc. I would always sketch out my ideas and make
sure they worked in my head.
 
What has/hasn't done well recently? What did the other companies release? Why did game X work and a similar game not? What new stuff can we do that won't confuse people?
The best "new" concepts were a 5% move on from another game.
 
So we've got a concept. Let's kick it off!
 
2. Design
 
So you have an idea and need to get it fleshed out. You write a game specification that explains how the game works, the layout of the board or trail, and
anything that might not be obvious. The spec is read by technical and sales people so you need to be sure it has everything you need to get across in plain English.
 
Have you checked your board layout? Can you reach the game over/mystery square within 12 moves of every other board position in case you need to kick the player out?
Are there any dead ends, i.e. can your game get somewhere where you can't boot the player out, and he can manipulate things?
 
List and explain every feature game, layout of the mystery/bonus dapple and what each outcome does. Got a cashpot? How does that work? How do you win it?
 
OK good. So your spec is written, usually 15 pages or so, now let's talk to the other guys and get it rolling.
 
3. Art
 
The game designer, developer and artist will all sit around and talk over how they want the game to look. 
 
The artist generally does a pencil sketch (though nowadays, mostly done on PC) which takes a few days to a week, and has the basic layout and rough character sketches on.
From that, assuming no big changes are needed, the artist will then start on the artwork proper. This can take anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks, depending on what's needed.
Detailed characters add a lot of time.
 
These days, art is done in Photoshop but some still use Freehand.
 
Once art is finished, everyone looks over it and checks for spelling/grammar mistakes and anything that may be wrong.
 
Designing artwork is a technical and mechanical challenge. You have "restrictions" which are areas you cannot place a lamp for mechanical reasons,
such as near a hi-lo reel (I think we left a 10mm gap top and bottom) and also near cut-outs for coin/note acceptors etc.
 
There are areas where reels cannot go for the same reasons, as they would catch on hardware inside the machines. Hence why you cannot have a reel on the
right where your hoppers and coin mech are! Each cabinet would have a restriction drawing made for it, showing where you cannot place lamps or reels. I have one somewhere, I will dig it out.
 
You need to leave a 3mm "land" between each lamp box as that's the minimum tolerance a vac former can do.
 
The artist will produce a "PCX" file, basically a technical drawing of where lamps are, and also for printing, other colours of the artwork - called "separations" or just "seps". More below.
 
4. Prototyping, Glass Printing & Vac Forms
 
A prototype machine is then created, which is usually a paper print (done on a poster printer) stuck on a thick bit of MDF.
A punch is used to mark where lamps will go, and then holes drilled out. A bit of plastic is stapled to the other side, and lamps inserted.
 
Remember to remove all burrs and sharp edges!
 
Someone (usually someone in the cab shop, or other tech person, but I did my own) then designs & documents the wiring harnesses and wires the prototype lamp board.
 
Wiring is expensive, so you don't want to use more than you need. You generally follow the shortest path from the connector to the lamp.
Once that is done the machine is given to the developer who starts the code.
 
We now have our bill of materials, we know what it takes and what it costs to make a game, so it can be sent to stores to order parts for production.
 
Meanwhile, we have to get building the real machines, and that means printing glasses, getting vac forms made and wired up.
In the old days, BFG, Barcrest and Maygay had their own print shop and vacuum forming kit. It all got outsourced in the end.
 
As an aside, in the old days, the BFM factory used to make kitchen cabinets for MFI. They had all the gear, so why not use it overnight when the factory was quiet?
 
To print a glass, there are two ways:
 
1. Screenprinting, which you take the artwork and split into 4 colours (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) and print each colour separately. If you look closely at an older glass
you can see the 4 colours. BFG used to print on perspex which never worked as well as glass - the colours looked duller.
 
2. Digital printing, essentially inkjet printing on to an adhesive paper which is stuck to glass. Cheaper, more efficient and more flexible.
 
Spot a mistake on the glass? In the bin they go. Fix and print new ones. Expensive - £40 to £80 a pop for a top glass, £20 for a bottom glass, not to mention staff costs etc.
It did happen. I remember the first Mazooma games hi/lo games had the hi-lo reel window solid red - god knows why. Had to scrap them all. Moving to digital printing saved a lot of cost.
 
Vac forms; if you did in CDT at school the process is the same. You made a wooden jig (done by a CNC router) and then pull heated plastic over it, remove the air, and
there's your vac form. Simple. £15 or so for each unit.
 
Wiring the vacs; a job I hated. We had a rig where you put the last black over a lightbox, and then the vac on top, and a pedal would step through each lamp in sequence
and you followed it with a wire. Tedious but that's how it was done. You then plugged in the loom and checked for bad connections, missed lamps, etc.
 
You now have a glass and wired vacs, and these can go to the factory for a hand-built number of machines for use in dev (later on) and then testing.
 
4. Code
 
The prototype machine is handed over to the developer, who will write the code. Sits next to your desk.
 
All machines start from the the previous game - to ensure the latest versions of the libraries are used, and any bug fixes are also in.
 
The developer normally starts by getting lamps configured; hopefully (though not always) a lot of lamps are the same as a previous game.
Entering upto 256 lamps as #define LP_NUDGE_1 (LP_DATA_1|LP_STROBE7) gets very tedious....
 
Once lamps are defined, we can make tables (arrays) of lamps to make control much easier. Say you had 12 lamps for your nudge pot, you'd create
a table e.g. nudgePotTable[] = { LP_NUDGE_1, LP_NUDGE_2.....} and then with one line of code, AllLampsOff(nudgePotTable), switch them all off.
Easier than doing all lamps individually...
 
Once your inputs and outputs are done, you've entered your reel strip layouts and reel mech types (libraries make this easy), you can then move
to start coding the game properly.
 
As you've started from a previous game, if it's the same style of game (a board game, lets say) then you define your board squares, and call
functions to action the square (e.g. AddToCashPot(100) or AddToNudgePot(1) etc). 
 
Before about 2000, most dev and debugging was done on the machine. We then ported the entire software to PC and have a fast play simulator where
you can use Visual Studio to debug the code before it ever reaches a machine. Logic and visuals are entirely separate for the most part; the visuals
just show (on lamps, alpha or screen) what the logic has already decided what will happen.
 
The obvious exception to this is skill stops, where you watch for a button press and then action that accordingly (sometimes "rolling off" if the player stopped on something
we didn't want them to have!).
 
This is a very simplified version of what is a long process, coding a game could take 12 weeks until it was ready for testing. You have to write any new feature, but
if you want a Money Belt, and you've done one before, you go and take that rather than code from scratch.
 
Most games were just bolting pre-existing bits of code together, in truth.
 
When you want to test your code on the machine, you download via an EPROM emulator. These are boxes of very fast access RAM, connected to the USB (or parallel port!) of a PC
and you use a utility to download your BIN file to the machine. The emulator usually had a hardware reset line, connected to a pin on the processor, which pulled the CPU
into reset whilst the code downloaded. Not doing so resulted in the machine trying to boot every second or so, and failing, and you got this awful clicking noise every time.
 
Then the machine boots up as normal, and you use either the alpha or the serial port to debug what's going on. A lot of times we put pauses in so we can 
check what's going on (such as when calculating the win from nudges) before letting the machine continue.
 
Nudges are interesting, actually, as they (especially for multi line games) need quite a bit of computational power. I remember coding a game on Scorp 4 which had 3x 24 symbols
on the reels, and 5 lines with wild symbols. I got it to calculate the best win with 24 nudges once. It took the poor 16mhz processor a whole 8 minutes :)
Needless to say, we found another way - pre-calculated look up tables of wins from your current reel position.
 
So assuming your game is finished, coded, balanced (i.e it plays right and your payout % is fine) then it's off to test...
 
5. Testing
 
Though you test your code, there is no substitute for a fresh pair of eyes.
 
Game testers (I started as one) will sit and play the game both methodically to a script, and "free play" i.e. playing as a real player would,
to find bugs. Some test scripts are simple, i.e. insert £1, check it registered and meters update, etc, and some are much more complex.
 
Testing takes a good 2 to 3 weeks. Once any bugs are fixed, and the game is ready to go out to the wider world, you "master" a set of EPROMs.
This gives them a part number and also adds security to prevent tampering (checksums tests, etc).
 
During the end of coding and test phases, 25 or 50 machines are built for primary test; these are given (in the old days) free of charge to a pub company
for test. Machines are sited and weekly figures are generated by the Pub Co and fed back.
 
You are looking for your game to beat the previous machine sat on that bit of carpet space. This is known as "indexing". So the last machine averaged
£200 a week - that's a 100% index. Your game goes in and does £400 a week, that's a 200% index. That rarely happens, usually if the game is good you'll see a 120% index.
If the game is good, or the pub's been closed, the index is affected.
 
If the game does a good bit higher than the previous one, the game goes to secondary test with more machines (again, given free..) and the process repeats for another 6/8 weeks.
 
6. Sales?
 
Machine fail test? You get them all back - usually in pieces. Big money up in smoke.
 
Game does well? Time for orders! Big companies would order in lots of 250 or more units. One of my favourite sights was seeing the Mazooma warehouse full
of machines, and a good 100+ with the cab door open looking like a guard of honour, walking down the middle. Awesome stuff.
 
Lots of machines sold, we can keep the lights on and people's mortgages paid and kids fed. Great.
 
Now on to the next game............

Edited by edwardb, 11 July 2017 - 03:24 PM.


#2 Reg

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 04:37 PM

Great article.

 

Thanks for sharing this side of the business again.

 

With regards to new machines you made back then, what in your memory would have been the biggest success in terms of - yes that was a great machine ?

 

Also, from a testing point of view, did you ever build machines up until you were just about to pass out and think - nope - not going to work and kill the whole project.  How far down the chain would it be possible and realistic to have a dud and the manafacture pull the plug ?



#3 phattbloke

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 04:44 PM

Great article.

 

Thanks for sharing this side of the business again.

 

With regards to new machines you made back then, what in your memory would have been the biggest success in terms of - yes that was a great machine ?

 

Also, from a testing point of view, did you ever build machines up until you were just about to pass out and think - nope - not going to work and kill the whole project.  How far down the chain would it be possible and realistic to have a dud and the manafacture pull the plug ?

 

Psycho Cash Beast was a defining machine around the 2000's - i remember going to see one in Manchester and thinking "what a bloody weird name" but the game was brilliant - the "I can forsee the Future" was a big game changer.

From my point of view (can't speak for edwardb) we sometimes released games that we didn't have a lot of faith in - and sometimes these games would be a success! Other times games that you think would be a big success would fail - i did a game called Hot To Drop at Impulse - everyone internally loved it, but it didn't do well in the field. No idea why. It was basically a Wipeout move on and (i thought) played really well.

The big downside of making fruit machines was that once you had the vac-forms and artwork and looms made, it was a VERY expensive process to change things, so you had to try and get it right at the start, or at least not make big changes late on.



#4 wayne123

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 04:46 PM

Great thanks for that!, so if i did have an original idea and not a DOND clone, do you think any manufacturer would be interested ? - i did the same with you i.e. went to Maygay, but didn't have the confidence to go any further - my idea was direction and dice game - x marks the stop - I know maygay released a game called that but not with my concept - coincidence i think.

 

I used to make fruit machines in my Amiga using Deluxe Paint 3, and Easy Amos, really wish I could get the language back again, as I spent many hours doing these machines, I used a random fuction for the wheels, and they flashed random symbols - never could work out how to display a reel band and masked - I also only had 1.5mb of ram to work with and 1.44 mb of floppy disks - if i kept the knowledge up know - god knows where Id be.



#5 phattbloke

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 04:49 PM

"Nudges are interesting, actually, as they (especially for multi line games) need quite a bit of computational power. I remember coding a game on Scorp 4 which had 3x 24 symbols
on the reels, and 5 lines with wild symbols. I got it to calculate the best win with 24 nudges once. It took the poor 16mhz processor a whole 8 minutes  :)
Needless to say, we found another way - pre-calculated look up tables of wins from your current reel position."

On MPU5, you could just about get away with doing this on the fly, but we still used to use look-up tables - it was easier, and you only had to run the code once and store the data.
 
I remember at Maygay, before i joined the programmers used to start the hi-lo reel spinning and then work out where the player would land. The longer the reel took to stop, the more it was running out of choices (but probably didn't WANT to kill you). Then when it knew it was time to die, the reel would stop almost instantly! Terrible way to program really when you think about it :)

Edited by phattbloke, 11 July 2017 - 04:49 PM.


#6 edwardb

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 05:02 PM

Great article.
 
Thanks for sharing this side of the business again.
 
With regards to new machines you made back then, what in your memory would have been the biggest success in terms of - yes that was a great machine ?
 
Also, from a testing point of view, did you ever build machines up until you were just about to pass out and think - nope - not going to work and kill the whole project.  How far down the chain would it be possible and realistic to have a dud and the manafacture pull the plug ?


Personally my Monopoly machine for the German market. Not only because I got to visit Germany and drink great beer on the company, but because the game was good, lots of clever concepts and hidden cheats. It did well but fruit machines were banned by the Government shortly after.

For UK games I think Roller Coaster, PCB and probably Jewel in the Crown, together with a lot of the mid 90s Barcrest and JON games were milestones for me.

Things went a bit bland until Impulse came about. They made a lot of good games. Phattbloke can have some credit there.

JPM went off the boil mainly because they stuck with Impact for too long. Better hardware would have let them compete with everyone else, games got computationally more intense as multiline games took off.

#7 edwardb

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 05:04 PM

Wayne; honestly you have almost no chance. Try by all means, but you'll struggle. I was 14 when I wrote to Maygay and my youth helped considerably.

You would be better doing it yourself as an app for a phone in my opinion.

It certainly won't make you rich, I can promise you that!

#8 wayne123

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 05:06 PM

Wayne; honestly you have almost no chance. Try by all means, but you'll struggle. I was 14 when I wrote to Maygay and my youth helped considerably.

You would be better doing it yourself as an app for a phone in my opinion.

It certainly won't make you rich, I can promise you that!

Yes, I wrote to Maygay when i was about that age too, can't remember the person who I wrote to now, wish i perused this now 



#9 edwardb

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 05:08 PM

Phattbloke, can you remember the names of those awful Maygay machines that were on test in Namco Nottingham?

I dread to think how much money Maygay burnt on that series of crap games. Millions, surely. Every week another pile of crap.

Reg; no once glass and vacs are done it's too late to change. About £20k has gone by then. Imagine telling your boss you just wasted that much money......!

#10 phattbloke

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 05:29 PM

Wayne; honestly you have almost no chance. Try by all means, but you'll struggle. I was 14 when I wrote to Maygay and my youth helped considerably.

You would be better doing it yourself as an app for a phone in my opinion.

It certainly won't make you rich, I can promise you that!

 

I concur with this - i don't think people not having ideas is the problem, it;s the market not accepting them that is.,..


Phattbloke, can you remember the names of those awful Maygay machines that were on test in Namco Nottingham?

I dread to think how much money Maygay burnt on that series of crap games. Millions, surely. Every week another pile of crap.

Reg; no once glass and vacs are done it's too late to change. About £20k has gone by then. Imagine telling your boss you just wasted that much money......!

 

I don't actually - i remember playing the games from BGT (remember them?) with the ball for the repeat feature!



#11 fuzion

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 06:24 PM

Was that machine 'Random Replay' what a cracking machine, the jackpot repeat was apparently random. 

 

BGT made some really playable lo-tech machines.

 

J



#12 TommyC

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 06:27 PM

MAX-A-MILLION Was another great game from bgt.Cheers for the explanation,on the coding and building of games.


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#13 edwardb

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 06:30 PM

Yep Random Replay. Good concept but operators hated it. One week it would make a £1000, the next it would lose the same amount.

We had one at Mazooma for stats playing, we rewired the ball unit to keep launching and record the results. We did 100,000 launches and found quite a bias towards the 4th from left channel. So by making that channel red, you would get more losses and therefore control the repeats a bit.

Those BGT games were dreadful. Nice artwork but crap gameplay.

#14 phattbloke

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 07:05 PM

Was that machine 'Random Replay' what a cracking machine, the jackpot repeat was apparently random. 

 

BGT made some really playable lo-tech machines.

 

J

 

Certainly was - with the "piano keys" cabinet...

Every software engineer there had a company car...

They went bust VERY quickly!


Yep Random Replay. Good concept but operators hated it. One week it would make a £1000, the next it would lose the same amount.

We had one at Mazooma for stats playing, we rewired the ball unit to keep launching and record the results. We did 100,000 launches and found quite a bias towards the 4th from left channel. So by making that channel red, you would get more losses and therefore control the repeats a bit.

Those BGT games were dreadful. Nice artwork but crap gameplay.

 

So pretty much like random games nowadays then :)



#15 Johnnyafc

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 07:49 PM

Was there ever a WWF/WWE based fruit machine?
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#16 edwardb

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 08:39 PM

Not to my knowledge. Was probably viewed as too childish for an AWP audience.

#17 vectra666

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 08:57 PM

great topics and love reading this one in particular some great slots in the 90's with great artwork, maygay did some cracking machines from early nineties to 2000 


The more I do today, The less I do tomorrow.
Fme is alive and screaming into the 21st century!
Enjoy FME and Happy Gaming!!!!

#18 wayne123

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 09:02 PM

Do you think the fruities will ever come back then, bit like Ace with the band aid - seen one - seen them all, and back in the £4 j/pots with the super £2 repeater, theme went on for ages then moved on - to be honest any DOND type machine just puts me off now - and they are appalling play now- trail held for 20 spins etc, or messages promising the Earth and world peace within another 10 x £1 play - for a £2 board. 



#19 fruitman69

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 09:11 PM

They never gonna come back wayne123,  the reason the slots were so good back then is mainly the win ratio was good,  now its just  shocking in comparison.


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#20 stevedude2

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 10:11 PM

For UK games I think Roller Coaster, PCB and probably Jewel in the Crown, together with a lot of the mid 90s Barcrest and JON games were milestones for me.

Those three games are definitely among my list of fruit machines that broke new ground in game design.  I'd also include Maygay's It's a Knockout which had the first 'invincible' feature indicator with the red lamps in the water tank.  Fantastic game that was; I remember at the time really appreciating the time and effort that must have gone into that game.

 

This is a great thread by the way!

 

Great to document how games have evolved over the years :)


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