Slot and Slop

Slot and Slop

Slots machines have changed. Slot machines have changed and for no particular reason. People always have and always will want to gamble, which leads them by the masses to casinos. And within the walls of your Golden Nuggets and your Bellagios, there are so few innovations with the games themselves. Security, surveillance, and amenities will always change and improve but the games themselves are rather static, which is why the evolution of the slot machine is so important.

In fact, they devolved at some point. Originally featuring five reels, mechanical slot machines eventually went down to three and allowed for gamblers to dream away their fantasies as they tried to line up a trio of cherries. It was simple: coin, lever, wait.

Now the process is much more complicated and much more digitized. Most (if not all) machines are nothing more than computers with screens, and even those with analog reels are simply a facade for a furtive Dell. This modernization has led to a rather important development, though, and that is event slots. Or at least that’s what I call them.

Event slots involve a bank of linked machines and a large screen hanging overhead. It looks a bit like an impotent Megazord, except it’s powered by money and not backflips over cameras and lessons about not using drugs. Each player will sit at his or her machine and gamble as usual. They’ll insert some cash, press a button, and wait to see what happens. You’ll match some lines and you’ll gain money or you’ll come up with nothing and lose money. Simplified and, given the lack of a lever that delivers the hearty ka-chunk of old, less satisfying.

The complication sets in when you start to rack up bonus pips on the reels. The rules for paying out crisscrossing lines under a byzantine set of bylaws and surreptitious implications are already impenetrable, but once bonuses get involved, you might as well resign yourself to glazed eyes and labored breathing. But hit the bonus and you’re in for a… well, a treat, I guess. It’s a treat insomuch that you don’t really know what’s happening but it’s different so bully for you.

In the case of The Dark Knight machine, this means Batman and Joker fight. It’s just two machines put side-by-side, but its trappings are pleasant. The screen is appropriately gaudy and it opens up with a choice: the Bat or the clown. It stages the entire thing as a battle slots experience where one person would be competing with the other, but that’s so far from the truth that not even two Greyhounds and a plane could get you there.

At any time, you can switch campaigns, which will swap out reel pips, bonus activations, and so on and so forth. Before and after each event, you’ll get a clip from the movie and then play your bonus. In my case, it was a match game that wasn’t really a match game. You are presented with a set of tiles, and you start flipping them over one at a time. They’ll each have Gordon or Bruce or whatever, and if you match two then, well, I don’t know. All I know is I got money out of it. I’m not even sure you had to match anything. Between that and the equally labyrinthine Bat Signals, you really have no idea how you are to win money. Given just a hint of intuitive manipulation, this would be WarioWare-level fun what with its rather impressive event variety. Instead, it just became frustrating.

The Wizard of Oz slots were much more interesting. With six machines hooked up, each player was tied into the overall adventure. There weren’t necessarily bonus things on the reels themselves to achieve anything. Instead, there was a large timer on the screen overhead that was counting down to the next big event. Your spins did nothing more than to pump up your multiplier, which also had a timer on it that counted down to a reset. It’s a devious tactic that is sure to drain less vigilant players of their loose change.

The event sparks up the titular Oz to speak out to the players, each of which can associate themselves with a character such as the lion or the scarecrow. Over the course of several free, automated spins, the players will watch as Oz throws out extra bonuses to either a character or the group and you can watch as others win big or win nothing at all. This not only matches the milieu of the movie but also creates a group and individual arc within the play session, a simultaneously communal and adversarial feeling.

And most event slots fall somewhere between those two in terms of making sense. The Deal or No Deal machines, for instance, have the cases, but instead of opening them to reveal money or no money, you open them to reveal numbers that you can order to decide your own bonus. One set of machines involved a fishing minigame that involves you watching fish randomly come up and nibble at lines and hooks that represent each player, but the methodology behind the monetary value of each fish and how you catch them is extremely ambiguous and you aren’t told that it’s a contest until you see the podium at the end.

Event slots, despite having been in existence now for quite some time, are still in their nascent years. Rules and layers of complexity have been tacked onto a simple three-step loop so that the foundation shakes and crumbles under the weight of the modern systems. Rule pages are deep and unclear, a combination perfectly suited for people that don’t give an eff about how to play and would rather just play, but intuitive understanding would do this either intentional or accidental obfuscation a heap of good. The initial ease gets the hooks in but an understanding grants deeper satisfaction, but the complicated and unexplained interactions between players and the machines and Fortuna the goddess of luck makes an already hostile set of gambling circumstances (i.e. pure chance) even more unwelcoming.

Also, that jumbo novelty slot machine took my dollar and I want it back.

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