I’ve always been partial to a bit of a flutter, and I was particularly drawn to the fruit machine and casino game simulations on the early home computers. Due to the relatively simple graphical requirements of these early games, they would often appear as listings in magazines – I can remember spending hours typing in a BASIC listing for a really very mediocre offering.
The Spectrum had it’s fair share of commercial fruit machine and casino games, which were launched 20 years before the availability of online gaming sites such as partybingo.com, and casual gaming apps for Blackjack and Poker on iOS and Android devices. Home computers really were the place to be if you wanted this kind of gaming experience outside an arcade or Bingo Hall.
Back in the early 80’s the arcades were not only full of great games, but also the more traditional slot machines which had to become more exciting in order to retain the attention of their shared audience. As the fruit machine developed more features and become more game-like, rather than just repeatedly spinning reels waiting for a win, it was only natural that home computers would be the natural target for fruit machine simulators. The home computers at the time were owned by a much wider demographic than that of the equivalent consoles, which were targeted at the under 18’s, and unlikely to release these kinds of games.
My first experience of these games was Codemasters Fruit Machine Simulator, a popular distributor of budget games, this one being available for £1.99, which was probably about right for a niche game of this kind. The game attempted to recreate the feeling of a fruit machine of the time, which started to feature special bonus games as well as just matching fruit. The simulation centred around the usual Fruit Machine formula – match fruits to win, or hold fruits with numbers on to light up the bonus letters until full, unlocking the bonus game. Once unlocked the bonus game could earn you extra cash through features such as a skill stop, my personal favourite, where you had to time a key press to stop a flashing light at the right time and increase the cash prize.
The game received mixed reviews at the time, ranging from tedious to brilliant depending on your perspective – I loved fruit machines so I loved the game, I am sure there are other who just wouldn’t get it. Play it in isolation of a real Fruit Machine and it just wouldn’t be the same.
Looking back, the game seems representative of a time when we were still working out what home computers were for, people would experiment with different programs to see what worked and what didn’t, as we didn’t really have a frame of reference, and everything was a first. I’m sure you would struggle to get interest in this kind of game as a free browser based application today, but in the 80’s it was yet another reason to fire up the Spectrum and try something new. Plus you didn’t risk losing your pocket money to the one-armed bandits.