The Game: The one-armed bandit joins forces with the one-button, one-joystick wonder. Place your bet, pull the lever and take your chances; lining up the symbols in the three windows of the slot machine will pay off (in a virtual kind of way). Messing up just makes the house richer. (Atari, 1978)
Memories: An early title by prolific Atari VCS programmer David Crane – still working directly for Atari at this point, well before his Activision and Pitfall! years – Slot Machine is an good snapshot of where console gaming was in 1977/78. Console games seemed to fixate, at this time, on simulations (or rough approximations) of existing sports and games that could be played “in the real world” without computer assistance. More fanciful fare – such as space games – were left, for the most part, to the arcade.
That’s not to say that making Slot Machine was easy. Faced with the graphical limitations of the Atari VCS, Crane reluctantly made changes to what seasoned casino-goers might expect to see on a real slot machine: instead of fruit, the symbols include cars and cactuses, simply because it was easier to make these things recongizable within the constrictions of the hardware.
Other than that, Slot Machine is indeed an accurate video representation of a slot machine, in that I lose all of my virtual money in very short order. As one of the earliest games on the 2600, it’s notable for its lack of flicker, though the flickering demon didn’t really make itself known until programmers tried to get the hardware to do things that it just wasn’t designed to do (i.e. anything other than simple games like Pong and Combat).