For almost a hundred years, slot machines didn’t change very much from Charles Fey’s 1898 invention. Spinning reels, paylines, and a big jackpot as the top prize were the industry standard, even after the introduction of computer and video technology to the games in the 1980s.
But in 1996, a major departure occurred. A Chicago-based company called WMS introduced a fishing themed game known as “Reel ‘Em In.” What made it so different was the placement of not one but two video screens in front of the player—one for displaying the slot symbols and paylines and a second for something called a “bonus game.” Cartoon characters shown in boats on a lake would fish for special prizes in the waters below. The machine was an instant hit with the public.
WMS soon followed up its success with an entire line-up of bonus slots, including Jackpot Party, Boom, and Filthy Rich, which can still be found on slot floors even today. What was truly new was their use of a multi-line, multi-coin format tied to secondary bonus games. This provided more animation and more ways to win big than any of the classic slots previously developed. Winning bonuses didn’t even requite the alignment of special symbols on a payline.
Plenty of Bonuses
The WMS games opened the door to an entirely new generation of video slots. The appearance of bonus symbols in the slot window might trigger free bonus spins, hold wild symbols in position to match up on the next spin, award “scatter bonus” payouts, or take the player into an entirely separate mode, where additional prizes could be won in a non-slot format.
None of this was really possible prior to the marriage of computer and video technologies, but once the knot was tied, manufacturers engaged in a race to see who could push out more creative bonus games. Themes became commonplace, from beer-drinking contests and wild west shoot outs to motor racing, luxury shopping sprees, and drilling for oil. Eventually the competition would spill over into movie and television tie-ins, such as South Park and Family Guy.
The bonuses add an extra dimension of anticipation to slot play. Suddenly, what appear to be losing combinations are transformed into opportunities to open treasure chests, feed police officers donuts, discover buried gold, joust with medieval knight, or jump a motorcycle over a canyon. Bonus games truly unleashed the fertile imagination of slot machine developers.
Much More in Store
The next step beyond convention for bonus slot makers was to unfetter themselves from the notion that slot games must have reels. Soon there were “cascades” of symbols in place of the spins of old. In these games, when winning combinations are obtained, the symbols disappear, the ones above them “fall” into place, and new symbols arrive to fill what remains of empty positions on the screen. The cascades are potentially endless, as long as winning combinations keep coming up.
And if multi-payline and multi-denomination slots were popular, the next logical step was multi-bonus versions. These offer even more ways to play and win, so different from classic slots that the pay tables have to be shown in page after page of video displays. The more complicated, it seems, the more fun.
And then personalized bonus slots came along with the capability of remembering usernames made up by the players. They incorporate concepts drawn from role-playing games found on home video game systems. The machines guide players through “levels” of proficiency, unlocking ever-more exciting bonus opportunities along the way. The video slot called “Star Trek,” for example, features two screens and audio so real that the player’s seat shakes when the game goes into a “warp drive” bonus.
Perhaps the only drawback of this bonus-slot-mania is the expense. What are billed as penny slots can easily cost dollars per play if access to the major bonuses is desired. What’s more, winning bonuses has rapidly become the goal of such games, with jackpots seen as something of an “extra” instead of the primary goal.
BonusRoundSlots.ca Formally Launches
If you like playing slots offering bonus rounds, then you’ll love the recently launched website called bonusroundslots.ca, which recently launched the bonusroundslots.ca blog covering the subject of slot machines from end to end.