You've seen all the Star Wars computer games, but have you seen the Star Wars: A New Hope slot machine? Sit down at the cabinet, put a penny in the slot, push the big lighted SPIN button and watch the video screen. While John Williams plays, five columns of images spin upward, then slow to a stop, revealing pictures of Chewbacca, droids, starfields and planets. If three or more pictures of Luke, Han or Leia show onscreen, they animate to show a movie clip, and the jackpot bell brings a clatter of pennies. But that's not all.
If Darth Vader shows up on reel 1, and Ben Kenobi on reel 5, they duel. By pushing a button, you pick one to win, and if you pick right, you win more pennies. But that's still not all.
Atop the machine cabinet, mounted on an axle, stands a big plastic Death Star. When you line up three Death Stars onscreen, the reels vanish and Han Solo appears, chased by stormtroopers. You push buttons to choose two stormtroopers; this lights two arrows on the Death Star globe. The globe spins, and the arrows point to bonus numbers that are added to your winnings.
But wait! If an arrow points to the Death Star's superlaser, another round begins. You target enemy TIE Fighters chasing the Millennium Falcon; corresponding arrows light up, and the Death Star spins. If you get the superlaser again, you can now join a Rebel Alliance run on the Death Star. Target more TIEs to spin the globe a third time. If you get the superlaser, you destroy the Death Star and win the spoils of victory, 10 dollars.
Yes, this is a real casino slot machine (or, for British readers, a fruit machine) - a genuine, Lucasfilm-approved gambling device licensed and manufactured by International Gaming Technologies. IGT has a couple of other slots in its Star Wars series: Dark Side and The Empire Strikes Back, the latter featuring a big plastic Yoda. Gotta love the advertising poster for the Empire machine: "Become a hero you must. Win a million you could."
Have you gone to a casino lately? Most slot machines are now videogames, with graphics and sound right out of casual games, licensed movies, TV shows and even food. IGT's "Game King" machine licenses include not only Star Wars, but The Price Is Right, I Dream of Jeannie, Kenny Rogers The Gambler, Creature From The Black Lagoon, SPAM, TABASCO and (get this) Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys. IGT's Soul Train slot machine, based on the 1970s music show, features the voice and image of host Don Cornelius, plus "an extensive cast of animated disco divas that dance to well-known R&B songs." And while you drop nickels in the Alien slot machine, you can relive nostalgic memories of chest-bursters and facehuggers.
All these slot machines, as well as many hundreds of other non-licensed brands from a dozen manufacturers, have the same gameplay: Drop the coin; push the button; repeat. Like Star Wars, when you hit certain combinations, some machines offer little mini-games, which involve - pushing the button. Yay. What's interesting is their insanely various frenzy and clamor and flash, their multifarious glitzed-up beckonings that could jump an ICU patient out of his coma. These video slot machines feel so much like old arcade games, you just know whoever makes them grew up playing Pac-Man and Defender and Frogger.
Hey, wait. These slot machine makers - they made Pac-Man, Defender and Frogger. Bally! Williams! Konami! What's more, many of those who design and code today's slot machines come from the hallowed early days of video and computer gaming.