Increasing Slot Action with Immersive, Graphics-Rich Multi-Screen Games

Options for increasing game development ease, cost effectiveness, and flexibility, even as gaming evolves at a white-hot pace.

Walk into a casino today and you will see the growing presence of graphically-intensive digital games designed to pull and retain players into a more immersive experience. Casinos are now having to compete with other engaging gaming content from smartphones, PCs, home theaters, and consumer gaming console systems. That’s why developers are feeling the pressure to exceed a player’s visual and skill-level expectations to continually take casino games to the next level.

Figure 1: As the design complexity increases, so too must computing hardware advance to deliver amplified processing, intense graphical performance, a broader range of I/O that includes simultaneous support of multiple independent display outputs and, most importantly, support today’s advanced gaming software architectures.

Multi-screen electronic slot machines are one compelling solution that casino operators see as the next-generation of immersive solutions that will help them realize their revenue goals. Surrounded by high-resolution interactive screens, the player experience is greatly enhanced. And, players are enticed by the ability to play multiple games at once or free spin offers giving them more opportunities to win. It also gives casinos more ways to advertise jackpots, services, and other entertainment and dining options.

Developing gaming applications for more than three screens does present new challenges and considerations. Using off-the-shelf embedded computing platforms typically requires developers to make undesirable trade-offs regarding power, form factor, reliability, longevity, and thermal methodology. Designing an immersive, visually-appealing game is also made more difficult and time-consuming with traditional 1:1 system-to-display computing platforms.

Gaming platforms with application-ready features, such as security, on proven and scalable systems let developers speed the creation of highly reliable, cost-effective, and innovative electronic games.

Perfecting the Games People Play
There is no stopping the casino trend of increasingly sophisticated, multi-screen electronic slot configurations that encircle players with three all the way up to seven screens. Existing technologies severely hinder the design of these complex games. Traditionally developers have had to work with one computer to power each individual screen. But bulky, power-hungry game enclosures are yesterday.

The first place a games developer may turn is to the plethora of off-the-shelf embedded computing systems, boards and modules available. These are general-purpose platforms by definition and not the best choice—because they haven’t been designed specifically to match the gaming industry’s unique requirements. Developers frequently discover they need add-on boards to meet expanding I/O, security and compliance demands. This approach frequently impedes the development schedule, adds to cost of the overall design, and makes upgrading cumbersome. And what’s available off-the-shelf doesn’t meet tight system enclosure requirements, as these types of edge-connected graphics cards are too large for current more compact solutions.

New graphics-intensive electronic slot designs demand multi-core processors that integrate high speed graphics cores capable of driving multiple HD screens without causing a bottleneck in frames-per-second performance during video decode. Ideal solutions are gaming logic box systems featuring high-resolution graphics, supported with HD multimedia processing and simultaneous encode and decode video capabilities and 3D acceleration. These platforms should readily accommodate the full feature set of gaming I/O, pin outs, and removable storage including PCI Express, high-speed Ethernet, RS-232 and USB ports, and SATA SSDs. This gives developers a powerful building block for increasing I/O options—including card readers, player tracking, lights, or speakers. This feature set will also help pave the way for future anticipated capabilities such as player analytics and content personalization that can be based on gender or facial recognition algorithms.

Adopting a common hardware platform that offers scalability, upgradeability, and backward compatibility makes future development easier. Such a platform enables significant design efficiencies across a gaming developer’s entire portfolio. Flexibility is key: Using a unified, open-architecture processor platform that offers several multicore processor options and power profiles makes scaling applications from high to low end as demand dictates possible.

A key component to ratchet up the entertainment experience and overall system performance of multi-screen slots is the system’s graphics processing unit (GPU). Display-based gaming systems require a GPU, whether it is integrated into the CPU or better yet for new multimedia machines, embedded in a dedicated graphics board as part of a gaming logic box solution.

Figure 2: The EFCO EGL-7090, powered by 6th generation Intel® Core™ processors and AMD R-Series SoCs, integrates AMD Embedded Radeon™ 10000 and 8000 GPUs and helps developers build multi-screen games with spectacular, high-resolution 4K multimedia and 3D graphics performance.

This is where off-the-shelf components designed for PCs don’t make sense either. Using PC-based GPU graphics cards to save costs is not suitable for the 24/7, long life cycle demands of the casino environment. The average PC daily usage is eight hours with an expected lifespan of three to four years, so the technology changes frequently and life cycle demands are low.

Highly-integrated gaming logic box systems that offer high-speed parallel processing deliver the high performance needed for multi-screen casino gaming. Offloading CPU tasks to the GPU leads to remarkable graphics performance acceleration and also frees up the CPU for other processing functions. Parallel processing further reduces application complexity as well as power consumption.

Tools that Speed Development
To offer a true building block, gaming logic boxes must natively support open development tools. The wide variety of tools available helps eliminate design issues. Developer can cost-effectively and quickly program for accelerated graphics performance for 2D and 3D graphics or repurpose code across multiple processing platforms. Native processor support for DirectX can enable additional programming efficiencies, and has proven invaluable for boosting processing performance and enhancing visual effects.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) to simplify programming provide a real advantage. For example, OpenGL greatly helps in the development of portable, interactive 2D and 3D graphics-based games. It gives designers a broad set of rendering, texture mapping, special effects, and other powerful visualization functions. The Vulkan™ graphics and compute API creates high-efficiency, cross-platform access to modern GPUs, establishing direct control over GPU acceleration with minimal CPU overhead. It also supports efficient multi-threaded performance.

In addition, the Open Computing Language (OpenCL™) programming framework facilitates the decoding of proprietary video and image compression formats instead of having to rely on the CPU processing performance alone. The result is significantly enhanced parallel programming productivity. Another API, DirectX, is especially useful in multimedia game programming to enhance visual and sound effects.

Ensuring Game Integrity
Security and compliance with the diverse regulations in place throughout the world are important considerations for all developers to ensure the integrity of the gaming industry. And, the speed with which new technologies are introduced makes adherence to current regulations even more challenging. Gaming logic box suppliers must, therefore, offer the most up-to-date anti-tamper/malicious intrusion, software integrity, secure boot and encryption features that maintain a game’s regulatory compliance. Strict security requirements can be met with embedded processing and software incorporating a multi-layered security mechanism along with a hardware intelligent assistant that also helps streamline the development of gaming systems. Further assurance to developers are the availability of GLI and BMM hardware-tested platforms.

Machine security is also helped with onboard SSDs that can securely store sensitive access controls, records, connections to external meters, and digital rights management (DRM) protections. Embedded storage is part of a robust hardware security architecture that sustains the system’s integrity while protecting it against increasingly sophisticated threats.

Up for the Challenge
It is evident that developers of digital casino gaming systems are up for the challenge of delivering the high resolution, interactive and visually-arresting graphics that electronics-savvy customers now expect from a new generation of electronic slot machines. Their resources are today’s advanced CPU, GPU, gaming logic box systems and design tools that help them overcome previous design issues. By providing a game developer-friendly foundation, these technologies offer the performance, flexible I/O, security, reliability and regulatory compliance they need to keep players engaged and entertained for long hours of casino fun.

Ron Mazza is the CEO of EFCOtec, a company known for offering advanced engineering services, reliable production, and exceptional manufacturing efficiencies. Mazza is a highly-experienced embedded industry veteran with a strong track record of building organizations from the ground up to meet aggressive revenue goals. He joins EFCOtec from congatec where he was President and CEO for 10 years.

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