Two Are Better Than One: Dual Technology Architectures Leverage Flexibility to Facilitate Exciting Casino Games
What it takes to achieve a cohesive, certified and highly reliable gaming platform
Creative casino gaming developers both large and small are continually looking for advanced technologies that will enable them to keep their competitive edge. OEMs understand the value technology adds in delivering immersive and entertaining experiences that provide the incentive players demand to keep them playing longer and more frequently.
For the most part, this is easier said than done. Video-rich, interactive games rely on the fastest multicore processors, extensive I/O, and screaming graphics performance in highly dense enclosures where proven reliability matters. Getting all this technology to work together isn’t always cost-effective or easily integrated to meet an OEM’s time-to-market goals. Another hurdle is that no developer wants to be slowed-down from getting to market quickly by continual regional certifications and recertifications if any modification to the system takes place. So, what is the best approach that offers long-term technology scalability? Recently some developers have discovered that gaming logic box platforms provide a building block solution. The developers get the latest features and capabilities for easily accommodating multiple game designs and future upgrades. However, there is still room for improvement in helping OEMs streamline the development process.
Achieving a cohesive, certified and highly reliable gaming platform requires developers to significantly change the technology architecture they integrate. The change is in adopting new dual architecture high-performance gaming logic computing platforms. With this alternative approach, OEMs get the scalability and flexibility to meet current and next-generation requirements head on. That means more exciting casino games.
Gaming Machine Design Overview
Gaming machine designs are typically divided into two major functional areas: The media section has the hardware and software used to run the game, while the I/O portion connects the hardware peripherals and includes the security features required to pass GLI and BMM. A development challenge for OEMs is to seek out a gaming logic platform that comes closest to meeting their specific design, processor and graphics performance, and I/O needs.
The I/O part of the design is an important consideration, as it has a bearing on time-to-market and on the direction future upgrades or additional games development will take. That is because the I/O board needs to be certified by the GLI and BMM gaming laboratories.
There seems to be no lack of creativity when it comes to developing casino games. The intense graphics and interactive nature of today’s games calls for ever-increasing design complexity. In turn, their gaming hardware choices must deliver the performance, connectivity, and features that simultaneously support broad I/O needs while sufficiently handling advanced gaming software architectures. This makes size and power a real concern, so the most optimal hardware platforms need to support multiple independent display outputs simultaneously from a single gaming controller.
A dual architecture gaming logic box solution (Figure 1) can be the facilitating foundation that stimulates innovative games without being tied to a static feature set.
This level of complexity and desired performance calls for multicore processors that integrate high-speed graphics cores. Taking games to new levels of entertainment are where the latest quad-core processing architectures are true multimedia enablers, capable of driving multiple full HD or 4K screens with very low latency in terms of frames-per-second performance during video decode. High resolution graphics, supported with HD multimedia processing and simultaneous encode/ decode video capabilities, as well as 3D acceleration, offer the most ideal gaming logic box features for multi-screen games. Hardware platforms for the gaming market need to be optimized to accommodate the full feature set of gaming I/O, pin outs, and removable storage including PCI Express (PCIe), high-speed Ethernet, RS-232 and USB ports, and SATA SSDs. These types of building block solutions essentially multiply the I/O options developers can access for everything from speakers and lights to card readers, printers, bill readers, and player tracking applications.
Architectural Shift Rationale
An architectural shift that took place several years ago giving gaming developers considerable design efficiencies is in the use of a common hardware platform that offers scalability, upgradeability, and backward compatibility. Innovation can take priority when a designer is working with a proven, open-architecture platform that can be leveraged across an OEM’s entire portfolio. The flexibility to scale application features per a given game’s specifications becomes much easier when hardware platforms can offer a number of multicore processor options with integrated high-speed graphics cores and a range of power profiles that meet expanded functionality in smaller form factors.
Today’s dual-architecture gaming logic box solutions make an even greater argument for a gaming hardware shift. Separate media and I/O architectures designed to work together provide a breakthrough platform for continued gaming innovation, scalability, and application flexibility. Of primary importance is that this approach solves a major time-to-market issue for OEMs. Any change at all to the I/O section of the game system requires all new regional certifications. By separating all the I/O functions onto their own dedicated board and keeping that portion of the system the same, developers will only be required to certify the system once. The certification process can be cumbersome as even slight gaming hardware alterations have typically required recertification of every part of the game’s design all over again. A boon for developers is that new gaming designs can now be streamlined. Taking a dual-architecture gaming box approach eliminates this costly and time-consuming requirement. Developers today have more freedom to change or upgrade the media platform without the need to recertify each and every machine design.
For example, with the media and I/O separate, OEMs can select from any of the highest performing AMD or Intel processor architectures for the media board. That means the developer can concentrate on optimizing the game’s software performance without worrying about the I/O needed. In addition, a two-architecture hardware solution that offers a PCIe slot also makes it easier to integrate a variety of higher performance graphics add-in cards such as those from NVIDIA or AMD. This results in faster development of both the media and peripheral connection areas of the game, allowing designers to meet both high-performance and low-power goals, and lets the OEM be in full control of selecting the exact combination of technologies to fit a particular game’s specs.
This new architectural approach can also help improve security with the inclusion of secure boot capabilities on the I/O board. Secure boot functionality ensures that only trusted game software is operating by preventing malicious software applications and “unauthorized” operating systems from loading during the system start-up process. By including this extra level of security, secure boot also aids in the ability to meet the security requirements needed to pass GLI and BMM.
Gaming Features that Make Sense
Dual architecture platforms also need to offer state-of-the-art features that meet the advanced technology required for increasingly entertaining casino games. Processor performance with built-in graphics top the list of feature requirements for the media board. A prime example is illustrated in gaming logic box solutions based on the AMD R-Series quad-core SoC that integrates AMD Radeon™ graphics and an I/O controller. Its programmable cores make high-speed parallel processing possible, offering a performance-rich environment that capably supports complex casino gaming systems. Delivering amazing HD multimedia/video graphics with true 4K decode and encode, the AMD R-Series also presents a highly power efficient compact form factor solution. Plus, its Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) technology lets designers balance workloads between the CPU and GPU to optimize processing performance, reduce latencies, and maximize access to cache memory. The bottom-line is design complexity can be simplified through a reduction in board layers and power supply needs.
A key benefit in separating the media and I/O portions in gaming hardware solutions is that developers get increased CPU options that can help them take multiple streaming of 4K content, 360-degree videos, and virtual and augmented reality game creativity to the next level. Illustrated with the EFCO EGL50X5 gaming logic box, there is a broad range of processor choices that include Intel® Skylake and Intel® Kaby Lake CPUs as well as the AMD R-Series options and the latest AMD Ryzen™ V1000. All four available CPU choices all can use the same fixed I/O board.
Features on the I/O board are equally important where the CPU selected can make a difference. Logic box solutions that, for instance, offer the Intel® Atom™ E3800 processor family as an option provide energy-efficient high performance. The feature benefits include exceptional I/O connectivity, an integrated memory controller, plus virtualization, error correcting code (ECC), and built-in security capabilities that are in addition to the approving gaming standards houses’ security requirements.
On the media board broad port interface support is a given, too. Considerations for the media portion of next-generation casino games must accommodate display and audio output, as well as necessary gaming interfaces that include PCI Express and high-speed Ethernet.
Double the Flexibility
Demonstrating the value of using a dual-architecture gaming logic box as the platform for new game designs, is how development flexibility is enhanced giving OEMs full control. With two intelligent computer boards that communicate via Ethernet ports as the foundation, OEMs have the freedom to select the right complement of components to meet their game’s functionality and graphics requirements and as well as their cost goals. For today’s complex games, the selection of the optimum and latest AMD or Intel processors, possibly with quad-core parallel compute capabilities, can be a vital consideration that ensures performance-per-watt advantages can be gained.
Flexibility for future games is also achieved from dual architecture gaming logic box solutions, such as the EFCO EGL50X5, that provides a pre-qualified I/O board. While every customer must have their own new slot machine system certified as well, they gain peace-of-mind that the I/O has gone through the process, so they know it can pass. A viable case in point would be a casino game system that has been certified with a new dual architecture pre-certified I/O board with an Intel® Atom™ that offers a 15-year lifecycle. Not having to recertify again for 10 years extrapolates into a considerable benefit in time and requalification costs.
These time and cost-saving advantages allow OEMs to further speed time-to-market on same-platform designs or upgrades. When an exciting new game trend takes hold, OEMs can keep their competitive advantage by migrating to any higher performance media board. By delivering the facilitating foundation that stimulates innovative games without being tied to a static feature set, separate media and I/O architectures are the versatile platforms developers can rely on to leverage the highest performance while meeting connectivity and security requirements for many years to come.
Ron Mazza is CEO, EFCOtec Corporation. Mazza drives EFCOtec’s business strategy, tapping more than 40 years of leadership in embedded business development, sales, marketing, and operations management. Connect with Ron on LinkedIn or via email at ron.mazza(at)efcotec.com.