FIELD OF THE INVENTION
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention generally relates to gaming devices and, more specifically, to electronically modifiable electro-mechanical reel displays oil gaming devices, such as slot machines.
Gaming (or Gambling) has become a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States and around the world. In many casinos, the most lucrative gaming for those casinos is the play on gaming devices such as slot machines.
Traditionally, slot machines comprise a handle and multiple, typically three, wheels or “reels”. The reels typically would each have a plurality (typically 25) of different symbols displayed around their circumference. A game player would start play by inserting money, pulling the handle, and the reels would begin spinning. As the reels spin, the different symbols appear and disappear. Then, the reels will eventually slow down and stop, each displaying, in the center of a display, one of the symbols. The combination of symbols thus displayed will typically determine whether or not the game player won, and if he did, how much.
There are a number of problems with the traditional, electro-mechanical, slot machines described above, in particular, from the view of casinos. First, typically the only way to change a game is to change the reels. Secondly, it is difficult to change the odds in any given game, and the odds are where casinos make their money.
For these, and other reasons, one of the recent trends in electronic gaming has been to move away from electro-mechanical games toward fully electronic games. In the case of slot machines, this often results in simulating the spin of reels on a computer type screen. This appears to game players somewhat similar to the spinning of traditional electro-mechanical reels. This type of electronic game allows games to be changed simply by loading new software into game machines and game odds to be changed by loading new odds tables into the game machines.
- BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Unfortunately, this trend towards totally electronic games (excluding the activation, payin, and payout mechanisms) loses the look and feel of the traditional gaming devices with their electro-mechanical reels. It would be advantageous to have some of flexibility of electronic games while retaining the look and feel of electro-mechanical reels.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
A gaming device, such as a slot machine, with electronically modifiable display capabilities, such as electronic paper, on electro-mechanical reels, provides the ability to rapidly, dynamically, and easily change the symbols on the electro-mechanical reels. This in turn provides the ability to easily change the games played on the gaming device, to create more interesting and exciting games, and to be able to change the current odds for that machine.
FIGS. 1 and 2 illustrate exemplary gaming devices, in the form of a slot machines, with electro-mechanical reels, in accordance with the prior art;
FIG. 3 is a diagram illustrating a typical prior art electro-mechanical reel or wheel, as used in the gaming devices shown in FIGS. 1 and 2;
FIG. 4 is a diagram illustrating an electro-mechanical reel, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 5 is a diagram illustrating operation of electronic paper;
FIG. 6 is a diagram illustrating operation of electronic ink; and
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 7 is a diagram illustrating an exemplary electrically modifiable reel surface, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.
FIGS. 1 and 2 illustrate exemplary gaming devices 21, 22, in the form of a slot machines, with electro-mechanical reels 28, in accordance with the prior art. Money, in the form of coins, bills, credit cards, etc. are inserted in the gaming devices 21, 22 in an appropriate coin, bill, or card receiver in order to activate a play on the slot machines. An activating device, such as a handle 34, is then pulled or activated, starting electro-mechanical reels or wheels 28 spinning. The reels 28 each have a plurality of symbols 30 on their surface. As is typical, three reels 28 are shown for each of the slot machines 28. However, other numbers of reels 28 are also within the scope of this invention.
Eventually, the reels 28 slow down and stop spinning, and a determination is made whether or not the symbols in the center of the display constitute a winning combination. If the symbols on each of the reels 28 together constitute a winning combination, a payout is made to the player playing the game. Winning often takes the form of coins dropping into a coin tray 36 at the bottom of a gaming device 21, 22. FIG. 2 differs from FIG. 1 as the gaming device 22 in FIG. 2 has an additional bonus or progressive play apparatus 38 on the top of the gaming device 22. This is typically activated through one or more reel combinations. Bonus and progressive gaming device operation is well known in the prior art. However, other additional methods of game play are also within the scope of this invention.
FIG. 3 is a diagram illustrating a typical prior art electro-mechanical reel 10 or wheel, as used in the gaming devices 21, 22 shown in FIGS. 1 and 2. A typical reel 10 of a prior art stepper motor driven 11 gaming device 21, 22 having a 200 pulse per revolution stepper motor 11 is illustrated. The typical reel surface 12 has 25 equally sized symbols 13 located about its periphery and the usual viewing area through which three adjacent symbols may be viewed is indicated. A reel 10 is typically stopped by the stepper motor 11 with one symbol at the center of the viewing area, considered here as the “pay line”, and the symbol stopped at the pay line is typically used to determine the outcome of a game. Markings 14 have been superimposed on the edge of the reel 10 to indicate the typically 8 pulses which are applied to the stepper motor 11 to move the reel by one symbol position or 1/25th of a revolution. These pulses are utilized by the control logic to cause the stepper motor 11 to stop its reel 10 with a symbol at the pay line. While identically sized symbols are shown in this FIG., non-identically sized symbols and symbol areas are also within the scope of the present invention.
Upon initiating play of gaming devices 21, 22, each stepper motor 11 starts its corresponding reel 10 spinning. The reels 10 are then progressively slowed by the stepper motors 11 until they stop. The typically 8 pulses per symbol are utilized by control logic (not shown) to stop the reels 10 in the middle of a symbol location 13.
FIG. 4 is a diagram illustrating an electro-mechanical reel 50, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. Each reel 50 is mounted on a base plate 52 to which is attached a vertical plate 54. To the vertical plate 54 is attached a spindle 56 or axle. To the vertical plate 54 around the spindle 56 are also fixably attached a base plate 58 and a stationary contact plate 60. Revolving around the axle 56 is the reel comprising a wheel structure 64 surrounded by a reel surface 68. In the prior art, the reel surface is typically removably attached to the wheel structure 64 and typically displays 25 symbols around its periphery. This removability provided the ability to play different games on a given gaming device 21, 22 by changing the reel covering. In the present invention, the reel surface 68 is electronically modifiable, and thus removability is not necessary in order to change games or the symbols displayed. Nevertheless, both permanently attached and removably attached reel surfaces 68 are within the scope of the present invention.
Fixably attached to the wheel structure 64 is a revolving contact plate 62 that has a plurality of electrical contacts 63 that make contact with corresponding contacts 61 on the stationary contact plate 60. The corresponding contacts 61 on the stationary contact plate 60 form concentric circles so that the electrical contacts 63 on the revolving contact plate 62 can maintain electrical contact as the reel 50 rotates. The contacts 61, 63 are utilized to provide electricity and controls to the stepper motor 11 (see FIG. 3) and the electrically modifiable reel surface 68. A first power and control cable 59 provides a power and control connection between control circuitry (not shown) in the gaming machine and the stationary plate 60. A second power and control cable 65 couples the electrical contacts 61 and a reel controller 66. The reel controller 66 is coupled to and provides low level control of the graphics and animation of the electrically modifiable reel surface 68 through a third power and control cable 67. The reel controller 66 may further provide control of the stepper motor 11.
As noted above, the reels 10 spin, progressively showing typically 25 symbols. In the prior art, the symbols are static. In the present invention, they can be dynamically modified. In one embodiment, this is done rather infrequently, allowing one gaming device 21, 22, to provide multiple games. This is typically done between games. In another embodiment however, the symbols are changed during the spin of the reels 10. Thus, for example, one symbol location 13 may present one symbol during one revolution of the corresponding reel 10, and another symbol during the next revolution, with the symbol typically being changed while the corresponding symbol location 10 is not visible to a game player. This provides a number of benefits. One advantage is that more than 25 symbols may be displayed around a given reel 10. Likewise, any given symbol need not reappear every revolution of the reel 10. Thus, a game could have a rotation of 40 symbols around a reel 10 with only 25 symbol locations 13. Also, this provides a mechanism for the inclusion of special symbols that only appear infrequently, initiating, for example, bonus or progressive play, if the reels 10 stop on them. Additionally, player odds can be dynamically modified. For example, this invention can be used to provide better player odds late at night when few people are playing gaming devices 21, 22, and worse odds for players when many of them are playing. Similarly, odds can be modified based on gaming device 21, 22, location. This can be done, for example, by changing the frequency of winning symbols.
However, it is not necessary that the symbol displayed at a symbol location 13 change just when the symbol location 13 has rotated out of view. Rather, the symbol locations 13 may also be dynamically modified while still visible. For example, a symbol may be animated, such as a rocket taking off or a symbol may rotate. Similarly, a symbol may move from one symbol location 13 on one reel 10 to another symbol location 13 on the same or another reel 10 as the reels 10 rotate. The variety of what can be done with the present invention is primarily limited by the imagination of the engineers designing games utilizing it.
Dynamic symbol display can be implemented in a number of ways. For example, the electrically modifiable reel surface 68 may comprise electronic paper, smart paper, magink or electronic ink (or e-ink). Positive or negative electronic charge supplied to such mediums typically causes them to change state, for example, black to white, or visa versa, allowing them to display different symbols.
Many of these technologies currently use ambient light rather than requiring light producing equipment. All of these technologies strive for high reflectivity, brilliant color and video speed. E-ink utilizes small particles that migrate within a monolayer of bubbles to change its reflective surface. Smart paper twirls two-toned spheres to alter its reflected image. Magink tilts helical molecules to bounce a colorful image across its surface and electronic paper dazzles its reflection through oil. Other technologies are also within the scope of this invention, including, but not limited to electrowetting e-paper disclosed by Royal Phillips Electronics and in “Electrowetting touted for new display technology” by Chappell Brown in the Sep. 26, 2003 edition of EE Times, Polymer Light Emitting Diodes (“PLED”), as disclosed by Royal Phillips Electronics and in “Polymeric anodes for improved polymer light-emitting diode performance” starting at page 70 of the Apr. 21, 1977 edition of the Applied Physics Letters Of the American Institute of Physics, and Organic Light Emitting Diodes (“OLED”) as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,688,551 to Littman, et al. and in “Better Displays with Organic Films”, starting at page 76 of the February 2004 edition of Scientific America.
FIG. 5 is a diagram illustrating operation of electronic paper. Invented by Xerox at Xerox PARC, electronic paper (also known as epaper) is made from a display technology called “gyricon”. A gyricon sheet is a thin piece of transparent plastic that contains millions of small beads. Each bead—half white half black—is contained in an oil-filled cavity and is free to rotate within its cavity. Epaper is electrically writable and erasable and can be re-used thousands of times. When voltage is applied to one side of the sheet, the beads rotate to display either their black sides or white sides. Images of pictures and text are created when a pattern of voltages are sent to the paper. The image will remain until the voltage pattern changes. Ambient light flows through a fluid sandwich of water and oil before bouncing off the white backboard of the screen. Alternatively, colored beads can be utilized to provide full color. Currently, epaper. provides 100 pixels/inch of display screen. The image resolution is high and quick . . . too fast for us to see the dance of the individual pixels . . . only the overall image moving fluidly on the surface of the screen.
In this FIG., a plurality of beads 72 are shown, each with a light half 74, and a dark half 75. In this example, the light half 74 has a negative charge, and the dark half 75 has a positive charge. When a negative voltage 78 is applied to a corresponding electrode, the beads 72 rotate so that the positively charged, dark sides 75, are closer to the negative electrode, and the negatively charged, light sides 74, are further away, providing a “light” state 74. Similarly, when a positive voltage 79 is applied to the electrode, the beads 72 rotate so that the negatively charged light sides 74 are closer to the positive electrode, and the positively charged dark sides 75 are further away, resulting in a “dark” state 77. This is illustrative only, since reversing light and dark, positive and negative, whether the electrode is on the top or the bottom, and whether the beads are black and white or colored, are engineering decisions, all within the scope of the present invention.
FIG. 6 is a diagram illustrating operation of electronic ink (or E-Ink). Electronic ink is a proprietary material developed by E Ink Corporation that is processed into a film for integration into electronic displays. Electronic ink is a straightforward fusion of chemistry, physics, and electronics to create this material. The principal components of electronic ink are millions of tiny microcapsules 82, about the diameter of a human hair. In one incarnation, each microcapsule contains positively charged white particles 84 and negatively charged black particles 85 suspended in a clear fluid. When a negative electric field 89 is applied to the top of a microcapsule 82, the white particles 84 move to the top of the microcapsule 82 where they become visible to the user. This makes the surface appear white at that spot. At the same time, an opposite electric field pulls the black particles 85 to the bottom of the microcapsules where they are hidden. By reversing this process, the black particles 85 appear at the top of the capsule, which now makes the surface appear dark at that spot.
In this FIG., a pair of microcapsules 82 are shown in both a light state 86 and a dark state 87. Each microcapsule 82 contains a plurality of positively charged white particles 84 and a plurality of negatively charged black particles 85. When a positive voltage 88 is applied to the bottom of a microcapsule 82, the negatively charged black particles 85 migrate to the bottom of that microcapsule 82, while the positively charged white particles 84 migrate away from the positive electrode towards the top. This results in a light side 86 being shown. Similarly, when a negative voltage 89 is applied to the bottom of a microcapsule 82, the positively charged white particles 84 migrate to the bottom of that microcapsule 82, while the negatively charged black particles 85 migrate away from the negative electrode towards the top. This results in a dark side 87 being shown. This is illustrative only, since reversing light and dark, positive and negative, whether the electrode is on the top or the bottom, and whether the particles 84, 85 are black and white or colored, are engineering decisions, all within the scope of the present invention.
To form an E Ink electronic display, the ink is printed onto a sheet of plastic film that is laminated to a layer of circuitry. The circuitry forms a pattern of pixels that can then be controlled by a display driver, preferably included in the control logic (not shown). These microcapsules are suspended in a liquid “carrier medium” allowing them to be printed using existing screen printing processes onto virtually any surface, including glass, plastic, fabric and even paper. Ultimately electronic ink will permit most any surface to become a display, bringing information out of the confines of traditional devices and into the world around us.
FIG. 7 is a diagram illustrating an exemplary electrically modifiable reel surface 68, 90, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. The electrically modifiable reel surface 90 has a top layer 98, over a plurality of color changing modules 96, over an intermediate layer 93, over a plurality of electrodes 92, over a bottom layer 92. The plurality of color changing modules 96 are for example electronic paper beads 72 or electronic ink microcapsules 82, and change color in response to an electronic field or charge in the corresponding electrodes 92. In an alternate embodiment, there is also an corresponding electrode 92 above each color changing module 92. For example, in the case of electronic ink, this increases the speed and clarity of color state transitions. In this FIG., the electrodes 92 are shown located between the intermediate layer 93 and bottom layer 92. This is exemplary only. In some embodiments, the electrodes 92 are embedded in, for example, a medium, such as a plastic. Similarly, the color changing modules 96 typically will also reside in a medium, dependant upon what color changing technology is being utilized. Thus, in the case of electronic paper, the intermediate layer 93 and upper layer 98 provide the oil-filled cavity containing the beads 72.
The electrically modifiable reel surface 90 may be relatively transparent or may be translucent. The top layer 98 is typically transparent, allowing the color of the color changing modules 96 to be viewed. The intermediate layer 93 and/or the lower layer 92 may be transparent, translucent, solid, or reflective, depending on the technology utilized and the effects sought. Thus, if transparent or translucent, a light can be placed in the center of the reel 10, illuminating the symbols from behind. Alternatively, using less transparent layers will typically provide better viewing when the display is not back lit, but rather room lighting is utilized. Also, some technologies do not require any backlighting, such as PLEDs and OLEDs.
It should be understood that in many situations, the material for the electrically modifiable reel surface 90 will be obtained already formed. For example, as noted above, an E-Ink electronic display is formed by printing electronic ink onto a sheet of plastic film that is laminated to a layer of circuitry. The E-Ink electronic display would then be cut and shaped to fit a reel 10, and the electrodes embedded therein would be connected, as required, to control logic (not shown). An additional lower layer 92 may be added to provide a specified viewing characteristics. As noted above, this FIG. is exemplary. Other types of electronically modifiable reel surfaces 68 are also within the scope of this invention.
Those skilled in the art will recognize that modifications and variations can be made without departing from the spirit of the invention. Therefore, it is intended that this invention encompass all such variations and modifications as fall within the scope of the appended claims.