It's all in the Game (CPU Ltd)

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An article from a publication possibly called 'Contract' about Ace Coin Equipment Ltd and their use of microprocessors in fruit machines. It is known that the company that did the design for this was CPU Ltd (later to become Acorn Computers).

The individuals working on the project were : Chris Turner, Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber.   

From Chris Turner's Memoire:

"Hermann and Chris had set up Cambridge Processor Unit Ltd and landed this consulting project for the gaming industry where microprocessor-based machines were trending to supersede conventional electro-mechanical machines which relied on loads of relays and motorised cam timers.  Using a software-driven microprocessor would enable a more sophisticated and flexible machine that could be reprogrammed for different games with corresponding changes to the glass panel layout.

I don’t know how Hermann and Chris won this project.  Perhaps they were following the example of Cambridge Consultants which had been formed to “put the Brains of Cambridge University at the disposal of the Problems of British Industry”.

Steve designed the processing, using two National Semiconductor SC/MP (aka SCAMP) microprocessors and I designed most of the rest of it such as input sensors for all the switches, drivers for the lights and some quite neat Triac drivers for the reels and other motors that minimised circuit noise by only switching as the machine’s 50 volt AC supply crossed through zero.  Sophie Wilson added a circuit to detect malicious radio interference which could cause the processor to crash and pay out too much money.  Then we got the PCBs laid out, built the prototypes and so on.

Ace had originally thought they could carry on using their original wiring looms but I immediately realised we had to separate the sensitive microprocessor driven circuitry from the noisy motors and relays.  Hence the use of ribbon cables and connectors as told by 3M in this magazine article.  I think we used double-height Eurocards for the PCBs which was a popular size with things like connectors and card frames readily available from Vero and elsewhere.  There was also a PCB prototyping system on Veroboard using Verowire pens and combs which Steve has described in some of his talks about our early days.

The project ran through 1979 and into 1980 as various other people were recruited by Hermann to write software for it and run simulations, I think using the University’s IBM 360 mainframe, to predict the pay-out percentages.  Two anecdotes:  One, a competitor to Ace called MayGay machines found out about me and offered me a considerable salary increase to join them, which I turned down for various reasons and, second, I recall amongst my many trips down to Ace in South Wales, a Saturday when I spent the entire day feeding the machine and recording pay-out statistics as one of our project deliverables.  That was on cup final day in May 1979 and I’ve not put money into a gaming machine since."

Date : Circa 1978

Physical Description : Single paper article cut from a magazine.

Transcript :

It’s all in the Game

In each edition of ‘‘Contact’’, we will be looking at new and interest, or unusual product applications. We start with the amusement machines industry.

The applications of flat cable mass termination connector systems have mushroomed since the technology was introduced by 3M over a decade ago. From their original stronghold in environmentally controlled large computer rooms, mass termination connectors have found their way into industrial, transportation, communications, military and other areas where conditions are less benign. Now, the microprocessor explosion promises another challenge and opportunity for mass termination technology.

Microprocessor technology has led to a booming amusement machine industry by opening up new markets - particularly to those companies who have responded quickly to this new
technology. The industry has had to re-examine methods and design, and re-train engineers both in manufacturing and servicing. It has had to look at new methods of interconnection, i.e. flat cable and insulation displacement connectors.

Opportunities offered by microprocessor technology have been seized by the Gaming and Amusement Machine Industry far more quickly than in the domestic goods industry - mainly due to the very competitive nature of the business. The industry which was beginning to stagnate some six years ago is now on a crest of a new wave since the micro-chip has resulted not only in the introduction of more interesting video games, but has also increased flexibility.

An entirely different ‘‘game’’ can be produced by simple re-programming a machine and the normal life of approximately nine months (that is, before players get bored with it) can be extended to an anticipated two to three years. The re-programming can be done at a comparatively low cost compared with converting an electro-mechanical unit where relays and cams have to be replaced.

This form of control, where the microprocessor is used mainly to control sequences and “‘flash”’ the appropriate lights, also makes it easy to adapt a basic machine to suit the various legal requirements when exporting to the European/overseas markets, as a large percentage of machines are exported.

Flat cable harnesses are ideal for these types of machine because of their improved crosstalk characteristics and, in cases where the machines have been built around flat cable and insulation displacement connectors, assembly costs have been substantially reduced.
Also the machines have to stand up to a great deal of wear and tear, so a proven reliable connection system is crucial.

Several major manufacturers are now using the Scotchflex system. One of these quick to adopt microprocessor technology is Ace Coin Equipment Ltd., Talbot Green, Mid Glamorgan, who manufacture a full range of coin operated amusement and gaming equipment.

Your editor thanks them for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

Picture 1 caption: The ACE 3210 Microprocessor Fruit Machine

Provenance :
Donated by Chris Turner

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH66053. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.
Article: It's all in the Game (CPU Ltd)

This document has been scanned and is available to view online.
Please note that copyright is retained by the original rights holder.
File Size: 5.76 MB

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