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CrackingSlotMachines


(This is a copy of my post on Stackoverflow)

A few years past my FCopy "success" story, I was approached by someone who asked me if I could crack a slot machine's software.

This was in Germany, where almost every pub had one or two of those: You'd throw some money in what amounts to about a US quarter, then it would spin three wheels and if you got lucky with some pattern, you'd then have the choice to "double or nothing" your win on the next play, or get the current win. The goal of the play was to try to double your win a few times until you'd get in the "series" mode where any succeeding win, no matter how minor, would get you a big payment (of about 10 times your spending per game).

The difficulty was to know when to double and when not. For an "outsider" this was completely random, of course. But it turned out that those German-made machines were using simple pseudo-randomized tables in their ROMs. Now, if you watched the machine play for a few rounds, you'd could figure out where this "random table pointer" was and predict its next move. That way, a player would know when to double and when to pass, leading him eventually to the "big win series".

Now, this was already a common thing when this person approached me. There was an underground scene which had access to the ROMs in those machines, find the tables and create software for computers such as a C-64 to use for prediction of the machine's next moves.

Then came a new type of machine, though, which used a different algorithm: Instead of using pre-calc'd tables, it did something else and none of the resident crackers could figure that out. So I was approached, being known as a sort of genius since my FCopy fame.

So I got the ROMs. 16KB, as usual. No information on what it did and how it worked whatsoever. I was on my own. Even the code didn't look familiar (I knew 6502 and 8080 by then only). After some digging and asking, I found it was a 6809 (which I found to be the nicest 8 bit CPU to exist, and which had analogies to the 680x0 CPU design, which was much more linear than the x86 family's instruction mess).

By that time, I had already a 68000 computer (I worked for the company "Gepard Computer" which built and sold such a machine, with its own developer OS and, all) and was into programming Modula-2. So I wrote a disassembler for the 6809, one that helped me with reverse engineering by finding subroutines, jumps, etc. Slow I got a an idea of the flow control of the slot machine's program. Eventually I found some code that looked like a mathmatical algorithm and it dawned on me that this could be the random generating code.

As I never had a formal education in computer sciences, up to then I had no idea how a typical randomgen using mul, add and mod worked. But I remember seeing something mentioned in a Modula-2 book and then realized what it was.

Now I could quickly find the code that would call this randomgen and learn which "events" lead to a randomgen iteration, meaning I knew how to predict the next iterations and their values during a game.

What was left was to figure out the current position of the randomgen. I had never been good with abstract things such as algebra. I knew someone who studied math and was a programmer too, though. When I called him, he quickly knew how to solve the problem and quabbled a lot about how simple it would be to determine the randomgen's seed value. I understood nothing. Well, I understood one thing: The code to accomplish this would take a lot of time, and that a C-64 or any other 8 bit computer would take hours if not days for it.

Thus, I decided to offer him 1000 DM (which was a lot of money for me back then) if he could write me an assembler routine in 68000. Didn't take him long and I had the code which I could test on my 68000 computer. It took usually between 5 and 8 minutes, which was acceptable. So I was almost there.

It still required a portable 68000 computer to be carried to the pub where the slot machine stands. My Gepard computer was clearly not of the portable type. Luckly, someone else I knew in Germany produced entire 68000 computers on a small circuit board. For I/O it only had serial comms (RS-232) and a parallel port (Centronics was the standard of those days). I could hook up some 9V block battieries to it to make it work. Then I bought a Sharp pocket computer, which had a rubber keyboard and a single-line 32 chars display. Running on batteries, which was my terminal. It had a RS-232 connector which I connected to the 68000 board. The Sharp also had some kind of non-volatile memory, which allowed me to store the 68000 random-cracking software on the Sharp, transfer it on demand to the 68000 computer, which then calculated the seed value. Finally I had a small Centronics printer which printed on narrow thermo paper (which was the size of what cash registers use to print receipts). Hence, once the 68000 had the results, it would send a row of results for the upcoming games on the slot machine to the Sharp, which printed them on paper.

So, to empty one of these slot machines, you'd work with two people: You start playing, write down its results, one you had the minimum number of games required for the seed calculation, one of you would go to the car parked outside, turn on the Sharp, enter the results, it would have the 68000 computer rattle for 8 minutes, and out came a printed list of upcoming game runs. Then all you needed was this tiny piece of paper, take it back to your buddy, who kept the machine occupied, align the past results with the printout and no more than 2 minutes later you were "surprised" to win the all-time 100s series. You'd then play these 100 games, practically emptying the machine (and if the machine was empty before the 100 games were played, you had the right to wait for it to be refilled, maybe even come back next day, whereas the machine was stopped until you came back).

This wasn't Las Vegas, so you'd only get about 400 DM out of a machine that way, but it was quick and sure money, and it was exciting. Some pub owners suspected us of cheating but had nothing against us due to the laws back then, and even when some called the police, the police was in favor of us).

Of course, the slot making company soon got wind of this and tried to counteract, turning off those particular machines until new ROMs were installed. But the first few times they only changed the randomgen's numbers. We only had to get hold of the new ROMs, and it took me a few minutes to find the new numbers and implement them into my software.

So this went on for a while during which me and friends browsed thru pubs of several towns in Germany looking for those machines only we could crack.

Eventually, though, the machine maker learned how to "fix" it: Until then, the randomgen was only advanced at certain predictable times, e.g. something like 4 times during play, and once more per the player's pressing of the "double or nothing" button.

But then they finally changed it so that the randomgen would continually be polled, meaning we were no longer able to predict the next seed value exactly on time for the pressing of the button.

That was the end of it. Still, making the effort of writing a disassembler just for this single crack, finding the key routines in 16KB of 8 bit CPU code, figuring out unknown algorithms, investing quite a lot of money to pay someone else to develop code I didn't understand, finding the items for a portable high-speed computer involving the "blind" 68000 CPU with the Sharp as a terminal and the printer for the convenient output, and then actually emptying the machines myself, was one of the most exciting things I ever did with my programming skills.

Page last modified on 2015-10-31, 13:53 EDT
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