Poker Has Evolved Massively – What are the Best Retro Games Through the Ages?


If you were asked to think of a game that has changed and evolved over time as technology has progressed, surely one of the first things to spring to mind would be poker. The card game, now played by over 40 million people worldwide on a regular basis, has gone through many different iterations over the years. The buzzing online poker scene that we know and love today is a result of the advances to this point. In fact, fans of poker have a lot to thank the retro games of old for. Here we take a look at how poker has developed digitally over time but never lost its momentum in terms of popularity.

Draw 80 Poker

When looking at the advanced poker sites of today, where players can instantly enter a Texas Hold’em tournament or cash game against opponents from all over the world, it’s hard to believe that, in the past, the game was sometimes a single player experience. There are so many poker sites on the internet now, operators have to entice new players by offering promotions. But, in the 80s, other than playing table poker games with friends or at the casino, there were few ways to enjoy it. One of the most famous games from that era that could now be considered a retro classic arcade is the Draw 80 Poker machine.

Draw 80 Poker was created in 1978 by International Game Technology. The company released a number of other arcade gambling machines during the same period including Twenty One, Big Red Keno, and Draw Poker Royal Flush, but Draw 80 Poker is perhaps the best known of the vintage models. Nowadays, IGT is still a major player in the slot machine world, but the games have come a long way since these old-school offerings. Draw 80 Poker was essentially a slot machine that gave players some control over the outcome. This was a massive step forward because, up to that point, one-armed bandits had been purely based on luck. Players were given the opportunity to hold certain cards and spin to try to make the best hand. These early versions sparked the creation of other poker machines – now a massive sector of the gambling market – and they were hugely popular from the outset.

Hollywood Poker

Moving into the 1980s, there were greater forays into the world of personal computers and games consoles. One of the earliest of these was the Amiga from Commodore International. These personal computers started in 1985 and were part of a range that included 16 and 32-bit storage and 256Kb or higher of RAM. Even in this extremely primitive form, developers were producing poker content for users. One particularly memorable offering released in 1987 was Hollywood Poker from Diamond Software. The game developed by Golden Games was strip poker, and strictly for adults.

Hollywood Poker featured four different women, one of which later went on to become Miss Germany and then Miss Europe. Players had to win hands in order to remove items of clothing from the women. Interestingly, the original C64 version only took two weeks to make. Holger Gehrmann completed the coding in a matter of days, while Dieter Eckhardt hired a photographer and four models. This simple concept paved the way for later, more advanced poker games on computers, as it showed how simple it was to make a card game.

Vegas Stakes

Up to the 90s, the poker offerings for gamers had been quite primitive. This all changed in 1993, though, when HAL Laboratory released Vegas Stakes (known as Las Vegas Dream in Japan) for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was a much more advanced offering to the various content that had come previously. Instead of just focusing on winning poker hands, players had to play various casino games including poker, craps, blackjack, roulette, and slot machines. The general premise was that you had $1000 to gamble with, and you had to turn that stake into $10 million by playing at different casinos. The game was a success and was later released for the Gameboy in 1995.

Vegas Stakes had a single and a multiplayer mode but poker was only available for solitary players. This was because players would have been able to see one another’s cards. It’s amazing to think how far the game has progressed from these times, as poker is nowadays almost exclusively a multiplayer experience. In the game, if a player loses all their money, it’s game over. The more they win, though, the greater number of casinos they unlock. For instance, when players reach $100,000, they unlock the second gambling house, which is the Laurel Palace casino.

The game was praised by many critics at the time, who said that the individual games were realistic and the multiplayer mode was a nice touch. For the period, Vegas Stakes was also quite advanced, featuring character conversations that could have different outcomes.

Hard Rock Casino

By the time Sony released the PlayStation 2 in 2000, games were much more advanced and the possibilities for developers were endless. Needless to say, poker and gambling games evolved further for the new console. One of the most notable offerings at the time was Hard Rock Casino, which allowed players to feel as though they were a high roller actually walking around the famous casino. The offering from Farsight Studios was only available for one player, but it did include over 20 different casinos games within, including obscure choices such as Pai Gow and Let it Ride. It also featured Texas Hold’em, the most popular form of poker today.

Hard Rock Casino was released in 2006, which was right in the middle of the poker boom. During this time, there was a sharp increase in the number of online poker sites, along with televised poker events such as the World Series of Poker. For this reason, it made sense for the developers to include the most played version of the game. The simple format of Hold’em is one of the reasons why it took off so drastically and featuring it in the game was a wise move from Farsight Studios. It gave players the opportunity to play and practice in a safe environment where they didn’t have to risk any of their own money. They could then take these skills to the online poker sites and use them in an effort to win real rewards.

Despite its fairly low score of 45 on Metacritic, developers may look to games like Hard Rock Casino when thinking about the next step in the evolution of digital poker. Following that format with virtual reality would definitely work, as players will physically be able to explore virtual casinos and play the games.

There’s no denying that poker has come a long way over the years. And the fact that it has attracted so many players in all of its different incarnations is a testament to the game’s appeal. It’s certainly exciting to think what the next stage will be for this exceptional game.

Staff Writer

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