The Vectrex is a vector display-based video game console that was developed by Smith Engineering/Western Technologies. It was licensed and distributed first by GCE, and then by Milton Bradley after their purchase of GCE. It was released in November, 1982 at a retail price of $199; as Milton Bradley took over international marketing, the price dropped to $150 and then $100 shortly before the Video Game Crash of 1983. The Vectrex exited the market in early 1984.
Unlike other non-portable video game consoles, which connected to televisions and rendered raster graphics, the Vectrex has an integrated vector monitor which displays vector graphics. The monochrome Vectrex uses plastic screen overlays to generate color and various static graphics and decorations. At the time, many of the most popular arcade games used vector displays, and GCE was looking to set themselves apart from the pack by selling high-quality versions of games such as Space Wars and Armor Attack.
The Vectrex comes with a built-in game, the arcade Asteroids clone Mine Storm. Two peripherals were also available for the Vectrex: a Light Pen and a 3D Imager. The Vectrex was also released in Japan under the name Bandai Vectrex Kousokusen.
While it is a mainstay of disc-based console systems today, the Vectrex was part of the first generation of console systems to feature a boot screen, which also included the Atari 5200 and ColecoVision.
System features and innovations
The Vectrex was the first system to offer a 3D peripheral, the 3D Imager, predating the Sega Sega Master System's SegaScope 3D by about four years. Also, early units have a very audible "buzzing" from the built-in speaker that reacts to the graphics generated on screen. This is due to a lack of shielding between the built-in CRT and the speaker wiring and was eventually resolved in later production models. This idiosyncrasy has become a familiar characteristic of the machine.
Several companies offered or included Vectrex software in their products or promotions. The liquor company Mr. Boston gave out a limited number of customized cartridges of Clean Sweep. The box had a Mr. Boston sticker on it. The overlay was basically the regular Clean Sweep overlay with the Mr. Boston name, logo, and copyright info running up either side. The game itself had custom text, and the player controlled a top hat rather than a vacuum.
Some of the Vectrex's games feature unusual qualities or innovations, and new games are still being produced today by homebrew video game programmers.
The game built into the Vectrex, Mine Storm, would crash at level 13. However, on some machines the game would continue much farther, with levels containing very unusual characteristics. Consumers who complained to the company about the crash at the 13th level received a replacement cartridge in the mail. Entitled Mine Storm 2, it was the fixed version of the Vectrex's built-in game. However, not many wrote to the company about it due to no advertisement of any sort, making Mine Storm 2 one of the rarest cartridges for the Vectrex system.
Many critics believe that the system had a lot going for it, but merely was at the wrong place at the wrong time, due to it being released just prior to the Video Game Crash of 1983. The Atari video game company had also threatened several gaming retailers months earlier, stating that their products could not be sold in stores along with the Vectrex . Milton Bradley had also purchased GCE, but were also looking to be bought out by Hasbro at the time, who thought video games were just a fad, which Milton Bradley then withdrew the U. S. Vectrex television ads. However, critics praise the system's durability (holding up surprisingly well, even to the present day) and a controller that was very well designed for its time.
- CPU: Motorola 68A09 @ 1.5 MHz
- RAM: 1 KB (two 4-bit 2114 chips)
- ROM: 8 KB (one 8-bit 2363 chip)
- Sound: General Instrument AY-3-8912
- 3" electrodynamic paper cone speaker
The cathode ray tube is a Samsung model 240RB40 monochrome unit measuring 9 × 11 inches, displaying a picture of 240 mm diagonal; it is an off-the-shelf picture tube manufactured for small black and white television sets. A vector CRT display such as the one in the Vectrex does not require a special tube, and differs from standard raster-based television sets only in the control circuits. Rather than use sawtooth waves to direct the internal electron beam in a raster pattern, digital-to-analog converters drive the horizontal and vertical deflection electromagnets. Those deflection electromagnets are wound on a standard yoke used in television sets, and the high-voltage transformer is also an off-the-shelf TV component. Such use of existing television technology was already established by arcade games such as the arcade game Asteroids.
The 3D Imager spins a disk which is half black and half colored bands that radiate from the center (usually red, green and blue) between the viewer's eyes and the Vectrex screen. The Vectrex is synchronized to the rotation of the disk (or vice versa) and draws vectors corresponding to a particular color and/or a particular eye. Therefore only one eye will see the Cectrex screen and its associated images (or color) at any one time while the other will see nothing.
A single object that does not lie on the plane of the monitor (i.e., in front of or into the monitor) is drawn at least twice to provide information for each eye. The distance between the duplicate images and whether the right eye image or the left eye image is drawn first will determine where the object will appear to "be" in 3-D space. The 3-D illusion is also enhanced by adjusting the brightness of the object (dimming objects in the background). Spinning the disk at a high enough speed will fool the viewer's eyes/brain into thinking that the multiple images it is seeing are two different views of the same object. This creates the impression of 3-D and color. The same 3-D effect is in fact possible with raster or film-projection images, and the shutter glasses used in some 3-D theaters and virtual reality theme park rides work on the same principle.
Even though the Vectrex's production was ceased in 1984, there were plans to bring it back as a handheld unit in 1988. However, once it was discovered of Nintendo's plans of releasing their original Game Boy unit, the idea was scrapped.
In February, 1995, however, the Vectrex was given a rebirth by homebrew programmer Sean Kelly, releasing the first version of his multicart, although arguably the real start occurred in March, 1996, when programmer John Dondzila released the first new Vectrex game (in over 10 years) of Vector Vaders, following up with several more cartridges that year, and now dozens of other homebrew games have been released by several other programmers since, with no end in sight.
Vectrex in popular culture
Aside from the occasional video game documentary, the Vectrex is known to have made an appearance in only two entertainment venues: in the movies and a television show.
There were several brief shots of several Vectrexes (or arguably several display screens with a Vectrex emulator running) in the 1982 movie Android, along with shots of the character of Max 404 (played by Don Keith Opper) playing Star Trek: The Motion Picture as well. There were also customized graphics of tactical displays shown that were specially created for the movie, which comprised the Android Computer Graphics ROM, and programmer Mark Indictor was given a mention for the programming of these during the end credits of the movie.
The Vectrex was also shown during the pilot episode of the Charles in Charge tv series. During this episode, the Douglas Pembroke character (played by Jonathan Ward) can be seen playing one. It is obvious that he is playing Mine Storm (as the Minelayer ship from the game can be seen at one point), although when Charles (played by Scott Baio) asks him what he is doing he replies that he is "killing Martians". Charles then unplugs the Vectrex. Later on in the episode, Pembroke plugs the Vectrex back in to play some more, which Charles unplugs it right away, causing Pembroke to deadpan "A whole planet...gone".
Bottom of the Screen Shooters for the Vectrex
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- Birds of Prey (from Vecmania)
- Colorclash Limited Edition
- Colorclash Slim
- Colorclash Slim Limited Edition
- Debris Exclusive Edition
- Debris Limited Edition
- Debris Revisited
- Debris Revisited VIP
- Every Day Is Halloween
- Fortress of Narzod
- I, Cyborg
- I, Cyborg: Edition X
- I, Cyborg: OMEGA
- More Invaders! (from All Good Things)
- N. E. L. S.
- Paratroopers (from Gravitrex Plus)
- Save the Trees (from Xmas Cart 2014)
- Vector Vaders
- Vector Vaders 2 The Director’s Cut (from Vecmania)
- Vectrepede (from Spike Hoppin')
- Vectrexians Deluxe
- War of the Worlds
- War of the Worlds Time Rift
- Web Wars
- Y*A*S*I (from Protector/Y*A*S*I)
- Zantis: 99 Ways to Die
This article was featured from November - December, 2017.