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Classic Games (Games) Entertainment Games

The History of the Vectrex 43

Matt Barton writes "Gamasutra is featuring an illustrated history of the Vectrex. The article goes in-depth on the development, specs, and impact of the unusual but innovative vector-based platform. We also discuss the modern Vectrex homebrew scene and collectors' market."
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The History of the Vectrex

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  • I read this earlier. It was pretty interesting. But this and an article a little while ago (which may not have been on /.) about using a MAME driver and an oscilloscope to play vector games has brought a question up in my mind I'm hoping someone can answer. The articles I was able to find on Wikipedia mention that (at least the arcades) had little vector controllers so you didn't have to do that by hand in assembly. I'm guessing that this console is similar.

    My question is how do you program it? The article

    • Well I can tell you that the 9" screen they used is a regular tv tube, they just added some circuitry to let them control it with X-Y vector commands instead of by sending continuous scan lines (raster). It was actually pretty primitive, IIRC there was no brightness control, if you wanted something brighter you had to redrew the image more frequently.

      Can someone shed some light on this for me? I don't think I've ever even seen a vector display in real life other than my oscilloscope (which uses vectors t

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )
        The difference between a raster monitor and a vector one is that the field coils on the raster are used to sweep the electron guns across the screen (to raster!) whereas in a vector scan monitor they are used to move the guns on paths between coordinates. In theory you could make any CRT into a vector display. I'm sure there's other differences in practice but I think that many of us at least have seen old-school televisions lose either their horizontal or vertical scan driver transistor, the result being a
    • by Paul Slocum ( 598127 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @06:55PM (#21732388) Homepage Journal
      It's been a little while since I've programmed one, but you program it in assembly. The machine has quite a few built-in functions in ROM to handle the most common vector operations (a lot more than most vintage consoles). You can essentially say moveto(x,y). It also has routines to draw text, center/re-orient the beam, play sound, etc. More info here [].
    • by kabz ( 770151 )
      Take a look at this Tektronix 4014 [] ... I do love wikipedia for finding crazy stuff.

      I did my uni graphics programming on one of these. Hilbert curves and stuff I think.
    • I don't think I've ever even seen a vector display in real life other than my oscilloscope (which uses vectors to draw little snippets of text).

      Think of it as a black&white TV with the gun electromagnets software controlled. So instead of scan lines, the scan is wherever you want it to go. I suppose you could probably make your own if you knew what you were doing. Just bypass the sync hardware.
    • In the Vectrex's memory map, there's a few addresses (ports) that control the Beam intensity, X and Y deflection, using Digital-to-analog converters. There's a couple of constant-current thingies that help move the beam in a linear fashion. Hardware-wise, that's basically it.

      In order to display something interesting (and repeatable) the Vectrex maintains a software table of points and lines. A programmable timer interrupts the cpu, reads that table and feeds the deflectors values at specific intervals.

  • The pride of my vintage collection. I just wish there was an easy way to make the color overlays.
    • by DrNASA ( 849379 )
      Transparent GIF via GIMP + print to transparency?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      color inkjet + color inkjet transparencies for overhead projection = new color overlay easily made.

      I prefer color laser printers and compatable transparencies, but most cant afford a $350.00 printer.
  • I love Vectrex (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fricka ( 583769 )
    My family got one of these right before they pulled production (or maybe during a clearance sale). At any rate we not only got MineStorm that came with it but then got a number of other games that went on sale later.

    I can still hum the Minestorm "theme song" and say Spike's lines. When I first played "Spike", I remember thinking, "Wow, the video game talks!" and pointing it out to my Atari owning cousins.

    Hmm, maybe I should rescue it from my parents' garage. As recently as five years ago it was still workin
    • Eeek! Help! Spike!
      Oh, no! Molly!

      Mine still works as of last month when my brother and I developed an urge to play, but its developed a dot in the middle of the screen. My personal favorite growing up was clean sweep followed by mine sweeper.

      Note to all: Take a look parajve. Sound is a little screwy under Linux but works well otherwise.
      • by Fricka ( 583769 )
        LOL. Yep, those were the lines!

        But add the little shuffle sounds of Molly being dragged off after the last one ;)

        I think the most stressful game for me was Berserk. When the bouncing evil face guy would show up I at first would get frantic. Then I found a hack that you could actually cut some corners without getting electrocuted, hehe.

        I'll check out parajve, thanks!
  • I still have this sitting on my dresser. The only games i have for it though are the build in Starfield and a Scramble cart. I have the color masks, too. I once saw some more carts at a goodwill, but when I came back with money they were gone :(
  • I have one of these somewhere.... many many hours of some game with a tank and a jeep.... NO idea what the name was... but a helicopter i think would kick my butt often too.

    • That was Armor Attack. There was a bug in it, where you could drive your jeep into one of the corners so that the chopper couldn't hit could just sit there watching it spiral around you. Awesome game!
      • by deft ( 253558 )
        ah yes, so many many hours playing that.... armor attack indeed! loved that game.

        thanks for the name again.... now i gotta find out where the vectrex is at my parents house.

        i wonder if that is worth anything these days.
  • by Richard Steiner ( 1585 ) <> on Monday December 17, 2007 @07:19PM (#21732600) Homepage Journal
    ...and my unit still works. Those things are built like TANKS, and the buzzing sound while playing is music to my ears. They're *supposed* to sound like that. No, really! :-)

    The original Vectrex Armor Attack has a bug that can be exploited for an almost infinite score, and the original Star Castle for the Vectrex is easy for an experienced player of the real arcade version to master (the Vectrex version gives you FOUR concurrent shots instead of three, making things too easy), but both games are still fun for the typical user, I suspect. Heck, I still enjoy them. I just don't ... exploit ... them. :-)

    The original version of Minestorm started going crazy after level 13, skipping one or more levels before letting you play again, or showing strange shapes or even single dots instead of the traditional mines, but even the level that hits you with invisible mines is solvable -- teleport, then do sweeping shots, then teleport again, and repeat. With a little luck, you can get past. Once you hit the level up around 89 or so that has a single slow fireball on it, though, you're stuck. Once it leaves the screen, it's game over (we've never found a way past it).

    I love my Veccie. I had it in college between 1981 and 1987, and at that time a video game was a rarity in the dorms, so it got a lot of use. From time to time it still does. It's one of the best pieces of electronics I've ever owned!
    • by b1t r0t ( 216468 )

      Back in the late '80s, I knew someone who had two of them. At one point they were both broken, so I opened 'em up, found out it was the fuse, cursed at having to find pigtail fuses, put them back together (more difficult than it should have been), then they worked again.

      I have three of them myself. One I found at a flea market a few months after having found a controller and half a dozen games at the same stall, another I traded for an Intellivision music keyboard (I found three of them together), a Sean K

    • buzzzz (Score:4, Informative)

      by b1t r0t ( 216468 ) on Monday December 17, 2007 @11:01PM (#21734166)
      I forgot to mention, the buzzing sound can be fixed by rerouting and shielding the speaker wire, but there are some who would consider that heresy.
  • I remember saving up to buy a secondhand Vectrex. And apart from a broken controller and a hefty electric shock, loved the system.
  • I never had a vectrex as a kid but my friend had one and got to play it a few times. What I've always wondered was how were those 3d glasses? I mean just look at those suckers []

    As a kid i was dying to try it.
  • I remember seeing one, in all places, at a sales booth at the state fair. They looked like something out of star trek, the games were crazy looking for the time. The price was steep for a videogame console, I ended up getting a VIC-20.
    • Yes they were rather dear, and I never owned one. I had some luck though; a department store near my high school had set up 12 or so Vectrexes (Vectrices?) in the electronics section, with different games on all of them. A few of us would get on our bikes and go there when we had an hour between classes; the store would be quiet and they'd let us play on the machines. Basically we had a more or less private, free Vectrex arcade. *sigh* Those were the days.
  • ....but I was there and I don't remember this at all. Still, I love it when old tech survives - take a peek in my basement window (I always forget to turn off the light).

    I did buy a VIC-20 in a supermarket in Florida while this was in production, I don't recall seeing one on the shelf.
  • Could someone enlighten me how a lightpen can work on a vector screen? Or is it running in some sort of 'raster mode' for the lightpen applications?
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It draws a sort of dart board like cursor that the light pen can drag around (i.e. when the pen crosses one of the cursor's lines the cursor re-centers). Pointing the pen anywhere else on the screen has no effect.

      Works really well actually, and the animation package was amazing fun.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mzs ( 595629 )
      This post [] at does a good job of explaining it:

      Christopher L. Tumber

      Jan 30 1999, 2:00 am

      Of course I had to pull mine out and check how it works since theoretically it shouldn't work at all.

      And really, it doesn't, at least not like a normal raster base light pen or gun works but those boys at GCE were clever...

      What happens when you play a light pen "game" is that the game puts a cursor on the screen. You must use the light pen to DRAG this cursor around. If you just point the pen at

      • by Maavin ( 598439 )
        wow... I'd never have thought of that. How does the Vectrex know in which connection the lightpen crosses the 'borders'?
  • Man I spent some serious cash on this thing... Our local toyshop charged IIRC 25 cents for 15 minutes to play on this thing, and there were always some youngsters like me that would be playing it :) The owner had to be rather heavyhanded at times to give someone else a chance to play when someone was simply too good and taking up too much time.

    Hehe. Good old days :) He kept it around after it went out of production and I'm sure made his money back on it without any problems (he even let us 'borrow' other ca

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost