Vectrex 101: A Beginners Guide

Vectrex 101
Note from racketboy: Racketboy contributor, Ack returns with another beginner’s lesson in pre-NES gaming hardware — this time we take a look at the Vectrex. BTW, The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet.

Released in the United States in November of 1982, the Vectrex would only last for two short years, and even less time in foreign markets. But in that time, the machine would develop a cult following that has helped spawn one of the most creative homebrew communities for any console. The Vectrex is another example of what the video game community lost in the video game crash of 1983, and in this case, it looks like the public really missed out.

Background Information

  • Development of the “Mini-Arcade” by Smith Engineering would begin in Spring of 1981, which is later renamed to Vectrex.
  • General Consumer Electric (GCE) licenses the Vectrex concept.
  • Vectrex releases in the United States on November, 1982, at $199.
  • Milton Bradley acquires GCE in Spring 1983, drops the price to $150.
  • The Vectrex launches in Europe May 1983, and in Japan under the name Bandai Vectrex Kousokusen in June 1983.
  • March 1984, European production of the Vectrex stops.
  • Hasbro buys Milton Bradley in Summer of 1983 and begins phasing out the Vectrex.
  • The Vectrex officially dies in the United States in December 1984.
  • In 1988, Smith Engineering tries to remake the Vectrex as a handheld, but the idea is scrapped due to GameBoy’s impending release.
  • See print advertisement

See the Vectrex in Action

MAKE Magazine did a nice little video to get everyone acquainted with the Vectrex

Historical Impact

  • One of the first consoles to feature a boot screen.
  • The Vectrex was the only real attempt to bring vector graphics to the home audience via a vector monitor.
  • This is the first console to feature 3D.
  • It was also the first truly portable home console, since everything required to play was included.
  • Unfortunately, the video game crash of 1983 brought about the early demise of this console.

Hardware Specifications

  • The CPU is a Motorola 68A09, with a speed of around 1.5 Mhz. It features 1 KB RAM and 8 KB ROM.
  • The CRT is a monochrome Samsung 240RB40. It measures 9¾ x 11½ x 14½ inches.
  • Color is handled by the screen overlays that would come packaged with games.
  • The audio is handled by a General Instrument’s AY-3-8912, and features a 3” built-in speaker.
  • The entire console weighs about 15 lbs.

Strengths

  • Console has everything, including CRT and built in controllers, required to play.
  • Features a pack-in game, Minestorm.
  • Was the only console to bring vector graphics to the home market at a time when many of the top arcade games were done in vector graphics.
  • Has an extremely active, loyal, and old homebrew community, which has produced multiple emulators, entirely new games, and designed their own peripherals for use on the Vectrex. The available game library has effectively doubled in size in the last 15 years.

Weaknesses

  • The official game library isn’t very big, and six of the official games require one or the other peripheral.
  • Screen overlays must be provided for any sort of color.
  • A lack of shielding between the CRT and audio wires causes a buzzing sound in earlier models.
  • The pack-in game, Minestorm, has a tendency to crash at level 13. If it does make it past that, the game starts acting weird.
  • Because the console is built into the CRT, doing internal repairs can be dangerous.
  • A Vectrex cannot be connected to a normal television, even if the CRT is nonfunctional.

Peripherals

vectrex-3d Vectrex 3D Imager
The Vectrex 3D Imager was the first 3D imaging peripheral ever offered on a console, predating the SegaScope 3D. Three official games were built for it, though a fourth official game was never released.
Read More Info about the 3D Imager
Check eBay for the 3D Imager
vectrex-light-pen VT3600 Lightpen
The VT3600 Lightpen was a light pen designed for usage as a controller in three officially released games. Several other official programs were in the works, though they were never released, though one prototype, Mail Plane, has found its way into the wild. Unfortunately, they can sell for as much as $250 on eBay in complete condition. There are many fans of the system that have made their own to save some case (see below in Hacks & Mods section)
Read More info about the Light Pen
Check eBay for the Light Pen


Hacks & Mods

Vextrex with Custom Art

Emulation

  • VECX is a Vectrex emulator specifically for the PC, Mac, and Linux, designed by Valavan Manohararajah. It utilizes Direct X, and the source code is freely available online. It can be found at www.valavan.net. VECX has also been ported to other consoles, including the Xbox.
  • PSPVE is a port of VECX to work on the PSP.
  • ParaJVE is a Vectrex emulator that utilizes Java, designed by Franck Chevassu. It has been designed for usage on the PC, Mac, and Lynux, though Lynux currently experiences problems. It can be found at vectrex-emu.blogspot.com.
  • DVE, or DOS Vectrex Emulator, was the first Vectrex emulator. It was built specifically for DOS, though it can run on Windows. It was originally designed by Keith Wilkins, and then edited heavily by Christopher Salomon. It can be found at www.arcadeathome.com.
  • There are also Vectrex emulators for the GP32X(GP32Vecx and VecxGP ) and the Nintendo DS(VectxDS).
  • The MESS emulator will also emulate Vectrex games

Affordability

Additional Resources

14 Comments

  1. MrPopo says:

    Alright! The Vectrex is the only pre-NES console that I actively have hooked up and use, since it’s so novel. The homebrew scene is really cool, as well. I have a port of Galaxian that a guy in Europe made, and it’s really quite impressive.

  2. Hatta says:

    Yes, the Vectrex is indeed quite awesome. Love the chick in leg warmers playing Vectrex on the floor too, lol.

    The Vectrex is a great system to own if you want a project. You can make your own overlays. You can adapt a PSX controller for a second player (since originals are pretty hard to come by). You can build a light pen, or even a multi-cart. If you really want to get crazy, you can buy a vector generator for your computer, and play vector MAME games on a real vector monitor. Awesome.

    A lot of the best games available are homebrew. Vectrex Galaxian (Vectrexian) has already been mentioned. Gravitrex (Gravitar) is also good, as is Protector (Defender). For originals, Fortress of Narzod is pretty cool. Solar Quest and Bedlam are also recommended.

    Someone just needs to make a port of Battlezone. Please?!

  3. Donjo says:

    Now this is one console that I have never ever heard of! I’ll really have to check this thing out! I’ve always liked Vector graphics 🙂

  4. MrPopo says:

    One thing I should mention about the Vectrex is that over time the image has a tendency to drift from center. You can fix this by opening it up and adjusting a couple of the pots inside. However, you need to be careful when doing this as you can get a very nasty shock from the CRT.

  5. scribes1188 says:

    I remember playing this in the back of my Dad’s friends pawn shop. For years I could never figure out what it was, besides awesome.

  6. Mayhem says:

    The handheld Vectrex idea wasn’t abandoned due to the Gameboy, it was cancelled due to cold feet by MB on the proposed price point. Jay Smith didn’t even know about the Gameboy at that moment, and it was more than a year before it was released in Japan. Ironically the price point Smith wanted for the project in the US was around the same price Nintendo launched the Gameboy at…

  7. Hatta says:

    I’ve never seen a portable vector monitor, how did they intend to make a hand held Vectrex?

  8. Ivana says:

    FYI ‘Vectrex’ has been nominated to compete in this month’s AwesomeOff.

    http://www.awesomeoff.com/entries/vectrex-3982.html

  9. Oliver says:

    Hi Racketboy,

    thank you for promoting the Vectrex Museum – can you correct the name at “Additional Resources” – actually it says “The Vectrx Museum”.

    I have added your Beginners Guide to the Museums Linkpage.

    greetings

    Oliver

    ps: Have a look to the limited offer:
    The VecArcade Contruction Kit! at the museums page.

  10. racketboy says:

    Thanks — and I fixed the typo 🙂
    And that construction kit looks sweet!

  11. Patrick BBE says:

    Mark of Classic Game Room led me to the Vectrex. thanks Mark!

  12. SoldierBlade says:

    The Vectrex is awesome! Got mine a few years ago for 65$, then I searched online info about it. This led me to know about Classic Game Room. This is how universe is balanced. By now, you can get reproduction overlays on the web, which is a good thing. Still waiting to receive the one for Minestorm by mail, to see if it was worth it.

  13. Tommaso says:

    I have a Vectrex system that I just love. I seen it and realized i just had own one for my collection as I had never seen a vector based system before this. I bought it about three years ago for ten dollars from a garage sale! So if your lucky you can still find them cheap. Mine worked perfectly when I fist got it, played it a while and put it away. Then a month later I wanted to play it again. I turned it on and it worked well except for the sound was gone with the exception of the normal buzz. I put it away thinking I would fix it in the near future. I took it out to fix after a few weeks and the sound works again and has been working ever since! I guess it fixed itself. Anyone know how durable these systems are and is it okay to play on a regular basis or will it likely break and not be able to fix?

  14. Vecman says:

    Little-known games, such as the Vectrex, have the propensity of becoming legendary.Having features that were ahead of its time is what made the game so popular. I’m an original owner, and as such did not realize the value of the system until a computer geek friend told me. I was amazed that this compact system had such a following, and went home directly to take account of all the Vectrex items I had in my possession. So, I have the entire unit, with original mine-storm overlay+all accompanying paperwork and all the box components, including the internal cardboard, plastic bag- the only thing I don’t have is the receipt! Game still plays exceptionally well, but as Tommaso stated above ^^^ the sound board took a vacation. The sound came back, but it took a number of on/off cycles to get the sound to work again. So if your Vectrex sound isn’t working, have some patience- it’ll come back.