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A History of Gaming Platforms: The Vectrex
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A History of Gaming Platforms: The Vectrex

December 17, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next
 

Software

Since the Vectrex had many arcade-like qualities, the initial software strategy was to copy or license as many popular arcade games as possible. Atari and its classic vector arcade games like Asteroids (1979) and Star Wars (1983), were off-limits for obvious reasons, but Cinematronics, another top vector-graphics arcade game producer, was an ideal alternative.

In fact, the licensing agreement with Cinematronics was two-way, resulting in one of the first official home-to-arcade conversions in Cosmic Chasm, one of a number of solid Vectrex releases ready by late 1982. In Cosmic Chasm, the player's ship must navigate a maze of underground rooms and destroy a power structure in the center chamber. After a room is cleared of enemies, the player must drill through one of the exits. Once the center chamber is reached, the player needs to plant a bomb and find a way to escape before the maze explodes.

Unlike most videogame systems at the time, which came packaged with a game cartridge, the Vectrex had Mine Storm built-in and accessible by starting the system without a cartridge. Mine Storm, obviously inspired by Atari's Asteroids, is a fine introduction to the system's capabilities. The player's ship rotates smoothly, with a subtle 3D effect.

The controller's buttons are put to good use, with escape (a random warp), thrust, and fire mapped to three of the four buttons. The sound effects, particularly the explosions, have great depth and go a long way towards creating an arcade-like effect. Unfortunately, for highly skilled players, there is a bug after the 13th level that could cause the game to reset itself. GCE issued a patched cartridge version, Mine Storm II (1983), to customers who complained to them about the problem.

Direct arcade conversions included Cinematronics' Star Hawk (1982), which mimicked the trench scene in the original 1977 Star Wars movie and utilized analog control; Space Wars (1982), which was a two player spaceship duel inspired by the PDP-1 mainframe computer's Spacewar! (1962); Star Castle (1983), in which the player's ship tries to blast through a multi-layered rotating shield at the center of the screen; Rip Off (1982), a one- to two-player simultaneous game where the players use a tank to protect fuel canisters from other tanks; Armor Attack (1982), a one- to two-player simultaneous close combat game where the players use their jeeps to evade and destroy enemy tanks and helicopters; and Solar Quest (1982), where the player's ship must eliminate waves of enemy ships and rescue survivors before they fall into the sun.

Bedlam, showcasing a typical game's packaging, including box, manual, a color overlay, a catalog and a plastic tray for the cartridge.

Other arcade direct conversions included Stern's robot-filled maze-based shooter, Berzerk (1982); Namco's racer, Pole Position (1983); and Konami's side-scrolling shooter, Scramble (1983). Though somewhat similar in play to Sega's popular arcade game, Star Trek Strategic Operations Simulator (1982), Star Trek The Motion Picture (1982) was instead licensed directly from Paramount and considered an original property where the starship Enterprise battles Klingons and Romulans from a first person perspective.

Other shooters include Bedlam (1982), which has been described as an "inside-out" Tempest (Atari, 1980); Fortress of Narzod (1983), which requires the player to shoot through enemies in a fantasy setting, making great use of the system's scaling and depth-of-field abilities; Polar Rescue (1983), a first person perspective shoot and rescue game in a submarine; and Web Wars (1983), which casts the player as the "Hawk King" shooting fantasy creatures on various webs.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

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Comments


Anonymous
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"one-inch CRTs" ?????? Don't you mean 10 inch?

Bill Loguidice
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Nope, definitely one inch. It wouldn't exactly have been handheld if it had been 10 inches!

Noah Falstein
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I had the pleasure of being part of the reason MB bought the Vectrex. I was working in the Advanced Research division when my boss came by and asked me to give it a try to let him know whether he should recommend to the President that MB decide to buy the system. I loved it - at the time it was such a superior home game experience to other alternatives and so evocative of arcade games like Asteroids that I gave him an enthusiastic "Yes" - I think that might have actually made a difference.

Anthony Galante
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Wow. I really wanted one of these when they were released - and many years after. I don't really anymore, but the history is fascinating... and I still think vector graphics look very slick.

Mike Baldwin
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As a kid, I remember riding my bike to Sears every chance I got to play Mine Storm on the Vectrex demo machine they had on display. Little did I know it was my early training for geometry wars. :)

Chris Romero
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Why do idiot authors ape the statement "Jay Smith generously placed the entire Vectrex product line into the public domain". He didn't. He just allows the original titles to be reproduced on carts in a non-for-profit mode. That is completely different from placing them in the public domain. Proper research people!


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