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A History of Gaming Platforms: The Vectrex

December 17, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

Though space games and shooters make up the majority of the Vectrex's game catalog, other genres made their way to the system. Clean Sweep (1983) is the obligatory maze chase game inspired by Namco's Pac-Man (1980). Blitz! Action Football (1982) and Heads-Up Action Soccer (1983) do uneven, but admirable jobs of mimicking the basic elements of the sports they're based upon.

Hyper Chase (1982) is a racer similar to Sega's Turbo (1981) and features analog control, while Spinball (1983) is a passable attempt at single screen video pinball. Perhaps the most intriguing original game is Spike (1983), which takes the Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1981) platforming concept to an isometric perspective and spices up the action with speech samples that don't require any additional hardware.

The Vectrex's light pen came bundled with the aforementioned Art Master, which allowed for direct screen drawing and simple animation. Other light pen software released included AnimAction (1983), a more advanced drawing and animation program with included clip art, and Melody Master (1983), a music education and composition program.

"Vector graphics really do make a difference, and the strong line-up of games helps immensely." -- David H. Ahl in Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games, Spring 1983

The Vectrex's 3D Imager came bundled with the aforementioned 3D Mine Storm, which was essentially the same game as the original, only in color with the use of the included color wheel and with obvious 3D enhancements. Other 3D Imager software released included 3D Narrow Escape (1983), which featured fast navigation through a narrow fortress before a final confrontation with a boss character, and 3D Crazy Coaster, which challenged the player to keep the passengers' arms raised during the roller coaster ride as long as possible, while avoiding obstacles.

The box back for Fortress of Narzod, and the box back for Rip Off

As with most systems whose original shelf life was cut short, the Vectrex has its fair share of prototypes and other unfinished and unreleased software. These include Dark Tower (1983), an adventure game loosely based on the cult classic Milton Bradley board game; Engine Analyzer (1983), a utility program for use with the light pen; Mail Plane (1983), which was a type of flight simulator and the only true game that required the light pen; Pitcher's Duel (1983), a baseball game; 3D Pole Position (1983), which makes use of the 3D goggles; and Tour de France (1983), a bicycle racing game similar in design to Hyper Chase. Many of these prototypes and other unreleased software have since been made available by enthusiasts either as ROMs for emulators or on cartridges.

Modern Activity

Purchasing a working Vectrex today from eBay will cost between $75 to $125 or more, depending upon condition and completeness. Getting a working controller can be an issue, and some controllers may no longer self-center. Servicing the controllers properly is extremely difficult, so a fully functioning and properly self centering control panel can sell by itself for up to $50 or more. Luckily, there are homebrew replacement options for those who know how to dig.

Most Vectrex systems exhibit a low level hum that can be distracting. This hum is known to be particularly loud on units from the first production runs. While an end-user can do some self servicing by placing extra shielding inside the unit, many enthusiasts simply accept the noise as a quirk of the system. Another issue that may befall certain Vectrex units is a loss of convergence, causing lines on the display to fail to properly align. As with system hum, these issues will bother some owners more than others.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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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!