Home Gaming Lazygamer Retro Wednesday: Vectrex

Lazygamer Retro Wednesday: Vectrex

4 min read
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RetroLogo1

Remember when playing a console meant you hogged the TV from mum and dad? Then having to stop playing so they could watch TV. How does one fix this problem in 1982? A console with a built in screen!

Is it not the most glorious thing you've ever seen

That right there, is the Vectrex. It’s a big, black box with a ten inch Samsung monochrome CRT screen, fitted vertically like a teeny tiny arcade system. It was marketed as a home arcade system, featuring games similar to those found in the arcades. What made the Vectrex special? Well, besides having its own screen, it used vector graphics which are very clean and crisp looking, and allowed for some convincing wireframe 3D effects.

vector_vs_raster

The difference between vector graphics and traditional raster graphics is that vector graphics simply draw a line between two points on the x and y axis on the screen. So all the graphics are essentially made of of straight lines, but what you get in return is really sharp and fluid graphics. Lines can be scaled without loss of quality, as seen in the example above .You really have to see one with your own eyes to see how bright and smooth Vectrex games are. Although they were black and white, games came with colour overlays that you put over the screen. 

It's basically a really small and fat CRT television.
When the Vectrex is running there is an audible buzz sound from the screen. This is due to poor shielding from the speakers, which causes a whining noise. The screen has a very noticeable flicker too, so it is important to not play for too long and in a well lit room. Despite the pretty graphics, the Vectrex is likely to give you a headache!

super simple stuff

The controller is super simple. Four digital buttons and a strange analogue stick with a lot of travel on it. It’s not exactly comfortable, as the stick is way too tall, you tend to grip it similar to a traditional joystick. The analogue controls allowed for finer movement, which wasn’t always necessary for the calibre of game, but nice to use nonetheless. It provided a really superb level of visual response and feeling of control, near instantaneous, similar a pong console. The digital buttons are kind of spongy and awful, but serviceable for most games. A second controller port is available, but the 2nd controller was sold separately, the 1st controller is hardwired onto the console.

Cartridges are inserted on the side of the unit

In terms of power, it was no slouch either. It used a relatively advanced Motorola 6809 8-bit microprocessor clocked at 1.5mhz and a General Instrument AY-3-8910 capable of 3 channel sound and dynamic effects. This chipset would later be implemented in home PC’s like the Atari ST.         

This static picture does not do the Vectrex justice

The games were mostly ports of arcade games, and good ones at that. The one built in game ‘Minestorm’ is a really similar game to arcade game Asteroids where you destroy all of the mines to move onto the next screen. A funny story about Minestorm is the fate of the sequel, Minestorm II. There was a game breaking bug at level 13 where the game would crash suddenly. If players reported the bug to Milton Bradley or GCE, the two distributors of the Vectrex, they would receive Minestorm II for free.

However, only a few people knew about the bug, due to the difficulty of actually getting to level 13, as well as consumers not actually being aware of the deal from the distributors. So Minestorm II is in turn the rarest game for the system. Other great games to check out on the Vectrex are Berserk, a port of the arcade classic, Scramble, a space shooter, and Bedlam, a shooter similar to Tempest 2000, but in reverse. It’s also worth playing Spike, a platformer with surprisingly clear digitised voices, and quite possibly one of the earliest games with actual cutscenes.

Bedlam
The console was reasonably priced, about $199 (AUD) which was on par with the popular Atari 2600. Despite its affordability and a pretty strong library of games, the video game crash of 1983 doomed the Vectrex, and everything else. A very crappy and unfortunate end for a very capable console. The Vectrex still lives on via homebrew software, with people still creating programs and carts for it.

Ok, so how much does a Vectrex cost today? About the same really. A good condition model will set you back around $200 (AUD).That might sound expensive, but for games you can get custom made multi-carts with the entire library of games officially released for the system, as well as some homebrew stuff for about $90 (AUD), which is damn good value if you ask me.

Blue and orange, nice colour theory Vectrex

So if you really want to go old school arcade, but want something cheaper and out of the ordinary, picking up the truly unique Vectrex is definitely the way to go.

Last Updated: March 5, 2014

67 Comments

  1. So YEARS pass and not only does NOT depreciate, it actually gains a dollah!

    Impressive!

    Reply

    • General JJ the Fett

      March 5, 2014 at 15:49

      Only places I’m seeing gains at the moment is in tax and my waistline.

      Reply

      • Admiral Chief in Vegas

        March 5, 2014 at 15:51

        …eye-liner?

        Reply

        • General JJ the Fett

          March 5, 2014 at 15:52

          That’s also getting expensive now. Will have to start using the charcoal left in the braai.

          Reply

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 15:53

            Oh you joker, you to high class for that.

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 15:53

            I know I should try to deny that, but….

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 15:56

            See I know who you are JJ, you enjoy the finer things in life. Hense why your Ps3 just doesn’t cut it when playing games, as you know there is grass greener and prettier on the otherside and you must have that grass even if nobody else sees it you will. That my dear sir is the reason you are a pc gamer.

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 15:57

            Very good deducing skillz.
            Are you…Batman?!? O_o (you did just call me joker up there)

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 15:59

            We are all batman to someone.

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 15:59

            As long as I’m not Robin to anyone, I’m down with that.

          • HvR

            March 5, 2014 at 15:53

            Might as well go totally emo and get yourself some permanent markers.

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 15:55

            I’ve gone so far into accepting this joke I’m creating a whole image of myself on disqus through it. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

          • Unavengedavo(aka. Bilbo)

            March 5, 2014 at 15:55

            Lol, look where I ended up 😛

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 15:57

            You always had a dirty mind. I mean your a can for goodness sakes.

          • HvR

            March 5, 2014 at 15:56

            Don’t say anything on LG if you are not prepared to live with it for the rest of your life.

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 15:57

            Bit late to tell me that now.

          • HvR

            March 5, 2014 at 15:58

            It is in the T’s and C’s

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 15:58

            I just clicked accept. One day that one’s going to bite me in the ass.

          • HvR

            March 5, 2014 at 16:00

            I paid Gavin to ensure I’m in front of Geoff and Brenda in the centipede line

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 16:01

            O_O

          • Admiral Chief in Vegas

            March 5, 2014 at 16:02

            O_O

          • RinceThis

            March 5, 2014 at 16:29

            You see they are making a number 3, you in that?

          • HvR

            March 5, 2014 at 16:41

            No in the South African rip off being produced by Gavin, Shongolo-Bru’s.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 15:58

            Atleast you don’t get called Tanya from time to time

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 15:59

            Or Tim. That’s even worse. 😉

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 15:59

            SHUT IT WENDY!

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 16:01

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 16:02

            says the man who can’t do what I can in photoshop..

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 16:02

            I bet you can’t do what I can in paint. 😉
            Mad skillz yo

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 16:03

            I give you that you got skills in paint.

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 16:03

            Ah. Sheet. Meeting.
            brb

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 16:04

            brb what is this the 90’s

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 16:43

            You’ll pay for that comment Tanya.

          • Admiral Chief in Vegas

            March 5, 2014 at 16:02

            LOOOOL

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            March 5, 2014 at 16:04

            I am incredibly smart, lucky, handsome & wealthy. It’s a terrible burden, but one I’ll willing to suffer from to help others.

            pleasecometruepleasecometruepleasecometruepleasecometrue

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 16:06

            but #foreverSP some things money can’t buy for everything else there master card. (This advert was sponsored by Tim)

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            March 5, 2014 at 16:15

            That’s where the lucky comes in. I covered all the bases…. except 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.

          • RinceThis

            March 5, 2014 at 16:32

            lol

          • RinceThis

            March 5, 2014 at 16:28

            Welcome to my world!

          • Admiral Chief in Vegas

            March 5, 2014 at 15:56

            Just wait for it to cool down, else, you know…

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 15:57

            Isn’t that the emo way though?

      • oVg PAYNE

        March 5, 2014 at 16:02

        Don’t forget the all important nose hair.

        Reply

        • General JJ the Fett

          March 5, 2014 at 16:03

          I’m going grey at such a rate right now that the reflections off my silver hair is blocking me from seeing my nose hair.

          Reply

          • TiMsTeR1033

            March 5, 2014 at 16:04

            Going grey before you 40 is a sign of wisdom.

          • General JJ the Fett

            March 5, 2014 at 16:44

            Then I am Yoda/Gandalf/Morpheus

        • Brady miaau

          March 5, 2014 at 17:13

          NO. I do not believe in nose hair.

          I do believe that nose hair does believe in me. Or so my wife assures me, while holding the garden shears

          Reply

  2. Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

    March 5, 2014 at 15:33

    Man, Bezerk! I had that on my atari 2600…and I loved it. I’ve played Vectrex stuff through emulation – but it’s just not /right./ The thing was to my mind, never really released in SA, so i’ve only gotten to actually use one at the Retro console museum stuff at E3.

    cool vid.

    Reply

    • Admiral Chief in Vegas

      March 5, 2014 at 15:36

      I knew YOU were gonna comment, classic gamer you!

      Reply

    • Umar Praise The Golden Sun

      March 5, 2014 at 15:46

      The Humanoid must not escape!!!

      Reply

    • Stephen Snook

      March 5, 2014 at 16:07

      Thanks Geoff! Yeah Berserk is badass

      Reply

  3. Alien Emperor Trevor

    March 5, 2014 at 15:45

    Hogging the TV heh. That’s why I never had a console, my parents were TV hogs. Those damn meddling kids!

    Reply

  4. Umar Praise The Golden Sun

    March 5, 2014 at 15:48

    Loving this new piece 🙂

    Reply

    • Stephen Snook

      March 5, 2014 at 16:30

      I’m glad, cheers for reading 🙂

      Reply

  5. General JJ the Fett

    March 5, 2014 at 15:48

    Seriously cool article Mr Snook.

    Reply

    • Stephen Snook

      March 5, 2014 at 16:30

      Thank you! I’m really glad these are well received.

      Reply

  6. TiMsTeR1033

    March 5, 2014 at 15:52

    Great idea for the time to use vectors. They also stood the test of time, I use them everyday.

    Reply

  7. oVg PAYNE

    March 5, 2014 at 15:55

    Now used for cat scans. 😛

    Reply

  8. oVg PAYNE

    March 5, 2014 at 16:01

    I want this. Retro art that I think is better than any Banksy.

    Reply

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      March 5, 2014 at 16:08

      Is that actual burn-in?

      Reply

      • RinceThis

        March 5, 2014 at 16:37

        Awesome hey?

        Reply

  9. RinceThis

    March 5, 2014 at 16:28

    Nice work Snooky! This was awesome!

    Reply

    • Stephen Snook

      March 5, 2014 at 16:28

      Cheers RInce 🙂

      Reply

      • RinceThis

        March 5, 2014 at 16:30

        I love reading these things, shows you how damn far we have come and makes you wonder what our kids will be reading in 20 years.

        Reply

        • Stephen Snook

          March 5, 2014 at 16:33

          Tell me about it. The vectrex is really lovely to play though.

          Reply

  10. RinceThis

    March 5, 2014 at 16:33

    I fucking hate vectors, I need to use them when dealing with designers, who all suck.

    Reply

  11. Brady miaau

    March 5, 2014 at 17:11

    Yes, yes, AUD this and AUD that.

    How much is that in real money?

    Oh. Hmm, R2 000, not too shabby

    Reply

    • Stephen Snook

      March 6, 2014 at 05:43

      Basically just add another zero to everything lol

      Reply

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