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Vectrex (Pause Mod)
Vectrexpausebutton

Back of modded Vectrex with pause button (at right).

Created May, 2011
First public release March, 2013
Created by Jason Bardis
Definition Hardware modification
adding pause feature

BackgroundEdit

The Vectrex is a vector display-based video game console that was developed by Smith Engineering/Western Technologies. It was licensed and distributed first by GCE, and then by Milton Bradley after their purchase of GCE. It was released in November, 1982 at a retail price of $199; as Milton Bradley took over international marketing, the price dropped to $150 and then $100 shortly before the Video Game Crash of 1983.[1] The Vectrex exited the market in early 1984.

The Pause Mod version of the machine is a regular Vectrex but with the addition of a pause button (as the original Vectrex did not have a pause feature). It was created by Jason Bardis, who began selling his modified version of the machine in March, 2013.

The original VectrexEdit

Nupoilestarhawk

A regular Vectrex running Star Hawk.

Unlike other non-portable video game consoles, which connected to televisions and rendered raster graphics, the Vectrex has an integrated vector monitor which displays vector graphics. The monochrome Vectrex uses plastic screen overlays to create the image of color and various static graphics and decorations. At the time, many of the most popular arcade games used vector displays, and GCE was looking to set themselves apart from the pack by selling high-quality versions of games such as Space Wars and Armor Attack.

The Vectrex comes with a built-in game, the arcade Asteroids clone Mine Storm. Two peripherals were also available for the Vectrex: a Light Pen and a 3D Imager. The Vectrex was also released in Japan under the name Bandai Vectrex Kousokusen.

While it is a mainstay of disc-based console systems today, the Vectrex was part of the first generation of console systems to feature a boot screen, which also included the Atari 5200 and ColecoVision.[2]

System features and innovationsEdit

The Vectrex was the first system to offer a 3D peripheral, the 3D Imager, predating the Sega Master System's SegaScope 3D by about four years.[3] Also, early units have a very audible "buzzing" from the built-in speaker that reacts to the graphics generated on screen. This is due to a lack of shielding between the built-in CRT and the speaker wiring and was eventually resolved in later production models. This idiosyncrasy has become a familiar characteristic of the machine.

Several companies offered or included Vectrex software in their products or promotions. The liquor company Mr. Boston gave out a limited number of customized cartridges of Clean Sweep. The box had a Mr. Boston sticker on it. The overlay was basically the regular Clean Sweep overlay with the Mr. Boston name, logo, and copyright info running up either side. The game itself had custom text, and the player controlled a top hat rather than a vacuum.

Some of the Vectrex's games feature unusual qualities or innovations, and new games are still being produced today by homebrew video game programmers.

The game built into the Vectrex, Mine Storm, would crash at level 13. However, on some machines the game would continue much farther, with levels containing very unusual characteristics. Consumers who complained to the company about the crash at the 13th level received a replacement cartridge in the mail. Entitled Mine Storm 2, it was the fixed version of the Vectrex's built-in game. However, not many wrote to the company about it due to no advertisement of any sort, making Mine Storm 2 one of the rarest cartridges for the Vectrex system.

Many critics believe that the system had a lot going for it, but merely was at the wrong place at the wrong time, due to it being released just prior to the Video Game Crash of 1983. The Atari video game company had also threatened several gaming retailers months earlier, stating that their products could not be sold in stores along with the Vectrex [4]. Milton Bradley had also purchased GCE, but were also looking to be bought out by Hasbro at the time, who thought video games were just a fad, which Milton Bradley then withdrew the U. S. Vectrex television ads. However, critics praise the system's durability (holding up surprisingly well, even to the present day) and a controller that was very well designed for its time[5].

Technical specificationsEdit

Circuit BoardEdit

  • CPU: Motorola 68A09 @ 1.5 MHz
  • RAM: 1 KB (two 4-bit 2114 chips)
  • ROM: 8 KB (one 8-bit 2363 chip)

SoundEdit

  • Sound: General Instrument AY-3-8912
  • 3" electrodynamic paper cone speaker

DisplayEdit

The cathode ray tube is a Samsung model 240RB40 monochrome unit measuring 9 × 11 inches, displaying a picture of 240 mm diagonal; it is an off-the-shelf picture tube manufactured for small black and white television sets. A vector CRT display such as the one in the Vectrex does not require a special tube, and differs from standard raster-based television sets only in the control circuits. Rather than use sawtooth waves to direct the internal electron beam in a raster pattern, digital-to-analog converters drive the horizontal and vertical deflection electromagnets. Those deflection electromagnets are wound on a standard yoke used in television sets, and the high-voltage transformer is also an off-the-shelf TV component. Such use of existing television technology was already established by arcade games such as the arcade game Asteroids.

The Vectrex's rebirthEdit

Even though the Vectrex's production was ceased in 1984, there were plans to bring it back as a handheld unit in 1988. However, once it was discovered of Nintendo's plans of releasing their original Game Boy unit, the idea was scrapped.

In February, 1995, however, the Vectrex was given a rebirth by homebrew programmer Sean Kelly, releasing the first version of his multicart, although arguably the real start occurred in March, 1996, when John Dondzila released the first new Vectrex game (in over 10 years) of Vector Vaders, following up with several more cartridges that year, and now dozens of other homebrew games have been released by several other programmers since.

Jason Bardis's modified VectrexEdit

Due to a thread on the Vectrex news group in regards to the possibility of adding a pause feature on a Vectrex, and after some ensuing discussion, Jason Bardis modified one of his Vectrexes, resulting in the very first known Vectrex to have a pause feature in May, 2011[6].

On March 10, 2013, he posted a video of a modified Vectrex showing the pause feature in action. The video showed that, whenever the instealled pause button was pressed on the back right side (/the player's left) of the console, the screen would go blank and the onscreen action would not start up until the button was pressed again. The modified Vectrex was sold to a customer in Japan[7], with more being offered (along with the machines being cleaned and tuned first).

ReferencesEdit

  1. The Encyclopedia of Consoles, Handhelds & Home Computers 1972 - 2005 book
  2. Digibarn.com
  3. "Farewell To Vectrex" article, Electronic Games magazine, September, 1984 issue
  4. former Video Adventure Store owner N. Kinney's write-up of the Atari, Inc. incident
  5. Video Game Critic's Vectrex System Review
  6. E-mail from Bardis.
  7. Vector gaming forums post

LinksEdit


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