Ever heard of the Vectrex video game system? Own one? Built one from scratch?

It’s a standalone console with a built-in black & white vector display. A vector display draws lines from one point to another, instead of the usual (old) TV or computer’s raster (side to side) display. The same thing as an old oscilloscope, or many old video arcade games like Asteroids, Space War, Tempest and Battlezone.

I hear you say, what’s up with the colors, if it’s B&W? They used a simple, but clever trick of transparent colored screen overlays that were tailored to each game. Above you see Minestorm and Armor Attack in place. Here are some more.

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Minestorm is the built-in Asteroids type game, and cartridges are used for additional games. The controller stores in the front of the case, so it’s a tidy, fairly portable, little package.

The Vectrex was trying bring the exact arcade experience home. Unfortunately for the company (GCE, then bought by Milton Bradley, then by Hasbro) the Vectrex was introduced a year before the great video game crash. Fortunately for me, at the time, the Vectrex was discounted from $200 to $150, and eventually to a firesale closeout at $50.

You might think it would be just another forgotten footnote, but the vector display has always made it stand out. And then in the mid 90’s John Dondzila released the first new Vectrex game in over 10 years. That opened the floodgates, and there are now far more (and mostly better) games than the original releases. At the same time, Sean Kelly created a multicart that held many games. Jay Smith, the creator of the Vectrex, gave his blessing for free use of the original games. I’ve heard he’s astounded at what’s been created for his baby since then.

Things have only accelerated over the years, there are multiple multicarts of various types (fixed, USB, SD card); handmade, arcade quality, controllers; adapters or hacks for current game controllers; and a couple of projects to run actual arcade games on the Vectrex with a cartridge that has a computer on it. A $10 Raspberry Pi Zero looks like a Cray supercomputer to the Vectrex’s 6809!

Just a month ago someone reproduced the Vectrex main PC board, and last year Eric Schlaepfer created a single board Vectrex clone called Scopetrex that will turn an old oscilloscope (or any vector display) into a Vectrex.

That’s one of my next projects. I’ve had a 20 inch vector display in the shed for years.