Manufacturer: Smith Engineering
Availability: November 1982
Cost: $199 ($460 with inflation)
The Vectrex was developed by Western Techonlogies/Smith Engineering and was released in North America in November 1982 at a retail price of $199. It was distributed initially through General Consumer Electronic (GCE), but later changed hands to Milton Bradley who had purchased GCE. Milton Bradley shortly dropped the price to $150, then to $100 in 1983; shortly before the video game crash.
John Ross of Smith Engineering came up with the idea for the Vectrex back in 1980. Ross along with Tom Sloper, Mike Purvis and Steve Marking had all attended Electro-Marvin at a surplus warehouse in Los Angeles. While they were there they came across a 1” CRT from a heads-up display and determined that a small electronic game could be made from it. They continued working on the project until they came up with a handheld called the “Mini Arcade”, but as Smith Engineering were shopping the idea to developers, the project eventually evolved into a tabletop with a 9” screen.
At the Sumer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in 1981 GCE unveiled the Vectrex, and it was released to the public in November, just before the holiday season. Initial sales for the Vectrex were strong, and Milton Bradley who had purchased GCE decided to distribute the Vectrex to parts of Europe and came up with a co-branding agreement with Bandai to distribute it in Japan.
Unfortunately the video game crash hit in 1983 and the Vectrex turned out to be a costly mistake for Milton Bradley. They eventually merged with Hasbro in 1984, which lead to the discontinuation of the system. The Vectrex cost Milton Bradley millions of dollars during its lifetime.
The rights to the Vectrex eventually reverted back to Smith Engineering who had made plans to bring back the Vectrex as a handheld in the late 1980’s, however Nintendo’s successful Game Boy quickly put an end to them ever releasing it. In the mid 1990’s Smith Engineering decided to put up all rights to the Vectrex product line into public domain.
The Vectrex system is unique in the sense that it didn’t connect to any TV, but has it’s own portable built in vector monitor that displays vector graphics. The Vectrex can only display white lines, but the games came with color overlays that can be placed over the monitor to provide semicolors, decorations and static graphics. Vector graphics were extremely popular during this time in the arcades with popular arcade games including Astroids, Tempest and Star Wars Arcade to name a few. GCE was able to produce very high quality home ports of many of these arcade hits including Space Wars, and an Astroids clone game that came built in called MineStorm.
The Vectrex display is 9”x11” and is a Samsung model 240RB40 monochrome that can display a picture of 240 mm diagonal. The brightness of the display can be controlled using a circular knob on the back of the display. Many early units of the Vectrex have a very clear “buzzing” sound from the speakers that reacts to the graphics generated on screen. This is caused by a improper production grounding of low level audio circuitry. This was later fixed in later models of the Vectrex.
The Vectrex came with one detachable controller that plugs in the bottom of the system, and conveniently folds and snaps in the bottom compartment for storage. There is a second port for a second controller that can be plugged in as well for two player action.
There are four action buttons labels “1”, “2”, “3” and “4”, and a small eight directional joystick. Both the joystick and buttons respond well, and were created to emulate the feel of an arcade controller board.
There were only two peripherals released for the Vectrex, and both are rare today. The harder to find of the two is the 3D Imager which turns a 2D black and white image into a 3D color experience. The design is fairly ingenious. The 3D Imager is a device that you can look through with a disc that spins. The disc is separated by three 60 degree wedges that are transparent in blue, red and green colors. The remaining 180 degrees of the disk is black. The disc would spin at a rate where you would only see images through one eye at a time. For example an image would be drawn using the three colors through the right eye while the left eye would see black. The disk would be rotating while doing this and then switch to the left eye to see the color image while covering up the right eye. The disc would rotate at a speed that would cause the effect to appear in 3D color. There were three games released for the 3D Imager including: 3D Crazy Coaster, 3D MinStorm and 3D Narrow Escape.
The second peripheral that was released for the Vectrex was the light pen. The Vectrex light pen allows the player to draw and create images on the Vectrex monitor screen using the pen. Only three games were released for the Light Pen including: AnimAction, Art Master and Melody Master.
In total there were only 54 Vectrex games released and nine unreleased prototypes games. Some of the notable games released for the Vectrex include MineStorm (built in), Bezerk and Spike. There is still a very active homebrew market for the Vectrex with fans still creating their own games for the system.
The rarest game for the Vectrex is called Mr. Boston. Mr. Boston was a game available only at Mr. Boston chain of liquor stores in 1983 and is basically a Clean Sweep knockoff. In the game the player moves a top hat through a maze in order to suck up dollar bills that are strewn through the screen. While the top hat sweeps up these bills it swells in size and must then deposit the money in the vault in the center of the screen before collecting dollar bills again. A loose copy of Mr. Boston can sell for thousands of dollars.
What do you think about the Vectrex?
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