In late 1982, another system entered the console space. Instead of hooking this up to the family TV, however, it was an all-in-one solution with a screen of its own, controller, and a free game integrated into the hardware. It was the Vectrex, and it came out right before the Video Game Crash would burn down the market that it wanted to conquer.
In ’81, Western Technologies/Smith Engineering had acquired a pile of cheap CRTs for whatever reason a company buys spare parts that no one wants. A few engineers, on the other hand, thought that they could make a neat “mini-arcade” device. So over the next year, John Ross and his team worked on finalizing its design specs as well as the unique cabinet look that made it look like the Apple Macintosh’s evil genius ancestor. In ’82, after a few more changes such as going from a 5″ screen to a 9″ along with swapping in 6809 processor, the Vectrex debuted thanks to GCE for the low, low price of $199.
The Vectrex was a black & white vector-based game system. To give it the appearance of a small arcade stand up, extras such as gel overlays were used to put over the screen complete with the name of the game and a few other graphic touches to bring that experience home. The carts were tinier than the Atari 2600’s and plugged into a slot on the bottom right side of the machine.
The controller folded out as a panel on the bottom front with a small analog stick on the left and four buttons in a row to the right of it. The control “panel” could be detached from the Vectrex and remained connected via a curly cord like a phone that folded up in the space when not in use – though that was easier said than done.
It even had a short-lived fan newsletter featuring a wizardly-like mascot called “Vecto” who used his alien science to create the Vectrex.
Peripherals such as a light pen allowing you to draw on the screen with the aid of a special cartridge were created for the system. A pair of glasses resembling paintball goggles called the “3D Imager” would also come out packaged with a special 3D version of Mine Storm for $50 beating other peripherals such as Sega’s 3D glasses to the market by a few years.
Thanks to the vector-based screen it used, arcade hits like Star Castle could find its way to the small arcade in your home. The problem was that this neat little device came out at one of the worst moments in console gaming’s history right before the Video Game Crash of the early ’80s. As a result, it had a very small library of games due to its brief time on the market when it was finally phased out of manufacturing by the end of ’83 by Milton Bradley who had purchased GCE earlier that year. That they were late to the party is something of an understatement.
I remember going to a local toy store which wasn’t Toys R Us, but it was as big as one with a castle facade out front. Inside, just past the sliding glass door in the clearance area, was a stack about three or four units on a side and stacked five high of Vectrex game machines. It might have been around ’84 or ’85, but I remember snagging one because they were literally giving them away. I forget what we paid for one, but it might’ve been $20 or so bucks. They just wanted those things gone.
Like I said earlier, it was a neat device and I can’t believe how much time I spent with just Mine Storm. I also had Scramble which was also a lot of fun along with Star Trek and Bedlam. Star Trek was a strange game – you flew through space by panning left and right shooting up Klingon warships until you could face off against the main one (blasting it in the nose when it lit up), and then repeated the gauntlet all over again. Scramble was tough, especially in those narrow tunnels. It took me forever to get through that part.
Today, you can find Vectrex games emulated on nearly everything including your favorite mobile device. There are even die-hard fans still making games for the system after all of these years and you can find those and a lot more info over at the Vectrex Museum if you want to dig even deeper into its short but interesting history.
So it’s probably no surprise at how excited these people looked with the Vectrex because it really was a fun machine. However, much like Milton Bradley who was fashionably late to the party, they didn’t see the crash creeping up over the market in the same year that this ad came out in ’83. But hey, I’m not going to tell them that to ruin their fun. Especially not while it looks like whoever’s playing is on a roll in Mine Storm.