From RoadsideThoughts ...
A Bit of Vectrex History
Mine Storm
Fortress of
Dark Tower

From JoyStik Magazine, November 1982

Note: I found this article in my Vectrex stuff. Although I have been able to find the article on the internet, I haven't been able to find who to contact to reproduce the article here. I'm hoping that the copyright holder will see this article and contact me so that I can properly ask for permission.

The Arcade At Home
A Hands-on Review of the Vectrex System

By Danny Goodman

There are arcade video-game purists out there - maybe you're one. Come on, admit it. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You've played the coin-op boxes for hours and hours, perhaps ever since the first Space Invader tromped across a screen.

After hundreds - make that thousands - of quarters, you've come to expect the detailed graphics resolution of the arcade videos: resolution you're simply not going to get on a home video game or personal computer using a color TV as the monitor. So, the purists have shunned the amateurish home video game. I fully understand.

But now, there is a new home system, due in limited markets beginning in October, a system that will turn arcade purists into home game believers, a home system that uses the speedy, detailed graphics technique made famous by Atari's Asteroids and several games thereafter: vector scanning.

The game is called Vectrex, a self-contained, plug-in cartridge-based home game offered by General Consumer Electronics Corp. (GCE) in California. The most obvious and unusual feature of this home system is that the very reasonable $200 price includes a 9-inch vector scanning video monitor - you're not tied to a TV set to play video games. Moreover, the monitor is vertically oriented as most videos are in the arcades.

Vectrex is designed for use on a table top, with the screen at approximately eye level. The black molded cabinet has a recessed slot at the rear of the top allowing easy grip for carrying the unit around. Held in by a plastic pressure tab under the screen is a complete control panel, consisting of a joystick and four pushbuttons. Yes, that's four pushbuttons. The control box is connected to the unit via a coil cord and a multi- connection plug. A second jack is built in for the addition of an optional, second control panel (although two people can share a single controller in alternate-play 2-player games). Near the controller jacks are knobs for ON-OFF/VOLUME and RESET. A speaker is located behind a plastic grill in this under-screen compartment. When the controller is put back in its place, there are no loose cables dangling about, nor buttons for uninitiated passersby to fool with. The game cartridge slot is located at the bottom right.

The only other control is a brightness adjustment on the rear of the cabinet, but this rarely needs resetting.

Although the monitor is black-and-white, each game comes with a colored overlay designed specifically for the action of that game. Overlays are held in place both by scarcely noticeable plastic tabs at the bottom, and by gravity, as the transiucent screens lean away from the player.

For the base price, you receive the Vectrex unit (complete with one controller box), a "resident" game (i.e., one you don't need an extra cartridge for), and its overlay. The game, called Mine Storm, is an Asteroids variant. At the opening of the game, an enemy space vessel lays several dozen mines in the field of view. These turn out to be harmless, and turn into a star-like backdrop to the playfield. Your space fighter, in the screen center, is then surrounded by real mines of various sizes and shapes (in higher levels) with occasional UFO-type ships coming at you. The joystick rotates the craft left or right, and three controller panel buttons are used: FIRE, THRUST, and ESCAPE (better know as hyperspace).

Graphic representations are certainly as good as the big box screens. For example, when your ship gets hit, it doesn't just explode in a puff of bright light or light spikes. It literally breaks up into several distinct, heartrending pieces. And the game difficulty levels progress rather quickly, making the higher levels at least as challenging as arcade games.

The sound chip used in Vectrex is said to be the same as that used in arcade quality games. In Mine Storm, for example, the opening musical theme is generated with a mysterious echo to it - something you'd expect to hear in an arcade.

From the system's initial library of 13 cartridges ($30 each), I tested eight: Solar Conqueror and Rip Off (two rotating space ship, Asteroids-Type games); Armor Attack (from the arcade game pitting your armed jeep against enemy tanks and helicopters); Clean Sweep (a dot-sweeping maze type game); Hyperchase (a Turbo-like car race); Berzerk; Scramble; and Star Trek.

I'm partial to episodic games, so Scramble and Star Trek were particularly appealing to me.

Scramble's overlay utilizes interlaced stripes in three different colors to help give you a feeling of when you're reaching the high and low altitudes, and when you're in the central action area. The sequence of events matches the arcade game exactly - and the Vectrex version is just as hard as the coin-op Scramble. Aside from the score digits and play action, the lower portion of the screen shows a fuel gauge in the form of an ever- shrinking horizontal line. Hitting an enemy fuel tank restores Ve of lost energy. An additional ship is awarded at 10,000 points. I still haven't made it all the way through Sector 5 yet, but I'm gonna get it!*

Star Trek is another journey, this time through a succession of nine sectors littered with hostile Klingon and Romulan ships. Temporary shields can thwart impending hits by enemy torpedos, but your laser and shield energy levels are constantly going down. Only a tricky docking maneuver with a space station, while under fire no less, can get you back to full strength. Now, I am certainly not a Trekkie, but the game instructions would be more enjoyable if more Trekkie lingo was used, like "phasers" for "lasers" or "starbase" for "space station." The screen view is from your front window. If you're hit, huge, agonizing cracks will form on the screen.

Cartridges, like Hyperchase and others I saw at the June electronics show, give marvelous 3-D effects.

All is not perfect with the Vectrex, however. For all its arcade-smart design, the joystick is too small and difficult to control accurately. It would be worth the extra money for a professional-quality Wico red-ball joystick you can really get your callouses on.

I also detect a lot of potential in the sound circuits yet to be exploited in the firstgroupof cartridges. Any chip that can produce raspy, explosive sounds one minute, and the squeak of tank treads (in Armor Attack) the next indicates there is a gold-filled mine of sound just waiting to be explored. I would also like to have a low-level output jack so I could put the game sounds through my stereo amplifier.

Overlays have never been a favorite of mine. They take me back to 1972 and the first Magnavox Odyssey TV game, for which playfield overlays were taped to the TV set to show us that the dot and two paddles were playing soccer, not tennis. But the Vectrex overlays, first of all, are sturdy and easy to handle. And secondly, they add a great deal to the graphic interest of the game. You forget they're there, yet they have pertinent information clearly printed on them - like which controller pushbutton does what.

So to all you pure arcaders, I say save up your quarters - 800 to be exact. There is a home game that can measure up to your expectations and your skill.

"At press time, Danny had finally made it through Sector 5 - Ed.


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