Remember the simplicity such line-drawn arcade games as Asteroids, Tempest and Battlezone offered the public? For the lovers of those original games came the Vectrex arcade system in October 1982. The Atari 2600 and Mattel Intellivision software designers were creating pseudo home versions of these arcade favorites. Milton Bradley offered consumers home versions much more similar to the originals.
In early 1981, Jay Smith, head of Western Technologies and Smith Engineering, had an idea for a new tabletop "mini-arcade" system. His staff, consisting of: Gerry Karr, John Hall, John Ross, and former Atari employees Mark Indictor and Paul Newell, designed the Vectrex system. It would come complete with its own 5-inch black and white screen. The Vectrex was then licensed to General Consumer Electronics. They asked that the size of the screen be expanded to 9 inches to increase the system's marketability.
In October 1982, General Consumer Electronics was bought out by the Milton Bradley Company. In November 1982, Milton Bradley released the Vectrex system in the US along with twelve available game titles. The retail price was $200 and it met with positive critical reviews. One year and three months later, in February 1984, Milton Bradley discontinued the Vectrex system in the midst of a video game industry financial crash. They report an overall loss of $31.6 million contending that it was due, in part, to the slashing of the system price to stay competitive with rival game platforms.
The Vectrex contains a Motorolla 68A09 8-bit microprocessor and 64K of RAM (Random Access Memory). It features a 9x11-inch monochrome video screen with an attached 3-inch speaker. The screen utilizes the full vertical height available. Its unusual configuration makes it look like a television set standing on its side. The system does not provide the option of connecting to an external television.
A single joystick controller (called the "Control Panel") is packaged with the console. It is self-centering and features four push-button action switches on the right side. It is connected to the console with nine wire coiled, telephone type cables. The Vector joysticks are analog and allow players full control over direction and speed of motion. Rival companies, Intellivision and Atari (with their 2600) only offered digital controllers with their systems. These had a limited number of directions and a fixed on-screen speed. Joysticks can be stored in base of the Vector system. An additional controller had to be purchased separately for two person games.
Minestorm came built into the Vectrex console. It is an Asteroids clone, strikingly similar to the apparent source material. In this version, players must blast flying mines instead of rocks. The twist is that the mines are able to return fire. The game offers 13 fields or levels of play. There were 30 cartridges made originally for the Vectrex system.
With the screen for the Vectrex being black and white, GCE wanted to (inexpensively) add the dimension of color to the system. Their solution was in plastic screen overlays. They are translucent sheets which, when hung over the screen, add a hint of color to the games and help reduce flicker.
There were two peripherals released for the Vectrex system: First is the Light Pen, which Milton Bradley describes as "A Unique Learning Tool." It plugs into the outlet for the second controller. It came included as part of the Art Master program. It promised users the ability to, "compose music, create art and animation and play educational games." Two other Light Pen compatible applications were released, Animaction and Melody Master.
Second is the 3D Imager. It is a pair of goggles attached to a chord that plugs into the console. Inside the goggles a motorized spinning color wheel successively covers each eye. The Vectrex then renders an object on-screen meant to be seen in a particular color. Different hues appear as the Vectrex console controls the speed of the wheel. Games available for the 3D Imager are: 3D Minestorm, Crazy Coaster and Narrow Escape. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide