Back in the old days of video gaming… now I’m talkin’ the pre-NES/Sega days, the Atari 2600/Colecovision days of video gaming…. the best you could get were from the arcade machines and a handful of home computers and home systems, were innovative and exciting. In the early 1980’s, while we owned an Atari 2600 system with just a handful of cartridges, my three cousins lived downstairs from us in a Flatbush, Brooklyn apartment building (their mom, my aunt, owned the building) and some nights my brother and I would sleep over. I got excited about these sleepovers because just before we actually went to sleep, my oldest cousin Shawn would turn on this plastic mini-TV with a controller pad plugged in at the bottom they had in their room and on would come this opening screen for Vectrex…
Shawn would proceed to play MineStorm, which was the game that came packaged with this system, and the rest of us watched in awe. Yes, the game was basically Asteroids, but the vector graphics of this system, especially played in the dark, were just mesmerizing.
Developed by Smith Engineering in 1980, Vectrex was a tabletop game with a nine-inch CRT screen that used vector drawing for its graphics. The system came loaded with a 1.5 Mhz CPU, 1 KB RAM, 8 KB ROM and a 3″ paper cone speaker (which was loud for a small TV, btw). Cartridges sold separately held 32 KB of ROM.
With Vectrex, you could play a variety of cartridges like Armor Attack, Berzerk, Blitz, Cosmic Chasm, Fortress of Narzod, Polar Rescue, Pole Position, Scramble, Solar Quest, Space Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Because the system was monochrome, certain cartridges came with color overlay sheets that you could put over the screen to simulate color (Blitz came with a green overlay sheet).
Check out these early 80’s TV spots for Vectrex:
“YOU BET YOUR ASTEROIDS!!”
Little known fact.. Vectrex saw some quick, uncredited screen time on the hit sitcom Charles In Charge….
All of this might not seem like much, but remember, this was 1982… The movie Tron was just out in theaters and the best we’d seen by then on Atari was Pac-Man, Combat, Defender and Pong. The pre-Super, O.G. game Mario Brothers wasn’t even out on the Atari until 1983! But looking back, Vectrex was one heckuva system. Later peripherals released for Vectrex included a 3-D imager and a light pen (light pens were big for computers back then).
Although it was eventually purchased by Milton Bradley, Vectrex did not survive the great video game crash of 1983 and was removed completely from the market the following year. The system reportedly cost Milton Bradley “tens of millions of dollars” after they ultimately merged with Hasbro in 1984. The rights to Vectrex reverted to Smith Engineering, who wanted to re-release it as a handheld gaming system, but competition from Nintendo’s Game Boy squashed that dream. The Vectrex product line has been in public domain since the mid-1990’s.
Vectrex can be played in the present day via Vectrex Regeneration, an emulator app available on iPad and iPhone. Matter of fact, I think I’m gonna send this link to my cousins so we can get some MineStorm going again!
Links for more info
Classick Material is a big fan of 80s arcade games. He tends to blast soundtrack music from various arcade, NES, Sega and some PS One games really really loud in the car. When he’s not at home being a family man or fighting the forces of evil alongside his trusty canine sidekick Spider-Dog, he co-hosts the Cold Slither Podcast show!