The story of the Vectrex began in 1981 when, while going out for lunch, John Ross, Mike Purvis, Tom Sloper, and Steve Markin, all employees of Smith Engineering, the company behind the Microvision, stopped by a surplus store named Electro-Mavin. In the store, they found an of 1-inch CRT monitor that they bought and brought back to work. Over there, along with Jay Smith, they start wondering what they could do with it. They first began to convert the CRT to make a demo of a vector-drawing capable CRT. From there, they wonder on how to use their new technology. At the time, a few coin-up machines were using vector graphics as their based which lead to the idea of developing a vector-based mini-arcade. Although vector graphics monitor where monochrome, they offered the possibility of zooming and rotating the graphics very easily, a feature that no other home console had at the time.
After a while, the team had a crude prototype with a 5-inch screen. Dubbed the mini-arcade, the prototype was first presented to Kenner Toys. The company showed interested but after a few reflections decided not to invest in this technology. Jay Smith brought the prototype back to work and before he had the time to pitch the idea to someone else, the opportunity presented itself. Less than a week after the refusal by Kenner Toys, Greg Krakhauer, president of General Consumer Electronics (GCE), stop by Smith Engineering. Creg saw the prototype lying on the table and inquired about it. Smith Engineering was already making watches for GCE and had total confidence in Jay’s ability to pull this off. Around the beginning of September, GCE was officially on board. In less than 10 months, Smith Engineering managed to build the final prototype while incorporating various GCE GCE’s request including a larger screen.
GCE showed the Vectrex for the first time at the CES convention of June 1982 and was officially released in November 1982.
The initial sale of the Vectrex was very good and GCE rapidly depleted its inventory. Milton Bradley (MB) who had opted out of the video game industry after the release of the Microvision released that they need to be part of this multi-billion dollar industry. They saw the Vectrex as a great opportunity and decided to acquire GCE. Along with an upcoming release of a voice-command unit for video games and home computer, the Vectrex help the stock price of Milton Bradley doubled in the beginning of 1983 from its mid-1982 range.
Sadly, the crash of 1983 occurs and the sales of the Vectrex began to plunge. A few weeks after acquiring the Vectrex and beginning the distribution across Canada, Europe and Japan, MB had to drop the price from $199 to $150 and then $100. By the end of 1983, Milton Bradley had lost $16.5 million associated with the Vectrex. Following a very difficult year, MB merged with Hasbro in May 1984 and quickly discontinued the Vectrex.
During that period, Smith Engineering was working on an updated version of the Vectrex with color capabilities. The first iteration of the Vectrex was monochrome as a color version would have been three times cost as each color (Red, Green, Blue) would have needed its own component. To limit the cost, Jay thought about using a second layer of phosphor and vary the voltage of the electron gun. High voltage would light up the second layer, a low voltage the first layer and voltage in between would be a variation depending on the intensity. The concept was working, but the time needed to change between two color was too slow. Practically speaking, a vector would end up with a gradient between the old color and the new color after each color change. Jay and his team were confident that a solution could be found, but the crash of 1983 leading to the discontinuation of the Vectrex put a stop to their work.
Following the closing of CGE, Jay Smith reacquired the right to the Vectrex and in 1996, he released them in the public domain for non-profit use.
The Vectrex had very original peripherals:
- Light Pen – With the pen, the screen of the Vectrex gained “touch-screen” capability and allowed the player to interact with the game simply by touching the screen with the device. Only 3 games were released for this device: AnimAction, Art Master and Melody Master.
- 3-D Imager – These are the first 3D Glasses for a video game system. By blocking one eye while drawing a frame and then blocking the other eye and moving the frame to create a 3-dimensional effect.
A total of 28 games were released for the Vectrex. The first 12 games were developed by Smith Engineering while the 17 last one was designed by CGE.
- 3D Crazy Coaster (1983) [Requires 3D Imager]
- 3D MineStorm (1983) [Requires 3D Imager]
- 3D Narrow Escape (1983) [Requires 3D Imager]
- AnimAction (1983) [Requires Light Pen]
- Armor Attack (1982)
- Art Master (1983) [Requires Light Pen]
- Bedlam (!982)
- Berzerk (!982)
- Blitz! (!982)
- Cosmic Chasm (1982)
- Fortress of Narzod (1982)
- Heads Up (1983)
- Hyperchase Auto Race (1982)
- Melody Master (1983) [Requires Light Pen]
- MineStorm (1982)
- Polar Rescue (1983)
- Pole Position (1983)
- Rip-Off (1982)
- Scramble (1982)
- Solar Quest (1982)
- Space Wars (1982)
- Spike (1983)
- Spinball (1983)
- Star Castle (1983)
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1982)
- Starhawk (1982)
- Web Wars (1983)
- Mine Storm II is an updated version of the built-in Mine Storm game that correct a game-ending bug on Level 13. The game was available for free by mail if requested. Very few of theses actually exist.
- Mr. Boston is a variation of the Clean Sweep games that was exclusively available at Mr. Boston chain of liquor stores in 1983. This game is the rarest of all Vectrex title.