Posted By: wraggster
The only vector-based home console with an integrated screen, GCE’s Vectrex remains desirable and iconic today, decades after its debut and subsequent decline. Where most systems of the era offered embryonic games with rudimentary visuals that have aged poorly, Vectrex’s brilliant white vector lines that light up its black screen like laser comets remain irresistibly chic.The system, on the market for just two years, was home to just 30-odd commercially available games. The Vectrex’s rise and fall exactly mirrored that of the wider video game industry, enjoying the boom success of the early 1980s before suffering the obliterating crash of 1984.The original idea for the machine derived from Western Technologies. One of the company’s employees, John Ross, bought a one-inch CRT screen, the type used in aircraft heads-up displays, in a surplus store. He brought it in to work with the idea of using the technology to develop a prototype handheld game. Kenner, best known for its range of Star Wars figurines, saw the potential and partnered with Western to build a prototype using a 5-inch screen, before promptly pulling out of the deal. Weeks later, GCE stepped in, changed the hardware design to accommodate a 9-inch monitor and gave the project the name ‘Mini-Arcade’.This feature is an extract from Simon Parkin’s book, An Illustrated History of 151 Videogames.
By January 1982 the console was nearing completion but GCE had no games. Ed Smith, Western Technologies’ head of engineering, began to recruit students from Georgia Tech College, setting them the challenge to create 12 games by June that year. One staff member recalls visiting the warehouse at the time: “One programmer used to snort whipped cream gas all night while programming. [People would] trip on the cans when coming in for work the next morning. There were cases of them all over the floor. GCE management apparently put up with this…” The technique appeared to work. By April the games Mine Storm, Berzerk, Rip Off and Star Trek were all complete and, following a brainstorming session, the console’s name was changed to Vectrex.Despite the relatively high price point, the system sold well. In March 1983, the board game developer Milton Bradley bought GCE, just before the market crashed in 1984. MB reportedly lost around $31 million on the Vectrex as the bottom fell out of the market while Atari allegedly threatened to withhold their games and systems from any distributor that also carried Vectrex products.In recent years, the machine has enjoyed a resurgence of interest thanks to its unique graphical aesthetics. When it comes to vector-based game consoles, the Vectrex has no rival. If you long for a minimalist vector glow to light your living room, there is nowhere else to go.