Monday 18th February - MAME Battle Zone in Stramash Zoneís clothing
One of the nice things as a result of selling overlays to various Vectrex fans across the world is that I get to talk to the home brewers
and they sometimes kindly let me get involved in the beta testing of their hardware and software. Vectrex fans will be aware of a certain
home brewer going by the name of Thomas Sontowski. Heís the one thatís been technically pushing the Vectrex to its limits in most recent years
both in terms of software with development of games such as Robot Arena, Rocks Ďní Saucers, Head On and The Core, and in terms of hardware,
with his various VecFever cartridge embodiments. A recent firmware enhancement to VecFever was the ability for it to allow the Vectrex to play
some of the Vector MAME ROM files including Tail Gunner, Asteroids (and its various incarnations) and Lunar Lander.
This is achieved through emulator code written by Thomas and which is capable of executing the original MAME ROM. It executes a MAME ROM on
the VecFever processor so all the computations are done on the VecFever, leaving the Vectrex to dedicate its time for fast display of
graphics and playing sound effects.
For each MAME game there are different operations and tweaks required to map the game across to the Vectrex and there is a corresponding
code executable which takes care of the emulation on the Vectrex. The games are remarkable in that they allow almost perfect representation
of the original games.
I currently have a beta version of the latest Atari game to be brought over to the VecFever which we all know as Atariís Battle Zone.
Thomas gave me permission to present here but he asked me to stress to you all that this game is still very much a work in progress. But
in its current format it is excellent!
James Watt's Stramash Zone overlay
All the MAME games can be played either in vertical or horizontal orientation to match the orientation of the monitor in the original
arcade cabinet. Thereís even an associated VecFever 3d printed stand for positioning the Vectrex safely on its side for playing the horizontally oriented games.
However, for me I generally play the games with the Vectrex sat firmly on its feet. This suits Thomasís emulator code for Battle Zone as it
can make use of an included game mode called Stramash Zone. Many, will already know of this game. It was a Vectrex version of Battle Zone.
Although this game was wonderful in itself, it was implemented utilizing the CPU power of the Vectrex only, so it can never compete with
Thomasí emulator and fast display of graphics. The significance of the VecFever Battle Zone version offering the Stramash Zone game mode is
that the beautiful overlay previously created for Stramash Zone can now be repurposed for Battle Zone. It takes some calibration using one of
the menu options, but it is possible to align the graphics to the different coloured areas on the overlay. In the Stramash Zone mode, Battle
Zone scoring is divided by 1000 so hitting a tank for example scores 10 points instead of 10,000 points as in Battle Zone.
The result? A perfect marriage!
Wednesday 2nd January - New test cart and generic blue overlays now in stock (The story)
Following on from the previous post I wanted to give some background. Back in the eighties, MB/GCE used a test cart and an accompanying overlay to optimise the Vectrex screen output. This was also used by
Vectrex repair service centers to fix sick Vectrex consoles. As the test cart overlay wasnít a mass produced product it is very
rare to find today. As far as I can make out there is only one test cart overlay in existence and that was in the possession of Chris Romero
and now Roland Huber.
Most Vectrex consoles, being analogue in nature and because of their age have lost their screen alignment due to degrading capacitors and associated voltage offsets. I am sure that
there is not one Vectrex that has the same display as another. You see it in
YouTube videos of different usersí Vectrex consoles where Vector lines donít quite meet up or there is a line offset, or the displayed text is slanted.
Many Vectrex consoles are owned by electronics enthusiasts eager to tweak their machines so my thinking was that if there was a modern day reproduction of the
original test cart overlay then many Vectrex consoles could be tweaked and repaired for optimised graphic display.
The test cart overlay project took a few years to realize. Both Chris and Roland had kindly made an electronic scan of the original
overlay for me so I could attempt to replicate the art work on the repro overlay. Typically, I go for a screen printed solution for
my overlays but I wanted an overlay that was low cost. My first go was to try printing the artwork on a completely transparent
overlay (I have a bunch of transparent polycarbonate overlays spares that are just die cut; no ink present). However, the overlays
were just slightly too thick for my ink jet printer to print reliably.
Back to the drawing board, and together with my screen printer contact, we took the scanned artwork and set about vectoring it. This wasnít
difficult as the artwork is just s a pattern of lines and circles. The finished overlay artwork was sent to Roland, and printed on
paper, so he could make a direct comparison with his original. After a couple of iterations: Eureka! -we had an exact match.
In order to distinguish this repro from the original, a different transparent blue background colour (almost like a Mine Storm blue)
was used for the overlay together with some text printed on the side clearly indicating that it was a repro overlay. There was one thing
I noticed about the original test cart artwork design after commencing production with the screen printers. The left margin is 11m
and the right margin is 12mm on the overlay. Now I could have fixed this in the new repro design. But the +/-1mm was probably good
enough in the early 80s for calibration so I decided to go for exact reproduction.
Due to the sales success of the previous generic green overlays I also decided to make fifty generic blue overlays using the same blue ink
as used in the test cart overlays. The blue overlays are cheaper than the test cart overlays because they represent the first stage
only (blue ink layer and no added second white layer artwork).
The result is two batches of beautiful overlays. The images shown here don't do them justice (becuase of light reflection and image
compression). Visit the vectrex.co.uk shop to get them while you can :)
Tuesday 1st January - Optimising Vectrex operation
All my vectrex consoles need some fine adjustment to improve their image quality or to get them working. Now, I have all
the bits in place which will assist me to that.
I have Thomas Sontowskiís Test cart, my Test Cart overlay and a copy of
the Vectrex service manual. The test cart has the same ROM binary as that available for download on the internet.
It is the original revision 4.0 (1982) which was issued to Vectrex repair centers back in the day. In conjunction with the
service manual the test cart allows a number of checks and adjustments to be made. Thomasís test cart is different in that it
includes a built in voltmeter which allows a very basic check to confirm that the logic board in the Vectrex is at least
providing the correct voltage.
Tuesday 1st January - Happy New Year !!!
Happy New Year to all Vectrex fans. Its 2019, and this website has been going for more than 10 years! Who would have thought Iíd still be
active with the Vectrex - Iíve had other games consoles and interests of course, but the Vectrex is my primary. The Vectrex world seems
to be going from strength to strength with plenty of new homebrew software and hardware released in the last year alone.
There are many new Vectrex things I have acquired and wanted to report on throughout 2018 but I havenít been able to keep up! I aim to
trickle feed reports on these items into my news page this year. This will include new hardware: VecFever, VecFeverRTC, VecFever UE, Test Cart with built in voltmeter, 19" XY
monitor, Vectrex arcade cabinet, Razmasynth control; and new games: Menschen Jagd, Stramash Zone, and Player 2.
Regarding my own contributions to the Vectrex world they have gone rather slowly. I am able to report that end of last year I have a
new batch of professionally screen printed generic blue, test cart and Karl Quappe overlays. In the next few days I will put more
information on the website about them.
In Q4 last year I had intended to release my updated version of the autofire dongle, that I
originally produced in 2009. I have most of the parts sitting in my workshop but I just need to grab some time to build fifty boards:- so expect a
release Q1 2018. I wonít dwell too long on mentioning my other 'to do' job which was to complete my first Vectrex game
(which I originally began in 2009!). I havenít touched it in the last year and half and it's still stuck at 70% complete :- one day I
will complete it!
Finally, I would just like to say thank you to all those Vectrex fans who have contacted me with comments about the website and offered
Vectrex news. Having dialogue and feedback with like minded Vectrex fans makes the hobby even more of a pleasure. I would love to hear from you
if you have any Vectrex related news.