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Tuesday 24th December - *** Happy Holidays ***

Tuesday 18th December - Can't bare to be with out Mine Storm during work?
A programmer going by the handle of Dr Snuggles has just taken the JSVecX online Java Vectrex emulator and enhanced the graphics to only display the screen of the Vectrex together with the associated game overlay (at higher resolution). Its now easy to get your Vectrex fix (all be it in raster glory) during your work lunch break. To play in your web browser click here.

Keyboard control definitions are:

Key A = Button 1
Key S = Button 2
Key D = Button 3
Key F = Button 4

Cursor keys = Joystick.

Press right mouse button for Menu and to get to whole lot of different options. "Select a cartridge..." to load a ROM from the included list.

Monday 18th November - Red Baron Overlay DIY details
Regular readers may recall in the beginning of the year I demonstrated Thomas Sontowski’s excellent static binary emulator rendition of Red Baron running on the VecFever and Vectrex.

The original Atari video game found in the Arcades had a blue overlay with bi-plane and machine gun artwork around the edge. I found a copy of the original artwork on the net and repurposed it for the portrait orientation on the Vectrex screen. (In fact, VecFever, does also allow landscape orientation of the game too, but I’m a bit lazy and didn’t want to have to keep changing the orientation of the Vectrex depending on the game I play).

My repurposing was definitely a one off (economies of scale did not justify going down a completely screen printed overlay route) and just comprised printing out on A4 paper, a 1:1 size colour image matching the size of an actual overlay. Then carefully cutting around the edges using a hobby scalpel and then affixing it (with a minimum of transparent tape) onto one of my screen printed test overlays. The test cart centre circle acts as an excellent gun sight - a feature missing from the original Red Baron overlay art work. In case you are a lucky VecFever owner and can already play this game, you can download the printout artwork here.

Tuesday 12th November - Demon Vector Arcade Game now on the Vectrex
Demon is an old overhead view shoot’em up arcade video game produced by a company called Rock-Ola Mfg. Corp and dating back from 1982. I never saw this game “in the flesh”during my frequent visits to my local amusements on the seafront back in the day. It seems this arcade game was a rarity and there is not too much on the internet about it.

In fact I only accidentally found out about this game very recently when checking YouTube. Seeing that video gave me the impression that I wasn’t missing much because the graphic display looked pretty basic particularly with the simple looking overlay.
But boy, have I been wrong. The error of my way has been recently highlighted with the release of the VecFever binary MAME emulator of Demon by Thomas Sontowski. Only by playing the game have I discovered how addictive this game really is.

The idea of the game is to move your spaceman to collect crystals and put them on the moving shuttle to keep your laser powered. You need your laser powered up inorder to shoot the strange looking enemies.

You need to be conservative with your laser shots as if you use it too much the power for it drains. As game play progress you there are a couple of Demon bosses which are particularly unfriendly and you need to unleash all the laser power you have!
Thomas, has managed to take the Demon MAME ROM and faithfully emulate the game on the Vectrex. The sound and graphics are spot on. This is no mean feat given that the original hardware used three sound chips compared to the Vectrex’s one sound chip. Being a VecFever based game, you can have the choice of how you want the graphics oriented e.g. horizontal as the original or portrait which happens to suit the Vectrex very well. There is an option to play exactly like the original or in Vectrex mode. Vectrex mode is the superior as the graphics are virtually flicker free unlike the original arcade game.

This is a VecFever game only. Therefore the clever stuff is done on the VecFever cart rather than on the CPU of the Vectrex. The Vectrex is just used as a dumb “terminal”, to display the Vectors, channel the sound and receive the player controls.

Thomas has been very active in increasing the MAME emulator library on the VecFever. He has pretty much programmed solutions to run all released Cinematronics arcade games on the Vectrex via his VecFever cart. It is no surprise he has moved on to emulate other vector hardware. Rock-Ola only ever released one vector arcade game, so I wonder what arcade vector game Thomas has in mind next :)

Wednesday 6th November - TRON coming to the Vectrex?
There've been a few offerings related to TRON arcade game on the Vectrex in the past. There's been John Dondzila's Disc's of Tron, then came a seemingly fake lost TRON unfinished prototype announced quite a few years ago on April Fools and more recently the light cycle game on Robin Jubber's Player 2 game cart.

Well, imagine my suprise when I stumbled upon a TRON clone for the Vectrex on YouTube called VLTRON. This promise of a game (currently at test version 1)
not only shows a top down perspective of the light cycle game that we all know but in parallel shows a 3D perspective.

What you say? Surely this can't be running on a Vectrex? Well, you are right to doubt. There's no way, the fast update of the complex looking vector graphics can be achieved with the Vectrex console's measily 1.6MHz processor. This has been achieved by using the Vectrex32 cart. This is a modern day cart that plugs into the Vectrex. It contains a 200MHz 32 bit processor and it allows programmers to write,
debug, and run games using interactive, interpreted BASIC. VLTRON is not finsihed and there is still much to implement. But Author jaymzjulian is working on it, and for those who already own Vectrex32 carts they can get the BASIC code from GitHub.com.

If you were holding off buying the Vectrex32 cart previously, VLTRON, once it is complete, might just be the game that convinces you to get hold of this cart!

Wenesday 30th October - International Play Your Vectrex Day on the 1st November
In order to recognize and celebrate the original release of the Vectrex in November, 1982, on November 1st, Vectrex fans should:

1. Play their Vectrex
2. Make a note as to what they played

And that's pretty much it! There are additional things Vectrex fans can do, of course (such as share scores, take photos, etc.), but those are just the very basics. You can see examples and for more info visit the Vectrex.Fandom.com WIKI page.

This tradition has been going since 2012 and often fans show Vectrex things not seen before. Let's all hail and celebrate the Vectrex! Anything you submit will be captured for posterity.

Tuesday 22nd October - Vec-Man

Written entirely in the C prograamming language, it really shows that nice games can be made with the Vectrex with a “high” level language without the need to delve into assembler.
Vec-Man has been in development the last few months having gone through several beta iterations. Inspired by Pac-Man, Vec-Man is now a really polished game and is downloadable for free from pforzheim-university.de.

It was anticipated that this game would turn out fantastic because the author is no other than Prof. Peer Johannsen. Peer is known to the Vectrex community for his yearly retro programming – Vectrex academy undertaken by students at the university.

Definitely recommend downloading and playing this game. There is even talk in the future that this game will be release as a cartridge and will be commercially available from PackRat Video Games.

Sunday 6th October - Spring cleaning in the winter
Ok, the title maybe confusing, but yes, as a result of the computer failure I had a few months ago, transferring over to my new computer is giving me the chance to tidy up a few things in the process. My website has been going for more than a decade but sadly other websites have not had the staying power. I've just updated all the URLs on the Links page, removed website links sadly no longer working and added links for new websites. The good news is that there are now more links then ever - go check yourself by mouse clicking on the "Links" tab above.

Sunday 25th August - EigenVectrex a New Vectrex demo
A cool Vectrex demo was released at the @Party event. Titled EigenVectrex, it is an old school demo competition entry that won 1st place at the @Party held in Somerville, Maddchusetts, USA in June 2019.

Produced by CMUCC (Carnegie Mellon Computer Club), the demo has a very nice background music accompanied by slick changing Vector graphics, some of which are presented in style not seen before on the Vectrex – e.g real time ray tracing.

A YouTube video shows the demo running on a Vectrex emulator but you can download the binary for playing on your Vectrex from here. The demo invites you to Demosplash 2019 to be held on 8-9th November at Pittsburgh, USA. Demosplash 2019 is organised by CMUCC and offers more demo scene competitions, so perhaps we’ll see another Vectrex demoscene demo or two in the making in November.

Sunday 7th July - I'm back!
Some may have wondered why there have been no posts since the begining of April. The reason for the silence is because the hard disk failed on my computer and it is only now I am getting back on track from that disaster. I now have a new computer and am slowly installing my previous software and remembering all my passwords. But in short, I am back in business!

Sunday 31st March - Adding game switches using the Razmasynth Control is easy.
Following on from the last post and assuming you already have a built Razmasynth Control, it's really easy to add new buttons and switches to the Vectrex controller port without requiring an indepth knowledge of electronics. You don't even need to be able to solder! The 4mm connections on the Razmasynth Control are ideal for inserting bananna plugs or attaching crocodile clips to quickly lash up a test.

The Razmasynth Control board is aimed at beginners. But I have suggested to Benoit if he would consider to make a more advanced version two of the board. This would have a number of improvements:
(1) The Control board would have corner holes for mounting into cabinets/boxes etc.
(2) A further addition of Pads/holes/connection points taken out to allow external connection to digital switches for a digital joystick. Currently if you want external access for connecting digital joystick the user has to solder wires directly to the button switches).
(3) Finally, it would be great if there was inclusion of a voltage regulator on the PCB to generate the +/- 3.4 V and taken out to connection points for analogue joysticks.

Benoit did come back to me and say that these were all considerations he was already thinking about for a version two. He said it would likely be more expensive, but with the added functionality I think he will still have many buyers.

Saturday 23rd March - The Razmasynth Control for testing and playing the Vectrex
Getting the rare free moment here and there I have been continuing along the Vectrex testing and fixing theme which I started reporting earlier this year. I have a number of Vectrex consoles and it seems the ones that I don’t play are the ones that have the most issues. A couple of the consoles seem to have developed controller issues (or specifically the sound chip which has functionality that also deals with the I/O to the controllers has gone faulty).

So it was good timing that Benoit of www.razmasynth.com got in contact a couple of months ago to inform about his new product which he calls the "Razmasynth Control".

Launched at the end of last year this new product is my "go to" test controller and is now permanently included in my Vectrex
test tool kit. It can be used as a Vectrex controller, an auto fire with four fire repeat modes, either with the onboard button controls or for a regular Vectrex controller plugged into a 'D' connector on the Razmasynth controller. In addition there is a 3D imager simulator. The controller’s buttons (1 to 4) are open to hack via 4mm hole pad connections so the control can be used for a self build joystick (think arcade cabinet control panel). Likewise, the X-axis and Y-axis analogue signals are taken to 4mm pad connection holes to allow easy connection of analogue joysticks.

The Razmasynth Control employs an Arduino microcontroller, so the controller has considerably more computing power than the Vectrex! The kit supplies the Arduino microcontroller pre-programmed so all the above functionality is provided as standard. However, the Arduino code is also available to be hacked allowing different possibilities such as remapping every Vectrex controller button to another in real time.

This is really a nice kit and while I will not use it for my main controller, it will be ideal for testing my Vectrex consoles and two player games. It’s a self build and you can find full step by step instructions on how to build here. The kit is aimed at the beginner level with basic soldering skills. At the minimum you will need at least a soldering iron, soder and wire cutters to build this kit.

But if DIY electronics is not your thing, I’m sure, if you asked nicely, Benoit would build one for you at some additional cost. At the time of writing the cost for the kit is 45 Euros including shipping but I am not sure how many kits Benoit has remaining from his current batch.

If you are interested to know more please visit the Rasmasynth shop. This is really a nice kit and while I won't use it for my main controller, it will be ideal for testing my Vectrex consoles and two player games.

Sunday 24th February - MAME Red Baron on VecFever
Hot on the heals of my last post, Thomas Sontowski has let me test a beta version of the Red Baron binary emulator he has been working on. This game was a natural progression for him to take on for the VecFever as the original Red Baron used the Battle Zone hardware, so a lot of the VecFever emulation functionality he developed for Battle Zone could be adopted for Red Baron.

Red Baron is a first-person flight simulator and has you flying over a simple wire frame world comprising mountains and enemy buildings. You are faced with dog fights with enemy biplanes and air ships shooting at you. In addition ground combat is required with enemy buildings that also shoot at you.

Inspired by the action on the Vectrex I quickly modified one of my test cart overlays with the addition of some original Red Baron artwork. The test cart center circle acts as an excellent gun sight - a feature missing from the original Red Baron overlay artwork.

Monday 18th February - MAME Battle Zone in Stramash Zone’s 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. He’s the one that’s 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 ‘n’ 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 Atari’s 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. There’s 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 Thomas’s 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 Thomas’ 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 wasn’t 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 users’ Vectrex consoles where Vector lines don’t 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 wasn’t 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 (because 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 Sontowski’s 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. Thomas’s 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 I’d still be active with the Vectrex - I’ve 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 haven’t 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 won’t 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 haven’t 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.