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 nclusion 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 donít 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 controllerís 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. Itís 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, Iím 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 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 (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 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.