Sometimes the simplest of projects end up revealing the most interesting of things, as for example is the case with [Ryo Mukai]’s light pen for the Vectrex console. It’s an extremely simple device using an integrated light sensor with built-in Schmitt trigger, but for us the magic isn’t in the pen itself but in discovering how it worked with the Vectrex’s vector graphics.
Light pens were a popular accessory in the 8-bit computing days, offering a relatively inexpensive pointing device that gave your micro an even more futuristic feel. On most computers that used a raster-scanning TV display they simply picked up the flying dot on the screen as it passed the end of the pen, but the Vectrex with its display not scanning all of the screen at once needed a different approach.
This piqued our interest, and the answer to how it was done came from PlayVectrex. There was a target X on the screen which could be picked up with the pen, and when picked up it would surround itself with a circle. Crossing the dot as it flew round the circle would tell the console where the pen was, and the position would move to fit. For those of us who only saw a Vectrex in a shop window back in the day, mystery solved! We’ve placed a video showing the process below the break.
It appears that every great console is bound to get a miniature remake: we’ve had the PlayStation Classic, the Mini NES and SNES, and even a miniature Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. But one great console that was sorely missing from that list, at least according to [Brendan], was the Vectrex. So he went ahead and built a fully-functioning miniature Vectrex Console.
If the name “Vectrex” doesn’t ring a bell in your mind, you’re not alone: a commercial failure, it was quickly forgotten by most following the 1983 video game crash. But it has retained a cult status among enthusiasts due to its unique design featuring a monochrome vector monitor, onto which you can place transparent overlays to obtain a sort-of color display. Its games can now all be emulated using software like RetroPie, which is what [Brendan] chose to run on a Raspberry Pi Model 2 that he had lying around.
As for the display, he settled on a Pi-compatible 3.5″ TFT device. Hooking it up to the Pi was easy enough, but getting the image rendered in its proper portrait orientation was quite a headache, requiring endless fiddling with drivers and configuration files.
Once he got this working, [Brendan] set to work designing a miniature copy of the Vectrex’s original case. It took a few iterations and several 10-hour runs on his 3D printer before he ended up with a sturdy case that securely held the Pi and its display in place. A few more hours of printing later he also had a handheld controller, which he based on an Arduino Pro Mega. The Arduino reads out four regular pushbuttons and a joystick, and communicates with the Pi through a coiled USB cable.
Acorn BBC Master. Apple IIe. Ampex 270 Terminal. Vectrex game console. You’d be hard pressed to find a more diverse hardware collection in the average hacker’s lab. When you add seven Raspberry Pi’s, five CRT monitors, an analog oscilloscope and an LED wall to the mix, one starts to wonder at the menagerie of current and retro hardware. What kind of connoisseur would have such a miscellaneous collection? That’s when you spot smoke and fog machines sitting next to an RGB Laser.
Finally, you learn that all of this disparate paraphernalia is networked together. It is then that you realize that you’re not just dealing with a multi-talented hacker- you’re dealing with a meticulous maestro who’s spent lockdown finishing a project he started nearly twenty years ago!
The machine is called AUVERN and it’s the product of the creative mind of [Owen]. Taking advantage of advances in technology (and copious amounts of free time), [Owen] laboriously put his collection of older rigs to work.
A Python script uses a Kinect sensor’s input to control a Mac Mini running Digital Audio Workstation software. The operator’s location, poses and movements are used to alter the music, lights, and multimedia experience as a whole. MIDI, Ethernet, and serial communications tie the hardware together through Raspberry Pi’s, vintage MIDI interfaces, and more. Watch the video below the break for the technical explanation, but don’t miss the videos on [Owen]’s website for a mesmerizing demonstration of AUVERN in full swing.
Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams explore the coolest hacks of the past 168 hours. The big news this week: will Wink customers pony up $5 a month to turn their lights on and off? There’s a new open source design for a pick and place machine. You may not have a Vectrex gaming console, but there’s a scratch-built board that can turn you oscilloscope into one. And you just can’t miss this LED sign technology that programs every pixel using projection mapping.
Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!
You’ve always wanted a game console at your bench, but maybe you haven’t had space for a monitor or TV set? Wouldn’t it be useful if the screen you do have on your bench could also play games? [Tube Time] has fixed this problem, with Scopetrex, a vector graphic console for your oscilloscope. In fact, it’s better than just a console, because it’s a clone of the legendary Vectrex, the vector-based console with built-in CRT screen from the 1980s.
The board itself is a slightly enhanced version of the original, offering not extra functionality but the ability to substitute some of the parts for more easily found equivalents. It gives full control over display size and brightness, can use the cheaper 6809E processor and AY-3-9810 sound chip if necessary, and only needs a single 5 volt supply. There’s also a custom controller board, which is handly Vectrex-compatible. All you will need to play Vectrex games on your ‘scope once you’ve built this board, are a copy of the Vectrex ROM, and some games.
The build relies on a lens that [Jason] salvaged from an old rear-projection TV. These units used CRTs with big lenses which projected the image onto a screen. That’s precisely what is happening here, with a vector display replacing the CRT used in the original TV. The vector display itself used here is a tube from a small black and white TV set, which [Jason] modified to use a Vectrex yoke, making it capable of vector operation.
Through some modification and careful assembly, [Jason] was rewarded with a wall-sized display for his Vectrex console. This is demonstrated with some beautiful glowing vector demos, accompanied with appropriate bleep-bloop music, as was the style at the time. The Cantina band is a particular highlight.
The crash of the videogame market in 1983 struck down a slew of victims, and unique products such as the Vectrex were not immune to its destructive ways. The all-in-one console featured a monochromatic vector display and offered an arcade-like experience at home complete with an analog joystick controller. It sadly never made it to its second birthday before being axed in early 1984, however, thanks to the [National Videogame Museum] we now how a glimpse of an alternate history for the Vectrex. They posted some photos of an unreleased Vectrex prototype that was restored to working order.
Little was known about this “Mini version” of the Vectrex as its very existence was called into question. The console came into and left the videogame market in such short order that its distributor, Milton Bradley, would have killed any additional model posthaste. Little thought was given to the idea, though a rumor appeared in Edge magazine issue 122. The article detailed a fan’s memory of seeing a Vectrex shaped “like a shoebox” on the president’s desk.
Seven years after the publication of that story, photos of the Vectrex design revision were posted by one of the Vectrex designer’s sons on Flickr. These photos served as the only concrete evidence as to the existence of the machine that were widely available for some time. That was until the [National Videogame Museum] managed to acquire the actual prototype as part of the museum’s collection in Frisco, TX. So for those without plans to swing through the DFW area in the near future, there is the video of the mini Vectrex in action below.