Trashed Vector Game Console Revived With Vintage IBM Monitor

We’ve all had the heartbreak of ordering something online, only to have it arrive in less than mint condition. Such are the risks of plying the global marketplace, only more so for used gear, which seems to be a special target for the wrath of sadistic custom agents and package handlers all along the supply chain.

This cruel fate befell a vintage Vectrex game console ordered by [Senile Data Systems]; the case was cracked and the CRT was an imploded mass of shards. Disappointing, to say the least, but not fatal, as he was able to make a working console from the remains of the Vectrex and an old IBM monitor. The Google translation is a little rough, but from what we can gather, the Vectrex, a vector-graphics console from the early 80s with such hits as MineStorm, Star Castle, and Clean Sweep, was in decent shape apart from the CRT. So with an old IBM 5151 green phosphor monitor, complete with a burned-in menu bar, was recruited to stand in for the damaged components. The Vectrex guts, including the long-gone CRT’s deflection yoke assembly, were transplanted to the new case. A little room was made for the original game cartridges, a new controller was fashioned from a Nintendo candy tin, and pretty soon those classic games were streaking and smearing across the long-persistence phosphors. We have to admit the video below looks pretty trippy.

If arcade restorations are your thing, display replacements like this are probably part of the fun. Here’s a post about replacing an arcade display with a trash bin CRT TV, an important skill to have is this business.

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Vectrex, Finally In Color

The Vectrex is everybody’s favourite vector-based console from the early 1980s. Vector graphics really didn’t catch on in the videogame market, but the Vectrex has, nonetheless held on to a diehard contingent of fans that continue to tinker with the platform to this day. [Arcade Jason] just so happens to be leading the pack right now.

The Vectrex has always been a monochrome machine, capable of only displaying white lines on its vector monitor. Color was provided by plastic overlays that were stuck to the screen, however this was never considered a particularly mindblowing addition to the console. [Jason] decided he could do better, and dug deep into his collection of vector monitors.

With a 36″ color vector monitor to hand, the Vectrex was laid out on the bench, ready for hacking. The bus heading to one of the DACs was hijacked, and fed through a series of OR and AND logic to generate color signals, since the original Vectrex hardware had no way of doing so. This is then fed to the color monitor, with amazing results.

[Jason]’s setup is capable of generating 8 colors on the screen, and it’s almost by some weird coincidence that this really does make the classic Vectrex games pop in a way they never have before. It’s also a testament to a simpler time that it’s possible to hack this console’s video signals on a breadboard; modern hardware runs much too fast to get away with such hijinx.

It’s an epic hack that through experimentation and some serendipity, has turned out some exciting results. [Jason] is now in the process of taking this to the next level, experimenting with adding color intensity control and other features to the mix.

It’s not [Jason]’s first time around these parts, either – we saw his big-screen Vectrex just a month ago!

[Thanks to Morris for the tip!]

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Hackaday Links: November 26, 2017

Hey, it’s sometime between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We’re blowing out everything in the Hackaday Store. There’s some great deals in there. Tindie, our lovable robot dog is also heading up hundreds of Tindie deals for Cyber Monday. If you want some electronic stuff direct from the people who make it, this is the sale to check out.

Looking for some other Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales? Adafruit has compiled a list of retailers so I don’t have to. Thanks, Phil. There are deals from Lulzbot to Makerbot, LittleBits to Sparkfun.

The engineer responsible for Dieselgate has been sentenced to 40 months in prison. There are two takeaways from this: 1) The Nuremberg Defense doesn’t work. 2) Don’t build a business plan around breaking the law, despite what the libertarian hellscape of Hacker News tells you.

The theme for next year’s DEF CON has been announced. It’s, “1983”. What does that mean? Brutalist architecture, first of all. They’re also going for a ‘year before 1984’ thing, where everyone installs always-on, far-field microphones in their house and connects them to the Internet. In other news, Alexas and Google Homes are on sale this Black Friday. Big props for the official DEF CON style guide with typefaces and colors, though.

Over on, [Frank] has created a very interesting and very cool game for the Vectrex. It’s called Bloxorz, and you can think of it as a cross between Marble Madness and Q*Bert. It’s a puzzle game, and now it’s a project on Kickstarter. Want to check out what this game looks like? Take a look at the video. It’s big into the tradition of early-90s puzzle games (a genre we wish would come back), and if I had a Vectrex, I’d buy one.

I told you SparkleCon tickets are on sale, right?

Here’s an argument you can settle. What is the grit designation of sandpaper? Sandpaper comes in various grits, from 60 (very coarse) to 1500, 2000, and 6000 (for polishing, basically). Here’s a question: how are these numbers derived? I have a vague memory from my youth where someone who probably didn’t know what they were talking about said grit sizes are the number of abrasive particles per some unit of area. A 60-grit sandpaper would have sixty particles of aluminum oxide per square quarter inch, for example. This sounds too stupid to be correct, doesn’t fit with the mesh sizes of different grades of sandpaper, and a cursory Googling does not tell me how sandpaper grit sizes are derived. What say you, Hackaday peanut gallery? Where do the numbers on the back of a sheet of sandpaper actually come from?

Finally – A Big-Screen Vectrex

The Vectrex is in no way the most popular console of all time, but it is one of the more unique. Eschewing typical raster-based rendering, it instead relies on a vector-based display. Since the average home television of the era would be completely unable to display such signals, the Vectrex had its screen built in. This got [Arcade Jason] wondering – would it be possible to hook the Vectrex up to a bigger screen?

First, a suitable monitor had to be found. The 19V2000 turned out to be a good candidate – much larger at 19 inches, and found in a variety of arcade cabinets from years past. From there, the project became a matter of identifying the signal outputs of the Vectrex. [Arcade Jason] took the liberty of modifying the levels of the signals on the Vectrex board itself, and then fixing the now-overscanned image on the original screen by adjusting the onboard trimpots. With the Vectrex’s X and Y signals now boosted somewhat, they were wired up to the inputs of the larger arcade screen. For the Z signal, things got even hackier – a Walmart “Computer Amplifier”, typically used for speakers, was instead pressed in to service to amplify the signal.

There are plenty of wires running all over the carpet in this video, but the fact is, it works brilliantly. Future plans involve upgrading to an even larger 23 inch monitor, and possibly even experiments with color vector displays. It just goes to show that the Vectrex, even today, maintains a die-hard following.

Perhaps you’d like to try this, but need to fix your original Vectrex screen first? Never fear – that’s possible, too.


32-Bit Processing For The Vectrex Arcade System

Alongside the Commodores, Ataris, Nintendos, and all the other game systems of the 80s, there was a single unique video game system that stood out from the pack. This was the Vectrex, a console with a built-in CRT meant to display vector graphics and only vector graphics. The video game crash of 1983 wasn’t kind to the Vectrex, but it still lives on with a reasonably popular homebrew scene. Still, these homebrew games are limited by the hardware itself. After thirty years, the Vectrex has an upgrade. The Vectrex32 is a coprocessor, designed for the Vectrex cartridge slot, that gives this ancient console better graphics and 32-bit capabilities.

There’s a whole site dedicated to this Vectrex add-on, and the hardware is pretty much what you would expect. There’s a fast PIC32 microcontroller on this cartridge, a USB port, and a dual-port memory chip that’s connected to the Vectrix’s native processor.

Since this add-on cartridge is effectively a computer itself,  the Vectrex32 can operate as a BASIC interpreter for the Vectrex. That’s something the original hardware couldn’t have done, and makes homebrew development much easier.

You can check out a few videos describing the functionality of the Vectrex32 below, along with a few gameplay videos of new homebrew games written specifically for the Vectrex.

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32C3: Vector Video Games

There are a few classic video games that rely on vector graphics and special monitors. Asteroids is incomplete if you’re not playing it in its original arcade format. The same goes with Tempest, Lunar Lander, and the 1983 Star Wars arcade game. Emulation of these games is possible, even with MAME, but the display – like every display you can buy today – is still rasterized. The solution to this problem is to create a vector display output for MAME that works in conjunction with adapter boards and DACs connected to a monitor.

For this year’s Chaos Computer Congress, that’s exactly what [Trammell Hudson] and [Adelle Lin] did. They’ve created an open source vector gaming system that connects MAME to XY monitors and oscilloscopes.

The build uses a custom board equipped with a Teensy 3.1 microcontroller and a 12-bit DAC to convert XY coordinates sent by MAME to vectors that can be displayed on any XY monitor. This, of course, requires a patch to MAME, which the maintainers rejected as being an, “unacceptably hacky way to achieve the intended result.” It does achieve the intended result, though: allowing dozens of vector games playable on whatever monitor supports vector graphics.

So far, [Trammell] and [Adelle] have gotten their system working on Vectrex consoles, analog oscilloscopes set to XY mode, and vectorscopes that litter every broadcast station and surplus shop. Check out [Trammell] and [Adelle]’s talk, and if you want to build the vector display driver, the board is available from OSHPark.

Replacing the CRT in a Vectrex

The Vectrex is a rare beast in the world of retro video games. Introduced in 1982, this was the only video game system to put a monitor right in the console, and it did so for good reason. This was a games system with vector graphics and rotating 3D objects, something that just couldn’t happen on the TV in the family room. A while ago, [John] dug his old Vectrex out of his basement and replaced a faulty logic board. The CRT was still broken, but with a little bit of research and a not-so-ugly kludge, he managed to replace the CRT in a Vectrex.

[John] found someone willing to part with an old CRT online, and after whipping out his credit card, the tube was on his way to his front door. This new tube wasn’t a direct drop in; The original Vectrex had small ears around the edges of the screen that served as mounting points. The new tube had no such ears. Now, a bit of plastic strapping holds the CRT in the chassis. It’s a bit of a kludge, but at least now [John] has a source of Vectrex CRTs.

While the rest of [John]’s repair work didn’t go as well – the Vectrex in question still has all the logic board problems it had when it was taken out of storage. This Vectrex does have a new CRT, and with a bit more work on rehabbing this old machine, it should keep on working for another thirty years.

Whenever you come cross an interesting CRT, make sure you snatch it up. Here’s another offering that uses a tiny screen for some classic MAME action.