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First Person Games...
Some Thoughts About Control...

by Rob Mitchell

There are currently five Vectrex games which fall into the category of "first person" games ... this means that the screen is a window and you are looking through it to see the playfield. These games are:

1. Polar Rescue (1983)
2. Star Trek (1983)
3. Star Fire Spirits (1999)
4. Star Hawk (1983
5. New Trek (1983, 1999)

But where they all have a similar perspective, gameplay control is quite different and I want to address this.


Standard control for flying machines was established by the Wright Brothers who patented their ideas. On their flyers a lever is used to control the elevators which control up and down pitch motion. When the lever is pushed forward the flyer dives and when pulled back the motion is to climb. I've seen this for myself while examining Wright flyer #3 in a museum in Dayton, Ohio. The original flyer located in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC is suspended from the ceiling and too far to examine in detail. I'll take my binoculars next time I go there.

My first video encounter with this type of control was with the game, Star Ship also called Outer Space (1977), for the Atari 2600. And even though the graphics were bad and the gameplay was simplistic, I mastered this control.  This paid off when I later acquired Star Raiders for the Atari 800 8-bit computer (1979).

So when playing the Vectrex game, Polar Rescue (1983), which is available on the Multicart, the control is quite natural for me because pushing up on the lever puts the sub into a dive and pulling back on the stick makes a climb.  But the control for the Vectrex Star Trek game (1983) is backwards: Forward is up and back is down. This is entirely wrong and thus this game has always been unplayable for me. The Star Hawk (1983) game has exactly the same control problem too.

So when I posted this article on, John Dondzila came to the rescue and proposed a simple fix for Star Trek: go into the binary of Star Trek and flip the Y value of the joystick. The result is NEWTREK.BIN which has the control in the proper stick forward is dive and back is climb.

The final game in this discussion is unique ... The newly released Star Fire Spirits (1999) which is found on John Dondzila's Vecmania cart has an option which permits the proper forward (dive) & back (climb) activated by pressing button 1 during the opening screen. Otherwise by not choosing this option, the control is forward (up), back (down). This other control is also useful when using a digital trakball and very playable.

So how may control be changed for the existing Star Trek and Star Hawk games ... or how can control be reversed for the Polar Rescue one?

Solution #1

Well, I don't think anyone wants to open and modify their existing controllers ... but if you have built Jay Tilton's Digital to Analog interface circuit for the Vectrex and are using an Atari compatible stick, you can add a small adapter or DPDT switch to reverse two wires to make this work. What you would do is switch the wires that connect pins 1 & 2 which control up and down motion.

I have purchased the individual parts to make this small adapter but you can buy Radio Shack item #26-264 which includes all the components: casing, wiring and the Male/Female DB9 connectors. Then wire pins 3,4,6 & 8 straight through and cross pins 1 & 2. Pins 5,7 & 9 would have no connection.

Or instead add a DPDT (double pole double throw) switch to Jay Tilton's circuit and wire it to cross those two wires ...

Alternatively, you can do the same thing by opening up an Atari stick and reversing the White wire (pin 1) with the Blue one (Pin 2). All the other wires would be kept the same.

Solution #2

If you are using Brian Holscher's Digital -> Analog circuit, then you would use a DPDT switch to reverse the +5v and -5v leads to the vertical circuit.

Solution #3

Ask Mark Shaker to put NEWTREK into an EPROM and mount inside your existing Star Trek cart or make a new cart housing. NEWTREK.BIN is available on Spike's Big Vectrex Page as well as John Dondzilla's site:


So now I can play Vectrex Star Trek and Star Hawk like I'm used to playing all the other first person games and I'm _finally_ enjoying its gameplay and getting higher scores!

Rob Mitchell, Atlanta, GA aka solder_guy

Thanks to John Dondzila, Mark Shaker and Chris Tumler for comments related to
this article.


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