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Inside Vectrex

by Robert Van den Heuvel

NOTE: The following are excerpts from an email I received from the author with the
intention that most of it be edited into a Vectrex article, for history's sake.


  I toured the Vectrex factory in Los Angeles as a kid and was given my choice of any cartridge as a souvenir, and like a dummy I chose Star Castle and not Dark Tower, which was operational at the time...It's amazing to see people still into this, especially the *programmers* out there like PCJohn. I admire these people very much...

   I'm not THAT much of an insider, although my Dad really was at the center of the action. I mean really! He went to Tiawan to supervise the injection molding of the Vectrex case and oversaw a manufacturing run of 400,000 units. We still know the man who ran the factory in Tiawan. His name is Fred Olte and he lives in the small country of Angorra....

   The guy in England [Keith Wilkins] has an ftp site with binary images. One of them is a fully playable Dark Tower...I think you must know this, right? It is as I remember when playing it at GCE. They let me roam everywhere. I had hand-labelled cartridges, a special version of Minestorm. I was "awarded" this cartridge because I passed, I believe, 89 levels on the first Minestorm. So what I was given was really Minestorm III or IIb; it had several hundred levels and I was assured I'd never "break" it...I and a friend had written in to GCE and claimed we "beat" their game, and my letter got read by Lee Chaden, I think.

   My father remembers a disc drive being considered for usage with Vectrex II. In fact, I possessed at one time perhaps the only Vectrex II floppy diskette -- a 3.0" Hitachi, not the 3.5" we see in existence today. At least this device was being considered for usage as a storage device. I threw this thing away some years ago; I am sure it is lost. But I still have some vectrex stuff left that we did not send to Greg Woodcock...Vectrex II never made a single prototype as far as we know, oh, there might have been one somewhere, but by that time my Dad had jumped ship. My Dad thinks it was all spread out on a table somewhere as a breadboarding project, never in a case or chassis or anything. My memory is probably now better than my Dad's on this. Oh, and the demo screen for the ROMs that were made for Vectrex II tests had the title "RV-DEMO" standing for raster-vector demo. They were going to put 2000-4000 characters on a screen, in vectors, and let you program the Vectrex in some subset of Logo or Basic, I cannot remember which language.

   But one thing I do know that was made was a 6" high mini-vectrex on the president's desk, for entertaining prospective business partners when they came to visit. I am told it cost a sheer fortune to build because of the size. It also wasn't shaped like a traditional Vectrex, but like a shoebox, with the details hidden from view...:) Vecto the Alien [from Passport magazine] looks an amazing amount like [the company president]. I am told it's not a coincidental resemblance.

   [Name omitted], the programmer used to snort whipped cream gas all night while programming. My Dad used to trip on the cans when coming in for work the next morning. There were cases of them all over the floor. GCE management apparently put up with this...

  I think I saw art for Tour de France, and I could swear that I saw the prototype running at GCE, flickering badly like all the complex games did at the time because of the sloppy programming and overloading happening to the CPU with all the lines being drawn. Just try Polar Rescue if you want to see some flicker. I at least overheard the talk about it being developed, with the marketing folks. OK, You really got me interested now. Here I go into the garage to see what I have left...

   Well, let's see. I still have a few hand-labelled cartridges from GCE before it was GCE, and some hand-made cartridges from GCE that were done before commercial releases of the products. These have assembly-language addresses written on them (programmers notes I guess). Then add maybe 20 cartridges, a lightpen, some original art for Dark Tower and Batter Up, and that's about it. Sniff. All else is gone. [ed.: In 1996 the rest was sent to Gregg Woodcock with the understanding that they would be dumped, scanned, or included in the Vectrex FAQ:

"Four Vectrex II prototype demo ROMs
Scans of: the front of a Minestorm II prototype cartridge
Special clear plastic light pen used for demos and trade shows
Official Vectrex console "publicity photo"
Official Vectrex 3D Imager "publicity photo"
The entire summer 1983 owners club magazine "Passport"
Promotional flyers sent to dealers
Low quality picures of 2 different point-of-purchase display units
Partial full color label art for Dark Tower and Batter Up (name/icons)


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