Vectrex - The first Cartridge Gaming System with a Built-in Monitor

Written by Graham W Wöbcke

The very first home video games system I experienced was not an Atari 2600 or an Intellivision - it was the very special Milton Bradley Vectrex System which was released in 1983 in Australia. This unit did not have a large duration of production time - almost 2 years only from mid 1982 until early 1984. After the 1983 video game crash and some failed prototype attempts to develop new peripherals and upgrade the systems, Hasbro who took control of the Vectrex during 1984 soon set it out to pasture.

The Vectrex Gaming System

Vectrex System Hardware Specification

The system was powered by a Motorola 68A09 chip running at 1.6Mhz and inside there was also 1KB of RAM (that is no typo, 1 kilobyte) and a 8KB ROM (4KB of the ROM was taken up by the built-in game Mine Storm). All software was 8KB cartridge based and it had a 9"x11" black and white monitor as part of the all in one unit, meaning that it did not connect directly into the TV's directly via the aerial socket. Available on the front were two inputs which could be connected to a 4-button analog self-centering joysticks or a light pen - and the case was unique as it gave one joystick the ability to neatly snap into the case for easy storage.

All of the games are vector graphics based and with a black and white screen, to achieve colours you needed to place a coloured overlay in front of the monitor and clip it inside the notches in front of the screen. The nice thing about the overlays is that they also tell you what actions each of the four buttons performs in that game. Now taking these specs into consideration, I feel that the programming feats to make these games is quite amazing.

The Vectrex Gaming System - Complete in Box

Vectrex Games

There were only 28 officially released games for the Vectrex system between 1982 and 1984. Some of these games were quite hard to get hold of in Australia at the time and some where not released here at all. A fairly healthy homebrew game community exists and titles were released from around 1996 and are still being released currently. This quite possibly makes the Vectrex the easiest - due to the number of official games - yet also hardest system - due to some titles being extremely rare - to obtain a complete collection for. Be sure to take a look at my Six of the Best Vectrex Games to see the ones I enjoyed the most.

Vectrex Game Boxes and the Original MineStorm Overlay

Vectrex Today

Today you will find working units and cartridges on ebay and other retro gaming goldmines if you are keen to experience this device first hand. There is also a fairly active homebrew game community and you can get these games on cartridges via various enthusiast groups. If you prefer to check this out via emulation, your best bet is to try it via MESS for a Windows based PC. There are also other emulation options available for Mac and other devices.

Links to More Vectrex Information