The Vectrex is weird. At first glance, it looks like a rather bad idea. A self-contained video game system that plays games only in black and white. If you wanted colour, you had to use the coloured translucent overlays that came with the games. When this came out in 1982, most people probably looked at it, shook their heads and said “like, totally wrong decade for this!”
Everything that the Vectrex displays is just an outline of something too. My guess is that a lot of people who saw this console in action thought it looked just plain stupid and didn’t give it much of a thought after that.
But there was actually a reason for the monochrome display and the outline drawing. Every other console that I’ve talked about (and I think every other home console ever released) uses raster graphics to display things on a TV screen. Some popular arcade games had used a different method called vector graphics.
Raster graphics games – especially early ones – had that blocky look that most people had gotten used to. But these vector graphics arcade games drew things on the screen that were smooth as could be, and scaling effects didn’t have to be handled by drawing different art for different sized sprites. Vector graphics can make things bigger or smaller on the fly.
The drawbacks of vector graphics in the early ’80s were that they only drew outline shapes, and they only drew in one colour. I guess it was inevitable that someone decided to make a home console based on this. The vector graphics also explain the built-in TV that the Vectrex has. Regular TV displays couldn’t handle vector graphics output properly.
I personally think that Vectrex games look goofy as hell. The company that brought the system to market later sold the Vectrex off to Milton Bradley, and they lost a ton of money when the 1983 crash occurred. The Vectrex still has fans today, for whatever reason, and many of the games available to play for the system are actually homebrews.
I only found one racing game for this odd-looking device.
Hyperchase Auto Race (1982)
This game came with an overlay to make things look… uh… more realistic I guess.
Okay, I guess you have green for the grass… and your car… and the other cars… and blue for everything above that. It’s so real, it’s like being there!
I’m having to use the MESS emulator on this again. There is a standalone Vectrex emulator, but it only works on DOS. I couldn’t even get it to work properly on my old Windows 98 computer. It’s a shame because from what I could tell, the emulator simulates each game’s overlay.
Well, back to MESS I go. And MESS works pretty good for Vectrex games. Remember that these are vector graphics emulated on a raster graphics system, so when you see “blockiness” in these screenshots, it wasn’t actually present on the original console.
Every Vectrex game starts like this, even the homebrews.
Minimalism is the word.
Alright. I can feel the adrenaline pumping!
So here is the glorious scene. My “car” – if that collection of lines can be called a car – is in the center of the road.
There is a timer up at the top-left, and a gear-shifting system too. Right now I’m in first gear. One good thing I can say about this game is that you can’t blow your engine by revving it up too much in one gear. There are four gears, and you need to cycle through them to properly accelerate. I don’t like this kind of racing game, so I’m already not enjoying this experience.
I’m sorry but I really don’t see how anyone thought vector graphics in this primitive state could have had any advantages over raster graphics. This “collision” animation looks like shit.
If you play this game, get used to seeing it. When you drive slow, cars will hit you from behind and crash into you. When you drive fast, cars will get in your way and you will hit them. And hitting the sides of the road is also instant flying triangle death.
Here you can see the road “turning”. Vector graphics in 1982 couldn’t do curves, only straight lines. So an approximation of turning was portrayed onscreen by shifting the vanishing point on the horizon.
And here’s where I begin my rant on the steering in this game. The steering in this game fucking sucks. It manages to do worse than fucking suck actually, it’s better to play the game without steering at all, and I’m not joking or kidding.
The steering controls are so twitchy and sensitive that when you attempt to steer, you will immediately fling your “car” as fast as you can into the side of the road and crash the fuck out.
You can sort of nudge the joystick over a little tiny bit, but there really isn’t any point. The threshold between a tiny nudge and full-tilt suicide blast to the side is so small that I couldn’t reliably find it.
And you know how most racing games will have some sort of realistic effect when the road curves and you don’t steer along with it? For instance, when the road curves left and you don’t steer, you will see the car onscreen going right until you compensate and steer left along with the curve in the road.
Well this fucking game works the opposite way. When that pseudo-turning effect shows up on the road, your car will veer off to the side that the road is “turning” to. Did any of this game’s programmers travel on an actual fucking road before they sat down to bash this garbage out?
Did they even play any racing games in the arcade? I’d bet that they could have learned a lot about how driving games like this are supposed to work by just watching one.
Oh, those transparent pine trees are just fucking charming, aren’t they?
At least the sound isn’t terrible. It’s actually not bad. The Vectrex had a decent sound chip.
Oh look, I crashed again.
I can’t tell what that stuff on the side of the road is supposed to be. Maybe I’m driving through that part of town that has random polygonal lines decorating it.
You get infinite cars in this game, so you can put up with crashing as many times as you want.
More transparent trees.
Even with the overlay, this game would look like rancid, festering ass.
And I can’t get over this… the road veers sharply to the right! Without steering, so do I!
And without steering it’s only natural that frequent triangular smashedness will occur.
Oh, look a tunnel. Visually stunning.
These graphics look like the kind of crap a five year old would draw. And they sold this console for hundreds of dollars.
We’re in the badlands now… I guess.
At least the visuals match the gameplay. Bad.
Well, that was the first time I ever made it to the end. And that’s also the last. What a fucking terrible game. I can’t believe they released this game. This is the worst racing video game I’ve ever played. I only wish that I had a physical cartridge so that I could destroy it. I guess I will have to settle for deleting the ROM image.
There. That feels good.
Don’t play this game. Forget you even heard about it.