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How Vectrex Regeneration Emulates that Classic Vector Look

By Wesley Fenlon

Emulation brings the long forgotten Vectrex to a new audience.

Chalk up another cool gaming project to the inspirational iCade, a simple little desk top arcade cabinet shell for Apple's iPad. In October a pair of designers and old school game fans launched the Picade, a similar miniature shell for the open source Raspberry Pi. Now another creative game fan has looked at the iCade and found some inspiration, with Apple's iPad the center of attention.

Anton Faulconbridge, the managing director of Rantmedia and Rantmedia Games, saw the iCade and noticed an uncanny resemblance to the Vectrex console released in 1983. And where video game nostalgia strikes, emulation soon follows.

While other systems like the Atari 2600 were bringing ports (usually bad ports) of arcade games to home televisions in the late 70s and early 80s, the Vectrex included a small monitor of its own. The key to the system was its vector CRT display, which was great at displaying sharp line graphics--think the classic Star Wars arcade game or Asteroids--rather than the raster graphics common to many other games. The system was a failure, which has actually cleared up some of the issues that typically cloud emulation (the Vectrex entered public domain in the 1990s).

Rantmedia Games released Vectrex Regeneration for iOS last week, with a $7 in-app purchase unlocking a library of 18 classic Vectrex games and four indie titles developed decades later. Faulconbridge talked to Ars Technica about the challenges of emulating the console, but noted that the iPad's high resolution display comes powerfully close to matching the sharp vector lines of the original system.

Emulating the old console required replicating the charm and feel of analog, from the flicker of an electron beam drawing out a screen's worth of line graphics to the audible hum of the old hardware. Both are built into the emulator (though the noise is an option, and off by default). Also in-place: borders that wrap around the edges of the games. Those were easier to implement digitally than they were in their original form--back in 1983, you had to peel off one overlay and stick another one to the CRT's bezel if you wanted the right colorful border to go with your game.

Vectrex Regeneration is free in the app store and comes with a couple classics to get you started. Rantmedia Games plans to add more (including some of the homebrew games developed long after the Vectrex's demise) going forward.