A rebuild project for the Vectrex

It’s been some time again that I manage to find time and energy in the later evening hours to write here on the blog about one of my little projects. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to podcasts during car rides and at night. These primarily include podcasts on technical topics. Among them is a podcast called “Retrokompott” which is about home computers and technology from our youth. Their tagline is:

Retrokompott, eine Zeitreise in die Vergangenheit alter Homecomputer, Spielekonsolen und Games


In one of the contributions of Retrokompott one discussed for some episodes (172-177) about the Vectrex, the home – vector game machine of MBE. Among other things, homebrew projects, i.e. software developments of the users, were presented.  “Vectorblade” is a game title, which was developed by Malban [http://vide.malban.de/]. The project was created with the Vectrexcompiler (vide), also developed by Malban. The sources are publicly available on the website. In the “compote” article, people were so enthusiastic about Vectorblade that my interest was piqued. The game module was also available for purchase through Malban for a while. However, I have not found a source through which I can easily purchase the module. So I thought, I’ll just rebuild it for myself. The special thing about this gamerom is the size of the game. It has 192 kB. To address this memory, Malban used bank switching technology. He uses a flash memory from SST, the SST39SF020, in his design. The bank switching is controlled by a quad 2-input NAND Schmitt trigger (74AC132). Malban has published on git the layout. There he uses the memory in the DIL package and also the AC132. Detailed instructions can be found here.

Since I still have some boards left over from my old homebuilt Rom module project, I was able to quickly put together a test setup.  I didn’t have any flash memory available – but a sufficiently large EPROM. The video compiler and the source files are also published on Malban’s GIT. After a short study of his vide-compiler I managed to compile the project and create a ROM – file. With my “Far East Programmer” I could then “burn” the EPROM.  With a few wire bridges and an AC132, my old ROM board project then became the Vectorblade experimental setup.

Vectorblade test setup

With the exception that no settings can be saved, the test setup works and the game can be played :). The next step of the rebuild was to draw the PCB. Here I wanted to build in the Schmitt-Trigger device in SMD design and the SST still in DIL. I also realized this design and tested it successfully. But there is a little catch – none of my suppliers has the SST39SF020 flash memory in DIL design in stock. I have now some boards with DIL – layout but no chips… So once again to the PC and redraw the design on PLCC socket. Thought – done and ordered a set of boards from the Far East producer.

A suitable case can be created with the 3D printer itself. To be more precise, I found what I was looking for on Thingiverse and was able to choose from a variety of suitable designs.

The overlay is missing, but the game is fun even without it. Malban has managed to create a great game here.

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