What a Wonder is a Terrible Monitor

Jason Scott writes:

I asked a bunch of teenagers what most surprised them at the MAGFest pop-up arcade, where dozens of games of all stripe were right there ready to be played. To a person, it was one thing:

The vector monitor on Asteroids.

If you see Asteroids online, the "screen" probably looks like this:

That is, it's a JPEG or PNG or whatever, with the source likely being an emulator of some sort. So everything is crisp, and rasterized, and generated as if were a screen map, that is, from the assumption that it's a raster screen. Playing the emulator itself is similar -- there it is on your recently-vintaged flatscreen, perfectly sharp, definitely of the modern desktop era.

When you see it in the arcade, an original Asteroids machine screen looks kind of like this:

The vector lines, which are created by aiming a beam DIRECTLY AT YOUR EYES only to be stopped by a coated piece of glass, have a completely different feel. The phosphor glows, the shots look like small stars floating across the glass, and a raster line is not to be seen. It's an entirely different experience, and the teenagers at MAGfest had never seen it before, and unfortunately, it is well on its way out.

I am very glad to hear about HSLMAME and that the MAME folks are finally starting to take monitor-hardware-emulation seriously!

There are some interesting links in the comments over there, too.


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13 Responses:

  1. Jan Kujawa says:

    You can actually build a vector display out of an oscilloscope relatively easily.

    This looks better on an analog scope, naturally.

        • jwz says:

          Needs more Funk Theremin.

        • Riman says:

          90 NeoGeo games Hummmmmmm can you first tell me the Name of the NEOGEO bios file name and size? List 3 games you are trying to get to load list their file names and sizes. You are not Unzipping the roms are you? Have you goettn any games to load?EDIT :::Are you using roms that are for use with MAME?Look here:your bios file should be neogeo.zip and be (853KB)Get over (series) what game. And give the rom name for each game. ( I'm doing this to be an a$$ but many games have to have additional files and the only way I am going to help is to have the information I want.)Fatal Fury could be any of 6 romsDouble Dragon could be any of 18Metal Slug could be any of 12 romsKing of Fighters could be any of over 15Let me readdress Double Dragon, You need the Japanese version to play many other versions of it. WHY? Because it is an ORIGINAL file and the others are BOOTLEG or CLONES.

  2. Nrmrvrk says:

    Fuck Asteroids with it's all-button controls. Tempest was the height of Vector technology.

  3. Jeremy Wilson says:

    This reminds me, I need to install the cap kit on my Tempest.

  4. J. Peterson says:

    One of the most wonderful displays I've seen is the Evans & Sutherland PS300. It was a vector display for 3D CAD graphics able to handle orders of magnitude more lines than the Asteroids display with great precision. The lines were depth-cued...fading to black as they receded in the distance. This was early-80's tech, eventually put to rest by raster displays and SGI boxes (color! shading!).
    Unfortunately I don't think a working PS300 survives. Like the asteroids game, it has to be seen live to be appreciated.

  5. DaveL says:

    Way back in the day I used to port video games (for fun) to the Imlac PDS-1 (PDP-9 ripoff with cycle-stealing graphics processor) and write a few too. A fan of the Imlac once said, "It looks like every character was hand-carved on the screen."

    Two other fun things about the Imlac:

    1. The first ones shipped didn't have clipping on the deflection amp inputs, so if you had a bug in your code you could throw the beam so far off screen the amps would burn out.

    2. The cycle-stealing meant that the more vectors you had on the screen, the more flash and waviness you had. Designing an Imlac font was a race between the cycle-stealer and the readability of your fewer-than-beautiful vector characters. Same problem with trying to approximate a curve.

    Good times.

  6. Doc says:

    I used to work for both vectorbeam and Cinematronics, inc...back in the day. That's wht developed out of tge garage-developed Asteroids.

    Prior experience? Codsing biorythms on front-loading bianry machines in the late 70s; writing Star trek games for PolyMorphics 8080 'ain't got no memory nor no hhd nor no nuthin' in A Basic and loadin' 'em up from casstette tapes.

    Some days I miss my youth...

  7. wkrick says:

    There is no separate "HLSLMAME" emulator. There were some test versions to work out the bugs, and then the HLSL code was quickly integrated into baseline MAME back in 2011. Unfortunately, HLSL support in MAME doesn't really do much for vector games at the moment. There has been some talk from one of the devs about rewriting the vector display code within MAME to do HLSL post processing, but that hasn't happened yet. There's another vector-only emulator called AAE that some people like, that may fill the void until the MAME team does their thing. It's discussed in this thread and HLSL in MAME is discussed as well... http://www.mameworld.info/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Number=253918

  8. gmontag says:

    Vector MAME


    Sold out and DOS only, but friggin' sweet. I have this plus a bunch of Atari Vectors in the basement and the neighborhood 5-10 year olds are mesmerized by them. That came out sounding weird...