Quick Start Guide
Initializing the volume
Note: the volume of the vf is already initialized and setup so you can skip to the ‘how to use’ topic if you don’t want/have to setup from scratch.
The VF mounts the first volume on its media supporting FAT16/FAT32/ExFAT volumes using the MBR or GUID partitioning scheme (ExFAT & GUID added as of v2.26). All system and Vectrex data needs to be on this volume.
So formatting using, say, FAT32 and MBR (Master Boot Record), is all that is needed at first – the name of the volume is irrelevant. Then download the latest firmware package and update the firmware:
Installing the system data and updating the firmware
The VF system conceptually consists of not only the firmware but the firmware also manages a set of applications. All that data is put in one folder named ‘System’ on the root of the volume.
So a firmware update .zip file includes besides the actual firmware updater, which is started manually via the vf file browser, also esp. the latest snapshot of this set of native applications (e.g. ported games or emulators) and their corresponding text files compiled against this firmware. Frequently older applications work on newer firmware (if not you’ll see an error message) but they might be improved in more subtle ways – e.g. bug fixes, text changes, options added.
So it is advisable to just copy over the entire ‘System’ folder to the root of the vf volume not only when installing the system the very first time but generally whenever you update a firmware (by replacing previous files but keeping everything in /System/Data), copy the firmware update binary onto the volume (anywhere but inside the System folder) and then start the updater using the Vectrex file browser (via button 4:).
The firmware update process itself uses three stages: first the entire firmware is loaded, verified and checked against the current firmware. If valid, new enough for a given vf hw rev. and different than the current one the firmware is copied into a secondary area first and checked one last time. If still everything checks out and only then can it be finally flashed to the device.
How to use
The VF deliberately has multiple usage scenarios so here only the most used are explained: setting up the system, the system applications and the things native to the Vectrex plus the basic idea behind the setup.
Copying data onto the volume via USB
A VF when powered up by a computer via USB pretends to be a USB-Disk and you can copy over whatever you like. Hooking it up at the same time to a computer and the Vectrex -esp. also both powered up- is not only safe but the normal setup for development where the computer uploads data to immediately be tested. When the USB volume is ejected by the computer the LED will switch to ‘blue’ and the system starts the vectrex multicart. to use the new data immediately.
April 2021 Note: some Windows scenarios – like the Windows 10 start bar ‘eject’ do to not send the ‘eject’ command to the device. Puzzling since the right-click ‘eject’ does in Windows 10 – macOS, which I use, always does afaik. So when ejecting w/o seeing a ‘blue’ led please wait at least a few seconds before unplugging because there are caching mechanisms in the VF (and likely the OS) which might end in data corruption.
Navigating the menu system
Conceptually the menu system pages are split into three parts: options, main page and the file browser. Button 4: selects/enters/starts something, Button 1: exits/cancels and (by default) switches between main page and options page. And the joystick is used to navigate the list of entries of a given page – up/down slowly and right/left jumps around faster, if enough entries are present. Button 3: is used to enter game/app. specific pages: esp. entering options of apps and showing the high score table of patched Vectrex games.
So… to use it as a Vectrex multicart. anything can be copied onto the volume and started via the file browser (except for the /System folder which is hidden). To do this you navigate either to a game on the main page or to a file copied onto the volume using the joystick and button 4: to enter a directory. And also 4: to start. The loading mechanism then will try to figure out what type of data is being loaded -there are multiple Vectrex cart. hw. variants – and pretend to be them, if something somewhat reasonable is found (there are specific header bytes w/o also a stock Vectrex won’t start a given cart.) the cart. hardware is created virtually and the Vectrex then starts this cart. data. During this Vectrex mode the reset button is tracked and upon pressing it the menu becomes active again.
Running native applications is in principle the same – they can be started via the file browser and exit via reset button. However, the emulators need to load additional romset data which is loaded from /Systems/Data/ and not provided. The emulators always try to load a .zip file first, testing for specific size/checksums first and if unsuccessful try to load everything needed uncompressed from a subfolder. All filenames, sizes and checksums needed by every emulator are documented in the ‘md5_info.txt’ file which is part of a firmware zip.
As an example Asteroids (rev4) expects a zip of 7264 bytes with an md5 checksum of 16BDD4303CF3C49236766BC4D140720C and if not valid/present loads the data – four romdumps of 2048 bytes each- from the subfolder /System/Data/ASTEROID/ (md5 file name file size) :
- E6C34B639FE16DEFF0F951BE63076812 ASTEROID/035127-02.NP3 2048
- DD35AEF4A17C271151413CBB0893B550 ASTEROID/035143-02.J2 2048
- 50ED38773B3FAD07605677740FBE67C7 ASTEROID/035144-04E.H2 2048
- 3E324D9B1DE7B9B3402C888889A7B40A ASTEROID/035145-04E.EF2 2048
The easiest way to find these roms is by googling ‘MAME <romname.zip>’ since the VF uses the naming scheme (and in most cases zip files) of the latest MAME version. If the size/md5 are correct just copy them into /System/Data/ but if not unzip the rom file and check the file names: if the same they are most likely of the current version (MAME has evolved over the years and with it the expected rom names and data). In that case just copy the unzipped folder into /System/Data/. In rare cases there exist romfiles of same name but different data: for example the Lunar Lander language rom was updated/redumped ‘recently’ but the filename not updated. And for a few things which are not supported by MAME, e.g. Vector Breakout, you have to find the roms yourself, likely rename them, and put them in the expected folder.
Calibrating for a given Vectrex
Every Vectrex has unique graphics output so to maximize the visual output several calibration parameters have to be specified. Since this is a bit intricate to do, esp. the very first time, a ‘setup assistant’ guides through this process the very first time a VecFever is started in a Vectrex. All these calibration parameters can also be changed afterwards manually, the ‘video’ options.
Holding both buttons 1: and 3: for 10 seconds anywhere in the menu will force it to reset the menu options and start with the setup assistant again. This does only affect the menu and not delete other stored data – like options and high scores of the games.