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What is a Vector Game?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A vector game is a type of video game that makes use of a special vector graphics display, rather than a more common raster display. The way that the graphics are generated and the method that they are drawn on a display are the main differentiating factors between vector games and other video games. Vector graphics were popular in early arcade games, as they were often more detailed than the blocky, pixelated graphics present in raster based games of the time. There was also a brief period when vector game systems were available for home use. A number of modern games, especially Flash® based games, use vector graphics, though they are not displayed on vector graphics displays and are unlikely to be considered true vector games.

Vector graphics offered both benefits and drawbacks when compared to raster graphics of the same time period. Many vector games offered more detailed graphics when compared to pixel based raster games rendered by similarly powered hardware. Most vector graphics displays were monochrome, however, and raster graphics could display a number of colors. Some vector game arcade cabinets had colorful overlays on the monitors to make up for this. The overlays could represent static scenes in a detailed fashion, while the vector game rendered moving characters and other things in more detail than many raster games.

Other vector games made use of special displays that could render a handful of different colors. While the electron beam itself was typically capable of only displaying a single color, certain displays had two layers of phosphor that could be illuminated together or separately, depending on the the power of the beam. This left the inability of a vector display's electron beam to create complex text, or a very large number of vectors at one time, as the only major drawbacks of the format.

Most home video game systems have used raster graphics and hooked up directly to consumer televisions. Vector games have made an appearance in home systems as well. These vector game systems typically had dedicated monitors to display their graphics. While a special cathode ray tube (CRT) is not necessary to display vector graphics, different control circuits are required to draw vectors rather than the scan lines typical of television sets.

Vector graphics are images that are created from geometrical primitives rather than bitmaps. Modern vector graphics may differ considerably in appearance from early video games, though the concept is the same. While no vector graphics display is involved, many modern games use vector images instead of bitmaps. Vector graphics are commonly found in Flash® games, and may be easily identified by the fact that vectors can be scaled up or down in size without any pixelation.

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Discussion Comments
By Markerrag — On Jan 26, 2014

For those looking for examples of vector games, think back to the arcade era. Games like "Asteroids," "Battlezone" and "Tempest" were simply striking with their high-resolution, wire-frame graphics. They looked like nothing else out there, in fact, and that gained them a lot of attention.

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