As a child, Vince Lee was first exposed to video games after joining the Cub Scouts. On a field trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science, an interactive museum in Berkeley, he had the opportunity to play Star Trek and Lunar Lander, both text-based games played on a teletype which printed to rolls of yellow paper. Despite the primitive games on offer, the experience sparked Lee's interest in games. A few years later, his father assembled a Heathkit H-89 personal computer from a kit, the family's first computer. With little software available, Lee learned to program in BASIC and assembly language and began making games for it. At fifteen years old, he sold his first game.
Lee later attended college at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied his Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering for four years, before staying on for a year and a half to earn a Master's degree in robotics and control systems. He spent much of his time programming, including work for a number of Amiga software developers, though he considered it a hobby.
After leaving school, he was offered work at IBM and Exxon Production Research Houston, but turned both down to take a job as a programmer for Lucasfilm Games which he started in Spring 1991. Lee's early work involved developing tools on the personal computer and converting SCUMM adventure games to the Amiga and Sega CD. He started developing image compression technology in January 1992, and the technology eventually earned him the position of project leader on Star Wars: Rebel Assault.