The original first-person driving arcade game took players on an endless race to nowhere in 1976. Speed was the only object of Night Driver from Atari, and the faster you went, the longer you played.
1976 video game graphics didn’t allow for much detail, but game designer Rob Fulop devised a clever solution: set the game at night.
On this lonely, winding highway, the only thing your car’s headlights illuminated were the white markers at the side of the road, warning you of the next bend. Not even the vehicle itself was animated, instead represented by a plastic overlay at the bottom of the screen.
The graphics may have been basic, but the controls were as realistic as any driving game of the next decade: steering wheel, gas pedal and a four-speed shifter.
Players shifted up through gears 1-4 as the engine’s whine let them know it was time. The higher the speed, the faster those tricky curves came flying at you, and a crash cost precious time and speed.
Three track selections were available – Novice, Pro and Expert – distinguished by the width and windiness of the road. Regardless of the track, the goal was the same: drive fast and don’t crash.
Players raced against a countdown timer, earning points based on the distance covered. At certain points, extra time was awarded, and the night drive went on.
Night Driver continued Atari’s tradition of innovation, introducing the first-person driving simulation to the video arcade. In 1977, the company released Night Driver as a sit-down cabinet, another small step on the road to a truly realistic driving game.