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Night Driver is an arcade game developed by Atari Inc for release in the United States in October 1976. Night Driver is one of the earliest first-person racing video games and is commonly believed to be one of the first published video games to display real-time first-person graphics.
|Designer(s)||Dave Shepperd s/w|
Terry Fowler (hardware)
Atari 2600, Commodore 64
|Arcade system||CPU: M6502 (@ 1.008 MHz), Sound Chips : Discrete (@ 1.008 MHz)|
The player controls a car which must be driven along a road at nighttime without crashing into the sides of the road as indicated by road side reflectors. The game is controlled with a single pedal for the accelerator, a wheel for steering and a four-selection lever for gear shifting. The coin-operated game had a choice of three difficulties (novice, pro and expert), which the player could select at game start. The turns were sharper and more frequent on the more difficult tracks. As play progresses, the road gets narrower and more winding.
The game length could be set by the owner to 50, 75, 100 or 125 seconds. After 300 points, a player is awarded bonus time equal to game time, but the score wraps around back to zero at 1000 points, so it is possible to reach 300 points more than once. Due to the additional points received for more difficult play, playing on the expert setting is actually the easiest to achieve extra time once a player has mastered the game.
The car the player is driving is not actually drawn on-screen. Instead, the car is a printed plastic insert that is laid under the screen. Also, the fact that the car is driving at night made it easier for the programmers to draw the environment with limited graphics at the time, as most features (street, buildings...) didn't need to be drawn because they were supposedly completely dark.
When he began working on video games, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell had originally planned to develop a driving video game inspired by Speedway (1969), a first-person driving electro-mechanical game manufactured by Chicago Coin, in turn a licensed version of Kasco's Indy 500 (1968). However, Bushnell had concerns that a driving video game might be too complicated for Al Alcorn's first game, so they instead decided to develop a simpler game, Pong (1972). Night Driver has similarities to arcade driving electro-mechanical games, which had a scrolling road rather than a fixed view.
The development of Night Driver was led by Dave Shepperd, who was initially given an assignment from Atari to develop a first-person driving video game. Shepperd stated he "was given a piece of paper with a picture of a game cabinet that had a small portion of the screen visible" which he recalls being possibly "a German game" but "never saw the game play" other than "that there were a few little white squares showing." Shepperd used that concept to develop Night Driver. While he did not know the title of the German game at the time, it was later identified as the coin-op Nürburgring 1, a first-person driving video game released earlier in 1976. Atari used some of the leftover arcade cabinets from Hi-way (1975), a top-down vertical scrolling racing game, for Night Driver.
The arcade game began production in October 1976. Atari demonstrated the game at the AMOA show in November 1976, where it was one of several driving games demonstrated by Atari along with Sprint 2 and Namco's electro-mechanical F-1; the most talked-about driving game at the show was F-1. Night Driver also drew comparisons to Midway Manufacturing's Midnight Racer (later re-branded Datsun 280 ZZZAP) at the same show and an earlier German night driving video game (Nürburgring 1) demonstrated at the German IMA show in Spring 1976.
Atari released a port for the Atari VCS (Atari 2600) in 1980. It was programmed by Rob Fulop, who added color and additional features such as additional vehicles the player must avoid, as well as showing houses and trees along the sides of the road. The player pushes the fire button to accelerate the car forward and uses the paddle to steer the vehicle. It is not possible to shift gears in this version. The game offers eight variations. Some are timed and the player tries to score as much as they can in 90 seconds.
Commodore published a version for the Commodore 64 in 1982.
In the United States, according to Play Meter magazine, Night Driver was the sixth highest-earning arcade video game of 1977. According to RePlay magazine, it was the seventh highest-earning arcade video game of 1977. Play Meter later listed it as the ninth highest-grossing arcade game of 1978, and the eleventh highest arcade video game of 1979.
The Atari VCS version sold 161,352 copies in 1980, becoming one of the top five best-selling Atari VCS games that year, and went on to sell over 1.9 million copies by 1983. Video Games Player magazine reviewed the Atari VCS version, rating the graphics and sound a B, while giving the game an overall A− rating.
Two other first-person racing games were released shortly afterwards: Midway's Midnight Racer in November 1976 (later branded as Datsun 280 ZZZAP in March 1977) and Micronetics' Night Racer in March 1977.
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