The Game: You’re racing the Formula One circuit by the glow of your headlights alone – avoid the markers along the side of the road and other passing obstacles…if you can see them in time. (Atari, 1976)
Memories: Aside from the very cool cockpit cabinet of the sit-down version of Night Driver, there’s a reason why it earns a spot in video game history. Go ahead and see if you can guess what it is. Give up? It’s the first time that a representation of depth appeared in the graphics of a video game. Until this point, home and arcade video games had presented their playing fields as strictly two-dimensional spaces: they were seen from straight overhead, or from a side-on view.
This really didn’t affect how the game was played, mind you – it still adhered to the same dodge-everything play mechanics of an overhead-view driving game like Monaco GP, but as improbable as it seems in hindsight, this was the first step on the road to Pole Position. To Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom. To Zaxxon. To Ridge Racer. And everything that has followed.
Rob Fulop, one of the three designers who originally programmed the game for a small outfit called Micronetics before being hired away by Atari itself, later went on to program the Atari VCS version of Night Driver. Fulop also coded home versions of – among other things – Missile Command, whose bestselling status was rewarded by the receipt of a certificate good for a free grocery store turkey, though Atari grossed millions on the cartridge. Perhaps not surprisingly, Fulop packed his bags and later went to work for Imagic.