Atari’s Night Driver Taught me How to Drive at Night

Night-Driver

One of the greatest games on the Atari 2600 is Night Driver. Why? Because it taught me how to drive at night. When I drive down the highway in the middle of the night, I know that I should stay in between the dashed lines and not smash into oncoming traffic. This is a valuable lesson for anyone who wishes to get behind the wheel of an automobile in the middle of the night.

Seriously, there is never a time when I’m not driving at night when I don’t think of Night Driver. I played this game so much as a kid that it’s sick. I loved Night Driver, because it was one of the few games that featured really fast action (at the time) and it used the paddle controllers. I loved paddle controller games, the control was so much more precise than the joystick. It was the closest thing there was to getting behind the wheel of a car at home.

One thing that Atari did really well was provide some amazing box/cartridge art. With the lack of sophisticated graphics, the box art was usually what really fired my imagination as I played Atari games. A great example of this was the box art for Yars Revenge. Night Driver too had great art. There’s all these cars and a setting sun. These steely men in their high performance cars are just heading into the dangerous night for some high stakes Night Driving! The guy in the racing helmet always intrigued me. Why was he Night Driving? Was he racing to win his lady’s favor? Perhaps he owned money to some dangerous individuals. Or just maybe he was an unwitting pawn in a much larger game. Regardless, he was determined to win no matter what the cost.

Night-Driver-Cover

Night Driver was also an arcade game, which obviously featured better graphics. I never played it though. I think it’s because when it came out in 1976 I hadn’t been born. By the time I could play games in the arcades it was long gone. The arcade game is notable because it featured two versions, a stand up and a sit down that both sported steering wheels, gas peddles, and a stick shift. What’s funny is that the car wasn’t even rendered in the arcade game. It was basically a plastic insert.

One last thought on Night Driver. I specifically remember the moment when I realized that it was not the car that was moving, rather it was the road that moved past my car. I was really young at the time and it was a strange Zen like moment for me.

RobotsPajamas

The man behind Robot's Pajamas is Vincent. Full time worker drone, part time layabout. He runs the Robot's Pajamas a pop culture/humor blog.

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17 thoughts on “Atari’s Night Driver Taught me How to Drive at Night

  1. blinddog says:

    One of my favorites too. I played it in the arcade and on the atari 2600 quite a bit. When I was a kid about 83 or 84 they were selling a sitdown model for I believe $125 at the mall arcade. I tried so hard to talk my parents into buying it for me but it didn’t happen. I do own one now though. http://tinyurl.com/oea433u

  2. GammaDev says:

    ” which obviously featured better graphics” Surprisingly, that’s not the case. The arcade is a simple black-and-white game and doesn’t have a few extras that the home version has. The arcade game just has the road markers, while the home version has roadside graphics (houses and trees) and the oncoming cars that honk at you.

  3. Thanks for the good feedback. The Atari cartridge art really did fire up my imagination. Demons to Diamonds is another one. Maybe I’ll do some follow up posts.

    @Daniel XIII love it. I smell a Night Driver book in your future.

    @blinddog wow that’s cool. Congrats on getting one!

  4. Chris Ayers says:

    GREAT post! I used to play the stand-up ND at my local amusement park’s arcade and was a little miffed to find the car was simply a decal at the bottom of the screen! It was still fun to play, though. After digesting your motives of the driver, I imagine him getting bored with night driving and graduates to Battle Zone, where he drives a tank toward the unreachable horizon for all eternity.

  5. Max Power says:

    There was an arcade near me (northern NJ) that had a special room for birthday parties. Rather than tokens, you had unlimited use of the room for a couple hours. The downside was that they never put the current games in that room.
    In the early 1980s, a sit-down Night Driver was in that party room. I developed a love for the game that lasts to today thanks to birthday parties there.

  6. @Patrick And while the sun still beckoned like a childhood sweetheart dancing through the rainbow hued memories of a life now shattered into a kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria, not unlike carnival glass kissed by a ball peen hammer, the moonless midnight of the serpentine road ahead beckoned to him like a jet black siren ready to lure him ever on to his inevitable destruction when steel beasts collide like lovers in the dark…

  7. @Daniel

    As the neon lights of the city painted glowing parallel lines across the face of his helmet, the Night Driver had only one thought in his head which played over and over like a VHS tape on an endless loop.

    The Retroist took away the one thing he loved. And he would make him pay.

  8. @Patrick The Retroist sat in his mansion high above the lights of the city that twinkled and shone like the stars of a thousand galaxies. Bathed in only the blue glow of a hundred cathode ray tubes, The Retroist was motionless save for the smile that spread across his face as a preternatural notion played across the now open third eye that sat nestled within a cruel gash upon his furrowed brow. “He’s coming.” he spat as he rose from his throne.

  9. @daniel

    The Retroist leaped from his throne. He pulled aside a twelve foot high Different Strokes tapestry that hung from the ceiling, revealing a giant vault buried in the wall. Like a crazed sea captain, he spun the knob on the vault door and pulled it open. A gush of cold wind escaped with a resounding whoosh. The Retroist stepped inside and flipped on the lights.

    Stacked high on an eternity of shelves were game cartridges from different systems — Colecovision, Bally Astrocade, Odyssey 2 and other long dead consoles. Frantic, he tore out cartridge after cartridge, looking at each title then discarding them aside. He was searching.

    Then he saw it. A tattered box high up on the top shelf. He climbed up and yanked the box off, spilling out its contents all over the floor. Hundreds of the same Atari Cartridge.

    E.T.

    The Retroist closed his eyes, waved his hand over the pile of E.T. games and mumbled an ancient incantation.

    10 RUN E.T.
    20 GOTO 1o

    Suddenly, the cartridges jumped to life, sprouting arms and legs. Like newborn cubs, they scuttled in place, making sense of their new life. The Retroist stood over them.

    “Bring me Night Driver.”

    The molded plastic army self organized into lines, then reared up and RAN out the vault. Quickly crawling across the floor of the mansion to the front door. Then, a few of them climbed up on each other to reach the handle. They threw open the door and whisked away into the night.

  10. @Patrick Night Driver’s heart beat in perfect sync with the growling engine that pumped the synthetic ichor that brought the 2 tons of Detroit steel to biomechanical life. Onward he sped as the view beyond the smoke tinted windscreen turned to an expressionistic blur that merely hinted at the world inhabited by those who’s every breath was not drawn for pure vengeance like his own. Deftly he guided his machine between rows of cars that seemed to stand still.
    Then, far in the distance, he sensed a movement so outre that it could scarce be described. At first he mistook it for a large group of rats, perhaps diseased as they moved bobbed and weaved forward with no discernible purpose, but that thought was short lived as the small army exploded forth. As the living tidal wave pressed forward he could see the throng was comprised of square, plastic homunculi each emblazoned with an image of a boy and what could be a sentient eggplant mated with a bean bag chair.
    Night Driver threw his car into a violent slide that sent the beasts scattering to the four winds. Struggling valiantly to bring the car under control, Night Driver was ultimately powerless to prevent it from being ejected from the road where it careened down a steep hill to finally land upside down in a culvert far below.

  11. @robotspjs I’m glad you dig the story! Thank you for posting the article that inspired the story!

    @Vic Thanks for the encouragement! I’m happy you’re enjoying the story!

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