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 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.
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