Night Driver (Atari VCS, 1980)
First, a look at the arcade game that inspired the home version.
I believe that video is captured from the MAME version. The yellow car on the screen would have been an overlay in the arcade. The lights represent the glowing reflectors on the sides of a dark road and as the driver of the car you use a steering wheel controller to keep your car on the road. The sound effects in the arcade original were engine sounds and drifting tire squeals. The arcade version of the game, in addition to a steering wheel, featured a gear shift and a gas pedal. There was even a cockpit version which was the first arcade game I can remember playing which attempted to simulate the actual posture you might have while doing the activity being simulated, which I thought was pretty cool. I use the video here because I'd just spent a half hour write-babbling about this, when I realized my articulation skills were just not up for it today... I think I need to read more books in my free time to improve... but while I'm posting Youtube links:
The home version of Night Driver for the Atari VCS not only captures the gameplay of the original but it enhances the graphics by adding houses and trees to the scenery, as well as other cars coming towards you on the road. Of course, lacking from the home version is a gear shifting system (which I don't miss) a steering wheel and a gas pedal. The Atari paddle controller serves just fine as a steering wheel, and the red button works as an accelerator, or whatever you'd call an accelerator you can only turn on or off.
Something I never knew about this game is that you are actually driving around consistent tracks. Tracks whose twists and turns are the same every play, and they repeat. Tracks you can learn and get better at. I never knew this, which is probably why I never did get better at it. Tracks 1 through 3 are progressively more difficult to navigate while track 4 is random. Tracks 1 through 4 all have a time limit. Tracks 5, 6 and 7 are the same as tracks 1, 2 and 3, respectively, but there is no time limit. You can drive on them as long as you care too. Track 8, like Track 4, is random but also with no time limit.
The left difficulty switch allows you to toggle between your car going fast and even faster, in case you're up to the challenge. The right switch toggles whether or not you hear the honking of the on-coming cars so you can avoid the urge to turn into their lane because you're some freak who likes to anticipate the collision.
If you compare this home version to the home version of Datsun 280 Zzzap, you can see that adding a few improvements to a home port can make up for the absence of a steering wheel, gas pedal and gear shift and actually make the game worth playing at home, even if it doesn't look exactly like the original. At some point in video game history, the Arcade Version was what every home port strove to imitate, and where it failed to match was where the criticism was often aimed. I like that the Atari programmers decided rather than just do a straight port, they could improve a game so that the gameplay was what mattered, not how close to the original it looked.
Oh, and here's the video of the 2600 version. I <3 Youtube...
Home version of Night Driver aside, if you ever get the chance to play the cockpit version of Night Driver, I recommend you take the opportunity. It's a neat experience and a great early example of how, in 1976 -- before there was much of a home market -- arcade machine manufacturers were trying to provide unique experiences that weren't just about the graphics or the gameplay. There was a "feel" to playing a game with the interfaces and environments designed specifically for that game which a converted cab or PC running MAME just cannot capture.
Next Entry will be Maze Craze A Game of Cops and Robbers which always struck me as a really odd and awkward name for a maze game...