We know who made the first video game that involved car driving. We just don’t know anything else.
It was called Der VW-Fahrsimulator, and it was developed internally by Volkswagen around 1972 or so. Jason Torchinsky, writer for Jalopnik, tried to find out something — anything — about it. VW had previously produced driving simulators that were film-based, but this was apparently a wireframe game — the first of its kind, rendered purely by electronics. It was powered by two separate computers — one analog to make calculations, the other digital to render the graphics — and housed inside a gigantic, steampunk-like mechanical vessel that turned and twisted to make the simulation more “real.”
The game inspired another German game called Nürburgring, which in turn inspired Atari to create the first American driving game, Night Driver. The leaps and bounds Torchinsky had to go through to compile every scrap of information on this game he could get was stupefying.
I was sort of stuck and floundering for a long while, until I finally found a reference to an article in a German trade magazine, Automobiltechnische Zeitschrift (ATZ), the February 1974 edition. Now I just had to figure out how to actually get the article. I explored all manner of useless leads to try and get the article, until I finally reached out to an old friend (and my 9th grade prom date), Marian, who now has some important job in NC State’s library system. 30 minutes later I had an email with a scan of the article, thanks to the secret global cabal of librarians.
It’s a long and involved tale full of dead-ends and false leads but it’s fascinating reading, and you just might learn something. Find out everything there is to know about Der VW-Fahrsimulator here.