River Raid was originally designed for the Atari VCS 26000 console by Carol Shaw, a Computer Science Graduate and one of the first female computer game designers. She designed Video Checkers and 3D Tic Tac Toe for Atari, before joining Activision.
The player was originally supposed to control a boat, but the limited graphic looked more like a jet so the plot behind the game was changed accordingly. The VCS only had 128 bytes of RAM and a 4k ROM, so the landscape was created using a pseudo-random number generator. Because of these restrictions, a lot of time was spent squashing the assembly language code into the miniscule amount of memory.
It is believed that River Raid was one of the first (if not THE first) virtually scrolling shoot ’em up, where the player flew their jet at variable speeds up the river.
Activision UK converted the game from console to the ZX Spectrum, and Firebird released the Commodore 64 and Spectrum versions on the Firebird Silver £1.99 budget range in 1987, as part of a multi-title deal.
It was perhaps a little surprising that Telecomsoft published this as a budget re-release. The game was over four years old by the time Firebird released it in 1987, and although it was regarded as a classic example of a first generation console game, it was a bit basic.