The Game That Would Become Area 51: Bounty Hunter

arcadehero March 2, 2020 3
The Game That Would Become Area 51: Bounty Hunter

If you’ve been a reader of the site for any length of time, then you know that we enjoy researching and discussing unreleased arcade games. My interest in these games is enough that we have an unfinished games link at the top of the site. While we’ve discovered a lot about unreleased games over the years, info on them pops-up infrequently (it’s been quite a while since our last story on an unfinished game).

But that changes today thanks to a large thread that was posted to Twitter by an artist who worked on the formerly mysterious game on the Atari Games list that was known as Bounty Hunter. Over on System16, there was also next to nothing mentioned about it, but perhaps they can update that after this new info. All of the below was shared to Twitter via artist Scott Christian Sava, so big thanks to him for both preserving and sharing this all for us to enjoy. I just figured that it would be nice to have that all in a blog format, as sometimes things get overlooked in Twitter threads.

As a note, this post uses PDF embeds. They work much like slideshows; just hover over the image and the document controls will appear at the bottom, allowing you to switch pages.

The Initial Proposal

From the first tweet, we learn that Bounty Hunter began development in February of 1993 at Atari Games, where the game was being proposed by Ed Logg (one of Atari’s most prevalent game designers/project leads…having worked on Asteroids, Centipede, and dozens of other titles) as a “response” to Midway’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Konami’s Lethal Enforcers. The latter game is mentioned frequently in the initial design proposal, where it was just known as “Gun Game.” It would use digitization to “look as real as we can make [it],” which was trending at the time. Mr. Sava had been working on Primal Rage when he was brought onto the Bounty Hunter project. Here’s a slideshow of the document, where Logg lays out what makes for a good, relatable light-gun game: 1) A strong license, 2) a “sense of power,” 3) Developing a skill and 4) Shooting someone or something they despise:

[pdf-embedder url=””]

(Click here for the first tweet of these docs, in case the PDF embedder doesn’t work for you)

Interesting that he had noticed the usefulness of a license(which is almost every game these days), where pages 2 & 3 spends some time looking at potential licenses, but finding that there wasn’t much that would have worked for an action packed light-gun game at that point in time. Shows like Babylon 5, Deep Space Nine, Last Action Hero, Beverly Hills Cop III and Demolition Man were mentioned.

The Sense of Power section talks about something that did end up in the final build of Area 51 – being able to shoot all sorts of playfield objects. This is laid out in more detail in the “Wave Structure” section. It also gets into the types of bad guys they’d use if they didn’t get a license, listing out a number of potential groups that already have a built-in resonance for hating them. Although I’m sure had they made IRS agents the principal bad guy as the document mentions, that’d have drawn some ire from Capital Hill.

Interesting that on the last couple of pages, there is the “Management Decision” pages, where Logg asks several questions after making a quick case on each. He had been researching gun tech and really figuring out the pros and cons of existing controllers on the market.

Bounty Hunter Proposed

Management was apparently happy with that, so at this point, Mr. Sava was tasked with fleshing the concept out.  A lot of that first document was kept intact, such as the hardware challenges on using a gun, as well as the weapons, but Sava would great expand on the game concept as well as the villains in the wave structure section. While Logg had downplayed the idea of using comic books for a specific license, since they “do not reach as wide an audience as a movie or even a TV show” would, Sava took his love of comic books and came up with this Bounty Hunters proposal after about a month from the initial proposal creation. This was also done because nothing on the market for 1993/94 fit with what they were looking to do with a license. There are great amounts of detail here, which should be of special interest to those interest in game design:

[pdf-embedder url=””]

As the name implies, you would have played as a bounty hunter, with six criminals to chase after. The higher bounty, the more difficult the stage. It would have been available both as a kit and a dedicated cabinet, aiming to have gameplay somewhat similar to the aforementioned Lethal Enforcers. We can assume that the cabinet design is what was used for Area 51 as well.

If you are curious about the hardware they discuss for “Cyber Storm,” that was another unreleased game in development at Atari around that time. It would have been a 1v1 fighting game involving robots with comic book style artwork. That game was nearly finished and the ROMs have found their way to the internet, so I’ll include video of it below. While Bounty Hunter would have used digitized graphics, this video should give you an idea of what the target hardware was capable of. Per this data that I believe was provided by Scott of Atari Games Museum, the board allegedly cost around $1m for Atari to research, so I can understand why they wanted to get more out of it. It would have been comparable in power to the Atari GX2 or GT platforms, which also used 68020 full 32-bit CPUs. That said, it’s surprising that nothing was ever released using it (when Bounty Hunter became Area 51, it would use an upgraded version of the Atari Jaguar game console; the upgrades using a 68EC020 instead of a 68000 & more RAM):

The Villains

Sava also included a number of drawings in that document above to show his ideas for the characters that were detailed in the Wave Structure section. The villains were: Viper (a corporate tycoon, kind of an evil Iron Man), Katana (a ninja warrior, called “ninja lady” in the design doc), Voodoo (a necromancing witch doctor), GX-2000 (a high tech military robot gone haywire, sounds like ED-209 from Robocop), Talon (a rogue bounty hunter that looks a lot like the Predator) & Apocalypse (a walking doomsday machine created by a criminal organization). The design document does mention an Alien Boss that sounds pretty much like the Xenomorphs from Aliens, along with a Queen and Eggs, but none is pictured among the drawings.

Sava also created designs for the bounty hunters that the player could play as; they’re the ones with the black/gold/red color schemes. I’ll put the color versions here; B&W sheets are linked by the names above. The last page shows a couple of scenes; there would be a ‘Normal’ and a ‘Destroyed’ scene of each area.

[pdf-embedder url=””]

From Art To Actors

With it being the age of digitization, this game was set to use digitized graphics. While Midway had been best known for using this technique, Atari Games had done their share of  with titles like PitFighter, Road Riot 4WD, Guardians of the Hood, Primal Rage and others. Using Sava’s designs and putting out a casting call, Harry Mok would come in to produce and Abraham Madison (creator of MC Hammer’s costumes and clothing like parachute pants) would handle the costume design. Harry Mok would also teach Sava the ropes to directing. Unfortunately, the names of the actors shown are unknown.

There are a lot of photos from the filming process found in the Twitter thread; I’ll put a few here as a slide show, where you can behold the glory of some early 90’s mullets & perms 😉 :EDIT: The slideshow is not working properly on some browsers, so I’ve put it at the bottom so it doesn’t block the text.

The development process went on for about a year, before Ed Logg and Scott Sava took up jobs at other companies. Somewhere after their departure, the game seen above was scrapped and retooled into what would become Area 51. That said, many of Bounty Hunter’s concepts found life in Area 51, which was one of Atari Games’ last major successes.

My thanks to Scott Sava for posting all of this information. You can find him on Twitter here, where he posts

What do you think about this game from the information provided?

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  1. Da Flex March 2, 2020 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    “Area 51” was good enough, no need for a “Bounty Hunter” variant. This one can rest in peace, but there are many innovative 90’s games, which are worth to get a modern remake.

  2. arcadehero March 3, 2020 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    This article wasn’t saying there was a “need” for the variant, it’s saying that before A51 existed, it was called Bounty Hunter, and that eventually changed into what became Area 51. They replaced the story & characters, but many core concepts (light-gun design, being able to shoot many objects, aka “Destrucible environments,” digitized graphics, an alien boss, etc.) lived on in that game. A51 would not have been the same without BH having paved the way first.

  3. Da Flex March 3, 2020 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the clarification. So it’s a development story of one game, not about competing concepts.

    I always think about future projects. “No need” is only my conclusion about the prototype as an own project.

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