Changing Schema

I’ve been using PlayStation Plus’ new game-subscription-thing service to play a bunch of games I missed when they first came out, games like Celeste (a truly excellent platformer) and John Wick Hex. There are also a bunch of older PS2 games and, because I’m Star Wars trash, I’ve been playing some older Star Wars games.

Jedi Starfighter is a lot of fun and it’s neat to see how far games have come in both narrative presentation and accessibility (not being able to turn on subtitles in an objective-focused game where said objectives are only heard is trying). Racer’s Revenge really just makes me wanna go play the original Episode I: Racer. And Bounty Hunter feels like such an odd beast that in some ways feels modern, dated, and indicative of its time; sometimes all at once.

In Bounty Hunter, you play as Jango Fett and you’re out hunting bounties, straightforward enough. As you navigate levels, though, you can scan random enemies and passersby and, if they have a bounty, mark them and collect the money on them. It’s clunky in execution, owing to the awkward weapon switching and the time it takes to actually get into it, but it’s a really cool mechanic that feels like a predecessor to more contemporary marking functions like in Assassin’s Creed. It’s a cool mechanic that I’m surprised hasn’t been repeated (and that we haven’t had a game that follows this one’s style just updated with The Mandarlorian’s Din Djarin is a dang shame).

My main frustration with the game, though, comes with the controls. It handles like a third-person action game, but less in the vein of Uncharted and more Ratchet and Clank. Which, again, makes sense. This game came out in 2002, before the first-person shooter became the dominant genre and only two years after GameSpot described Alien Resurrection’s use of the left analog stick to move and right analog stick to look as “its most terrifying element.” Nowadays that “terrifying” control scheme is the standard way for interacting with a 3D virtual world, be it shooting space aliens or exploring the world as a cat. It seems, in some ways, that games then were figuring out how a 3D game worked — Bounty Hunter has a difficult (and x-axis inverted) camera that you can move, but also a lock-on function because why would you aim in a game like this?

In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the move in film toward post-classical editing. As commercials and music videos became more commonplace, the editing techniques used in those short formats started to work their way into feature-length movies. Flashdance is considered one of the key inflection points of that movement, using what was considered “MTV-style editing” in its cut and presenting sequences as if they were music videos. Flashdance may have been an anomaly at first, but its editing style quickly took off (Top Gun, also produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, uses a similar style) and it’s now hard to find a movie, tv show, or even documentary that doesn’t use those techniques in some way or another.

Video games are still a young genre (we’re only sixty years from what’s considered the first video game, fifty from the first home console) and it’s interesting to see the way games iterate and evolve. Relics like the Vectrex (which I adore) show both how things have changed but also the different approaches taken on the way. Flashdance feels almost quaint now, but at the time it was bold; Bounty Hunter has ideas that feel so modern and also so dated at once. I’m ever curious about what will come next, what neat innovation will make what’s normal now seem antiquated. 

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