The news surrounding Mad Max has been relatively quiet since its surprise reveal at E3 2013, taking gamers by storm before falling back into silence. With Avalanche Studios, the makers of the Just Cause series at the wheel, and a next-gen release in store, hopes are high.
That isn’t lost on the development team, who revealed in a recent interview their commitment to the film’s universe, and how the mystery and cruelty of the post-apocalyptic wasteland will be preserved in gameplay and design.
Designing a game based on a film series is usually seen as a recipe for disaster these days, as movie tie-ins are more likely to end up in a bargain bin than a console tray. By placing their game in a sandy, drab post-apocalyptic landscape, Avalanche Studios is doubling their risk of getting lost in the shuffle – Mad Max on the cover, or no.
Speaking with AusGamers, Senior Game Designer Emil Kraftling claims that passion is what’s driving the project despite the odds, and a belief that giving players the means to draw their own conclusions about the larger story is the right approach:
“Obviously we want to maintain that sense of mystery about what has happened in the world, and what is the history of every place that we visit. And while some of it is things that we have explained in development — either on our own or through the consulting with George Miller — while we know it, we don’t spell it out to people, but it affects how certain areas are constructed and what we find in certain areas.”
“In some instances, I know myself that we have some stuff in the world, and it’s not described anywhere why it is how it is, but I’m making educated guesses as to why it is this way; what used to be here? And what would people in this world think that this was?
Ambiguity is a key factor in the Mad Max story, with action and plots shaped not by the reasons that Australia became a lawless desert, but the reality of the situation. So fans will be happy to hear that the Mad Max game – clearly drawing serious inspiration from the Road Warrior installment – isn’t going to follow Max Rockatansky’s efforts to uncover ‘where it all went wrong.’ Survival, and the next tank of gas, is the only thing on his mind.
Of course, one can’t talk about Mad Max without paying special attention to the vehicles that roam the wastelands in place of wildlife. In that regard, Kraftling reiterates that honoring and maintaining the fiction of the series is the goal:
“Every car in the world has a gameplay aspect to it. Some have more value than others, but all of them are potential sources of scrap, or fuel, for instance… while I’m not a vehicle designer, I know that they’ve approached it with the mindset of: how would someone in this world build this car? What shows off status in terms of essentially pimping your ride, and what is good in terms of actual function; how would you put stuff on this car so that it becomes a more efficient weapon.”
When we were shown an early build of Mad Max at E3, a significant portion was devoted to the system of crafting and upgrading surrounding Max’s signature vehicle, dubbed the ‘Magnum Opus.’ With increased armor and weaponry came added weight and decreased mobility, hinting that players may be able to tailor their vehicle to their preferred style of gameplay.
But if that semblance of realism is anything more than just cosmetic, exactly where the line between simulation and action is drawn needs to be established. Nobody doubted that the studio behind the vehicular insanity of Just Cause 2 knows their way around cars and trucks, but the core premise of Mad Max demands a different take (and no, we’re not just referring to car-hopping marauders).
After all, the post-apocalyptic sands of Australia is a place where an ounce of gasoline is more valuable than water, with dozens willing (and eager) to kill for it. That value means that the ‘hop-in-and-drive’ mentality some might expect from Avalanche is in for a serious change:
“With the physics-based vehicle gameplay that we have set up, that uniquely lends itself to stuff like fuel consumption. So what kind of car you have, how much it weighs, what you have on it and the wheels — that will affect fuel consumption; how you handle the throttle will affect fuel consumption.
“That’s something that will be more important here, compared to a game like GTA… we’re really determined to have it have a real gameplay impact, and have you feel like this is something really valuable, without taking away your urge to actually drive and use cars and engage with vehicles.”
We’d recommend caution in putting too much stock into those particular elements of gameplay, since the actual mechanics governing fuel consumption are still a completely mystery. Even so, it’s incredibly promising to hear that Avalanche is trying to bring something new to the world of open world exploration. Especially since Just Cause 2 lacked any such mechanic, to little criticism.
Many question remains about the fate of Mad Max, with a launch on both current and next-gen consoles raising the question of just how much the game can take advantage of new hardware. With previous games under their belts, Kraftling explains that the studio’s approach to both generations is more subtle than some might assume:
“Going to next-gen is not necessarily making things bigger. We don’t need to make them bigger because they’re really huge as they are, and bigger than what anyone else is doing. So what we can do is make things denser. And that’s what the added power and the memory of the new generation of consoles lets us have: this high fidelity of the stuff that’s there; the texture qualities and the physical granularity.”
What are your hopes for Avalanche’s take on the film universe? Does the approach to open world traversal have your attention, or simply the Mad Max name? Sound off in the comments.
Mad Max is expected to release in 2014 for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.