Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vehicular Mayhem

I remember a time of chaos
Ruined dreams of this wasted land
Another age when the world was powered by the black fuel
Where deserts sprouted cities of pipe and steel
Two great warrior tribes went to war
They touched off a blaze which engulfed them all
Men began to feed on men
Only those mobile enough to scavenge and brutal enough to pillage survived
The roads were a white line nightmare
Gangs willing to do anything for a tank of juice
In this maelstrom of decay the ordinary were battered and smashed
Men like Max
With the roar of an engine he lost everything
A shell, burned out and desolate
Haunted by demons of the past
Wandering the wasteland

Post-apocalyptic Australia was a rough place back in the early 1980s.  Critical oil shortages sparked a nuclear war which destroyed most of humanity.  Down Under they escaped the worst of it by virtue of not being an especially high value target.  That said, major cities and military installations were most likely swept away in fiery atomic blasts.  Folks living in the outback though managed do alright for themselves, at least until basic necessitates began to run scarce.  The formation of the Main Patrol Force, or MPF, represented the last attempt by surviving local governments to enforce law and order.  It failed.  The patrol officers either perished in the line of duty or else became marauders themselves.

So, there you have the back drop for the Mad Max trilogy of films.  But what of video games, you say?  Well...there was one title produced for the NES...and that's it.  But to say the influence of Mad Max was insignificant would be be a gross misstatement.  There was the board game Thunder Road and the miniature game GURPS Car Wars.  Pen and paper RPG gamers also had stuff like Road Hogs, and then, for the less dice-rolling-inclined, there was the Freeway Warrior series of gamebooks by Joe Dever.  Getting back to video games, Death Track was my first experience with cars and conflict.  If your more of a console gamer, Road Rash might be more familiar to you.  For the youngster out there Fallout, Rage and The Last of Us are probably all you're really familiar with from this particular kind of genre.

Past experiences aside, Max Rockatansky is back!...and for awhile without an Australian accent.  Not a good start, and the fact that it looks to be a movie tie-in bodes ill as well.  Still, I have hope for this game since the developer is Avalanche Studios (the makers of Just Cause).  They do have their work cut out for themselves though, and I'm not just talking about all the challenges that come with putting together an open world game with robust vehicle customization options.  Post-apocalyptic settings like Mad Max are tricky to do right because there are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration in order for audiences to buy into the setting.

Road deterioration is one such example.  Any climate that has a freeze/thaw cycle will chew up pavement and concrete surprisingly fast.  Within less than a decade of neglect it's reasonable to expect a significant number of hazards such as potholes, fallen trees, landslides and collapsed bridges.  Fuel degrades with time as well.  Although theoretically gasoline will keep forever the reality is is starts to go stale over time due to moisture, air exposure and high temperatures.  Stabilizers and quality refining can extend shelf life, but even diesel will suffer from similar problems caused by microbes like fungus and mold (not to mention pollutants like sand, dust and other foreign particles).  Working cars need to be older models as well, since no modern internal combustion engine, with their sensitive electronics, would still run after exposure to EMP shockwaves.  Equally important are guns...or rather the lack of ammunition.  Military arsenals were most likely vaporized long ago and as for private collections...well, lets just say Aussies don't stockpile ammunition like Yanks.  Hence, the reason there's a fair amount of hand to hand combat and crossbows in the Mad Max films.

Then again they could just go the Venus Wars route and have turbocharged unicycles, tanks the size of city blocks and machine guns for everyone.  After all it sounds like they don't want to put much effort into figuring out how they game fits into the the larger fiction.  Personally, that leads me to wonder why they bothered to use the Mad Max label to begin with then, but who knows...perhaps the picture will become clearer as the launch date approaches.

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