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State of the Game: Building the Mad Max MMO

Columns By Shawn Schuster on January 23, 2015

State of the Game: Building the Mad Max MMO

An MMO set in the universe of Mad Max is something I've been clamoring for for years, but as with any popular IP-turned-online game, it's a touchy subject for die-hard fans. With the Fury Road movie and the single player game both on the horizon for this year, I thought it'd be a good time to revisit my favorite topic of all time: building a Mad Max MMO.

First, let me just say that this is the IP that really is nearest and dearest to my heart. Except for maybe G.I. Joe, I thought of nothing more in my pre-adolescence (ok, and ever since) than the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max. I've practically memorized the three movies and have even dressed in Mad-Max-themed costumes for DragonCon, Halloween, and just to scare the neighbors.

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But introducing that into an open-world online game with potentially thousands of players would be magical. To me, it would be similar to how I felt playing Star Wars: Galaxies after being a huge Star Wars geek growing up.

But a sad fact is that most MMOs based on IPs just don't do well. I imagine most of that has to do with the fact that limitations are naturally in place that don't mix well between an epic linear story and a game where killing ten rats is canon for the almighty character advancement, but I'm holding out hope that someone will make it work.

So let's take a look at how I'd build this mythical Mad Max MMO if I suddenly had any credentials that would allow me to do so. First up, it's important to determine which Mad Max setting would work the best. There's the strangely not-quite-post-apocalyptic-because-there's-ice-cream setting of the original Mad Max. As much as I love that movie and everything it is, I wouldn't want to play hundreds of hours chasing the Toecutter and Bubba Zanetti around.

Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome have very similar settings (with or without Tina Turner), so I'll include those together as one. This is the most memorable environment and the one that everyone thinks of when they hear Mad Max mentioned. And having Lord Humongous for a villain boss would be amazing.

The newest movie looks to be an extreme version of everything we've seen in The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, judging by the amazing trailer that's out now. But it might be a bit too much. It's almost like George Miller decided to start emulating Zack Snyder for some reason. While we don't know too much about the new movie's plot, other than Max has to get Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) across the desert, it looks interesting.

Even though the powers-that-be would opt to make a new MMO in conjunction with the new movie (and single-player game), I'm going to ignore that and make my Mad Max MMO in the Road Warrior/Beyond Thunderdome universe.

With that in mind, I think much of the hard work was already done with Fallen Earth. You want to make your Mad Max MMO gritty and unforgiving, so Fallen Earth achieves that.

Taking a good chunk from Auto Assault would also be a good idea, although severely updated and... working properly. People didn't really get Auto Assault because it was just cars and no people to look at and dress up, so my new MMO would feature both. Vehicles are a huge part of the Mad Max world, so modifications, mounted weapons, and giant gas-guzzling engines (yes, in a world where gasoline is scarce, I know) would be key. A post-apocalyptic APB: Reloaded is more of what I'm thinking.

On that note, crafting should be a major part of the game. While the movies didn't show a lot of people standing around forging weapons, everything in the environment is hobbled together, from vehicles to attire to city walls.

Combat is also extremely important. In an unforgiving post-apocalyptic world, it's every man for himself, so open PvP is a must, but I would personally like to see PvE servers as well. And you can't find any better example of arena fighting than the Thunderdome. "Two men enter, one man ragequits!"

Vehicular combat would be even more important that ground battles, especially in large raid parties. Could you imagine recreating that final battle in The Road Warrior with the tanker truck in an MMO setting? Complete with the ability for multiple players to crawl around moving vehicles while one drives, combined with firing from the vehicles, collision mechanics, damage affecting vehicle performance, and even maneuvering the road itself would all be a lot of fun in a multiplayer setting.

Going right along with that would be player-built cities that can be seiged, much like you find in Darkfall or ArcheAge. This, again, plays right into that part in The Road Warrior when Lord Humongous and his dogs of war attack the refinery village. "Leave the server. Just walk away."

Factions could be fun, even just going off of a refined version of what's available in Fallen Earth. Either you're a good guy who drives tanker truck missions for helpless civilians, or you're the guy trying to steal that truck, a faction system could be done on a sliding scale where reputation is earned in either direction, making you more good or more evil. I would imagine Max himself would be somewhere in the middle, anyway.

Companions are a must. Although a good party dynamic would fit right into the theme of the movies, the availability of a good NPC companion is just as important. Taking notes from Dragon Age and Mass Effect, the companions should be dynamic and customizable, each with their own stories and quirks.

Speaking of story, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that story isn't really as important in a Mad Max MMO. Sure, we've had some MMOs in recent years with amazing stories that pull us right in, but storyline is the Achilles heel of the modern MMO. Save the story for the single-player game, the MMO is all about epic quests, raids, seiges, and crafted items. An MMO shouldn't have to be everything for everyone.

While I'm just dreaming out loud in this article, I think that this type of game is completely marketable, but only if done right and released within the important window of interest around the movie and single-player game's launch. Since the movie is coming out in May, and the single-player game, I would assume, around that same time, I don't see that happening, but it's a nice idea.

So would you play a Mad Max MMO like this?

Shawn Schuster / Shawn Schuster is the former Editor-in-Chief at Massively.com and founder of the indie gaming review site Shoost.co. Shawn has been writing professionally about video games since 2008 and podcasting about games since 2005. When he''s not leveling yet another alt, he''s running his organic farm with his wife and four kids.