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AusGamers Mad Max Developer Interview with Avalanche Studios
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:30pm 04/12/13 | Comments
AusGamers was given a chance to talk with Avalanche Studios' Senior Game Designer, Emil Kraftling, and Community Manager, Tomas Wiborgh, about all things post-apocalyptic, vehicular and Max. Read on for what they had to say...

AusGamers: Firstly I’d like to go on record and thank you on behalf of the fans and myself for giving us a little bit more of the heritage of the Mad Max franchise with the decision to bring on an Australian voice-actor for Max.

However, I’ve been wanting to ask you: internally as a studio working on the project, what was the main Mad Max tenet that you felt had to be addressed in a videogame?

Emil Kraftling: Well I obviously can’t speak for everyone, only myself, but we wanted to make sure that the wasteland -- the world -- was something that felt familiar to players, and something that… from when I watched the movies as a younger man, I felt like this is a world that I would like to explore -- it’s so interesting and beautiful and ambitious, and we get to see parts of it, but I’m glad to be able to go to work and sort of authentically recreate that world for players to explore. That’s what I would say, for me at least, is the biggest thing.

Tomas Wiborgh: Yeah, huge open-worlds is what we’re known for, so I think that was a logical starting point for us -- to tackle the wasteland.

AusGamers: It’s sort of weird when you think about it, because what worked so well for Mad Max is that it’s kind of post apocalyptic and even feels like an open-world in the movies, but there’s so little information about that world -- like how did we get there? Why are we there? It’s just Max surviving, and that doesn’t really exist at the moment in any kind of open-world game, there’s bookends for everything else out there.

So when you talk about wanting to see more, was it problematic approaching a game where the actual movies and the IP itself has maintained that sense of mystery? Max almost doesn’t even belong in the world in the movies, and to relay that into a videogame, to keep players playing, and not give enough fodder seems like it would be at odds with itself.

Emil: Well it’s partly that, but it’s also an opportunity for us to… 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.

There’s a lot there for the players to discover if nothing else. They won’t get the answer, but they will be able to look at a place and start thinking about how it came to be like that.

AusGamers: And drawing their own conclusions?

Tomas: What you talked about earlier with the storytelling about The Great White, that’s a good example.

Emil: Yeah. Looking at The Great White, which comes across in many ways as this white desert or flats, but there’s so much… it’s the old seabed, and there’s all this trash and the treasures of the old world that were buried at the bottom of the sea that is now exposed, or semi-exposed. That’s a really interesting location to be in and explore, and see all of these things that when you first come across them, you might be like ‘oh, this is an old rock’, and then you realise what was here before was maybe a reef, or something that was very different in the old world than it is in this one.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff there for us as developers as well as for players, and what we know and what the players know will not necessarily be the same. 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?

So that sort of sense of mystery, that’s something that we really wanted to hang on to.

AusGamers: I know that you guys have said that it’s not a tie-in directly to anything in the movies, it’s kind of your own interpretation of Mad Max. But obviously, it’s quite clear that the bigger inspiration is The Road Warrior (the second movie), and I think the one thing about that movie is that Max finds a companion at the beginning of the movie, who is also almost an enemy straight away -- they have the stand-off, the boobytraps, the snake and that sort of stuff.

Have you translated that into the game? Because it seems like, at the moment, you’ve got this desolate wasteland that’s full of danger, but obviously you have strongholds you can go to and safehouses so-to-speak. How have you kind of approached that safety and danger component?

Emil: Well, what will come across in the game, is any time you meet a new character, Max’s reaction -- and hopefully the player’s reaction -- will be a cautious one. Because most of the time, another person in the wasteland is an enemy, because there is so much animosity. Even with the characters like Chum, for instance, who you become friends with, or a trusted companion in the long run, the moment when they actually meet is very cautious.

Tomas: There’s a lot of tension there, and when Max forms these alliances with other characters, it’s out of necessity. He needs them to be able to go on to the next place, and the only way to get there is through someone else. But those are uneasy alliances formed out of necessity basically.

Emil: While we’re not going into details on the story or some of the other characters, what you will find in it is that the story very much explores the concept of humanity, and Max’s humanity and his relation to other people in the world and how it affects him. There’s a lot of diversity there.

AusGamers: Coming back to the idea again that this is your own interpretation of Mad Max, I find it fascinating -- based on everything you guys have shown, and even the reaction that you had to our petition and the fans asking for the Aussie voice -- that the dog wasn’t included. It just seems like he would actually fit in this game, if anything, as a bridge for that caution and trepidation you’re talking about.

The dog doesn’t really play a huge part in the movies, but he’s like the one thing that Max is attached to other than his car. So I’m curious: did it ever come up?

Emil: Well, we haven’t announced all of the characters yet. That’s all I can say.

AusGamers: Aah, that’s very cool then, if I can take that the way that I want to [laughs]. Alright, so cars are obviously one of the biggest factors here after the open-world itself, and both movies did an unbelievable job of making cars actual characters -- disposable characters, but characters nonetheless. Max’s car is so iconic, and so is the truck at the end of the second movie.

Have you guys done anything, apart from customisation, to kind of make everything vehicular in the world something that players can grow an attachment to? I saw where you dispose of convoys and stuff like that, and there are missions where you can go to get other cars, but can you salvage and cultivate any car that you see?

Emil: Yes, you can. 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. So every car has gameplay value. So going into making the cars, we wanted to make sure that they were Mad Max-ish, and something… 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?

It’s not purely been about creating a car that looks awesome, but creating a car that is authentic to this world and to the characters in it, and if it looks awesome, then that’s good as well.

Tomas: To your point about cars having character and all of that, Max is obviously building his magnum opus here, and the player is simultaneously. So you’re going to put a lot of effort into your car, it’s basically your lifeline; your shield against the outside world. So that’s also something we want to get across -- the importance of the car, and putting a lot of effort into it; making sure the player puts a lot of effort into it.

AusGamers: You touched on it a little bit in the presentation earlier, from a question about petrol being a resource: it’s funny, because I’ve been playing a lot of GTA V like everyone else at the moment, and there are petrol stations in the world, but you don’t really need to use them, and I felt like there might have been a missed opportunity there from a gameplay perspective, where cars genuinely need to be filled up.

So can you elaborate at all about how the fuel system will work in the game? Is it kind of economy-based? Is it part of preparation for a character before they go out on a mission?

Emil: It’s still very much in development, so I can’t go into very much detail because I believe it’s unspecified yet, but it certainly lends itself better to this game, because obviously you have the context of it.

AusGamers: Well the second movie is all about fuel, yeah.

Emil: But it’s also about all the gameplay time in vehicles. 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. You could basically eco-drive if you wanted to.

That’s something that will be more important here, compared to a game like GTA, where it’s very much just get in and drive away type of cars. Even other games that have done it, like the Mafia games, it never really came into play, it was more of a thing for the sake of having it. Whereas, 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.

AusGamers: Just Cause 2 probably had one of the most varied environments ever in the history of videogames. Snowy mountain peaks, dry deserts, and then everything in between…

Tomas: Five climate zones in total!

AusGamers: Yeah. I know that the inspiration drawing from Mad Max 2 is mostly sand in the desert, but those characters also try to go to another place; to a tropical place. Are you guys incorporating anything like that? Will there be any variation or just only desert?

Emil: We have these different regions that have a different feel and look to them, and we’re showing off one of them in The Great White. There are others that look and feel different. A lot of it comes down to the history of the location: what was this before? So there’s a lot that we can draw from there, to make something unique to each region; not only unique in how they look, but defined by what kind of enemies and what kind of gameplay.

Obviously parts of Great White will be very flat sand in places, and there could potentially be more vertical regions like mountains.

AusGamers: Given you guys are coming out on next-gen, will you be supporting any second screen integration at all?

Emil: I don’t know, actually. I’ll have to look that up.

Tomas: It’s not something we’re talking about today anyways.

AusGamers: Launching on both new generation and older consoles, did you guys find much constraint in that? Most of the teams here have created engines to be able to scale to different platforms. How have you guys approached that?

Emil: Well, what was always important for us was to make sure that the gameplay experience is the same across all platforms. We didn’t want to have different gameplay on the next-gen consoles. The way we do games and the way we have done games, is we have these huge open worlds, and we fill them with content and physics-based gameplay.

The way that works 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.

So there is certainly a lot we can do, but the things that differ between platforms are very scalable, and not in a way that affects gameplay.

AusGamers: You guys have always been very community driven: you listened to us when we asked for the Australian voice-actor, and Just Cause 2 is still being supported by the community in such a huge way through user modifications. Will you be offering mod support for the PC version of Mad Max?

Emil: I don’t think that’s something that we’re really talking about right now, or focusing on right now. But we are well aware of the community we have and we just love all of the stuff that people have done with Just Cause 2. We certainly want to continue to support that in whatever ways we can. We really appreciate it.

Tomas: Still half a million players; it’s incredible.

AusGamers: Alright guys. Thanks so much for your time today.

Emil: Thanks.

Tomas: Awesome.
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