Carmageddon, the Mad Max Racer That Never Was

When their licensing plans fell through, Stainless Software decided to throw social responsibility to the wind and double down on bad behavior.

Mad Max is no stranger to video games; the Road Warrior frequently wandered the desert wastes of the 8-bit era, and Avalanche's open-world Mad Max game seems like one of the most promising upcoming adventures coming for fall 2015.

But Max almost had another video game adventure in the '90s, long after everyone had forgotten about the films. The problem, according to an interview with EDGE magazine, is that everyone literally had forgotten about Mad Max by that point. Stainless Software's grand vision of a virtual Max revival was run off the road by the fact that, as Patrick Buckland told EDGE, "they couldn't find who actually owned the rights to Mad Max."

So, denied the opportunity to render Mel Gibson and Tina Turner in boxy '90s polygons, the developers shifted their attention to another forgotten film franchise: Deathrace 2000. That plan didn't work out, either, but Stainless' brief flirtation with that '70s shlock property informed the direction of the project as they built it into an original work, which they called Carmageddon. Carmaggedon may not have carried the Deathrace name, but it felt like nothing so much as a modern-day take on the arcade game by the same title.

Exidy's arcade racer Deathrace 2000 was arguably the first video game to prompt a moral panic, consisting of an arena where players attempted to run down people (Exidy called them "gremlins" to assuage angry parents) and turn them into tiny tombstones. In hindsight, the game was hilariously primitive and simple — the gremlins were nothing more than tiny stick figures, and the action slow and plodding. By comparison, Carmageddon was gruesome, violent, and realistic, a fast-paced racing game where players earned points by smashing into pedestrians, who exploded into showers of blood.

It was pretty shocking at the time... but, just as time rendered Exidy's Deathrace laughably tame, so too has Carmageddon entered the realm of historical camp. Like so much of '90s shock culture, it all seems so quaint in hindsight. Especially now that so many games include free-form racing — and thus vehicular manslaughter — as a matter of course. Including the upcoming Mad Max. This medium really has a way of coming full circle sometimes.

WATCH: A look back at Carmageddon.

Tagged with cafeid, Retrospective, this day in video game history.

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