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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.

Retrospective by Jeremy Parish, .

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.

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Comments 4

  • Avatar for metalangel #1 metalangel 3 years ago
    Max and Die Anna's cars are replicas of Frankenstein's car from Deathrace 2000 as well, right down to the big ridge of spines along the top (that doubles as a rollcage)

    Carmageddon: TDR 2000 featured Max's marked MFP Interceptor as well as the famous Black-on-Black V8.

    Ever play Outlander on the Genesis? The same thing happened to them - they started making a Mad Max game but couldn't get the licence so they had to make it generic. Everything about the game, from the protagonist and his car, to the game taking place in the Outback and the look of the bikers, autogyros and other vehicles screamed Mad Max 2. The game over screens are replicas of two shots from the movie, too.
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  • Avatar for wizardofvideogames #2 wizardofvideogames 3 years ago
    The video footage is actually from Carmageddon 2, the 1998 sequel. The original's sprite-based pedestrians seem more realistic than the fully polygonal ones here, but you don't get to see their limbs explode off their bodies and be affected by the physics. Just wait until you see the Gameboy Color version. That's the most offensive.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #3 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    Loving this series by the way, nice to have more opportunities to look back.
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