Mad Max Wasteland Lore 101

by Jeff Cork on Mar 27, 2015 at 09:00 AM

During our trip to its Stockholm offices, Avalanche Studios worked to cultivate a sense of mystery about Mad Max’s Wasteland. For example, if you’re curious about where the Wasteland is on the globe, you may be out of luck. There are clues scattered throughout the canyons, caves, and deserts that point to what this desolate area may have been before the apocalypse hit, but it’s not something that’s spelled out for players. Today, we’re going to tell you as much as we can about the Wasteland itself.

We’ve talked about this before, but it’s important to note that the Wasteland isn’t a featureless expanse of tawny sand dunes or flatlands that extend as far as Max’s eyes can see. Avalanche was wary of that sort of visual monotony from the start. You won’t see trees, lakes, or vegetation, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see things that will make you want to hit the brakes, get out of the Magnum Opus, and take a better look. “That’s been a challenge,” says Emil Kraftling, senior design director. The team has worked to keep it from being a boring desert. “If you go to different wastelands in our world, they don’t look similar.” 

The Wasteland is separated into different regions, each of which has a unique story to tell. If you’ve been following our earlier coverage, you know that several of those regions are located in and around a dried-up seabed. The Great White is in the southern part of the Wasteland, and it’s where players will likely spend their first hours.

“There’s a lighthouse that’s Jeet’s stronghold, and there’s an oil rig down there,” says Magnus Nedfors, design director. “They’re typical landmarks that you would see on the sea, but now they are part of the land. Along the northern border of the Great White is the former harbor of a bigger city. Another region used to be a more rural area, where the further you go, the more industrial it becomes. You have an industrial harbor. We want the player to go around and observe ruins and go, ‘Oh, this could have been a this or that.’”

Before laying out the Wasteland, the team had to first imagine what the area may have looked like before the ocean pulled back,“ Kraftling says. “In the beginning of the project we had a fictional map of how it looked before bad things happened. We started out with like, ‘Here’s the road network it looked like this, the harbor goes here,’ and stuff like that. It started out that way.”

“We did a process [of asking], ‘How does the world look? Let’s build it up and then knock it down.’” Fuller says. “It’s the same sort of process that we went through with the exploration. It is one of the exciting exploratory aspects of the game – not just exploring the geography, but exploring the social structure and the power structure and what is it that makes certain enemy types or certain colonials or generals or whatever, where they are. ‘What’s the value of this type of life versus this type of life,’ those questions.

Things have clearly gone downhill since the seas left, though one area is thriving: Gastown. “It’s the most city-like place in the game world,” Nedfors says. It’s the home to Scabrous Scrotus, the region’s warlord. 

It’s built into an old refinery, which not only provides a protection from attack, but also provides a key explanation for the game. “We want resources to be scarce, but we also want a car game; we want to drive a lot and so on,” Kraftling says. “So gas can’t be super scarce, because otherwise it would be a walking game instead of a driving game. That was a rule that we said, like we have a refinery that was a reason why you can have this much gas in this part of the Wasteland.”

Other landmarks have been claimed by the sand or otherwise deteriorated – such as the remains of skyscrapers seen far in the distance. We weren’t able to explore the regions where those buildings are, but Avalanche told us that it was important that players could drive to and explore everything they could see. 

Players will get a chance to learn more about the world through side missions and collectables called history relics, which are photos, notes, and other ephemera from the old world. “There’s a nice surprise for the player in that some of these side missions and locations hearken back to the world before the apocalypse, and they’re better preserved,” Fuller says. “And the history relics play a role in making it not like a standard post-apocalyptic zombie world or whatever. That’s also a challenge, because we’ve had situations where we’ve made them too pristine or not authentic enough. You don’t buy into the fact that this would still be here, like it would have been looted or it would have decayed faster. We’ve removed some locations that we just found a bit not really what you would expect to find after so many years.”

During my time playing Mad Max, I was impressed with how well Avalanche Studios created its own world, while staying in line with what people might expect after seeing the movies. It’s a brutal world, but it has its own rough beauty. As a fan of exploration, I’m particularly excited to see what lurks beneath the Wasteland’s surface. Of course, I’ll be doing it with my eyes wide open and both barrels loaded.

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Note: In the cover story, we incorrectly referenced Gastown's name several times.