History of development
Melbourne House acquisition
Melbourne House was a prolific game developer in the 1980's but in the late 90's the studio was on the brink on closing, despite having a lot of talent on their team. In 1999 Bruno Bonnell - the CEO of Infogrames bought Melbourne House. According to ex-Melbourne House designer Mark Morrison - the studio was bought with the sheer purpose of creating a Mad Max game.
At the time Melbourne House was developing a few projects but after the acquisition by Bruno Bonnell the plans had changed overnight. During the first meeting with the team Bonnell announced to stop all currently ongoing projects and start developing a Mad Max game on the basis that the team is Australian and they already had developed a racing game entitled DETHKARZ.
The studio was eager to start developing the game immediately, but there was one problem - they did not have the license to make a Mad Max game. It became a running joke in the industry that Kennedy Mitchell Miller would not give a license to a Mad Max game, presumably after poor reception of the 1990 Mad Max video game for Nintendo Entertainment System. The fact of not having a license did not discourage Bonnell whatsoever and he ordered to make the game regardless, hoping that the final product would convince George Miller to give them the license.
Infogrames would fund three months of pre-production of the game. A small team would create a Mad Max pitch so compelling George Miller could not ignore it. Mark Morrison was of the idea that the whole Melbourne House studio would be allowed to brainstorm over the game. All ideas were welcome as he believed it would help to create a more compelling game.
The game was set years after Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Max was once again a broken man with nothing left and nothing to live for. He would then rescue a young girl from certain death at the hands of villains. The girl was roughly the same age as his son who was killed in the original Mad Max and she had the same name as his wife - Jesse, which is what triggered something in his mind to start caring again. The game would be called "Mad Max: Asylum" and Max, in his journeys, would go back to abandoned and decrepit Thunderdome. He would meet with Feral Kid from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior who would be 18 years old and a leader of a new group in the Wastelands. Max was going to have a dog - another blue heeler - who would react when Max was talking to someone. Max would care more about his dog than about himself.
The main villain would be a cannibal who initially ate to stave off starvation but soon acquired a taste for human flesh. He would have a catchphrase "Time To Eat". The game mechanics would work in such a way that the villain would acquire new skills by eating corresponding body parts, e.g. if he ate legs of someone quick he would be able to run faster.
During brainstorming sessions a few high-concepts emerged. One of the most memorable for the team was the idea that Max would stumble across an oil rig platform in the middle of the desert. He would then realize that he was in fact travelling through a dried up ocean. That game level would require Max to climb up this 1 kilometer tall rig to reach the people who lived on top.
The game would naturally include the famous V8 Interceptor. Driving in the game was to be important, Dave Giles - the lead producer of the game instructed the team to pay special attention to Max's iconic vehicle as it could have played the key role in selling the pitch to George Miller. The team desperately started to look for any and all details on the Interceptor online and they stumbled upon a fiercely exhaustive fansite run by a lone Australian (presumably Peter Barton - the creator of madmaxmovies.com). Craig Duturbure referred to him as a Mad Max 'superfan' who visited original movie locations and had extensive knowledge of all things Max Max, including movie vehicles in particular. The development team visited the website so often that it caught attention of its owner so he contacted them himself. He already realized the team was making a game, so the he was hired as a consultant.
Meeting with George Miller
Eventually a meeting with George Miller was secured, presumably with great help of Adam Lancman - the longtime Financial Director of Melbourne House who broke George Miller's long tradition of rejecting game developers inquiring for a license. Another factor playing an important role in allowing Melbourne House to approach Miller was the fact that Miller had already thought of creating a tie-in video game for then scheduled for 1999 production of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mark Morrison alongside project lead David Giles was one of the few members of the team who attended the meeting with George Miller. All that was said about the movie was that it would be suited for an accompanying video game which would be developed simultaneously with the movie. The video game team came with a set of animations, a trailer, a folder full of concept art and an early playable demo featuring the Interceptor and a desert environment.
The team was pleasantly surprised at Miller's responsiveness to their ideas which made them realize that he was very much interested in the subject matter, despite being a filmmaker. There was a distinct feeling that Miller had done his research prior to meeting the game team or was already in the process of thinking how video games could be applied to the Mad Max universe.
There was one awkward moment during the meeting when Mark Morrison presented Miller with a huge 500 page design document full of the team's unfiltered ideas to show how serious they were about the project. Unfortunately the first thing Miller encountered in this document was a three page bullet list headed "Why Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome Sucks" written by Mark Morrison himself. Miller smiled kindly and said not to worry as he knows that movie's failings more than anybody.
Rejecting the project
After the meeting the spirits were high but the team tempered their expectations as Melbourne House had done a number of pitches for a lot of cancelled projects before. Unfortunately this time the game was not given the green light by George Miller. The reaction for this announcement was mixed with some team members accepting the fate of their pitch, others being devastated. Nonetheless Mark Morrison remembers the team gave it their best shot.