After Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome came out on VHS in 1986, Hasbro funded the development of "Project Nemo" - an 8bit console incorporating VHS technology which allowed for full motion video gaming with 8bit graphic overlay to produce blast impact effects. Ken Melville worked for Isix, the company responsible for Nemo hardware and software. Seeing how Mad Max franchise was still popular in 1987, Melville decided to produce a Mad Max game for Nemo system.
Melville wanted to shoot a live-action FMV demo to demonstrate first-person driving that branched seamlessly for turns at decision points. He contacted Hollywood's stunt driver, John Ward on his ranch in Agua Dulce with plenty of fire roads where they could drive recklessly in John's Toyota Tacoma. Melville strapped a 16mm camera on a tripod in the bed of the truck, looking over the cab while John drove like a maniac at impossible speeds. Several takes had to be re-shot for the alternate turn-offs, which were later matched together in editing. The final shot was of an old car that they drove off a cliff for the "FAIL" scenario. Once the footage was matched, edited and working on the Nemo hardware, Melville brought the demo to series director George Miller and Beyond Thunderdome producer Doug Mitchell in Sydney.
Pitching the game
Both Miller and Mitchell loved the idea. Melville said he would be writing and designing the game, while George claimed that Mel would love to be in this game. The meeting was successful and George set Melville up with Ed Verreaux - Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome storyboard artist - in LA. Miller would direct the game and it would be a Kennedy/Miller production for Hasbro.
Production would be done in Australia to keep costs down as there was no union presence and locations were essentially free and authentic. Melville mined the Mad Max mythos for his interactive script, ensuring that the characters, dialogue, and terminology were in-keeping with the spirit of the series. He backed the script with flowcharts, flagging potential outcomes for each scenario. Interactive scenarios proved to be a nightmare for Melville, which is the reason George Miller backed away from scripting the game and focusing on directing it instead. Ed Verreaux storyboarded the entire script in colour, which Melville has kept to this day. Melville sent the materials off, and Miller's excitement for the project grew. Hasbro signed off on Mad Max: Autorama and everything seemed to be going well.
Melville's own "misguided sense of corporate loyality and diligence as a producer" ultimately doomed the project. He checked in with Barry Alperin of Hasbro to make sure Hasbro was okay with the violence level of the Mad Max series. Turns out they thought Mad Max was aimed at children. Once they realized what Mad Max series really was they immediately shut the project down.
Mad Max: Autorama was a vehicular combat game, with bandits chasing the player in cars and firing at them from the side of the road. The player's position on the course was shown on a map overlay. the design was in many ways a precursor to Melville's own Sewer Shark, an FMV rail-shooter with branching tunnels that eventually released on the Mega-CD. There was even a hawk called Corroboree that would allow for seeing the terrain from above like a drone. Sewer Shark would later feature a small robot called Catfish that would do exactly that.