Meet the GTA modder who's spent 18 years turning San Andreas into Mad Max 2

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
(Image credit: Rockstar)

On October 26, 2004, Aaron Deneau posted on GTA Forums about his work-in-progress Mad Max 2 Road Warrior mod for the first time. Earlier that day, GTA San Andreas had launched on PS2 consoles in the US, and would arrive on European shores three days later. The fifth mainline entry to Rockstar's crime simulation series wouldn't land on PCs until June the following year, and thus Deneau – known on GTA Forums as T-808 – announced he was in the process of prepping the ambitious project, set to reflect George Miller's 1981 post-apocalyptic action movie sequel in Grand Theft Auto, eight months ahead of launch.

"Modeling and mapping is 90% of it, so getting it all done now will make it so much easier when [the game] comes out," said Deneau in a post at the time. Over 18 years later, work on the mod is still ongoing. Many volunteers have come and gone – some simply losing interest, others being sidetracked by life. One prominent contributor died in a serious road accident. One fell on harder times and wound up homeless. Another was forced to down tools, understandably, while fleeing their homeland amid national crisis. Late night chats on MSN Messenger have since migrated to more contemporary forms of online communication. Many debates have unfolded on forums and Facebook, some amicable, others heated. At one point, someone who adamantly claimed to be Harry Potter actress Emma Watson offered advice along the way. 

In 2016, frustrated by dwindling interest in the project, and preoccupied with his brother's cancer diagnosis, Deneau retired from modding entirely. Or so he thought. Before long he was back at, tirelessly crafting vehicle and weapon models from a film that's shaped his taste in cinema for over 40 years, within a game series that's gripped him for over 20. Now, after almost two decades of unpaid hobbyist work, he's determined to finish bringing Mad Max to GTA: San Andreas. "I can't think of any other way I'd love to spend my life and devotion to."

The long (fury) road

GTA San Andreas Horseshoes

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

That devotion took its first creative steps at the end of 2004, when Deneau crafted the mod's first models using his student copy of 3D Studio Max – the motorcycle of Lord Humungus' Marauders lieutenant Wez, a modified Kawasaki KZ 900; and the 'Red XA Bat', a modified slant on the 1972 Ford Falcon XA Coupe – with meticulous detail. From there, dozens of contributors chipped in with their own favorite designs pulled from the post-apocalypse, which were occasionally trialed for functionality in 2002's Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' indirect forerunner. 

Between 2004 and 2008, Deneau and a core group of volunteers worked steadily on the Road Warrior mod, swapping ideas and posting several updates across GTA Forums and Facebook daily. GTA Forums users such as C.J., 92F, Bigfoot 2003 aka Carface, Loman, and Choofa were among the most prolific contributors to the mod, and while the work wasn't without its occasional detractors – mostly among players who didn't see the appeal of combining Mad Max 2 with San Andreas – the majority of commenters at the time appeared excited by the progress and promise of the project. Vice City's 'All Golf Course' mod proved what was possible on PC, in terms of stretching single locations over entire sandboxes, and therefore the idea of expanding San Andreas' Las Venturas desert to cover the game's full map seemed perfect for something Road Warrior-inspired.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

(Image credit: Rockstar)

Harry Potter

(Image credit: EA)

"At one point, someone I was working with asked me if I wanted to meet Emma Watson, who was apparently interested in GTA modding," says Deneau. "I was born on a Tuesday, but I wasn't born last Tuesday, you know? Still, this person claimed to be the real deal and was working on a Porsche 911 mod for GTA. They sent over some photos on MSN instant messenger, and shared some information. They gave me an address to write to for an autograph - but told me not to mention the word 'love', even in reference to Emma Watson's work, as the correspondence would be immediately discarded. I never did. It could have been a hoax, or a hack. Who knows, really. But it was nice chatting to them!"

But, just at the point where the rate of progress on the mod appeared to be at an all-time high, contributors began dropping off. GTA 4 had arrived, and there was a degree of in-fighting around the oft-discussed subject of whether or not modders should be compensated for their time and effort. Deneau says he's always sought to challenge the idea that anyone should be required to work for free, but at the same time some forum users accused him of relying too much on the expertise of others. Deneau is the first to acknowledge the limitations of his own skill set, and says he regrets being confrontational towards those around him at times – conceding his personal circumstances are the reason his online activity dipped between 2010 and 2013; a time when work on the mod appeared to have all but ceased. 

Deneau explains that traveling cross-country to visit his daughter in New Mexico took up much of his time during this period, and his inability to address burnout set him back further. "There were just times where I just could not stand to look at the UI for 3D Studio Max," he says. "And so there were times where I had to walk away from it. Even though I love this world so much, I've loved it since I was a kid. I even tried to convince my mom to buy a Mack R-600 truck, for goodness' sake. But now I've learned how to deal with burnout. Nowadays, I wake up early in the morning, before 6am sometimes, and I get some modeling done. In fact, I'm nearly finished with a new truck that I'm really excited to show off, and I have not shown any of that stuff to anybody."

That in-progress Furiosa Mack Tow truck model is here: 

At various points during our Discord conversations, Deneau says he reckons his Road Warrior mod may be cursed. He speaks a frustrated creator, of course, half tongue-in-cheek, but the project has admittedly faced a series of setbacks over the course of its development. Simple things like forum notifications failing to alert him when new people were keen to help out was an occurrence more commonplace than it ought to be. People promising the world in terms of skinning, texturing and rigging the full project and helping see it through to completion happened more than once. One prominent contributor had to pull out after losing his job and becoming homeless, while another died in a car accident – with his fiancee contacting Deneau via MSN instant messenger to relay the tragic news. 

"We had one guy who had to retire from modding not too long ago named F19 Mods. He was living in Venezuela, we got a few mods done, but when the economy collapsed in the 2010s he had to get out of the country," Deneau adds. "I was able to Paypal him some money because he needed to get out as soon as possible, and the gate to get out was closing. He was actually in the middle of one of our Fury Road mods, but he was of course dealing with much heavier stuff in real life."

Calm Max

Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

"Fast forward to today, with that labor total now over 18 years, and Deneau remains undeterred and more focused on bringing Mad Max 2 to San Andreas than ever before."

The cinematic release of Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, and Avalanche Studios' Mad Max video game during the same year, generated renewed buzz for the post-apocalyptic series, which in turn saw renewed interest in Deneau's Road Warrior mod. But by 2016, with that flurry of external intrigue having seemingly waned, and with his brother having been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, Deneau publicly threw in the towel – on both his long-standing in-progress Road Warrior mod, and modding entirely. Two years later, and not only was Deneau's brother in long-term remission, but Deneau himself was back adding to the catalog of hundreds of Mad Max vehicle, weapon and character models that, at this point, were the result of 14 years' worth of work. 

Fast forward to today, with that labor total now over 18 years, and Deneau remains undeterred and more focused on bringing Mad Max 2 to San Andreas than ever before. The appeal of doing so for Rockstar's most recent Grand Theft Auto entry, 2013's GTA 5, is undeniable and surely more straightforward, but Deneau is determined to finish what he started all those years ago. He says: "We still get people asking for more, especially on our Facebook page. I just love the world of Mad Max, and I've loved Grand Theft Auto since GTA 3. We've released loads of stuff over the years, but the dream would be to get a full team interested again, who can help with textures and rigging, creating maps and designing character models. I'd love to collaborate with someone on a destroyed Sydney Opera House, a decimated Sydney Harbor, and, of course, a Citadel or Namibia map."

"Ultimately, from a design philosophy perspective, what I love most about Mad Max is the fact that its world and vehicles act as functional works of art. I too see my own work and models as functional works of art."

If the GTA Road Warrior project sounds interesting, you can revisit its 18-year journey on GTA Forums, where its creator Aaron Deneau, aka T-808, is always open to a helping hand. Deneau's ArtStation page also lives via that link, while his models past and present have featured on the Mad Max Bible YouTube channel. 

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Joe Donnelly
Features Editor, GamesRadar+

Joe is a Features Editor at GamesRadar+. With over seven years of experience working in specialist print and online journalism, Joe has written for a number of gaming, sport and entertainment publications including PC Gamer, Edge, Play and FourFourTwo. He is well-versed in all things Grand Theft Auto and spends much of his spare time swapping real-world Glasgow for GTA Online’s Los Santos. Joe is also a mental health advocate and has written a book about video games, mental health and their complex intersections. He is a regular expert contributor on both subjects for BBC radio. Many moons ago, he was a fully-qualified plumber which basically makes him Super Mario.