Navid Khonsari has made a bunch of big-budget video games—he worked on Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, Red Dead Revolver, and tons more. But his latest project is a bit more personal. Called 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, it goes back to Khonsari's childhood in Tehran. It's a game about the Iranian revolution, and Khonsari needs your help to finish it. He's running a Kickstarter campaign to complete the game. Here's the campaign video, and below, we've got an extensive interview with Khonsari...including a bit about how the Iranian government declared him a spy.
Q&A with Navid Khonsari
Higgins: What kind of gaming experience will this be—is it primarily an exploration game? Is there any player-initiated combat in this?
Khonsari: 1979 is really breaking the mold in the way it interweaves various types of gameplay with a narrative. The gaming experience is primarily exploration/adventure. When designing 1979, we approached it from the perspective of how and what would you really want to engage with in the world of Revolution. Our only goal was creating killer gameplay with a tight emotionally engaging story. We didn't want to be confined by the usual template. We took all that we liked in games, graphic novels, and TV, and brought them together.
Our game architect, Corey Redlien, has been toiling on exciting ways to implement intuitive mechanics with fresh ways of interaction. 1979 gives the player the opportunity to explore a totally new landscape—not a fictitious Prince of Persia world of the Middle East, but the actual streets, alleyways, underground worlds of Tehran during the time. With tremendous attention paid to the accuracy of depiction, your journey of exploration will be thrilling. The heightened jeopardy comes with the stealth play—where we've done intensive work on developing amazing AI to account for smart interactions. Critical decision-making allows the player to shape their story. Relevant micro games, that can be puzzle focused, time sensitive and more, become additional ways to interact with other characters or the environment.
There is no player-initiated combat. Your goal is to navigate the streets, relationships and inner workings of Revolution—you want to avoid detection, not incite attention.
Image courtesy iNK Stories.
Higgins: I'm intrigued by the notion of character choices influencing the action. Can you explain that?
Khonsari: You play as REZA, a college student who becomes a major player in the revolution not because of his political beliefs, but because he wants to be in the heart of the action. As the story progresses, your choices, both large and small, will shape your character's morality and certain choices will have an impact on your trajectory. We've seen lots of attempts at this form of storytelling and it doesn't normally do it justice—so we feel we've learned from these examples.
Image courtesy iNK Stories.
Higgins: I suspect that most Americans are pretty ignorant of Iranian politics in general, both historically and currently. While we occasionally see the revolution portrayed in American film and stuff (notably Argo and to some extent Persepolis), it tends to be a backdrop for other action rather than the story itself. In this game, are you foregrounding the revolution itself as the core story?
Khonsari: 1979 puts you in the revolution - you are on the streets, in the hidden meeting places, orchestrating power shutdowns, radio shutdowns, you are engaging in all the activities that defined the revolution. You, the player, will have to learn to form allegiances and choose between loyalties. Ultimately, once the revolution overturns the government, the new leadership deems the player an enemy of the state—and this is where betrayal becomes a theme of the emotional journey. The revolution is front and center, and is intertwined with the trajectory of the main character's actions.
I totally recognize that a good number of people might not know anything about Iran or the revolution so we plan on giving a brief montage on the events that led to the revolution, the revolution itself, and the aftermath. Our story starts in 1980, in a prison cell during our (player's) confession. The revolution is the event that we experience, from a young university student, to becoming a revolutionary, and then regarded as one of its heroes, to finally becoming the opposition of the new regime, and eventually considered an enemy of the state.
Higgins: When the Iranian government deems you a spy...how do you get that news? Does somebody notify you in an official way?
Khonsari: It was actually written in a conservative newspaper called Keyhan - it was online and a few friends and family notified me. The fact that it's been written in a state-sponsored newspaper is enough to me get detained if I did travel to Iran. There have been too many examples of unlawful arrests and unjust persecutions that I would be foolish to consider going back.
Higgins: How long have you been working on this game? How far along is it now, and what does the Kickstarter project mean for its completion?
Khonsari: I have been working on this game for over two years. The team came together last winter and we built our prototype in five months. Since the prototype's completion we have been working on prototyping all the other elements of the game, from gameplay to animation.
The funds from Kickstarter go to completing the first episode, BLACK FRIDAY. What's great about Kickstarter is that it has launched us and put us on everyone's radar. It's out there—it's happening—this game is going to get made. We are already being solicited by investors as well as partners. The tricky thing is that we need backers, people who support and love the project.
We've been truly overwhelmed by the excitement and hope it's generated by people who are excited to play more challenging content - but having said that, to make this game, we need people to log onto Kickstarter and pledge a donation in exchange for the game or some other great rewards—from being a voice in the game to getting your own character in the game—to spending the day with Showtime's Homeland's most wanted Abu Nazir—Navid Negahban—who is a character in the game.
Image courtesy iNK Stories.
The Kickstarter Campaign
Check out 1979 Revolution: Black Friday on Kickstarter, and kick in if you want to see it made!