Navid Khonsari, whose pedigree includes being a cinematic director for GTA 3, Vice City, San Andreas, Red Dead Revolver, and Bully as well as the founder of iNKstories who had a hand in developing Alan Wake and Homefront, will be making Iran's capital city of Tehran the setting of his new game in development, 1979. The tagline? "There are no good guys."
As a man who grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, Khonsari saw firsthand the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy and the overthrow of dictator Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi that would lead to the transformation of his home country into a fundamentalist Islamic state. 1979 aims to explore this historically-charged event through the eyes of several playable characters in a sandbox, open-world game that will challenge the player's perception of right and wrong, as suggested by CNN's interview with Khonsari:
I want people to understand the incredible moral ambiguity of this story, that this was a country with many different ideas and beliefs. Growing up in Iran when I did, I saw Iranians in the greatest light, and I saw them in the worst light.
Not everyone you meet [in the game] is going to be helpful. There are going to be aspects of bribery, making exchanges and turning a blind eye to really bad stuff so you can get the job done.
The player begins as an American/Iranian translator whose mission is to rescue the embassy hostages in standard third-person shooter style, but soon becomes a demonstrator who wants to overthrow the shah but curtail the fanatics from taking power as well. This means escorting a group of soldiers nonviolently and secretly to Tehran no matter the cost:
Maybe, in order to get the group there, you need to sacrifice some stragglers and let them get captured so the others can get away. And then you'll have some extreme choices to make when you get to Tehran: Are you going to invade the embassy, guns blazing, to try to get the hostages back? Or are you going to try to protect the embassy from the Americans?
People who might not be completely familiar with the game world look at fancy graphics and polished gameplay and say "this is cutting edge". But from what I've seen, it's still quite basic. Very much a checkers mentality -- red against black, good against evil. I'm interested in having good and evil within the same character, and for you to experience both. I think that's true to life, and I think you can design a game around that, too.
1979 is only in alpha at this time and is at least a year and a half away from completion, but a 12-map-strong multiplayer is already in the works. That said, it will likely catch the same flak as Konami's ill-fated Six Days in Fallujah, though 1979 doesn't explore the most recent American wars in the Middle East. But that's almost missing the point, which is to send the message that history can be easily and comfortably one-sided, and that people have been told to believe in headlines that may blind them, perhaps willingly, to the full truth:
Iranians are going to criticize me because I'm making a game that "promotes American imperialists going in and shooting Iranians". Americans are going to criticize me because I'm making a game that 'glorifies Islamic fundamentalism,' or something. I'm not going to please everyone, and the point of the game isn't to do that.
I think that being able to base a game in contemporary historical truths is significant, besides being educational. It opens people's eyes to look beyond what they're reading in the paper and realize that there's a definite relationship between history and the headlines.
Most of the people who are playing games nowadays were born after 1980 -- after the Iranian Revolution. People are so quick to accept the official record of things as 'history,' without examining everything that's gone on in the last 40, 50, 60 years. It's important we remember these things, and work to keep them relevant.
It's about time that we go back... to the future of gaming.