Tales Of Tehran: 1979 Revolution – Black Friday

By Adam Smith on November 29th, 2013 at 8:00 am.

It is by some terrible coincidence that I am posting news of this Kickstarter campaign on the other Black Friday. As the other half of the title suggests, this isn’t a game about reduced prices and the terrifying reactions of people to those prices – this is a game about the Iranian Revolution. More specifically, it’s the first episode of a longer project, approximately two hours long and covering the events of September 8, when a failed curfew and the declaration of martial law brought death to the streets of Tehran. Using a “real photos, recordings and intelligence” and placing the player in the role of a photojournalist, the developers hope to explore the historical setting through meticulous recreations and “suspenseful and engaging gameplay”.

It’s a confusing pitch to be honest. Not in the sense that the project isn’t clearly communicated – it is – but because as fascinating as the setting is, I’m not entirely convinced that this game will be an interesting way to experience it. I’ll cover the positive thoughts first.

Playing as a photojournalist is a fantastic idea. I’ve become so accustomed to seeing 20th century history down the sights of a rifle that any project that approaches events from a different perspective immediately has my attention. That’s not to say it won’t lose my attention very rapidly but it’s a start. I like that the iNK Stories are collaborating with Michel Setboun as well, an actual photojournalist who covered both sides of the revolution. Photographs taken in the game can be compared with the historical documents.

Navid Khonsari, the founder of iNK Stories, seems like a good leader for the project. Born in Iran, he left with his family at the age of ten, following the revolution, and after studying at Vancouver Film School and the University of British Columbia, he worked at Rockstar for five years, and has also produced documentary films. Along the way, he has collected a talented crew, including industry veterans and an anonymous Iranian artist:

Our concept artist and cinematic artist, Mr. Phoenix (an alias), is a standout young artist from Iran who has been working with us for several years. Due to the political sensitivities that relate to 1979 Revolution, Mr. Phoenix had to flee Iran.

All very intriguing and the artwork does look fantastic. However, the game itself is tailored for touchscreen devices, although the page does state that “special attention has been deliberately given to ensure the high quality standard in both graphics and experience PC/Mac versions”. Still, the minigames displayed don’t seem particularly engaging in and of themselves, with a finger-poking triage screenshot looking particularly odd. There may be plenty of interest to see and do around the minigames, but the episode might also consist of graphic novel style cutscenes interspersed with moments of uninspired interaction. And remember, the $395,000 target will only fund the initial two hour episode.

Perhaps that’s not the case and perhaps it wouldn’t matter too much if it was. If the narrative, historical and political content is well-researched and presented, the interactive sections might be little more than links, with an occasional decision to be made. Or maybe it’ll all gel together beautifully.

Whatever the case, like Jack Lipnick, I’ve taken an interest. I don’t normally quote from Kickstarter pages or press releases at great length, but Navid’s story and statement should be read for greater context:

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 is a defining story for me. When I was 10 years old my grandfather took me by the hand and brought me to the streets in Tehran so I could witness what was happening in our country. In 1980 my family left Iran for good. Since then I grew up in Canada, later to move to my hometown of New York City.

Today, Iranian newspapers have wrongfully called me a spy for the US government because I am making this game. This accusation means that I can no longer return to Iran to see family or expose my children to the rich and beautiful culture that has made me who I am.

With the continuing tensions between the West and Iran and then the arab spring, and revolutions taking place all over the world, I felt the time was right and there was an opportunity to highlight the universal themes of revolution. I felt I could contribute to the discussion in a way that would be entertaining, engaging, important and authentic. By turning the gamer’s lens on Iran’s Revolution of 1979 more people could engage with the complexities of the time and unwind history and ultimately demystify a people and country that is not often understood in the west.

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41 Comments »

  1. maxi0 says:

    “By turning the gamer’s lens on Iran’s Revolution of 1979 more people could engage with the complexities of the time”

    Great Scott!

  2. Zanchito says:

    I very much like the photojournalistic approach to the game. Going to refrain from any political or historical commentary, too easy to derail the focus of the discussion from the *game*. I’m intrigued about what will they do.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Seconded.

    • UmmonTL says:

      If it’s done well it should be quite good since a Photojournalist should be struggling to stay uninvolved, to record objectively. And the game needs to challenge that in both directions, with any help he gives to revolutionaries there needs to be fear of reprisal.
      Edit:
      Better yet if they actually give you the option to betray the “good guys” and see the consequences such actions might have.
      /Edit
      What they need to do is give the character something to loose and that can’t just be his life, it’s too easy to be a martyr in a game. And it can’t just be a family or friends that you are told he loves, a relationship like that needs to be developed like it was in Walking Dead. We’ll see if they can manage that.

  3. Premium User Badge Anthile says:

    Or just read Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski? While the concept of a non-fiction game sounds intriguing I very much doubt it can be pulled off like that. Not to mention, can somebody who was at least indirectly involved really be neutral?

    • Zanchito says:

      I don’t expect them to be neutral, really. If they make it from a clearly personal viewpoint (or several), I can do with that.

      • UmmonTL says:

        While not necessarily neutral, the player needs to feel the weight of the choices he makes. If they get the choice between “join the revolution” or “join the revolution now with all your heart” the game won’t keep their interest.

        • Mike says:

          I think if you read about the revolution a bit you’ll see that it’s not really like that at all. I imagine the game will reflect that – especially given it’s being made by people who left as a result of the revolution.

    • Premium User Badge Ninja Dodo says:

      Why should it be neutral? Are you seriously suggesting someone who wasn’t there and pretends like “both sides were equally right” would make a better representation of such an event? Not saying you couldn’t make a respectful portrayal without a personal connection, if you did solid thorough research, but what does ‘neutral’ even mean here?

    • Fenix says:

      As someone that has lived in Iran for 11 years, I can tell you that so far, they seem as neutral as you can possibly get. Maybe it seems like that because almost everyone else – that has an opinion – is extremely biased, to the point of absurdity. There really is no middle place, especially among Iranians, and I have personally suffered for not hating the revolution at times and not defending it at others.

      BUT, the game doesn’t look interesting at all from a game perspective to me. Watching the pitch video makes me wish they would just make a visual novel and leave the tablet minigames out entirely. I think we can agree that no combat/action at all is better than terrible combat/action (Dreamfall as an example springs to my mind). Especially for games whose main attraction point is something else, like story or setting or what have you. And this game is touching on something fairly unique and is generating this interest via that. Of course, I’m only basing this on what they show on the pitch video, but right now that’s all we have to make a decision, no?

      • UmmonTL says:

        They seem to be copying the Walking Dead Formula completely with their Episodic gameplay and decisions done through conversation choices. Minigames and very limited touch interactions/QTE’s worked there and it’s not the worst choice if you want to tell a story. But then again, the comparisons will be there, the bar set by The Walking Dead is very high and this means they really need to nail the involvement of the player.
        The question to me is, what will be their Clementine without making it too obvious that it is their Clementine.

        • mouton says:

          The question to me is, what will be their Clementine without making it too obvious that it is their Clementine.

          Ruhollah Khomeini.

          Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what happened in Witcher.

    • P.Funk says:

      Is it supposed to be a prize winning historical analysis? There’s a reason that its said you can’t really write history until a century has passed since even if you weren’t there you’re almost certainly going to be biased in some way or another by the relative significance any great event holds int he continuum of thought in your time.

      There’s also the concept that perfectly unbiased journalism is bullshit.

  4. FunnyB says:

    Hey RPS, what happened to that first-person-wartime-photographer game you reported on a few years back? Were you were supposed to get specific shots and perhaps provide different angles to the story about the conflict.
    I can’t remember what the game was called though, but I know there was at least one RPS article on it a few years back.
    Was that cancelled or is it vaporware?

  5. Premium User Badge Mo says:

    Yeah, the setting is really interesting, definitely something I’d love to play. But I can’t help but feel it’s wasted on what looks to be a mechanically shallow game. A game based on crowd simulation and some level of emergent gameplay would really bring the setting to life.

    • Premium User Badge Gap Gen says:

      Yes, I’d love to see a complex political sim where you’re part of a faction at the eve of a revolution and have to out-manoeuvre your opponents before they can seize power and ship you off to secret prisons to torture and kill you. That sort of thing sounds horribly difficult to get right, though; Republic: The Revolution tried something similar, but I never got the hang of it, and its mechanics were a little too transparent to really give the sense of winning over city blocks however you could.

      • UmmonTL says:

        They clearly want to tell the story of the revolution as it really happened and I don’t think a game like you descrie it can work with that.

        • Premium User Badge Gap Gen says:

          Oh, absolutely, what I’m describing is a completely different game.

    • UmmonTL says:

      I doubt they would have the budget but who knows, making the crowds during protests dynamic could give the proceedings more weight and things you do in the game could actually influence what you see. But 10 guys stuck behind a car due to dodgy AI could completely ruin a scene. I think they’re going for the Walking Dead format where certain scenes will just not happen if you haven’t done certain things in the story before.

  6. nimbulan says:

    I like the idea of the game, but the fact that they are targeting tablets as their primary platform greatly worries me. Touchscreens generally aren’t conducive to good gameplay in anything more complex than Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds.

    • Premium User Badge Gap Gen says:

      I dunno, I played Waking Mars fine on my tablet, and I think Eufloria is actually better on a tablet than the PC, having tried both versions. There’s a lot you can do just by stabbing your sausage-like fingers at the screen. Granted, the app store markets are jammed with crap, but there are some good games out there.

  7. CookPassBabtridge says:

    I’ve wanted to see interactive historical events for years. One slightly morbid fascination is Chernobyl, so the opportunity to “live” that event has always appealed.

    • mouton says:

      There was a game about it.

      It was called Half-Life.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Typical. Replacing all the characters with american actors.

  8. Soulstrider says:

    Color me cautiously interested. Why cautiously? Because this sort of stuff is very hard to cover from a neutral ground and it’s very hard not to end up vilifying one side, which really worries me by seeing the background of the people behind it.

  9. tomimt says:

    I just don’t know about this one. On the other hand the idea sounds very interesting, but at the same time it doesn’t sound like something I’d like to play as a game rather than read it as graphical novel or see it as a movie or series.

  10. Leb says:

    I heard about this a few years ago from a buddy who is friends with the lead dev.

    it’s interesting, I just hope it doesn’t purposely try and paint one side of the story good vs one side evil. I’d like to see the evils of boths sides personally.

  11. Syavash says:

    “Today, Iranian newspapers have wrongfully called me a spy for the US government because I am making this game. ”

    This is actually a lie. I liked the idea for the game but the fact that he used a cheap tactic to fund his game, by manipulating the world’s exaggerated conception of Iran really put me off.

  12. Michael Fogg says:

    The replacement of one dictatorship with another shouldn’t even be called a revolution. In the end, what has changed?

    • TCM says:

      Well, lots of people are dead, some others are termed criminals and can never return to their homeland, and the government has become more radicalized and oppressive.

      This isn’t really specific to Iran, mind, I am more commenting on the general cycle of cold war and post cold war revolutions.

      …Man I want to play Twilight Struggle now.

    • The Random One says:

      Some oppressors have become oppressed and vice versa.

  13. The Random One says:

    Let us all shed a single socially-concious tear for The Unconcerned, which made the mistake of trying to fund a game through Kickstarter before Double Fine made it cool.