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 Photographs taken in the game can be compared with the historical documents.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.