Monday, August 15, 2011

Watershed years

The story of the Iranian revolution is a good one, regardless of what angle you're approaching it from. The most recent depiction I was exposed to was the excellent "Persepolis," which told at least part of that story through the eyes of a woman who grew up there.

The animated film was a novel approach and drew me in from the first frame. It captured the angst and ambiguity of someone who loved her country but was torn about the way it was developing.

That same ambiguity is what intrigues me so much about this project: A video game called "1979" that, according to its developers, aims to embrace the gray areas. They intend to tell the story through multiple viewpoints, handing off a narrative "baton" to a different character in a different part of the Iranian world at the end of each segment.

Moreover, it will use a "sandbox" approach to advancing the plot, in which players can use any means at their disposal to solve a problem. Sometimes you run, sometimes you negotiate, sometimes you shoot the hostage.

This, Khonsari explains, is where gameplay shifts to include some morally ambiguous elements of diplomacy, stealth and bartering. Each time the baton passes to a new character, the style of gameplay changes, too. Some characters will focus more on action, while others will feature vehicles and puzzle-solving.

"Not everyone you meet is going to be helpful," he said. "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.

"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,' " he continued. "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."
Interesting. It's possible that this caught my attention more than it would otherwise, simply because I live a few hundred miles from Tehran. But I'm curious to see whether the game's creator--who grew up during the Iranian Revolution--can pull it off. I love games with great stories, like "Mass Effect", and with a fascinating real-life story to build on, I'm curious to see whether "1979" can turn great history into a great, immersive experience.

No comments: