Grand Theft Auto' director's next game explores 1979 Iran revolution
|Vice City. San Andreas. Liberty City. Tehran.|
Three of these locales are instantly familiar to videogame diehards as settings in the "Grand Theft Auto" series, which has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. The latter, however, is more commonly linked to news bulletins about the Iranian nuclear program or confrontational statements by the country's hardline Islamist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
If Navid Khonsari, 41, has his way, Iran's capital city will soon be much more familiar to gamers. A director of the "Grand Theft Auto" series, the Iranian-born Khonsari's next game has a simple working title whose numerals denote a world of significance: "1979." And the game's tagline? "There are no good guys."
"1979" gets its name from the year when the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran began, which was during the height of Iran's Islamic Revolution. That year marked the overthrow of the dictator, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, by a populist revolt and the subsequent installation of a fundamentalist Islamic state.
The game aims to combine some sandbox, open-world elements popularized by "Grand Theft Auto" with what Khonsari calls a "baton-pass" narrative, which explores this historic backdrop through the sequential perspectives of several playable characters.
Khonsari has an ideal pedigree for an undertaking this ambitious: Besides creating a raft of iconic and genre-defining games, he also grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.
"I want people to understand the incredible moral ambiguity of this story, that this was a country with many different ideas and beliefs," Khonsari said in an exclusive interview with CNN. "Growing up in Iran when I did, I saw Iranians in the greatest light, and I saw them in the worst light."
Shortly after the fall of the shah, Khonsari's family fled Iran for Canada. Khonsari moved to the West Coast as an adult to pursue a career as a filmmaker. He later moved to New York City and applied his talents to an up-and-coming studio named Rockstar Games.
"I was the cinematic director for 'GTA 3,' 'Vice City' and 'San Andreas,' as well as the two Max Payne games, 'Red Dead Revolver' and 'Bully,' " he said. "Anything that came out through Rockstar between 2001 and 2005, I was fortunate enough to be involved in.
"My main job, and what grew into my current passion, was bringing that cinematic 'feel' to video games."