You can blame me too; I’m a former Rockstar like Navid. Let’s pick it up where we left off…
JZ: There’s a ‘baton-pass’ narrative in 1979, which means we’re going to switch up protagonists throughout the game, going from American to Iranian and back. Is there a chance one of the player characters becomes an enemy to the next player character, and vice versa?
Navid Khonsari: Yeah. People you meet in the initial part of the trilogy you’ll encounter in the second and third parts. There are no good guys and bad guys, because everybody’s intentions are good, when you have a revolution like the one that happened in Iran, good people make bad choices and bad people once in a while get some enlightenment and make good choices.
That’s 1979’s tagline: “There are no good guys.” Will we be in the bad guys’ shoes doing bad things?
People are asking: am I going to represent the hardcore theocratic movement in Iran? To a certain degree. I’m going to be representing the foundation of that theocracy, which is religion. Both my grandmothers were extremely religious, but they used religion as a tool to advance themselves, for their personal spirituality. That’s an interesting difference. It’s really important for me for people to understand that there’s a spirituality this was all based in, and it was perverted because of a power grab in the system.
You got a group of people of different political affiliations looking to overthrow the greater evil. At Iran it was the Shah, in Egypt it was Mubarak. Once that power was out, you see these like-minded people, religious people, suddenly fighting over who’ll take over the leadership.
You worked with a lot of movie stars in the Grand Theft Auto series, and a lot of them approached video game work as if they were above the material. They had no idea that the game they were working on would gross more money than all their films combined. Was it difficult to make movie stars understand the clout Rockstar had in the world of entertainment?
They don’t really understand how you make a video game. They know how to make a film, but they can’t really see the similarities between the creative processes. Once you explain it to them, they’re very eager, they’re very excited. They need to know: at the heart of it, you’re a storyteller. You are there to tell stories. Working on GTA, working on a graphic novel, films, or documentaries (and that I’m fortunate enough to worked on all of those) is a bonus. If you can prove you can tell a story in one medium, you can transcend into any other medium because it’s all about storytelling.
What’s your favorite Rockstar game?
I got a three-way tie: Out of the GTAs, Vice City would always be my favorite. Out of everything else, Manhunt and the Warriors.
Was Vice City the best time you had making a game, the most fun?
I liked Vice for the scope they took it to, with the music and the references.
I remember my second day at Rockstar, I was playing through an early build of Vice City, just getting the feel for it. I was driving through Starfish Island as the sun was going down and Mister Mister’s “Broken Wings” was playing on the radio. “Take…. these broken wings!” And I was like, “Is this for real?” I couldn’t fathom how this 80s soundtrack would work without being ridiculed. Of course it changed video game soundtracks forever. I had to lot to learn! They went with the whole slick, Brian DePalma presentation and it hit home for a lot of people.
Brian DePalma is one of my favorite directors. To be able to be look at his material like Scarface, like Carlito’s Way, plus Michael Mann’s work, and implement it in the game was just great.
William Fichtner, who plays the lawyer; he was so amazing.
Fichtner was phenomenal.
Tell us about your upcoming graphic novel: Bedouin.
Bedouin is a story about a battle between a traditional Bedouin tribe on the outskirts of the Jordanian Desert who finds an American survivor from a helicopter crash, and basically tries to take care of him, because of the goodwill and honor system that takes place among Bedouins. The leader of the younger, more urban-based Bedouins wants to return the survivor to the American embassy to get a reward. They assume he’s already dead, but when they find he’s alive, it takes it to a new level. It’s a battle between these tribes for the American: one fights for honor, for the creed they’ve been living for centuries, the other wants to survive in the changing 21st century. That’s a confrontation that’s taking place right now.
Kind of like Lawrence of Arabia meets Black Hawk Down.
Absolutely. Lawrence of Arabia is a huge influence on this story. What’s really interesting to me is if you take a look at colonialism, I could never wrap my head around why people with the same culture and goals would go to war with each other for the interests of an outsider. How the British and French in the 18th century used the Native Americans to fight one, India with the British, Africa with the Dutch, etc.
John Zurhellen writes video games for Rockstar Games, Activision, and other great developers.