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iNK Stories

The Revolution Will Be Kickstarted

iNK Stories
iNK Stories

Navid Khonsari has made a bunch of big-budget video games—he worked on Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, Red Dead Revolver, and tons more. But his latest project is a bit more personal. Called 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, it goes back to Khonsari's childhood in Tehran. It's a game about the Iranian revolution, and Khonsari needs your help to finish it. He's running a Kickstarter campaign to complete the game. Here's the campaign video, and below, we've got an extensive interview with Khonsari...including a bit about how the Iranian government declared him a spy.

Q&A with Navid Khonsari

Higgins: What kind of gaming experience will this be—is it primarily an exploration game? Is there any player-initiated combat in this?

Khonsari: 1979 is really breaking the mold in the way it interweaves various types of gameplay with a narrative. The gaming experience is primarily exploration/adventure. When designing 1979, we approached it from the perspective of how and what would you really want to engage with in the world of Revolution. Our only goal was creating killer gameplay with a tight emotionally engaging story. We didn't want to be confined by the usual template. We took all that we liked in games, graphic novels, and TV, and brought them together.

Our game architect, Corey Redlien, has been toiling on exciting ways to implement intuitive mechanics with fresh ways of interaction. 1979 gives the player the opportunity to explore a totally new landscape—not a fictitious Prince of Persia world of the Middle East, but the actual streets, alleyways, underground worlds of Tehran during the time. With tremendous attention paid to the accuracy of depiction, your journey of exploration will be thrilling. The heightened jeopardy comes with the stealth play—where we've done intensive work on developing amazing AI to account for smart interactions. Critical decision-making allows the player to shape their story. Relevant micro games, that can be puzzle focused, time sensitive and more, become additional ways to interact with other characters or the environment.

There is no player-initiated combat. Your goal is to navigate the streets, relationships and inner workings of Revolution—you want to avoid detection, not incite attention.

Image courtesy iNK Stories.

Higgins: I'm intrigued by the notion of character choices influencing the action. Can you explain that?

Khonsari: You play as REZA, a college student who becomes a major player in the revolution not because of his political beliefs, but because he wants to be in the heart of the action. As the story progresses, your choices, both large and small, will shape your character's morality and certain choices will have an impact on your trajectory. We've seen lots of attempts at this form of storytelling and it doesn't normally do it justice—so we feel we've learned from these examples.

Image courtesy iNK Stories.

Higgins: I suspect that most Americans are pretty ignorant of Iranian politics in general, both historically and currently. While we occasionally see the revolution portrayed in American film and stuff (notably Argo and to some extent Persepolis), it tends to be a backdrop for other action rather than the story itself. In this game, are you foregrounding the revolution itself as the core story?

Khonsari: 1979 puts you in the revolution - you are on the streets, in the hidden meeting places, orchestrating power shutdowns, radio shutdowns, you are engaging in all the activities that defined the revolution. You, the player, will have to learn to form allegiances and choose between loyalties. Ultimately, once the revolution overturns the government, the new leadership deems the player an enemy of the state—and this is where betrayal becomes a theme of the emotional journey. The revolution is front and center, and is intertwined with the trajectory of the main character's actions.

I totally recognize that a good number of people might not know anything about Iran or the revolution so we plan on giving a brief montage on the events that led to the revolution, the revolution itself, and the aftermath. Our story starts in 1980, in a prison cell during our (player's) confession. The revolution is the event that we experience, from a young university student, to becoming a revolutionary, and then regarded as one of its heroes, to finally becoming the opposition of the new regime, and eventually considered an enemy of the state.

Higgins: When the Iranian government deems you a spy...how do you get that news? Does somebody notify you in an official way?

Khonsari: It was actually written in a conservative newspaper called Keyhan - it was online and a few friends and family notified me. The fact that it's been written in a state-sponsored newspaper is enough to me get detained if I did travel to Iran. There have been too many examples of unlawful arrests and unjust persecutions that I would be foolish to consider going back.

Higgins: How long have you been working on this game? How far along is it now, and what does the Kickstarter project mean for its completion?

Khonsari: I have been working on this game for over two years. The team came together last winter and we built our prototype in five months. Since the prototype's completion we have been working on prototyping all the other elements of the game, from gameplay to animation.

The funds from Kickstarter go to completing the first episode, BLACK FRIDAY. What's great about Kickstarter is that it has launched us and put us on everyone's radar. It's out there—it's happening—this game is going to get made. We are already being solicited by investors as well as partners. The tricky thing is that we need backers, people who support and love the project.

We've been truly overwhelmed by the excitement and hope it's generated by people who are excited to play more challenging content - but having said that, to make this game, we need people to log onto Kickstarter and pledge a donation in exchange for the game or some other great rewards—from being a voice in the game to getting your own character in the game—to spending the day with Showtime's Homeland's most wanted Abu Nazir—Navid Negahban—who is a character in the game.

Image courtesy iNK Stories.

The Kickstarter Campaign

Check out 1979 Revolution: Black Friday on Kickstarter, and kick in if you want to see it made!

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History
A Very Brief History of Chamber Pots

Some of the oldest chamber pots found by archeologists have been discovered in ancient Greece, but portable toilets have come a long way since then. Whether referred to as "the Jordan" (possibly a reference to the river), "Oliver's Skull" (maybe a nod to Oliver Cromwell's perambulating cranium), or "the Looking Glass" (because doctors would examine urine for diagnosis), they were an essential fact of life in houses and on the road for centuries. In this video from the Wellcome Collection, Visitor Experience Assistant Rob Bidder discusses two 19th century chamber pots in the museum while offering a brief survey of the use of chamber pots in Britain (including why they were particularly useful in wartime).

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Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock
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History
Tomb Raider: The Story of Saint Nicholas's Stolen Bones
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Saint Nicholas: HULTON ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES. Skulls, backgrounds: iStock

Throughout history, corpses have been bought and sold, studied, collected, stolen, and dissected. In Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses, Mental Floss editor Bess Lovejoy looked into the afterlife of numerous famous corpses, including Saint Nicholas, one of the many canonized bodies whose parts were highly prized by churches, thieves, and the faithful.

Don't tell the kids, but Santa Claus has been dead for more than sixteen hundred years. No, his body is not at the North Pole, and he's not buried with Mrs. Claus. In fact, his remains are thousands of miles away, on Italy's sunny Adriatic coast. And while Santa might be enjoying his Mediterranean vacation, he's probably not too happy about what happened to his remains. They were stolen in the eleventh century, and people have been fighting over them ever since.

Of course, the Santa Claus of folklore doesn't have a skeleton. But his inspiration, Saint Nicholas, does. That's about all we can say for sure about Nicholas: he was a bishop who lived and died in what is now Turkey in the first half of the fourth century. Legend tells us that he was born into a rich family and delighted in giving gifts. Once, he threw three bags of gold into the window of a poor family's house, saving the three daughters who lived there from a life of prostitution. Another time, he raised three children from the dead after a butcher carved them up and stored them in a vat of brine. He also protected sailors, who were said to cry out his name in rough seas, then watch the waves mysteriously smooth.

The sailors spread Nicholas's cult around the world. Within a century of his death, the bishop was worshipped as a saint, lending his name to hundreds of ports, islands, and inlets, and thousands of baby boys. He became one of the best-loved saints in all of Christendom, adopted by both the Eastern and Western traditions. Christmas probably owes something to his December 6 feast day, while Santa Claus’s red outfit may come from his red bishop’s robes. "Santa Claus" is derived from "Sinterklaas," which was how Dutch immigrants to New Amsterdam pronounced his name.

As one of the most popular saints in the Christian world, Nicholas had a particularly powerful corpse. The bodies of saints and martyrs had been important to Christianity since its beginning: the earliest churches were built on the tombs of saints. It was thought that the bodily bits of saints functioned like spiritual walkie-talkies: you could communicate with higher powers through them, and they, in turn, could manifest holy forces on Earth. They could heal you, protect you, and even perform miracles.

Sometimes, the miracles concerned the saints' own bodies. Their corpses would refuse to decay, exude an inexplicable ooze, or start to drip blood that mysteriously solidified and then reliquefied. So it was with Nicholas: at some point after his death, his bones began to secrete a liquid called manna or myrrh, which was said to smell like roses and possess potent healing powers.

The appearance of the manna was taken as a sign that Nicholas’s corpse was especially holy, and pilgrims began flocking by the thousands to his tomb in the port city of Myra (now called Demre). By the eleventh century, other cities started getting jealous. At the time, cities and churches often competed for relics, which brought power and prestige to their hometowns the way a successful sports team might today. Originally, the relics trade had been nourished by the catacombs in Rome, but when demand outstripped supply, merchants—and even monks—weren't above sneaking down into the crypts of churches to steal some holy bones. Such thefts weren't seen as a sin; the sanctity of the remains trumped any ethical concerns. The relics were also thought to have their own personalities—if they didn't want to be stolen, they wouldn't allow it. Like King Arthur's sword in the stone, they could only be removed by the right person.

That was how Myra lost Saint Nicholas. The culprits were a group of merchants and sailors from the town of Bari, located on the heel of Italy's boot. Like other relic thefts, this one came at a time of crisis for the town where the thieves lived, which in this case had recently been invaded by a horde of rapacious Normans. The conquerors wanted to compete with the Venetians, their trading rivals to the north, who were known for stealing the bones of Saint Mark (disguised in a basket of pork) from Alexandria in 827. And when the Normans heard that Myra had recently fallen to the Turks, leaving Nicholas’s tomb vulnerable, they decided to try stealing a saint for themselves.

According to an account written shortly after the theft by a Barian clerk, three ships sailed from Bari into Myra's harbor in the spring of 1087. Forty-seven well armed Barians disembarked and strode into the church of Saint Nicholas, where they asked to see the saint’s tomb. The monks, who weren't idiots, got suspicious and asked why they wanted to know. The Barians then dropped any pretense of politeness, tied the monks up, and smashed their way into Nicholas's sarcophagus. They found his skeleton submerged in its manna and smelled a heavenly perfume wafting up from the bones, which "licked at the venerable priests as if in insatiable embrace."

And so Nicholas of Myra became Nicholas of Bari. The relics made the town, and the men who stole them. The thieves became famous in the area, and for centuries their descendants received a percentage of the offerings given on the saint’s feast day. The townspeople built a new basilica to hold the remains, which drew thousands of pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. Even today, Bari remains a major pilgrimage site in southern Italy, visited by both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Every May an elaborate festival, the Feast of the Translation, celebrates the arrival of Nicholas’s relics. As one of the highlights, the rector of the basilica bends over Nicholas’s sarcophagus and draws off some of the manna in a crystal vial. The fluid is mixed with holy water and poured into decorated bottles sold in Bari's shops; it is thought to be a curative drink.

But Bari is not the only place that boasts of the bones of Saint Nicholas. If you ask the Venetians, they will say their own sailors visited Myra during the First Crusade and stole Nicholas’s remains, which have been in Venice ever since. For centuries, both Bari and Venice have claimed the saint's skeleton.

In the twentieth century, scientists waded into the dispute. During renovations to the basilica of Bari in 1953, church officials allowed University of Bari anatomy professor Luigi Martino to examine the remains— the first time the tomb had been opened in more than eight hundred years. Martino found the bones wet, fragile, and fragmented, with many of them missing. He concluded that they had belonged to a man who died in his seventies, although because Martino was given only a short time with the bones, he could say little more.

Four decades later, Martino and other scientists also studied the Venetian bones. They concluded that those relics and the ones in Bari had come from the same skeleton, and theorized that the Venetian sailors had stolen what was left in Myra after the Barians had done all their smashing.

As for Demre, all they have is an empty tomb. And they want their bones back. In 2009, the Turkish government said it was considering a formal request to Rome for the return of Nicholas's remains. Though the bones have little religious significance in a nation that’s 99 percent Muslim, there’s still a sense in Turkey that the centuries-old theft was a cultural violation. Its restitution would certainly be an economic benefit: according to local officials, tourists in Demre frequently complain about the barren tomb, and they weren't satisfied by the giant plastic sculpture of Santa Claus that once stood outside Nicholas’s church. Even though Santa has become an international cultural icon, his myth is still rooted in a set of bones far from home.

From REST IN PIECES: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy. Copyright © 2013 by Bess Lovejoy. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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