Musician, artist, alien, futurist, and all around influential superlative, David Bowie left the Earth on January 10th. While there will be enough written about him in the coming days to leave a paper trail all the way to Mars, there is one work in his canon, the video game Omikron, The Nomad Soul, that might not get so much attention. But this work illuminates how he fearlessly embraced the future by taking risks, even if they didn’t pan out.
Released around 2000 for PC and the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast, Omikron was a strange hybrid game that let players do a bit of body snatching around the titular science fiction city. Gameplay ranged from first-person shooting, to third-person investigating, and everything in between, all rendered in an angular polygonal 3-D that screams “early 2000 video game.”
Bowie is said to have had some input into the storyline, but his most memorable contributions are to the soundtrack and of course his in-game cameos. ‘Hours…’, the 1999 album Bowie released just prior to the debut of the game, featured a number of songs that had been written just for the game, but were slightly reworked so that they were not so specific to the sci-fi world. They would appear on the Omikron soundtrack in more tribal, remixed forms alongside original instrumentals Bowie also composed for the game. He also lent his voice and likeness to the character of a virtual revolutionary named Boz, as well as the lead singer of the in-game band, The Dreamers. Bowie’s wife, Iman, even makes a cameo, voicing an Omikron resident.
The game didn’t exactly make a big splash, despite the contributions of Earth’s resident alien. The gameplay and story turned out to be a bit confusing, and the whole thing’s neon dystopia aesthetic was unfortunately destined to seem dated from its inception. Bowie’s soundtrack contributions are pleasingly paranoid, but singularly abrasive in a way that is unique to late 1990s and early 2000s visions of cyberpunk future. Omikron quickly became a footnote both in video game history and in David Bowie’s ever-expansive body of work.
Bowie’s Omikron may not be the deep cut that will be remembered as a lost work of genius, but it is another of the Thin White Duke’s works that speaks to his fearlessness in the face of the future. His willingness to experiment and embrace new ideas, no matter how bizarre, can be seen in his early experiments with digital releasing via his own website, and even the futuristic content of much of his lyrics. A totally strange video game project? Why not.