Absolute Bowiegamers - Omikron: The Nomad Soul - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Absolute Bowiegamers - Omikron: The Nomad Soul

Chris Morley gets digital with David.
Fittingly for a man of many stage personas, David Bowie also embraced multiple platforms. None more surprising, perhaps, than popping up as part of Omikron: The Nomad Soul, an adventure game released for Microsoft Windows in 1999 and the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, during a brief diversion into computer gaming.

Designed by former composer David Cage, who had included Bowie in a list of artists he wanted to work with on the music, the game is a sort of fantasy crime thriller as you investigate a spate of serial killings playing as Omikronian police officer Kay'l 669. Bowie's character, Boz, serves as the leader of a religious order while living solely in electronic form inside the computer networks of Omikron itself.

And as you might expect there's a bit of music as well. David also lends his virtual likeness to the lead singer of an in-game band.

Bowie spent two weeks in Paris for some design work, collaborating with guitarist Reeves Gabrels on ten original songs for the soundtrack. His total screen time as Boz is around just five minutes, but nevertheless, as Cage told French newspaper Le Monde...
"...we talked a lot about the proactive role that this character was, where he came from, what he sought, and David did the rest.”
The other side of the creative process appears to have been no less intense. Bowie, Cage & Gabrels holed up in a Paris apartment developing the sound of the game's world after the story had taken shape.
"I brought all the designs of the game, the script, my notes littering the apartment, and several hours a day, I told him the story moment by moment, we watched the images together, we talked about the universe, the history of this world, and after I left, he was working on music."
Music which served as both back & foreground for Omikron. The foregrounding mostly done by its resident band, the Dreamers, with David giving his likeness to one of its members into the bargain.

While it may come as a surprise that he threw himself into this so wholeheartedly, there's an argument for saying Bowie was ahead of the curve, for in the Spotify-less world of the Nineties his contribution could be seen as using a digital platform to promote his music well before anyone else cottoned on to the potential of doing so.

Even before Omikron, Bowie had experimented with his own self-titled Internet provider, BowieNet. It offered those who signed up a chance to gorge on exclusive web content as well as the standard internet access & e-mail address upon its launch on September 1, 1998 & survived for just under ten years, closing down for good by 2006.
“If I was 19 again, I’d bypass music and go right to the internet”
...David said in a statement upon BowieNet's unveiling.
David had been exploring the possibilities the internet offered since around 1996 when Telling Lies from his Earthling album was released exclusively as a download single. Though his attempt at a webcast of a concert from the accompanying tour was a flop mainly thanks to the limitations imposed by dial-up connections, The Guardian's technology section remembering that “most viewers received only stuttering images and error messages.“

But that was only one part of his plan, as drawn up alongside interactive entertainment gurus Robert Goodale & Ron Roy. Yet again he was ahead of the game....
“Bowie conceived of this service as a visual, interactive community for music fans. Through his Ultrastar company he negotiated deals to give users access to music services like the Rolling Stone Network, which live-streamed concerts, and Music Boulevard, one of the first companies to offer paid-for downloadable music tracks.

The ISP provided every user with 5MB of web space, encouraging them to create and share their own websites; there were also forums and live chat sections where Bowie himself conducted live web chats. This was in effect a music-centric social network, several years before the emergence of sector leaders like Friendster and Myspace.“
Through BowieNet, the Man Who Sold The World Wide Web was once again showing everyone else how it should be done before they'd even really caught up with him!

The December 1999 interview above, as broadcast on the BBC's Newsnight, saw Jeremy Paxman no doubt completely flabbergasted as the man he probably thought of as a musician started sounding like someone from IT...
“We’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying. The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment – the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”
Can anyone honestly find fault with that assessment of the internet, even now? Little wonder then that the call from Eidos to work on Omikron had been answered with a yes, David even going to that year's E3 with Gabrels in tow. And of course, the music was fairly high up the agenda.
“I moved right away from the stereotypical industrial game-music sound. … My priority in writing music for Omikron was to give it an emotional subtext. It feels to me as though Reeves and I have achieved that.“
And he saw its role as “adding emotional depth to the playing out of the drama.“ As for matters of in-game character, Bowie understandably in light of any similar points of reference turned back to his film career...
“Coming across my digital alter-ego in a dark street is not necessarily my idea of fun - but to anyone else who comes across my character in the game, well, I think they’ll judge my performance in terms of its cinematic characterization like one would any dramatic performance.”
One of the final acts of the greatest drama of all, his life itself, had the internet to thank for providing a medium - the release through his website of a video for Where Are We Now from The Next Day around the same time as its Itunes release on Bowie's 66th birthday, 8 January 2013 - ten years after his last released recorded music.

Producer Tony Visconti said afterwards that "It was [Bowie's] idea to just drop it at midnight on his birthday and just let things avalanche." An avalanche which slowed only with his death three years later.

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