David Bowie, a video game pioneer as well
David Bowie, who died this past weekend at the age of 69, didn’t always seem real. He was, in fact, at one point in his career a pure digital creation.
Musically he’d been an alien, a shape-shifter, an innovator and an experimenter with all things digital. His career was one marked by restlessness and reinvention, pulling from the theater and even video games.
In 1999 Quantic Dream and Eidos Interactive released “Omikron: The Nomad Soul,” which featured, albeit briefly, a virtual Bowie. Today, it’s common for recognizable personalities to participate in the making of a video game, but in 1999 it was a relatively new frontier. In fact, save for perhaps Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor contributing music to 1996’s “Quake,” it was largely an anomaly.
The Paris-based Quantic Dream, which went on to make such games as “Beyond Two Souls” and “Heavy Rain,” tweeted out a vintage Bowie interview about his participation in the game. In one choice moment of the press conference, Bowie is asked how computer literate he is.
“Not many people know this, but actually I was the first artist to take computers out on the road in the very early ‘80s -- in fact on the ‘Serious Moonlight’ tour in 1983,” he said. “We were going online then and delivering all facts and figures back to home base. So my experience with computers does go back a long time.... I’ve been producing art on the computer since 1994.”
In addition to having a cameo in the game, Bowie composed the soundtrack for “Omikron.” Some of the material would appear in an altered state on Bowie’s “Hours...” The Times in 1999 reviewed “Omikron” and described it as a “complex and engrossing adventure.”
Omikron, the virtual city, was described as “a peaceful, tranquil, creepy place--the sort of place where robots patrol the streets and folks are executed for their thoughts. Players land in Omikron through a clever device: A mysterious stranger named Kay’l appears on the computer screen and asks players to lend their souls so he can return to Omikron.”
Bowie said during the press conference that he wanted to infuse the game with a sense of humanity via the music.
“We approached it as though we were doing a film. What we were trying to do more than anything else is provide an emotional heart to the game,” he said. “One thing that I did find going through the games that I viewed before we started is that a lot of the games have a cold emotional drive.”
He was also asked if he played games himself. The answer was yes, although Bowie confessed to being particularly taken with one certain character.
“I’ve played games. Of course, I’ve played ‘Tomb Raider.’ Like every other hot-blooded male, I was in love with Lara, momentarily. Then I realized it was not real.”
At the top of this post is a video for Bowie’s “Something in the Air” featuring footage of the game, as tweeted out by Quantic Dream.
Full coverage: David Bowie’s life and career
Sasha Frere-Jones: An insider’s look at the making of David Bowie’s secretive ‘Blackstar’ album
From the Robert Hilburn archives: David Bowie spends the ‘80s convincing us he’s just a normal guy
Mikael Wood review: David Bowie looks far beyond pop on jazz-inspired ‘Blackstar’
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