Before Quantic Dream broke through with games like Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, the French studio bet it all on an ambitious debut that, despite some commercial success, has largely been forgotten. That game was 1999’s Omikron: The Nomad Soul, a strange mishmash of genres and fourth-wall-shattering concepts from the mind of David Cage, still the studio’s public face and creative leader. Besides being the game that led us down the perilous road to Beyond: Two Souls, these days, Omikron is best known for the role David Bowie played in its development and story.
How did a legend like Bowie get involved with this exceedingly strange game from a first-time development studio? All Quantic Dream and the game’s British publisher, Eidos, had to do was ask, according to an interview with David Cage on France Info. The team met with Bowie and his son, Duncan Jones, who played a major role in his father signing on. (Bowie called Duncan “the assigned gameplayer in the household,” though confessed to fiddling with Tomb Raider.)
Over the course of a year, Bowie and Reeves Gabrels wrote and recorded eight songs for the Omikron soundtrack—all of which would later be released on the album ‘Hours…’ and its various reissues. According to Cage, he and the musicians were “locked in an apartment in Paris” for several months while he filled them in on the game’s convoluted script and mythology. When talking about the idea of creating a soundtrack specifically for a video game, Bowie gave an unsurprisingly insightful answer: “What we were trying to do more than anything else was provide an emotional heart to the game, because the one thing that I did find going through the games that I viewed before we started work, is a lot of the games have a cold emotional drive.” Judging by his later obsession with making a video game that has the power to move people to tears, that’s a sentiment Cage seems to have taken to heart.
Bowie—along with his wife Iman and Gabrels—also appeared in the game. Players can find him performing those original songs as frontman of the band The Dreamers (see the video embedded above). He also plays the part of Boz, the player’s benevolent holographic guide and a character Bowie enthusiastically described as “the internet as a sentient being.” As Boz, he had the unenviable task of explaining the game’s bizarre meta-story about how the city of Omikron is plagued by a demon that also likes to trap the souls of video game players inside of Omikron, the video game, and how killing said demon (and finishing the game) is your only means of escape. Given Bowie’s fascination with the internet and technology, it’s not entirely surprising that a story playing with these sorts of concepts would resonate with him.