The Nomad Soul
|The Nomad Soul|
|Platform(s)||Microsoft Windows, Dreamcast|
The Nomad Soul (known as Omikron: The Nomad Soul in North America) is an adventure video game developed by Quantic Dream and published by Eidos Interactive. It was released for Microsoft Windows in 1999 and the Dreamcast in 2000. Versions for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 were in development for a short time, but were ultimately cancelled after the commercial failure of the Dreamcast version.
One of the main features in the game is the possibility to reincarnate in a different world character upon the death of the one the player is "incarnated" in. However, doing so results in all character stats resetting.
The Nomad Soul is set in a futuristic city known as Omikron, which is a densely populated metropolis on the world of Phaenon, the second planet of the star Rad'an. At the start of the game, players are asked by an Omikronian police officer named Kay'l 669 to leave their dimension and enter Omikron within his body (thereby breaking the fourth wall). After doing so, players continue with the investigation of serial killings that Kay'l and his partner Den were originally working on, attempting to pick up where Kay'l was apparently stopped from investigating. The city of Omikron exists beneath an enormous crystal dome, which was constructed to protect against the ice age that Phaenon entered into after its sun's extinction. The city is split into different sectors: Anekbah, Qalisar, Jaunpur, Jahangir and Lahoreh. Because it is forbidden for the inhabitants to leave their respective sectors, each area has developed uniquely, which is reflected by the diverging lifestyles and architecture. Common to all Omikronians, however, is the heavily oppressive and controlling government, which is run by a supercomputer called Ix.
Soon after the beginning of the game's introduction, the player begins the investigation in the Anekbah sector. He uncovers information that suggests the serial killer he is looking for is in fact not human but actually a demon. When members of an apparent underground, anti-government movement contact the player and confirm his suspicions, the investigation deepens and uncovers information; one of Omikron's chief police commanders, Commandant Gandhar, is a demon pretending to be human and lures human souls into Omikron from other dimensions by way of The Nomad Soul. Kay'l 669 asking the player to help him was a trap: supposedly, if the in-game character dies, the real human playing the video game will lose their soul forever. Despite many assassination attempts on the protagonist's life by other demons working behind the scenes, the player destroys Gandhar with supernatural weaponry.
After this brief victory, the player is invited to join the mysterious anti-government movement named "The Awakened" (referring to the fact the characters have "awakened" from the lies and drugs of the government). The Awakened work in tandem with an ancient religious order who are led by Boz, a mystical being that exists in purely electronic form on the computer networks of Omikron. The Awakened refer to the protagonist as the "Nomad Soul" since he has the ability to change bodies at will. The Nomad Soul learns afterwards that what is going on in Omikron is merely an extension of a thousands-of-years-old battle between mankind and demons led by the powerful Astaroth. Astaroth, who was banished to the depths of Omikron long ago, is slowly regenerating power while using demons to both collect souls and impersonate high members of the government; he believes he can eventually take complete control and move across Phaenon and the Universe beyond. Only by harnessing ancient, magical technology and by re-discovering several hidden tombs underneath Omikron's surface, can the Nomad Soul hope to discover how to destroy Astaroth, return to his own dimension, and prevent his soul from being captured by demons.
The starting character of The Nomad Soul is Kay'l, a detective with amnesia. He later gets killed when leaving the first city.
The Nomad Soul was conceived in 1994 by Quantic Dream founder David Cage. The concept and story of the game was written in Cage's spare time during his time as a music composer. Writing a 200-page document, he sent the script to contacts and friends, which garnered positive feedback but was deemed "impossible".
The Dreamcast version was announced by Eidos on 7 January 2000. Versions for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 were planned but were cancelled, with the PlayStation version being 70% completed.
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Developer David Cage originally had a composer wish list that included Björk, Massive Attack, Archive, and David Bowie. Contrary to Cage's expectations Bowie responded immediately and also wanted to inhabit the virtual space.
David Bowie, who had some input on the storyline and game's design, played two roles within the game, first as Boz, a game character who's a revolutionary wanted by authorities, and secondly Bowie appeared together with collaborator Reeves Gabrels and band member Gail Ann Dorsey as "The Dreamers", a virtual band performing in bars around Omikron City. Bowie's wife Iman appeared as an "incarnable" who introduced "virtual reincarnation". Bowie spent a month in Paris and was filmed by Quantic Dream in a motion capture studio. When Campbell wanted Bowie's signature moves, Bowie thought he didn't really have any and let them capture his choreographer Edouard Locke performing some 'Bowie routines'. Reeves Gabrels was also filmed in the motion capture studio, but Dorsey's likeness was animated by hand.
Characters in the game could buy a virtual album by The Dreamers that they could listen to in their apartments. Or they could simply walk into an apartment that already has some of the music laid out in plain view or in hidden compartments. The Nomad Soul included eight songs written by David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels.
The songs also appeared on Bowie's album Hours, which was released about five weeks before the game. "We All Go Through" was not on the general versions of Hours, but it was released as a Japanese bonus track and on the 2004 bonus disc. One of the three tracks added to Hours, titled "Brilliant Adventure", was actually considered as incidental music for the game. Some songs on the album were a bit different than the versions used in the game. For example, for the song "New Angels of Promise" (used in the game's intro), Bowie changed the chorus lyric "Omikron" to "Suspicious Minds". The 2004 bonus disc of Hours included three tracks marked as "(Omikron: The Nomad Soul version)". At least as late as June 1999 David Bowie's upcoming album was thought of as the soundtrack for the game.
On an E3 press conference Bowie said about his work on the soundtrack: "I moved right away from the stereotypical industrial game-music sound. [...] My priority in writing music for [The Nomad Soul] was to give it an emotional subtext. It feels to me as though Reeves and I have achieved that. We both worked really close with Quantic Dream to come up with eight new songs for the game."
Some of the "instrumental songs" by Bowie and Gabrels would be further developed and released as b-sides, for instance "Awakened 2" is an instrumental version of "No One Calls" and "Thrust" (as heard during a rooftop fight with a demon) would become "1917".
The game also included sound effects, ambient and additional tracks by Xavier Despas.
The PC version of The Nomad Soul received "favorable" reviews, while the Dreamcast version received "average" reviews, according to video game review aggregator GameRankings. Game Revolution said the PC version "creates what is easily the most believable, versatile, and alive game environment yet produced in a PC title and puts you right in the middle of it. Once you begin play you'll find yourself drawn into [The Nomad Soul's] unique world and gripping story, unable to play anything else, unable to think about anything else, unable to do anything else besides run to the store on a quest for David Bowie albums." Vincent Lopez of IGN called the PC version "a world that, due to that little demon problem, I probably wouldn't want to stay in forever, but I'll certainly go back and visit, often." However, Jeremy Conrad of the same site said of the Dreamcast version, "Even though this game was an obviously rushed PC port, it has some good things going for it. The cyberpunk setting of the game is extremely cool, and since the game is a little similar to Shenmue in style, it's one that adventure fans (like me) will dig. If they spent a little more time and polished up the port more (by reducing the jittering streaming, for example) it would have been a must-have adventure for DC owners. As it stands at release, however, only hardcore adventure gamers should apply." Nash Werner of GamePro said the PC version "will take you by surprise, as it did me. And, hell, you're getting original David Bowie songs right out of the box! [The Nomad Soul] will take away your soul." However, another author of the same magazine said the Dreamcast version was "worth a rent, just to see if you like the dark future it shows, but if the setting doesn't do it for you, then you should just let The Nomad Soul drift."
PC Gamer, however, questioned its game, saying, "When all is said and done, is The Nomad Soul worth the price of admission? Perhaps, but only if you're a very big fan of adventure gaming and are able to look past the misguided aimlessness of its gameplay to explore its vast universe and story." Eurogamer said of the PC version, "The end result is sadly deficient in most areas, and the first person shooter sections especially just don't gel with the rest of the game. On the bright side the game does have an immersive storyline with a few twists and turns to keep you guessing, attractive graphics and atmospheric settings, a great soundtrack by David Bowie, and plenty of tasks to keep you busy. The whole is thankfully better than the sum of its parts, but it is still a long long way from being a classic..." GameSpot was very mixed on the game, saying of the PC version: "you'll notice that The Nomad Soul's purported innovation and originality amount to nothing more than the senseless combination of unrelated but very familiar play styles. Ultimately, The Nomad Soul's interesting plot and good graphics won't save you from its misguided design"; and for the Dreamcast version: "when you take all of The Nomad Soul's various parts and add them together, the game doesn't amount to much. The game's attempt to integrate multiple styles of play just doesn't work, since each individual piece is terrible when compared with other games from the respective genres. The game's intriguing story is simply hampered by all the design flaws, which make playing the game a little too frustrating and downright pointless at times." The most scathing review of the PC version came from Computer Gaming World, who said, "The only good thing that could come out of this game is if it inspires others to do it right the next time. There was a good idea here, but it was completely squandered", and that it should be "For Bowie completists only."
The game sold more than 600,000 copies combined. A majority of the sales were in Europe, selling between 400,000 and 500,000 copies. Following the death of Bowie on 10 January 2016, Square Enix, who had acquired The Nomad Soul for digital release in 2013, offered the game for free over a one-week-long period as a tribute to the musician's passing.
The Nomad Soul was nominated for CNET Gamecenter's, The Electric Playground's and GameSpot's award for the best computer adventure game of 1999, but lost the prize variously to Gabriel Knight 3, Spy Fox 2 and Outcast. The editors of The Electric Playground praised the game's "vast, complex worlds, heavily populated streets and engaging script work".
While the game received average critical reaction, it achieved enough commercial success to convince Quantic Dream to start production on a sequel. Titled Nomad Soul: Exodus, it was to take place "100 cycles" after the events in the first game. Series creator David Cage claimed to receive dozens of emails every day (more than three years after the game's release) from fans worldwide asking for a sequel. Ties were severed with Eidos, leaving Quantic Dream to sign with publisher Vivendi Universal, then to Atari, Inc., to pursue their next project Fahrenheit, known as Indigo Prophecy in the US.
In April 2005, Omikron 2 and a new franchise, Infraworld, were announced to be in development. David Cage confirmed at the time that they dropped the subtitle Exodus in favour of Karma. Infraworld was cancelled a few months later as "the concept did not appeal to its publishers". Originally planned for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, production for Karma was put on hold to have Quantic Dream focus on Heavy Rain.
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