Developer: Quantic Dream
Target Release Date: November 1999
When the creation of Eidos' Omikron: The Nomad Soul commenced, French developer Quantic Dream set its sights on making a game that delivered the best of the action, adventure, RPG, and puzzle genres, while dropping in a fighting engine to rival that of the PlayStation's exceptional Tekken series. Shortly thereafter, Quantic pared down its big ideas and got focused. The result? A game that still sounds fatefully epic, but one that also sounds pleasingly reasonable. And, well, to make the game more appealing, it tossed in David Bowie, too.
In this 3D action-adventure, Omikron is the name of a city in a universe parallel to our own. The theme is eminently biblical, or less specifically, spiritual - you are a hero who must save your soul and your city from a "satanic" being known as Astaroth. Avoiding temptations and keeping the mortals mortal is your end goal here - or as Eidos calls it, your salvation.
You begin the game wandering around in the form of a person you are previously unfamiliar with (your essence is based in your soul, not your corporeal being). In this first instance, it is Kay'l, a policeman who disappeared while working on a serial murder case. Later on, you'll jump to different bodies, but the same skills you use in Kay'l's body will carry over to each new being. In any case, exploration, interaction, and selective reincarnation are the tools of the Omikron trade.
GameSpot spoke with Eidos' US producer, Tom Marx, and the UK producer, Herve Albertazzi, to get the full story. We asked them both about the storyline and the four cities found on Omikron. "Omikron is storyline driven," said Albertazzi. "David Cage, head of Quantic Dream and creator of the game, spent more than a year writing a solid story with a deep, well-thought-out background. It is first and foremost an adventure game with a strong plot. Action pieces, although a major part of the whole [Editor's note: that includes shooting and fighting sequences several times per chapter], fall in place naturally as conclusion or introduction to narrative or exploration parts of the scenario. They are, in other words, justified by the story. It... makes the mix more natural."
"Simply put, the world of Omikron is massive," added Marx. "You start off in Anekbah, which many people have described as dark and similar to the look and feel of Blade Runner. Later you can venture out to Qualisar, which is the Red Light District. This obviously has a very different group of passersby mulling around. Other areas include the Moroccan-style Souk and Venice-like Lahoreh, a city full of rivers. All of the areas have different people who walk the streets and scenery. The atmosphere is also affected by the random weather in Omikron. Sometimes it will rain, change to nighttime, or pleasant daylight.... The more you play Omikron, the more you feel that it is a real world similar to our own."
Jumping Someone Else's Train
The Omikron world being similar to your own is the veritable truth if your neighborhood has sliders for you to transport on, virtual beings, the promise of virtual reincarnation as a part of your everyday life, and multiple opportunities to go back and fix what you did wrong... postmortem.
Albertazzi explained virtual reincarnation. "You simply change body and attributes. It either happens when you die or, provided you have found the right magical spell, when you decide that another body suits your purposes better. For example, I want to get into that heavily guarded area. Do I shoot my way in or simply take over a guard's body and sneak in?"
When you die in the game, your character's soul possesses the body of the first individual to come in contact with your physical being, wherever it's left. You then must learn to use this new body, compensating for its shortcomings while perfecting its advantages. Then, you must repeat what you did to get killed in the first place, as someone else.
Omikron will also have about 140 nonplayable characters, including one with David Bowie's likeness, under the moniker Boz. You will be able to execute purchases and trades and extract general information from these NPCs in most cases, while getting a bit more out of others. The Boz character, for example, will be a musician who can be spotted around the cities of Omikron performing with his band mates and even selling albums. "All [characters] are unique in their design and aspects," said Albertazzi. "Still, for technical reasons, mostly the speeches, we had to stick to standardized meshes and face types. But that's for the 3D models, not the skins or textures."
Albertazzi told us more about Bowie's role in the game. "Well, the team was looking into a possible use of all the bars and seedy places present in the city. The logical move was to try and convince a known artist to perform one of his/her titles. But not just any artist; it had to be someone whose personae could fit in this strange universe. David Bowie was the natural candidate. As for the motion capture, we recorded his voice when he came to Paris to work with the team in January '99. At this time, we explored the possibility of motion capturing him directly, but he thought [the character might look] better if we hooked up with his choreographer, Edouard Lock. He has been creating DB's moves on stage and in clips for the last ten years, so he knows the man fairly well. You can still see in our concert that the moves are Bowie's; that's because they were Lock's in the first place."
All or Nothing
So, concerts, reincarnation, Bowie, and perpetual salvation. The plot undulates in and out of themes, but the gameplay is where it should all logically connect. Albertazzi told us what we could expect from the average level found within Omikron: "Talking about [a] level is not exactly right; there are no such things in Omikron. The story just unfolds as you progress with no clear separation, only logical turns. Still, the beginning of the game, for example, will pretty much let you get accustomed to the world and then start piecing [together] what's really happening in this world. You start as Kay'l - by retracing his steps you get to understand that something much bigger is taking place; something that might shift the balance between dimensions and worlds."
The PC Omikron is ambitious and will have to prove itself. The proposed PlayStation version has long since dropped off the map. Implementing fighting, interaction, and a load of graphical treatments won't be an easy task. Marx told us a bit about the game engine. "A huge achievement of the game engine is the low load time for bringing up the worlds. We have about two square kilometers for the player to explore in Anekbah alone (the first area of the game). Then, the directly adjoining areas of Jaunpur and Qualisar, each similar in size to the original area, load in less than a second. Considering the number of polys being generated and the amount of life which exists, this is very impressive and ensures a seamless experience. For the first time in a game we have included facial motion capture for every one of the interactive characters. By doing this, the movements of the mouth and eyes are linked up properly with the sound files and the movements of the hands and body to create incredible realism."
Omikron is scheduled to be released by the end of October. We'll have the final word on how the industrious themes and varied gameplay pull together at that time.
Autor: Lauren Fielder