Creative Synergies: The Development of Omikron

Five years ago, the words “adventure game” meant shuffling a mouse pointer around a two-dimensional world searching for a hot spot that indicated a clue, complete with 8-bit SoundBlaster music and more text than you could rattle a fistful of floppies at. Fast forward to today, and the same expression indicates real-time three-dimensional worlds filled with seamless interactivity and nerve-frying action. Not to mention world famous musicians and enough voice acting to fill three CDs.

When Omikron was declared gold--all three CDs of it--it was the end of a long, arduous and deeply creative journey for the development team at Quantic Dream. The publisher, Eidos Interactive, had stood behind its guns and gave the group the time it needed--all three years of it--to mold the title. And the result? An offbeat, innovative mind trip into the future of adventure games. We sat down with Eidos Senior Designer Philip Campbell, who must have been insanely passionate, or merely insane, to plunge into this epic project and help guide it to completion. He reveals some of the complexities casual observers might miss, and discusses the past and the future of the Omikron universe.

Tell us how you feel about this game now that it is finished and in stores.
The whole team has headed off to Tahiti! I honestly don’t have time to feel anything because I’m in the middle of designing my next project, [codenamed] Tomb Raider 3 Gold: The Fifth Artifact. We’ve been scanning the newsgroups; it seems to be very positive so far and, strangely, we’ve been tailing David Bowie around the world, and he continues to put out the word for us. We have a whole host of Omikron things still to consider, including more tie-ins with Bowie and, hopefully, Omikron 2. No rest for the evil, the French and the Irish!

This game has had such a long and elaborate development process, I feel as though I have been following it all my life. Call to mind the initial inspiration that gave birth to this project. How did it form, and what was the game meant to be at that time?
It’s pretty simple: Quantic wanted to do everything in a game, and by golly, they’ve come close! This was Quantic Dream CEO David Cage’s first game design, and I think the inexperience in understand what was and wasn’t possible, coupled with the very diverse credentials of the team he assembled, really helped the game, and the process, to be very innovative. In fact, the first demo of Omikron nearly three years ago was created by a team of six in an unlit cellar that once was Jacques Brel’s recording studio!

Quantic initially spent a lot of time updating their website with details on the development. You long ago told me that you found this to be a fascinating process, and it certainly was different from the information-clutching process usually seen. Why was this done, and how did it serve the project or the people following its development?
Having the process laid bare helped on a number of levels. It helped in our communication process with Quantic, giving us a clearer picture of what they were going through. Also, at times, the brutal honesty of the reporting initiated both emotional confrontations and helped solve problems--sort of the development equivalent of MTV’s Real World! The goal of creating a real and tangible world really benefited from this “Hearts on their Sleeve” approach--the team really lived it. Plus add the pure interest factor for the public just seeing a glimpse of how it’s done…

Describe how the game changed throughout its development into what we see today. How were technical and gameplay features modified into what is on stores shelves?
Features altered due to the demands of the world of Omikron--nothing was written in stone. The decision to go first-person during the shooting scenes, for example, was an agonizing one at the time, but Quantic HAD to cling to their philosophical guns that no single feature of the game could be subverted for purely technical reasons. It was felt that the best type of shooting experience that could be achieved would be through the immersed eyes of the player, and so it was done. Similarly, the fighting engine switched viewpoints frequently in development, from 3D to 2D, and then 3D again, all in the interests of providing the right fighting experience. Advances in technology had to maintain pace with the multi-natured layers of the game as that age-old question was continually posed: “What would the player want to do NOW…? It’s partly the result of this process that has allowed Omikron to appear so fresh and innovative.

What were the most challenging aspects and time periods of the development?
You mean apart from the fistfights in the Omikron Fight Club? [Laughs hugely…] Collaborating with David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels, Bowie’s guitarist, was a fear that became a pleasure, and the biggest problem David Cage had was just to sustain his team. It’s very demanding developing a game that has everything!

Was there ever a time when you doubted the game would be made?
Yes, last Monday, when the CD burner got the flu... No, actually, I never doubted it. That’s just the way I am.

What was the most satisfying aspect of the development, and the final game?
Working with Bowie, working with Bowie, the fact that there is a final game, and working with Bowie.

Thematic development is often omitted in interactive entertainment. What are the themes that permeate this title's plot, and what do some of the primary characters represent?
Well, on one level, it’s your basic good ’n’ evil story. On another, it explores themes of camouflaged totalitarianism and desperate revolution. The game strives to be relevant in the real world by being part of the game. Does that stand to reason? By tying the concept of the game of Omikron strongly to reality and defining the player’s character in terms of their actual life, we clearly connected the parallel universe to our own. In effect, the player’s own life becomes our setting. Quantic believes it may be the world’s first Buddhist game--Buddhist with guns, I call it.

David Bowie made an interesting statement in an online interview in which he complimented both Eidos and Quantic for having the artistic vision to create this game. What defined the artistic aspects of this title?
The strong, singular vision of David Cage held it all together, and we were all charged with bringing this computer world to life. The diverse qualifications of the protagonists generated a multifaceted world-view, as multifaceted as any REAL city. All the city sectors have wildly different ambiences, and the story transforms in the telling: Is it science fiction? Lord of the Rings fantasy? Or cold hard fact? Bowie and Gabrels’ music reflected this perfectly as they strove to create the aural complexity of an entire population.

When did Bowie come into the project, and what did he bring creatively?
That’s what happens when you have long-time fans with secret agendas--like game designers! Seriously, who else would have been able to create music for a parallel universe, and become a Digital Entity to boot?! What we weren’t prepared for was the incredible emotional heart that Bowie and Gabrels provided to the game, music that married intensely personal stories of individuals with the desires of an entire revolution. They even threw in a couple of catchy songs for the strip clubs to boot! Creatively, a wholehearted dedication to providing a coherent musical score rather than a collection of songs, all in all not your typical average contribution by a rock legend.

When did Eidos come into the picture?
Eidos’ John Kavanagh had the acute sense to see something good in the infamous cellar demo, worked through the broken English, and has lived and breathed the project all the way, along with the rest of us. I fought my way onto the team two years ago after seeing the first E3 demo, spent a lot of time in Paris with the team--not just having a good time!--and developed a strong creative relationship. I would call it more than that; it’s really a great friendship, and I would now blatantly namecheck, amongst the entire crew, David, Loic, Olivier, Anne, Xavier, Pierre, Sophie, Audrey, Tony, Daniel, Fabien and Antoine... Ah, Antoine! The days we spent dreaming of his arrival in America, greeting the girls with his sure-fire chat-up line, “Hello, I am French...”

Which leads me to my next question. Why the strong emphasis on adult content?
Adult content? It’s all part of the crazy mixed up world, mate. Wild at heart and all. For adult content, read “Taking our audience seriously,” or “It’s reality--a bit as as know it” not “Pandering to the lowest common denominator.” Omikron is not gratuitous about any of the issues it confronts; it’s the act of storytelling that draws in the so-called adult content. You see, it must be there. Who would have a world any other way?

How would you characterize and define this title for people who are not familiar with it?
Marketing hit the nail on the head: “Your soul is projected into the Omikron universe in a body you do not know and for a reason you cannot begin to fathom. From that point on, you will have to talk, investigate, drive, shoot, ride and explore your way to the inevitable conclusion of the game and deliverance from this strange dimension.” But they missed something: They forgot about the swimming. David, you know better than to ask me for concise, non-rambling replies. The day I summarize in a few curt words--the day I trim the excess from Marketing’s meaty prose--I guess I won’t be doing my job then, will I?

Very true! The game is shipping on 3 CDs. What, pray tell, did you put on those CDs that requires so much space?
There’s a lot of little tiny lines of code, a few colors, and Antoine’s list of sure-fire chat-up lines. And fish. Lots of fish. Seriously, the fact that you can walk into any building, and find something to do, and listen to an album’s worth of original music, well, that’s a lot of art and code to cram onto those CDs.

What sort of post release support can users anticipate?
Quantic has already set up an area on their site for problems and feedback, and once everyone gets back from Tahiti, or wherever they are, patches will become available if and when they are necessary. Producer Tom Marx and Customer Care Director Mike Kelly are spearheading our quick-response team at Eidos with the usual customer support and user forums.

Let's discuss what's next. Quantic has been quoted as saying that the world of Omikron 2 is already being laid out. What can you tell us about that project?
All I can say at the moment is that the devious mind of David Cage is thick with cunning ideas and gaming revolutions. Don’t forget, Omikron is a parallel universe; it doesn’t just go away when the player is done! There are already a number of people anxious for a return to Omikron, so keep an eye on those computer screens!

Can you confirm that Omikron will be ported to other console platforms, such as Dreamcast? If so, what possible enhancements might be made?
It’s all in the big hands of Quantic and our publishing committee. I do know that Quantic and Eidos would not be happy unless there were technological advances concerned, wild leaps of faith, and innovative gameplay. There’s just so much potential in the world of Omikron, and many stories still to be told…

So tell us, after the development of this title, would you argue that size matters? Is the industry climate juxtaposed against developers spending the time and money they need to develop an original title?
It’s always a battle. This industry moves so fast that fortune telling becomes our No. 1 attribute. Omikron just wasn’t the sort of title that could be compromised; you can’t create half a real world or a small piece of a parallel universe. In an ideal world, if the vision is strong enough, there should always be enough time and money. And luckily, in this case, there was!

What is the team going to do now that the game is finished? Vacations? Personal time?
I think that the Tahiti the team is in is only in their minds. Actually, they are already working on their next title. Vacation? What’s that? I think my one-year old, Charlotte, could do with a bit of time. I don’t want there to be any chance that she might grow up to be a Niner’s fan. She’ll be a Buccaneer through and through--just like her Dad! This is the penalty you have to pay for asking me to do an interview on a Sunday after a particularly good Bucs win!

Autor: David Laprad
Source: Adrenaline Vault

Creative Synergies: The Development of Omikron Tuesday, November 09, 1999

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