Michael Jackson

From Sega Retro

Michael Jackson
Place of birth: Gary, Indiana, United States
Date of birth: 1958-08-29
Date of death: 2009-06-25 (age 50)
Role(s): Designer, Endorser

Michael Jackson was an American singer, songwriter, and dancer. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century, and one of the world’s most successful recording artists, Jackson collaborated with Sega on the production of several video games, most notably Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker[1][2][3] and Sonic the Hedgehog 3.



Jackson's love for Sega's video games resulted in a long and beneficial relationship.

After the young star's rise to fame in the late 1980s, Jackson found himself with a significant amount of power and wealth. As with many celebrities from an impoverished background, video games were among one of the first luxuries the artist would acquire en-masse[4]; after the 1988 founding of the star's Californian retreat and amusement park Neverland Ranch, Jackson ensured that the property's dedicated arcade would be fully-stocked with the latest and best arcade hardware, regardless of cost.

The arcade at Neverland Ranch featured a number of high-profile Sega games (most notably his personal R-360[5]), and Jackson would frequently spend long hours with his arcade games, acquiring a more intimate experience with Sega's arcade products than most other players of the day. From these sessions, and from his passion for the personal benefits of video games in general, the artist would keep these moments close to him and even personally identify as a 'gamer' - something that would remain with him his entire life.

Like many fans of video games, Jackson also acquired an interest in their development, and would often leverage his celebrity to keep an ear to the game industry and meet some of his corporate idols. First and foremost among those companies would be the one which intrigued him the most: Sega. To this end, Jackson made many trips to Sega's headquarters, particularly visiting Sega of Japan on every one of his trips to Japan. Here, he eventually developed a close friendship with executive Hisashi Suzuki. According to Jackson's Japanese assistant Mayumi Nina Sakazaki (who accompanied him everywhere while in the country), the artist appreciated Suzuki's preference to not treat Jackson like a celebrity, and later awarded his friendship with a signed jacket. Suzuki felt he should not keep such an item to himself, and instead chose to display it at the company's Japanese headquarters (where it reportedly remains to this day).[6]

During one of Jackson's earlier company tours, he was shown the normally off-limits development room, where he became fascinated with OutRun. Jackson loved the game's soundtrack so much that he immediately memorized the tune, and proceeded to hum it to Suzuki, asking who wrote the song. When he learned it was composed by the Sega Sound Team, he stated, "This is a great song, and I'd love to meet the staff." Jackson was then shown Sega's music facilities, where he was surprised to learn that video game music was largely composed on computers, reportedly astounded that enjoyable songs could be produced under such conditions. Jackson was also amazed by Sega's technological prowess. As an artist, he constantly endeavored to incorporate new and emerging technology into his music, and saw working with the company as a means to forward that goal. [7]

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

Main article: Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.

Inspired in part from the creativity of Jackson's 1988 musical film Moonwalker, and from the artist's existing love of his Sega Genesis, the 1990 arcade game Michael Jackson's Moonwalker was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between the two globally-recognized names. Based on the popular Smooth Criminal segment of the film, the title is an isometric beat-'em-up game featuring FM hardware renditions of Jackson's songs, and was generally well-received by the gaming public (as was its reimagined home port, Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.)

Both the arcade and home versions of Moonwalker were developed with the direct involvement of Jackson himself. According to Sega of Japan executive and close friend Hisashi Suzuki, the artist was not satisfied with merely licensing his image, and ended up personally designing some of the games' mechanics and ideas.[8]

During this time, Jackson was awarded one of Sega of America's exclusive letterman jackets. Boasting a dark-blue ringer design with white sleeves and a large trademark Sega S emblazoned on the left breast, the jacket was produced in extremely limited quantities and gifted to only the company's top brass, and its gift to Jackson was symbolic of the work the pair had accomplished together. Accordingly, the jacket was one of Jackson's favorite, and was frequently pictured wearing the iconic piece for years to come.[9]

Sega AS-1

Main article: Sega AS-1.

In December 1992, while Jackson was in Japan for his Dangerous World Tour, he met with Sega of Japan and worked with developers Sega AM5 as a celebrity actor for the upcoming Sega AS-1. Hironao Takeda recalls that Jackson played a complete, English-localized build of what was then known as Scramble Training. Reportedly, Jackson deeply enjoyed the interactive nature of the experience, choosing to ride several more times and achieving the highest score every time.[10]

Following his return from the tour, Jackson was ecstatic about his experience with the AS-1 and recommended it to many of his celebrity friends (including Paul McCartney, who later reached out to Sega in his interest). On March 2, 1993, Jackson reached out to his assistant Mayumi Nina Sakazaki and began dictating his designs for an AS-1 game of his very own, reportedly saying, "I think [the] AS-1 is the best arcade game ever made, and I want it to succeed." Said game would have featured a 360° screen, 3D sounds, and hydraulic seats, with an educational, non-violent theme likely possibly around time travel. Crucially, Jackson also suggested the game star a "navigator" character who would introduce riders to the AS-1 and contextualize the game (a feature integral to successful motion simulators like Star Tours).[11]

Sakazaki took down Jackson's ideas and conveyed them to Sega. The company showed interest, but initially felt the need to decline due to the perception that they could not afford the high licensing costs associated with having the artist in a starring role. To their surprise, Jackson offered to work for free, reportedly agreeing to shoot footage for the system's rideflims on the spot[12], only asking Sega to recoup his costs for the game's shoot. In total, Jackson only charged $50,000 for his appearance at the Los Angeles, California-based studio, where his regular fees were astronomically higher (for comparison, his inclusion in Captain Eo cost The Walt Disney Company about $70,000,000).[13]

As opposed to producing an entirely new game designed by Jackson, Sega of Japan chose instead adapt the in-development Scramble Training to feature the celebrity. The newly-titled Michael Jackson in Scramble Training, along with the later ridefilm Megalopolis: Tokyo City Battle, both star Jackson as the game's navigator, assisting players in making it through the experience. While both titles reportedly experienced delays, Sakazaki recalls Jackson being patient and considerate during development, knowing how hard Sega's teams were working on the project. Additionally, she recalls that Hisashi Suzuki did not use Jackson's inclusion as an advertising tool, something she attributes to the deep mutual respect between the two.[14]

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Jackson delegated management to collaborator and friend Brad Buxer.
Main article: Sonic the Hedgehog 3/Development/Music.

Following Masato Nakamura's request for increased royalties for a possible Sonic the Hedgehog 3 soundtrack, Sega of Japan declined, and initially tasked composition to Sega's in-house composers. However, sometime in 1993 - relatively late in the development process[15] - the company entered into an agreement to have Jackson and his personal sound team compose the game's soundtrack. Jackson had a long history with Sega (most notably producing Michael Jackson's Moonwalker early in the Mega Drive's lifespan) and had visited Sega's offices in Japan some months prior - particularly becoming close friends with company executive Hisashi Suzuki. As Jackson was both an avid video gamer and a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog, Suzuki suggested that the artist compose the soundtrack to an upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog title, an offer which was immediately accepted. Despite Suzuki warning Jackson that his work on the game was unlikely to be as profitable as his other endeavors, Jackson astoundingly charged no cost for his work on the project, refusing Hisashi Suzuki's offers of reimbursement and only requesting that Sega instead donate a percentage of the game's profits to charity.[16]

Jackson and his sound team produced a number of original compositions for the project (along with recycling some of their past compositions, such as Buxer's unreleased New Wave single "Hard Times" as the theme for Ice Cap Zone). After the music was complete, Sega Sound Team flew back to Japan to finalize the soundtrack's development. Early that September, Jackson (who was in Japan for a concert at the Fukuoka Dome) met with Sega for final approval on his team's contributions. However, the artist was still displeased with the quality of his original music, and worked with the Team to make a number of last-minute changes - including the removal and replacement of certain tracks entirely. Jackson then officially approved of the soundtrack.[17]

While some developer statements claim Jackson requested his music be removed from the final product[18], most sources claim Jackson did allow the use of his music in the released soundtrack, but chose to go uncredited.[19][20] Regardless of their source, allusions to the artist's musical style were incorporated into several songs. Much of the game’s new jack swing themes can be attributed to Jackson and his team, and Carnival Night Zone's theme even directly samples the 1991 Jackson song Jam. The soundtrack also features motifs commonly associated with the artist, such as rhythms being punctuated with the occasional “woo!”.

While Jackson's is currently believed to have composed the majority of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 in some regard, one of his compositions was directly recycled from the 1991 recording of Blood on the Dance Floor : a single co-produced by Buxer and Jackson which features a rolling drum beat later included in Knuckles’ Theme (and by extension, Sub-Boss Theme). More famously, however, is Jackson's 1995 single Stranger in Moscow, which reuses the general chord progression of Sonic 3's final track, "Staff Roll". Ultimately, Jackson was not credited in either Sonic the Hedgehog 3 or the related Sonic & Knuckles, with credits going to the remaining members of his sound team (Brad Buxer, Bobby Brooks, Darryl Ross, Geoff Grace, Doug Grigsby III, and Scirocco), and with the Sega Sound Team and Cube treated as secondary to the "music composers".

1993 sexual abuse accusations

In 1993, Michael Jackson was famously accused of sexual abuse. Though the case was eventually closed with no charges pressed, the artist's public image and commercial viability were significantly affected. While neither Sega of Japan or Sega of America officially made any statement on the matter (with both remaining open to working with the artist), Shuji Utsumi mentions a hesitancy to pursue any new projects with Jackson[21], and this sentiment would be mirrored by at least one unnamed Sega of America executive (post the artist's Sonic the Hedgehog 3 departure).

While magazines occasionally reported on a possible Moonwalker 2, it appears to have been largely speculative: reportedly, a sequel to Moonwalker was considered and reportedly "promised" to Jackson[21], but never properly developed, and while Sega staff on both sides of the Pacific mentioned a desire to pursue future projects with Jackson, only Sega of Japan appear to have had anything in actual planning.[21] Ultimately, Sega's unstated policy would be implemented as a simple "cooling period" placed on their current relations with the artist, and any planned or future collaborations would be placed on hold.

Despite no official stance being taken on the matter, managers of Sega's various theme park venues were given the choice of removing the AS-1 ride Michael Jackson in Scramble Training from their establishments if they felt inclined (to be replaced with Scramble Training, the version of the ride produced before Jackson's inclusion). Regardless, Jackson continued to visit Sega of Japan on occasion, invited as a means to keep the door open for future projects together, with the visits both boosting company morale and allowing the artist to live the dream of touring Sega's development studios.[22]

Theme restaurant

Sometime around 1994, Jackson planned a franchise of restaurants themed around his likeness. At the time, a Singapore-based company, Hotel Properties (which at the time owned 14 hotels, including the Four Seasons, Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood, and others), was also developing a "theme restaurant" project. The company's Asian franchise rights office approached Jackson to create a themed merchandise corner in their Piccadilly Circus store in London, with Jackson envisioning full restaurants in London, Tokyo, Las Vegas, and other cities.[23]

The restaurant would be divided into several private rooms, each themed to a famous Jackson track, like "Smooth Criminal," "Beat It," "Billie Jean," and "Speed Demon." A computer screen hanging above each table would display the menu, and once a customer has placed their order, they can play games with people in other rooms of the restaurant. While Jackson and his representatives did get in contact with Sega regarding the restaurant, the project failed to materialize for unknown reasons.[24]

Space Channel 5

In 1999, Jackson requested a meeting with a representative from Sega. Sega of Japan sent Shuji Utsumi to meet with the artist in New York's Plaza Hotel. Upon introducing himself to Jackson in the hotel's entirely rented-out floor, Jackson grew upset and began complaining over the lack of progress on a promised follow-up game (likely the proposed Moonwalker 2). To counter Jackson's frustrations, Utsumi mentioned that the game Space Channel 5 was nearing completion, and Jackson might somehow be included in the final release - framing the offer as if the cameo had been planned from the beginning. As Utsumi described Space Channel 5 in detail, particularly its cutting-edge presentation and style, Jackson grew enamored with the idea, and ultimately accepted his cameo as consolation for the lack of a proper follow-up game.[21]

Cameoing as "Space Jackson".

When the news was communicated to the game's developers, producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi initially felt he had to refuse the request, as the game was only a month away from being finalized. However, once the larger development team caught wind of Jackson's request, Mizuguchi and his team endeavored to include him regardless, quickly substituting an NPC dancer with a model of Michael Jackson and creating animations for the artist's signature dance moves. Due to the cameo's short development time, the developers were unsure of how Jackson would react. To Mizuguchi's surprise, he approved, and realizing the pressures the team were under at that point, was reportedly patient with the developers. Jackson visited Sega of Japan's headquarters to record his motion capture and voice lines; reportedly, while these shoots were held in very cold weather, the heat generated from both the staff and the development hardware was enough to require opening the windows to the frigid weather. He also required the game's soundtrack was played very loudly during his motion capture, as he "couldn't dance without loud music." During these recordings, a group of about 20 Jackson fans had gathered on the street below Sega's offices; according to his assistant Mayumi Nina Sakazaki, Jackson was concerned for their well-being while standing out in the cold.[25]

Altogether, Space Channel 5 was able to be finalized on time with a fully-voiced and officially-endorsed cameo by one of the world's largest celebrities. Officially known as Space Michael, he would also go on to appear in the sequel, eventually becoming one of the plot's more important background characters.

Later career

During the 1994 production of the short film Michael Jackson's Ghosts, Jackson suggested that Sega should develop a video game tie-in. While the planned Mega Drive title, Michael Jackson's Ghosts, was never developed, Hisaki Nimiya and Mayumi Nina Sakazaki were still invited to visit Jackson during one of the film's October 1994 shoots.[26]

Jackson later collaborated with developer Midway Studios San Diego on the 2000 Sega Dreamcast boxing game Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2, appearing in a cameo role as one of several celebrity boxers. Appearing in the company's studios to be digitally motion-captured, the artist recorded both animations and voice lines for his respective character; notably, the latter would be downpitched to give Jackson a deeper voice.


As one of the world's most-recognizable celebrities, Michael Jackson inspired a vast number of listeners and fans in a variety of ways, something which into the world of video games. Although references to the moonwalk and allusions to Jackson's signature's dress remain frequent-enough sightings in any form of media, the artist's largest influence on video games would be his character himself. Jackson was one of Japan's most well-known celebrities, and alongside others like Andre the Giant and Mike Tyson, found his unique identity quickly become a common trope of the country's media. This familiarity among the Japanese public resulted in a number of Michael Jackson look-alikes appearing in movies, games, and manga. Aside from an unauthorized cameo in I'm Sorry (a tongue in cheek arcade game which parodies a number of pop culture figures), Jackson's influence on the Japanese public is referenced numerous times through

One of Jackson's most notable marks on Sega's history was his influence on the company's world-famous mascot. From his very inception, Sonic the Hedgehog was significantly inspired by Jackson’s celebrity; as one of the world’s biggest pop stars, and one whose fandom easily made it to Japan, character designer Naoto Oshima borrowed Michael’s smooth “coolness” as an inspiration for building the mascot. Sonic’s famous buckled shoes were also directly inspired by Oshima’s viewing of Jackson’s 1987 album Bad.

Aside from Sonic the Hedgehog, Jackson also makes an unauthorized cameo in I'm Sorry (a tongue in cheek arcade game which parodies a number of pop culture figures) and is homaged in Sonic Team's Burning Rangers. Additionally, 2015's Yakuza 0 features the character of Miracle Johnson, a direct reference to the star in both name, appearance, and behavior.[27]

Production history

Magazine articles

Main article: Michael Jackson/Magazine articles.


Main article: Photos of Michael Jackson

External links


  1. File:BangorDailyNews US 1990-01-17; Page 19.png
  2. File:SunHerald US 1990-01-18; Page 10 (B-2).png
  3. File:DetroitFreePress US 1990-12-13; Page 36 (3C).png
  4. https://creditdotpinball.com/2015/02/20/feature-everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-michael-jackson-and-pinball/ (Wayback Machine: 2023-03-27 07:36)
  5. File:MichaelJacksonsR360.png
  6. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  7. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  8. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELnj8vff6r8
  10. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  11. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  12. https://blog.goo.ne.jp/lemon6868/e/32a5ef5e93b829fd3271e29d8f9a6e1e
  13. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  14. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  15. The Cutting Room Floor: Proto:Sonic the Hedgehog 3
  16. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  17. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  18. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W06T6whrqQs
  19. https://testkitchen.huffingtonpost.com/michaeljacksonsonic/
  20. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 https://otocoto.jp/column/utsumi32/ (Wayback Machine: 2022-11-27 11:15)
  22. https://forums.sonicretro.org/index.php?threads%2Fmichael-jackson-visits-sega-in-japan-december-1996-new-photos.40918%2F#post-1004442 (Wayback Machine: 2023-06-08 07:05)
  23. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  24. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  25. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  26. M Sakazaki (2010). Memories of Michael Jackson
  27. https://legendsoflocalization.com/how-the-michael-jackson-references-work-in-yakuza-0s-localization/ (Wayback Machine: 2023-06-08 06:35)
  28. File:Moonwalker MD credits.pdf
  29. 29.0 29.1 File:Ready2Rumble2 DC US Manual.pdf, page 31