Sega and Michael Jackson. Yep. Michael Jackson officially licensed and aided in the creation of Moonwalker, a game based on the 1988 film. Here’s an arcade sample of gameplay:
Yes. That’s a bunch of Michael Jackson tunes arranged for an arcade machine. Yes. This is a beat-em-up. And yes, Michael Jackson had a lot of involvement with the treatment of the game and music as it was adapted. The music is VERY true to Jackson’s originals. It’s difficult to know exactly how much involvement Jackson had with the process- there’s really no documentation. Some say that Sega sound programmer Hiroshi Kubota assisted him. I can’t confirm this officially. And no one can ask MJ because, well… sniff…
Anyhow, Ken Horowitz, of Sega-16.com, talks about Michael Jackson and Sega in his article “Sega Legends: Michael Jackson and Sonic 3“:
Former technical director Scott Bayless, who many of you may know as the fellow casually holding the Sega CD in the famous nighttime beach ad, once gave him a tour of the company offices. “He’d already signed the Moonwalker deal with Sega,” Bayless recently told Retro Gamer magazine, “and they were touring him around the Redwood City studio. I spent about a half hour showing him all kinds of techie stuff we were doing, and not once did he ever comment or make eye contact; he just kind of stood there with about fifteen of his minions around him.” Bayless then recalls how Jackson’s demeanor suddenly changed completely when they arrived at where Sega recorded its game music. “When we finished there we walked him over to the sound studio, which was just down the hall. Suddenly there was this new person in the room; it was uncanny. Jackson came to life like someone had flipped a switch. It was obvious that the only thing he was excited about was the music.”
There’s a lot of unconfirmed rumors and speculation surrounding Michael Jackson and Sega in general- mostly the theory that he wrote the music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3. If you read Mr. Horowitz’s full article, it will talk about that in great detail. I don’t want to steal his thunder. It’s an excellent read. Trust me.
The game music was adapted for Sega’s other consoles too. Here’s “Beat It” Sega Genesis:
And here’s “Smooth Criminal” on Sega Master System (poor poor Master System…):
Lastly, using Sega’s Sega System 18 arcade board (I definitely plan on highlighting this iconic board down the line), here’s “Bille Jean”:
Sega’s sound chips were built for his music.
Though Jackson has passed, we still have his music and his influence. This game is also part of his legacy, though overlooked. I hope you found this informative or at least, just rocked out to the music. Please leave comments. :D