Today is the 10th anniversary of the passing of ‘The King of Pop’ Michael Jackson, and a new interview with some developers who worked with him on games like Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Space Channel 5 has been published in memory of him. [Thanks, DenFamiNicoGamer!]
Here are the highlights:
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker
- Roppyaku Tsurumi was the planner and director of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, after the role fell into his hands when the original person who suggested the idea (Yutaka Sugano, who directed Shinobi and Crackdown) was reassigned to Sega of America. The idea for the game originated from SoA discussing making a Japanese game with a worldwide IP.
- According to Tsurumi, both the arcade and Genesis versions of Moonwalker were developed in parallel, reaching production milestones around the same time. The two teams, with one in Sega in Japan and the other at SoA, shared information, but ended up making two different games in the final product. For the arcade version that Tsurumi headed, the team was full of mostly new staff for which Moonwalker was their first developed game. This was also Tsurumi’s first time heading a game project.
- Sega of America provided a general schedule of production progress deadlines, and in an unusual move, had already signed a contract with Michael Jackson. Usually, they’d progress to a certain point and get approval from management before signing the deal.
- Michael Jackson loved video games, and Sega in particular, so he personally checked and greenlighted the concept and image board for the game. Tsurumi recounts reading many faxes from Jackson’s manager, which would all start with, “Mr. Jackson says…”, and providing direct feedback from the pop star. Feedback included that apart from the ultimate final boss, the enemies should not die. This included dogs as well. Surprisingly, he didn’t make many changes to the game graphically.
- The voice clips were recorded by Jackson himself, and despite Tsurumi and the team requesting only around 40-50 voice clips, Jackson sent in an hour’s worth of exclamations, shocking the development team. Sadly, with the lack of interest in preservation common back then, the voice material has been lost. Tsurumi recalls that it was his mischievous idea to add Jackson’s voice at the highest volume when coins were inserted into the arcade machine, in order to startle the player.
- Michael Jackson also had input on concepts added to Moonwalker. For example, in the final scene, he turns into a spaceship, which originated from his suggestion of adding such a scene during the final stage. He also asked to change into a giant robot like in the movie, but as that would break the gameplay, Tsurumi’s team compromised by having Robot Michael grow large for a moment then shrink back down during gameplay.
- Tsurumi said that Michael kept an open and generous attitude, saying things like “That’s just how games are.” In one case, the team realized that a certain robot enemy that looked like a penis thrusting in and out had somehow made it through prior checks, halfway into finalizing the ROM. (Ironically, it was even nicknamed ‘penis robot’ among the team.) While scrambling to make some minor changes, the team were worried as to whether they should keep it in, as rating boards with guidelines didn’t exist yet. They asked Michael, and MJ ended up giving approval, saying that they shouldn’t leave it out.
- After Michael Jackson’s death, Tsurumi watched the documentary This Is It, and it made him realize that this was just how Jackson was, exactly just as the title said.
Space Channel 5
Michael Jackson also played a prominent cameo in Space Channel 5, and then-development team head Tetsuya Mizuguchi also talked about working together with Michael.
- After some Sega staff showed a demo video of gameplay to Michael Jackson, Michael immediately said he wanted to appear in it, and soon Mizuguchi got a call saying that ‘Michael wants to be in the game.’ Mizuguchi went, “Wait, which Michael?”
- That said, it was one month before the deadline, so Mizuguchi opted to have Michael Jackson play a bigger role in Part 2. As for Part 1, Mizuguchi asked if Michael would accept only appearing as one of the people being forced to dance by the Morolians, and Michael said, “Oh, okay!”.
- The first takes Michael Jackson sent over weren’t excited-sounding enough, and Mizuguchi had to send samples of the general tone of the voicework, and the second takes ended up being used in the game.
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker was released in arcades and on Sega Genesis. Space Channel 5 released on Sega Dreamcast.