Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Definitive proof that Michael Jackson worked on Sonic 3, after the jump. Oh, and some mad rambling from me on the state of the US and UK magazine scene.
I was visiting the grand estate of friend, and fellow infamous hyper-games journalist, Ashley Fragonard Day, the Retro Baron for GamesTM, and as we sipped Southern Comfort and carried rifles to take potshots at his menagerie of decorative peacocks, we also spoke about games mags.
We discussed GameSetWatch’s Mag Weasel column, and the interesting fact that the UK, despite being a small island, seems to produce nearly double the number of games mags as the USA. And sadly, our output is seldom picked up by the videogame world’s flow of consciousness, despite uncovering and publishing some startling information not recorded anywhere else. Games websites either ignore or are unaware of what’s printed in the UK, and sites such as Wikipedia regularly refuse to acknowledge UK mags – the arguments I’ve had with the Wikistapo Mafia about them deleting entries sourced from UK publications!
The end result is that an unimaginable amount of historical information is being lost and forgotten in a few obscure games mags which don’t sell well outside of the UK (or even in the UK, it could be argued).
Of the wealth of interesting-but-ignored things we discussed (including his extensive examination of Captain Rainbow’s themes and the fact that Yojiro Ogawa of Sega specifically dragged a translator over so as to praise Comix Zone as his favourite Western game), the biggest annoyance was that Mr Day had documented proof of Michael Jackson’s involvement with Sonic 3, in GamesTM August 2007, and despite this, even months afterwards, the internet still spoke about it as being only rumours. One exception being the excellent Sega-16, which re-used the GamesTM quotes in a feature they did (also revealing that a copy of the original soundtrack still exists out there).
QUOTABLE PROOF, Roger Hector, then project-manager of the now-defunct studio Sega Technical Institute, said:
Michael Jackson was a very big fan of Sonic and he wanted to record a soundtrack for the game. He came to STI and met with the team to discuss the design theme, story and feel of the game. He then went away and recorded an entire soundtrack that covered all of the worlds. It was fantastic. The music fitted perfectly for the game, and they had a distinctive Michael Jackson sound. We had it all ready and integrated into the game when the first news stories came out accusing him of child molestation, and Sega had to back away from this collaboration. It was very late in the development process, and we had to quickly put together a complete replacement music track. Howard Drossin, STI’s music guy, stepped in and did a great job, working around the clock to get it done. It was too bad nobody outside ever heard the Michael Jackson music.
Mr Day later requested this content be reposted in an online news story, so it would be publicly available to all. Curiously, while Wikipedia does briefly confirm what he’d discovered, GamesTM does not get a mention. GameSetWatch is referenced, but no link is provided to any online page.
Well, now we should all know, Michael Jackson really did work on Sonic 3.
Beyond this though, and getting back to our original discussions, the situation raises a whole bunch of interesting points.
Firstly, why is it the tiny British Isles are able to support so many different publications despite their being ignored abroad?
The demise of (old) EGM was a sad end to an era, with some corners speculating it was Dan Hsu’s honesty with regards to corruption in journalism that resulted in its loss of ad revenue and eventual folding.
(Caption: Yojiro Ogawa, designer on Sonic Team, upon seeing Mr Day playing Comix Zone on a Wii at a press event, dragged his translator over specifically to praise the game, stating that it was internally very popular at Sega of Japan)
Having worked in the magazine front-lines of the UK I’m only too aware of the systemic corruption prevalent in everything, and the fact that said corruption seems to be the only way mags make profit - like some kind of perverse life-sustaining cancer. RAM Raider’s excellent blog covers barely a fraction of the true picture. Is the UK perhaps more corrupt than the US, and so able to exploit more worker drones and consumers for profit, thereby sustaining more magazines? I once took the average monthly hours myself and my colleagues worked, and divided our annual salaries over them – we were legally earning less than minimum wage.
Another interesting point raised is, UK magazines tend to be better than American mags when it comes to juicy, in-depth features. The closest I’ve found to good features has been The Escapist and the now defunct Gamer’s Quarter, both of which have Reader’s Digest-like articles which go beyond basic interviews and reviews.
The only print magazine I subscribe to is Dave Halverson’s PLAY, which I love dearly, but even it can’t compare to some of Britain’s best features writers (though I’m sure US staff don’t suffer nearly as much psychological abuse).
Admittedly there have been a few British features grasping at air, like GamesTM’s hopelessly pathetic piece on “Games for blind people” which turned out to be little more than babble about text adventures with speech synthesis. But across the board there’s been some spectacular writing from all major publishers, on subjects such as FAQ Writers (with some lovely ASCII design), games in foreign countries, Death of things on the internet (like HOTU), A visit to the Nintendo Museum in Osaka, Gaming Culture (NGamer have some truly wonderful features on this), Everyone’s Favourite Peripheral Buttons (a sublimely lighthearted piece with quotes from the guy behind Harvest Moon), Japanese Arcades, Sex in games (a mature discussion), What went wrong with the Gizmondo, The Rise and Fall and Return of SHMUPS, Captain Rainbow examination (GamesTM #76), Videogames that were turned into board games (this was an excellent feature in a one-shot Retro magazine)...
Only in the UK have I seen articles on boardgames in print. This photo courtesy of LevelOneBoss. It would seem that print mags in the UK are more willing to take risks on quirky articles which are normally only otherwise run on websites.
... Pinball tables based on games, and hundreds of other features (including countless “The Making Of” articles) which I can’t quite remember at the moment. Not to mention my own features covering the History of Fan Translations (partly in response to the Wikistapo deleting Wikipedia’s entry on fan translations), Underground Collectors, the Hudson Mario games, History of Brazil’s Tec Toy (with exclusive photos), and a whole bunch of other stuff no one seemed to read.
UK writers, in the course of researching such topics (and paying heavily for material out of their own pockets, whether in-house or freelance), will often dig up some startling pieces of information, despite being worked harder and paid considerably less than their American counterparts... And then no one reads or pays any attention to their findings.
A lot needs to change in the games magazine industry, especially in the UK where it seems to be run by lunatic sadists, but a good start would be people reading and talking about decent features and interesting information, and perhaps giving a little nod to the burnt out human being who brought you those words. As I get time, and if I can get access to them, I will try to scan features which I feel are of merit – assuming people want to read them.
(Game images nabbed from MobyGames)