Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Michael Jackson did work on Sonic 3

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 articl
es 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)


  1. A lot of this just has to do with the question of availability - only one major bookstore chain carries any Brit mag (Barnes and Noble), and they're pricier than US mags, going for $9-$10 compared to the usual $6. It's not a huge difference on the stand, but the subscription prices are vastly different - subscription houses practically hand out free mag subscriptions nowadays, due to the industry relying almost solely on ad revenue and circulation, while Brit mags don't work quite the same way and end up charging something in the realm of $75-$100 per year (for overseas, at least.) Combine this with a readership that would rather just read news online and simply doesn't seem to care about interesting features, and so very few outside of the corest of core audience seems to acknowledge their existence. (That, and I think US folks are irked by the slightly harsher review rating scales of Brit mags - the Edge review reaction threads each month on NeoGAF are priceless.)

    Plus, a lot of US mags mirror their content online, sometimes in expanded form. I've only occasionally see this happen with Edge, games(tm) or Retro Gamer, leaving most of their tantalizing information thrown in the garbage with its cover stripped off at the end of the month. Part of me wants to suggest that they "get with the times", but at the same time I think they believe that such a practice would kill its physical mags. Given the way the US market is going, they'd probably be right. As a result, it's tough to fact check a lot of the stuff, so I can understand the logic of the Wiki-editors, even if it is ultimately foolish.

  2. I have avidly read gaming magazines since childhood. I remember reading throuh GameFan and being amazed by seemingly unattainable Japanese and European imports. I also remember plenty of other defunct magazines that rocked, like the recently discontinued PiQ magazine with articles on Chinese videogames and bootlegs and an extensive interview with the legendary publisher, Working Desgins. It deeply saddens me that the only US game mag worth reading now is Play, as you mentioned.

    People tend to depend too much on blogs like Kotaku these days. I believe gaming magazines need to reinvent themselves by finding new niche markets. I would love to see a US version of Retro Gamer. I'd even write the articles if only to see it become a reality.

  3. Your fan translation scans produce a 404 ...

  4. I actually dislike EDGE a great deal, though I will concede they have good features writers. My favourite UK magazine is NGamer, which despite being Nintendo only, is written with a lot of passion and fun (and they use footnotes!).

    And yeah, US mag subs are very cheap. I haven't checked in a while, but when I first subscribed to Play, despite it being an overseas subscription, it cost roughly the same as a subscription to a UK magazine. The higher prices of UK mags is mainly down to the publishers trying to fleece everyone.

    I can't say too much due to an NDA, but considering UK games magazines have around 4-5 extremely underpaid staff (sometimes less), and charge around £4-£6 per issue, they should be covering all their costs and reaching profitability, without any adverts at all, at less than 40K issues sold. Possibly considerably less than this, depending on how tightly the business is run. Maybe even as low as 20K.

  5. Now that your brought it up, I have not seen much video game magazines period. I remember the day where they had everything for everyone including a code book which was a plus in my opinion.

    I use to read EGM magazine and had a subscription to it but like many magazines they all change their focus. One of the reasons I stayed with EGM for so long was at the time I only bought Japanese games, some U.S. games but hardly or more like rarely. EGM was probably one of the few magazines at the time that had Japanese game release dates and previews for them.

    Of course the internet took over but I have always enjoyed an actual physical form of the information. And of course good o'l Sushi-X!

  6. Wow, I'm Brazilian and would love to see this article about Tec Toy's history. You know, it is hard to find such information even here, even from the Tec Toy guys themselves.

  7. I've put it on Megaupload for you, Mateus Fedozzi:

    Btw, those photos with the Sega president are probably world exclusives. TecToy was very helpful when it came to answering all my questions and providing artwork.

  8. Thank you very much.
    This is amazing!

  9. I used to freelance for a couple of British games magazines during the early 2000s, and several of the full-time staff were veterans of the 1980s - I suspect that the British games magazine industry is relatively healthy because Britain took the computer revolution to heart back in the 1980s. The British ZX Spectrum was very popular throughout the decade and there was a healthy software scene, and there were lots of magazines which are still fondly remembered nowadays (such as Your Sinclair and Zzap 64).

    The people who worked on those magazines transitioned to the 16-bit era of the Commodore Amiga and ST, and the modern scene feels like a continuation of that. People like myself who grew up with Your Sinclair went on to work for the next-but-one generation of computer games magazines, and the full-timers passed on their knowledge in the same way that drill sergeants pass on regimental traditions to new groups of soldiers.

    The magazine I liked most was Amiga Power, an offshoot of the "X is the new rock and roll" hype wave from the early 1990s. The writers packed it full of literary references, and it had a scoring system which aimed for an average of 50% (rather than the 85% of most other magazines). This led to some games getting absolutely slammed, with single-figure scores, and it hurt because the reviews were well-written and not just abuse. Eventually other magazines started bitching that Amiga Power's honest review policy was hurting the Amiga - the computer's sales tailed off after Commodore went bust, and after Doom came out for the PC, and the last batch of games that came out were shockingly poor - and I like to think of it as a good example of how honesty, truth, integrity etc are doomed in the face of commercial pressures.

    I don't know what the writers do nowadays. I have spotted a couple of names writing for the Guardian. It could be that the UK magazine scene places more emphasis on good writing because at least some of the writers aspire to one day working for the broadsheets. There is a trend in the UK whereby writers try hard to not have a specialist subject - they are experts on everything - whereas in the US I get the impression that it is more acceptable to be a hardcore fan of computer games who only writes about computer games and aspires only to write about computer games. In the UK there's more a sense that a writer's current job is a launching pad for a career as a political columnist in The Guardian and/or a commentator on Radio Four's Today programme, which has the positive effect of raising the writing bar, and the negative effect of giving the impression that the writer is above it all.

  10. "In the UK there's more a sense that a writer's current job is a launching pad for a career as a political columnist in The Guardian and/or a commentator on Radio Four's Today programme"

    Continuing with that thought, I suspect that a lot of writers in the US look upon their games writing as a means of building up a CV to present to the people who edit Pitchfork, or the Onion's AV club. The big difference is that you can make a lot of money writing for the national press in the UK, whereas I imagine that the Onion AV club pays a pittance and is more of an honour / bragging thing than a proper career.