"Don't Kill Your Enemies, Purify Them" - The Making Of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker 1
Image: Sega

Michael Jackson may be a polarizing individual for some people, but for a potentially larger group of fans, he remains one of the most accomplished pop stars of all time – and, sitting here in 2024, it's easy to forget just how huge he was in terms of popularity and reach during the '80s and '90s.

Jackson was arguably at the height of his powers when he teamed up with Sega to create a selection of video games based on his 1988 movie Moonwalker.

Speaking to Shueisha Online, former Sega staffer Roppyaku Tsurumi (also known as Masahito Shimizu) recalls the development of the Moonwalker coin-op, a unique isometric action title which was never ported to any home system (the Mega Drive and Master System games are totally different).

Tsurumi recalls that the project was based around a single A4 proposal and that he wasn't initially all that interested in it. "I had only seen 'Thriller' and its music video, and I wasn't very interested in Michael's music, so I responded ambiguously," he tells Shueisha Online. "We incorporated elements of 'SHINOBI' into the proposal and started developing the game. However, since we were all newcomers, we had a lot of doubts about whether this was really okay. But towards the middle of development, veteran developers joined us and the game gradually took shape."

Tsurumi reveals that he would have regular check-ins with Jackson to ensure the game was progressing as planned. "The letter would start with, 'Mr. Jackson says...' and he would say things like, 'That's great, but what do you think about doing it this way?' or 'This is what I would think, but what do the development team think? I want to respect the wishes of the development team,' and I was surprised at how his responses always took us developers into consideration."

He also remembers one of Jackson's most memorable comments during the game's development: "Don't kill your enemies, purify them," was the instruction. "He was a man full of love," says Tsurumi.

The Moonwalker coin-op is often overlooked when people discuss Jackson's work with Sega, as the home console version on the Mega Drive was arguably more successful commercially. When Jackson passed away in 2009, it deeply impacted Tsurumi. After watching the movie Michael Jackson: This Is It – released in the year of his death – he saw the side of the performer he remembered from working with him in the '90s.

"The Michael in that movie is the Michael I know," he says. "The Michael in the movie is not the entertainer you see in live performances or music videos, but a person who shared ideas with his team to create the perfect stage, respected his team members, but was also a person who would not compromise on certain things, and possessed both the qualities of a creator and a producer. Looking back, I was reminded of how equally he treated the development team at Sega, which was full of newcomers at the time. I was so happy to see such a global superstar playing the game with such shining eyes, and that he came all the way to Sega just for that. He was someone whose aura you could see just by being there. Now I'm a big Michael fan, too (laughs)."

[source shueisha.online, via x.com]