Blasted Off? The fate of Michael Jackson’s Scramble Training

So, the cat’s out of the bag. After sitting on the information for months while the wheels of stuff quietly turned in the background, we’ve finally made the full footage of Michael Jackson’s Scramble Training public! Everything that needs saying about the release has been covered by my esteemed chums Ted over at Gaming Alexandria and Matt at Forbes, so I won’t be talking about that directly today. Instead, I’d like to focus on one small claim that’s been made by many of the articles covering the story. As reported here in Eurogamer:

However, following allegations of sexual abuse, all references to Jackson were later entirely removed.

This irked us a bit, as it wasn’t something we’d put out there ourselves and it was something that flew in the face of readily available facts: Ben’s tape was provided to Sega Amusements years after the allegations had been made, while there’s direct evidence of Michael Jackson’s Scramble Training being played in France, Britain and Australia. Where had this idea come from?

A very quick answer to this question can be found by looking at the Sega Retro AS-1 page, which at the time of writing states “The game was reissued under its original name, notably with Jackson’s appearances and endorsement entirely removed.” This explains where hurried modern journalists got their information from, but what was the author on Sega Retro citing?

Sega Retro Article that clearly states "however, following the artist's 1993 sexual abuse accusations, the was reissued under its original name, notably with Jackson's appearances and endorsement entirely removed"
The original Sega Retro Scramble Training entry

My immediate thought could be that it was a mistaken extrapolation. As Ted so expertly covers, we know that Scramble Training was originally Jackson-free and we also know Sega wasn’t always consistent with the rides the AS-1’s were showing. Did they presume that the later presence of the original version marked a withdrawal of the Jackson version?

Thanks to a helpful tip-off from Reddit, this turned out not to be the case. In the March 1994 issue of US magazine Game Players, the news section contained a short article from a supposed Sega US source who said that Sega was going to remove both the Michael Jackson discs that were currently running in their AS-1s and any unsold copies of the aged Moonwalker game that were still sitting on shop shelves. This is partially backed up by the March issue of Aussie magazine Hyper, which – though it failed to mention the AS-1 angle – claimed that Sega of Japan were pulling away from the fallen megastar, shelving an apparent sequel to Moonwalker that was apparently on the table.

Gameplayers, March 1993 page 24 - in a scmall call-out box at the bottom (entitled Jackson Jerked by Sega) is stats 'After losing backing from Pepsi for his concert, Jackson is sufferering another major blow - the entertainer has been removed from Sega's AS-! simulators. A sega spokespers told Game Players that the jackson disc will be pulled immediately from all the AS-1 simulators)
“Jackson Jerked by Sega” Gameplayers, March 1993 p24

Did this actually happen? Unfortunately outside of anecdotes and people’s memories we don’t always have a huge amount of info about what particular films were playing in which AS-1s at any one time. There is, however, some further evidence that suggests Jackson was indeed removed (at least temporarily) from the State-side AS-1s. In the May issue of Electronic Games mag, the Game Doctor segments suggested that Sega had been spurred on by Disney’s dropping of Michael Jackson’s Captain Eo attraction and had already updated the software at Sega Virtualand to remove all references to Jackson. They repeated this claim again in a July article about cursed games licenses. A couple of months later, the removal was also alluded to by Lisa D Campbell in her book Michael Jackson The King of Pop’s Darkest Hour – a title that was apparently rushed out to print at impressive speed to meet a September the first publishing.) On top of this evidence, The February timing of the removal announcement also makes sense: In January Jackson had settled the civil case against him out of caught but still had the shadow of a criminal investigation hanging over him.

Composite image compining Page 202 of Michael Jackson: the kind of pop's darkeest hour with page 49 of the July 1994 issue of Electronic games. Both insist Sega had removed the ride film.
Page 202 of Michael Jackson: The King of Pop’s Darkest Hour (Lisa D. Campbell) and page 49 of the July issue of Electronic Games

Finally, we can see further circumstantial evidence from Sega’s other major US attraction, the arcade they opened at Disney’s ‘Innoventions’ area at the Epcot park. in July 1994, a review from the Orlando Sentinal gives a good general description of Scramble Training, but makes no mention of Jackson – presumably because Innoventions went with the original Jackson-free version of the ride:

The AS-1 is a simulator ride like StarTours crossed with the Star Fox home-video game. The eight riders are on a voyage through space, and each controls part of the action. Everyone must do his/her part or the mission fails

Orlando Sentinal

I think there’s enough evidence to suggest that, if you found yourself in the US riding an AS-1 after February 1994, you probably weren’t going to be seeing Michael Jackson.

Across the Pond

Here’s where things get weird, however. Around the same time Game Players were being briefed about the impending de-Jacksonification of Sega’s attractions, the AS-1 was deployed at that Winter’s CES show. Though the likes of Sega Power, Megatech and Mean Machines Sega were all present at the event, the only UK publication to give coverage to the AS-1 was the Official Sega Magazine. What makes the inclusion doubly weird is that most of the images seem to be stock images. This is particularly true of their shot of the AS-1 exterior itself as it’s placement (with a wall clearly visible behind) does not match footage from the event which shows the AS-1 as being placed openly on the shop floor.

Given there’s no evidence of the team experiencing the AS-1 at the event itself, its inclusion in the official Sega mag logically points towards Sega themselves wishing for it to be included in the coverage, deliberately sending the magazine pictures that would highlight Jackson’s involvement in the ride film.

Page 20 of the March issue of the Offical Sega Magazine, which has a complete page about the AS-1. It includes a picture of Michael Jackson's 'Space Pilot License' and a picture of the AS-1 unit which does not correspond with the position of the unit at CES (as pictured opposite)
Page 20 of the March issue of the Official Sega Magazine in the UK. Note the wall behind the AS-1 in their picture vs the open placement of the Machine at CES ’94 (still from here)

If that wasn’t evidence on its own, Sega’s European appendage was soon to launch the AS-1 at both Sega World Bournemouth and the arcade space they’d negotiated for at Festival Disney in Paris. As this Club Disney feature demonstrates, Jackson’s version of Scramble Training was clearly the one playing at Festival Disney and we also have footage demonstrating that Jackson’s Scramble training was operating at Sega Center Paris, which opened the following year. The year after that, London’s massive Sega World was open to the public, which also had its own Jacksonified set of AS-1s. The UK press might have been a factory of negative Michael Jackson headlines, but clearly Sega of Europe didn’t think using the star would be a PR risk. The same can be said for Australians Sega Ozisoft, who also deployed Jackson’s Scramble Training in their own impressive Sega World park.

Across the Pacific

So then, we know that Jackson was probably removed from Sega’s large-scale arcades in America but he definitely wasn’t in Australia and Sega’s European sites. What of Japan?

Though Japan had by far the largest number of installations (around 13), It’s surprisingly hard to verify exactly which films were playing at which. Though you’d think the language barrier and the lack of resources would be the biggest barriers, the truth is that – by the time many of them were open – the AS-1 simply wasn’t that interesting. Originally envisioned in 1989 and shown off in various forms between 1991 and 1992, the ride was a couple of years old when it was installed in Sega’s flasgship indoor themepark, Joypolis Yokohama. Between ’92 and ’94, Sega’s AM5 division had come up with a number of different ride concepts for the park – including the VR-1, a ride that kept the same underlying ride mechanism but increased the immersion by plonking a virtual reality headset on top of the riders. On top of that, Sega’s marketing had always pushed the AS-1 as the attraction itself rather than any particular film it was showing – something that becomes apparent when looking at maps and guide books from the park. The best evidence we have is that Scramble Training and Megalopolis are both mentioned as playing at Joypolis Fukuoka, for example, but without video evidence it’s difficult to know if they were playing the Michael Jackson versions without some form of video evidence.

Colour photo of Michael Jackson playing Powersled at Joypolis, pointing at the camera and wearing his distinctive hat and sunglasses
Michael Jackson playing Powersled at Joypolis, December 1996 (from Sega’s internal magazine) Read about the visit in detail over at Mdshock

We can say with much greater certainty, however, that the pulling away from Jackson that was alluded to by Hyper magazine doesn’t seem to have happened (perhaps because Hyper were confusing a Sega of America announcement with one made by Japan) Though anecdotally it does seem that some Sega executives voiced concerns about working with Jackson again, By the end of 1996, the star was back at Sega HQ, having a behind-the-scenes peek at the company’s latest tech and and impressing everyone with his Virtua Fighter skills. He then – as recorded in Sega’s internal magazine – spent the next day sampling the sights and sounds of Joypolis and even signed a number of programs and tshirts that were given away as prizes at the park’s new year countdown event. Three years after that, Jackson would even appear once again in a Sega game – starring as ‘Space Michael Jackson’ in the rhythm series Space Channel 5.

Profile of Space Michael Jackson from Space Channel Five. Space Michael Jackson looks like a Dreamcastified version of the star from 1991, wearing a silver jumpsuit with the channel five logo over his right breast and described as 'Super Star. Legend has it that he saved the earch from certain demise by using his dance energy. This was when the planet was attacked by aliens, 500 years ago.
Space Michael Jackson’s profile from Space Channel 5

Scrambled Training?

Overall then, there is little hard evidence that any of the Sega arms made a conscious effort to move away from Jackson following 1993s accusations against him. In Europe we have direct evidence of the Jacksonified ride films in action at multiple locations and in Japan we have evidence of a continued working relationship between Jackson and Sega of Japan (it would have been awkward if the Jackson versions had already been removed from Joypolis in 1996!) The US gives us some evidence for Sega removing Jackson’s ride films, but its frustratingly light in volume. Though the timing makes sense in the context of the allegations against him, any announcement seems to have been put out at a time where it would inevitably become buried by a deluge of E3-related news. We also don’t know if the removal stuck. The beauty of the AS-1 was that it could easily be updated at a moments notice. Jackson might have been removed in the beginning of 1994, but its not unfeasible that he was reinstated after the criminal investigation against was dropped. Without footage of the simulator from 1995, there’s no way of knowing for sure.

With that said, whatever happened on in the states was largely irrelevant. If you had a passport and money for a plane ticket in 1997, you could ride Michael Jackson’s Scramble Training on at least two of the four possible continents that had AS-1 Machines. Even if for safety’s sake we say that Michael Jackson’s Scramble Training was permanently withdrawn in the US, we have plenty of solid evidence that demonstrates it was viewable somewhere in the world at least until the turn of the Millennium. The impression given in a number of articles – that Michael Jackson’s Scramble Training was almost an urban myth, shown to the public for a couple of months before being hidden away forever – is simply untrue. Don’t get me wrong, the video find is an absolutely wondeful thing and we’re still tremendously chuffed to have been involved, but at the end of the day accuracy is important. The find is still an incredibly rare and an amazing thing, and should be celebrated for the right reasons.