HuffPo article provides more details on Michael's involvement in Sonic the Hedgehog 3


Proud Member
Mar 7, 2014
The first half of this is stuff that's already known, but the second half or so has lots of awesome new details! If you want the new stiff, skip to the paragraph below the spotlight image with Michael's silhouette and a question mark (will be marked with a ******* on here).

Fair warning: This is a long read. The allegations are also mentioned, but in a surprisingly neutral tone.


The Michael Jackson Video Game Conspiracy - BY TODD VAN LULING

JAN 25, 2016

When Ben Mallison was a child in the early 90s in Manchester, England, his favorite video games featured Sonic, a blue hedgehog who wore red-and-white, Michael Jackson-style boots. Ben was a "Blue" -- a hardcore Sonic fan. "I always batted for Sonic over Mario," he remembers. He watched Sonic cartoons. He wore Sonic T-shirts. He carried Sonic pencil cases and backpacks to school. He slept in Sonic pajamas. He owned every Sonic game for the Megadrive -- the game system known in the U.S. as the Sega Genesis -- and its successor, the Sega Saturn. He collected "Sonic the Comic," a biweekly magazine.

Ben and his friends loved trying to solve the mysteries surrounding Sonic. The games were full of Easter eggs and secrets: not only hidden bonus levels, but also art, sounds and even characters that were planned and then discarded. Some Blues went further, unearthing scrapped prototypes and unlocking beta versions of Sonic games. The quest for hidden features was at the center of Sonic fandom.

"I was Sonic mad," Ben says.

Ben had another, equally gripping fixation: Jackson. It was, perhaps, an accident of birth: Ben is named after "Ben," Jackson's Golden Globe-winning 1972 title track for the movie of the same name. By the time Ben started listening to music, in the early 1990s, the King of Pop reigned supreme, and Ben acquired quite the collection of Jackson albums: "Off the Wall," "Bad" and of course, "Thriller." When "Dangerous" -- now Ben's favorite Jackson CD -- hit stores in late 1991, he and his parents went to WHSmiths, bought it, took it home, and listened to it immediately.

Lots of '90s kids liked Sonic. Everyone liked Jackson -- at least until 1993, when allegations first emerged that the pop star had sexually abused underage boys. But Ben's passion for Sonic, Jackson, and especially Sonic's secrets made him particularly well-suited for the role he would play in a mystery that would captivate his fellow Blues.

In early 1994, Sega released Sonic 3, which had been developed in secret at a secure facility in Silicon Valley, thousands of miles from Sega's Japanese headquarters.

Nine-year-old Ben was "very impressed," he says now, noting the "updated design, expansive levels and the fact you could turn Super Sonic" -- when the hedgehog gained speed and became nearly invincible -- "like in Sonic 2." The music, credited to six men -- Brad Buxer, Bobby Brooks, Doug Grigsby III, Darryl Ross, Geoff Grace and Cirocco Jones -- was pretty cool, too.

Sonic 3 became Ben's favorite game.

As the 1990s wore on, Sega lost a crucial round of the console wars to a resurgent Nintendo and upstart Sony. Ben Mallison remained a Jackson and Sonic fan. But as he entered his teen years, something about Sonic 3 started to tug at him.

There was something weird about that Sonic 3 music, and he couldn't figure it out. Then one day, it came to him. "Huh," Ben thought. "That Sonic music sure sounds like Michael Jackson."

"I've always been musically inclined and have a knack for noticing stuff like samples or ripoffs in songs," he says. But he didn't have any way to share his theory with the world. For that, Ben had to wait for the Internet.

By 2003, Mallinson, then in his late teens, had been downloading and comparing Jackson and Sonic tracks for years. That September, he explained his Sonic/Jackson conspiracy theory in a post on Sonic Classic, one of the countless message board communities that dominated early-2000s Internet culture.

Jackson's "Jam," the lead track on "Dangerous," sounded a lot like Sonic 3's "Carnival Night Zone," Mallinson -- aka "Ben2k9" -- argued.

The teenager's post would captivate the Blue subculture for decades. But the Blues' obsessiveness may have harmed their cause. Whenever Blues found an email address for someone who had worked on a Sonic game -- any Sonic game -- they would overwhelm them with messages. (Some people got phone calls, too.) "Someone would track down someone who originally worked on Sonic 2, like a level artist," said James Hansen, a Sonic fan from the Forest of Dean, near Gloucester. "Then they'd just get bombarded with a million emails and then you'd never hear from them ever again."

This phenomenon isn't unique to the Sonic community. For years, a film producer named Keith Calder has received emails, phone calls and tweets from fans of the boy band One Direction who believe he's a key player in a massive conspiracy to cover up a secret gay relationship between two of the band members. As Calder has found, answering fans' emails only encourages more emails. Many people who worked on or around Sonic games stopped answering fan emails entirely.

But as more Sonic fans joined the hunt, they found more evidence for their theory. They compared song structures and instrumentations.

Then, in September 2005, the online investigators caught a break. It gets a little convoluted, but stay with me. That month, a Sonic forum user who called himself HXC interviewed Roger Hector, the executive coordinator of the secretive Sega team that was in charge of developing Sonic 3. HXC said Hector had told him Sega had worked with Jackson to develop a soundtrack, but Sega had scrubbed all of the tracks from the game.

Hector may have thought that addressing the conspiracy theory would calm the fans. But he refused to say more – and his claim that Jackson worked on the game but his tracks were removed before it hit stores only added to the mystery. If Jackson's songs weren't in the game, the Blues wondered, why did the soundtrack sound so much like a Jackson album? And why would Sega have worked with Jackson only to scrub the game of his work?

As a teenager, Hansen was more interested in the "secrets in the Sonic games" than the games themselves, he says now. So he found Hector's comment immensely frustrating. "People had picked up on this stuff," he says. "But people didn't really get it. They didn't really grasp that it was actually a thing. And this was just ridiculous because it seemed so obvious to me."

Another Sonic fan, Steven Nipper, had noticed that the Jackson song "Stranger in Moscow" sounded "exactly like the Sonic 3 ending credits," Hansen wrote me in an email. "That was really the point where it was like, 'We have to get people really recognizing that there may be a connection here.' And [so] it seemed the best way to do that was to compile it into video and the up and coming platform at that time was YouTube."

On March 26, 2006, Hansen posted a video to YouTube – then less than a year old – outlining all the evidence he could find of Jackson's involvement in Sonic. The opening shot shows Hansen's room in his parents' house. There are game cartridges laid out on the bed.

Hansen's review of the evidence became one of the first truly viral videos -- the view history is no longer available, but Hansen said it got well over 1 million views in just a few months. Nipper, who had noticed the "Stranger in Moscow" similarity, was thrilled. "At the time, I felt like I was a part of something big," Nipper told HuffPost. "I was reopening the book on what was thought to be the closed case of an unlikely collaboration between two iconic figures."

In the mid-2000s, there was a major fight in the Sonic community. "I just kind of left," Mallison says. He'd check in on the forums "sporadically ... to see if there were any new Sonic beta cartridges found, or any new discoveries such as the MJ connection." But other Blues kept investigating, producing videos and expansive forum posts detailing the evidence for their pet theory. In 2009, they got another break: Black & White, a French magazine, scored an interview with Buxer, Jackson's onetime musical director.

Buxer, who was credited on the Sonic 3 soundtrack, told Black & White that Jackson had worked on the game with him and the other listed composers. But like Hector, he suggested that Jackson's music may never have made it into the final game. "I've never played the game so I do not know what tracks on which Michael and I have worked the developers have kept," he said.

Buxer's brief comments rocketed across Sonic forums and the gaming blogosphere. Kotaku, Gawker Media's gaming blog, proclaimed victory: "Yes, Michael Jackson Did Work On Sonic The Hedgehog 3," one headline blared. But Ken Horowitz, who runs Sega-16, an influential website for Sega enthusiasts, deemed the site's proclamation premature. Kotaku had to clarify. "Buxer's statements about Michael Jackson's musical efforts in the Genesis game do not yet constitute proof of anything," it conceded in an update. "In other words, our long national nightmare of not knowing whether or not Michael Jackson worked on 'Sonic 3' without a shadow of a doubt is not yet behind us."


Perhaps it's time for a confession: Sonic 3 may have been the first video game I played. One of my first memories is playing Sonic at a neighbor's house. My family didn't have video game systems when I was growing up, so I was completely inept.

There's no way of knowing exactly which Sonic game I was playing in this hazy memory. My parents wouldn't recognize Sonic the Hedgehog. And I don't remember where this moment happened.

But Sonic — and Jackson, whose records were in my family's basement and whose tapes were in our station wagon's cassette player — has a special resonance for me.

When I first learned that so many Sonic fans thought Jackson had written the Sonic 3 soundtrack, it struck me as wishful thinking. It was too perfect. It painted the real world too much like Sonic's world -- a place full of mind-blowing, unbelievable surprises.

But I fell down the rabbit — or hedgehog — hole. I became convinced that Ben Mallinson had been right. Steven Nipper had been right. James Hansen had been right. The kids were all right. The biggest pop star in the world and the best video game character of all time had joined forces – and kept it secret.

Of this, at least, I'm certain: One evening early in 1993, Michael Jackson hobbled into the Sega Technical Institute in Palo Alto for a visit.

The King of Pop, who was in the midst of his 69-show, $100 million-plus "Dangerous" world tour, had sprained his ankle dancing. And in early 1993, he was famous enough -- and uncontroversial enough -- to win last-minute, no-questions-asked admittance to the STI, a top-secret development facility for Sega's newest video games.

Sega, then the leading video game manufacturer in the U.S. in Europe -- and planning, according to a Wired article that year, to "take over the world" -- had a longstanding relationship with Jackson. In 1990, the company had released "Moonwalker," a game based on a Jackson movie. In it, players danced their way across a beat-'em-up game world, fighting bad guys and saving children. Then, in 1991, Sega debuted "Sonic the Hedgehog," which would become its marquee franchise. Sonic 2 came out the following year.

Jackson was smitten. And so, late one afternoon, Roger Hector got a call: Jackson would be coming to visit Sega. "He wanted to drop by and say hello," Hector recalls. "There was no agenda beyond it other than, he really, really liked the game. He enjoyed playing it a lot and he wanted to meet the people behind it."

Since Sega did not employ a receptionist after hours, Hector called his daughter and asked if she wanted to meet Jackson. "She was there in about eight seconds," Hector jokes.

His daughter, Leslie, remembers how exciting it was for her to "play receptionist" to Jackson and his entourage. "It's too bad this was pre-cell phones so unfortunately I didn't get a selfie with him," she said in an email. "[It] was a day I will never forget!"

Jackson toured the facility. "He didn't moonwalk," Hector said. "He was walking around on crutches and he was apologetic about that -- he said 'I'm really sorry' and all that. But he didn't have to apologize. We were just happy to have him."

Then, as Hector tells it, one of the Sonic 3 developers asked whether Jackson would like to write the music for the new game.

What happened next is still in dispute.

Here's what we know: A few months after Jackson's Sega visit, a Bronx-born dentist and screenwriter named Evan Chandler accused Jackson of molesting Chandler's 13-year-old son. Jackson, humiliated and facing a grand jury investigation, canceled the rest of his tour. As Jackson biographer Joe Vogel detailed, companies such as Pepsi began to drop Jackson from endorsement deals.

Sega maintains it never worked with Jackson on Sonic 3, and is "not in the position to respond" to questions about allegations to the contrary. "We have nothing to comment on the case," the company said.

But the men whom Sega credited with writing the music say otherwise. Six men -- Brad Buxer, Bobby Brooks, Doug Grigsby III, Darryl Ross, Geoff Grace and Cirocco Jones -- are listed as songwriters in Sonic 3's endgame scroll. Buxer, Grigsby and Jones tell The Huffington Post that Jackson worked with them on a soundtrack for Sonic 3 -- and that the music they created with Jackson ended up in the final product.

"It was really, really, really cool how they put what we did together in there," Grigsby says.

As Jackson's musical director, Buxer had a raft of duties. Along with managing a team of auxiliary musicians, Buxer created tracks from his own ideas and based on a beatboxing-style of songwriting Jackson would perform for him. So when Jackson decided he wanted to work on the Sonic 3 soundtrack, it fell to Buxer to assemble a team. "I was working with Michael on the 'Dangerous' album," Buxer recalled, "and he told me he was going to be doing the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack for Sonic 3. He asked me if I would help him with it."

Brooks and Grigsby, who were already living with Buxer in a shared house with a music studio, were obvious choices. Ross and Jones filled out the group.

"It was a big secret," Hector, the former Sega executive, remembers. Sega "didn't want the word to get out at all." He says Sega gave Jackson a demo of the game. "He took it from there and started making music," Hector said.

For around four weeks in 1993, Jackson and his team worked out of Record One studio in California, creating "something like 41" tracks – or cues, as they're called in the video game world, Buxer said. Jones remembers Jackson calling him, sometimes late at night, to share ideas and sing melodies that would eventually make it into the game.

When Jackson recorded, he'd usually have a side room – a lounge or relaxation area – where he could take a break and kick back. Sometimes he'd play Sonic games. "None of us involved in this were really gamers," Matt Forger, a sound engineer who worked on the project, told me. "Michael was probably the one who did play video games to the greatest extent. So, for the rest of us, we knew Sonic the Hedgehog, that was a pretty well-known thing in terms of popular culture, and video games in general, but Michael really is the core."

Jackson and the team wrote the music "high-profile," Grigsby said, meaning that although replicating the music on the Sega console would eventually require massive compression and simplification of the audio, they started out sounding like typical Jackson songs.

Sometimes, Grigsby remembers, Sega developers would drop by to hang out or help the team compress the songs -- which, according to Grigsby, were recorded aiming for a "cinematic type of sound" Jackson sought at the time -- into Sega-ready versions. "It all had to be squashed down for the game and they made more room for the graphics," Grigsby says. "They had more data happening with the graphics and they had very little allocated for audio."

The process "wasn't as we would normally construct songs for an album or another project of Michael's," Forger said. "We were recording lots of beatboxing. Lots of Michael's mouth percussion. ... He'd be laughing, joking, and that kind of infectious attitude would ... make the work not seem like work. Michael understood that this was for a game, he was in a really up mood whenever we'd be working."

"We did use a lot of samples made from [Jackson's] beatboxing," added Buxer. "We would chop this up and use it in cues. Of course there were Michael 'he-he's' and other signature Michaelisms."

But while Jackson was working on the soundtrack for what is ostensibly a kid's game, he was also cultivating a public friendship with Evan Chandler's 13-year-old son.

On Sept. 14, 1993, Chandler -- a "dentist to the stars" who also co-wrote the comedy "Robin Hood: Men In Tights" -- sued Jackson for allegedly molesting his son. When Chandler made his accusation public and it turned into a worldwide scandal, he reached a financial settlement with Jackson to avoid court. "Michael Jackson's career may be ruined, even if child abuse allegations are proved false," an article in The Independent warned.

The members of Jackson's composing team I spoke to said the chaos didn't derail their work. "We were never ever told to stop the presses," Grigsby says.

"Nobody ever told us to hold up progress or anything like that," Buxer added. "In fact, there was a lot of pressure from Michael to get this done."

In late summer 1993 -- either immediately before or just after the Chandler allegations emerged, depending on whom you ask -- Jackson's team sent a finished soundtrack to Sega for processing. They weren't the only composers whose tracks ended up in the game, but their contribution was unmistakeable. *​"I was really impressed with how much of a signature Michael Jackson sound there was in this, and yet, it was all new," Hector, the ex-Sega exec, remembers. "It clearly had a Michael Jackson sound to it, so that anyone who listened to it would recognize that, gee, that was done by Michael Jackson."

On Feb. 2, 1994, Sega released Sonic 3. Jackson's team was credited, but their boss was not.

Buxer, Grigsby and Jones say Jackson pulled his name from the game — but not his music — because he was disappointed by how different the music sounded on Sega's console when compressed from that "high profile" sound to bleeps and bloops.

"Michael wanted his name taken off the credits if they couldn't get it to sound better," Buxer claimed.

Hector says the deal fell apart because of the molestation allegations, and maintains Jackson's music was pulled from the game. "We had to replace it all," he said. Howard Drossin, a California-based composer, was "tapped" to do the job, Hector said.

Drossin told me he had been under the impression he'd be working with Jackson, not replacing the superstar's work. "At some point either shortly after I was hired, or it was probably the first or second day I was there, and [Roger Hector] mentioned that I was going to work with Michael Jackson," Drossin remembers.

But as the Chandler drama unfolded, Sega management told Drossin, "Jackson was not going to be involved with the project," he says now. "It was just, 'You're going to work with him,' 'You're not going to work with him.' ... I heard some stuff with the news that was going on in the news at the time, and that would probably be a good time reference for you. When all of that stuff broke."

When Drossin finally got his hands on the game, "there was a lot of music already plugged into it," he says. Drossin didn't change much -- and certainly didn't rewrite the whole soundtrack before handing it off to Sega for final processing. When I pointed out some of the similarities between Jackson songs and the Sonic soundtrack, Drossin said "Wow." He seemed genuinely surprised to hear Jackson samples and song structures were in the game -- and insisted he hadn't written them.

Jackson wrote that music. The men who worked with him are certain of it.

"Oh, it did get in the game," Grigsby insisted. "The stuff we handed in, the stuff we did, made it. To. The game."

It's hard to know for sure why Jackson's name wasn't on Sonic 3. My guess is that both the molestation charges and Jackson's concerns about sound quality played a role in his removal from the credits. But Ben Mallison and his fellow Blues are right, Buxer says: The melody that appears in the end credits is also in Jackson's single "Stranger in Moscow." The Sonic song was written before Buxer and Jackson "ever started working on" the single, Buxer said. The chorus hook for "Hard Times," a song Buxer had written for a band he was in, was also repurposed for Sonic, he said. "These cues are all over the Internet," he said. "People have accurately matched the songs to the cues."

A few months after the game came out, Buxer visited Neverland Ranch. Jackson was there, showing off one of the cues to his friends.

This is how Sonic 3 ends.

As Sonic, you float to the last level, where you fight the game's main boss, Doctor Eggman, who flies a kind of armed rocketship. You whack Eggman's ship over and over, aiming for his vulnerable head, until the ship floats offscreen.

But the battle isn't done yet.

Eggman, in this case hilariously mustachioed, returns in a bigger ship with more weapons and a spiked top that makes getting to his head all the more difficult. You whack away some more, and finally, against all odds, the Eggman is defeated and the journey complete.

Sonic, whom you no longer control, celebrates by jumping in the air, spinning into a blue dot.

The credits roll, and Michael Jackson's music plays.


:clap: So happy to hear more news about this! Now only if there was behind the scenes video footage. ;)


Proud Member
May 25, 2008
Wait a minute! That Ben Mallison guy is actually Ben2k9? Wow that was surprising he compared the Sonic 3 tracks with Michael's tracks like "Jam". Maybe the HuffPo article should've mentioned that the GameTrailers "Pop Fiction" episode when they investigate whether Michael's work were in Sonic 3 or not and they concluded that it was all true detailed from the anonymous person who also worked on Sonic 3 and they've mentioned Ben in virtual name. So don't even bother Roger Hector's claims, we know that Buxer's claim is the truth.
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