The Sony HiTBiT F1 Game Robot: When Gall Force Sold Computers

The 1980s were a wild time for personal computers and for a brief period in Japan, few computer systems were as wild as the MSX. Jointly developed as a computer architecture standard by Microsoft and ASCII Corporation, the MSX wasn’t a single piece of hardware but instead a set of specifications that allowed multiple manufacturers to create their own MSX hardware. Major companies like Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba all produced MSX machines and around seven million were sold in Japan. The competition meant that hardware manufacturers used a variety of techniques to market their MSX machines to consumers, a situation that saw Sony work with ARTMIC more than once on marketing their line of HiTBiT computers.

Bubble era marketing budgets being what they were (ASCII and Microsoft’s relationship apparently soured after a massively expensive marketing blitz that culminated in a huge event in Shinjuku that featured a life-sized sauropod dinosaur statue, to give one of the most extreme examples1), computer hardware manufacturers had to get clever with their marketing. For example, an early advertisement for Sony’s HiTBiT MSX machines featured a design by futurist Syd Mead (Blade Runner, ALIENS, Turn A Gundam) in a bit of marketing that wasn’t just designed to look cool, but clearly draw attention to the fact a big name designer was involved.

That commercial marked a bit of a turning point for Sony’s HiTBiT. Earlier advertising for HiTBiT hardware featured idol Seiko Matsuda, delivering a softer and more approachable feel for this early personal computer hardware. The debut of the second generation of hardware in 1985, dubbed MSX2, apparently called for a different approach. One that evoked hard sci-fi and, presumably, aimed at more hardcore enthusiasts.

The spinner in Sony’s commercial was based on a single frontal illustration by Mead, with a hurried call made to Shinji Aramaki at ARTMIC to draw up additional views suitable for creating the effects needed for the commercial. In ARTMIC Design Works, Aramaki recounted that he had to finish the designs in a couple of days and that it proved challenging because he was juggling Megazone 23 Pt. II at the same time.

As you can probably surmise from the title of this article, this Mead-Aramaki crossover wasn’t the only time ARTMIC was involved in the marketing for one of Sony’s MSX machines.

The following text originally appeared in ARTMIC Design Works, a fantastic book that covers just about every anime project, toy design, and design work ARTMIC participated in until the time of its publication, in 1987.

The following text originally appeared in ARTMIC Design Works, a fantastic book that covered just about every anime project, toy design, and design project ARTMIC participated in prior to 1987.
Translated by Maude Duke

Gall Force Photo Story makes an appearance in a magazine ad!

In the fall of 1986, major electronics firms were engaged in an all-out war over the new MSX computer. Sony’s answer was the HiTBiT F1 “Game Robot,” which touted a high-speed controller for scrolling shooting games, one megabit cartridges, a gorgeous five-color display, and a rapid-fire function using the Joy Turbo. Truly, a literal game robot in every sense. Since the release of the hardware coincided with that of the Gall Force game2, the decision was made to go all-in on pushing Gall Force, and for the ad campaign to incorporate the same practical effects techniques as the original Gall Force photo story.

[Hideki] Kakinuma3 created storyboards that incorporated the key selling points of the product and designed the model based on that. Some figures and diorama parts were revamped and recycled from the original photo story, but others, such as the Game Robot, Rabby, and enemy ships, were special-ordered from a professional modeler. Kakinuma and [Satoshi] Koizumi4 performed a last round of touch-ups on the finished product to get it ready for the photoshoot.

People wrote in afterward to inform us that they bought the computer purely because of the Gall Force promo, so it looks like the campaign ended on a successful note.

Mockup for the print ad, presumably by Hideki Kakinuma.

Gall Force, My Greatest Wish
It’s an honor to have designed it.

We were commissioned to do design work for the Sony HiTBiT F1 in the fall of ‘86, right on the heels of their previous campaign with Syd Mead. The ad copy for the newest Sony-brand MSX computer called it the Game Robot, so it was clear right off the bat that we’d go with an original robot mascot. At first, the plan was to shoot a live-action commercial for TV, so we had some extraordinarily spirited discussions about making a life-sized figure that a female actor could fit in (after all, that one movie series was a huge sensation!5) and created as many as three designs with that concept in mind.

Aramaki’s sketch of the Sony Sky Sensor 5500

Later, various circumstances led to the project being changed to a magazine ad, and from there it was concluded that “for a collab between Sony and ARTMIC, Gall Force is the only way to go!”

So, even though it was through chance, I (Aramaki) got to do a Gall Force design for the first time. (Which I’d actually wanted to do for a while.)

I think the fusion of Gall Force and Sony’s respective aesthetics is the standout point… I was using my old Sky Sensor 5500 (a radio that was trendy 2~3 years ago; kindly check the diagram) as a reference. Mr. Kakinuma and Mr. Yamane made rough drafts, and I contributed some sketches as well. However, the final detailing was done piece-by-piece with three-dimensional diagrams (That was a task I wanted nothing to do with!) so there’s not actually a final sketch of the whole design.

The robot’s proportions had to be on the chubby side in order for it to present the computer in its arms in the advertisement. Personally, I’m partial to the view from the rear.

As usual, we entrusted Mr. Iwase with the task of modeling. I’m once again thankful to him for creating a workable product out of my impossible blueprints. It’s bulky and well-made – I’d love to shoot a stop-motion promo film of it walking and clanking around. I hope I can work on something in that direction sooner or later.

As for the Game Robot’s current whereabouts, it’s now battling the Queen Alien given to us by Kaiyodo on top of a TV at the office, much to the amusement of all of us nerds.6


This is the star of the show, the Game Robot. It’s approx. ⅙ scale and about 45cm tall. It was assembled by Akito Iwase. The legs are made of wood, but the main body and arms are made of plastic plates. The chest cover can be opened and closed, and the arms have the same type of joints as robot toys, making them poseable.
Starting from the right, first up is the unpainted Game Robot with nothing but a base coat of primer. (Center) The basic painting is done and weathering has been applied. (Left) The disembodied heads of Gall Force characters used in the photo story. Each has a different expression.
(Right) The last step is applying the decals. On the exact due date, the entire Artmic staff worked together with the modelers who delivered the finished product in order to get this part done! (Center) Making the diorama and cockpit. (Left) A hand-drawn CG by Mr. Yamane, a newcomer at Artmic!
(Right) Desktop of the modeling workbench. It’s in complete disarray. The storyboards shown in the picture were drawn by Kakinuma and compiled into the final visual by a designer at the ad agency. (Center, Left) These are shots from the photo story. The robot in these images is a photo cutout that was pasted into the scene!
①② This is a sketch for a pitch presentation from before we decided to use Gall Force characters. It’s large enough for a child to ride in and incorporates lots of computer imagery.


③④ This is plan B. The pilot embarks the robot from a seated position.

Further Reading


  1. This archived blog post about a 30-year-old magazine article has more details.
  2. Likely Gall Force Defense of Chaos, a shooting game developed by HAL Laboratory, a studio that was purchased by Nintendo in the early ’90s. In 1987 an adventure game was released for the MSX based on the OVA Gall Force Eternal Story, developed by Scaptrust. Confusingly, HAL Laboratory also released a Gall Force Eternal Story game for the Nintendo Famicom, different than the MSX version but similar to their earlier MSX game.
  3. Mechanical designer and writer best known for his work on Mospeada and Megazone 23.
  4. A producer and editor at ARTMIC. His work included producing Bubblegum Crash! and editing Tony Takezaki’s AD Police 25:00 manga and the seminal ARTMIC Design Works for B-Club.
  5. That’s a reference to the Power Loader from ALIENS, released in 1986.
  6. A very blurry photo of this arrangement actually appeared in ARTMIC Design Works, you can see it in my article about ARTMIC’s office building.