Documentary Explores Untold History of Arcade Giant Midway Games


I grew up playing video games in arcades. Chuck E Cheese was a favorite hangout with its mix of arcade video games and carnival games. Hours were spent using up tokens and collecting tickets for prizes. My dad probably spent hundreds of dollars over the years at Chuck E Cheese alone.

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The early 90s was still a golden age for arcades. While I was busy sticking to the more kid-friendly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game and The Simpson’s Arcade Game, older kids were playing Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Smash TV.

At the epicenter of it all was the Chicago-based Midway Games. One of the last great arcade companies, Midway was responsible for edgy titles like Mortal Kombat and Smash TV, as well as fan favorites like Gauntlet, NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, Rampage, Spy Hunter and Cruis’n USA.

A new documentary aims to tell the “untold history” of Midway.

“Midway was my first industry job and I just couldn’t believe I was going to be working in the same building as Eugene Jarvis who made some of the best games of the ’80s,” says Josh Tsui, the current president of Robomodo, who is behind the documentary.

“Others such as Ed Boon and Mark Turmell were already about to become legends and everyone knew it. So being amongst these giants, I knew it was a special place. Seeing the games that were coming out, I knew it was a special time. Even back then I was mentally recording everything because it already felt like history in the making,” Tsui adds.

This was a transitionary period for gaming. Home consoles were on the upswing with increasingly powerful graphics. Within a few short years, they would even offer entertainment options like CD music playback. PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn would usher in 3D gaming to mainstream audiences for the first time.

Arcades used to be at the cutting edge of video games. Taking advantage of their large cabinets for advanced chipsets, arcade games managed graphics that home consoles could not match. That advantage began to slowly slip away as the technology evolved to allow for more power to be packed into smaller devices. Arcades became a niche market and thousands of them shut their doors for good.

The arcade division of Midway closed in 2001 amid the precipitous drop in arcade game revenue. Midway refocused on home consoles and handhelds, releasing a number of critically acclaimed titles including The Suffering and Psi-Ops but eventually ran out of cash and sadly went out of business.

The short form history of Midway misses the human component of the arcade industry, though, which is why it’s great to see someone as passionate about the company as Josh Tsui do a documentary on the subject. The documentary — titled “Insert Coin: Inside Midway’s 90s Revolution” — will include interviews of developers who made some of the most iconic arcade games of the 1990s.

The Kickstarter campaign hopes to raise $75,000 from fans.