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INTERVIEW: Joshua Tsui – Director of Insert Coin: Inside Midway’s ’90s Revolution

Written by Davidde Gelmini

If you had the fortune of entering an arcade during the 1990s, you would no doubt have spent so many coins on Midway’s arcade machines that you needed to beg random strangers for the bus fare home. Despite closing their dooors in 2009, Midway was the king of arcade games and also had success in the console and PC industry. Joshua Tsui is currently working on the Kickstarter for the documentary Insert Coin: Inside Midway’s ’90s Revolution which will tell the story of the legendary company. We caught up with him for the following interview:

AP2HYC: Why did you want to tell Midway’s story?

Tsui: So many people loved the games but so few know about the people behind them and how the studio was. I really felt like there was a compelling story about this rag-tag group that made such an impact on the industry to this day.

AP2HYC: And Midway had a very interesting time during the ’90s that you will be exploring?

Tsui: Oh yeah, they were at the top of the video game food chain. That slice of time was just so unique, and it was literally a 10-year run for that era of arcade games where it rocketed to the top, then shifted to consoles.

AP2HYC: In those days, video gaming was seen as purely being a medium with the intention to entertain, rather than the greedy corporate business that many now see it as. How do you feel about this?

Tsui: Well, depends on who you ask. Maybe back then they hid the greed better, ha ha. Business-wise everyone wants to make money, then and now. I think perhaps the biggest difference for Midway was that the business and marketing people pretty much left development alone. They knew not to mess with it.

AP2HYC: Although it was several years ago now, does the fact that they closed their doors still sadden you?

Tsui: Oh yeah, very sad. That was my first job in the industry and even then I knew I was witnessing history. Some amazing people have come out of that studio. But ultimately it’s a positive in that IPs such as Mortal Kombat are thriving under new leadership in publishing.

AP2HYC: Several other major game publishers also suffered financial woes. THQ recently closed and Capcom and Sega are both reportedly losing major profits. Does it make you sad that companies that gave us so much joy are suffering because as the market changes the demand for their games grows less and less?

Tsui: Yeah it’s a tough situation to go through. Ultimately it’s market driven, in my opinion. The market for games is always changing and big studios need to keep up with the times. Luckily, it’s not like the games disappear; there are more ways than ever to still enjoy these games.

AP2HYC: Which games will you be focusing on? The Kickstarter mentions Terminator 2 and Mortal Kombat, but will you look at their other big titles?

Tsui: As many big and small ones that can fit in the story and are interesting. This is not strictly hits driven. The story here is how all the games influenced each other and how the teams worked. One of my favorite games is Open Ice. Not a big hit but a lot of great stories from it. I’m particularly excited about unreleased games like Judge Dredd and Mortal Kombat: Special Forces (the first version).

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AP2HYC: Who will you be interviewing?

Tsui: We already have the creators of NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, Cruis’n USA, and Terminator 2. But beyond them, I’m looking to interview as many people as possible. Many may not make the cut, but ultimately it’s important to get their thoughts down as it will inform how the story comes together.

AP2HYC: What stage of development are you in?

Tsui: Past pre-production at this point. We have a structure set to help with further interview subjects. But as with all documentaries, you can only plan so far and have to let the story reveal itself.

AP2HYC: Are you glad that the legacy of Midway lives on? Mortal Kombat remains a huge series, and Rampage is being made into a film starring Dwayne Johnson etc.

Tsui: Oh definitely. I still have a lot of friends there and am so happy for their successes. They were great people to work with and it’s gratifying that these franchises are still moving forward.

Are you looking forward to catching this documentary? What was your favorite arcade game from the past? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

About the author

Davidde Gelmini