Tech

Insert Coin, the arcade documentary worth feeding all your quarters into 

The trailer for Insert Coin.

You may not know longtime game developer Joshua Tsui, but you know his work. Over two decades-plus in the industry, he founded Studio Gigante (makers of Wrestlemania 21 for the original Xbox) and spent time at industry stalwarts like EA. His credits include beloved franchises from Tony Hawks Pro Skater to Fight Night.

Despite building that kind of resume, however, Tsuis first passion wasnt the gamepad—he actually went to school to study film. And in the early 2010s, well, “I dont want to call it a midlife crisis, but I realized after all this time I hadnt made a film,” he told Ars recently.

Tsui had done some video work—marketing for the games he worked on; a few making-of shorts here and there—just never a feature film. Luckily, when he sat down with Polygon in 2012 to talk about his past, he realized the perfect idea had been waiting for him all along. In our post-Indie Game and King of Kong reality, all he had to do was look to his professional beginning: Chicago, 1993, pushing pixels on 2D arcade games with the teams behind Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam at the soon-to-be-legendary arcade developer, Midway Games.

“We started talking about my history with Midway, and it sparked a bit of an idea—a lot of people know these games, but they dont know what happened behind them,” Tsui recalls. “When I thought about it, well, I lived through this incredible era in the mid-90s at Midway when everything was blowing up.

“It seemed like the perfect subject: I knew the subject really well, I knew who to talk to, I knew what the skeletons where, and I still had a really good relationship with everyone from back then,” he continued. “Frankly, I was surprised there hadnt been more discussion about Midway in general, a holistic view of the studio and how all these games informed each other. I thought, If I dont do that, someone else is going to.”

Five-plus years of work, a tantalizing Kickstarter campaign, and a treasure trove of saved archival footage later, Tsuis debut feature film, Insert Coin, earned a world premiere this spring at South by Southwest—which in this case means it exists solely in screener form for now. Tsui and his team remain hopeful it can play some festivals this fall, but he doesnt want his debut documentary stuck on the circuit for a super long time. “I want to get it out there as soon as possible,” he says. “I just want to do it the right way.”

So, save up your quarters now. Whenever Insert Coin finally gets in front of audiences, youll want to hop in your La Bomba and smash the gas as fast as possible to take this trip down memory lane .

  • The first thing you'll notice about Insert Coin is all the era-appropriate aesthetic touches. Each new "chapter" begins with an "Insert Coin" screen as if you've died and need back into the game. And everything has that vintage monitor noise in the background. Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • Tsui had access to (and got great stories from) all the major players, like NBA Jam dev Mark Turmell. Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • You also get to see people like Turmell in their early '90s glory. Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • Ed Boon's partner in crime: Mortal Kombat designer John Tobias. Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • Perhaps Midway's OG modern game maker, Eugene Jarvis. Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • Midway execs like Neil Nicastro prove to be delightfully frank, too. Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • This doc has a lot of great anecdotes. Why again does that guy kinda, sorta look like Ah-nold? Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • And director Joshua Tsui gathered a motherlode of archival footage to work from. Johnny Cage just getting his self-isolation treadmill workout in, nothing to see. Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • To be honest, it doesn't look so easy to hold that position on top of steps, either. Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • Nice sneaky cameo from director Joshua Tsui here (from NBA Jam: TE) as he flies over the Dallas Mavs for the rebound. (Tsui would later model characters like Sub-Zero and Liu Kang, too.) Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • Midway worked hard to convince the NBA this game was worth the official league licensing. But, as Midway's Sal Divita put it, "It's funny— we got the NBA license, but people liked playing the special characters more than the NBA players." Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • Whoa. The only way to stop someone who's on fire might be to cool 'em off with a Sub-Zero freeze… Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin
  • Unfortunately, Raiden never got to dunk all over fools because the NBA was not fond of the idea that these hyper violent warriors would show up alongside league players. Joshua Tsui / Insert Coin

From Narc to NBA

Tsuis filmmaking background will be obvious to anyone lucky enough to eventually catch Insert Coin. The first-time feature director (and editor) makes several smart decisions that elevate this doc beyond standard making-of or behind-the-scenes fare.

To start: beyond one notable Ed Boon-sized hole, the list of Insert Coin interviewees seems to include everybody. The films long production period seems to be time well spent. Tsui has industry icons on camera frequently and frankly, including programmers Eugene Jarvis (Cruis'n USA) and Mark Turmell (NBA Jam), designer John Tobias (Mortal Kombat), and corporate heavyweights like Midway CEO Neil Nicastro. (It might feel like every arcade War Story you could want in a single film.)

But Insert Coin smartly doesnt stop there—Tsui tells Ars he probably interviewed twice the amount of people who ended up in the film. He tracked down game journalists from the era to paint the broader perspective. He interviews notable game enthusiasts (from Ready Player One author Ernest Cline to gaming academic/author Carly Kocurek) as pseudo stand-ins for the millions of fans of these games. Even Daniel Pesina, the martial arts pro who originally portrayed Johnny Cage for Midways version of motion capture, shows up. No matter if youre a developer, a professional gamer or games journalist, or simply a fan of Smash TV, someone in Insert Coin speaks directly to your experience with these titles.

“A lot of people who see the film have said it feels like sitting at the bar Read More – Source