Insert Coin Documentary Review

Insert Coin Documentary Review

How Midway's arcade magic was made

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Opinions on

If you love Midway's arcade classics as much as I do then you may want to watch this new documentary that's full of interesting stories.

Insert Coin Documentary screenshot 1
What a bunch of Narcs

As a long-time fan of Midway arcade games, I was looking forward to watching Insert Coin and I'm very glad that I did. For the unfamiliar, it's a documentary about the creation of various popular arcade games that's jam-packed with interviews and archive footage. It shines a light on the chaos and great successes that Midway and its talented game developers experienced during the late '80s until the collapse of arcade gaming in the late '90s. Considering I was hoping to see some behind-the-scenes goodness for arcade gems like Robotron: 2084, Joust, and Defender, the fact that it skims past those classics and quickly gets into the creation of 1988's Narc kind of disappointed me but once I realised how interesting its development was, I became fully invested until the very end of the documentary.

After the infamous video game crash of the early '80s, developers at Midway (known as Williams Electronics at the time) wanted to return to creating arcade games and after witnessing the detailed character sprites within Japanese titles such as Rolling Thunder, Eugene Jarvis and George Petro began to work on Narc. To create the character sprites, they filmed actors and digitized them which was a new concept for game graphics. Another novel aspect about it is that it was super-violent which gave the team hesitations yet their worries would go away once they saw how popular Narc quickly became soon after its release. Later, Eugene Jarvis worked on Smash TV with up-and-coming programmer hotshot Mark Turmell. Its reflection of over-consumerism really hit home with arcade goers and became another huge success. However, after finding out that its Pleasure Dome area was basically a lie, some trouble ensued...

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The interviews with Midway veterans like George Petro here are interesting and hilarious

A lot of the stories presented in Insert Coin were completely new to me and hearing them straight from the developers' mouths was great fun, especially considering they're such a lively and humorous bunch. There is plenty of swearing, though, so be careful if you decide to watch it with the kids. Anyway, the story continues with the business side of things when the film discusses Williams buying Midway from Bally's then changing their brand name to Midway and it showcases their first game as such: Arch Rivals. They then meet James Cameron who cooperated with developing the Terminator 2 arcade game and although it was successful, Entertainment Tonight stirred up some nonsense about how the game glorified shooting cops. From then on, there are multiple stories about how Midway started to embrace controversy as it made their sales skyrocket, especially after the senate discussed video game violence.

Of course, Mortal Kombat is featured at great length in Insert Coin. It's interesting that they wanted to get Jean-Claude Van Damme to star in it but decided to use original characters instead such as Scorpion and Sub-Zero who were inspired by Chinese ninja assassins. Watching Ed Boon develop ideas for fatalities and such was awesome but it's too bad that he wasn't interviewed. The documentary also discusses NBA Jam a great deal and I enjoyed watching how they pasted the heads on the characters and implemented its announcer. Also, the shenanigans regarding secret Mortal Kombat characters in it were very interesting. There's a brief segment about Revolution X as well which starred Aerosmith and a part about the classic Mortal Kombat movie, too, complete with a Paul Anderson interview.

The documentary ends with showing how gaming changed in the late '90s through the introduction of 3D games as well as the increasing popularity of console gaming and the internet. It also shows how Midway struggled at this time by highlighting their arcade fighting game flop War Gods and all of the company strife that was caused by internal competition. On the plus side, I liked how they showed Ed Boon working on The Grid which was an exciting project despite its lack of popularity, especially considering Ed's burnout with Mortal Kombat. It also marked Midway's final arcade game release. Will we ever get a modern adaptation? Here's hoping!

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Watching Johnny Cage in real life is trippy stuff indeed

Even though I wrote a lot about this fantastic documentary, I barely even scratched the surface. Needless to say, if it sounds like something you'd enjoy then give it a watch and let me know what you thought about it in the comments below.

Official trailer for Insert Coin thumbnail
Official trailer for Insert Coin 2:17
Sega Genesis Games Trivia

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