90s arcade games

SXSW 2020: Interview: Director Joshua Tsui Talks Gaming Doc ‘Insert Coin’

If you grew up playing video games in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Insert Coin is the documentary film for you. Director Joshua Tsui’s documentary delineates the history of video game studio Midway’s peak and it is a must-watch for when it premieres.

As an amateur gamer, I learned so much about Midway and the huge hits that they created. I developed an appreciation as well for all the meticulous work that goes into creating a video game, especially with advancing technology back in the ‘90s. 

Although the City of Austin cancelled South By Southwest (SXSW) on March 6, a week before the festival where the film would have held its world premiere, I was able to watch the documentary and interview director Joshua Tsui for this coverage on Insert Coin.

Official Synopsis of Insert Coin

Close-up shot of an "Insert Coin" hard enamel pin against video game buttons
Image via Twitter @joshytsui

Eugene Jarvis, the creator of ‘80s classic video games such as Defender and Robotron, returns to the industry in the ‘90s. In the process, he assembles a team that pioneers the concept of bringing live action into video games, kickstarting a new era in the arcades.

The technology mushrooms into massive hits such as Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam and soon the team begins to conquer the world. What began as a small tight-knit group begins to deal with success and eventually the rise of home consumer technology.

Check out the trailer!

Read our interview with director Joshua Tsui

"Insert Coin" Director Joshua Tsui
Joshua Tsui

What is the inspiration behind Insert Coin?

I was working at Midway in the early ‘90s. It was my first job in video games and out of school. I was hyper-aware of the history [at Midway]. I had it in the back of my head that it was a story that I wanted to tell someday. Fast forward to 20 years later and no one had told the story yet. I was in a unique position to tell this story.

Who was the target audience you had in mind?

I had a challenge here in that I had to appeal to both the fans and people who may not be intimately familiar with the subject matter. So it was a balancing act and ultimately I targeted it to people who were interested in how entertainment (not just video games) is created and the business of it.

Midway made such a permanent mark on the gaming industry back in the 1990s. Many of their games people still play today in retro arcades. Were you surprised the company closed its doors in 2009?  

Yeah, it was surprising at the time. I think Midway struggled a lot with making larger games. Most of the games they created in the ‘90s were smaller. The scale of production was a challenge.

Were you still at the company when they closed in 2009?

No, I left the company in 1999. I was at another company when Midway closed its doors in 2009. 

Is this your first documentary film?

Yeah, it is! I have worked on a lot of short subjects and created marketing materials. But I never made a documentary before. I picked this subject because I knew this area, and it was a good subject for me as a first-time filmmaker as well.

What was the process like getting all the interviews, piecing the interviews together to tell a story? 

I started with who I thought were the key people for the subject matter. From that initial set of interviews I would then branch out to others based on subject matters and who the key people might have referred to. Over the course of four plus years, I would end up interviewing twice the number of people than who ended up in the final edit. Many times I would reinterview subjects a few times for new subjects and clarifications. I didn’t really have a game plan but I let each interview set the path to others.

Who started calling Eugene Jarvis “the Godfather of video games”?

It had to be either Mark Turmell or John Tobias. We were all in awe of Eugene because we were the arcade kids of the ‘80s. For myself personally to be in the same building as him was amazing. 

What games did you grow up with? What are your favorite retro arcade games now?

Defender and Robotron–Eugene made both!–those two games stand out a lot. In terms of nowadays, the game I still come back to a lot is NBA Jam. If you put NBA Jam somewhere, people will flock to it. Even people who don’t play video games.

Since SXSW was cancelled and the documentary would’ve had its world premiere there, when do you foresee the film premiering?

Good question! The film got accepted to other film festivals in the spring and summer. I’m not sure when it will premiere. Some festivals have not been announced yet, so we can’t bring it up right now. No one is quite sure. 

Since the documentary Insert Coin has yet to premiere to the public, you can follow news about the film on Facebook and Twitter.

Read more of ChinLin’s articles here.

Check out our SXSW coverage here.

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Featured image via TechRadar

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