A Video Game Legend: Midway Games
In the relatively short history of video games there have been a few studios that have surpassed their niche clientele and become household names. One such studio is Midway Games. Founded in Chicago in 1988, they have been creating some of the most recognizable franchises in gaming — think Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam — and have taken their Chicago roots to heart when making games.
Located right across the street from Hot Dougs, Midway Games were pioneers in the early 90’s arcade scene. While they hold multiple hits under their belt, the game that put them on the map was 1992’s Mortal Kombat. It breathed new life into the fighting game genre by allowing players to execute ultra-violent finishing moves to their opponent as a way of rubbing victory in their faces. While the game became increasingly popular, it gained severe attention from Washington. Due to the spike in violent games between ‘92 and ’93, Senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl held hearings on violence in games. As a result, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board was created as a system to place guidance ratings on games, much like in movies. Fortunately for Midway, bad press meant higher sales as Mortal Kombat left its arcade roots and expanded to multiple home consoles.
While Mortal Kombat sought to change the way we play fighting games, other franchises by Midway changed the way we play sports games. NBA Jam (1993) and NFL Blitz (1997) brought a new level of addiction to the sports fanatic. By adding impossible moves and making star players dominate like we only wished they would, these series made sports significantly more accessible to the casual player. Not to mention scoring insane dunks with the 1991 Bulls never gets old.
Unfortunately midway games ran into some trouble in the long run. Despite the fantastic franchises it developed in the 1990’s, very few of them made the jump to 3D graphics smoothly in the 2000’s. As a result, sales began to wane for the once mighty gaming giant. It tried its magic a few more times by creating new franchises, but the playground was now dominated by a new generation. Midway games filed for bankruptcy in early 2009, shutting down all three of its studios and placing the Mortal Kombat series up for sale.
Thankfully, not all was lost. Warner Brothers decided to buy out the remainder of Midway as well as the Mortal Kombat series. WB allowed Ed Boon, the Chicago native co-creator of Mortal Kombat, to resettle the company under the name NeatherRealm Studios in the same North Side building that once housed Midway. They recently released a Mortal Kombat reboot to much critical and financial appraise.
Despite its rocky history, Midway games is a substantial part of Chicago gaming history. It put Chicago on the map in the video game industry and, despite its name change, continues to be considered one of the brightest companies in game development.