After what seemed like ages The King of Fighters XIII has finally come out to consoles, bringing a gameplay style and aesthetic practically lost to the modern clump of fighting games. Gorgeous hand-drawn 2D spritework with a combat system that values smart gameplay and skill over comeback mechanisms, it is exactly what I’ve been wanting in a fighting game for a long time, and hopefully heralds SNK’s big break back into the US fighting game market. Sadly, the man who really brought me into the Neo Geo gaming fold, the man who was a die-hard fan of SNK’s games in general and the KOF series in particular, passed away a year ago, on October 16, 2010.
That man, Kinn (also known by his handle “Robotron,” or by his real name, Kim) was more than just another guy who played video games in the Metro Detroit area. He was a patriarch to the gaming scene who worked to foster a sense of community, and whose breadth of classic gaming knowledge made him nigh-unstoppable in games such as Mr. Do, Burgertime, and Zanac. An old school player through and through, Kinn grew up in the heyday of arcades in the late 70s through the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. He worked in arcades, won local tournaments in games like Robotron: 2084 (leading to his handle) and generally enjoyed gaming as a pastime on par with fishing, comic books, and cheesy science fiction featuring robots. Naturally he picked up the consoles of the day as well, and even started importing Japanese games in the early 90s once catalogs became available to purchase them through.
After a grievous injury on the job, Kinn lost his left leg, limiting his chances to take part in his more active hobbies and exacerbating preexisting health problems he already had to deal with, and so he spent more of his time with games and movies at home. While he did not entirely eschew modern gaming systems and genres, from the Dreamcast era on he focused his new purchases on arcade-style shooters (shmups, STGs, whatever you want to call them), multiplayer games such as Mario Kart, classic games, and of course, fighting games. Due to this fairly small trickle of new content he was picking up –- both domestically and imported –- he was able to focus much of his new-game budget on the newest releases for his favorite console, the Neo Geo, right up until the end of the console’s run, topping off at over 60 games before he ultimately sold the whole thing. In context, these were all critical components to a weekly event he held at his house off of 8 Mile since the 90s, known as Friday Night Gaming, or FNG.
Unlike game nights I’ve seen from most other people, Kinn’s were open to anyone who wanted to come and play some games. He would advertise the events on a variety of forums that he was active on, including shoryuken.com, neo-geo.com, atariage.com, 1up.com, shmups.com and undoubtedly many more that I never learned about. Additionally, he lived near the legendary Wizzards Arcade, once located on 8 Mile near Gratiot, where all the local fighting game players would compete in everything the arcade would stock, such as the Samurai Shodown series, Mortal Kombat, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Capcom vs. SNK 2, Guilty Gear X, Puzzle Fighter, and yes, the KOF series. Once the arcade would close down for the night at around 1 am, many of those players would roll on down the street to Robo’s to join in FNG, where frequently the Neo Geo and PS2 imports like the Guilty Gear XX games were stars of the show. Game selection was done purely democratically, with the players themselves choosing what went on at any given time. Depending on how many people were there and who they were, this meant the popular releases of the day such as Super Smash Bros. Melee or Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike had about as much chance as oddball games like World Heroes Perfect, Tecmo Bowl, Karnov’s Revenge, or League Bowling as getting thrown onto the big TV.
KOF was always very popular. Kinn owned nearly every single Neo Geo cart of the KOF series, only missing King of Fighters 2000 and and King of Fighters 2003. Unsurprisingly, the most popular editions proved to be the newest releases and the acclaimed KOF 98. KOF 2001 may have topped them all however; Wizzards declined to get the arcade release, but Kinn picked it up as soon as it went on sale. As a result, 2001 became THE game of FNG for months, running for hours, both at the beginning of the night and again once Wizzards would close. On a few occasions there were over 30 people packed into his living room, hallway, and kitchen doorways watching the game and waiting for their rotation; eventually he proposed making it a “team game” where a person would choose a character on a team and they would hurriedly swap controllers in between rounds. By no means was 2001 the best KOF game, but the sheer amount of time sunk into it and the nostalgia make it one of my favorites in the series. Even once King of Fighters 2002 came out, 2001 still would find its way back into the rotation.
Eventually additional setups were thrown together in the kitchen and in Kinn’s computer room, so more games could get played when the main living room TV was pretty much locked down. Generally these ended up being “old school” games like Mortal Kombat II and Street Fighter II Turbo for Super NES, 80s game collections for PS1 or PS2, or just another place for people to run Guilty Gear XX when the living room was taken. Moreso than games, however, FNG was a place to socialize, and it was a regular occurrence for people, Kinn included, to just hang out in the kitchen or computer room and chat, usually over some Happy’s Pizza. Eventually, however, the game night crowds began to dwindle a bit partially because of Halo nights other community members were running, and shrunk moreso once Wizzards closed for good in 2004. Despite the shrinking attendance, his own health problems, and the addition of romance to his life from his eventual wife, Kinn continued to run them every few weeks right up until he moved into a new home off of 7 Mile. He ran a couple more dedicated FNG sessions there as well, but not trusting the neighborhood, they quietly ended around 2009, and simply became gaming sessions whenever friends visited. At one of the last FNG nights I recall playing some of the newer crop of fighters, such as KOF 98 Ultimate Match, Arcana Heart, and Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix. It was truly the end of an era, though none of us quite realized it at the time.
Last year, on October 15, 2010, I popped over to Kinn’s newest home in the suburbs for our own FNG. A few of our friends I asked were unable to join us due to work or other commitments, but he had gotten a friend of his named Dale to join in for what we planned to be a night of shooters. Kinn was never a huge fan of CAVE games, but was intrigued by Deathsmiles footage he had seen, and really wanted to check it out. I decided to surprise him by bringing along a Vectrex with a game he loved as a kid called Rip Off, which he said only a party store a couple miles from his house ever had, leaving him to walk the entire way to play it with his buddies. After nearly 30 years he still had skills in the game and promptly topped my score in it, while Dale showed us all up in Deathsmiles, Mushihimesama Futari, and ESPGaluda II. As always, though, we got to discussing various movies, comics, cartoons, and games, and Robo and I talked about how amazing KOF XIII looked. We were both incredibly excited to play it at the time, and he requested that I come back over during the week with some of our old crew to help set up his game room so he could kick-start a new era of FNG to take advantage of all these new games.
The next morning, while checking websites before work, I discovered he had passed away.
It’s strange the things that bring to mind the man and his gaming sensibilities (which admittedly hewed close to my own). Kinn was an incredibly nice fellow who treated practically everyone like he’d known them for years, and was very supportive and helpful to anyone who wanted to game or talk shop. He would frequently refer to himself as a “scrub brush” in fighters, but that never stopped him from jumping in and getting a few wins, and his commentary for some of those games still come to mind years later. Not many people got the “Eat at Wizzards!” joke he’d make every single time Marco Rodriguez pulled out the wooden sign in Mark of the Wolves (Wizzards was a restaurant before it was an arcade), but he made the crack every time, and it was funny every time. He also would be blown away anytime people did something unexpected and nice for him; my friend Jay brought him Christmas dinner one year, and I surprised him for his birthday in 2002 with an Atari VCS with many of his favorite games that he had long since sold and regretted losing. Nowadays, playing something for the Neo Geo, or a shooter, or an old early-80s game, or even King of Fighters XIII bring him to mind. In a sense I still am competing with him using his old memory card save data with his high scores on it, and he still holds some of the highest scores on the PS3 leaderboards for Shatter, a year after he has passed on.
More than anything, however, he struck me as the sort of person the gaming community at large should strive to be. He didn’t like FPS games, but he didn’t talk down about the people who played them. He didn’t talk down to women who came by FNG to game. He treated everyone with respect, even online, and was generally supportive even when he was competing. More than that, though, he welcomed people into his home and fostered a sense of community that has endured even after he passed on. Any time I toss on KOF XIII I remember him and all the good times we had, gaming and chewing the fat.
Game on, old friend.