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The Kinn of Fighters: Neo Geo, FNG, and a Detroit gaming legend

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.

16 responses to “The Kinn of Fighters: Neo Geo, FNG, and a Detroit gaming legend” »

  1. SenatorIvy says:

    Kinn used to always get mad at me for hopping around with Basara, but he didn’t seem to have a problem rushing with Gaira, haha.

    Lot of deaths in the Wizzards/FNG crew the past few years. Without people like Robo supporting all people and all games, the niche groups have killed our gaming.

    • Kevin Bunch says:

      It has really broken up over the past few years. I know Wizzards closing had a hand in it, but it’s true; a lot of the game nights that happen nowadays are either for specific games and genres, for specific groups of people, or both. That sort of catch-all place to just hang out with other people who share the same hobby isn’t really in the area quite like it used to be. I know a few people have been trying to crack that open again, especially with facebook groups and the like, but with Kinn and FNG you knew that it was going to be a good time, even if they didn’t play anything you cared about.

      Personally, I never really cared a whole lot for the massive Naruto-fests that dominated for months on end, but running some Super Mario Kart or Street Fighter II on SNES with Scotty, April, and whoever else wanted to get in was just as great as talking about comics or robots or whatever.

      It occurs to me that FNG really was the realization of Kinn’s desire to open up an arcade where everyone could come hang out and play a good mix of games. It may not have happened quite like he wanted, but ultimately I think that wish came true after a fashion.

      • TECHNO says:

        ...He was actually looking for a spot to do gaming in…even checking out diff buildings. We were even planning to go up to that cafe’ place where Obot worked just to see how he ran things.

  2. TECHNO says:

    ...Kinn was the big bro I never had. We’ve been friends and gaming together since way back when the 1st SamSho came out on NeoGeo. FNG basicly started with: MikeTaz, VDO, Joe Kinn and myself. Basicly all we rans was Mario Cart on the Nin64 with a few fighting games here and there. To make a long story short, the crowd grew to contain pretty much most of the Wizzards crew and then some. FNG was going strong until the original XBOX arrived with the game Halo, which about 1/3 of the FNG population started playing heavily at other gatherings…mostly on Friday nights at the same time as FNG. I even asked kinn if he would create a separate spot upstairs or in the basement to accommodate the Xbox/Halo players at his home on FNG nights. He declined and we both got into a heated arguement which caused us not to talk to each other for bout 2 months. Needless to say we both made up as brothers do and we continued to game together as usual, but my work schedule caused me to work midnights, which in turn caused me to miss alot of FNG nights towards the end. I last saw kinn bout a week before his death at his new home on Toepher st. off Kelly rd. He showed me around his house and we made plans on how we were going to hook-up his basement to start-up FNG again…which was going to be a great spot I might add. Then the news hit me the next morning of his death. My brother is truely missed. We shared alotta great times together on and off the consoles. RIP brother Kinn!

  3. Jason Bensfield says:

    I will never forget you, Kim (Kinn) Henderson. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about you. You were supportive, encouraging, and kind, and despite all of your ailments, you never showed the pain and suffering you had gone through. You were strong and never let yourself get buried in your problems, you still enjoyed life to its fullest, and I admire that. I still to this day talk about you in the highest regards to anyone I meet that involves the gaming community. I will never forget you. Thank you so much for everything.

  4. Kinn taught me how to do my first ever dragon punch on Street Fighter II: Championship Edition @ wizzards arcade. Back then I would come in their and we would play for hours. Wizzards arcade, Joe, james and Kinn are the main reasons why I am alive today. Its hard for me to even type this with out getting misty eyed because right before he passed I was getting back in touch with all the old wizzards crew and Robotron posted a comment on my youtube video about wizzards arcade. he was gettign ready to restart FNG but I was like, “theres always next week”. Im still mad at myself for that. I miss you Kinn.

  5. SuperDave 000 says:

    Big pimp! Im upset Kevin didnt talk about how Kinn would hog up all the xp on all the PC games me Luke, Joe and JohnP would play with him. lmao Its not the same without are TANK.

    • Kevin Bunch says:

      I actually forgot he was really big into Starcraft and Warcraft III, etc. since I was never much of a PC gamer. I do remember catching him online at all hours in between games, when he was working on avatars in photoshop, or when he couldn’t sleep from the pain he was enduring. That man did a lot of really cool stuff; if you check over at the shmups forum they had a huge memorial thread for him. I never really realized just how active he was on forums outside of shoryuken, but he was pretty well known outside the area too.

    • TECHNO says:

      LoL. yea Kinn’s character was a beast on WarCraft3. Dave and I were the archers, I think Luke was the Necromancer, Joe and Diarra were the warriors as well as Kinn. Lol, Kinn would run up and kill all the monsters, gather up the hp points, then run back to us like “Well…and…r u guys playing or what? LMAO

  6. Ed Scott says:

    Finding out about Kinn’s passing was the saddest day of my life next to losing my best friend. He truly was the purest and nicest person you would ever meet. I think I can count on one hand how many times I actually played a game at FNG. I used to go there just to kick it with Kinn. You’d catch me, him and Derrick in the kitchen just laughing about what’s going on in the world. He opened his home to everyone and you felt like you was at home. If I didn’t know you from Wizzards, I knew you from FNG. No matter what time you fell thru he was glad to see you. Saying Kinn is missed is an understatement…..

  7. McConis Nellon"thefury617" says:

    Kinn welcome all of us into his home,no matter what. He carried the torch after Wizzards closes its final doors. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know who to turn to when it comes down to gaming. Kinn made awesome avatars on gaming site forums and he loves to take on newcomers when comes down to fighting games. He also hooks me up on import games that I needed and no one that I know does that. I was in total shock when I found out that he passed away..even till this day but I wanna say thanks to him for what he did for all of us.RIP Robotorn. 100% pure robot.

  8. Mr.Hadoken says:

    With my brother who use to go to FNG recently sick I can relate to what to all been thru. More games that Kinn got us all into

    Power Instinct
    Naruto series
    Rage of The Dragons
    Battle D.O.N
    Fist of The North Star
    Arcana Heart
    Mario Sunshine

    and even fighters I play today that play would look now play cause of ggpo and all.

    No youtube, NO tiers, It was all about gaming learning from the gods of gaming
    Those days of gaming will never be the same

  9. Kazuya_UK says:

    Great article. Robo was a wonderful guy from the time I knew him – he’d been a member on my site for a long time, and I was shocked and saddened when I found out what happened to him. He’s sorely missed at NGFL… 🙁

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