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MAGFest 2016 Breakdown - Panels, Concerts, Super Smash Opera & More

MAGFest 2016 Breakdown – Panels, Concerts, Super Smash Opera & More

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MAGFest Stage

There are a lot of great gaming events, festivals, and conventions to attend every year. Many consider spring to be the start of the convention season, but for me the year always begins with attending MAGFest, usually held in either January or February. Like many of the previous years, the fourteenth iteration of the Music and Gaming Festival was held at the Gaylord at National Harbor, Maryland and hosted several concerts, panels, and plenty of other fun gaming events.

As Brenna mentioned in her post earlier this year, it’s nearly impossible to cover everything that the festival has to offer. In fact, having now read up Brenna’s MAGFest adventures, I realize that we had vastly different schedules and experiences at this past year’s event. While the two of us combined certainly couldn’t cover everything at the festival, I hope these breakdowns illustrate the variety and quantity of things available for attendees to experience.

One of MAGFest’s big draws for me are the panels and talks. These vary on subject, but are always anchored in some aspect of gaming, music, or other parts of so called “nerd culture.” These included talks about music creation and Q&A sessions with guests like the Angry Video Game Nerd and the members of the web series Loading Ready Run.

I stuck to music related panels for the most part. These included Q&A panels with composer Austin Wintory, who talked about his work on Journey and Assassins Creed: Syndicate. Later in the weekend Grant Kirkhope, best known for his work at Rare on titles like Banjo-Kazooie, had his own Q&A. Both composers were quite humble about their work, a trait I’ve noticed in many members of the game audio community, and they were up for answering any questions that fans had for them.

Grant Kirkhope MAG

Grant Kirkhope Q&A

Aside from the Q&A sessions I checked out some talks intended for people who are interested in making music as a career. Several YouTube musicians including FamilyJules7x and ToxicxEternity held a panel on creating game music covers on YouTube, where they shared tips from their experiences. Game composer Alexander Brandon also held a session on the more technical aspects of music and sound creation. There was even a panel on networking and promoting your audio creation skills called “Making MAGFriends” hosted by several members of the game audio community. They were all informative talks and the panelists were more than happy to talk shop afterwards. There were plenty of other panels on other subjects that I didn’t have time to check out, but it was great to see that so much in-depth information on game audio was available for attendees.

Of course MAGFest isn’t just about the panels. There are tons of bands and music artists performing on the main stage throughout the festival’s run. I was more focussed on attending talks and catching up with friends this year, but I did manage to check out some great concerts. The first of these that I went to see was FamilyJules7x, who was performing on the MAGFest main stage for the first time this year. His set included some amazing metal covers of music from Crypt of the Necrodancer, Pokemon, Skyrim, and Super Mario Galaxy. He was accompanied by other musicians for the concert, including fellow videogame music remixer ToxicxEternity.

FamilyJules7x MAG

FamilyJules7x (middle) on the MAGFest mainstage

The only other official MAGFest concert I ended up attending was the premier of the Journey: Live concert series. A concert tour that was funded through Kickstarter, this unique set-up involved a live orchestra accompanying players as they played through the entire Journey game. This meant that every time that the player did something that would require a change up in the music, the orchestra had to transition with the correct timing. The ensemble was conducted by Journey composer Austin Wintory himself and the performance was surprisingly flawless. The group never missed a transition or reaction to what the players where doing in the game. I can’t imagine how complex this was to pull together and I’d love to see more live game soundtrack performances take this route. Game music is often changes and adapts to player input, so this Journey: Live performance felt like one of the most genuine recreations of that experience within a concert setting.

This year I also checked out an event called the MAG Underground. As Brenna mentioned in her recap, this was a mini-event that existed along side MAGFest to offer up some extra concerts from additional bands. The event lasted only a day, but I got to see performances from Chris Taylor’s group Gimmick and from CarboHydroM’s group Prime Legacy. Although set in a small venue, the bands all drew in a sizable crowd and the event definitely had a the more intimate vibe of earlier MAGFests. All told, it was an enjoyable extra helping of game music that was hidden away from the larger crowds of the main gaming festival.

Prime Legacy MAG

CarboHydroM (far right) and his band Prim Legacy 

One of the big surprises for me this year was a performance from the Super Smash Opera. The premise I was told was a combination of music, opera singing, stunt fights, and puppeteering all themed around the characters from Super Smash Bros. This sounded too bizarre not to check out and I was intrigued both as a classically trained musician and a lover of the Super Smash Bros. series. I had missed a performance of Super Smash Opera last year, so I decided to check it out this time around.

The venue for Super Smash Opera was filled to capacity, which was an encouraging sign. The show that this group put on was amazing. Performers dressed as members of the Super Smash Bros. roster sang well-known opera pieces with altered lyrics to thematically match their game origins. Star Fox for example sang an altered Gilbert & Sullivan piece renamed “I Am the Very Model of an Arwing Pilot Animal.” In addition to the costumed singers there were puppets that filled in the roles of the Ice Climbers, Pikachu, and Jigglypuff, and yes the pokemon all sang opera using only the syllables from their names. All of this was done with a live orchestra accompanying the performers, who I’m happy to report nailed every piece that they sang. It all made for a wild, silly, and entertaining music experience with a healthy dose of gaming and classical music humor that was right up my alley. The Super Smash Opera was easily the highlight of MAGFest for me this year and I hope they can get a performance in the main concert hall next year. They’ll certainly need the bigger space if this year’s attendance was any indication.

So that in summary was some of what I experienced at MAGFest this year. As with any gaming event or convention, you can never experience everything that’s on offer. I missed out on a number of things like the Chip-Rave, performances from groups like Metroid Metal, and there were a handful of voice-acting related panels that I would have liked to have seen. Hopefully these recaps have given you just a glimpse at what’s on offer at MAGFest. It’s always a fun time and I can’t wait to attend next year’s event for more adventures.

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