MAGFest 8 was my 5th time traveling to the humble convention in Virginia dedicated to the music and fan following of the videogame industry. I started following the arrangement scene after stumbling across The Minibosses in 2002, and shortly after signed up on their message boards, and my life surprisingly took a big turn. I had always been extremely passionate about videogame music since childhood, and the idea of a band arranging many of my favorite games was nothing short of mind blowing. As time went on, with many new friends and childhood dreams of setting foot in America, I finally had the chance to travel to MAGFest 4.
Since then, I haven’t missed a single event, and have been blessed with new members of my family and countless friends as a result. But looking back at the conventions, I always find myself wondering if it is purely the people and friends that makes me come out, or if the convention actually offers enough for me to shill out the money and effort? What memories do I leave with of the actual event itself?
Well, let’s find out together after the jump
For 3 years now, MAGFest has been located at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria, VA on New Years Day, usually lasting for the weekend with departures being set on Sunday. This year, the convention was expanded officially by one day, and unofficially did a sneak start on New Years for the people who showed up early. I personally showed up Friday morning, New Years Day, and missed out on this party, as I spent the time with my best friend and family in Richmond, a few hours away.
MAGFest had some big plans this year with the added day and lineups, and my excitement before the event was surprisingly high as I found myself on the road with my before mentioned friend, Daniel Brown, a video game pianist. As we took a break and ate at the Chick Filet by the road, we discussed what we were most excited for, the SDA Marathon. SDA, short for Speed Demos Archive, is a website dedicated to showcase speedruns of classic games done on the real system with no tool assistance allowed. Many of the members and record holders from that site were at the event, ready to speed run these games live and streamed online, and accepting donations for charity. As we headed out on the road however, the phone rang, and Brown, an SDA member and scheduled to do his world record runs live, got the news that the SDA Marathon could not take place at MAGFest because of the lack of high speed Internet needed for streaming. An immediate blow to our excitement.
When we finally got to the hotel, we ran into the biggest problem of the weekend: parking. What happened was that the hotel overbooked for the weekend, and attendance numbers were strong, leading to long lines, long waits, little parking and canceled room reservations, though this was dealt with professionally, and you can’t really fault MAGFest for having good attendance, but it certainly does annoy you when you got some concentrated evil inside waiting to be expelled into the nearest toilet.
As I entered the doors of the hotel, it took less than 2 seconds before being showered by hugs and cheers from friends. Registration was usually dealt with on the main show floor, however this year it was cleverly put on it’s own floor, clearing up some space on the show floor. Shortly after being seated, Jayson Napolitano reached out his arms and didn’t say a word, we looked at each other, a few silent steps forward, we became as one, and shared a tender, loving moment. OSV regular Patrick Gann was not far behind, showing off his new baby girl and it was a very heartfelt and good feeling being at the same place with team mates for the first time.
MAGFest had kicked off by the time I arrived, and people were flooding the show floor already. One of MAGFest’s biggest problems in the past has been the confusing, often wrong, often delayed schedule. The layout they use makes it a bit confusing seeing where the events take place, and looking at the time, you might as well give it an hour or two before you actually show up, as things almost never happen at their scheduled time. This is also a problem that floats into MAGFest’s way of promotion. Nothing is ever announced in good time, and when it is announced, the information is always very sparse. I’ve heard several different reasons for this by different staff members, with one being the element of surprise, and the other being that they don’t want people showing up for specific events only and leaving. Regardless of what reason is correct, it’s always bad business to keep things confusing and short, and hopefully in the future, they’ll learn to properly promote what they actually have much earlier, as promotion for this convention really kicked into gear in November, which is very late for an event taking place on an already sensitive time frame of New Years.
As I walked around on Friday, I was amazed to see how little people there actually were in the Game Room, which is usually always jam packed. This year, although crowded, it didn’t seem to pack the same energy most of the time, and the selection was quite lackluster. I personally never spend much time in this room, but from what I heard from several attendees, it was not very impressive, and with the SDA Marathon, one of the highlighted events not taking place there, it only added to the emptiness. The show floor itself however had seen a much needed boost, with multiple vendors being added, with everything from used games, CDs, shirts and home knitted hats being on sale. It’s always a joy taking walks there seeing the different merchandise, however for some reason they had added a promotional team from a local anime convention, and gave them a mic, to which they proceeded to annoyingly tell bad jokes, mumble jibberish and in general just being a pain as the show floor was much too busy and noisy to make out anything they tried to say. Not to mention I just loathe those anime kids who dress up. However, one costumed man did impress me, as there was a man in full Metal Man gear walking around. It was impressive just to see him walk with the yellow oversized boots, and after a short talk, he was a surprisingly down to Earth and a humble fellow, which was a refreshing experience after only seeing 14 year old chubby girls who wanted to make costumes with embarrassing amounts of cleavage.
The concerts are always the best part of MAGFest, and this year was no different. Metroid Metal, ARM CANNON, The OneUps, Select Start and The Smash Bros all performed, and the chiptune concerts had great acts such as Cheap Dinosaurs, Albatross and Jake Kaufman, who also debuted and revealed his involvement with Shantae 2. The problem is however that the schedule never works out, and bands keep getting pushed back. On Friday, we had a full set of bands, followed by a chiptune lineup that wasn’t over until 6AM Saturday. It is obviously hard to keep things on track, and in saying all these things, I have the highest respect and admiration for Dom Cerquetti and Nick Marinelli, who never stopped working their asses off to keep things running. Despite the awesomeness of the many of the concerts, especially The OneUps and ARM CANNON, it felt awfully stale as all the bands were returning acts. Because of the sheer talent of ARM CANNON and other regulars, I can get behind the decision to keep them, but the opening acts needs a shake up, and I wasn’t much impressed with bands such as Armadillo Tank or Entertainment System personally. One band though that did impress me was This Place Is Haunted, who earlier had been a sour spot on the lineup, this year actually delivered good times and good sounds. They were still a bit rough, but their new material and new additions to the band seemed to have helped big time.
On the main floor, they also had a quite beefed up arcade section, with plenty of classic cabinets for you to get some penny-free action going. I actually had a lot of fun with the arcades, playing 2D fighters with friends and watching Tina Potts, a fellow writer and good friend beating some Centipede high scores. Next to the arcade section there was also a piano, where Brown could be heard playing a wide selection of game music he has arranged for piano. It really adds to the atmosphere when you hear the piano playing softly in the background, and it always gets a good crowd and good reactions. It is possibly something MAGFest should look into using for their advantage in the future. Dwelling of Duels also held a late night listening party with the entries for the December competition, and was great fun, as Tony Dickinson and I had Argentinian TMNT porn running for all to see, and Jake could not take his eyes of it, despite having a can of Chef Boyardee in front of him.
Sleep is not a major part of MAGFest, and you will find yourself sometimes wandering around long into the night, seeing the last few souls playing some games, and seeing different drunken people stumble down the hallways, which is always fun. To have that ability to walk around at any time, and be able to do something if you’re restless is great, and it offered me a sense of peace to be able to enjoy these things in a more quiet way than what you would get during the day. Many CDs were for sale at MAGFest, with Concenation Records selling their backlog and new releases, such as Wonderful World of Willow, Never Say Die Volume 3 and A Chip Off The Shizz Block. Grant Henry, frontman of Metroid Metal had his original debut CD for sale, along with Varia Suite, and Rare Candy, Dom’s band released a duo set Gallant Green / Bomber Blue, which like Pokemon, have similar content with different bonuses. Contra 4: Rocked ‘n Loaded was sadly not available, as the CD was not done pressing in time, however it will released in the next few weeks as soon as the shipment arrives.
So was MAGFest 8 in itself worth it? It’s a tough question, because on one hand it gives me the platform to meet my friends and spend great time with them, but on the other hand, I leave with a sense of underwhelm of what the convention actually offered. It feels, and very much is in a smaller league compared to other conventions, and I feel as if the staff are not fully ready to accept that and rather embrace more reachable goals. Of course, one should always strive to grow and become better, but with baby steps, not giant leaps. They really need to revise their promotional strategy as I know many people did not feel any reason to go, until it was to late and plans had already been made.
But I had fun, tons of it. The people are great, the energy is solid and the friends you make are always a joy. Meeting Jayson and his lovely wife, seeing Patrick and his new daughter, being surrounded by friends and hugged every five second, and partying in different hotel rooms with people you admire is an amazing feeling, and it only happens at MAGFest. So in conclusion, I’ll say that next year if you are in the area, stop by, just make sure you have a friend with you, in case you need to shake things up a bit yourself.
Thanks to Nick and Dom for all their help and hard work, to everyone in attendance for making the weekend so special, and to that special guy who will always be in my heart, you know who you are you smelly Greek.Tags: CDs, Concerts, Conventions, Dwelling of Duels, Impressions, MAGFest, MAGFest 8