I had the pleasure of attending MAGFest 12 this year. This was my 6th time going, having attended the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 10th, and 11th prior. It’s truly amazing how large this convention has gotten. Back in 2002 there were only about 265 of us in attendance. This year? Over 12,000 attendees.
I arrived at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Fort Washington, MD at about 9:30 pm on Thursday, January 2nd. After picking up my badge, I headed to the bottom floor where the Vendor and Arcade rooms are located. In the previous 2 years these were two separate, but adjacent rooms.This year the vendor room and arcade room were merged into one. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind this decision was, but I didn’t care for it. Firstly, and most importantly, it took away the noise barrier between the two rooms. Secondly, while there may have been the same number of vendors and arcade cabinets, it didn’t feel that way. This isn’t to say the amount of arcade machines isn’t awe-inspiring, just that it didn’t feel as impressive as last year.
The front half of the giant room was dedicated to shops, with the quality of vendors seeming to be higher than the past two years. There were several traditional and digital artists selling prints, as well as crafters selling fleece items and sculptors selling handmade charms and statues. There were vendors selling the shirts made by artists usually seen on daily deal websites, as well as ones selling various Japanese tchotchkes. Of course, there were also vendors selling retro and import video games.
The back half was dedicated to every kind of arcade and console machine you can think of. The arcade machines were roughly organized by type, with the music and rhythm games lining the back wall, and the other sorted into rows and islands. The consoles were set up closest to the vendor section.
There was an additional room of equal size that was split between a few specialty games and an additional con room that was used for signings. One the eye-catching things that happened here was Johann Sebastian Joust (http://www.jsjoust.com/), where all the players were given a Playstation Move controller, color coded to represent their team, and as selections of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenberg Concertos plays at varying speeds, the players attempt to jostle their opponents controllers without shaking their own, with the sensitivity determined by the speed of the music. Once a controller was shaken too much, it would flash red, and it’s owner was out.
The teams grouping up for the next game
Another big thing in the additional room was Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator (http://www.artemis.eochu.com/). This is an amazingly interesting multi-player game that is intended to be played by all players in the same room, heavily relying on communication as each player has a very specific role and view on their respective monitor.
Each of the monitors on the bottom of this picture belong to a station that in some way controls the spaceship above
After trying to not spend all of my money and play all of the video games, I stopped by was the MAGProm, where con-goers were encouraged to wear tuxedos and dresses. The theme was James Bond and the band that played was Love Cannon.The setting was complete with smoke machine, blue lights, and a projected slideshow of Bond-related images. Love Cannon is a bluegrass 80’s cover band that consists of Jesse Harper on Guitar and Lead Vocals, Adam Larrabee on Banjo and Vocals, Darrell Muller on Bass and Vocals, Andy Thacker on Mandolin and Vocals, Nate Leath on Fiddle, and Jay Starling on Dobro
The next day the first panel I attended was the OC ReMix: Honoring/Cuddling Video Game Music since 1999!!! This panel was about the history, previous projects, and future endevors of the OC Remix community. OC Remix (http://ocremix.org/), founded in 1999 as the panel name indicates, is a community dedicated to the appreciation of video game music via covering, arranging, and remixing it. All music on the site is free and has been approved by a panel of judges. At the end of the panel, Overclocked University, a band consisting of OC Remix members, performed.
The OCR crew
New this year were the Brainspace panels, which were attendee-run, round table discussions. While definitely worth attending as it’s a great way to meet like-minded folks and make new friends, I found that I didn’t really walk away from any of them with a lot of new knowledge. I attended two such panels: Women in Game Development, and Is Good Writing Important for Game Design?.
On a lark I stopped by the Akira Show and Tell panel. This was one of the best decisions I made all weekend. This panel was hosted by Joe Peacock, whose knowledge and obsession with Akira knows no bounds. He proudly owns the largest private collection of original art from the film and took us through a detailed analysis of just the first few minutes of the film. The movie was paused very often, during which Joe would give a breakdown of the art, techniques, and lore surrounding this iconic film.
I ducked out of the Akira Show and Tell panel a bit early to catch Groovin with Smooth McGroove. During this panel Max Gleason, better known as Smooth McGroove, answered various questions about his process, inspirations, life, and of course his cat, Charl. He came across as a very introverted, cheerful person, and it was quite a shame that Charl couldn’t be in attendance.
The 3rd day I had the pleasure of checking out the Lonely Rolling Stars concert. LRS consists of: Ailsean, formerly of The Smash Brothers, cubosh of Arm Cannon, finbeard, norg formerly of The Smash Brothers, and Stemage of Metroid Metal. This show came across as very laid back and fun, where these musicians could just jam out and play whatever they felt like and the crowd absolutely loved it.
Immediately after LRS the The Washington D.C. based Triforce Quartet was up.
Note: Floor-sitting is NOT optional for this show
They were impressive as always, with their classical medleys from the Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Mario franchises arranged by Chad Schwartz. The quartet was started in 2007, and is made up of Chris Ferrara on 1st violin, Jacob Roege on 2nd violin, Rebecca Hannigan also on 2nd violin, Stanley Beckwith on viola, and Chad Schwartz on cello.
Their concert wasn’t long enough for their tastes, so afterwards they took to the halls and performed some more. This is one of the amazing things about MAGFest. Not only is it a place to go to appreciate video games and their music, but they also heartily encourage participation. People will set up little mini concerts or dance parties everywhere and anywhere in the convention center, and the convention itself even has a stage area set up and loaner instruments for jamming out with new friends. At one point during the weekend I was invited to check out Kris Huber (http://krishuber.com/) perform some of his video game covers that are on his Kroth – Blademode album in said space.
Kris jamming out
It was a great, with the unusual element of just a drummer performing with all of the other instruments being played back via a laptop. This was of course done because Kris actually plays all of the instruments on the album (with the exception of a few special guests).
Next up was Building a Prototype with Unity: The Solo Person’s Pipeline, hosted by A_Rival. He stepped us through the process of going from concept to bare bones prototype in Unity, but also covered topics and gave advice that would be applicable to the same process using any program or language.
After that was Creating Audio for the 8 & 16-bit generation. This was run by Tommy Tallarico, who has written music for over 250 games, but is probably most well known for his music from Earthworm Jim. He also is the co-creator of Video Games Live, as well as the co-host of The Electric Playground and Reviews on the Run/Judgement Day. He spoke at great length about the challenges faced by composers and tricks they used back in the early 90s. At that point, music in games was marginalized, the first thing on the chopping block if space became an issue, which it often did.
My favorite of all the panels I attended MAGFest weekend was without a doubt the OCRemix HOW I CAN MAKE VIDEO GAME MUSIC REMIXES?!? panel. The attendees picked from a list of 5 well known video game songs, the most popular piece would be remixed by OCR veteran Zircon on the fly as he and others answered questions about workflow, applications, music theory, and other subjects pertaining to writing remixes of video game music. It was my favorite mostly because I walked away with it from the most new information.
There was quite a lot of cosplayers to see and photograph. It’s another place where this con has exploded. The first year I believe there were 2 of us in costume, now it seems like at least a third of the attendees dress up.
Just a small sampling of some of the costumes I saw during the con
All and all I kept myself very busy this weekend and had an absolutely fantastic time. I can’t wait for next year!
Also, have this: