MAGFest X Recap, Part I: The Appetizer

Two Saturdays ago was the 10th annual Music and Gaming Festival (MAGFest).  As stated in my pre-MAGFest post, this was my second year attending.  Based on last year’s experience, expectations were high (though they were really in no danger of being unfulfilled).

This year, MAGFest was held at the Gaylord National hotel in National Harbor, MD.  It was moved there from a Hilton in Alexandria due to capacity issues.  MAGFest has grown significantly since its incarnation, going from 100 people to, reportedly, 6100.  Astounding.

The reason for this lies in the huge community that MAGFest has created for itself.  Not only are people there to play video games, listen to live video game music, and party, they’re there to play video games, listen to live video game music, and party with other MAGFesters.  It’s easy to meet people with very similar interests there, as you can imagine, which has lead to MAGFest being a community within a multitude of communities.  What I mean by that is, you have your video game community as a whole and then MAGFesters inside of that and, likewise, you have communities like your OCRemixers and then MAGFesters inside of that.

So the Gaylord is really nice.  First, it’s humongous, which totally affected the experience.  Whether the effect was positive or not… I think that depends on who you ask.  For me, both had their advantages.  At the Hilton, gamers were packed in pretty tightly, while at the Gaylord the gaming rooms were a lot more spacious.

In blurry Exhibit A, you’ll see my friends Nick (game designer) and Natalie ([Score.] logo artist; mystery-phile) in the game room.  You’ll see that there is a normal-to-large amount of space behind them.  At the Hilton, that much space wouldn’t exist.  You were closer with your fellow gamers and didn’t have to walk around too much to get from game to game.  Advantages of the Gaylord: you could move and there was a lack of that funny smell that places that hold gamers playing hard for hours on end get.  Disadvantage: it was easier to feel more separated from the other gamers.  Oh, another advantage is that the signature Colossus roar of MAGFest can be effectively spread throughout a wider space more easily. Furthermore, that disadvantage leaks into the setup of the rest of the hotel, too.  The panel rooms were a couple of floors above the game room and everyone’s rooms were spread out through the vastness of the hotel, which meant less frequent random encounters with friendly masses of people and no ridiculous elevator parties that lead to breakdowns.  But okay, those are disadvantages that everyone can live with, for sure.

Before I get into the other advantages of the Gaylord, the other disadvantage is that the game room was not carpeted.  Here you’ll see, background to foreground, Amanda (Genki III cinematographer) and my girlfriend, Jen Doo (of Jen’s Baking), playing Taiko Drum Master.  It was extremely hard to hear the sound because it shot out into this huge concrete space with high ceilings, all the while competing with other rhythm games around it (notice all of the DDR machines in the background).  Jen and I played a lot of Dance Central 2, as well, and that had sound challenges, too.

Okay, now for the good stuff.  Did I mention that the Gaylord is really nice?  Because it is.  Check out these pictures of the bathroom.  I’ve never been to a hotel that has had two sinks, nor have I been to one that has a closed-off shower.  Not to mention, the hotel overlooks the water and has its own little village inside and everything.  The hotel service was also fantastic.

Next, the Gaylord is next to a lot of places to eat (Nando’s Peri Peri, Baja Fresh, and Elevation Burger for the win) and shop.  I don’t care about shopping so much because the vendors at MAGFest have plenty of stuff that I can gawk at, like Mega Man chess sets, original t-shirts, and the US version of Chrono Trigger in its box.  If you want an idea of some of the handcrafted stuff you can find, I’d recommend looking at this Etsy page by Shadows in the Nyte—I got a Moogle hat for Jen last year from her that’s pretty killin’, as you can see.

The game room was awesome as usual.  Not only did Jen and I play our fair share of Taiko and Dance Central with our friends, we unloaded on game ranging from Ghosts and Goblins to Silent Scope to Primal Rage.  All of the arcade cabinets are free to play, of course, and they were glorious.  Truth be told, it makes me sad that arcades are out of fashion (if you feel that way, go to Japan—I studied abroad there for four months and hung out at the arcades all of the time).

Aside from the cabinets, TVs were set up everywhere for console games.  A lot of people were playing multiplayer on FPSs and fighting games, but there was a fair share of one-player games as well.  If you wanted to play it, they likely had it… Little Big Planet, every Sonic, Mario Galaxy… I didn’t give a good sample there, but then again, I didn’t play by myself too much.  One single-player game I did check out via recommendation was Rez, which was pretty sweet.  Lastly, a handful of TVs had a list of "challenges" next to them and one could try to, say, beat Mega Man X with no upgrades outside of the dash boots and Mega Buster.  I didn't do any myself since I did so much other stuff.  Next year, next year...

In a whole ‘nother section there were board games and PCs set up for LAN parties.  I didn’t venture to the PC sector; as for the board games, you could find Settlers of Catan space edition, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, and Axis and Allies alike.  That area also contained the vendors, of which there were not few.  I should have taken more pictures just so that you could get an idea of the size of the rooms.  Let's just say that the Picarchu didn't measure up.

Okay, now that I’ve set you up, you’re going to have wait until next post to get all of the meat.  Sorry.  But, instead of seeing it as I’ve let you down, see it as that I’m saving your eyes and your attention span.  To come: panels, concerts, and Nobuo Uematsu!

Addendum: If you really want a reason to anticipate the next post, check out these awesome random facts about MAGFest X!