When the end of December rolls around, most people know that Christmas and New Year’s Day will be occupying their time and that their vacation time will need to be strategically planned around these days. Well, for my friends and me – and for thousands of other folks –, MAGFest (Music and Gaming Festival) has been tacked hard onto that list. Being our fifth and fourth MAGFests respectively, Jen and I headed to National Harbor, MD, from Thursday, January 2, through Sunday, January 5, to take part in the action once again.
Thursday started with a surprise: In the years prior, it took relatively no time at all to get through the pre-registration line and grab our badges, but this year, things had changed. Even though it was Thursday, the five o’clock hour proved to be treacherous—MAGFest’s popularity had boomed so much that we stood in line for probably over half an hour to get our credentials. Madness!
The good part about the long line was that I was able to begin to get acclimated to a part of MAGFest that was new to me: the world of 3DS StreetPasses. Having bought a 3DS around Thanksgiving and loving the StreetPass feature ever since, I had been looking forward to MAGFest being a treasure trove of puzzle pieces and Find Mii warriors. It certainly didn’t disappoint, as from the point of being in line forward I had to empty my StreetPass queue continuously. Over the course of four days, I collected 357 passes and increased my Mii Plaza to a population of 405 (!!!). If I had stopped paying attention to my friends to make way for more 3DS action, I could have gotten hundreds more—easily.
After getting our badges, Jen and I got settled and headed to dinner at where-else-but Nando’s Peri Peri. We had Groupons for the restaurant and were excited to capitalize on them and their happy hour, which notoriously had half-off pitchers of sangria. To our dismay, we got there too late that night, and to our further dismay, they had removed Friday from the happy days, so no uber sangria deals were to be had. BOOOO, Nando’s, BOOOO!
When we got back, we did the requisite sweep of the game room and essentially waited, during which I stopped by the Challenges for a little bit. I ended up spending the whole time fixated on trying to beat the Bubble Bobble Bust-a-Move one, which was embarrassingly difficult (only because this one wasn’t tagged with “… and don’t get hit!” or anything—it was just plain hard!). Beating that challenge landed me a Challenge badge (pictured), and I made it my goal to beat 30 Challenges this year. Well, in the end I only wound up beating 5 to get a set of buttons, crushing Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Link to the Past, and Super Mario All-Stars: The Lost Levels. Not having other friends obsessively interested in beating more and having to wade through a list of games that I didn’t have too much interest in ultimately put a damper on Challenge mojo, though I’ll still look forward to whatever they have in store for next year!
At the stroke of midnight, MAGFest hosted its first ever prom. We were pretty excited to see what this held in store, as were two of our good friends, Stephen and Amanda. Jen and I reprised our roles from our hit feature film Genki III while they got super fancy, as you can see in our mandatory photos under the gazebo. The actual prom itself was fun, but a bit lackluster. Jen and I were expecting chiptunes or something of the sort to be played, when instead they hired a bluegrass band that covered pop tunes. Though a fun theme at first, it was not only an odd choice for MAGFesters, but also a rather boring one as it felt a little gimmicky and stale after the first few tunes. There was only so much ho-downing this guy could muster up for a late-night soirée!
Panels were at a premium for me this year. There were plenty that I had a slight interest in, but none were mandatory after Austin Wintory (Journey) ended up not being able to make it due to illness. In fact, if there was one place that I think MAGFest really fell short this year, it was in the exclusion of a huge composer. Sure, they had some big ones like Tommy Tallarico (Earthworm Jim), Darren Korb (Bastion), and Austin, but compared to the previous three years of bringing in Yuzo Koshiro, Hiroki Kikuta, and Nobuo Uematsu, I felt unfulfilled. I think each one of the guests this year had something that didn’t make them feel so huge: you can see Tommy annually at Video Games Live!; Darren Korb has composed one game soundtrack (albeit it’s great and is super popular); and Austin is similarly new to the game world. As a result, I saw the “Composers Q&A” panel and that’s it. In hindsight, I probably should have gone to Tommy’s panel at least, though I did see him in the one I attended.
I did, however, compete in my first ever tournament at MAGFest: Pac-Man Vs. Having loved this game for years, I was super excited about the tournament and made the decision not to go to Darren Korb’s panel (made easier by the fact that I have interviewed him twice already). Four friends (Stephen, Amanda, Kat, and Brandon) and I played together, and three of us wound up in the final two rounds. In our first heat, I took 2nd place to Kat, and then I ended up having to win three times in a row to take the losers’ bracket, netting me an original piece of art from artist Annamarie Mickey (when she finishes I’ll post it for all to see!). Unfortunately, after attempting some risky moves, I was knocked out upon my re-entry into the winners’ bracket; but, in a dramatic finish to the tournament, Stephen ended up barely edging out Kat for the win. The tournament was so exhilarating—I can’t wait to do it again!
We attended a handful of shows, but two were of particular note. First was the Professor Shyguy set, which took place in the hall outside of the concert space and was recommended by my buddy Ben. You can check out his whole set below, though I’ve commanded the video to start at the best part, which was when the professor brought Dr. Robotnik on stage to help out with a particular song. He ends up getting super into it at about 19:07 and looks really awesome. Mega-Ran also performs a familiar song with Shyguy at 25:23. Sweet.
Saturday evening featured the headliner Machinae Supremacy, who hails from Sweden. We heard that they were going to cover Zelda tunes, but our pre-gaming landed us in the show about halfway through, and by then they were just rocking out. The show was great, there was some moshing, and my Finn sword wound up in some pictures online (yessss!).
In conclusion, I think that every year of MAGFest has held its different themes and focuses for me. 2011 was The Year of First, 2012 was The Year of Uematsu, 2013 was The Year of Challenges, and 2014 turned out to be The Year of Friendship. This year I spent more time simply relaxing and playing games with friends than ever before, which was pretty refreshing. In a year we’ll be doing it all over again and a new focus will emerge—I already can’t wait for that day to come. Hope to see you all there in 2015!