This past weekend, I headed to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland, Virginia to see what MAGFest (Music and Gaming Festival) is all about. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I can tell you that I was not disappointed.
The moment you step inside you can tell this is something special. From pen and paper RPGs to the latest indie game offerings, and from nerdcore rap to a Queen-inspired rock group influenced by Mega Man…this convention has something for the geek in all of us. If you end up attending some day, this is the sound you will hear cried out and echoed back by the masses. No corner of MAGFest is safe from this call:
Once you get past this MAGFest tradition, there are many options available and most are available twenty-four hours a day for the entirety of the convention. For musicians and music lovers, there are nonstop panels and jam sessions to attend, as well as concerts that run throughout the day and on into the evening. DJs, freestyle nerdcore rappers, and guitarists play in the many hallways of the hotel. There was even a Rocksmith game station set up right outside of the merchant, indie games, and arcade area. It was great to see random people walk up and start playing, and then someone else would get on the mic and sing along.
Protomen had one of the largest crowds of all the concerts of the convention, and they only played on the opening night. Their style is heavily influenced by Queen, they actually do some very impressive covers, and the songs (and obviously the band name) are majorly related to the Mega Man video games. They definitely put on a show, with a story woven around the songs and lots of audience interaction. It was easy to see why they had a large following in attendance.
Another group that drew a large crowd was Bit Brigade. One man, Noah McCarthy, does NES speed runs while the band does live versions of the game’s theme music. The speed run is amazing, as is the music. I’ve really never seen anything quite like it.
For the indie developer, this convention is an opportunity to showcase your game, to get exposure to a large audience and, if you’re lucky enough, to walk away with an award. There are countless panels covering game optimization, game theory, mechanics, VR, legal considerations, and much more. The indie games in attendance were all over the board in terms of platform.
Super Russian Roulette (created by Andrew Reitano) is a game created for the classic NES console where you and up to three friends sit around the TV, taking turns putting the infamous light gun up to each others own head to see who makes it out alive. All while being taunted by an onscreen cowboy opponent. I had the opportunity to sit down and play this with a couple other people and I was surprised by how much fun such a simple concept turned out to be.
Battlesloths (Invisible Collective) is a multiplayer twin stick shooter supporting two to four players. The most popular game mode is one where you pick up pizza slices, dropped by other players when they die, and return them to your home base. The first player to make a whole pizza wins. The action is fast-paced, the arena is strewn with weapons, and the hats your sloth can wear is an ever growing list of hilarity. This game walked away with runner up for “Best Presence.”
Dr. Spacezoo or: How I Learned to Stop Shooting and Save the Animals (Smash Riot Games) Yes, that is the full title, but it’ll answer to Dr. Spacezoo just the same. This is a time-attack, bullet-hell, twin stick, precision shooter with up to four player local co-op. Your goal is to defeat the corrupted Space Zoo AI and rescue the animals. This game moves at a frenzied pace and doesn’t let up. It’s not surprising that this game walked away with “Best in Show” this year.
Alongside the indie showcase, MAGFest also has a warehouse-sized arcade with a whole wall of DDR style games, a couple rows of pinball machines and more arcade cabinets than you can shake a joystick at. Opposite that is another large room filled with rows of consoles from every generation, and staff was on hand with endless file cabinets of games. If video games aren’t your thing, then venture upstairs and join in your preference of card, pen and paper, or board game.
Seriously, if you can’t find entertainment while you are at MAGFest, then you either haven’t actually gone inside or you decided to hide in a corner. If you have never been, and you are even slightly into geeky music and/or gaming, do yourself a favor and check it out next year.
If you’re included in our gallery, be sure to let us know!