James Bowman (jeb1981) wrote,
James Bowman

MAGFest 2017 summary journal

The MAGFest crowd this year included myself, my brother Jack, and my friends Randy, John, and Marquis. Attending separately were dragonsong12 and lissibith. We also met up with xfirefistacex, who was volunteering as usual in the indie video game area.


  • We weren't able to create a group this year, and we therefore had to pay full price. In fact, some members of the group didn't sign up until the price had gone up a few notches, for various reasons.
  • There were also issues getting a hotel room, as the Gaylord sold out in about an hour, and the others nearby later that day. Jack was able to get us a suite at the Wyndham Vacation Resorts, through airbnb.com. The room itself was spacious, with a separated bedroom, although as it wasn't actually a hotel, the amenities were more limited. But at least it was convenient to a CVS, and not much further away from the con than usual.
  • I was worried that MAGFest might have become too big - especially after the hotel issues and their warnings about selling out of registrations (including the end of one-day passes). The packed crowds in the Marketplace on Thursday certainly gave us pause. However, things evened out throughout the con after that - there were still a lot of people there, but it kept things energized rather than being a huge problem (outside long lines for high-demand stuff). The only time things really started to get quiet was in early morning, and on Sunday as things were shutting down.
  • The Computer Museum was probably still my favorite area, with its mix of more unusual retro games and its being a quieter zone. I spent much of Friday night there, playing through various well-known and obscure Japanese consoles (ever heard of the Super Cassette Vision? I hadn't).
  • The Computer Museum also had an amazing rarity on display on Thursday - a Super Nintendo CD. For those unaware, that's the prototype CD-ROM add-on for the Super Famicom, which became the PlayStation after Nintendo fell out with Sony. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture, and it was absent from the case on Friday and later (I understand the owner took it back).
  • On Saturday, I also managed to spend a decent amount of time in the tabletop area for the first time, playing Secret Hitler with Jack and Lissibith (where I was tricked into getting Hitler elected to power - my bad), and later trying out the tabletop MOBA-style game Battle for Biternia (which was pretty neat). I also got the nickname "White Hat" during Secret Hitler (I wore a white hat, you see).
  • I decided to stay up super-late on Friday night, through early Saturday morning, so I could get a crack at some of the more popular games. This included fighting games in the console room with Jack and John, and then some of the more popular Japanese and sit-down arcade games. Unfortunately, I neglected to play a lot of my more mundane arcade favorites during the rest of the con, although I did at least play Doctor Who pinball.
  • The arcade also had a pretty cool light show on Friday night, using a smoke machine and lasers to make some interesting effects timed to the beats. (I have video in my Day 2 pictures, if you're interested.)
  • In consoles, they set up two giant wooden table-sized NES controllers, which made for an interesting gaming experience. (Marquis did much better on Super Mario Bros. than I did.)
  • I also tried to make indie video games a priority, mostly on Sunday. A lot of interesting games out there I tried (both solo and with the others). One I didn't try was Line Wobbler, a LED-based game that's essentially a one-dimensional dungeon crawler - however, it was the most striking game on the floor by far.
  • I scored some good deals in the Marketplace. Not too many old games, with the prices going up - just Sonic Spinball for the Genesis, Super Mario All-Stars for the Super NES, and Champions of Norrath for the PS2, all from the best dealer in the room, Marshy Mart. (I was also tempted by a reasonably priced Sega CD, until I realized there weren't many games on it I'd play, and those I would want were extra expensive.) Also the long-overdue second Geeks Next Door collection, a number of D&D minis from a dealer associated with the Battletech pods (more on that later), a few other RPG goodies (like 8-bit-themed dice), and a fair number of prints.
  • We once again stayed to the bitter end, leaving after 3 pm when they ushered us out of the console area.

Differences from last year:

  • Overall, the convention was bigger and better than ever. The four main rooms were still consoles, Marketplace, indie games, and arcade, and all of them simply had... more.
  • The signage was much improved, and funny too. I also really liked the Castlevania-themed map...
  • Consoles were much improved, with more available, and better arranged (with the oldest consoles in front and the newer ones further back). They did much better with the older consoles than last year, including much more NES representation, and they brought back the more unusual choices like the Sega CD and 3DO. (Also the Intellivision, but it still never worked, alas.) They also set up Sega Saturn systems, a Philips CD-i (I never saw Hotel Mario or Zelda: The Faces of Evil on it, however), and another rarer console that wasn't working right (might have been a Pioneer Laseractive, not sure). They also had an official Bring Your Own Console area, which - while a good idea - was basically one and the same as the modern fighting game area, resulting in possibly the weakest representation of fighting games at MAGFest yet. (I can't blame people for being reluctant to leave their personal consoles and screens there all weekend, but I commend the kind people who did.) Also, most of the modern consoles didn't have controllers on hand, leaving you with a choice of either bringing or borrowing your own controllers and taking them from console to console, or being unable to play. Still, outside modern consoles, it was pretty solid.
  • The console room also included a "Pokemanz" area, a rehash of MAGFest Plays Pokemon, and more standup monster mockups (including Sandbag from the Smash Bros. games).
  • At the back of the console area, they brought in a set of Battletech simulators that groups of 10 could play in! Unfortunately, once word got around there were long waits for most of the con. Jack and John managed some games by staying up way late on Saturday, but I didn't have that luxury. Also, accompanying the Battletech pods was Big Kidz Games, who got to set up a bigger sales booth nearby. (Got my best tabletop deals there.)
  • The Marketplace was packed full this year, with artists being particularly well represented. Catch is, competition for spaces was apparently high, which should make later years interesting. MAGFest merchandise also had a sizable booth at the front; they were apparently working with a company called Yetee (which also set up a custom Donkey Kong game to play, Yetee Kong).
  • The indie video game area was also great this year, as previously noted. I was expecting to see more VR games, but only recall seeing two. Still, I liked the diversity available, with console games, mobile games, arcade games, new games for the NES, and even more unusual options all available (like Line Wobbler and the Babycastles games). In the back of the room, they also set up pachinko for charity (I watched Jack play it, and it seemed even more random than slot machines) and the table flipping area. Artemis was also featured front and center.
  • The arcade probably changed the least, although they still packed even more goodness in. Lots more pinball, in particular. The tournament areas for video games and pinball were also pretty solidly established. The indie games Black Emperor and Killer Queen were also in the arcade, and I was very happy to see not one, but two skeeball games set up (Dunk-n'-Alien and "MAGFest Skeeball").
  • Tabletop was busy, with a lot more games available to borrow. I was particularly pleased to see a room set aside as the Indie Center Stage, where designers could show off new and in-development games - a welcome counterpart to the indie video games area downstairs. D&D Adventurers League and Pathfinder Society both had healthy participation, with RPGs also spilling out into the hallways and side rooms. (Was also pleased to see fliers for great local game stores, like CardBoard Gaming.) I was still disappointed there was no clear way for lone gamers to sign up for games with strangers, outside of being pushy or lucking into other friendly gamers, but the demos in the Indie Center Stage helped a lot.
  • The Computer Museum was even better, with the retro computers organized in groups, and formal museum-type displays. They also had a lot more rare and foreign retro consoles available.
  • Lastly, there were a number of new areas. The tables downstairs from the tabletop area were moved to the hallway, so they could set up an area for selling band merchandise in its place. (Picked up Smooth McGroove and The Returners CDs there.) There was an area called the Soapbox, where people could rant about anything they want for 10 minutes; laser tag (though I never saw it in play); and a starship bridge simulator, Starship Horizons, that I tried to peek in on and failed.
  • The treasure chests didn't show up until later on Thursday, and all of us managed to offload some cool stuff into them. (Didn't find anything neat in trade, though.)
  • The Yo-Kai Watch promotional material was back, as Jack and Randy got masks from it - guessing it's a local game store and not Nintendo, then.

Games I played:
- Arcade: Willow, Vs. Ice Climbers, Aliens (Blast City cabinet), Vortek V3 (1990s virtual reality as its finest), Darius Burst EX: Another Chronicle, S.T.U.N. Runner, Solar Assault (a third-person Gradius game), Music GunGun! 2, Virtual On (I am not good at this), Gundam Vs. Gundam Next
- Atari 2600: Kaboom!
- NES: Super Mario Bros. (got the NES to cooperate by myself), Kirby's Adventure, Hogan's Alley, Super Mario Bros. again (on giant NES controller)
- Sega Genesis: NBA Jam (I was underwhelmed), The Lion King (on a TV that appeared to be on its last legs)
- TurboGrafx-16: China Warrior
- Super NES: Tetris Attack
- Sega CD: Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin (not so great, and very slow)
- Philips CD-i: Space Ace (unforgiving timing)
- 3DO: Crash 'n Burn
- PlayStation 1: Spyro: Ripto's Rage
- Sega Saturn: Virtua Fighter
- Nintendo 64: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- PlayStation 2: Star Wars Battlefront II, Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
- Nintendo GameCube: Super Smash Bros. Melee
- Sega Dreamcast: Power Stone
- Xbox: Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows
- PlayStation 4: Street Fighter V, King of Fighters IV, BlazBlue: Centralfiction (Japanese)
- Super Cassette Vision: Lupin III
- Famicom: The Goonies
- Sega Mark III: Ashura (known in the U.S. as a Rambo game)
- Super Famicom: Area 88 (known as the U.S. as U.N. Squadron - I was disappointed)
- Shuttle PC Engine: Ninja Spirit (reminded me of Legend of Kage)
- PC Engine Super Grafx: 1941: Counter Attack, Galaga '88
- Atari 800: Ms. Pac-Man
- Commodore VIC-20: Demon Attack (the slowness is the big challenge), Shamus (a Berserk clone)
- Indie: Kingdom Bash, Particle Mace (liked the physics on this one), Hastilude (fun mashup of Joust and Smash Bros., but needs some balancing), The Painter's Apprentice, Burgal's Bounty, Blind Blades (really cool, seems inspired by a Samurai Jack episode), Midboss, Nothing Good Can Come Of This
- Other: Yetee Kong
- Pinball: Doctor Who
Tags: con journals, conventions, games, magfest

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