James Bowman (jeb1981) wrote,
James Bowman

MAGFest 2016 summary journal

The MAGFest crowd this year included myself, my brother Jack, and my friends Randy and John. Joining us on Friday were dragonsong12, lissibith, and another friend, Marquis. On Saturday, yet another friend, Dave, brought his two younger kids there. We also hung out with xfirefistacex again in the indie area.


  • My friends and I set up a group this year, both to avoid last year's registration-line issues and save some money through the reduced rate. Definitely something we're going to repeat in future years, it made things much easier. I also appreciate MAGFest's willingness to include children on the group rate, which helped my friend Dave take his kids there.
  • We stayed at the Residence Inn Marriott again, and used the kitchenette to our advantage, bringing some leftovers and other food with us. (Unfortunately, without a proper oven, some of it went to waste - lesson learned.) There were five of us in there by the end of the con (me, Jack, Randy, John, and Marquis). This time, we even took advantage of the continental breakfast!
  • The best new section at the convention was the Computer Museum, set up near the tabletop area upstairs. Basically an expansion of the retro PC section in last year's arcade, it was a room packed with old computer hardware (some running games, some not) as well as a selection of more obscure video game consoles. The computers included models from IBM, Tandy, and Apple, as well as the popular Commodore 64 and Amiga; the consoles included the Atari 2600 and 7800, Odyssey2, Intellivision, and four varieties of the PC Engine (the Turbografx-16 in the U.S.). They also had a vintage 1952 television you could switch between old Doctor Who episodes (apparently played from a DVD - wonder how they managed that) and a dedicated Pong console. Jack and I spent a fair amount of time in there on Friday and Saturday, as it was not only cool overall but one of the calmer, quieter areas to game in. (Jack spent most of his time there trying to defeat Minesweeper on its hardest setting.)
  • One particularly unusual artifact in the Computer Museum was the Panasonic M2, the lost successor to the 3DO. It never made it to proper production as a game console, and was instead repurposed for use in advertising kiosks and the like. I was informed this particular M2 was retrieved from a junk dealer in (I think) northern Virginia, and cleaned up and refurbished for display at the con. One of the few prototype games (which had been apparently been released for free online) was available to play.
  • Cosplay was much stronger this year than in previous years. I only got a few pics myself, and missed out on several others of note, including Ring Man (from Mega Man); a group with the Second and Eighth Doctors, and a Sixth Doctor Tom Servo; John Constantine; Wreck-It Ralph; Firestorm (the Ronnie Raymond version from The Flash); Fester Addams (including his light bulb); and a woman with a cape made of Magic cards. Dragonsong12 also showed me a photo of an excellent Angela cosplay (from Gargoyles).
  • I was only able to spend a hour or two with Dave on Saturday; he arrived very early (on my advice, to be fair) and I wasn't willing to get up early enough to match (since I already had to cut Saturday night short so I could drive us home Sunday). By the time I got down to the convention area, they were touring the dealer's room. Dave and I did get a game of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in, but mostly we followed the kids around while they looked at stuff. When he left with them to get lunch, he didn't return... but I am assured that they enjoyed it and will probably be back next year (maybe with more family and friends).
  • In fact, my one major regret is that I didn't get to spend more time gaming and hanging out with my friends. I had to keep striking a balance between staying up late enough to game, but going to bed early enough to do other things. Hopefully next year will work out better.
  • Two particularly cool things were set up in the console room. One was "MAGFest Plays Pokémon", a riff on the infamous "Twitch Plays Pokémon". They set up red buttons at random locations in the console room, each controlling a different input command for the Game Boy, and projected the resulting piecemeal game on the wall above the challenges. (I think they might have changed which input each button controlled during the con as well, but I might be wrong.) The second was a marathon of Metroid games, matching the con's theme this year, where each game in the series was unlocked by beating the previous game. I believe they got all the way through Other M by the end...
  • I scored a fair number of older console games I'd been hunting for, including Gauntlet (the unauthorized Tengen version), Maniac Mansion, Paperboy, Batman, The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, and The Karate Kid for the NES, and Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic & Knuckles for the Sega Genesis. Jack also picked up a few games, Ranger X for Genesis and Space Station Silicon Valley for Nintendo 64. The best finds were at the booth for re:gen (which I may have to visit at White Marsh Mall at some point).
    Other purchases included Bit Brigade merchandise and some prints (bought for me by Jack) of Gargoyles and Major Glory.
  • One guy bought Kaboom! for the Atari 2600 just so it could be played there, and I got to watch his A-game on it (I recorded video, but I probably won't post it). A similar event happened with the Vectrex in the Computer Museum (someone brought another game for it to show off).
  • It appeared Nintendo had a limited presence at the con, in the form of a promotional set-up for Yo-Kai Watch that appeared on the last day. Might this be the beginnings of interest from some big-name companies?
  • We stayed until the arcade and other rooms were shut down on Sunday, which began a little earlier than last year (between 2 and 3 pm). The Tokyo Attack! stuff (see below) was shut down first - in fact, a guy came by and turned off Light Beats just as Jack and I were about to play it (having waited in line for the opportunity, that was kind of annoying). We managed to continue playing the older games for a while longer, until everything shut down entirely.

Differences from last year:

  • The schedule was back to Thursday-Sunday, after an experiment with Friday-Monday last year. However, Thursday this year was less busy than the other days, so I don't know that it worked much better for people as far as taking time off work. (Did make it easier to get to some games, though!)
  • MAGFest's main layout at the Gaylord seems to be fairly stable now, with the arcade, the dealer's room (marketplace), the indie games (the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase), and the console games still having separate rooms (although the order was different than last year). However, they reduced the number of entrances and exits to just one of each, with the only entrance at the dealer's room and the only exit at the console games. This made entering and leaving the main convention area annoying at times, so I hope they open up more entrances and exits next year.
  • The arcade was overhauled from previous years. A company called Tokyo Attack! dominated the front of the room, with a selection of relatively new Japanese import games. There was also a lot more pinball, and a skeeball game was set up, but they never got it to work (not the first time that's happened, mind). It seemed like there were fewer of the classic arcade games from previous years, with a few regulars missing (such as Sinistar and After Burner), but the majority of the old favorites were back, including some that hadn't appeared in the last few years (like Dragon's Lair). The arcade started later than the rest of the convention, and a few games never did get working (like Joust). One downside is that it was by far the loudest of the main rooms, even more so than previous years, likely due to the larger number of DDR-type games on the Tokyo Attacks! side. (The occasional appearance by a DJ made things worse - like being in the path of some sound-based weapon.)
  • The dealer's room continued to improve. I was pleased to see more tabletop game sellers (although there was a regrettable lack of minis to buy). I also noted there were more proper retailers setting up shop there, presumably a side effect of MAGFest's growing popularity.
  • The indie area was even stronger than last year. It did have limited official hours, but several of the designers left their games running all day and night. There were a lot of really neat games on the floor, too, with more genre and gameplay diversity than last year's selection (although retro styling was still pretty common). The indie arcade games also moved into this area, which was probably for the best. (The only exception was Killer Queen, which remained in the main arcade.) There were even two screens set up for homebrew NES games. Artemis also got a section next to the indie game area, though we didn't even try to play it this year (plenty else to do).
  • Consoles were fairly good, but also disappointed in a few ways.
    • Similar to the arcade, most of the modern consoles appeared to be supplied by outside groups, which was a nice way to boost the numbers. However, several of the modern consoles also required you to get your own wireless controllers from staff (presumably to deter theft), which had the side effect of discouraging me and probably others from playing them.
    • As far as older stuff, they added a line of stand-up shooter games, including Duck Hunt and Time Crisis 3, which was a cool idea. They also made a point to include more older and non-mainstream consoles, including a larger number of Atari 2600s, a Sega CD and a 3DO, and original Xboxes. They even brought in a few Intellivisions! However, these consoles were underused - none of the Intellivisions were ever up and running, a few of the Atari 2600s also sat unused (and at least one was eventually replaced by a version of Smash Bros.), and I only saw the Sega CD playing regular Genesis games. On top of that, there were very few NES games on the floor.
    • Another irritant was that a band game was set up near the oldest consoles, making it one of the louder areas (though not as bad as the arcade). Lastly, the challenges were never set up (reportedly due to some issues with the laptops' operating systems), which was a disappointment.
    However, outside of the way too many screens set up with some version of Super Smash Bros., there was a good diversity of games on the consoles, and many appeared to be changed out during the course of the event. And staff were attentive to problems (even though it didn't help us fix those two Ataris that never worked). So it was overall a good experience. It just coulda been better.

  • Tabletop (still in the same upstairs location) seemed fine, although I spent little time there, as the two options for playing were to bring a group with you or to try and find one of the few designer-run demos scattered around. Still disappointed there's little support for lone tabletop garners looking to meet new people and try new games. (To be fair, I was randomly invited into a game of Twister way late at night, though I declined.) Pathfinder Society was actually set up in its own area elsewhere in the hotel, which was probably to its benefit; D&D Adventurers League was also reportedly there, although it was unadvertised and I never found it.
  • I can't really comment on registration, since the pre-reg group rate allowed us to avoid any real lines, but it seemed better organized when I went down there, in its own big standalone room.
  • Attendance was a little higher than last year; looks like they approached 19,000, nearly hitting their registration cap of about 20,000. I know parking was a big hassle by Friday (Dragonsong12 dealt with this), and there were enough people there to make it pretty difficult to get to popular games outside off-hours (early actually seemed better than late)... although I'm kind of used to the latter at MAGFest by now. I did note more older garners and families, which was good to see (especially as I move closer to that demographic myself).

Games I played:
- Arcade: Pulstar (Neo Candy cabinet; reminded me of R-Type), Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (Blast City cabinet), Golden Axe (Player 2 controls messed up), Battletoads, Special Forces: Kung Fu Commando (basically a bad knock-off of NES Kung Fu), Jr. Pac-Man, Robotron 2084, Dragon's Lair, Cruis'n Exotica, RoadBlasters, Elevator Action Returns (Blast City cabinet), Prehistoric Isle 2 (Neo Candy cabinet), SoulCalibur II, Primal Rage, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Gyruss, Popeye (not a big fan), Tron, Mr. Do!
- Telstar Alpha: Pong/Tennis
- Atari 2600: Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Pitfall, Dig Dug, Kaboom!, Berserk, Jr. Pac-Man (actually a pretty good port)
- Intellivision: BurgerTime
- Odyssey2: Turtles, K.C. Munchkin
- Vectrex: Star Castle
- NES: Wild Gunman
- Atari 7800: Centipede, Dig Dug
- Sega Genesis: Eternal Champions
- PC Engine: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (Wii Virtual Console), Legendary Axe
- 3DO: Mad Dog McCree (not a good port)
- PlayStation (1): Gex
- PlayStation 2: Time Crisis 3
- Xbox: Metal Wolf Chaos
- PlayStation 4: Mortal Kombat X, Street Fighter V, Nidhogg, Amplitude (couldn't figure it out)
- Panasonic M2: "Christmas Giveaway 2008" (or something like that)
- Atari 800: K-Star Patrol
- TI-99/4A: Parsec
- Kaypro: Ladder
- IBM 5150: Tetris (right direction key didn't work)
- IBM Turbo XT: Wheel of Fortune (boring, A.I. basically took over and I didn't get any turns), Jeopardy (slow, so I just quit after a while)
- DOS: QBasic Nibbles, QBasic Gorillas, Number Munchers
- Amiga: Tiger Road
- PC: Wolfenstein 3D
- Indie: Red Shift Blue Shift, Robo Puzzle Smash!, Super Rock Blasters! (basically four-player Asteroids), That Rock Paper Scissors Game, Slam City Oracles, Star Versus (meh), Nothing Good Can Come Of This
- Pinball: Doctor Who, Joust (a two-player versus pinball game), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (left flipper was sluggish), Space Invaders, Tron: Legacy, Star Trek (1978; interesting playing an old-school pinball game, much more about skill than gimmicks), Johnny Mnemonic, Star Trek: The Next Generation (seemed stuck in multi-ball mode)
Tags: con journals, conventions, games, magfest

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