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Holy MAGFest Backlog!

Has it really been 5 years since I last wrote one of these recaps?! I swear it was only two, max! Some people started and graduated college in this time frame. I had two kids and the world went through some of the most insane years in my life.

I’m sorry I haven’t kept up with this annual blog. I think I just got a little burned out trying to document my experiences rather than just living in the moment. It can also be hard to find the time to sit down afterward and put this thing together. But, I’ve missed you guys. And by you guys, I mean the voices in my head that I’m talking to right now as I reflect on my experiences.

Anyway, the good news is that I still have pictures from the missing years, so I’m going to do a speedrun retrospective before we get to the main course.

MAGFest 2019

Unicorn party. I’m not sure why or how we got invited. I’m still waiting on my golden ticket to a Furry party (one can dream).

Chrono Ghost is finally published! It was really awesome being a part of this. It wasn’t until I attended MAGFest for the first time in 2016 that the idea occurred to me that I might actually like writing music for video games. This soundtrack was the culmination of that initial spark. We were so proud of the music that spammed the whole festival with marketing materials (it will be a recurring theme).

Due to a technicality, our previous attempt at the world record for most wizards at a single gathering did not count. So, the Brother’s Cosplay took another crack at it and…we did it! This time for real.

I ran into Justin, Chelsea, and Fibonacci from my first MAG!

Wario got his hands on a Super Crown that unlocked a softer side. I present, Wariette.

It wasn't long before I found my crew.

But, the real reason for the switch is that I heard Alyssa is no longer into dudes and I’ll do whatever is necessary to win over my MAGFest princess.

Lena Raine (composer known for her work on Celeste, Guild Wars, Minecraft, and others) put on a fantastic panel where she gave an amazing insight into her writing process by writing a song live during the panel. I borrowed some of her techniques when composing for New Eden. So, thanks for that.

Also, Bit Brigade!!!!!!!!!

MAGFest 2020

If you were to ask Kotaku, this was ground zero for COVID-19 in the US. Look at all of us back then innocent of what this year would become.

I believe this was the first year of the Danny Devito shrine, which has become a MAGFest staple.

I randomly spotted Air Force One from the hotel. Secret Service be slackin’. They probably got an invite to a Furry party.

Speaking of security slacking...

David Wise jamming in the lounge.

MAGFest 2021

Lol. No. But we did get some fun drama from the sidelines.

MAGFest 2022

I was happy to be back at the event. A lot of people were still understandably cautious. But, I was ready to start getting back to life as normal. According to Kotaku, that makes me a real piece of shit.

The whole event was pretty low-key. It really lacked the energy and excitement that I was used to. But, that’s ok. It was still better than nothing. The plus side? It was pretty easy to score a room in the Atrium. Now, this is the way to experience MAGFest, lording over the peasants below! Seriously though, it’s really cool to vibe out on the balcony.

I tried a new cosplay. Mr. Satan is my spirit animal. I am a legend in my own mind (and I have a kick-ass daughter).

Also, Bit Brigade!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MAGFest 2023

Here we go! Like a warm, cozy blanket, MAGFest truly is a sanctuary for band nerds. For the first time since the pandemic, MAGFest returned to form. This is what I have been craving.

Going to a convention after having children is just as much about getting a weekend away from the kids as it is about going to a fun place. Day one (Thursday) was more about getting settled in and getting rest than it was about starting the party. Checked in, got my badge, wandered the vendor area and MIVS, and mostly chilled until the Metroid Metal concert that evening. I have no pictures because I honestly didn’t think I would be writing this blog. I was still pretty low-energy and, at this point, my blog-to-MAG ratio wasn’t great. So, the momentum wasn’t in my favor. I just focused on getting into the right headspace to recapture the magic of days of yore.

Drama, Drama, Drama

Day 2 was the turning point. I started early with a yoga session led by @yogaforgamers. At my age, this is practically essential. The physicality of walking around the Gaylord coupled with the heavy drinking and shit diet do not sit well with someone who is approaching the age of 40. So, I am extremely grateful for Danielle, this is the closest thing to a fairy fountain I have found in the real world.

With a limber body and a renewed spirit, I was ready to dive head-first into the event. Up next was a concert in the Atrium by my friends in the group Bard City. I was chilling on the couch when a stranger appeared and introduced himself. Dano, as I came to learn, was an author. We had an awesome chat while I ignored my friends playing their MAGFest debut. I told him about the book I would like to write someday about leadership and pooping. We also talked about the drama with the MAGFest board of directors and the Kotaku sign drama.

For the uninitiated, I have been reading Kotaku for years (I get bored at work sometimes), and never once have they mentioned MAGFest. Well, after last year’s event, they decided to write an unflattering article about the irresponsibility of holding a large gathering during a pandemic. It was very snarky and all over the place with its hypocritic finger-pointing. I think, had Kotaku been a fan of MAGFest and written an article from a genuine place of criticism it may have landed better. Instead, it seemed like a rant that randomly singled out MAGFest. Here is the thing, the event organizers went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Why have the event at all? Because instead of writing mediocre articles from the comfort of their home, MAGFest is a business that centers on holding an in-person event. They also have real costs that don’t magically fade away. After skipping 2021, MAGFest, like many other businesses around the world, was struggling to stay afloat. At this point, nearly two years into the pandemic and with the wide availability of vaccines, you can’t really criticize people for wanting to get back to life. We can’t stay inside forever. I’m also guessing that Sisi at Kotaku probably visited a friend or went outside for something that wasn’t 100 percent a necessity. So, that’s why YTA. You could write more articles about the "cum rooms" at MAG. That would be worth a read. You can even make it a slideshow. I know your bosses love their slideshows.

Anyway, it seems the organizers of MAGFest also agree that this was a dick move by Kotaku. They went through the trouble of having a professional sign taking a fair jab at Kotaku. It was a lot like this one taking a similar poke at Twitter.

The Kotaku sign came under backlash and was immediately removed. They went a step further prostrating themselves online for daring to make such an inappropriate joke and making people feel uncomfortable. Really? This is all it takes to offend some people? I’m not saying you don’t take the sign down, but at least own up to why you did it in the first place. You clearly had a conviction enough to make an entire sign. Don’t let overly-sensitive jerks bully you into submission. It was more than fair to call out Kotaku for its seeming lack of journalistic integrity. I and many others stand behind you. But acting like it was a grave mistake and kowtowing online is such a bad look.

Artistic Machines

It turns out I picked the worst time to use AI art to make an album cover. When I made the cover several months ago I was just excited about this new technology and it fits very well with the themes of the game. In the subsequent months, there has been quite a public backlash against AI art. At MAGFest, there was a great panel from a group of lawyers answering questions from the audience. The top concern on the public’s mind? AI art. Let me say this, I have made all of the album art for all of the bands I have been a part of for the past 20 years using a combination of royalty-free images and my limited skills with Photoshop. So, using AI as a tool to help me generate content didn’t put any artist out of work. That said, I do understand the main argument lies around how the algorithm is fed by artists’ work and not necessarily that AI-generated art exists.

Personally, I am fascinated with the prospect of AI-driven art. As a fan of Our Lady Peace and their seminal work, Spiritual Machines, I have long been enamored with the idea of man-made technology transcending ourselves and moving into realms that we have taken for granted as uniquely human, such as art. That album was based on the book written by Ray Kurzweil, who helped develop Siri for the iPhone as well as other technology throughout the decades. This book and his work with Our Lady Peace’s recent follow-up, Spiritual Machines II, predicts a fascinating near future where we must wrestle with many social issues that come with the increasing intelligence of machines and their perceived sentience. This whole debate about AI art is the very beginning of things predicted by Ray’s book over two decades ago. As a bystander, this is fascinating to watch unfold. It will be quite interesting to revisit this article in 20 years with the knowledge of how things played out. For now, enjoy some musings by Chat GPT about Wario at MAGFest.

As Wario is portrayed as a greedy and mischievous character in the Mario series, it is likely that he would try to disrupt a convention like MAGFest in a way that would benefit himself financially or cause trouble for others. Some examples of how Wario could disrupt a convention like MAGFest include:

  • Setting up an illegal "WarioWare" game booth where he tricks attendees into spending all their money on rigged games

  • Attempting to sell counterfeit merchandise or bootlegged copies of games

  • Dressing up like a popular cosplay character and demanding payment for pictures

  • Stealing other vendor's business by undercutting their prices

  • Setting up a fake event or attraction and charging admission

Thanks for the ideas, robot. I might try some of these in the future. I also asked DALL-E to mock up what it thinks Wariette should look like.

*chef's kiss

Anyway, the rest of the day I went about my business of spamming the festival with postcards promoting our new soundtrack (I told you this would be a recurring theme).

If you weren’t aware, allow me to enlighten you. Drew and I have been working hard on the music for the free-to-play souls-like MMORPG, New Eden. I think it is the best work we’ve done yet. What do you think? Are we just legends in our own minds?

Later that evening was the main event of the entire festival, the Grammy-winning 8-bit Big Band. The line to get into the concert hall wrapped all the way around the main hall, to the parking garage, and back around. I usually am not one to wait in long lines, but this was an exception. And holy crap was it worth the effort. These guys are no joke. Grammy well-deserved. For a large group, they had no shortage of S-tier musicians, and the arrangements were really well done. It is great to have such a caliber of people adding legitimacy to the VGM community. I think the combination of conventions like MAGFest and bands like this will be the watershed for gaming music being taken seriously in popular culture.

Day 3 - Games Galore!

I spent a lot of the morning/afternoon downstairs in the arcade. I find it hard to pull myself away from Killer Queen, but I also wanted to check out the indie gaming section (MIVS). Our friends with Fault & Fragment were back and it was good to see their progress on the game. They also started a collective with other D.C. area game developers. I think this is an awesome idea and a great way to share knowledge and resources to help each other succeed. They even had a challenge encouraging you to visit all twelve of the developer’s booths.

I did get them all stamped eventually

Of the twelve, there were some standouts. The art design and platforming of Scarlet: City of Devils reminded me a bit of Chrono Ghost. This game was very easy to pick up. Every action seemed intuitive on the controls and the game just worked.

Rising Tide by MochiByte was an interesting surprise. Inspired by Minesweeper and Picross, it plays very much the same, except with some interesting mechanics that make the game a lot more forgiving. Rather than instant death for choosing the wrong tile as you do in Minesweeper, you have the chance to undo some of the damage of the rising tide with powerups you have earned. I actually thought this made the game more engaging and a great evolution for the genre.

I am awarding this year’s “Best in Show” to Pundle (a portmanteau of Pun and Wordle). In Hangman style, you have a few letters to guess which reveal themselves on the board. After you have chosen your letters you must guess the pun. There is one pun per day. Fortunately, at the booth, you could choose to play any puzzle from a previous date. I won three in a row and was awarded some swag for my badge. I think this game has wide appeal and there is nothing stopping it from being a genuine hit. When the NY Times buys this game, remember that you saw it here first.

The Soul of MAGFest

Years ago at my first MAGFest, I was wandering the halls of the Chesapeake rooms and I heard a band jamming. It turned out to be the Super Soul Bros. I have been a fan ever since. So, when they were on the main stage Saturday night, you better believe I was there and in the front row no less.

This band just keeps getting better. I honestly think this was their best performance yet. They included an original tune in their set that just slapped. After years of fandom, I decided to put my money where my mouth was. I purchased their entire discography that came on this sweet SNES-style cartridge. It will fit nicely in my collection alongside my NES harmonica.

After a nice meetup with GWOBS (Robbie), I went back to my room to “refuel” and make the most of my last night at MAG. I managed to make it to the GWOBS panel at 2 AM. This panel, like years previous, is just two hours of pure mayhem and giveaways of random, obscure knick-knacks. I couldn’t make it for the whole two hours. I had to bow out at 3 AM because I was starting to feel like this guy.

The Sunday Hangover

Sunday at MAGFest is always bittersweet. People are packing out, the atmosphere is winding down, and the realization that the fun is nearly over starts to creep in. Still, there is plenty left to do. I caught a panel on music production given by Dr. Cresci from Fundamental Sounds. I’m always interested in learning about my craft, especially when the knowledge comes from someone with a doctorate and actively working in the field. Panels like this can be a goldmine for con-goers interested in getting into the music business and part of what I love about MAGFest. Where else am I going to meet the likes of David Wise or Alexander Brandon? These guys are a wealth of knowledge.

This year was my wife and her friend Heather’s first time coming to MAGFest.

On day 1, Heather joined an event where she and other volunteers were randomly assigned to form a band. They had the rest of the event to put together ten minutes of material and perform live on the last day of MAGFest. Heather’s fiance, Dan, coined this event the “Maggle of the Bands”. With the time restrictions of rehearsing during a gaming convention, it was impressive to see what these bands were able to achieve. Well, Heather’s band (The Tallest Band in the World) not only rose to the challenge, but they also excelled! They sounded like they had been playing together for years. The crowd agreed and their band won! What a way to end MAGFest.

And that concludes my experiences over the past five years. If you are still here, congratulations on making it through. Thanks for listening to my rambling. I will see you back next year or maybe in five. You can’t rush genius.


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