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Disclaimer: I apologize for much of the photography—I apparently have the least steady hand in the universe.

If you couldn’t tell by “MAGFest” being in the title of two of my last four blog posts, yes, it was that time of year again.

Having done a two-day, two-night stint for the past two years, Jen and I decided to extend our trip and come up on Thursday night.  We thought (I thought) we were being baller, but come to find out, the real ballers head up on Wednesday and get the place warmed up while the rest of us toil away at work.  Drat!

After getting, mmmm, “misdirected” on the drive to National Harbor from the other side of the water (National Harbor got sucked into a black hole, according to both Jen’s and our friend’s GPS), Jen and I made it to the Gaylord National and were greeted with a smooth check-in.  The place was alive already, but not nearly as much so as it would be over the next few days.

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After getting situated, we went to go get our badges and ran into a prime example why the MAGFest community is so cool.  While in line, this guy in front of us pulled out a binder of cards.  He was a brony, and he started talking about his collection of My Little Pony trading cards – of which he had a complete base set and a slew of special cards – to the guys next to him.  Jen loves MLP and got excited, so we checked them out as he flipped through he pages.  The guy asked if Jen was missing any of the cards, and we joked that she needed them all.  Well, he didn’t give Jen a set, but he flipped to the back of his binder and let her pick out a couple.  What a guy!  So Jen scored Pinky Pie and Gummy trading cards just by geeking out with another MAGFester.  That’s the name of the game!

After we scored our badges, we met our friends and headed down to check out the merchandise tables and the game room.  We ran into some other friends along the way, including chiptunes guru Inverse Phase, who was glad to see familiar faces due to his inconvenient placement in the large hall.  I told him that he was in a prime position because he was placed right next to [what looked like] a load of comic longboxes.  I was quickly corrected by a passerby, who quipped, “Yeah… heh… ‘comics.’”  MAGFest has it all, folks.

IMG_6058We retired a bit early that night because we knew we had an early morning and a long weekend to enjoy ourselves.  Waking up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we drug ourselves to the Yuzo Koshiro Q&A panel at 10am.  Having read through multiple interviews with him and compiling that information for the blog – and this goes for Kinuyo Yamashita, as well – I didn’t take too many notes during the Q&A.  However, here are some interesting things that Koshiro-san revealed to those who attended:

– When composing for Etrian Odyssey, Koshiro didn’t go straight for the PC-88; instead, he tried to use modern synth sounds at first, but those were rejected by the director, so it was at that time that he changed directions and went with the old chip’s sound.

– For ActRaiser, since the SNES chip’s PCM produced a great string sound, he wanted to be sure to utilize it.  To get himself in the mood for writing his first-ever orchestral pieces, Koshiro turned to the sounds of Star Wars and Gustav Holst.

– All of the tunes he’s ever written on the PC-88?  Composed using a program he made himself.  No big deal.

– Someone thought he heard the sounds made by particular synths in Koshiro’s early-’90s techno writing, but Koshiro claimed never to have used physical instruments to compose that music—it started and ended with his PC-88.

– Part of the reason that the gentleman asking the previous question probably heard sounds similar to the instruments he stated was because Koshiro would go to the club every week to get influences for his house soundtracks—I reckon that he naturally absorbed those sounds and created like-sounds subconsciously on his own instrument.  Furthermore, Koshiro was in L.A. at the time of composing for Streets of Rage, and he would tune into MTV to listen intently [because they actually played music on it back then, if you’re too young to recall such a time], so I’m sure that affected the sounds he created, as well.

– If he had the choice of composing for any modern game series, he would like to write for Street Fighter.  Make it happen, Capcom!

The best part of the session by far was when some guy asked Koshiro to play a tune from ActRaiser on his little plastic keyboard.  Jen filmed it; check it out:

Speaking of Inverse Phase, we went to check him out after getting out of the Koshiro show and aiding our friends Brandon and Brennan with getting their badges.  Brendan (confused yet?) was killing it up on MAGFest’s new stage.  The music hall was tight—super roomy (er, I meant “tight” as in “sweet”), and the stage must have been twice the size that it was last year.  As you can see, they kicked up the light show, as well, making the atmosphere really hip.  The only problem was that the lights atop the scaffolding beamed directly into the audiences’ eyes often; otherwise, that was the place to rock out.

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After eating lunch at Elevation Burger, we met up with our pals Nick and Natalie Parisi to watch Nick compete in the Rock Band 3 drums tournament.  His opponent was good, but Nick won best of three while being photographed by some dude with an impressive tripod.

Next stop was a tournament that Jen’s friend from high school, Matt, co-hosted: Yoshi’s Cookie.  The other host, Kaz, made these awesome (and delicious) cookies both to eat and to show people how to play the game.  You can even see Yoshi’s face in one of the cookies!  So cool.

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Since they needed only a couple more constants to round out their brackets, Alex and Jen were essentially voluntold to suit up and play.  Unfortunately, despite ravenously devouring the rules of the game and the qualities of each of the character options (not to mention the cookies) while others played, both were knocked out in their respective first rounds.  Jen’s opponent, in trying to be a good sport, went in for a hug after he swept her—Jen [somewhat awkwardly] did not have any of that and walked away winning a battle of her own, one might say.

Meanwhile, I played Joust on an Atari and got my butt handed to me by crazy pterodactyls.  That game is nuts!

Before our friends and we darted to catch sangria Happy Hour at Nando’s Peri Peri – a favorite – our friends started something that would live in infamy for the rest of our time at MAGFest: they took part in “A Throne of Challenges,” MAGFest’s classic video game gauntlet.  I had never had the guts to sit down at the challenge stations and try anything before this year.  Thankfully, my friends had the determination for it.

The way it works is, the staff sets up about twenty laptops that have a directory of games on them.  You choose a system and a game from that system’s list, and then you start at a saved-state point on the computer’s emulator.  When you lose the challenge, just a press of the space bar would bring you back to the start of the challenge.  If you’re interested, you can download the states to try out yourself—all of my friends and I went in cold turkey, though (that’s the best way to do it, in my opinion, unless you’re trying to get the first-to-thirty-completions prize).  Here’s a video of a guy training one of the “Unfair” challenges from Mega Man 3.  I didn’t even touch the NES Mega Man ones.


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Allow me just personally emphasize how difficult these challenges are while you watch that guy get owned.  DUDES.  These challenges are CRAZY HARD.  Many of them center around “you can’t get hit” (I spent at least 40 minutes over two days on the Turtles in Time challenge, and the Mega Man X ones were popular with my group), while others were “collect X amount of points” or “beat these bosses with weak weapons.”  Some were simply “win” (seriously—I’m looking at you, Warlords).

I ended up beating 15 challenges, most normal, some hard.

NES: Castlevania, Castlevania 3, Jackal, Legend of Zelda, Little Nemo, Shatterhand, Super Mario Bros. 2
GenesisCrusader CentyEarthworm JimSonic the Hedgehog
SNESMega Man X (both Sigma’s face and the spider)TMNT IVX-Men
AtariBarnstorming

Superlatives:

Most glorious wins: TMNT IV and Mega Man X “Face” (actually harder than “Spider,” despite what the difficulty says)
Easiest winsCrusader Centy and Jackal (proving that everyone can beat at least one challenge)
Most annoyingBarnstorming (Atari games… gotta love how terrible some of them are)
Most difficult that I tried but didn’t beat: Link to the Past

As exhilarating as these challenges were, the best part was to do them around my friends.  Cheering and getting cheered… feeling the sharp pang of losing time after time within seconds of each loss and watching my friends agonize, as well… feeling so awesome about winning and then high-fiving as my friends’ cards got punched… pushing each other to keep on grinding the most impossible challenges… The feeling of doing these tasks is akin to playing a team sport with your friends and getting into a very close game where you end up just barely pulling out ahead.  It was that plus an old feeling of playing classic games with pals.

Cheers to Brandons W. and R., Brennan, and Nick for dominating these things.  Some notables: Brandon W. thought he beat challenges multiple times and got his card punched for them only to find out soon thereafter that he had not finished the whole of those challenges BOOOO (he sincerely felt bad and tried to make up for it, but the Kirby challenged proved to be too much, sadly); Brennan beat the Turtles in Time challenge that was ailing me first try (I was pissed, haha); and Nick beat the Link to the Past one (watching him get better and better until he finally won out was a blast).  Jen even got in on the action and almost beat the Castlevania challenge; in fact, she figured out something about beating it that I didn’t realize, which ultimately lead me to victory after having already written it off.

Good game, guys!

Keep an eye out for my recap of Saturday and Sunday – featuring live performances by Yamashita and Koshiro – soon!

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