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A Review of MAGFest 2011

17 January 2011 One Comment by

Excitement and anticipation for my first MAGFest has been building ever since I experienced the chiptunes concert put on by their organizers at PAX East 2010. The idea of a weekend-long videogame-centric orgy of music and entertainment seemed like such a fantastic idea in my head.

Sadly, in reality, it didn’t match my own self-conjured hype. Perhaps this places the blame of my disappointment in MAGFest 2011 on my own shoulders, but I’ll let you be the judge after I present my likes and dislikes.

Right off the bat, I was a little disappointed that some of the musical acts I had wanted to see performed Thursday night, when I had arrived Friday evening. Most of my convention experiences dictate that the best programming happens Friday evening and all day Saturday to account for working adults who can’t take vacation time to show up mid-week.

This brings up another problem I experienced. The schedule was well laid-out, and easy to read with large columns indicating which event room every slot pertained to. My beef with the schedule centered around the music space. There was a large 5 hour block of time labeled “Chiptunes” with no information about who and when. While I was trying to cover as much ground as possible and not sit in the chiptunes area for five hours, I missed my favorite artist (Zen Albatross! <3) due to lack of information. Additionally, what do I do with a block of time labeled “Saturday Concerts?” I know that it is Saturday, and assumed there would concerts of some type…. but who? And when exactly?

If this information was posted somewhere, I missed it.

With that initial negativity out of the way, let me say that the talent at MAGFest was phenomenal. Plenty of big names in music were in attendance, including (but certainly not limited to) Protomen and The Megas.

Another highlight included the classic arcade cabinets that were set up, which provided some much needed retro gaming. Kudos to everybody that contributed to providing those units for everybody to play on.

That said, every fourth unit was non-functional, which wouldn’t have been nearly as frustrating if they had at least been marked as such. Unfortunately, I had to try each one and see, hoping not to look silly hitting buttons on a broken machine. My friend and I enjoyed several excellent rounds of Smash TV and Killer Instinct II, but were cheated out of any Rampage by a faulty arcade machine. Ce la vie.

In addition to being plagued with broken equipment, the area they crammed the arcade cabinets into was small. The walkways were abysmally narrow, especially for the level of attendance. This problem of space wasn’t limited to the classic arcades, though. The entire convention has clearly outgrown the host hotel. The location is hardly ideal to begin with, seeing as the overflow hotel is not within close walking distance, and the shuttle being run had no actual schedule or predictability. The gaming room, too, suffered from being overloaded by the number of convention-goers.

I know that it isn’t fair to compare a smaller organization to something like PAX, but I felt like their gaming rooms could have easily benefited from twice the number of consoles and still not have wasted any on empty chairs or televisions.

I can’t say that I’d be interested in coming back in the future without assurances from the convention managers that a new venue and expansion plans were a priority. MAGFest is a great concept that could benefit from a little more organization and logistical planning.


One Comment »

  • Proz said:

    I was at MAGFest from the beginning and the one thing you didn’t have to deal with was the horrid regular registration line. It was taking on average 3-4 hrs on both Thursday & Friday to process people even thought the convention was capped at 3k. It needs to be vastly overhauled.

    Now there is a lot of fault on the concert schedule in not listing the acts anywhere on the website or at the convention up until Saturday night. However, if you were active on Twitter then you would have seen the schedule if you followed #magfest as people would post when an act was playing (barring Chiptunes acts, that you were kind of expected to be there from the beginning except for the last 3 acts).

    It was fairly crowded in the Marketplace & old-school arcade section (why they didn’t put more games in the back room is beyond me), the open main game room was fairly spacious compared to what I’ve seen at other conventions. Most of the cabs weren’t broken so I find the “1 in 4″ statement to be a bit misleading. They were actively fixing any broken cabs on Thursday & Friday and by Saturday I only observed about 4 cabs being completely non-functional while some others didn’t have functioning audio.

    The plus side of MAGFest is the higher emphasis on music as they showcased just about every popular VGM act in the States over 4 nights. Except for the late sound check on Saturday night which threw things a bit off, the sound crew managed to stay on time for the most part which should be highly commended especially when dealing with 4-6 bands a night. It is really difficult to do when you’re a fan-run convention but they deserve kudos in manage to filter through each band without any major technical issues for any of the acts.

    The Hilton itself was very accommodating in not being restrictive to guests but at the same time they could be ghosts. The hotel room I stayed in was constantly hot and had a broken A/C which was never fixed even after multiple complaints. Only once did housekeeping coming by to cleanup our room. The elevator situation of massive overcrowding and “elevator party” became hellish and by Saturday night & Sunday morning they were down to just 2 working elevators. You had to use the stairs no matter what floor you were on. The word around the block was that they were moving to a new hotel but it has to be official but hopeful.

    As a convention organizer myself (run a convention in Texas 2x the size of MAGFest), I have to give MAGFest massive kudos on their work. They managed to bring in a great game room with a very wide variety of consoles & arcade cabs that you can’t find anywhere. I am an avid music gaming fan and was shocked to see a lot of recent arcade music games that are near impossible to find in the states. The panels I attended mostly stayed on schedule too. Line control was kept under control w/o any rude volunteers of getting in people’s faces. There wasn’t a lot of high tension amongst staff and volunteers in interacting with the attendees so it meant things were doing well in the back-end. Security kept their cool at the concerts and were even very helpful in trying to find my glasses when I lost them in the middle of the pit at the end of The Minibosses concert. The entire convention felt quite laid back.

    The noted kinks about MAGFest are easily fixable IMHO. I had a blast and will be highly recommending this fun gaming con if they don’t want to break the bank on PAX.