Magfest: Then and Now

About ten years ago, my friends and I began frequenting a local video game store called Captain Gamestation.  The selection wasn’t much to look at: a couple of bins of used games, accessory odds and ends, a pile of EGM and Nintendo Power issues from years gone by, and (oddly enough) some rare Turbo Grafx-16 pieces.  Most of these items came from the personal collection of the owner of the store, Joe Yamine.  Joe was an intelligent twenty-something who had a snarky attitude and a ponytail (both of which contributed to his overall coolness).  As gamers who were just out of high school and pretty jaded with the world, Captain Gamestation was the place to be.  We would drop by the store after our summer jobs and just shoot the breeze with Joe, all while looking for any rare finds he had come across and put up for sale.  Then one day, he mentioned that he was trying to get the Minibosses to come and play a show on the east coast, and that maybe this could become a sort of Mid-Atlantic Gaming festival for our small town.  A MAGfest, if you will.

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All of us thought this was a great idea, but we were young, and such an idea could never come true.  I mean, the only idea of a video game convention that we had was E3; that joyful world of new technology which seemed like a fairy tale that EGM told from time to time.  So how in the world could we have a video game convention in our town, much less one that would be cool enough to have the Minibosses play at it?  Well, somehow Joe and his friends pulled it off, and very soon, we were promoting this little game festival throughout the city of Roanoke.

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Since that fateful day, my friends and I have attended three more of the iterations of MAGfest (the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th versions), each of which were fun in their own way (save for the 3rd, which was a bit rough).  But none have compared to the joy we found in the first festival.  This year, my buddy Jeremy and I decided to join in the festivities at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland for the tenth MAGfest.  As we journey down MAGfest memory lane, you will find that the top pictures are from that first convention, almost ten years ago in September of 2002, while the bottom are from MAGfest of this year, in January of 2012.  Hence why my good friend Jeremy looks much more refined (read: older) in the second set of photos.

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Here we have Jeremy in front of the sign of the Holiday Inn Tanglewood in Roanoke and standing before the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at the National Harbor in Maryland.  Quite a change in just ten years for the little convention!  We are still not sure why the sign at the Holiday Inn welcomed the Woodmen of the World.  The average person would assume that there was an outdoorsmen convention at the same time.  We just assumed the hotel really liked Mega Man 2.

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When we arrived at the Holiday Inn Tanglewood, the convention was in full swing.  One of the ballrooms at the hotel had several banquet tables set up with rented televisions and donated video game consoles of many different varieties.  People were encouraged to bring some of their own equipment from home, so that there would be enough gaming to go around. Overall, the competition was friendly, and the wait for each game wasn’t too bad.  The highlights of those days were the original Halo and Super Smash Brothers Melee.  As for this past convention, Jeremy and I arrived as they were setting up the MASSIVE main gaming room, which also served as the Dealers’ Hall, LAN Party Area, and the Tabletop Gaming Room.

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Here we have the orignal LAN Party Area in its entirety.  All the computers were donated, and only a few official tournaments actually happened (I recall Quake 3 and Counterstrike).  In the second photo, the significantly larger LAN Party Area is towards the back of the photo, and the table of tabletop games (ha!) in the foreground.  This year, any person could walk up and rent a board game to play with their friends.  Everything from Settlers of Catan to Clue to Snakes and Ladders were ready to be set up and enjoyed.  A nice touch, indeed.

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Good gravy, the arcade corner certainly has grown!  From the meager two arcade cabinets of Ghouls N’ Ghosts and Pac-Land, to dozens and dozens of machines!  The arcade corner at MAGfest 10 was rather impressive, with a combination of vintage titles, import rhythm games, and tons of home consoles rigged up to arcade machines.  Jeremy and I even played Ehrgeiz as an arcade game (which did little to change how odd that game is).

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During the first MAGfest, we took a little break and dropped by our parents’ house for some lunch (which was both delicious and free).  When we made our way back across the hotel parking lot, we noticed this magnificent truck.  Someone had done a very custom (read: spray paint) job on their truck, making it a vehicle covered in video games.  Each portion of the truck had different stuff on it, adding to its… uniqueness.  At MAGfest 10, another video game themed car was on display.  While the Pikachu Bug had a more uniform theme, it just seemed to lack the individuality of the original MAGfest Truck.

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Poor little Lulu.  She was the sole cosplayer at MAGfest 1.  Can you imagine that?  Of the roughly 275 people who attended the original convention, there was only one person to endure the constant harassment and photo-taking of the crowd.  This year, Jeremy and I kept a tally of cosplayers throughout the course of the day, which came out to 31 people in costume.  Here we have one of the better cosplay: a couple who came as Scorpion (with sky blue contact lenses!) and Jill Valentine.  What’s this? A Carl Winslow cosplayer is seated right next to them!  I guess that bumps the count to 32.

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Most conventions will feature several discussion panels, which will give insight into a business or industry, or allow the attendees to meet and speak with high profile celebrities and associates.  Back in 2002, MAGfest hosted a single panel on the topic of video game rock music.  It featured the Minibosses and a band known as Everyone, and it was pretty laid back and awesome.  This year, there were panels going on in five different halls throughout the course of the convention, but the only one we were interested in was the MAGfest Origins Panel.  From right to left, this panel was hosted by two of the original coordinators of MAGfest- Pernell and Brian, along with Joe Yamine and his younger brother, and two of the members of the Minibosses.  The main topic was how MAGfest began, where the idea and inspiration came from, and lots of reminiscing about video games.  I believe Joe is trying to get a video of the panel posted, and I will repost here if he is successful.

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The very euphoric highlight of the first MAGfest was the concert on Saturday night.  We were all excited to see the Minibosses play, but we were also floored by the other two bands who performed: Everyone (hence the giant “E” in the photo) and the One Up Mushrooms.  Everyone went on first, and was made up of three talented guys (two of whom were twin brothers) playing smooth electronic/rock covers of music from titles like River City Ransom and Silent Hill 2.  The One Up Mushrooms were an amazing video game jazz/rock band that focused on Super Nintendo classics like Mario Kart and Chrono Trigger.  The Minibosses were the headliner of the night (and the convention, I suppose) and they played a fantastic set of video game rock medleys from the early Nintendo days, featuring games like Metroid, Castlevania, and Contra.  At MAGfest 10, the Minibosses played a concert earlier in the morning (10AM!) on the “second stage” concert set-up.  I am very pleased to report that the Minibosses still rock so damn hard, even at such an early hour of the morning. (Note: We unfortunately had to miss the later concerts, sorry for the lack of coverage.  But really, who cares?  We still saw the Minibosses play).

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Finally, we leave you with a random picture of awesomeness from each convention.  On your left we have a picture of the four of us (well, poor Christian is kind of there, behind my brother) with the Minibosses and Virt after their amazing concert.  On your right (that’s the hand that doesn’t make an “L”) we have a shot from the Dealer’s Hall, featuring some interesting robot sculptures made out of video game consoles and accessories.

It’s a bit strange to look back at these photos from ten years ago; to see how much things have changed.  MAGfest has gone from a small gathering of concentrated awesome to a gigantic convention, brimming with fantastic things to do.  But even though the venue is bigger, and the amount of stuff to do has multiplied, the core value of the convention is still there: get a bunch of people together, play video games, see some solid concerts, and have a great time.  I guess the same could be said about us, though.  No matter how far apart we may be, or how much we grow, my friends and I still value the time we spend playing video games with each other, and always have fun when we’re together.

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10 thoughts on “Magfest: Then and Now

  1. Christian D says:

    Technically the Gay Lord is in PG County MD

  2. Joe Yamine says:

    Joe here. How do I get in touch with you guys? Thank for writing such a kind article.

  3. Jeremy Morris says:

    The origins panel was the highlight of M10 for me. Having the chance to hear you guys talk about it back then was a major factor in me wanting to attend.

  4. Nott sky says:

    I have been to 5 MAGfests and have really enjoyed watching it grow. Virtual hi-5 to everyone involved. Nice article!

  5. Pernell V says:

    Wow, this was an excellent piece and a great read. Thanks for posting it!

  6. […] start the new year on a strong video game note, Chip and I attended our first MAGfest (Music and Games Festival) together last weekend. Apart from an excellent lineup of musical acts […]

  7. […] you meet extraordinary people without even knowing it.  Back in 2002, my friends and I attended a little video game festival in our hometown of Roanoke, Vir…  It wasn’t a very large gathering, roughly 250 people visited over the course of a weekend […]

  8. […] previous visits to the festival, I did not focus on playing arcade games or witnessing the changes from gatherings passed.  For me, MAGFest 2016 was all about the music.  I had a wonderful time at this year’s […]

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