A very busy month for me when it comes to excursions (be it conventions or a week at Disney World) has finally come to an end with a weekend at the other annual winter event that I attend on a regular basis, MAGFest. Usually taking place in January, MAGFest this time around took place the weekend after Katsucon. As such, it’s been a little hectic having conventions on back-to-back weekends, especially given the Disney World trip a couple of weeks earlier and the fact that these are both events that I attend multiple days at (compared to those years where Bronycon and Otakon were on back-to-back weekends, with Bronycon being a “Saturday only” thing for me). However, that doesn’t mean that doing back-to-back multi-day cons wasn’t manageable, especially with me preparing myself for this since the month leading up to the Disney World trip (be it budgeting myself to ensure that I have money for all events or taking daily vitamin supplements to ensure that I don’t get sick during these trips).

When compared to previous MAGFests that I’ve attended, there’s definitely a number of things different this year when compared to other years. To begin with, some of the things that I usually do at MAGFest each year were absent this go-round. First, regular MAGFest panelist Linkara (host of the web series Atop the Fourth Wall) decided to take the year off, which while a little disappointing, is also understandable, as MAGFest tends to be the only con he usually attends where he actually pays for the accommodations himself (rather than being one of the con’s “guests of honor”). Second, despite being advertised on the web site (and an area in the main video game room set up for it), the Challenge Corner, an area where attendees try their hand at beating various retro-game challenges, was non-existent this year. Given how last year’s Challenge Corner was basically challenges from years past being recycled for that year’s event, I didn’t mind the lack of Challenge Corner this year, as it’s probably better for it to take a break in order to have some fresh new challenges planned for next year’s con.

The second thing that was different this year was that, whereas it’s usually cold when I go to MAGFest each year, Saturday was actually a very nice day weather-wise, with me leaving not needing a jack that day. It’s partially because of this (as well as trying something different) that on that day, rather than stopping at one of the two restaurants across from the Gaylord for my usual lunch, I instead walked to one of the nearby hotels to have a meal there, and then had some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for dessert afterwards.

The last thing that was different this year: this year, my younger brother and his girlfriend attended a couple of days of MAGFest themselves. When it comes to cons, I think MAGFest would be a smart choice as a “first con” for my younger brother, given the video game theme of the conference, the various concerts that MAGFest has, and the fact that badge pick-up here is a cakewalk when compared to Otakon and Katsucon. In terms of events, the main focus for my brother and his girlfriend was the stuff involving Ninja Sex Party, with them attending their concert with Tupperware Remix Party on Friday night and their autograph session the following day. However, Ninja Sex Party wasn’t the only things that they checked out at MAGFest, as they also checked out the Smash Brothers Opera (which, as the name suggests, as an opera version of Super Smash Brothers), attended a performance by The World is Square (a band that covers music from various Square/Enix games) and picked up a few items at the Marketplace.

While on the subject of the Marketplace, I myself picked a few items at the Marketplace during each of the three days that I was there. Among some of the items that I picked up at the Marketplace over the weekend:

-Various game-related lapel pins. Thanks to the trip to Disney World last month, my interest in collecting pins has returned, especially anime-related pins. As such, after picking up some supplies at A. C. Moore, I transferred all the anime pins that I have so far from their old home of a Uehara hat to their new home of a Panty and Stocking binder that I won at Otakon a few years back and searched for some more pins at Katsucon and MAGFest. While I only picked up one pin at Katsucon (a Space Dandy “Boobies” pin that I got for free due to buying at least $75 worth of merchandise at the Funimation booth), the unique selection of productions offered by the various vendors at MAGfest, with me picking up pins based on the attorney badge from the Phoenix Wright games, the Franklin Badge from Earthbound, and some of the job asterisks in Bravely Default (the summoner asterisk was definitely a popular one, as I ended up getting the last of that pin).

-A My Little Pony tassel hat. Yeah, I’ve seen numerous My Little Pony inspired hats at the various cons that I attend. What reason would I buy one here if I’ve seen similar hats at other cons? Remember how in the last few cons I was hoping to see if any of the “Artist Alley” people were up to date with the show, in particular the Cutie Mark Crusaders finally getting their cutie marks? Well, one of the dealers at MAGFest actually had hats based on Sweetie Belle and Scootloo that are based on their “post-fifth anniversary” designs (my term for the Cutie Mark Crusaders with their canon Cutie Marks, as the episode where they finally got them aired five years to the date Friendship is Magic premiered). Given how much of a cutie she is, I went with the Sweetie Belle design. As for wearing it, I definitely had it on most of the time while taking part in the pinball tournament (I’ll get to that later), as well as wearing it while watching the portion of the latest WWE PPV when The New Day was on (for those who aren’t up to date with WWE, The New Day is a stable of three black wrestlers who, in recent months, have their Titantron intro depicting cartoon versions of them riding a unicorn).

-A Jigglypuff plushie. One of the dealers that I usually see at MAGFest and Anime USA (this is one that is known for their handmade products based on various Nintendo franchises) well selling life-size (as in how big the Pokemon would actually be in real life) handmade plushies of Jigglypuff during the weekend, with it being too cute for me not to pass up. Of course, there was a small problem with buying Jigglypuff: the dealer didn’t have a bag big enough for it. With the plushie also being too big for the tote that I usually have with me when I go to MAGFest (not to mention the fact that it was already filled with stuff that I bought on the first day of the event), that meant I had to carry Jigglypuff throughout the con on Thursday. That’s not to say that carrying Jigglypuff was a bad thing. Throughout the day, a lot of people noticed Jigglypuff and asked where I was able to find it, with me telling them that they are available in the Merchants Hall (although the $50 price of the plushie may have caused a lot of people to have second thoughts about buying it). Also, having the Jigglypuff plushie gave me a chance to show off my voice impression of it, which, if you hear it, does sound a lot like the actual character.

Of course, the big part of MAGFest is the video games, and this year, there’s a lot to talk about, beginning with the Console Room. Naturally, there’s numerous console stations throughout the room, with quite a number of them set up with PS4 having the just released Street Fighter V up and running (that isn’t the only recent title worth mentioning, as Video Games New York had the just released Attack on Titan PS4 game available at their booth). However, there’s also a few cool features that were also available in the room this year. For starters, to coincide with the Metroid theme that the con has this year, the room had a “Metroid Marathon” section that contained all the Metroid games released for consoles, Game Boy, and Game Boy Advance. The catch: only Metroid is available at the start of the con,with the rest of the games being available chronologically once someone has beaten the most recent “unlocked game” (i.e. beating Metroid unlocks Metroid II; beating Metroid II unlocks Super Metroid). Second, one section of the Console Room is dedicated to games using a gun controller, with the available games ranging from NES classics like Duck Hunt to the Time Crisis franchise.

Finally, MAGFest did its own unique take of “Twitch Plays Pokemon”. Basically, throughout the Console Room, there are numerous red “buzzer buttons”, with each one pertaining to a different button on a Game Boy system. Meanwhile, a game of Pokemon Red is projected on one of the walls of the Console Room. The idea is for attendees to find the buzzers hidden all over the console room and, by hopefully working with others, attempt to complete the game during the run of the con.

Meanwhile, at another part of the Gaylord, an area of the con that was around back when the con was held in Alexandria returns spiritually, as this year’s MAGFest featured the Computer Museum. Filled with numerous computers and non Nintendo/Sega video game systems, the Computer Museum gave attendees a chance to experience a number of titles from the 1980’s and 1990’s and see how different gaming was back then.

The main highlight of the Computer Museum was a small section showing off the four different PC Engine systems (TurboGraphx-16 in America) that were released in Japan, with the games that are playable at each station being rotated throughout the con. As such, it gave me a reason to revisit the room numerous times that weekend, as I was interested in seeing what games would be available to play each time I visited it. One thing’s for sure when checking out the various PC Engine games available there: the final battle with Dracula in Rondo of Blood is much easier if you play as Maria instead of Richter.

Last, but definitely not least, is the arcade. Remember how I mentioned the video game room at Katsucon to be a warm up for MAGFest? Well, consider MAGFest upped the highlights of Katsucon’s arcade section big time. Like at Katsucon, MAGFest had a solo DDR machine and Para Para Paradise, but with additional cabinets for each (with the solo DDR machines actually being on free play this time around). There was also a huge selection of more recent Japanese arcade cabinets in the arcade room, with the titles ranging from stuff that I saw at Otakon last year (as the same people who handled the arcade machines there were at MAGFest as well) to titles that new to me (i.e. arcade versions of Puzzles and Dragons and Dance Evolution).

Then there’s the main type of arcade machine that I’m into, the pinball machine, with MAGFest having a wide variety of machines this year. Along with the ones I saw at MAGFest and a number of tables both classic (Tommy, Jurassic Park) and newer (Tron: Legacy), among the more interesting tables that were offered for regular play include:

-America’s Most Haunted, and “indie” pinball machine that is limited to 150 units;
-The rare, two-player pinball table based on the arcade game Joust;
-A few units (AC/DC, Star Trek: The Next Generation) that had their regular DMD displays replaced with full color versions (whereas normal displays only display the color orange).

While we’re on the subject of pinball, after taking last year off, I once again took part in MAGFest’s pinball tournament this year. Among the factors that led to me deciding to take part this year after skipping last year’s tournament include a “beginner’s” tournament alongside the main one, no major events on Saturday night that I had to attend (thus making me free to take part in bracket competition if I was good enough), and the fact that among the tournament tables was one that I wanted to try out for some time, The Wizard of Oz. Also, while it didn’t really affect my decision to take part in the tournament this year, another nice thing this year was the queuing system that was in place, in which, by either using your cell phone or by informing an official after finishing up a round of pinball, you can reserve a spot in line for the next table you want to play on.

As for my progress in the tournament itself, after setting up my initial scores for qualifying on Friday afternoon, it was a little frustrating trying to improve my score on the three tables that I wasn’t doing well on later that night (there were nine tables available, with your six best scores based on Aurcade Tournament System scoring being used to determine your all-around score and ranking). However, thanks to me calming down, checking out other parts of MAGFest during the weekend, and having to remind myself that most of these pinball players are pros that usually take part in these types of events and would only be eligible for the main tournament (whereas I usually end up doing only one tournament a year), my attitude was better on Saturday, with me eventually getting a great score on Wizard of Oz. Eventually, I did manage to make it into the brackets in the beginner’s tournament, with me finishing in third.

Some additional comments concerning this year’s MAGFest:

-Can’t the Gaylord go at least one weekend in 2016 without someone setting something on fire? Five days after the infamous Katsucon fire, another fire took place during the first day of MAGFest. Thankfully, the fire wasn’t as bad at what happened as Katsucon (with it being contained in a floor that’s doesn’t interfere with the convention center), and by the time I evacuated the hotel, everyone was already starting to head back in.

-In terms of the various films that were shown at the con, the one that got my interest was an award winning documentary about the making the Clue VCR game and how the game paved the way for other games that utilized VCR technology. Before the screening of the film on Thursday night, a round of the Clue VCR game was actually played. Frankly, I can understand how the documentary stated that this was a hard game to play, as the idea of playing as one of the suspects requires you to pay attention of what happened in the video, while those not taking part in the game where mostly kept in the dark in terms of the more interesting “who done it” portion of the game (although I was able to figure out one of the murders from the clues that were provided).

-The guy who did that interesting Captain N panel at MAGFest a couple of years back had another interesting one this year in the form of his list of the top 10 Generation 1 episodes of Transformers. Among the episodes making the list include one that I expected would appear in most “Top 10 Transformers Episodes” lists (Megatron’s Master Plan), some of the darker episodes of the show (i.e. Dark Awakening, which was able a zombified Optimus Prime), episodes that fleshed out the characters (The Secret of Omega Supreme) and a few episodes known for their sillier moments (i.e. Microbots, which features “drunk” Decpticons).

With the three big events of winter (the two conventions and the Disney World trip) now behind me, things are kinda quiet in terms of the next few months, as the next major con, Otakon, is not until August. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t be doing anything these next five months, as I may end up having an excursion to another con between now and August (i. e. Bronycon, if season six of Friendship if Magic turns out to be decent).

To finish this report, here’s some photos that I took during MAGFest weekend: http://www.acparadise.com/acs/display.php?c=13486