Going to honest here: I was this close to not posting this report at all. It's not because I couldn't get it done before Katsucon (as I had this ready to post for days now), but rather because I'm not sure if there's any interest for these reports anymore. I'd still do a major Otakon report, but for other cons, it just feels like I'm not sure if the effort of these reports is worth it (especially if I do decide to skip Katsucon next year, but I'll get to that in my report for that, if I do have one) and I should just talk about my opinions of the con on Reddit and convention message boards instead. Eventually, I decided to get it over with and get my MAGFest report up before I pick up my badge at Katsucon tomorrow.

It's a new year, and when it comes to someone living in the Washington DC area, that also means that the convention season is already starting up, as January is usually the month of MAGFest, the DC area's big gaming convention.

This time around, I'm doing things different (as I don't really have the interest in writing something really lengthy after letting this sit for days) and bringing up stuff that I consider to be good, bad, ugly, and a mix of good and bad.

THE GOOD:

The Return of The MAGFest Challenge: After being absent last year, the MAGFest Challenge Area was back, better than ever. This year, the Challenge Area brought a number of new features that helped perk my interest in this event again after the last few years were "meh" at best. Among them:

*The interface has received a complete overhaul, from the player's progress being tracked just by using one of the stations' barcode scanners on your badge to the Challenge Area making comments whenever you lose a challenge.

*The Nintendo 64 and Playstation 1 joins the SNES, Super Nintendo, and Genesis in the list of systems where the challenges originate from.

*Some challenges involved games that received a hack of some sort as a means of making things difficult (i.e. Super Mario World and Sonic challenges where grabbing a coin or ring will kill the player, a Super Mario World challenge were the jump button changes the gravitational pull for Mario).

*In addition to regular points, players can also receive bonus points for completing certain tasks (i.e. in Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle, along with beating the level, players can get bonus points if they take out Yosemite Sam).

The only thing that could be improved: next year needs to include way more challenges (although the small amount this year could be due to the revamp still being new).

Growth at the Computer Museum: The Computer Museum, an area for someone like me who's been playing video and computer games since the 1980's, definitely felt like it grew somewhat this year. For one thing, from my viewpoint, there were a lot more working computer stations this year. Meanwhile, on the console side, the Museum added some more rarities in the form of the NEC PC-FX (a follow-up to the PC Engine that was only released in Japan) and the Aquarius (a home computer system released by Mattel that was a huge flop).

The Guests: Usually, I don't really care about MAGFest's guests (mostly since most guests are bands, and I usually don't attend the concerts). However, this year there were a couple of interesting ones worth mentioning. First, this year, MAGFest got Phil Moore, the host of the 1990's game show Nick Arcade, to host the con's version of it, MAGFest Versus, this year. Along with checking out some of that event, I also attended a panel he did where he talked about his days hosting Nick Arcade while telling some fun stories about the experience.

The other guest was Vince DiCola, composer of the instrumental music for Rocky IV and Transformers the Movie. With me having a steelbook copy of the latter, I brought it with me on Saturday for him to autograph. Quite honestly, the way MAGFest handles autograph sessions this year was interesting. Rather than having to camp out to get one, those interested in attending an autograph session instead just need to log into the MAGFest web site, book a spot in one of the sessions using your badge number, and then arrive when the session happens, thus giving you more time to enjoy the con. After seeing it in use at MAGFest, I do wonder if this would work for other cons as well (although I doubt seeing it used in cons that offer VIP incentives for those who pay more for a badge).

The Panels: MAGFest definitely had a great line-up of panels this year. Heck, there's so many interesting panels this year that I had to leave at least one panel that caught my attention halfway just to check out another panel that interest me. Among the ones that attracted me:

* One of my favorite panels at the anime cons that I attend, Awesomely Bad Japanese Music Videos, made its MAGFest debut this year (although the people that run the panel are regulars at this con, if the Conventional Wisdom webcomic is any indication).

* A panel that's about film adaptations of video games and how, when you consider the games that they are based on, some of them aren't really that bad. Heck, the original Mortal Kombat movie is a decent film that even if its toned down for PG-13 standards, stayed very true to the original game.

* A look at some unreleased games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, be it titles that were finished (or in some percentage of completion) but never released or titles that were announced but never really had any progress made to them.

* A panel about "bad voice acting", with examples that demonstrate the difference between simply reading some lines for a character and actually putting effort into a role.

MIXED BAG:

The Arcade: Between a delay in the opening due to troubling road conditions (the The Ugly below for details), some machines showing their age, and popular Japanese arcade provider Tokyo Attack not attending this year, there's definitely some setbacks this year.

However, one thing that I can compliment is the selection of games at the arcade this year. Along with titles that I've seen at previous MAGFests, there were also some fresh stuff this year as well. Among some the titles that were new (at least to me) at the con this year include Solar Assault (an arcade game that's a spin-off of the Gradius franchise), F-Zero GX (an arcade version of the popular Nintendo racing series) and the Azumanga Daioh version of Puzzle Bobble.

Meanwhile, on the pinball side of things, some of the "new to MAGFest" tables were interesting. To begin with, this year, they had restored version of the 1967 Gottlieb machine King of Diamonds up and running, giving gamers an idea of what their parents or grandparents were playing 50 years ago. As for pinball of today, the two most recent Stern pinball machines were on the arcade floor at the con. While the most recent one, which is the most recent table based on the Star Wars franchise, was limited to those taking part in the pinball tournament, the other machine, based on Guardians of the Galaxy, was among the many tables set for free play at the event, with it definitely being one of the more popular machines over the weekend.

Dealers' Hall: Nothing really much to say this year in terms of this area, as it's the same experience that it's been in recent years in terms of both dealers (with its mix of used video game sellers, Artist Alley-style vendors, and board game dealers) and my purchases (from me importing DJ Max Respect to purchases of a 3D printer statue of Shiva from Final Fantasy VII and a plushie of a sleeping Kirby). However, at long last, I finally did something that I was hoping to do for some time: purchase an arcade controller to use when I play games on my laptop computer (be it emulations or games I bought in Steam/GOG). The fact that said controller was $50 was also good news, given how I do need to watch my money so that way I can have some for Katsucon.

THE BAD:

Dealers' Hall Issues Return This Year. Once again, the issues that I have with how the Dealers' Hall was handled last year (opening it the same time as almost the rest of the Exhibit Hall; a later opening time as a result of this; putting the MAGFest Merchandise area in the Exhibit Hall) reared its ugly head again this year. If there's some good news to this, it's the fact that not only did the room opened an hour earlier this year when compared to last year, but also, with Awesomely Bad Japanese Music Videos happening the same time as the opening of the room, I probably avoided the initial mess of people trying to get into the area when it opened.

Poor Communications. I'm sure I'm not only when I say that MAGFest could have warned people ahead a time about a few things, and I do have a couple of how poor communications can have a negative effect.

The first example is autograph sessions were handled by going online and using your badge number to book a spot in one in your desired session. As someone who had planned to "camp out" an hour before one session in order to ensure an autograph, the news was a sigh of relief. However, if you're trying to attend a session just before it started, you may be taken by surprise by the need to sign up online for a session (and very mad if said session ends up having all the autograph slots taken),

The second example of poor communications comes in the form of MAGFest Challenge 2.0. Nowhere on the official MAGFest web site or their Facebook page was it mentioned that the MAGFest Challenge would be coming back, and by the time found out about it, it was already early Saturday afternoon. As such, as someone who actually planned to leave MAGFest early on Saturday, I didn't really have that much time to to enjoy it as I hoped I could.

THE UGLY:

The Weather: This year, MAGFest happened to take place during a period where the East Coast was hit by a "bomb cyclone". The good news is that in terms of snowfall, while schools were still closed on Thursday and Friday because of it (and the cold weather), the DC area only got 1-2 inches of snow, with roads being mostly manageable by late Thursday morning/ early Thursday afternoon. However, the weather did have some negative effects for the weekend. Convention wise, the icy conditions Wednesday night resulted in a three-hour delay in the opening of the arcade area (which isn't too big of a deal, when you consider how previous Gaylord-hosted MAGFests would space out the openings of various areas in the Expo Hall). As for National Harbor itself, while I could tolerate walking in the cold to get a bite to eat at a restaurant across from the hotel, the Arctic conditions made it pretty much impossible to really explore the area, which is troublesome for me, as I was hoping to stop at the Peeps store and pick up a sweatshirt for my niece after the one that my mother got for her for Xmas ended up being too small.

As usual, I'm concluding my report with my cosplay photo album.