Sunday, January 22, 2017

Finding the Magic at Magfest

It's the beginning of a new year, so you know what that means folks? That's right! Magfest has come and gone once again, and I am here to provide an overview/write-up to what I have considered to be one of the most consistently enjoyable convention experiences I've had for the last 5 years. Much like those prior years, Magfest 2017 was absolutely no exception in the now traditional fun factor, as tons of merriment was had, albeit in a more group oriented form, as I had at least two good friends around me at all times set to share.

Unfortunately it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, as this year marked a big change in Magfest's registration policy. As of this year, single-day registrations have went the way of the Dodo. Apparently Magfest's attendance numbers have shot up through the roof, and the convention can no longer afford to sell day passes, and instead has it set up to where one can only/must purchase a full-weekend ticket.

While I'm the kind of attendee who likes to go the whole four days of the con, I have several friends who honestly can only afford to go for one day out of the event, so removing the option of a single-day reg. is a huge disservice to folks like them, and can be a bit disheartening to say the least. Never mind the fact that the at-door premium for registration increased substantially too. What was once a $45.00 at-door fee increased to $80.00, and that inflated price has made me fearful of how the rising costs could hurt the convention in the long run.

Regardless of my semi-justified price tag worries, great times were had by all, so let's just jump right into it with the write-up proper!

This hallway looks like it's straight outta Star Wars right?
It's a small town inside of a hotel, that's pretty damn sweet.

Glorious Glorious Gaming

Of course you all knew that this segment was going to happen. Perhaps the biggest reason I ever attended Magfest has been for its free arcade gaming. From the long-lived classics such as Dig-Dug, Pac-Man, and Joust, to the modern titles of today, Magfest has some of the best arcade gaming experiences available to anyone willing to play. This year was somewhat notable in the regard that I finally got to play some of the newer titles that I've only ever heard about online.

As a fan of the immensely fun cabinets Virtual On and Cyber Sled, getting to play Konami's Steel Chronicle was pretty badass. The best way to describe Steel Chronicle is essentially to compare it to its contemporary rival in Sega's Border Break. Both games are exceedingly similar to one another in that you're playing a 3rd person mech shooter via joystick (in a semi-similar vein to Virtual On) while using a touch-screen interface for menu selections. What sets Steel Chronicle apart from Border Break is the online component to Steel Chronicle is meant for straight up team gameplay, as opposed to Border Break's team vs team paradigm.

Much like the game Monster Hunter, you can team up with other players in Steel Chronicle and take on enemies that you wouldn't be able to do solo. It's somewhat of a gimmicky novelty for sure, but it was one that made playing the game feel a bit more chaotic in the best way possible. Shouting orders to my teammates via scripted commands (or just giving a yell of what to do next to the cabinet players beside me) to take down an exceptionally large bug monster was a blast, and I even met a couple of cool people from the experience.

What can I say? Nothing like an old-fashioned bug hunt to bring perfect strangers together for a good time.

While I certainly got my share of missions in with Steel Chronicle, I also spent a fair amount of time simply playing older 2-D fighters. Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Last Blade 2, and Rumble Fish 2 are fighters I've highly considered to be on my list of all-time favorite titles, and all of them were available for play in arcade cabinet form. As much as I do enjoy the plethora of 3-D fighters from today (such as Tekken 7, Street Fighter 5, Mortal Kombat X or Killer Instinct) there has been, and always will be a place in my heart for the likes of 2-D pixel graphic fighting games. Getting to play a masterpiece like Garou on a proper SNK cabinet felt so good and so natural to me that it was almost like I had a coming home party playing that game alone. Unfortunately I didn't get as much time as I would've liked with Last Blade 2 or Rumble Fish 2, but just getting to line up and face some solid opponents was a gloriously old-school blast regardless of round count.

Bullet-hell a.k.a. Shoot 'em up games have never been my wheel-house exactly, but my friend Clear Skies and I got some major hours in on Radiant Silver Gun, despite my obvious lack of skill. I have no shame admitting that I'm a total ponce when it comes to the genre, but it didn't stop us from having an incredibly fun run-through all the same. If anything, I can say that playing Radiant Silver Gun for as long as I did, has made me to consider jumping into the Shmup genre proper, and taking it a lot more seriously than I have in the past. 

I know I could never forgive myself I didn't hop on at least one side-scrolling beat-em up at Magfest, and thankfully a rare/definitive classic SNK title, Sengoku 3, was on offer to meet that quota. I've always considered it an absolute crying shame that so few gamers are even aware that Sengoku 3 exists, so seeing it up for play at Magfest made me somewhat giddy with the knowledge that someone out there (in this case the owner of the game) loved Sengoku 3 just as much as me. Hopefully with the immensely fun/successful run I got to play through from start to finish with some younger, unaware players will ultimately result in turning them into fans of the game.

Sexy Spotter Leila Hagitsuki
The star attraction of the whole arcade had to go to none other than Konami's Silent Scope: Bone Eater cabinet. I've seen plenty of note-worthy cabinets in the thirty plus years I've roamed this earth, so trust me when I say that I've never seen an arcade game quite as impressive as this. Oddly enough,  it turns out this bad boy was released all the way back in 2014, and I was completely clueless to its existence. Imagine my surprise when I got to lay eyes on a brand-new Silent Scope game, let alone one with this much effort put into it to make it a truly next-level arcade experience.

Much like the previous Silent Scope games, this cabinet comes with the requisite sniper rifle set-up, but for this new adventure it was also packing in four omni-directional fans around its frame to simulate actual wind currents that can affect a shot. That isn't even considering its glasses-less stereoscopic 3-D dual layered screens that provided mission data, accentuated targeting reticles, and displayed kill-cam play-backs for spectators. Words almost fail to describe how unbelievably cool and advanced looking this cabinet was to behold, and everyone (rightfully so) wanted to get in on the action. It breaks my heart to know that there will probably never ever be a proper home-console port.

Despite my many recent gripes with Konami as a gaming company, I won't deny that they knocked it out of the park with this game. Silent Scrope: Bone Eater truly was the bell of the arcade ball at Magfest this year, and has walked away with the distinct honor of being the most incredible arcade cabinet I have ever seen in my gaming life. If nothing else, I just want to say good on you Konami for making such an undeniably sexy game, not to mention that gorgeous spotter companion character who helps you throughout the missions. My friends and I couldn't get enough of this gorgeous piece of machinery, and I know if I had the necessary cash right now, I would without a doubt buy this sucker in a heartbeat.     

Pinball Paradise

Another non-mystery at this point has been my well accounted affinity for pinball. This year Magfest really outdid itself, as this was the largest selection of pinball tables I've ever seen at the con. Ranging from classics such as Pinbot, Black Hole, Twister, and Black Knight 2000, to the more recent tables such as Medieval Madness, Tron: Legacy, and The Big Lebowski, it was a veritable smorgasbord of whatever table you wanted, as you were more than likely going to find it. Granted, not all the beloved classics like Elvira: Scarred Stiff, Hook, or Jurassic Park were present, but we had Terminator 2, Starship Troopers, ACDC, Flash Gordon, Indiana Jones, and Fun House to fill the gap.

Most of my wizardry was spent playing the likes of The Sopranos, Medieval Madness, Bride of Pinbot, and The Big Lebowski. I'm a sucker for triple deck tables (such as my all-time favorite table Haunted House, which sadly wasn't there) and The Big Lebowski stands as the only other triple deck I've seen that was just as engaging to play as Haunted House was. Not to mention that it's The Big Lebowski people...

Without a doubt we spent a vast portion of Magfest doing nothing else but playing pinball, but to Clear Skies, Zilof, Crybringer, and myself, there was no other better way to spend time. Sometimes all we geeks need is a solid fight for the high scores to have a rip-roaring blast.

Slim Indies

Unlike last year's Magfest, the indie games for 2017 were somewhat slim pickings. That doesn't mean there weren't titles there, but compared to prior cons, this was borderline anemic. Outside of a very small handful of new games (none of which left a lasting impression unfortunately) most of the notable ones were hold-overs from previous events..

Don't get me wrong, it was still fun playing Nothing Good Can Come of This, or Crystal Brawl. All of the returning titles are just as fun, engaging, and solid as they've ever been, but if nothing else I just wished that we could've had some newer blood so that I could simply have something to look forward to. Not to be rude, but I feel like I can only see Guns of Icarus holding the main floor but so many times.

Cosplay Chasm

For the first time in my Magfest attendance, my group and I didn't get out to any of the concerts being held. I frankly consider it a shame too because Machinae Supremacy was there again, and from what little I could hear (and feel) they certainly rocked the house. At minimum I can say that I did watch some bands performing in the halls (like Super Soul Bros.)  but that isn't really the same is it?

At least there was tons of excellent cosplay this year, and you best believe I went around grabbing as many photos as I could. While I'm still lacking in a nice camera to truly indulge in photography effectively, I feel I did get some pretty sweet shots. From Rocky Horror Picture Show to Teen Titans, to Overwatch, there was seldom a fandom that wasn't represented in cosplay form at Magfest 2017 and here they are!

Boba Fett
Xmas Sonico
Gorgeous Mei
The Red Ranger fights with a Green spirit.
Don't know the character, but she looks cool.
Ashley Riot as Mjr. Kusanagi
Cindy is ready for work!
Nina rocking Wonder Woman again.
Cute Star Fire
First Zarina cosplay I've seen.
Delightfully Deadly Millena
Tifa Lockhart
Fantastic Kefka
EXOT1C Dynasty's amazing Scorpion.
Rayden Shocks
Guess you could say I'm a FAN of Kitana's.
Perhaps the best cosplay photo I've taken.
This Jill is no sandwich.
Kneel before Zod!
Ruby Rose is ready for action!
Can't go wrong with 90's Rogue.
Columbia/Little Nell
A great shot of Yuna.
Catwoman and Harley Quinn
The Silent Hill Nurses.
Cindy, Prompto, Noctic, and Lady Lunafreya.
Juri and Cammy team up.
Realm and Gau show us how to dap properly.
The Kombat Kast assembles.
Rayden and Scorpion have unfinished business.
Now they must kung-fu fight!

In Conclusion

There wasn't much in the way of personal free-time for me throughout most of 2016. Despite my best efforts, I was overwhelmingly preoccupied with tasks at my work, or at my home, so there wasn't a whole lot time left over at the end of my days to unwind and just game. I think that's why a vast portion of Magfest 2017 was utilized as fundamentally a means of getting back in touch with my somewhat neglected inner gamer. While I didn't get to play every single game I wanted to, I do feel that I effectively rekindled my love for gaming, and left the con (oddly enough) with a rejuvenated spirit to the notion of sitting back and playing some games.

All too often it's easy to find one's self falling into the pit of a homogenized daily grind, devoid of fun or pleasure. With Magfest 2017, I reminded myself how important it is to just let go, and allow myself to enjoy the moment.

From my recording with John and Ellen (which will be posted to BCR soon enough) to having nothing more than a nice long chat with my friends about what videogames actually mean to us as individuals, everything about this Magfest seemingly traced back to rediscovering the magic that made us love this medium to begin with. I feel I can say that the magic is still there, and it's strong as it's ever been.

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