Ari Rockefeller presents MAGFest #11 — Single Player Action

One thing that I like about going to conventions is that I always have my retinue of fellow Anime Jam Session staff and crew rolling with me. It’s always nice and always comforting to have them along, even if the best laid plans of mice and otaku can blow up in a goddamn instant. But my first journey to MAGFest—in this case, #11—would essentially be a solo operation. Not that big a deal, I thought. I do enjoy new experiences as much as the next guy, and while it wasn’t quite Metal Gear Solid, I did feel like there were a lot of procure-on-sight shenanigans going on.

Scheduling for MAGFest was a trial in and of itself; a coworker asked to switch shifts with me, meaning I’d work one of hers and she’d work one of mine. She wanted Christmas off, in exchange for whatever day I needed. “Well holy extra holiday pay, Batman,” I thought, and jumped right at the opportunity. I didn’t get that Thursday off, but I feel that a convention that goes four days is more prone to invoking burnout than a three-day con. Even with the extra money in my wallet, you’d think I’d be upset about having to work most of the day on Christmas…but with members of my family widening the rift between me and them combined with borderline second-class-citizen treatment in my own home, I’m not exactly singing Joy to the Goddamn World.

Once the scheduling was taken care of, I loaded up my car and drove straight from work to the DC area. This is where the unfamiliarity starts to set in. See, a lot of personal bullshittery happened behind the scenes leaving yours truly as the sole representative. Thankfully, I had a room secured with a mutual friend, so my sleeping arrangements weren’t that big an issue. And what a goddamn room it was. You ever be on an airplane and have one of those I’m-never-flying-coach-again moments? That’s what this hotel suite felt like to me.

If only my registration had been as smooth.

I arrived much earlier than my contact for the room, and was stuck waiting around with my luggage (though that was easily put in storage for a little while) while waiting to register. This is when the problems came. First, my supposed registration shat the bed. Then the staff’s computer network shat the bed. Then I learned that you don’t get your press credentials in the same place you get your any other kind of special credentials (dealer, guest, etc.). Thankfully the staff was courteous and mostly helpful in getting my problems ironed out. And just in time, because I was finally able to get into the room. It looked nicer than some apartments I’ve been in. The Gaylord also had a special on parking…which is a relief considering the mess getting out of the parking lot was when I was here for Katsucon.  Only $14 to self-park, even if the lots and garage require a bit of a hike…it’s certainly much better than the $36 a night to use the valet. Talk about highway robbery. In the end that night, I snapped a bunch of photos—which you can find on our Facebook page—and spend the night bullshitting with my roommates on topics from anime to professional wrestling…not very much different from conversations between myself and DJ Ranma on the podcast proper.

Around 7:00 Friday morning, the fire alarm sounded. This was met with a sense of confusion and fuck-this-shit. No one had the motivation to get out of bed and walk outside in their pajamas into the freezing cold…and when it was brought up in a later panel, the reaction was, “Unless someone’s coming door-to-door, I’m not getting up.” Even worse, it wasn’t just a loud noise; it was a robotic voice belting out instructions over and over again, adding to the irritation. Well, turns out, it was a false alarm—rather, an electrical malfunction, which caused the alarm to go off and got everyone irritated. Thankfully it was met with jokes than anything else throughout the weekend.

My first order of business on Friday was to get some breakfast. I was planning on cosplaying, but I didn’t really feel like getting into character so swiftly. So I simply got redressed and headed down to the Pienza, located directly in the Gaylord itself. I heard about it the night before, one of the signs advertising a breakfast buffet. How can I say no to that? So I went in and ate my fill. It had plenty of stuff both hot and cold, all of it good, and had an omelet bar to boot. Everything was very good and the coffee and/or juices could flow like water, but the $20 cost could be a little bit pricey. In general, the food at and around the hotel was costly as fuck-all, and the only real reason I indulged at the buffet was because I didn’t see myself eating lunch that day (I didn’t). Throughout the day I would be taking pictures of other people in costume and handing out my cards en masse. The one thing I did notice is that, since it wasn’t primarily an anime convention, there wasn’t nearly as much cosplay as you’d see in places like Otakon or AnimeNEXT. Granted, the cosplayers who were there put out a wonderful effort, but on the whole, the cosplayers per capita was lower than typical geek/nerd/otaku style conventions.

The first major panel I attended on Friday was a Tetris tournament, held mostly for fun than any serious prizes. Still, I feel I may have put too much pressure on myself to do good, given I see myself as pretty good at Tetris, though not nearly at the level of the game’s grand masters. The tournament was single elimination, and as long as you won a game, you got something; obviously the further you got, the more/better stuff you got. The event was hosted by John Patrick Lowrie, a.k.a. The Sniper from Team Fortress 2, a.k.a. the guy who is married to Ellen McLain, the voice of GLaDOS from Portal. The game was shot on a projection screen—nice and big, gives everyone a chance to see. But the problem was that I was staring at the screen so much even when it wasn’t my turn that I felt my eyes starting to strain. So when it finally got to my game, I made a ton of amateur-level mistakes and lost a match I should’ve won. But I don’t sweat it.

After that, I managed to get back to the hotel room, got changed, and found my way to the hotel’s pool. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t experienced before, but considering it was on the opposite end of the hotel from where I was staying, the hike was certainly new. Something that was new at the pool (or maybe I simply didn’t notice from last time) were these crane-like apparatuses with seats on the end; as I later learned, they were for assisting the disabled in and out of the pool.

The next panel I visited after getting out of the pool (and getting showered, obviously; I didn’t want to walk around the convention stinking of chlorine) was “You Can Play This Live!” with JewWario. He and I had gotten acquainted at this past year’s Otakon, and he was a lot of fun to talk to. Among other things Kamen Rider related he talked about, he gave us a sneak peek of his fan series FamiKamen Rider. It’s set to debut in spring of 2013, and I will most definitely be tuning in for it.

While in between panels and eating, and in times when I wasn’t collecting pictures for our Facebook page, I schlepped around the Dealers’ Room and Game Room/s. The Dealers’ Room also combined the Artists’ Alley, and there were all number of artists, merchants and musicians (because music = art, fucking duh) hocking their wares. There were several game rooms, all surrounding the Dealers’ Room. One was for various arcade gaming, everything from old-school  arcade classics to pinball and everything else you can imagine, one was for consoles and PCs, and the other was for tabletop gaming. Wait, tabletop gaming, I asked? This was absolutely wonderful, I thought. All matter of board and card games were available for play—benign stuff like Scrabble and Monopoly, to rare, “offbeat” games like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Agricola, the kind of games you feel no one else has heard about and are seen as “weird” but you are elated when you find other people who not only have heard of them but you don’t have to explain the rules to.

Oh, and in regards to the arcade section of the Game Rooms—do you feel that a convention just isn’t a convention unless there’s an inane, pointless phrase to shout over the course of the weekend? Well then congratulation! You’re a mythical creature on par with leprechauns and unicorns, and you will be locked in a museum and put on display. The rest of the convention—the sane, rationally thinking con goers, that is—got to suffer through just that. See, they had two copies of the X-Men Arcade game (only one was working). And the meme du jour for MAGFest 11 was based in that very game. Specifically, it was the sound Colossus makes when he activates his mutant ability, which is accompanied by, among other things, his battle cry…which is a loud “OhhhhhhHHHHHH!” So all con long, you could hear people shouting this whenever there were big crowds gathered. No provocation, no setup, just a surprise “OhhhhhhHHHHHH!” And all it took was one person screaming it to start others mimicking it like parrots. At least other memes are phrases, or at least actual words; proliferating this grunt just made everyone look stupid.

It was sometime after the YCPT panel and after some wandering around the Dealers’ Room that I decided to get dinner. As usual, there were numerous restaurants nearby to choose from, but they were overpriced and overcrowded throughout the entire weekend. I didn’t want to take any risks on paying to leave the parking lot, since given my prior experience with the hotel, I was fully expecting them to hold me upside down by the ankles and shake me until all my money fell out. And it was too cold for me to walk, and I didn’t bring any winter coats…which is irresponsible enough even without cold weather being the bane of my existence, making it harder for me to breathe as the temperature decreases. The night prior I had ordered pizza from a nearby Domino’s that delivered to the hotel. They had some pretty good deals, which I was glad to take advantage of. Friday night was my biggest mistake of the convention…

I had decided on eating at the National Pastime sports bar that was right there in the Gaylord. Again, a little overpriced, but not nearly as bad as some of the places in town. As it was just me, I sat at the bar and ordered dinner—a simple hamburger and fries. Generally, medium is the lowest setting at which I’ll order meat at a restaurant. I should’ve sensed something was wrong when I took a bite and the entire inside was pink (I think I even tasted blood, too…). “But why didn’t you just send it back?” I was asked over the weekend. Well, because I also requested “no onions” but they somehow managed to botch that; what makes you think they’d be willing to take back something so blatantly undercooked? I’ve seen the movie Waiting; it wouldn’t surprise me if someone played hockey with my undercooked burger before serving it back to me.

Of course, my I’m-supposed-to-be-smarter-than-this ass just ate and forgot about it, toddling on the rest of the night, eventually closing out the night with two panels I had been especially looking forward to. The first was “Jon St. John: Voiceover Whore.” It’s every bit as serious and nuanced as you think it would be going by the title alone. Jon St. John, King of MAGFest had his own panel at around midnight, where he talked about his voice-acting career in grueling detail. He even opened by running down the laundry list of roles he’s had to date. This segment was also done via a segment he jokingly referred to as “Uncle Jon’s Story Time,” where he invited people to sit on the floor in between the chairs and the dais where the panelists occupy…and there were so many who jumped at the offer that MAGFest staff had to warn them to not block the aisle. As he rifled off his many roles, ones that people recognized were called out by the fans (e.g. calling out “Duke Nukem!” for Duke Nukem games and “Big the Cat!” for Sonic Adventure titles). It was also here that we learned that Mr. St. John has a burning, seething hatred for Big the Cat, calling his character/role/existence stupid and it being completely out of place in the Sonic universe. He also gave us a debut of Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, where he voices the main character. If it’s as fun as the first game was, the sequel will be a sure hit. Oh, and a fan gave him, as a gift, a flying fuck. That’s not an exaggeration; she modified an Air Hogs RC helicopter so that it was just the engine/base with the word FUCK handcrafted from craft foam on each side. He thought it was funny as hell.

It’s not like me to attend panels after midnight unless it’s something I really want to hear about or hosted by someone I really wanted to meet and/or hang with. The former was the case for the panel after that, the Botchamania panel, hosted by series creator Maffew. Aside from a general bitching/praising of the current state of professional wrestling, Maffew also showed off a bunch of image macros that he might use in future releases, and even showed of a ROHMania video—essentially, Botchamania with nothing but Ring of Honor footage, as Ring of Honor is insanely harsh on people using their footage without permission in virtually any capacity. He also agreed to pose for a picture with me. Thanks, Maffew!

This was also the night things started going south.

That bad burger I talked about earlier? Yeah, about 3:00 AM said burger came back with a vengeance. Starting at that time, I spent about half of the remaining night on the toilet, my body going into an all-out revolt on me. I’ll spare you the details, mostly because people might be eating when reading this. But suffice to say, for the next 18-24 hours, I would be adjourning to the bathroom every half-hour to forty-five minutes. At about the six-hour mark, I started to feel sorry for the many toilets in the Gaylord, and I was mentally asking just why this was happening—I mean that in a physical sense, to clarify. I hadn’t consumed anything that day except water…well, water, and a pack of Pepto Bismol tablets I picked up at the little convenience store right there in the Gaylord.

I did manage to get to one panel that day, “Pokéholics Anonymous.” It was run by the group Underbelly, the same people who got Stuart Zagnit to record a PSA about Pokémon wandering around in tall grass. Funnily enough, he actually returned for a cameo role in a later episode of the “Best Wishes” arc of Pokémon: the dubbing crew thought a character looked a lot like Oak, so they thought it’d be funny if he came in and did the voice. The group also showed off another video they did, featuring a real Pokéholics Anonymous meeting, where people getting far too in to the franchise met, like AA, though many, including the Red cosplayer Jeff, believed they were the characters. The highlight came when two dropouts cosplaying as incredibly well done Jessie and James—with a cat with a coin taped to its forehead to recreate Meowth—came in and wrecked the meeting, causing mass relapses.

Sadly, that was the only major panel I wound up attending on Saturday. I did attempt to sign up for a Pokémon Puzzle League tournament, but by the time I got there, all the slots were filled. I had better luck with a Settlers of Catan tournament, but a) I could barely keep myself awake, and b) the rest of our pod got rolled on, the fourth player outscoring the first three within about 10 minutes of play. I wound up dropping out after the first game of the first round, and crashed for about an hour and a half back in my room. Truth is that I was feeling incredibly worn down from the night before, what with the bad dinner and lack of sleep. I’m not sure if it was just severe diarrhea or food poisoning, but the end result was I was wandering around pale, half-asleep, and more than a bit inattentive. I couldn’t have been operating at greater than 50%. The worst part is that I felt I was hurting the site by not getting all the information on it as I could, even if these con reviews recount my personal experiences with the convention, good or bad.

Also, how sad is it that despite spending more time on the toilet than any time in my recent recollection that this isn’t the worst con experience I’ve ever had?

I ended up waking up about after crashing on the room’s couch. I felt…a little better, probably because I had recovered some of that lost sleep. I was hungry, but didn’t want to risk trying to get down anything major lest the night before repeat itself. Thankfully I was able to get down some tortilla chips and some Gatorade to keep me somewhat stable.

Aside from snapping photos and wandering around, I found my way back to the game room, where I played a bunch of board games with some to-be fans of the site. One very unique game I was introduced to was Dixit, a game based around storytelling. It involves using cards with beautiful art on them to describe a story with the card, while others pitched in their cards that best described the given phrase to describe their card. You got points based on who did or didn’t guess correctly. It was fun, though the game can be short with the limited number of cards, and the rules technically state that it’s over once the deck runs out (or if someone hits 30 points). Then, after that group dispersed, I dropped in on some Munchkin players, and we had all sorts of fun dicking one another over. The game was cut short when the rest of the group went to a concert. I had planned on attending some matter of concert on Saturday night, bug given my health scenario, I was worried that getting into it with the rest of the crowd just might end up with me shitting myself and looking incredibly foolish.

Then, Sunday came, and I was feeling much better. We packed up everything and said our goodbyes, and I attended one last panel: the Channel Awesome Meet-n-Greet. Several contributors were there for the convention for one reason or another, and I was able to add Matthew Buck a.k.a. Film Brain and Nash Bozard to the list of TGWTG contributors I’ve met (You’ve got company, JewWario!). I briefly brought up the idea of Film Brain tearing apart Vampires Suck, but he said that a) he doesn’t do the Seltzer and Friedberg stuff anymore, and b) he was introduced to a Twilight parody called “Breaking Wind” was abysmal. Nash and I, well…we just felt like goofing off for the (my) camera.

It was after that panel that I took my leave of MAGFest. I packed up the car and got out of the parking lot…without paying anything for parking. It wasn’t out of malice or anything; I told them I was here for the convention (I still had my badge around my neck!), I handed them my room keys, and…they just opened the gate. I was flatfooted for a second, but soon decided to just fucking drive out, lest the Gaylord staff decide to change their mind. The traffic going home was smooth and I got home quicker than my GPS suggested. However, as I hit the last quarter of the drive home, the same road was one that I drove up and down regularly for work, so when I got home, it felt like I got done from a long day of work rather than a 3½ day convention.

I had never even heard the term “MAGFest” until around the mid-2000s, when I was introduced to the fan film River City Rumble. Hell, said first introduction came in the lyrics to the song “River City Rap” that was on the soundtrack—You know I’m fucking crazy, I’m a cracker with some flow / When I sold all my bling-bling from DJ Potato / I like to spend my time just chilling with my friends / MAGFest Ver. 2; the party never ends. I was interested to see just how good this convention could be, given stories from others and tall-tale-like exploits of guests such as Jon. St. John. And as badly as things went south on Saturday, I still had a good time. The Gaylord is a nice albeit pricey hotel, the rooms were top shelf, and I had a nice crew to stay with. I want to go back and do this again, with the full intention of not repeating the same mistakes I made the con prior. So there’s your prediction for next year: I’ll be back, with a vengeance.

Just don’t eat at the National Pastime restaurant if you can help it.

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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