Thursday, January 12, 2012

MAGfest X: Prologue and Day 1

I've been wanting to attend MAGfest since I first heard of its existence back in 2010.  This past weekend, I did just that.  I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write some blog posts giving a recap of my experiences there, but what I didn't know was that it was going to be the story of a huge change in my life as a person.

In the days leading up to the trip I started to get really, really nervous.  I was going because I wanted the chance to meet Derek Alexander and James Rolfe, to play a ton of video games and hopefully make some friends.  About the only part of that that wasn't scary to me was playing video games.  What if I made an ass of myself in front of these people I admire?  What if I didn't get along with anyone?  I had seen someone claim that MAGfest was a con for extraverts and I was anything but.  I was sharing a room with six people and only knew two of them, had only known those people for about a year.  I had heard stories of socially awkward nerds saying they felt at home at cons, but what if that didn't apply to me?  What if I was the weirdo even amongst weirdos?

So after much agonizing and nail biting and lack of sleep, I arrived in the Washington DC area around 2:30 on the day before the con began.  First thing we did after check in was what we would continue to struggle with for most of the trip:  Try to find affordable food.  The convention was inside a very nice hotel, which unfortunately meant no freebies to speak of and only really expensive restaurants inside.  Fortunately we ended up finding a Takeout Taxi type of delivery service which made this more bearable for most of the trip.  We also eventually got some food from the grocery and CVS, meaning there were a lot of PB&J sandwiches eaten that weekend.

There wasn't really a whole lot to do on Wednesday beyond getting our badges and wristbands.  You could tell a few other people had checked in early like us, but it was still largely deserted.  I actually spotted Derek Alexander in the hallways when we were walking about, but he looked to be headed somewhere with a purpose and I did not have the guts to bother him at that point anyway.

Four out of my five roommates all knew each other from playing D&D together online, and the other roommate had a decent amount of experience with the game before.  I played all of one game in the past, and was generally frustrated with the lack of actual role playing I did in it.  My point being, this early on I felt like everyone else had something in common and I didn't, and that I didn't really belong.  They were talking about going to a party being held in another room, and at that point I just couldn't do it.  In fact I couldn't seem to do anything but cry.  And then I got mad at myself for crying.  It was a vicious circle. I eventually forced myself to go to the other room and join the party, but found myself with nothing to say to anyone because they were all talking D&D.  I left early and went to bed, promising myself that failing this one night didn't mean my entire weekend was ruined.

Day 1

When I woke up the next morning (at 8 am for some insane reason) I put on my Phoenix shirt, determined to take the "rebirth" theme to heart and start fresh.  I left the room without the two friends I knew and wandered with the others.  The con had not officially begun but most of the rooms were open, so we familiarized ourselves with the layout before heading outside the hotel.  One of our roommies, Gav, is from the UK and he needed to activate his phone for American use temporarily.  It was particularly cold that morning and my Southern self did not enjoy the incredibly chilly air coming off the harbor, that's for sure!

When we got back we ordered pizza and watched an episode of Dr. Who before things finally started to open.  In the arcade room, only about half of the machines were actually turned on and working.  The fighting games were probably the most popular, so we didn't wait around for those.  Instead I tried my hand at Defender (thanks to AdRock's line in "Body Movin'") and found out I had no idea how to play that game at all.  An attempt to play an arcade version of Super Mario Bros went a little better, and I even surprised myself at how good I was at Pac-Man.  I also got to play the Star Trek: The Next Generation version of pinball, which is good because it looked to be broken later on in the con.  This is another complaint about the con in general - far too many of the machines seemed to not work or would break easily.  However it's hard to complain when you're being allowed to play for free.

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A ninja playing Mortal Kombat II.  As they do.

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I separated from everyone in order to catch my first panel - Derek Alexander's Video Production Workshop.  On my way there I had taken the stairs up from floor 1 to floor 2 and was slightly out of breath.  I elected to take the escalator to floor 3.  I must have looked a little worn out because the guy in front of me says, "You're not upset this early on, are you?"  I laughed and told him I was just tired.  He asked me what my shirt was, and I moved the strap of my messenger bag to give him a better look.  "Oh!  I didn't recognize it at first.  I really preferred Rachel more myself anyway."  "Me too!  But sadly they don't sell Rachel shirts, so I take what I can get."  He introduced himself and we shook hands.  Sadly I lost track of him and didn't see him for the rest of  the con.  But it was my first "random encounter" with a like minded person and I was excited about it.  When I got to the panel room, DJ Cutman was still guiding people through how to make a remix, so I got to hear the tail end of that.  I could see Derek standing on the side of the room waiting, talking to his friends Calvin and Pat (better known to the internet as Pat the NES Punk).  Since I was still in complete shy mode, all I could do was text Jak excitedly and take a very blurry picture of Derek from afar.

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I apologize for how bad a pic this truly is.

Derek is best known on the internet for being the Happy Video Game Nerd.  The series started out as a fun parody of the Angry Video Game Nerd series before Derek really made it is his own.  His enthusiasm for the games he talks about can be infectious.  He's branched out into some new series lately, all of which try to bring a more positive focus to reviewing in general.  I get pretty sick of all the negativity out there myself, so Derek's videos tend to be like a breath of fresh air.  The panel had been described on the schedule as Derek taking us through the whole process from recording to editing a video right there in the panel.  Unfortunately he wasn't able to bring all his equipment with him.  Cut him some slack though - the guy came all the way from Alaska to be there!

So instead he gave us some general tips on how to do good video game reviews, and really a lot of the advice also applied to any kind of review.  Here's some of the major things he said:

  • Write the script while you play so it's fresh in your mind.
  • Try to go through the entire game if you can, admit it when you don't.
  •  You may speak differently than you write, so it's best to try to write in your natural speaking cadence instead.
  •  Talk to your audience as if they are intelligent but uninformed.
  •  Record only a paragraph at a time and don't be afraid to re-record when you screw up.
  •  Be interesting, not thorough.
  •  No one is immune to hate.  Don't whine and don't respond to it.  Ever. 
I think that last one is particularly important to all of us who post anything on the internet.  At some point and time, you're going to run into negative feedback.  It's best to simply try to figure out if there's anything valid the people are telling you, take what you can from it, and ignore the rest.

This panel was my first encounter with Pageant Mom.  Being the first day, the panel was not heavily attended and Derek was taking a lot of questions as he went, trying to be as informative as possible.  This lady raised her hand multiple times.  How much did software cost?  What kind of video camera do you need?  Do you really need a Mac or is a PC fine?  How did you get famous?  Is this all you do?  How does someone get noticed?  Basically, her kid has grown up watching these various internet reviewers on Youtube, and he no doubt told her that he wants to be one when he grows up.  Her, being a clueless adult that knows nothing about how these things work and that most of us will never see any real money from doing reviews, thought she'd bring her kid to the con and pester every reviewer out there in an effort to "make this happen" for her kid.  He looked to be about 14 at the oldest, so how that kid was able to stand next to his mom like that and not die of embarrassment is beyond me. 

After the panel I caught up with everyone else to eat and then wander around again.  This time we went to the tabletop section of the ground floor, where there were tons of board games and card games available for you to play at any time.  We ended up picking up Munchkin, and since Breda was the only one of us who had played before, she guided us through it.  Munchkin is a card game that has a bit of role playing quality to it,  but the rules are fairly loose.  Basically you fight monsters and take treasure, and your goal is to reach level 10 first.  It's highly encouraged to cheat or at least screw over the other players to make sure you win.  At first I wasn't really liking it, but once the competition started to heat up it became really fun.  Breda won, probably because with her helping us learn to play so much we didn't start stopping her leveling until it was too late.



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This is technically from before we played, but so what.  Our group from left to right: Chris, me, Gav, Dayna, George, and Breda.

Yes, I'm really short.

That was pretty much it for the night.  We all went to bed semi-early because we had a panel to get to in the morning.

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