MAGfest (or the Music and Gaming Festival) is the Woodstock of conventions. By that, I mean you can see several hours of live music, get drunk, play Pac-Man Versus with a bunch of random strangers at five o’clock in the morning, stumble into your room hours later, then wake up early in time to attend an intellectual panel on the issue of gender dynamics within the video game industry. It’s a hell of an event, and this year’s was bigger than ever: attendance grew to (ugh) over 9,000 and the annual Child’s Play charity auction hypefest brought in over 20,000 dollars. Continue Reading
When looking at my list of my most anticipated games of 2012, one would find a lot of the usual suspects. That new Tony Hawk game looks pretty sweet (especially if the original soundtracks make it in), Diablo 3 is going to be amazing, and whatever the hell Valve is up to is going to be a day one purchase. However, I made the list while kind of drunk, so I’m really confused about this one entry. It is called “Nomolos” and next to it, I drew a tiny doodle of a cat in armor humping an old NES and saying “You never forget your first”.
Curious about this poorly animated mystery, I found a business card from a small team called Gradual Games. Ah, now all the blurry memories come flooding back. I remember a small, unassuming table with a single monitor, 3 eager, tired developers, and a demo for an upcoming NES action game.
Yes, that’s right, an upcoming NES action game. Yes, that NES. Nomolos is a totally original action platformer in the vein of classics like Ninja Gaiden or Castlevania. Except, it’s not just an homage to classic games, it is a classic game. Gradual Games has built the entire game from the ground up using old NES assembly language. They expanded the memory from 128k to 256k, but other than that, the game will see a physical release for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
So, putting the novelty of an actual NES game coming into the world, how is the game itself? Can it live up to the hype of being the singular NES release of 2012, or is the whole thing a gimmick?
It’s totally awesome.
I got to run through two levels and a boss battle, and so far, the game is shaping up to be stellar, and on it’s own merits at that. The gameplay is everything that was right with NES games of the era, with a bit of modern design philosophy to temper the “Nintendo difficulty” that prevents so many younger gamers from enjoying classic games. The controls feel tight and less floaty than most of the games from the era, and the deaths, though frequent, never feel unfair. Masochists and Super Meat Boy fans will not be disappointed if my demo was any indication of the challenges to come.
The art is a gorgeous trip down memory lane and really stretches the hardware available to its limits. Every sprite is amazing and the artist obviously has a firm grasp on how to emote on a tight pixel budget.
Talking to this new studio was the icing on an already tasty cake. Each member seemed really passionate about the game and the role that they played in making it. Their energy was infectious and really made the demo experience all the more gratifying (and each new level nervewracking). It is obvious that this project is made with boundless love for the games of yesteryear and if even a fragment of that gets into the final shipped product, it is going to be time to dust off that NES.
Check out the trailer and gameplay footage below.
Magfest 9 was a landmark event in my life. It took my con virginity, but it still called afterwards. I met a lot of really cool people in January 2011 from all around the country. It was a small intimate con of 3,100 people stuffed like a sausage into an undersized venue overflowing with alcohol, poor judgment and a 24 hour elevator party.
Magfest 10 was like someone took that ragtag con with the amazing energy and gave it a budget. It’s easy to screw up something when you have a lot of money riding on it. After all, with a new venue, bigger ambitions, and more than double the previous year’s attendees, the Magfest guys had a lot of pressure to bring the sexiness.
And bring it they did.
Magfest 10 kept everything that was great about previous years and just made it bigger, better and louder. Glados and the Sniper from Team Fortress 2 made some incredibly memorable appearances, there were more free to play video games than can be truly comprehended (including a actual full-sized Taiko Drum Master cabinet) and an incredibly rare performance by the musical genius Nobou Uematsu (Final Fantasy and Blue Dragon) and his band: the Earthbound Papas.
Add on top of that the dozens of panels and 3 nights of concerts featuring The Oneups, The Megas, Armcannon, Metroid Metal, Brentalfloss as well as a dozen chiptune artists, a giant LAN center, more awesome swag than one geek can handle, a dedicated tabletop section and even a persistent Jam Space for musicians, this con had a bit of everything for everyone. I have failed to mention all of the non-sanctioned room party fun, but what happens in Washington D.C. should probably just stay there.
It’s almost too much. The difference though between Magfest and other larger cons is that it strikes the a really good balance between stuff to do and being totally open ended. Panels featuring the Angry Video Game Nerd, Hey Ash Whatcha Playing and Ellen Mclain were scheduled opposite of concerts so that attendees weren’t forced to divide loyalties too much. Though I did have to choose between going to a voice acting panel featuring a handful of amazing, talented working voice actors within the videogame industry and playing Taiko Drum Master over and over. In the end, I chose to go hang out with Glados, but my heart was in the game room.
That’s not to say there weren’t downsides to all this new found popularity. With double the attendees, lines were noticeably longer all around, and every major event was lost in a swarm of eager nerds. The con is sure to lose fans for a less personal, less intimate feeling.
Not me though. Magfest has become an absolute must on my yearly activity schedule. The more the merrier, and they heard our merriment for miles around. Magfest has a unique soul that I haven’t found a substitute for as of yet. The people there are really pumped to be there and everyone comes together to celebrate that one great passion that unites us all: video games.
This morning on NPR (National Public Radio) there was a feature about video game music as well as MAGfest. I have always liked NPR because they often have neat stories about stuff you typically don’t hear about on the news. Today is no different. They discuss the topic of Video Game music with Nobuo Uematsu as well as Daniel Behrens of Armcannon. To hear the audio of this great news story, click here . How does video game music make you feel?