Every MAGFest I have attended so far has been a better experience than the last one. This one, my fourth, easily tops all previous years. I met wonderful people, had interesting conversations, listened to brilliant live music, and got to play awesome games.
I’m writing this blog post on a plane from the D.C. area, where MAGFest is held, to Seattle on the other side of the United States. The convention ended yesterday (which, to be specific, was Sunday 21st) but I and my dear friend Carrie stayed for another day, to get some well-needed time for winding down and decompressing after four intense convention days.
Thankfully, I adjusted to the time zone after just one night’s sleep and managed to sleep well every consecutive night. We had fantastic weather every day, so I started each morning with a nice walk in the crisp winter air, I kept myself sane and happy in the daytime through judicious use of my moulded earplugs and keeping myself well-fed as well as entertained in between my duties.
The gaming scene has developed quite a large and diverse musical sub-scene, with some real superstars and widely renowned performers drawing huge crowds. Both aforementioned ensembles were like who’s-who supergroups of players well-known in gaming circles, some I was also familiar with, and some with whom I was not.
One of the things I like most about MAGFest, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, is the great variety of concerts held during the convention. This year’s lineup did slightly disappoint me as I had hoped for a better acoustic concert offering, but I did go to two progressive rock/funk/metal concerts that were both insanely good: Ro Panuganti’s Prog Experience, and Dom Palombi’s Game Night.
Charlie Rosen, bassist and leader of the 8-Bit Big Band headlined a kind of sightreading concert-slash-challenge where he and a small group of other musicians would play game songs suggested live by the audience. I really wanted to attend, but the line was so long that they filled up the auditorium before I even reached the door.
Funny story: On the way to the convention, I met that game’s audio director at the bus stop. I was wearing my corgi hat, and because the game’s lead character is a corgi, we started chatting. I have been casually but intently following Breeze in the Cloud’s development, so it was a real treat to play a demo at the convention as well as hang out with a few of the developers. The game looks like it will have it all: beautiful, hand-drawn art; catchy and varied music; fun and interesting gameplay; and a unique, interesting plot.
Another upcoming game that really caught my eye was My Familiar. It is a love letter made by and for those of us who grew up with 1990s console role-playing games like Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, and the Mario & Luigi RPG series. It also had some great music, fun gameplay and an art style, plot and characters that immediately stood out from the crowd. Besides the animated trailer embedded below, you can take look at a gameplay trailer here.
I also look forward to keeping in touch with people I met at the convention, like the pianist and arranger Trevor Alan Gomes, who performed in several concerts and also held a fun and informative panel on writing for solo piano. He kept it fairly simple to make it accessible to as many as possible, so not much of what he said was new to me, but it was entertaining still, and it is good to brush up on the basics too. Gomes has also released several arrangement albums of music from different video games.
Choral conductor and arranger Ethan Hart teaches music in middle school (now that is an unsung hero if there ever was one!) and leads the choir of the community ensemble Baltimore Gamer Symphony Orchestra & Choir.
Hart led one of my favourite events of the convention: a sight-reading choir session! We were upwards of 50 singers learning a four-part setting of Martin O’Donnell’s plainchant-inspired theme from the Halo series, a fun a cappella arrangement of Kazumi Totaka’s iconic Mii Shop theme, and the beautiful The Light We Cast by Jessica Curry from Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. (Get the sheet music for the latter from publisher Faber Music!)
I have to say, attending this year’s MAGFest reawakened my desire to get back into the gaming scene. I used to want to work as a game music composer for such a long time but have more or less given up on it entirely in recent years, focussing on concert music instead (yes, I mean classical music, but I kind of loathe that term as regular readers probably know by now).
Being marinated in all the creativity and enthusiasm of the gaming scene for four days straight made me want to be an active participant again and not only a consumer of – or advocate for! – game music. My passion for game music has always remained, even as my professional ambitions have at least temporarily moved elsewhere.
I still want to put most of my effort this year into my projects for the Octava Chamber Orchestra (to be premiered this June!) and the Royal Swedish Opera (to be premiered next June!). I also have a couple of smaller choral and chamber ideas in the back of my head.
However, I would also really like to test the gaming waters a bit again. Perhaps take part in a game jam to begin with. I know I have the compositional chops, I just haven’t applied them in this context in a while. I need to brush up on my production skills, too, and finally put all of my expensive sampled instruments through their paces.
This could become an exciting year, indeed. If you haven’t already subscribed to the blog, what’s keeping you?