Greetings and salutations friends! It’s that time once again for a massive postmortem on PAX East. This year, I’m joined by bory of geekbeatradio who was the head of the MAGFest Jamspace this year and also responsible for booking all of our amazing acts. As this article does traditionally cover both the music and gaming portions of PAX East, bory will be covering the music and I will be covering the games – and as per usual, you can navarkigate to each portion by searching #MUSIC or #GAMES. This time around we’ve got a big article for ya, so don’t hesitate to use those to jump around.
MAGFest Jamspace has always been the best part of PAX East for so many of us who are members of the VGM community. From its humble beginnings in a tiny room with few scheduled performances to its current iteration as a sort of mini-MAGFest – oh, and did we mention open jams? We always have open jams: They are what Jamspace was built upon, to bring performers and attendees together for a chance to take a break from the show floor of PAX East (or any convention that will allow us the space) and both enjoy and create music. PAX East is such a massive event and Jamspace feels like home. It has become a very special place that allows us to showcase the local VGM/nerd community alongside others from all over the country and throughout the world. This year Jamspace hosted over 30 different musical artists from various backgrounds and beginnings, all brought together by MAGFest, geekbeatradio and Boston8bit.
This year something special was going on in Jamspace and from pretty mucvh all that I spoke with about it we all agree. The room looked good the crew was really on point. The lineup was full of talent and spanned many genre. The music pretty much never stopped the entire time. Even the open jams were great and the super jam on Sunday was the perfect way to end the weekend. I wanted this to happen the way it did but I couldn’t have imagined how good it felt to be there. Thank you to everyone involved. We have this little spot in that giant building each year and we used it extremely well this time. We kicked ass and if you were there you kicked ass too! We are already thinking about next year but before we get to that, let’s talk more about this year shall we?
First up we had percussionist, improviser, educator and all around nice guy DOUG PERRY join us for what would be the first of many times he appeared on our stage throughout the weekend . He arrived early with his massive marimba and seamlessly joined in with the Jamspace house band to kick things off this year -the morning of jamming is always such a great way start the event off right (and it turns out giving him a place to store that massive thing benefited all of PAX East, so you are all welcome). This led up to Doug’s solo performance where he only further confirmed his mastery of his instrument as he rolled through his set making it look all too easy. I really enjoyed hearing the cover he did of past Jamspace performer Disasterpiece’s Panacea from the Hyper Light Drifter OST.
THE ARKADIAN is based on the tried and true idea of “what it would sound like if someone took their favorite video games and wrote rock songs about them.” The band made its first appearance this year with their unique style of 70’s rock and roll with nerd and gaming themes. From Pac-Man to Hasslehoff they had us covered – a memorable first appearance in Jamspace to say the least. This kid wails on guitar and wasn’t afraid to show off a bit along the way. If you were lucky enough to be there you might own a custom pick he threw into the audience! If you weren’t, go follow them on social media now and then check out the show they coming up at Salem, MA’s Bit Bar with Dos Cecchini Jr. on May 31st.
FAMILY JULES delivered the standard face-melting power performance featuring a melody of 50 songs in a minute. Seeing this man command that guitar right in front of you is a quite a treat because Jules is a master of his art. We rocked really really hard in that room that day. The crowd filled up and honestly its great to see a good crowd for metal because early Jamspace days had a lot of it and it is so awesome to see a younger and successful generation still carrying on this essential part of VGM! \m| |m/
Also, we’re sorry about what happened with the audio and such during the performance. For more info, check out Jules’ post-event recap video.
SPACE HEATER is a duo from Providence, RI who describes themselves like, “Think Kimbra and Trent Reznor on the moon for a dark disco dance date and the after party is playing Mario Kart at Bjork’s house!” and are accompanied by custom visuals they run from the stage. They wowed the room with a great stage presence and a polished set of mysterious landscapes and beats. Maybe moreso than anyone else, you can say these guys really put on a full set with their blending of theatrics with their music and visuals along with choreography and fantastic costumes.
JAKK is a talented young fella with a lot of drive. His performances always reflect the amount of time he has invested in working on his craft and he never disappoints. JAKK provided us with a mix of upbeat and dancey tracks accompanied by a dynamic range of vocals and even a talk box connected to his keyboard! When this kid belted out his rainbowdragoneyes cover he transformed, and you can see how much he loves it in his performance video.
TRIHEART might as well be called AllHeart <3 Their blend of violin, gameboy and spoken word style rhymes is refreshing, unique and helps bring chiptune to a larger audience. These guys have been my friends for a long time so I may be a bit biased – but so what? They’re great and you should listen to them! Kris has been working on his lyrical style for a good while now and Biff and Danny have locked in real well on the music side. Boston chiptunes has had a long journey and these gentlemen have been here the whole time helping keep it alive. “Slushy Slopes” is the track we walk around my apartment singing a lot.
The DONUT SHOES FAMILY BAND blended the chiptunes of Ethan Desatules aka DonutShoes along with horns as performed by his brother Evan. Ska influences along with skilled composition made this performance a true delight – their set also included a pretty wonderful cover of Dr. Sy Fly by They Might Be Giants. Ethan likes to push the boundaries and teamed up with his bro it makes me wonder what their parents fed him and if there is any left.
DYA is one of the hardest working chiptune artists out there. He works with so many other artists as well as a few podcasts (full disclosure: he is a geekbeatradio co-host so yes, we are biased, but we loved him long before working with him). He is also a skilled multi instrumentalist who jumped in quite a bit for the Open Jams throughout the weekend and even worked the merch booth. The level of enthusiasm and commitment he has is staggering. Please go support this guy in all the ways you can! Start by watching this wonderful performance.
MINUSWORLD takes a unique approach to performing with unlock-able content they will perform along the way as the audience fulfills certain requirements. The rest of the time they are playing some wonderful originals and covers! Also, they were the only band to throw down with a keytar on stage this year, so they’ve already got top marks for style in my book. “Dear Google” is my favorite song of theirs and I’m happy to say they played it – you can add it to your favorites too!
CRUNK WITCH packs a punch with custom lights and original songs that bring the party every time. They are a true power couple, creating the music they love together while letting their love rule! Brandon has a lot of energy and isn’t afraid to jump right off the stage into the crowd, and Hannah is equally impressive handling all the music and lighting duties simultaneously! They have been on tour promoting their new album which, as the kids say, slaps. They have another tour launching in Jamaica Plain on May 21st with The World is Square and Sam Mulligan featuring Kira City and Thresher on visuals – and surprise! We will broadcast it all on geekbeatradio.
The LIBRARY BARDS are so charming both on and off stage. They deliver their hilarious parody songs with genuine smiles on their faces which only make it easier to laugh along with them. Both Xander and Bonnie have shows on Geek and Sundry who were kind enough to host the MAGFest Twitch stream during their set and we absolutely noticed a large leap in viewership during that time so thanks Geek and Sundry (editor’s note: our stream techs were, in a word, flabbergasted by the viewer spike until we found out G&S was hosting us, so seriously, thanks for the best possible heart attack guys!)! We were fortunate enough to have them return on Sunday for a second set where they sat in with the Jamspace house band!
THE WORLD IS SQUARE have always been a part of Jamspace and they continue to be a fan favorite. There is something so comforting about their arrangements that its almost like curling up in a warm blanket each time I hear them play. I’m almost certain TWIS does this because they love it and would even if the rest of us didn’t. They just honestly sound like good music to me every time – as crazy as all this sounds, I’m not much of a gamer so some songs that all of you may find completely familiar are just really awesome TWIS songs to me and I am totally fine with that.
BRENTALFLOSS is an entertainer. He commands a room and delivers a solid set anytime he graces a stage. The setting and look of the Jamspace this year really complimented the theatrical style of his performance and the packed room clearly agreed. We were all laughing and joking around during his set – we’re pretty confident he’s the only performer we know who can consistently be as filthy and hilarious without drawing any sort of negative feedback from the audience. If you watch nothing else from his set, please watch the Mad Lib song at the end.
RAINBOWDRAGONEYES is a longtime favorite not only of the MAGFest crowd but of lovers of chiptunes and metal – especially pirate metal (which makes sense, considering when he’s not putting his hook in the air with us he’s been a drummer for some particularly prominent niche metal bands). His music spans everything from claiming an ancient blade and fighting its previous owner, storming a Fortress Ov Frost, being lost in an inter-dimensional space for all eternity, and of course, piracy. He also played a few tracks from the upcoming game The Messenger, which he composed the score for and whose game devs were kind enough to stop by and put their hooks up with us in the pit.
INVERSE PHASE is a master of his art. He has crafted his music on endless different vintage gaming and computer systems in many different ways. I feel lucky to have seem him perform so many times and to get him back in Boston was a real treat for us all. Nobody rocks a peperoni pizza onsie like this guy either. While he wasn’t performing, he spent most of his time showing off his homemade synthesizer and slinging merch – including one very nice looking vinyl for the game Slime-san which he, along with many other artists, threw down some of their best work for.
Learn all about his exciting new project, The Bloop Museum, here.
D&D SLUGGERS‘ golden voice and nimble fingers paired with clever lyrics will make just about anyone dance. D&D Sluggers made two appearances this year: once for a solo set and once again as part of the NPC Collective showcase. You can find his other performance linked at the bottom of this section.
POCAILLE, haling from Montreal, delivered a wonderful set during our chiptune dance party. He kept everyone dancing until the very end with super upbeat dance music. Performing double duty as a visualist under his alter ego Melesul3 we got to spend a lot of time with him over the weekend. He is as nice a person as his music is to your ears and his visuals are to your eyes.
SAM MULLIGAN used both Jamspace as well as an earlier show as launch parties for his new album, Shark Party (editor’s note – you can read a review of that album right here on the blog). It was also his birthday! Happy birthday. Sam’s music is always equal parts funny and peppy – he really pushed the crowd’s limits by playing his much-requested song “Eel Mart” at increasingly higher speeds.
LAME GENIE is loud. We aren’t denying this. They also like Tacos. They aren’t denying this. These guys like to have fun up there and this is reflected in the song choices they make. Pretty sure they played like 3 gigs that weekend in the city including Jamspace always with a smile. Go grab all they got available online if you wanna rock out hard.
BLUE MILK RUN is a traditional 4 piece rock/punk band that brings us clever songs based on the Star Wars universe. They are all wizards on their instruments so all that is left to do is they rock you roll. Its just that easy. I was 7 years old when Star Wars came out so these guys really speak to me. Han shot first! Don’t tell me otherwise and this band agrees they even have a song about it. I am termpted to say that the standout hit is “I’m your father” but honestly over the past 2 years I have grown to love all their songs and I hope you do too. Here’s to hoping the newer films and yet to be made ones can inspire more from this marvelous band.
EyeQ is a giant man with a giant heart and a talent for delivering lyrics from the heart. His songs touch on an array of subjects from anime to video games to love and life. He also was kind enough to bring local fav MC facepalm on stage for a song as well as Matty Owens.
BEN BRIGGS can dance, sing, and is one killer DJ. He pumped the crowd all while basically doing aerobics the entire time. Somehow this was also his first time playing at any PAX related event and we were very happy to make that happen for him. The energy level he maintains along with audience interaction isnt a skill you can develop I think you just gotta have it and Ben Briggs is full of energy and talent. I even danced a bit and that doesn’t happen too often.
FRAXIOM is where its at. They have an ear for tracks that they can fill with sarcastic beats and cute lyric remixes. The whole room was hype the entire time. I could listen to this kid all day and was hooked from day one when I first heard some of their music on soundcloud last year. It was an easy descision to have fraxiom return this year for a repeat DJ party visit. With youth on their side there can only be big things in their future so go watch this performance now!
INSANEINTHERAINMUSIC may be able to play what seems like every instrument but for Jamspace he built himself a band from Berklee and delivered an amazing one of a kind set to a room full of people. He clearly loves what he does as is reflected in his masterful playing. Cuphead composer Kristopher Maddigan showed up and sat in for a super jam with members of insaneintherainmusic as well as Doug Perry.
There were a huge number of amazing indie titles this year – some of them were returning booths from successful indie studios like Yacht Club or Tribute or Supergiant, some of there were brand new, but there were some real eye catchers all around. There were a few titles so popular that I actually had to watch other people play demos for them, which I will mark as such just for the sake of journalistic integrity.
Let’s see if I can hit buzzword bingo here: Riverbond is an isometric-view voxel-art hack and slash with drop in/drop out couch co-op which can also be played single player. It is also 1. adorable and 2. fun as heck. I had a chance to play this with a few random folks from the crowd and let me tell you, this game gets everything right. The pacing is good – even if you get overwhelmed, your friends can probably make it over to rez you, you have both a melee and ranged attack, levels are big but don’t suffer from “wherethehelldoigo-itis,” and the game manages to stick to its fun and cute art style without being overly saccharine while also keeping the good ol’ hyperviolence intact. This is probably going to be an insta-buy for me as good couch co-op games are very hard to come by. Riverbond will be out for PS4, XBONE and PC later this year.
THE GREAT GAIAS
When I walk the floor at PAX, there’s one thing that really strikes me when I talk to indie devs, and that’s just how earnest they are about their games. For some, it’s literally their first game that they’ve ever built, and they’re showing it off to the public for the first time as giddy as a three year old who just discovered what happens when you mix vinegar and baking soda. I say this because I feel like it’s easy to get jaded after seeing so many big companies dropping mediocre games in franchises hoping that brand loyalty will sell games – or, worse, that loyalty to a certain kind of game will sell an awful game. With that said, The Great Gaias is the culmination of 11 years of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns mixed with at least five years of hard work pushing past the struggles of an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign. As someone who’s been an avid D&D player since highschool, I always think it’s neat to play around in someone else’s world – and I’m glad the folks at Horizon’s End have finally gotten theirs out for the world to see. You can expect to see this game out on Steam and on mobile platforms later this year.
SPIRIT SPHERE DX
I’m a simple gamer, just like you. I plug in my controllers one port at a time, and when it comes to consoles, I prefer PC. That said, Spirit Sphere DX is the first game since Hollow Knight to really give me pause on whether I should get it on the Switch or the regular Spirit Sphere for Steam. Hear me out – so this game is airhockey by way of Wizorb and the final bossfight of Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, and each of the characters you can choose has unique abilities to bounce the ball back and forth that honestly spice the gameplay up pretty nicely. What that DOESN’T tell you, though, is about the Switch specific modes being implemented for the DX version where you play across from someone while you each hold the same Switch in your hands and play across from each other. Sure, you can sit down with all your friends and yell at the TV together playing the Steam version, and it’ll probably be pretty fun – but the visceral trash talking you can do while you are mere INCHES away from someone, face to face…let me tell you, it’s a great feeling I haven’t gotten out of a competitive game in a long time. This definitely strikes me as an easy to play, difficult to master title. Buy it. Buy a copy for PC and for the Switch. Buy a copy for your cousin, I don’t care, just throw your money at this game.
CrossCode isn’t a new game, so I was surprised to see it at PAX until the devs told me that now that it’s just south of a 1.0 release, they wanted to announce the game was coming to consoles! With as overwhelming a failure as the Secret of Mana port seems to have been, it’s definitely nice to see something of that same aesthetic being polished for public consumption. And I should clarify – CrossCode’s similarities to the Mana franchise end just slightly past the general homage to the SNES JRPG heyday. With its vast number of challenges and WoW-flavored quests, you basically get this delicious Ferrero Rocher of amazing singleplayer gameplay at the core encased in the look and flavor of an MMO. They’ve got a demo up for PC, and it’s still technically Early Access, but only just. This game is, as the kids say, “worth.”
SUPER SLIME ARENA
This is the only Super Smash-like I care about. I was about to walk past this booth until I saw that they had hooked every kind of controller imaginable up to their demo computer – not just 360 or generics, but Guitar Hero controllers, racing wheels, fishing rods, Dreamcast controllers. I don’t know how they made it all work but they did, and they revealed a deep dark secret about this game – you only need two buttons and four directions! So basically, Super Slime Arena pits you against however many friends you can figure out how to plug into your computer as adorable slimes. Each slime has a different power, and can either move, jump, or use their power. Each power is a OHKO, and if you get hit you respawn as another kind of slime with a different powers! For such a simple game at first glance there’s a lot to it in terms of manic multiplayer mayhem. If you’ve got a solid group of friends you like to play games with, a huge TV and a way to hook up every controller you’ve ever owned to your computer, you need this right now.
Tell me, did you like Tower of Guns? Have you wondered what those guys have been up to? Spoiler: It’s MOTHERGUNSHIP, a brand new roguelike FPS with one particularly scrumptious core mechanic: you can customize your guns. And I don’t mean “LOL I’ve been playing for 69420 hours so I finally got a NICE skin for it” I mean that you literally build your guns from components you pick up which let you create BULLET HEMORRHAGING MONSTROSITIES – your ammunition is basically just an energy meter that recharges over time, so as long as you’ve got slots to add stuff you can keep building on your gun, although more LUDICROUS builds will tap you out pretty quick. I can see someone *coughmyselfcough* losing entire weekends to this game. Keep an eye out for it later this year on PC, PS4, and XBONE.
TALES FROM CANDLEDEEP: TOMB OF ANNIHILATION
I know I mentioned Dungeons & Dragons earlier, but hey, an actual Dungeons & Dragons computer game! Well, kind of anyway – this is actually a digital version of the boardgame of the same name, which is based on the module of the same name, which is based on OLDER modules of DIFFERENT names, which…well, you get the drift. Anyway, this boils the D&D experience down into an extremely simple loop – since it’s emulating the boardgame, you literally move your characters to new “tiles” which flip over to reveal parts of the dungeon, where there will be enemies that you stomp and continue on. It’s a dungeon crawler with maybe too many steps, but honestly as someone who finds it pretty hard to keep a group of folks together to actually run a module, being able to experience the story on my own via a computer game is actually pretty nice. The art looks great, and with the full weight of Wizards of the Coast behind it this definitely isn’t a slipshod game with no budget. I’d say it’s probably a solid 5/7. Pick it up on a Steam seasonal sale if you’re on the fence about it!
BRAVE EARTH PROLOGUE
Me @ first glance: Hey cool, another Castlevania clone
Me @ second glance: Man you know this looks real good, I wonder who who did thi- THE GUY WHO DID I WANNA BE THE GUY?!
Okay but f’real though, Brave Earth: Prologue looks real good. Three playable characters, all the tight gameplay you’d expect out of Kayin, and if you thought this game looked fantastic in the super early alpha build five years ago, you’ll be quite happy to know that the Steam Greenlight trailer shows all that time has been spent polishing this gem into something that shines like justice. No further information is really available, unfortunately, but thankfully this game has been picked up by DANGEN Entertainment, so with a publisher behind it we can expect at least a proper PC release, to say nothing of potential console ports. Keep track of updates with the links below!
Moon Hunters has actually been out for a few years now but I’ve somehow managed to miss it, which is a shame. The creators call this a “personality test RPG” as the characters will treat you differently depending on what choices you make in game as to whether or not you murder things, help children, and so on. The fact that this game has both local and online co-op and is basically a much more # lightweight roguelike Diablo (a Diablite, if you will) means that long after you grind through the game enough to get to the true ending(s), you’ll still be able to bring your friends in on it. Would definitely recommend – but be warned, some characters can be difficult to play solo until you #gitgud at the game (or luck into some upgrades at the various ever-changing shops). You can play this on basically everything: PC, Mac, Linux, XBONE, Switch and PS4.
This is one of the few games I really wanted to play over the weekend that I had to satisfy myself with just watching someone else play because of JUST how popular it was. Coming at you from the studio that has brought us other anthropomorphic animal feels-trips like Night In The Woods, this game is both extremely adorable and extremely punishing in a good and equal balance. Essentially, you play as this as-yet unnamed fox who explores the countryside and ruins, fighting monsters and finding secrets. You can check out updates on the game on the creator’s (Andrew Shouldice) YouTube. The game is still in development and should hit shelves next year and is currently only announced for Steam on Windows and Mac.
I haven’t been as excited for a retro-styled title since Shovel Knight. The Messenger manages to take an extremely well-traveled genre, the action platformer, and add some seriously good and funny writing, a boatload of power ups and a modern skill progression tree and has come up with a game unlike anything its predecessors ever dreamed they could be. Also important to note is the killer soundtrack from rainbowdragoneyes, which we mentioned earlier in the Music section – I mean, any reason to get new music out of him is a good reason in my book, but he’s really outdone himself this time. Maybe you’ll hear more about that soundtrack here on the blog in the future – only time will tell!
So that’s it! Thank you so much to the volunteers who helped us make this happen – the Mediatron staff who took pictures of the event (which should be up on MAGFest’s official Facebook shortly after this posts!), to pixie druid who ran the merch booth, to all our visualists, to all the musicians, to Geek and Sundry for their talent and their Twitch hosting, to PAX for letting us continue to manage our own little slice of heaven inside their event and to all of you who came out and enjoyed the show!
Adam & bory