While pursuing a good time, Jon St. John, the man behind The Duke’s golden voice since the release of “Duke Nukem 3D” in 1996, resembles the character whose franchise launched his voice acting career. In the two years he has visited the video game and music festival MAGFest, St. John has become notorious for stalking hotel hallways in search of festivities. His record at last year’s event at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center was 32 room parties in two nights.
This year, MAGFest X will move to the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center from Jan. 5-8. With last year’s score so high, St. John also says he may need to channel his party-searching energies elsewhere.
|Jon St. John is the voice of Duke Nukem.|
A broadcaster for 30 years, St. John now works out of his home studio in San Diego doing voice work. Although he has participated in recent and upcoming titles such as Recoil Games’ “Rochard” and Valve Corporation’s “DOTA 2,” he says video games are only a small portion of his efforts. He also covers commercials and character voices for theme parks, among other projects.
At MAGFest, St. John will present as a panelist, most likely fielding questions about how to enter the voice acting industry.
The key, he says, is to audition all the time, since many game producers or directors already have a voice in mind when hiring actors.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a better actor, it doesn’t matter if you have a higher or lower voice, when they hear the voice that fits, it’s like a crap shoot. So my job is auditioning constantly,” St. John says.
Other guests at MAGFest include Ellen McLain, who voiced GLaDOS in the popular “Portal” series, and Grant Kirkhope, composer of games such as “Banjo-Kazooie” and the upcoming “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.”
The festival also boasts a Local Area Network party room where players can join in games through their own computers, a tabletop game room, two music stages, a museum and a marketplace. Additional activities include a charity auction, videogame improv, MAGFest art hunt and art competition.
But at the core of the festival are the games, which Promotions and Public Relations Director Nick Marinelli says cover some 40 years.
“We have consoles that go all the way back to Atari 2600 [and] a little earlier,” Marinelli says. “It goes all the way up to the PS3. Same with the arcade. We’re going to have at least 150 cabinets all on free play and they go from ‘Pong’ all the way to modern music games.”
|The Minibosses fuse video game music with progressive rock.|
“[Yamine] wanted a place to play games and see some video game bands play,” Marinelli says. “It went pretty well, so I’m told, but it only had 250 people or something and after that finished he didn’t want to do it anymore so Brendan Becker — also called Mr. MAGFest — he purchased it off him … and Brendan started to build it up and brought more staff on.”
Over the years, MAGFest, now owned by the board of directors, has continued to grow, and after reaching the 3,000 person cap at last year’s event, Marinelli says a move was necessary. This year’s numbers have already surpassed its predecessor.
While the festival has enjoyed rising popularity, Marinelli says the event has “stuck to its guns” in spirit. Whereas many gaming conventions are flooded with studios promoting their upcoming titles, MAGFest features current games and guests with little advertisement.
“[Most gaming conventions are] all about … broadcasting, marketing everywhere, telling you about all the new games that are coming out… just trying to get you to buy things,” Marinelli says. “MAGFest is different because it’s all about celebrating gaming in general … and coming together as a gaming community and hanging out with each other.”
Video game tribute bands also will pack the stages, with acts including Austin, Texas, shredders Descendants of Erdrick, jazz fusion aficionados The OneUps and DJ Cutman.
Topping off the list is Nobuo Uematsu, a composer for the “Final Fantasy” video game series. Uematsu has been scoring games since the mid-1980s, but will bring his new rock band, Earthbound Papas, to MAGFest. The band’s first album “Octave Theory,” which gave a fresh rock approach to Uematsu’s past symphonic works, debuted in March.
“He’s like the John Williams of video game music,” Jace Bartet, guitarist of the fellow MAGFest band Bit Brigade says, “So for him to be able to appear in person, onstage, it kind of elevates the event from somewhere in this weird zone slightly above what it’s been in the past, which is a fan get-together, to ... [having] something intriguing for maybe a more casual video game music fan.”
Bit Brigade, which hails from Athens, Ga., first brought its multimedia style to MAGFest last year. The group performs in front of a screen displaying images from games such as “Ninja Gaiden” or “Megaman II.” Playing these games is Noah McCarthy, who quietly sits cross-legged in front of a small television at center stage. What makes the performance unique is that the musicians of Bit Brigade re-create the music of each level and cut scene.
“We don’t have a set list that we can cut from,” Bartet says. “We can’t skip through the game. It’s what we do. We play the game and it’s a defined period of time. The game starts and the game ends and in between that time, it’s going to be 40 to 45 minutes.”
Although the group went on tour this summer to cities such as Baltimore, Flint, Mich., and Chicago, Bartet says the enthusiasm of MAGFest attendees is hard to match.
“When you go to MAGFest, it feels like you’re at Woodstock ’99 or something,” he says.
For Bartet, MAGFest is an event with ample replay value.
“Every year there’s MAGFest and then you go home and you experience very heavy post-MAGFest depression,” Bartet says. “You’re back in the regular world and things feel just a little bit dimmer.”
Photos courtesy MAGFest; Jon St. John.