Anatomy of a playfield

 

Song selection

Songs are in the wheel selector exactly like the official DDR versions. Difficulty can be chosen the same way. GI has created custom Speed Mods for use, such as C300 or constant 300 BPM.

 

 

 

Main screen layout

Additions from the normal rhythm game experience include the following:

 

Battle Mode

Edit Courses

DDR Jukebox

 

The number of songs, groups and courses installed are shown as well as the version of the program that you’re using.

Song options

Shown here are options selected before the start of a song in the options screen.

 

AutoPlay

This is a feature in the program that allows auto completion of a song. The system will play the steps of a song for you. The dance meter will not increase or decrease and a score will not be counted. This can be turned on or off with the F8 key or in the options from the main title screen.

The DDR master returns

Gaming Insurrection co-founder Marcus Barnes shows off his setup

 

 

I have known GI co-founder Marcus Barnes for at least 15 years. We were best friends in high school and college, and we started playing Dance Dance Revolution together in the early part of the 2000s. Marcus also happens to be the subject of our first feature on DDR, published in 1Q2009.

 

During this time, we bought several versions of the game, a few dance pads and acquired Stepmania, so that between the two of us, we have every version of DDR from the 1st Mix to present, including all songs from all official mixes released. That’s quite a bit of DDR, and it’s safe to say we’re experts in all things Bemani related.

 

So it comes as no surprise that Marcus, the engineering guru of the two of us, built his own DDR metal pad set from the ground up. The engineering genius that he is, Marcus made his know-how work in the form of two pads that mimic the arcade pads that are attached to a standard cabinet.

 

How do these pads work? They’re much like the normal pads that you would find in an arcade. These pads, however, differ in that they attach via USB to a Stepmania setup that’s run on a normal PC. This ensures that any song can be played using the pads with an arcade setup (i.e. timing, judging and grading), designed to mimic any rhythm game that uses a metal pad for dancing. The pads are sturdy 5and well built and don’t slide around a lot like foam pads that you buy commonly do. The connections built into the pads are exceptional as well, meaning there won’t be problems with arrow taps read during songs.

 

Taking a test drive

 

We took the pads for a spin during a game night at the University of South Carolina. Using the projector screen in a lecture hall, the DDR PC setup worked well with the pads on stable solid ground and plenty of space with which to play. I asked Marcus how he transports them, and he replied that the pads fit perfectly in the trunk of his SUV. They’re easily portable, as is the lightweight desktop, and they’re in high demand: Marcus can usually be found in the game room of Nashicon, a local anime convention that GI attends every year in Columbia. The portability means quick and easy setup and cleanup and has made it a fun in-demand item of the nerdy kind among our group.

 

I asked Marcus what he uses to have the machine running. He replied with a laundry list of things but the main things were Open ITG and Stepmania 5, the latest version of the program available. This gives him a more stable set up because troubleshooting means a wealth of information is available. GI uses an older version, 3.95 Alpha, because we’re more comfortable with it and there are more themes and components available to recreate the official experience.

 

With our time with the pads ending, we marveled at the engineering behind it all and watched as Marcus stored the pads and desktop. Although there are still DDR releases in arcades, Stepmania 5 has shown through its portability, ease of setup and ability to mimic the official experience of the major rhythm games that it’s the wave of the future.