Note: This article was written for my other blog, The Information Bank, to continue my DDR series. I have also included it here because it deals with great freeware.
Continuing on the long-awaited sequel to the Dance Dance Revolution series, I bring you Part II! In my last article, I gave a crash course introduction to the concept of “DDR” and DDR games. As promised, I said that I would reveal how to play DDR on the computer.
Why Play DDR on the Computer?
At home, I attend the Fil-am International SDA church. About 50% of the members there are of Philippines decent. Now, for some reason, DDR seems to be prevalent with the Asian population. During one of our church parties, some of the kids busted out the DDR Extreme for PS2. That night, I was hooked! I wanted to play DDR at home and bring it to my boarding school so that my friends and I could stay up all night DDRing (which, by the way, we ended up doing many times). Problem was … I didn’t have a PS2, or a PSOne, or an Xbox, or a Gamecube. And I didn’t feel like buying one either. I only had a computer. Surely, there must be a way to play DDR on PC. But, how would I connect the controllers? Were there already controllers that hookup to USB or parallel ports? If there was a way, how did it work?
From the maker’s website,
“StepMania is a free dance and rhythm game for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It features 3D graphics, keyboard and “dance pad” support, and an editor for creating your own steps.”
Simply put, StepMania is a powerful, advanced, free, open-source DDR simulator that can be played on a variety of computer platforms. To date, you can play it on Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Xbox (with a little mod-chipping)! Really, the features of this program that set it apart from conventional console-based DDR games are its customizability. Commonly associated with open-source programs, you can change virtually anything in this game.
Appearance and Themes
One of the aspects that can be changed in the game is the appearance. There are two ways to do this, individual changes and themes. With individual changes, you can change parts, like the dance arrows (also called note skins) and backgrounds. There are even options to change the announcers.
However, changing every little individual aspect in the game is quite tedious. It is much easier to download a theme. Basically, a theme is a collection of individual appearance changes. A theme can be likened to a multimedia player skin or a Microsoft Windows theme. Themes often revamp the entire interface of the StepMania program.
Personally, without a theme, StepMania inherently looks a little “plain Jane.” These are some screenshots with the default theme:
This is the Red Theme (which I personally use):
There are even themes to make StepMania closely resemble other DDR games like DDR Extreme:
Another customization of StepMania is the configuration. The configuration options in StepMania are so vast that it can become overwhelming (I know I was overwhelmed when I download this program!).
Songs and Stepfiles
One thing I really do not like about traditional DDR games is that they are limited to a set number of songs. The only way to add more is to reach high scores. Though, this only unlocks secret songs. In reality, there is no way to add any songs. StepMania is the exact opposite. The installation actually does not have any songs included. It leaves it up to the user to obtain (or make) songs and step files and add them to the system. I suspect the developers do this to avoid any lawsuits or just because it takes too much time and effort to make step files and songs.
As soon as I tell people about StepMania, many people ask me, “Is it legal?” This is gray territory. Mostly, it is okay because the code was written from scratch. Nothing was taken from the original DDR games (except for the idea, which may be patented). Though, some argue that picture content like arrows and characters were taken from the original games. There is a discussion online about this on the DDR Freak Forums.
Personally, I believe it is all right as long as the music it is playing is paid for. There are some songs like “We are the Champions” that can be bought at music stores like iTunes. Then again, buying individual songs may be difficult as much of the music is primarily owned by Konami, the maker of Dance Dance Revolution.
Where to Find the Content?
Now that I have brought up the legality concerns and since StepMania is pretty much a bare-bones stand-alone DDR game, where does one find content? Since much of the content is in gray legal area, they are found in obscure places.
Songs (Remember that most of the music is copyrighted. Download at your own risk!)
Note Skins can also be found at the DDR Freak Forums.
One big concern about StepMania is the controllers. A quick look at GameStop reveals that there are virtually no DDR Pads (Mats) that connect to the computer. Of course, this poses a problem. How will I play DDR on computer? Use keyboard? Although it is possible to just use up, down, left, and right to feed input into StepMania, it’s not as fun! Notice that it is called Dance Dance Revolution. Dancing usually does not involve fingers. It’s more like the whole body!
Again, there are two options in dealing with this problem. For one, you can buy a converter. This is what I did. I bought two regular DDR pads for PS2 and a PS2-to-USB adaptor. It has served me well so far. Unfortunately, it is a little tricky to find a good PS2-to-USB adapter (let alone finding just one). Think two things: Asia and eBay. You can probably find these elusive adapters in Asian communities or Asian import-gaming sites like Play Asia and Lik-Sang. It’s also important to know that your converter is compatible with StepMania. This is because some adapters are designed only for real PS2 controllers with analog inputs. The creators of StepMania provide a great comprehensive list of compatible and incompatible adapters in their website.
The other option to the controller dilemma is to buy a direct-to-USB pad. Lately I’ve seen these start to come out. Unfortunately, I didn’t see them before I bought my converter. There are many listed in the Asia import links above and the StepMania compatibility review. But, there is one that really catches my eye, the RedOctane Ignition Pad 3.0. Now, that is a cool pad. It is cushioned with a comfortable, yet weighted, sturdy foam. What’s more is that it has connectors to PS2, XBox, and PC (USB)!
Another major concern with StepMania is the display. Imagine playing DDR from your computer monitor. I speculate that most of you reading this do not have a monitor as big as an average television. Consequently, there may be some straining and squinting as you play from a computer monitor.
Luckily, there is a solution to this issue. Many video cards have connections to, not only VGA out (monitor), but also S-Video, composite video, and coaxial. These video card companies make it easy to play StepMania on TV. Most of the time, it is just Plug-and-Play.
As mentioned previously, I use an old Intel Pentium II 400 mhz computer with 128 MB SDRAM and Microsoft Windows 98 SE to play StepMania. “Why don’t I use my Intel Pentium IV 2.8 Ghz computer with 1024 MB DDR-SDRAM and Microsoft Windows XP Pro to play StepMania?” you say? Well, this is because my old computer is sort of my “DDR Console.” Frankly, I do not want to move my nice computer to the living room so I can use the television and sound system. Plus, I do not want to play DDR in my small room or the home office. Since StepMania will run fine on sorry specifications, I run it with my old computer. It works perfectly! I installed a video card with composite video out and connected that to the TV. Then I bought a 1/8 in. to RCA “Y” audio adapter from radio shack and connected it to the sound system. It is much more enjoyable to play DDR with a big screen and huge speakers. All I need now is a metal dance stage like in the arcade and I’m good to go!
Like most open-source software, StepMania is relatively unsupported. Pretty much the best places for help are forums and user-written tutorials. These are the main ones:
(Whew!) Well, that about wraps up this extensive review of StepMania. To find out more information, visit the StepMania website or the Wikipedia StepMania article. More on easy StepMania step file creation later on this DDR series!
Update: I forgot to mention that Konami has a DDR game for computer available. I’ve tried the demo but it doesn’t look too promising. Find out more information at the official website.