Stepping out

So for a couple of hours this evening I tried to replicate the Dance Dance Revolution experience using my PC. Waiting for me at Cambridge today were two nice new Playstation gamepad USB adaptors that I bought off Ebay; I was intending to hook my two dance mats up to the computer via USB, download Stepmania (an open source DDR clone), get a bunch of songs and step files, and play away.

Getting Stepmania was easy enough and installing it was a breeze; it’s a very professionally done product and the creators can be proud of themselves. Downloading songs was relatively easy; sites such as DDR UK and DDRManiax had a wide selection. I didn’t feel too bad downloading all the songs, since after all, I already own most of them anyway – they’re just not on my PC. I also downloaded some additional voiceover, movie and graphics packs from Stepmania – the finished product actually looks better than any other DDR game I’ve seen.

The last thing to do was to plug my dance mats and adaptors into the PC. This went fine – Windows XP automatically recognised them, and after I’d configured the buttons in Stepmania, away I went. Or so I thought.

On my second game, after I’d gotten over the shock of playing high quality DDR on my PC, I noticed that I was failing the songs alarmingly quickly – and it wasn’t my fault, either. At first I put this down to the crappiness of the dance mats that we have (they are awesomely cheap Hong Kong knockoffs) which have been known to act strangely in the past. But not even that could explain it all.

As it turned out, the adaptor wouldn’t allow two opposite direction arrow buttons to be pressed at the same time. I was suitably annoyed about this, but it makes sense – you never have to press opposite arrow directions in games, and besides, until recently even DirectX wouldn’t allow you (it does now though, ever since 8.1). There must be some solution, I thought.

There is; there are adaptors out there that will allow opposite arrows to be pressed together (through some assumption of analog jiggerypokery). Only a few adaptors work – the rest don’t. I happened across a handy list of those that do and I am now considering getting either the BOOM adaptor or the EMS one. Both are sold by Lik-Sang, who have an excellent reputation for these sorts of things.

So, was it a complete bust? I wouldn’t say so. The experience finally motivated me to go and have a look at Stepmania, which I’d been wondering about for a while, and it’s convinced me that it is possible – and indeed favourable – to play decent DDR on a PC. The current adaptors I had didn’t cost me much at all (thus are the wonders of Ebay) and the ones I’m considering are not too expensive either – although I am still mulling it over.

In the meantime, it is not actually impossible to play Stepmania using the adaptors that I have; you have to modify your play style somewhat, but it is still fun and worthwhile. Plus, it’s still perfectly good practice for the arcade. And of course, if I ever want to use my real Playstation controllers on the PC, I’ll have two adaptors ready and waiting.

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