So You Want to Be a DDR King…

Or Queen, as the case may be. I was SSSOOO excited when I read FADKOG‘s (who shall henceforth be called “Sugar”) post on her new DDR Super Nova game. I totally got wood! Fortunately I was differentiated enough to remain calm enough and in control to composed a lovely and lengthy comment to that post. Unfortunately Blogger ate the comment.

Fucking Blogger.

Hey, I’m just staying with the theme, here!

Anyway, I knew very, very few of the songs she mentioned. The one by A-Ha being the only one that rang a bell, and Take On Me has limited utility for serious step dancing. But I’m totally thrilled to have someone who is of my 80’s loving generation who is willing to take this game on. So I’m going to pass along a few things I’ve learned along the way and perhaps Sugar’s enthusiasm will result in others taking up the game. Perhaps there could be a resurgence of step dancing game-playing as we combine our health consciousness and video nerdiness with some serious ’80’s tunes. After all, she is seriously cool with a kickass rack. If she can’t start a local fad, I have no idea of who else could do it.

So I’m your facilitator to the world of step dancing. And the first thing I’m going to do is steer you clear of DDR Super Nova 2. I read the reviews and looked at the musical line-up, and my hat is off to anyone who sticks with this version of the game. You’re seriously hardcore DDR. I am going to steer you towards the free and open source version, which is Stepmania. While you can download everything you want and need (and more) from the site, I do encourage folks to purchase the $20 CD which funds the various Stepmix contests. Or if you want me to send you a copy of mine, just let me know where to send it. Seriously, Open Source means FREE as in beer!

Fortunately Stepmania and DDR are similar enough that we can talk about the basic elements without causing too much grief. Dance Dance Revolution is a series of games (video and arcade) that involve stepping on arrows in time with the music. Hitting the arrows in time and in sequence is rewarded with points. Missing involves penalties. Hitting several arrows in a row is a combination or “combo”. A higher combo will multiply your score. Forr instance, hitting a 100 combo means that I’ve hit 100 arrrows in a row without missing. But if I miss at the 101st step, my combos have to start over. The scoring will multiply your highest combo so after missing that 101st step I can still better myself by hitting the next 110 arrows without missing.



There are several types of arrow combinations that include traveling around the mat, jumping and holding. Stepmania also includes mines and lift steps, but I turn those off because they are exceedingly nasty and hack my dancing groove. The steps are generally in 4-4 timing, musically although higher levels will include many half and quarter steps that require more speed and agility.


Let’s talk about levels and scoring for a bit. It’s my understanding that DDR has 3 basic skill levels with the various grades between them. Stepmania can have up to 5, but it is the grades or “feet” that really matter. A given song may have 3 or more levels, and each level is rated a certain number of “feet.” “Feet” are just the arbitrary symbol for degree of difficulty and more feet means more difficult.


One foot would be a beginner level with maybe 50 steps in the entire song. So they come relatively slow and far between. You may not be stepping every beat or even every other beat but you are learning how to time your steps and orient yourself to the mat. Two feet would be maybe 60-70 steps with a jump or two thrown in. You’ll know it’s a jump when you see two arrows come up at once and you have to hit them both at the same time. The only way to do that (assuming you have no more than two feet) is to jump.

Before going up to a higher level, beginners have a tendency to pick which arrows will be hit with which feet. For instance, the up and left arrow get the left foot and the right and lower arrow get the right foot, sort of playing zone defense with their feet. But this will break down in higher levels so you might as well get used to the idea of traveling all over the mat. That means not reorienting to the center after every step. Stepping is exactly that: walking, jumping or running from arrow to arrow. You are not penalized for being on an arrow that you aren’t supposed to be on, only for not being on an arrow when it comes up. Those of you who have played Guitar Hero will have a rough idea of how this works, only it takes some time orienting to the space of the mat.

Scoring is rated according to how closely you are timed with the music and your combos. At the end you get scored A-E, where ‘E’ is failing and A is pretty good. AA is way better and AAA and AAAA are impossible dreams, at least for me.


With DDR, you have to score well on the songs in each stage at a certain level in order to “unlock” more songs. High scores at higher levels unlock more songs. So this gives a person an incentive to keep working and keep playing in order unlock more songs. Thing is, some of the songs might be kind of crappy which means you might have to keep dancing to some crappy songs in order to get to the cool songs. And then you discover the cool songs aren’t all that cool so you dance to more crappy music hoping to unlock the REALLY cool songs.

The complaints I read in reviews of DDR Supernova 2 were that songs were not all that good. I have no idea and since I play Stepmania, it isn’t a concern. Yeah, there’s crappy songs in that game, too, but adding and deleting the music is not a problem. I’ll explain more about that later.

It’s easy to get carried away, as our friend Sugar discovered. On a lower level of play, you can literally play for hours at a time and not realize it. That’s because the steps are relatively far apart and it may take an hour to burn 200 calories. That’s okay because you’re just learning the game. These step games are good aerobic workouts because they are loads of fun and combine video games, dancing and music and possibly annoying a spouse, parent or sibling. But getting a really good workout means doing lots of steps in shorter and shorter periods of time which means higher and higher levels. I currently live at the 5-7 foot level, which is about 75-150 steps per minute which is easily 200+ steps per song which is a lot more than the 50 steps at beginner level. So take a song at 120 Beats per Minute (BPM) and throw in a bunch of half and quarter steps or a bunch of jumps and you get a decent workout. My groove is 135-150 BPM and anything less seems ungodly slow. That’s why the play list for DDR looks a little light to me, but 6 months ago I might have liked it better.

Stepmania page

I like Stepmania for a lot of reasons, besides the fact that it is free. First is that I have an unlimited song selection. I can make a stepfile for any mp3. I can also download hundreds of stepfiles from the web. Right now, I have over 400 songs with stepfiles. With infinite variety I can play whatever I feel like and most of the time it is hard and fast. Stepmania is also infinitely configurable. I can pick whatever animated character I want to dance with (or none), decline to do mines or hold steps, increase or decrease the tempo or choose a dozen different modes like “drunk mode” or “dizzy mode.” I rarely play “stage play” which is the default DDR mode but usually travel through a song group systematically until they are all mastered and then either find another group and increase the difficulty.

There are a couple of disadvantages to Stepmania that need mentioning. One is that most step mats are made for PS/PS2 consoles and so getting it on the PC involves a USB converter costing about $7-10. Not all mats and converters play well with a PC and one must be persistent to make it work. Configuring the mat to work properly can also be a pain compared to a PS2 game where you plug it in and it just works.

The configurability is a double-edged sword because with so many possible options it may take awhile to get it exactly the way you want. Hours could be spend tweaking instead of dancing, which takes a bit of nerdiness to really enjoy. But once everything works, it works wonderfully!

For DDR and Stepmania alike, I recommend trying a cheap mat to start with but once you get past beginner level, you’ll want to upgrade. I have some nice Red Octane mats I found on eBay for half price. The cheap mats slide around a lot when an adult body gets moving fast.

Just thinking about playing? Try and you can play with the arrow keys on your keyboard! Stepmania can also be played on the keyboard and I’d say a majority of the folks actively playing it are keyboard players. It was useful for me playing that way because I learned the game basics, tweaked the program and was able to rate song difficulty before getting on the mat. So I highly recommend trying it before investing any money

For exercise, it compares favorably to a treadmill although you may find yourself do more either because of the game aspect or liking the music aspect or both. But the impact on the bones and joints is about the same, depending on the thickness of your mat and your floor. It is mainly targeting the lower body, but as anyone whose been reading me knows, it can be an effective weight loss tool.

These games also have one other drawback though. Their loudness can and will annoy anyone else in the house. I do my workout after work at work when everyone else is gone. Sometimes I do it at home but Arwyn usually retreats when I do and sometimes the boys go with her. Doing it late at night or early in the morning isn’t going to work unless you find wireless headphones that work, which I haven’t found. Notice Joe Flirt making a hasty retreat after his daughter got one as well as Sugar’s family.

I’m encouraged to see other folks trying it out so maybe it can be a more popular activity at RWB reunions.



5 Responses to “So You Want to Be a DDR King…”

  1. veronica Woodall Says:

    I need help from someome. I just bought my daughter a drr and when I got everything hooked up to computer the only way she can play is on keypad of computer the pad wont work. You step on the pad and it don’t do anything. The computer says the pad is hooked up but I just can’t get it to work. Please help! Thanks, Veronica

  2. diggerjones Says:

    It could be a couple of things. If your pad is USB, you might have to configure it in the game, itself. At least that’s how stepmania works. There is a setting fr configuring the input and another for testing it. Do the testing first and it should register something when you step on the pad. Not sure how DDR compares. Go ahead and download stepmania for free from their site and a song or two.

    The second factor is when you use a converter to make a PS2 mat work with USB. Not all of these work the same way or as well. Stepmania has forums to help with their users and I would guess DDR users do too, although doing it on a PC isn’t nearly as popular as with a Playstation.


  3. Natasha Markham Says:

    What’s the point in teleporting the people to the ship if it can’t break free from the holes gravity? They’re doomed I tell you, DOOOOOOOMED!

  4. Gaming Accessories Says:

    Thanks for posting this. I looked around your blog and found your blog is superb. There are a lot of info for me to study, thanks for your great share.

  5. Home Security : Says:

    wireless headhones are really the best, i really hate those lengthy cables of conventional headphones _

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