Chasing Ghosts: One Quarter at a Time

The old college try: Stepping up to the Dance Dance Revolution series

College was a time of exploration.

No, I never did any illegal drugs and never got blackout drunk at a party, but when I wasn’t learning how to become a journalist, I was entering a whole new world of gaming.

College was when I discovered how great multiplayer first-person shooters are (Halo on the original X-Box), the thrills of the Madden and NCAA Football series, the amazing world of PC game mods (adding a Waffle House to Simcity 4 is fantastic) and the breathtaking beauty of The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker.

It’s also a time when I took more responsibility with my gaming, as the Gamecube was the very first console I bought with my own money.

Video games had been made brand new, and were more plentiful at Arkansas State University than they had been in my little podunk town in western Arkansas.

While in college, I met a dear friend named Courtney. It wasn’t a romantic relationship, but I had more fun hanging out with her than any date I went on in college. She loved gaming, and we
would spend hours playing the X-Box together. And then one day, she changed my life.

She invived me to the Galactic Hurricane to play something called Dance Dance Revolution (DDR).

Galactic Hurricane (no longer in business) might be my favorite arcade I’ve ever been to. It was like an arcade renaissance to me, as I hadn’t been into the arcade scene since sixth grade. It completely revitalized my interest in the scene. Aside from arcade staples like Skee Ball, basketball, and laser tag, they also had a four player NBA Jam cabinet, an Atari Tetris cabinet, a bootlegged Ms. Pac-Man cabinet that had hearts instead of pellets to eat, and a Capcom Multicade.


They also had a lot of Japanese arcade cabinets, including MoCap Boxing (what a workout that game was), one of the Beatmania games, and three diferent Konami DDR cabinets.

What a fantastic place. The DDR machines were particularly mesmerizing. Instead of your standard arcade machine with buttons or a steering wheel, this cabinet had a two metal mat with lights neon lights everywhere. A giant monitor, much bigger than anything I had seen before, and speakers blaring music and that infectious announcer screaming “DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION!”

While some corners of the web goof on the music for not being that great, I for one fell in love with the soundtrack, choosing to stand in line at one machine instead of playing an empty one, just because I wanted to hear a particular song. I was already partial to Japanese pop culture, but the electronica club music just felt magical, and was certainly different than anything that was playing on the radio.

Everything about this was different than anything I had ever seen before. I can’t specifically remember which versions the place had, but I’m pretty sure it was 5th Mix, 2nd Mix and DDR Extreme. If you were at the Galactic Hurricane in Jonesboro, Ark., and remember differently, please let me know.

I stepped up to the machine, put my two quarters in, and proceeded to fail miserably. Dear reader, I do wish video existed of this moment. Sure, it would be embarassing to me,  but the pleasure you’d take in my shortcomings would outweigh any need on my end for a quality reputation. I picked an intermediate difficulty song, and those arrows might as well have flown by at the speed of sound. There’s the up arrow, so I put my foot on the up spot. But then a down arrow. Quick! Move my foot back! OK, so far so good. But what’s that, a left arrow immediately followed by a right arrow? Hurry and step on the spots! But wait, there’s too many arrows bunched together! Step here! Step there! I’m out of breath! My sides hurt! OMG I AM A FAILURE!

And that wasn’t just my conscience talking. The people who lived inside the machine started booing and my round ended early. A big fat F was my grade.

Eventually I did get better at this game. I learned that you should keep your left and right feet on the left and right arrows to start with, instead of keeping them inside the middle. Such a novice mistake. I would go by myself to play many times when I had some free time in between classes, or even on my days off from college (my final two years of school I arranged my schedule so that I didn’t have classes on Mondays and Fridays. Four day weekends every week. I miss college). A few bucks in my pocket meant I would be getting a great 30 minute workout. It’s no suprise that when I slacked off from playing DDR that I began to gain weight.

Courtney and I would continue to go to play DDR all throughout college, always having a blast, and occasionally dealing with the smartass middle school kid who scoffed at our lack of ability. One kid in particular was playing on the highest difficulty, and doing a good job at it. This was during the summer, so he no doubt had a lot of time to play.

“It’s easy, you just have to be dedicated enough to spend 7-8 hours a day playing,” he told the two early-20s adults with school and employment responsibilities. I mentioned that little fact to him.

“Oh, well I guess you’ll have to try harder,” he said.

I wanted to punch him harder.

Eventually, I moved away in 2006, and while I was able to introduce my sister to the joys of DDR (and we have fantastic memories of playing together), I’ll always cherish those evenings playing this fantastic game with one of the most fantastic people I’ve ever met. Our friendship has had ups and downs. But without Courtney, I might have never played DDR or had my second arcade renaissance. Thank you friend.

My six favorite DDR songs

One reason I didn’t enjoy playing DDR as much at home (I had the X-Box version) is that the music wasn’t ever the same. I wanted the actual arcade playlist, and the home versions always seemed to omit a few songs I really liked. But here are my six favorite songs from the series.

1. Tribal Dance (DDR 5th Mix) –

2. Against All Odds (Phil Collins cover, DDR 5th Mix) –

3. Look to the Sky (DDR 6th Mix) –

4. Healing Vision (DDR 6thMix) –

5. If You Were Here (DDR 2ndMix) –

6. La Copa De La Vida (Ricky Martin cover, DDR Extreme)

Playing in Mame

So, you want some DDR on your home custom arcade cabinet? It’s not going to happen. And frankly, why would you want to even attempt it?

For obvious reasons, the controls are going to be a huge issue for you. On my cocktail machine, I’d have to connect a mat and stand over the machine looking down the whole time. Staring down the whole time would not be fun, and having the mat sitting next to a machine that it’s not designed for would just look weird. If you have a standup arcade cabinet, this would be a little easier for you to pull off, and from a decorative standpoint, not as bad. But the DDR appeal is the entire set up: you want the flashing lights, giant screen and blaring speakers. Playing this game in front of a standard arcade cabinet isn’t going to be as much fun. It’s the same reason why I don’t like the home versions of DDR as much, that and the music is NEVER as good as the arcade versions.

But that’s probably why you want DDR on your home MAME setup: to get things to be exactly the way they are at the Galactic Hurricane, or whatever arcade is on your mind. Here’s the next problem: You can’t run the games in MAME. The few instances I’ve seen features the earliest late 90s versions of the game running really choppy. To me, that is a completely unappealing way to play this game. Even when I go the roms up and running on my main PC, an I7 processor with 8 gig of ram, it still struggled to emulate it correctly.

If you want to truly experience Dance Dance Revolution in it’s arcade form, you’re going to have to go to the arcade (they need your support anyways, and even though I have many arcade games on my MAME cabinet, it’s still much better to play them in an actual arcade setting), buy a machine (which costs a few thousand dollars), or invest in a solid metal mat and an imported Playstation version (better music) of the game. Or get a playstation emulator on your arcade machine, but me being an arcade enthusiast, I wouldn’t enjoy that workaround nearly as much (I want to insert credits, not press start on a control pad)

Oh, and this game isn’t apartment friendly at all, much like the NES Power Pad. Keep that in mind if you decide to buy your own mat, something I’d LOVE to do. But living in a second story apartment building,  I cannot.

My Wife Plays DDR

In an effort to get my wife Allicia Faber to play more video games, I give her this space to write her thoughts on each arcade game I write about. Oh, and follow her on twitter, @alliwait.

I just gave birth to your second child. I’m not playing that dancing game.