Dance Dance Revolution:
Learning To Push Buttons

By Shamus
on Jun 21, 2010
Filed under:
Game Reviews

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I’ve been learning to play Dance Dance Revolution. I know this isn’t my usual type of game to review, but it’s been a very interesting process.

I needed a couple of weeks to get over the whole “getting in shape” aspect of the thing so that I could play more than a handful of rounds in a row without needing to stagger away and stave off a heart attack. Now I’m to the point where I can play for a half hour or forty five minutes at a stretch and I can focus on actually learning to play.

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If you’ve never played DDR before, the process is pretty simple. It’s basically Guitar Hero that you play with your feet. Directional arrows scroll upward from the bottom. You’re standing on a dance pad with four directional arrows on it. Step on the appropriate points of the dance pad as the on-screen arrows reach the top. As with Guitar Hero, there will sometimes be points where you have to hit two buttons at once, or where you must hold one button for several beats while you press other buttons. Continue this process until you pass out or someone comes in and laughs at you and you’re forced to shamequit.

When your attempt is over, the game will grade you based on your performance. It uses standard American-education letter grades: A, B, C, D, E. (Do they use letter grades in other countries? Heck, do they still use them in the U.S.? It’s been two decades since I was in school.)

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It’s not as easy as it sounds. At least, not if you’re playing like you’re supposed to. If you’re a base coward you can play with a standard controller and the game is basically a medium-pace quick time event that telegraphs the buttons you’ll need to press. It’s about as challenging as dialing a phone number and half as fun. But if you’re playing with the dance pad it suddenly becomes a game. Your feet don’t move as freely as your thumbs, and you have to contend with annoying stuff like gravity that will humiliate you if you’re so busy pressing buttons with your feet that you forget to use them to keep the floor away from your ass.

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Your thumbs aren’t supporting your weight, and so they can push buttons at will. But non-Kryptonian players will need to have their weight on at least one leg at a time. Here is a full second and a half of DDR gameplay:

I need to step with my right but my weight is already on my right and so I need to hop on that foot but my knee isn’t bent and oh geeze I’m going to miss this beat so I try to use my ankle to hop but that’s really destabilizing damn it I missed it anyway and now I need to bring down my left but my left is kicking away from me in a desperate attempt to correct for the awkward hop and maybe bring me back into balance oh the next step needs my right again so I really need to do something about this right foot problem and I bring it down late so all of that is for nothing and now I need to step with both feet and I’m still landing so I’m not really in a position to do that and I’m starting to forget what oxygen feels like.

But my hilarious, furniture-smashing dance moves aside, the really interesting thing about DDR is how it requires learning everything from scratch. This is what it feels like to be a completely new gamer and have nothing on which to build. People who sneer at the Wii for letting all the stupids into the hobby need to jump on a DDR pad and try the game at the second-tier* difficulty. Stripped of all of your dual shock controller experience, you can once again discover something you likely haven’t felt since childhood: A complete inability to react in a sensible manner, even if you know what you want to do. Gaming requires some amazingly complex muscle memory, and most gamers learn it at childhood and then take it for granted forever after.

* I’m calling it second tier because annoyingly Konami seems to rename the difficulty levels between iterations and I want to be clear which mode I’m talking about. In DDR Universe, you could be forgiven for thinking you want to start on Basic mode. But that’s actually “normal”. The lowest difficulty is “Beginner”. Then tier three is “Difficult” and four is “Expert”. It’s terrible. Some names describe the gameplay and some describe the player. And other versions of the game have different names for these.

After a good DDR stumble you’ll be able to see how a newcomer ends up bumping into walls and aiming at the floor in your typical shooter and how they can die in the tutorial on easy mode. The gamer coaching them will shout helpful stuff like, “Up! Look up! No, that’s forward! LOOK UP!” But of course their brain hasn’t leaned to associate “look up” with “move right thumb”, so the coaching is just noise and stress.

This is what the game usually looks like.  There’s a flashy music video dance thing playing the the background.  But that makes it hard to see the arrows, so I always play with it turned off.
This is what the game usually looks like. There’s a flashy music video dance thing playing the the background. But that makes it hard to see the arrows, so I always play with it turned off.

Everyone who claims I’m trying to “dumb down” the hobby by advocating easy mode needs to try DDR for the first time on second-tier. When they stagger away and the game taunts them for being a failure they can see how much fun gaming is without an easy mode for people trying to learn. And then they can realize that most games have six times as many inputs as DDR. (Groups of four buttons: D-pad. Shoulder buttons. Face buttons. Left analog stick. Right analog stick. Then L3, R3, Start, and Select make the final group of four.) Gaming has become too dang insular, and this macho hardcore nonsense is childish and detrimental to the hobby.

I’ve been gradually working my way through the process of building up the needed DDR muscle memory. Of course, learning would be a lot faster if fitness wasn’t part of the equation, but it’s been generally rewarding. It’s nice when I’m working on a single tier of difficulty, because I can see myself improving every day.

The only bad part is moving from one tier to the next, because there’s actually a really huge gap between difficulty levels. It’s possible to be able to get an “A” (best) on one difficulty and yet get an “E” (complete failure) on the same song just one level harder. I really dislike this about the game. It sucks when you step up to the next level and you hammer away at a song without seeing any improvement in your grade, even when you’re actually getting better. Hearing the same taunts isn’t very fun, either. The other thing that would help would be either adding more “grades” or spreading them out over the spectrum more. You can go from missing 75% of the notes to missing 25% of them, and you’ll still be scoring an “E”.

I realize DDR is descended from a device which was designed to devour quarters, but for the home version I really wish they had slipped at least two more difficulty levels in there. In particular, the jump from tier two to three is brutal, with the inclusion of eighth notes. These are often introduced in the densest part of the middle of songs, and I had to hunt around to find one where I could practice them in isolation. (Most other kinds of games know better than this. The player should not be trying to learn new gameplay concepts under duress.)

I am curious if I’ll be able to reach the final difficulty tier. Making the jump from two to three feels frustrating and impossible now, but I’m sure in another day or two I’ll be able to attain non-embarrassing scores. Still, the transition to four feels like a long, long way off.

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A Hundred!207There are 127 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. George says:

    Holy word-dump Batman! Shamus is Writing again!

  2. fdsafdsafdsafdsa says:

    “Still, the transition to four feels like a long, long way off.”

    It should be easier (well, it still depends, but theoretically) then 2->3 because no new patterns are introduced. It’s just more stuff.

    So if you have the patterns down, it shouldn’t be a problem unless you have crappy focus/screen-reading abilities like me.

  3. Josh R says:

    I have a ps1 dancemat, which my parents bought for my sister in the idea that she could get some use out of my PS2. It’s a lot of fun and embaressment. Mostly embaressment.

    I come up against three barriers every time I play it, firstly there is the muscle memory problem you mentioned, the fitness issue that also plagues me, but I also cannot stand the music selection, there’s about three good pop hits and listening to the same three songs over and over grinds on my nerves, and makes me reach for the off switch long before I’d otherwise want to stop the game.

    This may be because I have some cheap knockoff DDR clone, but in the current age of games such as Audiosurf and Beat Hazard, shouldn’t we be able to make it play any song at all?

    Actually there’s an idea, if you could hook up a dance mat to audiosurf…

    • asterismW says:

      But how would it generate the moves? The arrows aren’t random; not only do they fit with the beat of the music, but they flow (even though it doesn’t seem like it at times). They’re choreographed. If you could put in any music you wanted, even if the game could figure out the timing, the arrows would still be random, and then it wouldn’t be any fun at all.

      • Shamus says:

        I tried Stepmania. Loved the concept. I really wanted to map some of my own music, but lining up the beats was enormously difficult and time-consuming.

        I’ve seen visualizer programs that do beat detection. (Winamp used to do it.) I don’t know if that tech would work for Stepmania, but it would be a boon if it did. I’d love to be able to just put on some Daft Punk and map out my own steps.

        • Shamus says:

          Addendum: Step Mania is still really cool.

          • Artrex says:

            Yeah, the other thing about Stepmania is that if you’re not physically fit, don’t want to be, and don’t want to buy guitar hero, it’s still quite interesting to use the keyboard for most of the songs you can find online.

            Personally though, I prefer both padding and guitar-ing.

            On the subject of Guitar Hero and not buying it, Frets on Fire is a good quality free clone.

          • Freykin says:

            Agreed, this is what I use for playing at home myself. The amount of options it lets you configure is pretty amazing.

        • Ian says:

          I’ve created a number of step charts of varying popularity designed for keyboard play and pad play (including a few for the now-defunct freeware StepMania-based dance game, Mungyodance 3, if anyone’s ever heard of that, as well as a few which ended up on some modified In The Groove cabinets in the Pittsburgh area). Typically, I get a rough idea of the song’s BPM using AutoBPM, then jump into an audio editor to get the position of the first beat of the song (which StepMania refers to as the offset). Next, I jump into StepMania, lay down a series of quarter notes, go into the game mode, turn off autofail, and adjust sync automatically (using F6), adjusting it manually (F7/F8) until I can consistently pull off marvelouses.

          After that, I jump back into the editor and get rockin’. After doing the initial setup on the file, the hardest part is getting something that isn’t repetitive, flows well, and is fun to play. The biggest mistake that beginners tend to make is accidentally creating uncomfortable twists and spins. I generally recommend testing files either on foot or on keyboard (using your index fingers to hit the arrows) to avoid that.

          Edit: Also, make sure to save quite a bit. StepMania’s editor isn’t the most stable thing in the world. I know from painful experience. :x

        • CrushU says:

          My brother found one, I think it was Gorilla or something… It was very good at matching BPM. After that it was just laying down the notes. I finished a Switchfoot song. Wait. No I didn’t… The thing crashed when I was 3/4 the way through, so I said ‘f*** it’ and gave up. :P

          I don’t handle losing work well ^_^

      • Boolean says:

        I liked the idea of Stepmania until I looked at the links for songs from the main site. All the songs I found were from DDR games, and were made by and for people who found the DDR steps too easy (presumably because they have two sets of legs). Or who, for some reason, want to play a “dancing” game by tapping on a keyboard.

        Yahtzee had a point when he derided Little Big Planet’s focus on user-generated content. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a decent song, the steps people will make for it will drive you to Lovecraftian levels of insanity.

    • GreyDuck says:

      Your ideas intrigue me and I’d like to subscribe to your newsletter…

      (A four-lane Audiosurf track? Or would we associate pad “buttons” with colors? Hmm.)

    • Ian says:

      The problem with making it play any song is that the results almost always suck. Calculating the beats per minute is far from an exact science, especially when you’re dealing with factors such as complex time signatures. Also, analyzing the music and laying down an appropriate step pattern is definitely non-trivial.

      Audiosurf and Beat Hazard only generate events loosely based on what’s playing. Beat Hazard, in particular, has a fact about being horribly, horribly wrong with what it dishes out (I’ve had it throw multiple bosses at me when the music was very soft and I was virtually unable to attack). Dance games are more of a choreographed experience than the examples that you gave. Automatically generated charts, especially for the higher difficulties, would be little more than a disservice to the player. The beat mapping issue would be particularly damning. Imagine trying to play DDR and score well on a song that’s off-sync (for anyone who’s played on DDR Extreme, imagine trying to AAA Hyper Eurobeat or the end of Stoic while actually stepping to the beat of the song).

      It would be like if Guitar Hero or Rock Band attempted to automatically create a chart for a song on your console’s hard drive. It would give poor results and would be virtually unplayable.

    • MrPyro says:

      It already exists, and is called Dance Factory.

      It doesn’t use Audiosurf, but it does let you put in your own music CDs and tries to match beats, with a middling level of success.

      • Ian says:

        Eh, in my experience it’s totally off on the sync more often than it is on, but I’m pretty picky about that. Not to mention that it reverses the position of the up and down arrow receptors. That’s devastating for anyone coming from DDR or ITG.

        Aside from that, it didn’t generate any charts that were particularly interesting. In fact, many of them were downright nonsensical.

        If anything, I consider it a practical demonstration as to why dance games are heavily choreographed. It tries hard but simply doesn’t work all that well.

  4. Whether or not you can reach the final difficulty tier may not be entirely in your control. I’m 6’4″ and eventually I had to just accept that I couldn’t really do it. I got to the point where my brain was simply moving faster than my legs would accommodate me. Ever. Not because I was out of shape, but because they’re just too big to move that fast, that precisely. I could do the tier that floats eighth notes at your freely pretty decently (as opposed to the one that tosses them in rarely), but that’s as far as I’ll ever get.

    I observe that every video I ever saw of someone doing the highest tier well was of a person two feet shorter than me.

    I don’t know what the “limit” is, but I know I’m not “just barely” on it, I’m well over it.

    • Deoxy says:

      I saw a guy at an arcade who was amazingly good at DDR (turns out he was an employee, so he could play for free on breaks), and he wasn’t short, probably about 5’9″, so it’s possible.

      It may just be that it requires a greater level of memorization and planning to accomplish it, though.

      Seriously, though, the guy got straight perfects on more than one song on the highest difficulty. It was amazing.

      (He didn’t get a perfect on the last song – said he hadn’t done that one in a while because he didn’t like it as much. Yeah, “not quite perfect on hardest difficulty level” – so much to apologize for man!)

    • merle says:

      One reason my fencer friends love playing DDR so much is that they say it helps keep their footwork sharp. Maybe look into some exercises that work the same groups of muscles? There’s got to be a way to learn to move your legs more quickly.

      • Lifestealer says:

        Fencing and playing musical instruments certainly helps for DDR (especially the doubles mode, which is the only one I play-often in a trenchcoat and New Rocks with chains all over which confuses more than a few people).

    • A different Dan says:

      A schoolmate of mine was about 6’2″, and was one of the best DDR players out there. In fact, he still is.

    • Freykin says:

      It’s possible to make it to Heavy while being tall, it just takes a lot of effort. I’m 6’6″, and while I’m out of practice now, I used to be able to pass 9 steps pretty regularly, and occasionally a ten. I’m finally getting back into it after years of not having a decent arcade near me, so the best I can do at the moment is a couple eights, but I know that’s more of a stamina issue than anything else as I still know the song’s patterns.

  5. SatansBestBuddy says:

    It’s possible to be able to get an “A” (best) on one difficulty and yet get an “E” (complete failure) on the same song just one level harder. I really dislike this about the game.

    The same is true for any music/rhythm game, and the problem comes mainly from how hard the song is in relation to others.

    Getting an A on an easier difficulty on an easy song means you’re probably still getting C’s on harder songs on the same difficulty, so you’re not ready for the next difficulty level, and heck, getting A’s on the harder songs means you’re only gonna get C’s on the easy songs the next difficulty up.

    This is a pretty natural system of “leveling up” yourself, but it means you need to repeat the songs in roughly the same order you beat them in your first time through, otherwise, you’ll be going out of order and either facing something you can barely pass or crushing a song so easily you wonder how it ever gave you trouble.

    Course, this is how most music/rhythm games work, I have no idea if DDR is the same since I haven’t played it more than once or twice, but I’m betting it is, so… yeah, play the songs in order.

    • Shamus says:

      Hmmm. I know from Guitar Hero that songs have an order, but no such order is implied in DDR. In fact, the selection thingy depicts them in a circle.

      I wonder if there is a way to see the difficulty of an individual song and I’ve been overlooking it. I always play in training mode. Perhaps it’s in the regular game mode.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        A circle usually means that no matter which way you turn, it will be harder. And yes, it applies even after a full rotation.

      • asterismW says:

        I don’t know about DDR Universe, but in the DDR flavors I’ve played, at least, there is a rating system for the songs, rated in feet (ie, little feet symbols). The more feet a song has, the harder it is (ostensibly). You can also see how hard a song is based on different aspects of gameplay, like air time (how often you have to jump). Plus, even though the song selection is in a circle, the easier songs are at the beginning of the circle and the harder songs are at the end (yes, the circle has a starting point). The songs are also grouped by color, with yellow songs being easy, red being difficult, and purple being feindishly insane.

  6. BarGamer says:

    You know you’re a DDR freak when you can identify every single song in this post, including the text-only example.

    I’m not one, but my brother is.

  7. Simon Buchan says:

    My problem with DDR is that all the songs are terrible, which is really a shame, as DrumMainia/GuitarFreaks show that Konami have some top-notch composers (Jimmy Weckl and TAG, for example). I just can’t stand to play those terrible techno songs enough times to get beyond difficulty 7-9 (out of 11-12), and then I leave off it, and then I’m back to 5 when I try it again. And the arcade hasn’t updated it, again, so I play the same 3 songs again… aarrrgh!

    TL;DR: I have some issues with DDR. But I like DrumMania, so it’s all good.

    • merle says:

      “all the songs are terrible” is strictly a matter of opinion. I myself quite like techno music, and enjoy the majority of the songs in the iterations of DDR that I have played.

      • Simon Buchan says:

        Note that I’m talking about the DDR machine at my arcade, which is pretty old now (been a while since I played, so I can’t remember which mix). YouTube suggests Universe 3 has a *lot* more variation, even if I don’t like most of them (they ported at least Murmur Twins and Concertino in Blue from GF/DM, so there is that).

  8. SteveDJ says:

    I’ve not played DDR myself, so maybe I’m missing something important. But I have seen people playing in the arcade (years ago). And I saw one person playing what appeared to be the equivalent of highest-level song — and he did it so gracefully, that it really did look like he was dancing (because the pattern ‘flowed’ so smoothly, like what was mentioned above).

    Anyway, when you were describing that 1.5 seconds of gameplay, you implied at having to hop around on one foot. But, if the move requires just the right foot to be moving, shouldn’t you be putting most of your weight on your left foot, in the center of the mat, and just tapping around with your right foot?

    • Submarine Bells says:

      @SteveDJ:
      Anyway, when you were describing that 1.5 seconds of gameplay, you implied at having to hop around on one foot. But, if the move requires just the right foot to be moving, shouldn’t you be putting most of your weight on your left foot, in the center of the mat, and just tapping around with your right foot?

      Yep, I believe that’s the point. He’s describing a failed attempt at a gameplay sequence. A large part of the trick to DDR, I’ve found, apart from the muscle-memory bit, is planning ahead, reading the “music” ahead a few beats, so that not only are you doing the current move correctly, but you’re set up for the move that follows it such that you can perform it without falling on your nose.

  9. Factoid says:

    Where I come from (the US midwest) there’s no such thing as an “E” letter grade….it goes A, B, C, D, F.

    I assumed it was like this everywhere. Are there places that really use E?

    Actually I should clarify: Middleschool and higher use letter grades. K-5 uses numbers 1-4, 4 being the highest.

    • Valaqil says:

      I checked Wikipedia after seeing that. I’ve _never_ heard of E being used seriously, and we always joked in school about how someone skipped E. Apparently, ‘E’ is something that has been favored in some places in the USA after WWII, although there’s no good citation for that, YMMV. The ‘F’ is, of course, from Pass/Fail and things follow from there.

      • Ergonomic Cat says:

        In my school we didn’t even have D. A B C F.

        In Japan they apparently have S, based on my experience with video games. And it stands for Super-Duper.

        • Zukhramm says:

          A B C and F is pretty much what my school uses, though we call them 5 4 3 and U.

        • Nidokoenig says:

          The Japanese S Rank actually started in games. There were some rumblings a while ago about introducing one into the school system to combat the feeling that an A wasn’t as motivating anymore, but I don’t know what became of that.

          Speaking of video game rankings, Sonic Riders had grades for jumps that started at C, went up through B, A to S, then SS, then SSS, then X, then XX. There may have been a XXX after that, but I never saw it.

    • Kacky Snorgle says:

      My school system (also in the US midwest) actually used A-B-C-D-E-F. The E stood for “effort”, and meant “you earned an F but we’re passing you anyway”. I have yet to encounter another school that admits so openly to this practice, but at the time I didn’t realize it was odd.

      In elementary school, the grades were O-G-S-LP-U, for Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory, Limited Progress, Unsatisfactory. Even at the time, I wondered why somebody thought those were easier to understand than alphabetical order….

    • Rick W says:

      The school system I went to in Maryland used A-B-C-D-E. I always thought that was weird, and then I moved to Texas where the school system used numerical grades from 0 to 100, which struck me as weirder.

      • wtrmute says:

        I’m pretty sure most places in the world use numerical grades, but it varies from country to country whether it’s 0-10, 0-100 or even 0-20. It’s easier to implement, because you just get the exams’ grades and average them however you (the teacher) like. I can see how someone used to letter-grades would find this weird, though.

      • Factoid says:

        Don’t most places that use letter grades also use numerical scores to generate them?

        Sometimes a teacher will just straight up say “this is an A” but that’s usually with writing or other qualitative stuff.

        For things like tests you usually get points, which are then translated into percentages.

        In most schools I’ve been to an A is 93% or better. B is 85 or better. C is 75% or better, D is 60% or better and F is below 60.

        A few places used A is 90%, B is 80% etc.

        In college it got even more confusing because not every teacher used the same system. They were allowed to use whatever they wanted. Some classes a 90 was an A, other times it was a 93. My college didn’t generally allow pass/fail except on certain types of classes like seminars.

    • Blake says:

      Down here in Aus I know a lot of schools use at least A,B,C,D,F, not sure about E though.
      For VCE (top end secondary education in Victoria) the final grades per class were a normal distribution between 0 and 50 against the rest of the state (I sadly only got 1 50) as well as being awarded a S/NS/NA for each class (satisfactory, not satisfactory, not assessed) then the final result (after doing some crazy maths with grading each subject or combination of subjects differently) we ended up with a percentile score graded against the state which was used as an entry score into TAFE/Uni.
      Then at uni we had Fail, Near Pass, Pass, Credit, Distinction, High Distintion.

    • ClearWater says:

      In Singapore they get A,B,C (not sure about D) and F. No E. But they also get x out of 50, y out of 100, z out of k (where generally 0<=z=1). It’s really confusing.

      In the Netherlands they generally do — or used to do; I haven’t been to school for some years — 1 through 10 with a ‘+’, ‘-‘ or ‘.5’ for extra granularity.

    • El Quia says:

      Here in Argentina, grades are numerical from high school onwards. When I was at elementary school, most schools had a numeric grade that was then converted to letters that meant something for the kids, so they will understand better what they meant, I guess. The thing was MS, S, PS… and the last one that I can’t seem to remember. They meant if the test was “Very Satisfactory” (not really sure if the translation makes enough sense), Satisfactory (this was the minimum to “pass” the grade), Little Satisfactory (you failed now, but with a little more effort you can get an S in the reinforcing test) and the last one that I can’t remember was meant to tell the kid that he should start studying already.

      But after that, it’s the 1-10 scale. Sure, some teachers could use a different grading system with their test to evaluate them better and whatnot, but the final note must be in the 1-10 scale, although half points are accepted (in high school).

  10. Conlaen says:

    I lack the balance for these games, which is a shame because my girlfriend and other friends really like them. Also, I lack the ears for these games as well, the music often gives me a headache.

  11. Zaghadka says:

    tl;dr…

    jk ;)

  12. Galenor says:

    “I am curious if I’ll be able to reach the final difficulty tier.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dL6UzqN8doQ&feature=related

    Jesus Christ. Good luck with that!

  13. asterismW says:

    A friend of mine used to have Dance Dance parties, which is where I learned to play and love it. I was never proficient above 3rd-tier, but he was. It was always fun to watch him, especially when he and his brother would go at the same time on crazy hard songs. They weren’t particularly graceful, but they were accurate. It amazed me that their brains could process a jumble of arrows going up the screen at light speed into dance steps which they then made their legs do. Really incredible.

    • Robyrt says:

      Rhythm games (DDR and Guitar Hero for instance) use the same skill as reading music in “real life”. Your eyes are looking ahead on the page/screen, your mind is processing that into “this is how I need to move to be in position for the next couple steps”, and your body is acting out the current step. It’s just easier to do with sheet music because you can control how far ahead you look.

      As Shamus so astutely notes, this is VERY different from most games, which rely on twitch reaction and hand-eye coordination. This is why new players are much more likely to be late than early: they are reacting to onscreen stimuli, not anticipating it.

      In another similarity to music, DDR is not a random jumble of arrows, but a set of a couple dozen common patterns that you gradually discover by playing through the easier tiers of songs. Once you know about a dozen “chords” of where to put your weight for, say, left-up-right-left, you’re just switching between those at increasingly ridiculous BPM counts set to increasingly annoying techno music.

  14. Greg says:

    We have a copy of Wii Outdoor life that has a ddr-style pad — need to make a decision on whether we like it or not before we re-purchase DDR for our Wii or 360. The old xbox pads, sadly, do not work on the 360.

  15. Jeff says:

    “this macho hardcore nonsense this childish and detrimental to the hobby”
    I’m thinking you meant to write “is”, Shamus?

  16. Dev Null says:

    I find myself unable to do dancing that involves a set series of steps or moves. Its just strange to me. Always reminds me of line dancing (which I did do once, and it was kind of fun in a camp sort of way… right up until they asked us to leave for not following directions.)

    That doesn’t mean the game couldn’t be fun though I suppose, if you just didn’t think of it as dancing. Shame about the music they always pick though.

  17. CaptainBooshi says:

    Despite trying for the longest time, I never managed to beat more than the easiest songs on the fourth tier, but I was proud of that. That was not easy.

    I do know that not all Dance Dance Revolution games are made equal. There are very definite differences in quality between them all, and if you really get into it, I would definitely see about trying some of the ones people say are the best (don’t ask me which, I stopped playing years ago).

  18. Phil says:

    Not sure about Universe, but I’m going to assume it’s like the others in the series, in which case A is not the best rank you can get. There’s at least a AA rating. May even be a AAA, but I’ve not seen that.

    I think for DDR Extreme (the 8th mix), AA requires at least 80 (or is it 90?)% Great. Saw something for a SuperNova 2 which suggests it may just be score-based in later games.

    Aim for the AAs! :)

  19. Kdansky says:

    DDR is utterly awesome. Sadly, most top-tier players “cheat” by holding on to handrails so they do not have to bother with their own weight, which is what makes the game fun in the first place.

    • Freykin says:

      In high school we referred to that as being a “bar whore”. I think it’s interesting that DDR is the one game that I’ve ever been an elitist about, whereas the rest I tend to be a lot more friendly and sportsmanlike about other’s playing styles.

      • merle says:

        The one thing I always try to keep in mind for DDR is how much of a derp I was at it when I started playing. Sadly, I don’t get much of a chance to play it anymore, but back in college we had a weekly club with a classroom (and projected screen!) to ourselves.

    • Ian says:

      The bar whoring argument really annoys me, almost as much when the 5th mix (and older) crowd complain that speed mods make the game too easy.

      It’s a game. Let people play it how they want to play it.

  20. UtopiaV1 says:

    I read DDR, i think Double Data Rate synchronous dynamic random access memory, which makes this article really weird!

    Stop dancing on your computer Shamus. Motherboards weren’t made to boogie.

  21. radio_babylon says:

    “Gaming has become too dang insular, and this macho hardcore nonsense this childish and detrimental to the hobby.”

    hear hear!

    although its always been this way, it just seems worse because there are some many *more* macho-child gamers now than there were 10 and 20 years ago. i honestly cant decide which is sadder, that there are *so many* people who derive a substantial (and entirely unhealthy) portion of their identity and self-worth from this hobby, or that *so many* of those people now are the *same* people from 10 or 20 years ago who have failed utterly to mature in any way over that time.

    i dont know if gaming truly does have an influence on things like violence and impulse control or not… but i now have little doubt that in susceptible individuals, it absolutely impairs social and emotional growth and development. or maybe not, correlation and causation and all that… but it certainly *seems* that way at times.

  22. Zak McKracken says:

    Somehow I don’t get these games: Guitar Hero and DDR and whatnot are just giant quicktime events, yet Shamus apparently likes them. (WTF? You spent so many words telling us how silly quicktime events were).
    But for the price of a console and Guitar Hero I can get a real guitar, and guess what I can do with that? For much less than the price of singstar I can get a real microphone. Ok, so a drum kit is a bit more expensive than Rockband, but now I decide what’s being played, and boy is that fun! A nice big display that scrolls through the notes for me would be appreciated, though :)

    Oh yes, and I was in a dancing club for five years. Which was time spent even better, in very good company, too, and not embarasssing at all (but really healthy for my back!) Now you try applying your knowledge from DDR at the next wedding ball … no matter how I turn it, it always seems that the real thing is time spent better than just pretending to control a virtual puppet …

    … so what the heck is it, then? Am I missing something?

    • Drexer says:

      Because DDR at least involves some form of fitness or exercise in its meant format, and even if played on a controller, it turns itself into a reflex game. Quick time events are just movies with different outcomes where you must press a button every thirty seconds. It’s not so much a test of your reflexes as an annoying feature that makes you obligated to keep your eyes on the screen even for the dullest of cutscenes.

    • Kyte says:

      Comparing real instruments to Guitar Hero/Rock Band/DDR/Pump It Up/etc is an exercise in futility. It’s like karaoke. Nobody expects you to do well, and you don’t need hours of practice to be moderately passable. It’s just fun. It’s button-mashing in another flavor, you could say.

      QTEs are annoying when they take away from the core gameplay, or feel like a slapdash method to add “tension” to a particular fight. They’re fun when it’s the whole point of the game.

    • Jarenth says:

      I originally posted this earlier, but Twenty Sided keeps eating my comments, lending further credence to the idea that both it and Chocolate Hammer are now sentient and malevolent.

      Anyway. What I wanted to say was:

      It is a video game. It’s based on the idea that sometimes I don’t want to perform activities to better myself or to gain some sort of improvement, but simply to have fun.

      I don’t play Guitar Hero to learn to play guitar, or play DDR to learn how to dance, any more than I play Pacman to learn maze navigation. DDr is just a time-waster, and an effective one at that.

    • Syal says:

      You forgot to mention that for the price of an RPG, you can buy a real knife and kill rats and moles.

      Of course time spent learning a skill is better than time spent playing videogames. That applies to any skill and any videogame. It’s also better than watching TV, reading fiction stories, playing D&D, or spending a night out with friends. People don’t play games to improve themselves, they play them to relax and have fun. DDR is actually better for you than most of those; at least DDR makes you move around.

  23. Irridium says:

    Yeah, I used to be one of those “macho hardcore” asses for a while.

    Then my friend dared me to play DDR.

    I swear I thought I was going to die or something.

  24. ccesarano says:

    This is not only why I love your writing, but it’s why I look up to you as a writer. It always makes me angry that people like you and the guys at GamersWithJobs aren’t getting paid for this to be your job when you are so much better than most of the guys doing this “professionally”.

    I’ve tried to say the same thing about newcomers to gaming and how third parties have been screwing up badly with the Wii, but reading this is like…it makes me wonder why I didn’t think of it?

    I must sound like a kiss ass right now, but I really do love it when you discuss gaming like this. I enjoy Stolen Pixels well enough and some of your “Let’s Play” things, but this is what I like most of you. Games critique and industry commentary.

    Either way, keep up the good work with everything you do.

  25. The Rocketeer says:

    Years ago, there was an arcade in my town with a DDR Extreme machine. Sadly, it closed down because it didn’t make any money. But in those days, I became an eminent DDR player, and I have very fond memories of those days.

    I’m actually very surprised you were able to make it to the third tier of difficulty (Standard, in my day) this quickly, but if there’s anything you can’t seem to wrap your head around, feel free to ask.

    Not that I’d really be able to do much for you; a lot of technique either has to be shown in person, or can’t be demonstrated at all and just has to be grasped in a cathartic ‘Eureka!’ moment, like the infamous ‘Afronover’ technique.

    Really, the only thing I can tell you is to try a to play a broad range of songs, even ones you don’t like and especially ones that give you trouble. At the arcade, I’d tend to shy away from songs that gave me more trouble since I was having to pay by the play and I didn’t want to fail out, but all this really meant was that I ended up either putting off learning important techniques, or just never learned them at all.

    Example: Even as a high-level player, I never did learn to do turnabouts, which are an old and basic technique for the series, and a lot of songs revolve around them. So it ended up that there were a lot of relatively easy songs that gave me a lot of trouble if I could pass them at all, even though there were many top-level songs that I played very competently and enjoyed thoroughly.

  26. Guts says:

    You make an excellent point when you suggest that hardcore gamers should check out DDR to gain the perspective absolute beginners do in other genres (FPS to use your example).

    My drum teacher used to suggest that if you wanted to really understand how a beginner felt, switch the drum kit around (so that your left side has to play the right side parts, and vice versa). It works great at giving that beginner perspective, where most of your learned, coordinated muscle memory doesn’t help you.

    Game developers might also want to occasionally switch up their control layout while testing to get an experience as close to newbie as they can.

  27. rayen015 says:

    Shamus let me let you in on a little DDR veteran secret. get the older versions of the game. Specifically DDRMAX and DDRMAX 2, if you like techno music these two have (by far IMO) the best song lists and they are a helluva lot easier than some of the newer games that assume you’ve been playing in the arcade or since extreme.

    a few tips for moving up a teir;
    -hold x button or whatever to bring up song options and switch the song to x1.5 or x2 i know it sounds insane but it makes some the eigth note stuff easier to read and in some cases makes 3rd tier seem like really fast 2nd teir.

    -practice practice practice

    -if you get DDR MAX you’ll have light medium and heavy. if you wanna move up to heavy do the songs abyss, look to the sky , and the Cube. althoug the first two are locked when you start out and there’s no dance master mode or mission mode to unlock them you just have to play. alot.

    -count in time to the song. i don’t know if this will help but it does for me. counting off the beats help me know when i should be putting my foot down.

    – don’t be afriad to try again. so you failed it once maybe the meter dropped to zero on a tough part but you did well on everything else give it another go and see if you can get that tough part better than you did the last time.

    -warm-up, do a couple of easy songs or songs on a lower tier to warm-up.

    • SatansBestBuddy says:

      I’m just gonna chip in and say that doing warm up songs is a great way to make sure you can last longer per session, as you can get looser movements and more focus on easy songs, then burn right through harder songs without getting tired as fast as you’re used to.

      Again, I haven’t played DDR, but the concept works for RB drums, which is also pretty demanding of your arms and legs, so warming up is a great way to increase stamina, seriously, you’ll find playing more than an hour to be a lot easier if you spend the first three songs or so on something easy.

  28. Adalore says:

    Mwahuhahaahaha! Ah yes DDR, one of my favorite games. I haven’t had a working pad for years though. But semi recently I got to actually play on a arcade cabinet.

    I can do most “Low tier” difficult songs, the 7 feet or whatever. For example I can do .A on hard, but I’ll be panting afterwards.

    One thing that I have noticed about ddr, is that it is really easy to get back into even if you have not played for years, unless that pesky fitness thing gets in the way.

    Remember to breath, and drink plenty of water while playing. Get used to subtle movements to trigger the arrows. You should be able to trigger with just a tiny hop.

    If you have a chance to try “I.T.G” or, AKA, In The Groove, it is better game in general, same controls and concept.

    However Konami gutted ITG, tsk tsk… Monopolies are annoying.

  29. Eric says:

    About the beginner’s perspective thing: for Father’s Day I knew my dad wanted Red Dead Redemption, so I bought it for him. Watching him try to play is at once painful, funny, and educational. The 360’s controller really does have a crapload of buttons, and the icons on the screen telling you what buttons do what don’t help him at all. For example, it said: Use LS to walk (or something similar) and he asked me what “L5” was. And the idea of the sticks being pressed down meaning something is still new to him. He has no idea why he keeps going into a crouch all the time. In spite of controller frustrations, he seems to be enjoying it.

    It does sort of illustrate how modern tutorials really aren’t. They’re designed for people like me who’ve been using controllers for 15 years–not people who have never played before.

    I am wondering if I even have a game that might familiarize him with the controls without being to aggravating, but I’m not coming up with any. Possibly Fable 2, but I don’t think he’d be interested in that… (mind wanders off on a tangent)

  30. janneke says:

    Have you ever wondered what did people did before DDR existed? There’s an instrument called ‘Dance Chimes’ and a song called The Stompstone Song! Enjoy.

  31. Hal says:

    *phew*, late to the party.

    My introduction to DDR was on my gamecube: DDR: Mario Mix. Yes, everything is a remix of music from some Mario game. Yes, it’s seriously silly. It was a good intro, though, as it’s got a much gentler learning curve than “normal” DDR games I’ve tried.

    Sadly, I can’t play it anymore. It’s not that it doesn’t work on my Wii, but the pad is too soft. It has a rubber(ish) bottom that doesn’t hold at all on carpet, so any attempts to play end up being thwarted by the pad moving nearly a foot in any given direction over the course of a song. That’ll throw you off.

    • Syal says:

      That problem can be solved through strategic use of nails.

      • Hal says:

        Oof, I’m not sure I can come up with enough reasons why that would be a bad idea (assuming my sarcasm detector isn’t broken):

        -ground floor (i.e. cement under the carpetting)
        -rented apartment
        -ruining the dance mat when it inevitably tears loose from the nails
        -etc.

    • Ian says:

      When I used a foam pad, I semi-secured it to the floor with velcro. If you attach the, uh, “pricky” side of a velcro strip to the corners of the pad it holds in place a bit better.

      There’s not a lot you can do to keep pads from slipping around in general, sadly. I had to buy a rubber mat to put under my Cobalt Flux to keep it from going rogue. :x I’ve also been in arcades where the casters under the pads weren’t set properly. There’s nothing quite like the experience of slowly moving towards or away from the machine while you play.

  32. Davie says:

    What? No humiliating picture of you hopping about on the dance pad, Shamus? I’m disappointed.

    In all seriousness, though, good to see you writing nice long blog posts again.

  33. Dante says:

    I’ve been playing DDR on and off since 1999, I can only do the top tier at 2x (1.5x for some of the faster songs, including all of the Paranoia set) with the freeze steps turned off. I really should start playing again, I have MAX 1 and 2, and Extreme 1 and 2 for ps2, I really need to lose the gut….

  34. Nathan says:

    I have to admit, the thing that most jumped out at me about this post was that you described DDR as “Guitar Hero with your feet”, and proceeded to explain DDR with the assumption that the reader knows what Guitar Hero is but doesn’t understand DDR. That just seemed weird to me. DDR is significantly older than Guitar Hero (all of my few experiences with DDR came from before Guitar Hero even existed) and has been fairly famous in its own right. It is a bit more fair to describe Guitar Hero as being “DDR with your fingers” rather than the other way around. Also, it is likely that anyone who knows a lot about Guitar Hero is probably at least passingly familiar with DDR, since they are very much in the same genre…

    Anyways, I wish I had an environment to play one of these games that didn’t involve lots of quarters and public humiliation. I think I am a bit more fond of the music and visual style of DDR’s competitors than DDR itself, though. One at my old college’s arcade had a few really fun techno remixes of classical songs (Beethoven?) that looked like they must have been absolute monsters to dance to.

    I also strongly agree about the fact that many game developers and gamers need to get a bit more perspective about how complex and difficult many games are to play. As one example, people should never need to use awkward controls like the “L3” and “R3” buttons when there are so many other buttons to be used. I used to think that any game that used such controls was showing its flaws as a bad PC-to-console port (the first game where I used those buttons was exactly that), but now the use of those buttons has become frightfully commonplace.

    • merle says:

      I don’t know – clicking the thumbsticks can often be easier than reaching for another button, when I’m focused on moving about. Maybe that’s just me?

    • ClearWater says:

      Reminds me of a site that they had on mezzacotta (it seems to be gone now) to explain one sport in the terms of another. E.g. Tennis is just football, but with one (or two) players per team, and you hit the ball with rackets instead of your feet, and, etc etc.

      DDR is just Guitar Hero, but with a mat instead of a guitar…

      Guitar Hero is just Doom, but instead of shooting monsters you shoot coloured circles by pressing them at exactly the right moment…

      Now if we can just find the right formula to explain DDR in terms of the travelling salesman problem, we can prove that P=NP!

  35. Benny says:

    The idea of non-gamers trying to play an FPS being analogous to me (a physcally-unfit degenerate) playing DDR for the first time (in my case, also the second, third, and n+1 th time) brings some emotions and frustrations to the surface from my early childhood. I’ve known for a long time that gaming has become complex to the point where newcomers are more than daunted, but my lifelong obsession has put me in the position of the concerned observer who is still clueless about how such lack of skill feels.

    You’ve sparked my memory of playing DDR in college, where, for the first time in years, I felt at a loss playing a game (not gloating here so much as saying that I hang with non-gamers most of the time [it’s a lonely existence]).

    For a while, I was thinking about how a game developer ought to try including a(n optional) tutorial mode that takes the non-gamer player step by step through advancements in technology/control complexity in a non-condescending manner. Now, though, I am thinking: why put that burden on the developers (or more importantly, rely on them to do so)?

    If, for example, I were working at Sony (hopefully not in the mailroom, or the contemporary equivalent), I would stress the importance of including such a tutorial / learning system as part of the console software (or as an update, for all you non-gamer PS3 owners out there, reading this blog comment list in entirety). Imagine that you have no gaming experience – no wait, imagine that you have no DDR experience and there is a console that is DDR-exclusive. (This is much less of a stretch for most of us.) Why would you want to buy a multi-hundred-dollar device that focuses on DDR, something you have no skill in and have trepidations about learning / doubt or decount your ability to be good at? (Or “at which to be good”, for you English majors. Wait, does that still not make syntactical/grammatical sense? Thank God programming doesn’t call for anything of that sort.)

    Now, what if said device included interesting, and more importantly, entertaining ways to become acquainted with the skill set needed to excel at DDR?

    A network such as XBOX Live or the PlayStation… Network… would be able to handle any updates such a tutorial needed as new and esp. more innovative games were released, given that those companies could afford to pay people to maintain them. It seems silly not to try to expand the market of all games on your company’s console by inviting and welcoming the non-gamers in for a newbie-friendly taste, and letting them get hooked. (I myself don’t care overmuch about the business end, but of course, there are those that must be convinced in this manner. People who could hopefully potentially be my boss.)

    AAH! I have exceeded the character limit for my attention span as well as that of my self-awareness. Please tell me you didn’t read all that. I weep for you. ….And for me.

    EDIT: Oh, BTW, I’m mainly a console gamer, these days mostly PS3, though I intend to save up for a high-end gaming PC when I have an effing job. I forgot to mention that THE INTERNET is also good for updates and such. I’m not completely sure but I think THE INTERNET is, like, good at that.

    EDIT2: I re-read this post and realized that what I thought was one continuous train of thought was, in fact, two or more. Bleh. Get over it. :D

    • SatansBestBuddy says:

      Hmm, interesting concept, but it sounds like you’re forgetting the games already on offer by XBL Arcade and PSN, which are pretty simple and easy to learn as is.

      There are games you can buy that use just one button and one stick, and hardly any of the games on the service use more than the four brightly coloured face buttons to control the action, plus there’s plenty of puzzle games to go around.

      So, yeah, if I were to introduce a casual gamer into the world of gaming, I’d show them some of the rather awesome downloadable with learning curves more suited to first timers rather than a rousing game of “get killed a lot in Call of Duty.”

      • Benny says:

        Good point, although even four face buttons may be a bigger obstacle than you realize. As for the one-button, one stick games, that’s more realistic for complete newbies (esp. them older folks); still, I’d bet a D-pad would be a better place to start. The problem with those simple games, though, is that they’re not incredibly… sexy? and would be hard-pressed to lure newcomers.

        If you (a gamer) are introducing someone to gaming, that shouldn’t be a problem, as you can explain that though it may seem impossibly far off, the skills they learn in a simple game will build towards the capacity to play more complex and attractive titles. More importantly, the person will probably be playing games that you own. How is a business supposed to market such a strategy for learning gaming to non-gamers? “In addition to our console and a controller, all you need to buy is this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this game and you’ll have the tools you need to start playing the more complex games of today.” A newcomer is simply not going to be able to pick up a simple game or two and become capable of ‘running with the big dogs’ because there are a lot of steps in between.

        EDIT: Not to say that simple but fun games aren’t sexy to us. We just have an eye for it. Maybe a fetish? :D

    • David W says:

      Hmm – sure sounds like something Nintendo did, called ‘Wii Sports’. And maybe also the Mii creator. Fun in their own right, but also all about how to use the controller, each activity using its own restricted set of commands.

      And it came, by default, with every Wii.

      For that matter, Mario Galaxy does a lot of this, starting with, I believe, thumbstick, shake, and A, and building up to using the whole controller by the end of the game.

      Now, Nintendo’s a special case, since they knew consciously that none of their customers would have knowledge of the controller.
      I wonder if Microsoft and Sony will follow suit with their motion sensing controllers, or if they’ll assume controller knowledge like they do with their more conventional controllers.

  36. Josh R says:

    Has anyone actually managed to lose weight with this game?

    I only mention this as I am in a huge fitness drive, stopped eating anything indulgent and running 10k every day, and a week in I’ve seen no improvement.

    I think you’d have to sink a lot more hours then most people think to lose weight on this.

    • Fieari says:

      I may not be the perfect one to judge, since my problem is the opposite (desperately trying to gain weight for medical reasons), but I found that playing DDR improved my stamina, my leg strength, reflexes, and improved my footwork for fencing.

      After 15 minutes of playing the harder tier 3 or the easier tier 4, I’m definitely pouring out sweat. If time on a treadmill or stairclimber or whatever will make you lose weight, this game definitely will.

    • Shamus says:

      10K!!!

      Look, if you’re running 10k, you’re already getting a ton of exercise. That’s… hang on, let me get out the calorie calc… Let’s say you run at a steady pace of 2Mph… convert to Kph… Okay, so you’d be running for a little over 3 hours… And 3 hours of aerobic exercise works out to…

      1,500 calories.

      Lance Armstrong on a unicycle, that is a lot of calories. You’d have to eat an absolute TON to keep weight on.

      I think tier 3 or 4 DDR is about even with jogging, so you could skip the 10k run and just play this for three hours. Man, you will KILL at this game after a couple of weeks. Might be more fun than running, at any rate. Depends on where you live, of course. Some places are wonderful to run in. Some are too ugly / too dangerous / have too much traffic / too much pollution / too much uneven ground to make for an enjoyable and safe run.

    • Shamus says:

      Hm. Maybe 2Mph is slow for an in-shape runner? We can up that to 3Mph and be done in 2 hours, but still… that’s a lot of burned energy.

      • Ian says:

        The average human walks at around 2-3 mph, so it would definitely be more than that. I’d probably aim more for the 8-12 mph range.

        • Shamus says:

          I used to have a treadmill, and when I’d use it I found that 1Mph was a comfortable walk. 2Mph was just above the speed where you had to transition from walking to jogging. 3Mph was a brisk run. The machine topped out a 6Mph, which was a crazy-fast sprint and very close to my top speed at 5’11. (About 180cm tall.)

          I’ve used that as my guide since then, without really questioning it. But now that I’m seeing these numbers I’m realizing the machine I had was probably just cheap and calibrated all wrong. That’s nice to know, since it means all those one mile 20 minute runs were probably TWO mile twenty minute runs, which makes a lot more sense.

          • Peter Sturdee says:

            I do a lot of long distance running. I usually expect to do 10K in a little under an hour. That’s a little more than 6 mph for the metrically-challenged. That’s a respectable long distance pace (I’m no speed demon).

    • Ian says:

      I was severely out of shape before I started playing DDR (which was around Summer 2003) and was overweight (6’1″, 245 lbs). After about a month of playing two hours a day (starting with light mode and eventually making it up to doing about 7/8 footers on heavy) I weighed 195 pounds. The reason for the crash weight loss is because I didn’t exercise regularly. If you exercise regularly you’re not going to see much of a benefit from it.

      One thing that is odd about DDR is that the better you get at it the less effective it seems to become in terms of being exercise. When you first start playing your steps tend to be very deliberate. As you improve, you begin to shuffle around more, hugging the brackets on the pad (or the gap between the arrows, if you will). I’ve found that even during fast strings of 16th notes I really don’t change my position all that much. Sometimes I think going back to standard mode and overstepping will be more beneficial than playing the heavy and oni/challenge difficulties.

    • ClearWater says:

      I started eating smaller portions, about half what I usually ate, and lost around 5kg (11 pounds), without doing much exercise at all. That’s just my experience though.

      Before that I tried a Disney Junglebook version of DDR for a while but it didn’t do much at all. Maybe because I couldn’t keep it up for more than a few days.

      Also, a week is pretty short to tell whether or not it works.

  37. Mr. Tramp says:

    Back in high school, I was convinced that this “casual” game would be one of those that is neat to play for a while, but would fade into obscurity. I certainly never expected Shamus to be doing pieces on it, but here we are. It certainly is a fun game and now has a much wider fanbase than I anticipated.

    So wide, in fact, that a buddy of mine actually found a tounament in the midwest where he went to college and, eventually, DUELED the champ to earn the title “DDR King of Lancaster County”. :P

    As far as exercise goes, watch your knees! This game is definitely NOT low-impact.

  38. ClearWater says:

    If you’re a base coward you can play with a standard controller and the game is basically a medium-pace quick time event that telegraphs the buttons you’ll need to press.

    In other words, it’s just like Guitar Hero?

  39. ArcoJedi says:

    Shamus, I couldn’t find where to post this best, but you keep on mentioning super-easy modes for video games.

    If Games Had Super-Easy Mode – CollegeHumor video

    I think they are talking to you directly.

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