I think it's about time that I dust this thing off. A lot has happened within the past couple of years, so I'll start with when I moved.
Make Your Move
I bought a condo in 2015. I remember clearly that it was during ConnectiCon weekend when I got the phone call from my realtor that I won the bid. Prior to that, I had been playing dance games (DanceDanceRevolution and In The Groove) on a fairly consistent basis, streaming my sessions on Twitch at least twice to three times a week. I made great progress with my foot speed and stamina, being able to clear ITG 15s and 16s and working towards clearing my first 17. That was until I moved to the new condo in September 2015, and it was also when I decided that I would do a full restoration on my DDR arcade cabinet before I could play on it again. Because of that, I did not play any DDR or ITG at all (except for a few tournaments) until I had finished the restoration at the end of the July 4th weekend of 2016. My performance in competitions suffered greatly, gasping for breath after playing songs that used to give me little to no trouble. It took a huge toll on my confidence in my ability to improve. Watching my progress recede while my rivals continued to further surpass me in skill caused frequent periods of mental distress. Having a weekly existential crisis over music games was absolutely exhausting.
Not all was lost, however. Even though I had to sideline my dance game progress, I was able to at least make great strides in my beatmania IIDX skill by playing almost every day while my DDR cabinet was slowly being worked on. I managed to clear both PENDUAL and copula 9th Dan and completely finish the DDR cabinet restoration within a year. I even took the time to record footage of the restoration process, and it was with this process that I got my hands dirty with video editing. It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun learning how to do something that I've always wanted to do. I drew much of my inspiration and ideas from other tutorial videos and watching videos by very prolific vloggers for editing techniques. Some of the videos are very lengthy, even with cutting and editing to speed things up. The whole playlist is linked below, and it shows the process from start to finish.
Tokyo Game Action
That DDR cabinet has a bit of history behind it. It was originally from an arcade in Maine called Power Up owned by a guy named "Snooj". Power Up closed down and the machine ended up going to Tokyo Game Action after it had moved to its Winchendon, MA location. TGA suffered a tragic flood after a big snow storm in December 2008 and was forced to close down. This was an extremely crushing moment for the entire New England music game community, as it was the last true arcade of its kind in the area. Even more heartbreaking was the MIT arcade, my main DDR spot, had closed down in the same month, leaving the Greater Boston Area with nowhere left to play DDR.
Summer of 2009 rolls around and TGA was to auction off all of its property. Of course, I wanted to see TGA one last time. On the way there, I had joked with my friend Mike that we should buy a DDR machine, even though I had no intention of buying anything from the auction. Or so we thought. It was a surreal experience come bidding time, seeing all the games getting picked up by who knows where. The bidding for the DDR EXTREME machine came. One person raised a bid, and on impulse I raised my number for a bid. My bid, going unchallenged, going once, going twice, I became the joint owner of a DDR EXTREME cabinet.
That machine has seen a lot of play and a ton of work was done to it from the time I picked it up from TGA to when I sold it back to my friend Mike, who was the one to convince me to buy it in the first place. We both put in the money together to buy the machine and some parts that were being auctioned off with it. It was originally housed at Mike's storage shed at his house, though I spent the most time with playing and working on the machine that it made more sense to move it to my house. It was that very machine that helped me level up in terms of both gameplay and technical skill. It was where I achieved great milestones like AAAing MAX 300 on DDR EXTREME for the first time and clearing One More Lovely on In The Groove. I was at my peak dance game performance.
It was where I learned the ins and outs of a DDR machine. Not just knowing how to replace sensors and modding the pads for better sensitivity, but the wiring layout, the parts and construction of the cabinet itself, and being able to tell the difference between a Japanese cabinet and a Korean cabinet (TGA's machine was Korean). This culmination of knowledge eventually led to being confident enough to tackle a huge, daunting project like a full restoration.
For the whole restoration album, click here
So what prompted me to sell this cabinet? This piece of music game history? About a little over a year ago, my friend Alex had purchased both a Betson SuperNOVA cabinet, and a Japanese DDR EXTREME "Clean" cabinet. He only wanted to keep one of them, and I figured he would want the Betson cabinet more than the Japanese cabinet. A Japanese cabinet has many advantages over a Korean cabinet, and since I was looking to possibly upgrade from my Korean cabinet and I was over the sentimental value by then, I made the move to buy it from him. So while I was still working on restoring the Korean DDR cabinet, I had a second DDR in my basement. It was getting very cramped down there, so I had to clean everything up fast.
Finishing the restoration was possibly my biggest accomplishment of the year. It was a huge weight off of my shoulders, but the work didn't end there. I still had two DDR machines in my basement. I needed one of them out as soon as possible, and I was already set on making the Japanese cabinet my main machine, which meant that the Korean cabinet that just restored had to go.
This is when things got very exciting (and super busy).
It's July 2016. We had heard rumors over the last few months that the US was getting the new DDR on the official eAmusement network, which was the biggest thing to happen for DDR players in a very long time. Not only do we get the current version of DDR, but we get to compete with everyone globally. Myself and many others were eagerly waiting for the rollout of those shiny new white DDR cabinets. Luckily, the Dave & Buster's in Braintree, one town over from where I live, and Round1 Taunton about 45 minutes away, got one DDR A cabinet each. Having this kind of access to current DDR was a huge motivator for me to start playing seriously again and hopefully help attract new players to join the scene.
This is around the time when I started taking on too many things at once. About a week or so before DDR A came around, I was inspired to start a vlog series to document my training and progress leading up to three upcoming competitions: Champions of the Coast, Raj of the Garage 4, and Game Underground Arcade Championships. I had a lot of trouble starting my first video as it took so much energy to talk at a camera without stumbling on every other word I said. Eventually I became more comfortable with it, but it took a bit of time. I was working on a video in Premiere on almost a daily basis, looking for ideas from other videos, watching tutorials, and drawing inspiration from other YouTubers. It was a lot of fun filming and editing these videos, churning out new content a few times a week.
Once the events had come and gone, trying to keep up with making new videos took a huge toll on me and my relationship with my partner, leaving very little time to just relax and enjoy other things, especially any intimate time with each other. It was a fun experience and I definitely learned a lot about making videos, but I had to end the vlog for my own sake. I still want to make videos, especially gameplay and maybe even tutorial videos, but those will have to come out less frequently.
You can check out my vlog series below:
- Champions of the Coast 2016
- Raj of the Garage 4 Part 1
- Raj of the Garage 4 Part 2
- Game Underground Arcade Championships
The end of the vlog can be marked by the day I released the Korean DDR machine to Mike. I disassembled the Korean one in preparation for finally moving it out of my house, set it back up at Mike's garage and bid farewell to the machine (I went back later to help him set up OpenITG). It was a momentous occasion. I could set up the Japanese cabinet in the place I wanted and rearrange the furniture to transform the basement into a comfortable, livable space once again.
The 6th KAC
What is even bigger than DDR A coming to North America? KONAMI allowing North America to compete in the KONAMI Arcade Championships for the first time. The KAC was only restricted to the Japan and Asia Pacific region, any region that had access to eAmusement essentially. The 6th KAC was our first chance to finally compete on their world stage. The top 2 players from each region (Japan, Asia, and North America) plus one Wild Card were qualified to play in the 6th KAC Finals at JAEPO in Japan. Not to discourage myself, but I knew where my skills stood. I'm not a world class player, and I knew I wasn't going to place high enough to make it to the finals, but I saw it as a great opportunity to find out where I ranked among the rest.
This competition pushed me past my limits. I still felt a bit rusty as I had much more stamina and endurance before my move, so it was a matter of getting it all back again and pushing myself further along. Though I didn't have huge expectations, my goal was to make it into the top 10 in North America. I was there for a while, but when more competitors had a chance to play, they started taking the spots above me. Admittedly, I didn't play DDR A during the KAC preliminaries as much as I probably should have. It was the dead of winter so I didn't feel like going out. Only once or twice a week did I ever go out to play, and only half of the time did I even attempt the qualifiers again.
Once the preliminaries were over, my final rank was 14th in North America and 119th globally. I wish I could say that I was happy with the result, but I knew I could have done much better given certain circumstances. If I kept up with playing after moving, if I had focused on maintaining my stamina, if I had gone out to play more during qualifiers, but none of that matters anymore. I'll simply have to make the effort to do better next time.
The 6th KAC DDR A Finals
If you don't already know, I created DDRCommunity back in February 2016. One day, I had thought about how KONAMI created an online forum called ddronlinecommunity.com which is now long gone and wondered if anyone had claimed the domain. It turns out that someone had taken it, so I kept thinking of names that closely resemble that, and came up with ddrcommunity.com. My original idea behind the site was to bring forth better visibility of dance games and its communities in the current gaming landscape since they are vastly underrepresented. I believe that it can be done through promoting media, content, and events. That means livestreams, videos, social media, written articles, and tournaments. Anything that can be done to bring the games into the spotlight and for the players to become personalities who can proudly represent their main game.
The toughest challenge that I'm facing with maintaining the site is the fact that I am the only person working on the site. It's difficult to find other people who are willing to contribute content, so I mostly rely on social media and events. More events is definitely a big step in the right direction. With DDR A being in the US, I hope that there will be more competitions that bring players together in the future. Right now, it's a site that can help beginners get started and provides some tools to aid players in improving their game, as well as being driven by promoting events on the site and through social media. But other than that, I'd like to figure out what else I can do with the site.
Now and Forever
As of this month (March 2017) I have turned 30 years old (New Decade, get it??). I'm in pretty great shape and more fired up to improve at DDR than ever before. But most importantly, I have a wonderfully supportive and loving partner (that also plays DDR with me!) who wants to help me succeed. There's a lot less stuff getting in my way with playing DDR now that I can refocus my energy towards that again.
But now that I'm 30, why am I still playing DDR? Am I too old now? Will my body still be able to handle it? I look at it this way: athletes, professional and not, perform strenuous activity all the time and can continue to achieve physical milestones well into their 50s or even 60s. The human body is strong and it can adapt to many things. I'm certain that DDR isn't going to break me anytime soon. DDR is also fun and makes me feel good when I play it. The music, the physical aspect, personal improvement, competition, everything about DDR has shaped my life into what it is today. It also feels like I have unfinished business with the game. I've always wanted to be able to perform as well as the top players, to be able to do what they can do and even compete at their level. It may take a long time to catch up, but that's where I want to be, and I'll do everything I possibly can to get there. Considering that I'm able to work my way back up to getting PFCs on 16s, much more than I have ever been able to do before, I'm feeling pretty optimistic.
To the Future
I want to start using this blog again. Since I'm not really working on StepMania simfiles anymore, I'll want to figure out what kind of content I want to post. Definitely DDR-related stuff, though. I have a lot of thoughts about DDR, much more in-depth and analytical things about the game than most players would ever think about, and I want to be able to articulate those thoughts and sort of brain-dump them into my own space. A place for me to share knowledge, opinions, and theory-craft methods for improving performance. There are many subjects involving DDR that I will want to write about and share with everyone very soon. Much, if not all of it will be drawn from personal experience, through the observation of other players, and existing research. As much as I would love to conduct concrete and conclusive DDR-related experiments, I don't have the resources to do that. Though wouldn't that be interesting?
I want 2017 to be a year when my peers and I can level up. I tweeted this out already, but I want to start off by setting my goals here to hold myself accountable:
DDR goal setting 2017:— 9V🔋 (@ninevoltbattery) March 20, 2017
-AAA all 16s (and below)
-FC all 17s
-900k+ all 18s
-800k+ clear all 19s
If you've somehow managed to make it this far, I commend your patience. Thank you for taking the time to read through this mess.