News feature

Students play open-source Dance Dance Revolution emulator in Rebecca’s Café

Dance cab installed by Robin Park ’19 with funding from the De Florez Fund for Humor

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Matthew Hambacher ’21 (left) and Robin Park ’19 (right) play StepMania using a recently acquired dance cab on on April 13 in Rebecca’s cafe.
Amy Shim–The Tech

Anyone can play an open-source Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) emulator at Rebecca’s Café in Walker Memorial, thanks to efforts choreographed by Robin Park ’19. The new machine, a state-of-the-art StepManiaX that retails for over $7000, is now free for anyone to use during Rebecca’s Café business hours and available to MIT cardholders 24/7.

Park, in an interview with The Tech, said that he purchased the dance machine — referred to as a “dance cab” by the gaming community, a nod to the cabinet-like appearance of the original arcade machines — through funding from the De Florez Fund for Humor. He applied for the grant with help from his friend Tony Wang ’19. A dedicated rhythm gamer, Park wanted a cab available that was easy to access.

"It used to be that the nearest cab was in Braintree,” he said. “I was getting tired of making the hour and half trip on the T.”

While DDR is perhaps the most well-known rhythm game, the StepManiaX at MIT does not actually run DDR, which is a proprietary game by Konami. Instead, it runs StepMania, an open source software that emulates DDR.

This isn’t the first time MIT has had such a cab on campus. In 2002, during the height of the DDR craze, Chad M. Polycarpe ’03 added a DDR cab to an arcade room on the first floor of the student center, where an MIT Federal Credit Union office currently resides. The arcade room existed as early as the 1980s and was eventually shut down to lease the space to more profitable vendors, according to past editions of The Tech.

“I used to go to MIT [to play DDR] well over a decade ago,” said Alex Sofikitis in an interview with The Tech. Sofikitis met Park through a New England rhythm gaming group on Facebook and helped assemble the cab. Though not MIT-affiliated, Sofikitis is an active member of the local rhythm gaming scene. “A lot of the best players from the early 2000s would frequent the place because the machines were maintained by the school, and the price was very fair compared to other arcades at 50 cents for four songs.”

The steep price tag of the StepManiaX almost prevented its arrival at MIT. “I had very little hope because this thing costs $7,000. I kind of felt weird asking for several thousand dollars when the fund usually only gives out a few hundred dollars,” said Park. But after a few months of emailing back and forth, Park convinced the De Florez Fund committee to invest in a quality dance cab.

Standing about six and a half feet high, the StepManiaX consists of two side-by-side pads, LED displays, speakers, and load cell sensors. A light step is enough for the cab to register, unlike the stomping mechanism required of many archaic DDR cabs.

“This cabinet is a beauty,” Sofikitis said. “[It has] a touch-screen interface that has little to no visual lag. ... At a school like MIT, it makes sense that you should have the most technically advanced dance game in the market for students to enjoy.”

“The StepManiaX uses load cells, the same kind of technology that's in a bathroom scale,” said Kyle Ward, entrepreneur and producer of the StepManiaX, in an interview with The Tech. “When you step on a scale, they tell you how much you weigh. In our application, we don't necessarily care about how much you weigh, but we're able to use software thresholds to basically emulate a switch.”

Though the StepManiaX has had a few broken panels since its purchase, Ward has sent replacement parts.“The [current] panels are polycarbonate, so they're very strong plastic, stronger than acrylic. You can almost shoot bullets at polycarbonate. It never breaks,” he said.

Park plans to remain in the Boston area after graduating and continue to help maintain the machine. He runs weekly rhythm gaming sessions, open to the public, which are posted at Matthew Hambacher ’21, who also helped Park assemble the cab, plans to start an ASA-recognized rhythm gaming student group in the fall.

“It's just been a really fun experience playing this as much as I have, since it's really easy to come here in-between classes when I have an hour or two to kill,” said Hambacher in an interview with The Tech. “You meet all kinds of interesting people — just random people who want to play or try it out.”