Encore Extra Stage #14

Greetings all, and welcome to Friday once again! I’m Alex Williams, and I’ll be rushing right into the first segment of the column as soon as this sentence ends; which should be right about…NOW!


DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION: A BEGINNER’S COURSE

Once again, I find much of my material for these weekly nuggets of joy come directly from you guys. I’m never at a loss of things to talk about as long as you write in with your questions and comments. For example, Jairo Maldonado writes in with this:

I recently got DDR Max 1 and 2 plus one of the plastic dance pads, I’m not very good at them but I wish to get better and I was wondering if you could give me any begginer’s advice.

You know, in my 4 1/2 years experience with DDR, I’ve never been personally asked for advice on how to get better. For us veterans, its something we hardly think about anymore. We’ve played the game for so long that we’ve really forgotten our own beginner days, and how we’ve improved over the years. I mean, we just…improve! There’s really no way to describe it. We played a long time, we got better, and now we can AAA most songs under the sun. It’s like riding a bike almost. Once you learn how, you never forget.

Still, when I actually sit down and think about it, there are ways to improve yourself if you are just a beginner. It’s actually quite simple if you’re really going to invest the time and the energy needed to master this game. The following are some pointers to follow:

–Before even turning on the game, you can take part in some preparation. When listening to your favorite CDs, the radio, or even watching music videos on the TV, simply tap your feet to the rhythm. Nothing too elaborate or anything; simply try and keep a beat. The gameplay in DDR requires you to do just that when stepping on the arrows anyway, so conditioning your mind to keep track of quarter-note beats outside of the game may enhance your performance inside of the game.

–When choosing songs, pay close attention to the BPM, or the Beats Per Minute. The higher the BPM, the faster the arrows will scroll by. If you’re just beginning, try to pick songs between 130-160 BPM to play. This is about the average scroll speed for a DDR song, and the arrows will be easier to read. Picking something too fast may confuse you, while picking something too slow might cause you to step too fast. (Or, if you want, you could pick a slower song and change the arrow-scroll speed to 1.5 to compensate.)

–Go through the “Lesson Mode” each game contains. Nothing provides a better crash course through the basics than Lesson Mode.

–You might want to keep your feet stationed in the center of the pad when playing the easier songs. Most veterans will tell you NOT to do this, but really, it’s all up to the individual and what they feel is comfortable while playing.

–If you are still having trouble after going through Lesson Mode, try several songs on Beginner Mode. (MAX2 and Extreme both have this difficulty.) An on-screen character will perform the steps along with you, so you know where to place your feet during that particular song.

–Stay away from the stage “mods” (i.e. Hidden, Sudden, Dark, etc.) until you are comfortable with playing the game on the regular settings. For example, many people tend to abuse the speed mods early and use them EVERY TIME THEY PLAY, conditioning them to do worse when playing normally. Using them early on is a good tool, but using them too much is not.

–Pay attention to the difficulty levels. Start out by playing on songs rated between 2-4 on Light. Once you feel comfortable, advance to either some harder Light songs, or move up to the Standard level. Don’t take on too much at one time.

–Play in spurts. Spend between 60-90 minutes at a time on the game. Playing beyond this could end up adversely affecting your health. (I remember a couple years ago when a story popped up about some kid playing for 4 1/2 hours and collapsing, drinking nothing but soda and frozen drinks.)

–Along with the last point, keep yourself hydrated. I CANNOT stress this enough. Always have a bottle of water or a sports drink on hand to replenish the fluids in your body. Carbonated drinks are NOT recommended, as they work against you when playing.

–Don’t expect to become an expert overnight. Becoming good at this particular game requires patience, stamina, and determination. You might become better after a couple of months; you might become better after a year or two. It’s all up to how you want to approach this. I myself only became really good in my second year of playing, simply because there were few arcade machines to practice on in my area, and importing was too expensive. (American home versions were not out yet.)

–Most importantly, have fun. I’ve seen many a player who relegate DDR as some sort of super-competitive activity where they need to become good RIGHT NOW, and better than everyone else. Once they reach their goals, they quickly become bored with the game and bitter at the state of the game today. Try not to think about becoming better than you are, and you’ll progress that much faster. Take in the music. Figure out the beats. Don’t take it too seriously. You’ll enjoy the game far more this way.

If anyone else has any pointers they’d like to contribute, or mention something I may have forgotten, please e-mail me. I’m always here, after all.


THOUGHTS ON TAKE-TWO TAKING VISUAL CONCEPTS

As I reported earlier in the week, Visual Concepts now belongs to Take-Two per a contractual stipulation provided by Sega. It’s a move that helps set the stage for the new generation of “sports game wars” as its now EA and their monopoly over all things NFL, NASCAR, FIFA and PGA versus Take-Two and the…um…MLBPA. Well, they have to start somewhere, right?

First of all, don’t think that I’m glad that Take-Two has the MLBPA license all to themselves. Sure I’m kinda happy that EA doesn’t have it, but at the same time, I’m disgusted that Take-Two dropped to EA’s level. I’m angry that another sporting league has fallen pray to crap ass business politics. I’m REALLY ticked that EA has started this chain of events in the first place. Just because Take-Two is the “lesser of two evils” in this case does NOT mean that Take-Two ISN’T evil in this regard. No sir.

Of course this means that Sega will no longer be publishing games under the Sega Sports label. No dedicated developer = no sports games, after all. And for all intents and purposes, Sega Sports can be considered “dead”. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’ll miss the Sega Sports games that have been pumped out year after year; especially the football titles. On the other hand, I’m SUPER-glad that Sega no longer has to deal with the uber-headache that is Electronic Arts. Without a sports division to worry about, Sega can focus more of its resources into the development of the unique titles they are known and loved for by their fans. And now EA is Take-Two’s headache, Sega can sit back and laugh at the two going at it like wild dogs.

So the era of Sega Sports is no more. ‘Tis now the era of the “Sports Buyout League”, headed solely by EA and Take-Two. Lets hope they kill each other and leave nothing else in their wake, eh?

THIS JUST IN: Literally MINUTES before this column went to press, I found out something very interesting in regards to the Take-Two / MLB agreement. It turns out that Take-Two is now the only third-party developer who have the right to use player likenesses from the MLBPA. So the following can still occur:

(1) Any company can develop a baseball title containing the teams, stadiums, logos, etc., but NOT use the actual players. In essence, we can see the California Angels VS the St. Louis Cardinals, but Generic Pitcher #3 will be pitching the ball to Generic 1st Baseman #42.

(2) First-party developers can still make games for their systems with the MLBPA licenses. So Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo can still make their own 100% accurate MLB baseball games for their own systems. (Nintendo is already doing this, actually, and the game will arrive soon.)

So this particular agreement is pretty full of holes when we get into the details. Still doesn’t make it any more right, though.


BEFORE ANYONE GETS STUPID ABOUT IT…

Some of you may have read about Nintendo’s third-quarter profits being down 43% from the same period last year. This is due to several factors, including slower than usual GameCube sales, the amount of money put into the DS launch, and the current strength of the Japanese yen. So of course upon hearing the news, lots of you guys are coming out of the woodwork announcing Nintendo’s demise, how they’re going the way of Sega, how they’re going to quit the console business, etc, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.

Apparently, no one knows what the word “profit” means.

Although Nintendo made less of a profit in this time period, they still made a profit. Meaning they made money. They made LESS money then they would have liked, but they still MADE MONEY. If Nintendo was LOSING money, it would not be reported a “profit” by any means. It would be reported as a “loss”. And if Nintendo ever announced that they were losing money for extended periods and not making it back later, THEN we could conceivably say that Nintendo is in trouble.

Believe it or not, Sony’s profits have ALSO dropped in the same vein. Also notice that the gaming websites don’t make a big deal about this. Notice that no fans have proclaimed that Sony is “dying” and needs to get out of the hardware market FAST before their eventual collapse. Microsoft is losing money on the XBox with each one they sell, and each piece of software they publish. No one is calling for Halo to appear on other systems like a third-party game, are they? (Well, okay, maybe Halo was a dumb example, but you know what I mean.)

And “going the way of Sega” is a laugh. If Sega was making the quarterly profits Nintendo was making right now, we would be seeing plans for the Dreamcast II right now along with tech demos at E3. As of right now, Nintendo is estimating they will make 120 billion yen in total profits this fiscal year. This roughly translates into 1.16 billion US dollars. Most companies only DREAM of seeing numbers like this. If Sega made that much, they would still be fighting the good fight with their own hardware.

So stop spray-painting the Nintendo logo on your coffins, and put away those premature eulogies. Nintendo isn’t going ANYWHERE. Like it or not, they’re still going to be around for a while. I guarantee it.


APPLES AND ORANGES

A couple of weeks ago, I printed several e-mails sent by one “Andrew Tanase”, who knew next to nothing of what he spoke of outside of drooling fanboyism for dancing game knockoff In The Groove. I also said that he would be ignored if he sent me any more e-mails. However, he sent me one e-mail bringing up a new project being undertaken by Konami in Japan (in the guise of a flame, of course), so I’d figure I’d share with you what exactly it is. Here’s the e-mail:

Hey I’m the dude that made fun of ur extra stage encore #2, the long post about how you thought you got moonlight shadow into some ddr mix. Well just wanted to inform you what konami is working on while roxor games is hard at work on ITG 2.

http://www.kobayan.jp/location_test/dance86.4.htm

It’s a 3 panel DDR type game. Quite sad if you ask me.

This is what I love about idiots. You can explain something to them to their face and prove beyond a SHADOW OF A DOUBT that they are either (a) wrong about something, or (b) speaking complete gibberish, and they won’t listen. Ever. It’s like talking to a brick wall. (This is your ass, this is a hole in the ground. No, that’s the hole in the ground!)

That point aside, the link he sent me pointed to a new game Konami is currently location-testing in Japanese arcades called “Dance 86.4: Funky Radio Station”. From the looks of it, it’s another game where you must step on floor panels in time to the music, but with distinct differences. There are only three panels to step on per player, and all are lined up horizontally (i.e. Left/Center/Right). Like a typical DDR arcade machine, there are bars to grab onto, although they are in front of the floor panels instead of the back. Finally, considering the graphics and presentation, the machine looks to be marketed more towards the younger crowd than what DDR‘s key demographic.

The interesting thing about this machine is that it is NOT a new version of DDR being made for the younger crowd. (There actually was one made years ago in Japan called DDR Kids, but that didn’t do so well.) If you take a close look at the screenshots, you’ll notice the Bemani logo (the division all of Konami’s music games come from) is nowhere to be seen. In fact, this new machine has been described as better resembling ANOTHER Japanese arcade game series by Konami called Bishi Bashi. From what I can tell, Bishi Bashi is a compilation of mini-games you control by hitting three big “bubble buttons” located on the face of the unit. In fact, the same bubble buttons can be found on the Dance 86.4 machine as well. Comparing the two screenshots in this section prove the set-ups to be strikingly similar. The only difference I can find is that Dance 86.4 uses the Bishi Bashi controls on the floor rather then attached to the cabinet.

So what does Konami producing a dancing version of Bishi Bashi in Japan have to do with Roxor Games producing a sequel to ITG for the American market?

I’ll give you a hint. It starts with an “N”, and ends with an “othing!”.

You see, this isn’t Konami’s official response to any project that Roxor Games is putting out. It shouldn’t even be READ like that, considering we are discussing two different games fore two different markets. It’s exactly like comparing apples to oranges.

And as far as the DDR series itself, Konami is STILL producing it. Right now, however, the company feels it can make the most money off of the series by producing it for the home consoles in Japan and America. DDR may not be as popular as it once was in its home country, but its still incredibly popular in the American and European territories. This is why we don’t see any new arcade mixes flying out of Japan these days, and we see more home console games in every territory. (We’re even seeing a new arcade game in EUROPE, for crying out loud.)

But the fact that I find funny is that the majority of dancing game veterans are STILL playing the Japanese arcade MAX2 and Extreme games instead of trying ITG, the “supposed” answer to what hardcore players want according to ITG’s fan base. And MAX2 is nearing it’s 3rd birthday. Think on that for a while.


MISC MAIL

Okay, I’ve proven that “I’ve got mail” for many weeks now. This is the mail I’ve received that really didn’t fit in the previous sections, so I address them here.

First we have first-time writer Will Bryant with some thoughts on the upcoming DDR w/Mario:

Er, hi. I just thought I’d chime in with my two cents on what some of the songs from the demo might be. Hope you don’t mind. (heh, I get nervous when e-mailing columnists and other web “celebrities” for the first time for some reason…)

Don’t sweat it. As long as you present yourself as an intelligent human being with something to say, you’ll be treated just fine. E-mail me as often as you like, man.

“Web celebrity?” I don’t think I’ve EVER been addressed in such a manner. (Oh, wait, you’re probably referencing other web celebrities. Dang…) Still, I get quite the kick out of it.

“Mozart In The Pipe — From Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik
You got me as to what this is. Probably a Mario-esque remix of a classical piece.”

I’d say that’s safe to assume. It’s definitely a classical remix, and mentioning pipes in the title of a song from this game… well…

Actually I’ve heard that “Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik” is a group/album and the track in question is from that group/album. Still quite the play on the title, though.

“There Go The You — KiraKira Hoshi
This might be the Japanese equivalent to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. Then again, it might not be.”

If it’s not, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the old invincibility star theme, somehow. Maybe it’s just random JPop. Either way, I love the title. Heh.

It’s probably closer to the Japanese “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, actually. At least this is what most are assuming at this point.

“ParaPara Carmen — Carmen
And again, I have no clues as of right now”

This has to be a eurobeat song, at least. (Para Para Paradise…) Whether it’s “Carmen’s Prelude” or something else, though, I’m not sure.

You’re pretty close to the mark, actually. In some of the recently released videos of the demo event, people have heard portions of “Carmen’s Prelude” in the background over the noise and the crazy Japanese lady talking over everyone.

Next we have a response to some more of my EA commentary:

Personally, i dont think there will be another crash anytime soon. there are too many casual gamers. but maybe there can be a smaller crash, maybe there can be a crash isolated to football games. if EA gets lazy and makes shitty, repetitive madden games due to lack of competition and even the casual gamers cant stand it anymore, wouldnt they be forced to make an awesome game? usually they make up for a bad game with more realistic graphics, but how much better can they get with the current hardware? maybe theyll get better developers and make all their games better. and then we wake up, but it might happen! you never know!

The Great Randolfsky, The North-American Yo-Yo Athlete

I don’t think I referenced a video game “crash” in my last article, did I? Still, I agree that with the current abundance of “casual gamers”, the industry has nothing to worry about in regards to the industry collapsing on itself. There are too many idiots who will buy ANYTHING that receives a bajillion pounds of hype.

I’d also agree with your theory about EA having to put out better games if no one is buying, but EA is somewhat known for not listening to its fanbase. I’ve read horror stories about their PC games division releasing bad patches for games like Battlefield 1942 that hurt more than help.

“And then we take up”. HA! I cracked up when reading that. Nice one.


PLUGS & SHILLS THAT PAY THE BILLS

Allow me to advertise the awesomeness that is US, in all our self-serving glory! Oh, and others I deem worthy to give the proverbial “shout-out” to.

Bryan Berg is back again, and describes how an illegal controller thing should make a company like Nintendo rethink their strategy. (And I invested my $100 in my NES GBA SP because I wanted a cool looking SP. Consider me “Mr. Happy Customer”, thank you very much!)

Liquidcross wonders if Nintendo still has it in them, especially since other companies are developing several of its products. (Geez, The Big N ain’t getting much love this week…)

Widro tries to match the words “EA” and “good” in the same sentence, but it comes out looking all awkward and stuff. Still, he seems to like Oddworld: Stranger.

Orange Lounge Radio is awesome. I shill them, they shill me. All is right with the world.

There’s evil on the attack?!? OH NOES!!!111


PARTING THOUGHTS

Looks like I had plenty to talk about today! Lets hope I still have the time now I’m firmly entrenched within the “schoolwork zone” again.

So until next week, drink lots of water. Why? I dunno. Probably ’cause it’s good for you, I guess.


Alex Williams, The Norwegian Athlete