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pjf (2464)

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I run Perl Training Australia [].

I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.

I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.

Journal of pjf (2464)

Sunday May 24, 2009
12:08 AM

StepMania Heaven

[ #39024 ]

StepMania Heaven
I'm a fan of StepMania, a free and open source dance game in the style of Dance Dance Revolution. For years I'd played with the soft plastic mats that tend to come with these games for home console systems. These are great for the starting player, and easily fold up for storage, but as one's dance moves become more dynamic and energetic, they rapidly start to crumple, crease, and slide.

For years, I'd dreamed about having a rigid dance platform. Last year, at, I was lucky enough to take home a plywood and cork tile homebrew creation, courtesy of Tamara Olliver, who constructed it as part of a talk at the conference. The mat worked pretty well, and I even added some retro buttons, but I had problems with it mis-firing. The mesh connectors would fray with heavy use, and then tend to stick together. I still had dreams of a metal dance mat, but the cost of shipping to Australia put these way out of the price range I was willing to spend on one.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I found an eBay supplier who was selling metal dance mats in Australia, with a delivered cost of $150 after some creative investigation and use of the "best offer" button. The mats looked like they were clones of TX-1000 series. Having not seen an offer like this for years, I purchased two.

Now, the TX-1000 is the cheapest, nastiest metal dance mat one can find, and I knew this, but they still beat any soft mat one cares to play with. The original ones used tiles that would "float" on a bed of foam, with the corners removed and a heavy-duty bolt in each position, to ensure each pad couldn't move away from where it was supposed to be. This is similar to many arcade setups, and works pretty well. That meant that while all the components in these pads are cheap, but at least the engineering principle was sound. One could expect the tiles to last a couple of months before they needed to be replaced.

Of course, what I got was a cheap-and-nasty version of an already cheap-and-nasty pad. Rather than each pad having four bolts (a total of 24 in total), there are only four bolts on the entire board. Rather than the tiles "floating" on foam, they still have the foam underneath, but each tile is now supported on three edges by the side of the dance platform, and internal supports. The pads tiles now flex to make contact with the underlying sensor.

At first, this doesn't sound too bad, until I tell you that the tiles are acrylic, which is not an impact resistant material. Because the tiles are now flexing, their lifespan goes from months down to days.

So, I now own two awesome metal dance mats, each one with a number of not-so-awesome broken tiles. This isn't as big a deal as one may think, the tiles have a rubber underlay that holds them together, so the dance mat still continues to work more-or-less as before. However the nice 'foot-feel' is impaired, and with enough damage, they tiles may actually become unusable.

I'm not too upset about this. For $150 a mat, I didn't expect a first-class dancing platform, and the mats are extremely easy to service; the tiles are easily removed and replaced, and the electronics are simple to get to. So, I'm looking to replace each tile with polycarbonate, also known as bulletproof glass. There are some fun acrylic vs polycarbonate videos that demonstrate the difference in impact resistance, and I'm pretty sure that polycarb will be tough enough for what I need.

I've found a supplier, but unfortunately polycarb seems to come in a standard engineering size of 1.2 x 2.4m, which is about three times what I need. If I had six dance mats, or could just pay for the materials I need, then each tile comes to about $6 each, including professional cutting, which I think is a great deal. I'm calling around to see if I can find a supplier who's got an off-cut, or maybe a salvage yard that has some odds and ends.

To complete my StepMania setup, yesterday was spent modding furniture. Our lounge-room AV cabinet would fit our old CRT television, but not the new Plasma TV that Jacinta won at the Open Source Developers Conference last year, and as such the new TV has mostly been sitting in storage. After some discussions on the best way to succeed, and with the help of a new electric jig-saw, the TV cavity in the cabinet was enlarged, the ends painted, and the new TV fitted. Jacinta did all the hard cutting, since she actually has wood-working experience, and I don't.

The new set-up is so much nicer than previously. The TV takes inputs from just about anything, and forwards its audio to the stereo, so there's much less futzing around with splitter boxes. It also takes an analogue VGA input, and while my laptop's analogue VGA doesn't seem to want to talk to anything else, it loves talking to the TV. As such, the laptop has been spending a lot of time connected, with StepMania being played, or media being watched.

My only problem is that I feel sad when disconnecting the laptop. My lounge-room changes from a totally awesome StepMania and gaming heaven into just a lounge-room, with just a TV. I think now is the time to finally put together a dedicated MythTV box. My plan is to convince Jacinta that she wants a new laptop, since her old laptop is showing signs of stress on the internal VGA cabling, it's the prime candidate for being re-purposed.

So, if you happen to be in Melbourne, and have a source of 2-3mm polycarbonate, or feel like showing me your awesome dance moves, now's a good time to visit. ;)

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  • tiles that would "float" on a bed of foam [...] This is similar to many arcade setups

    The tiles in an arcade machine lie on a rigid construction []. There is no foam, it would not last a week under heavy use. See U.S. patent 6,410,835 for details.

    with enough [impact] damage, they tiles may actually become unusable

    I owned a 4th gen TX2000 [] and despite the broken arrow tiles it still worked fine after over three years. My peers reported the same and mostly replaced the tiles for aesthetic reasons. The normal circ