Remcon 2022 - Cadrin meets DDR masters in rhythm game paradise

(Written 01.03.2022, second draft written 09.03.2022)

I went to Remcon 2022 a couple weeks ago. It was a Polish anime & manga-centric multiple fandom convention. I have little interest in manga & anime, but the Polish rhythm game community was gathering there, too. Because I like DDR, I decided to go.

I originally wrote over 5000 words describing my trip in excruciating detail, but I've radically cut it down for brevity.

It was an interesting experience. It was my first manga & anime convention. I ignored most of it though, and went straight for the rhythm games. That convention had a lot of those. A great many famous rhythm games come from there. It seems they are mostly produced by Konami, specifically their Bemani (short for Beatmania) branch. A lot of them were originally for the arcade, though many can be now played or at least simulated on PC.

The Polish DDR fans are freakishly good at the game! There is a whole DDR "meta" they follow that I only know a bit of. Most of them started out with In The Groove, which is this fan-made DDR clone from the United States. ITG's developer, Roxor, even made arcade cabinets with the game, but they ended up getting sued by Konami and got acquired by them. I think.

Bottom line is, In The Groove was essentially DDR made by fans who thought it was too easy, so they sought to make DDR harder. At least that's what I've read. I'm fairly new to dance games. The step charts (levels) in that game include some movement techniques not used in DDR. I'll be honest I dislike most of them, they feel unnatural to me.

But yeah, the ITG meta is, they have those "stamina" charts they play. Stamina is basically a huge, unending onslaught of notes/arrows, generally 1/16. It's hard to put into words, but basically imagine a chart filled with notes to the brim, and you have to hit them all. They call that a "stream". It typically goes on for a minute or more, so you have to mash to that rhythm at something like 512 notes per minute. It tires you out, but probably makes you better at the game much faster than just playing whatever you think is cool.

More "meta" stuff they do is, they use a special theme for Stepmania (a DDR emulator for PC) called Simply Love, which is very minimalistic and honestly ugly, but has a lot of customisations for pros and extended stats that let you see exactly how well you're performing.

They also fiddle with their dance pads a lot. Regular DDR arcade pads I think have the four buttons slightly depressed compared to the non-active areas of the pad. But don't quote me on that. What those guys do is, they make the non-active areas flush with the buttons. I had to play on such pads. First of all, the particular pads at the convention felt way more slippery than the one I have at home, which is a stock one by the same manufacturer (L-TEK, basically the only dance pad manufacturer in Poland, and apparently one of the very few in the world; known for reasonably cheap hard pads with good quality). The only modification I've done on my pad was stick some coins inside the buttons' pressure sensors to increase sensitivity - it's called a "penny mod" in the community, because in the US the coins you use for this are pennies. The sensors were also heavily modified to make them extremely sensitive to touch. It was like penny mod, but with way more effort put into it. It was an impressive piece of work. Also, the electronics inside the pad had been replaced with a custom controller that increased the pads' polling ratio from 125Hz to 1000Hz for better accuracy. Old L-TEK pads had that inferior polling, but updated models come with 1000Hz controllers. (Sadly, I have an older model...)

The modded pads allow those guys to basically slide their feet on the pad while barely lifting them off the ground. It's a very optimised playstyle that minimises travel time of your feet between buttons. They play in a very economical way, minimising movement and body rotation in order to conserve energy and make it easier to keep looking at the notes on the screen. They had incredible results, achieving very high accuracy, not uncommonly in the 95%+ range.

In general, I felt pretty foreign there, having come from a TrotMania (fan-made pony DDR project for Stepmania) background. Basically nobody there was familiar with it - excluding the DDR organiser, who is a bit of a veteran, having played the game for over a decade. I was playing my pony songs, but nobody recognised them, so I couldn't really hope for a nice 1 vs 1 with a song both of us would be familiar with.

There is a bit of an ITG - DDR divide in the community. It's even felt in the charts' difficulty rating. Old DDR games used a scale of 1 to 10. In The Groove, being an old game, also used that scale, but because it was DDR but harder, they felt the need to go beyond and expanded the scale up to 13 for their game. I wasn't aware of this until meeting the Polish DDR community, but the great majority of fanmade charts use this ITG difficulty scale. Meanwhile, new DDR games have moved on from it and have updated their scale to go from level 1 to 20, but they have re-rated their old charts. It's not a simple extension - instead, the new level 15 is more or less the old level 10, so effectively only new levels 16-20 are harder than the old level 10. Getting confused yet? Unfortunately, the community hasn't followed that scale, and continues to use the ITG one, which I think is inferior, because the new DDR scale is more fine-grained without being excessively granular. And, well, ITG arcade cabinets literally cannot be updated because the developer has been killed by Konami. Anyway, TrotMania is all I've ever known, and it aims to be literally "Pony DDR" and they mimic a lot of DDR stuff, so the charts from that project exclusively use the new DDR scale, making me stand out even more, as other people got confused why I was selecting such high level charts to play, and why they ended up being so easy.

My playstyle differed from others'. I like to play with energy and do all the crossovers and spins I can identify, making plenty of twists and body rotations. It's more fun to me that way. I don't play that much for accuracy, though I still like to shoot for full combos. I rarely get over 90% accuracy in a chart. Plenty of times, I saw other players do a double-step to avoid initiating a crossover. It causes you to do this awkward move where you press two consecutive buttons with the same foot, but keeps you mostly facing forward and costs you less energy. I really dislike that, and try to avoid doing that whenever possible.

I observed others play DDR on the internet before coming there. I noticed that a lot of the best players hold onto the bar for improved balance. I knew there would be no bar at the DDR station at the convention. I expected to have an advantage, because I've never played with a bar. I probably will one day, but I like to challenge myself and see how far I can get without it, plus holding onto it limits the range of your body's movement. I thought others would be like fish out of water having to play no bar. Well, I ended up being surprised to find out all of those other players at the convention performed extremely well without a bar.

There was a DDR tournament. I didn't really want to participate, because it was an accuracy-oriented tournament. Furthermore, the song packs used in the tournament had been provided on the Polish DDR community's Discord servers ahead of time, and it seemed a lot of guys recognised some of them, but those were all new to me and I didn't feel like exploring them. I ended up signing up for the tournament just for laughs, and because the more the merrier.

I kept playing the same way I always did, so I stood no chance and got eliminated early. In my defense, I went to Remcon alone, and felt unprepared and bad about this. I was extremely anxious, so I couldn't really think on the spot and adapt. Still, I got to play two qualifier songs. I got about 80% on the first one - but on the second one which I thought was super easy and I would perform well at it, I got something like 94% and a full combo - the only one throughout my entire time at the convention. That was extremely good performance for me. One thing I did well was, I knew there were four songs to choose from for the qualifiers, and everyone got to pick two. So I waited and observed others play to identify which songs would be easy. Still, the tournament was full of extremely good players, so my final standing was 10th place out of 12 participants, and the bottom two players were notably much worse than everyone else. There was a power gap between them and me, and a smaller power gap between me and the guy who placed 9th.

Even though I mostly ignored everything else at the convention in favour of DDR, I also tried out other rhythm games. There were 8 or more games at the con.

I briefly tried out Pump It Up, which is a famous Korean DDR clone, but you press the corner buttons and the central panel instead of the four side buttons. I call it DDR but diagonal. It was surprisingly to play counterintuitive coming from DDR.

I also played a bit of Sound Voltex and liked it. I think it's like Beatmania, which is apparently the most famous Konami rhythm game in Japan. You play Beatmania with your hands, and press six buttons and spin a turntable following the rhythm of the music. Well, Sound Voltex also gives you six buttons to press, but instead of the turntable you are given two analog knobs to turn. SDVX looks very pretty and flashy, and it has oppai lolis (weeb code word for big-tittied girls) cheering for you when you do well, which I found funny. I'd like to play Sound Voltex at home. I've learned there's a simulator of that game for PC, akin to what Stepmania is for DDR. It can even be played with the keyboard - just like Stepmania - but I'd much prefer having a Sound Voltex controller for it. I've learned that there are some manufacturers selling those, but they're typically 170 US dollars or more. Ouch. Maybe one day. Also, SDVX is typically played on a portrait orientation monitor, which is inconvenient with my current setup.

Oh, and I also played Flower, level 7. There was a whole tournament dedicated just to playing that one song on EIGHT different rhythm games available at the convention. Apparently it's a very popular Dance Dance Revolution original song by DJ Yoshitaka, and they made it playable in other Konami games. But I did not participate in that event, as I generally don't like trying out new things out of a sense of fear. Trying Pump It Up and SDVX was already much for me, I didn't feel like trying out five more all-new games. Still, I had to play Flower in DDR. It's actually a cool song by itself, I mean musically. As for the level 7 chart (that was the level you had to play for the tournament; there were higher levels, but everyone played that one), it was rather fun! It had a section where you did two slow spins in a row, and that pleasantly surprised me.

You can listen to Flower here: It's nice and uplifting dance music with a bit of melancholic undertone.

In summary...

It was nice meeting up with other Polish DDR enthusiasts.

I was dismayed by the age gap between me and most attendees. They seemed rather young, in their teens or early twenties. Another reminder that time marches on.

I was really glad to play DDR at an event again, after not being able to do so for two years, due to corona.

This convention happened in the shadow of the Russo-Ukrainian war which was just starting across the eastern Polish border.

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