Choosing a DDR Machine
by Animenathan, 16 October 02
Which Mix Should I buy?
This is probably the most common question. Everyone has their own preferences for which mix is the best, and the one question you need to ask yourself is "Will I enjoy playing all the songs on this mix?" What's the point of spending a couple of thousand dollars on a DDR machine that you'll only play a few songs on and get sick of? Pick a mix that has the most songs you enjoy. Don't listen to everyone tell you that the newest mix is the one to purchase, go with what you want most. The second thing to do is to make sure you have room for the machine in your garage or home and can get it through the door. A solo machine will fill the same amount of space as a full sized bed and a doubles machine could easily take up the space that a king sized bed would.
Here's a list of the commonly available mixes from eBay and ChannelBeat with around how many songs they have. Check www.ddrfreak.com for exact song lists.
3rd Mix has probably the most versions available, since it was the one that really "broke out" of Japan and was the big hit in the US and Korea. The common version has around 50 songs, with a few versions imported from Korea that have a few Korean pop tunes like Starian and Rose that aren't available anywhere else. As an added bonus, all third mixes have a version of 2nd mix built in too, so you get a few more classic songs for the same price. These are getting harder to find, however, since they can easily be upgraded to a more recent mix.
4th Mix is an upgrade from third, containing almost all of the songs from previous mixes as well as the DanceMania games. This mix has 136 songs when completely unlocked and will really keep you busy. The only bad part is that it does not have an All Music Mode, and once you choose a set of music, you're stuck with it. You really have to know where the songs you want to play are located, or put it into event mode, otherwise the timer will run out. Still, a great mix.
4th Mix Plus has a 14 additional songs, upping the total tracklist to 151 total. (Café, Cat's Eye, Celebrate Nite, Conga Feeling, Do Me, Lupin the 3rd '78, Na-Na, Petit Love, Rhythm and Police, Sexy Planet, Sky High, Synchronized Love, Theme from Enter The Dragon, and Wonda) It does have an All Music mode which makes finding the song you want to play somewhat easier, but they're in alphabetical order, so you better know the title before you go hunting for it.
5th Mix has 112 songs and was the last system with a character select version. If you like playing With Rage, Emi, Baby-lon, or any of the other characters, buy this mix or a mix before this one. A better graphical interface (60 frames per second FPS instead of 40), extended versions of classics like B4U and Dynamite Rave, (and for some reason Britney Spears' "Oops, I did it again,") and a quicker song selection screen makes it one of the easiest to navigate and most fun to play. This is the interface seen on most of the newer systems, since it works so well. These are also getting rarer, since everyone upgraded from this to 6th or 7th.
6th Mix (MAX) is the version that introduced the world to the neat thing called "freeze arrows" and the revival of Roulette. It contains the now classic (and sometimes heavily overplayed) MAX 300 and Candy as well as 42 other songs, full motion video, and several new gameplay options. The regular "foot" rating system is eliminated also, switching to light, standard and heavy modes, which makes determining the difficulty of a song from the "Groove Radar" a bit tricky. Unfortunately for the Emi fans out there, there's no character select for those who like playing with her and a pitifully limited selection of songs compared to previous mixes.
7th Mix (Max2) is the most recent version available in the US. It contains 116 songs--40 of which are new, with the rest coming from previous mixes of DDR (2nd-6th mixes). It's about the same as MAX with the 60FPS backgrounds, brand new full motion videos, and freeze arrows. Konami, heeding the cries of the public, allowed the feet ranking of difficulty make a return in addition to the standard, light, and heavy modes previously introduced in MAX. Also, for you masochists, there's a new course that has been likened to Nonstop on speed. Oni, or Devil mode gives you a group of several related songs and 4 lives. If you get below a good, you lose a life. Lose all of your lives, and the game is over. Internet rankings on the Oni course allow you to challenge everyone in the world who plays to see who is best. Being the newest version, it's also the most expensive. Expect to pay at least $5000 for this version in good condition.
8rd Mix (DDR Extreme) is currently being tested in Japan, and is scheduled to be released at around the spring of 2003. Not much is known about this newest mix, and what information is out is speculation on the test location version, but look for it to start arriving soon after it's official release in Japan. It also may be the last DDR mix. Check the official thread on DDRfreak for more information.
DDR USA is the American release of DDR, and is listed last in this list for a reason. All other versions available have been imported directly from Japan, while this one was produced for sale in the US. With only 26 songs, Konami decided to give America the shaft. Not the best purchase, but if you can get a 2 player for less than a grand, you might as well pick it up, because you can upgrade it to a decent mix.
Solo DDR systems seem to be appearing on E-bay quite regularly now. A good idea if you're looking for the DDR experience but don't have the room to stick a full size machine or the money to purchase one. They offer the regular four panel experience and six panel play; even three panel play in the case of Solo 2000. There are two basic versions of the cabinet; the standard configuration and the "Deluxe" configuration. If given a choice, the deluxe is the one to purchase, since it comes with a trick bar and raised stage. The standard version is a simple pad that rests on the floor and just doesn't feel right to most DDR players.
4th Mix Solo is the same as the regular 4th mix, but in a single player configuration.
4th Mix Plus Solo does exist. I have seen a picture of one located at a Wal-Mart. The 4th mix plus upgrade kit is extremely hard to come by and when one is used, the serial number of the machine that used it is flashed into the security chip, making it worthless for other machines. If you manage to find one of these, grab it. They're rarer than hen's teeth.
Solo 2000 is a solo system released in late 2000, thus the name. It has full motion video, more than 30 FPS (but less than 60), offers 3, 4 and 6 panel mode, and about 45 songs, including several nonstop versions.
Solo Bass Mix is one of the worst mixes available. Only 22 songs listed on DDR freak, and not many of them are of note. If you see one of these, you can always upgrade it to 4th mix thanks to the cheap upgrade kits on Channelbeat.
Where can I find a machine?
Okay, so you've decided which mix you want and you have the amount of money you want to spend to get it. Now for the fun part of purchasing a DDR machine; finding one that's for sale. E-bay usually has a couple of arcade systems up for auction, and three online sites, www.coinopexpress.com, www.channelbeat.com and www.highwaygames.com are all good bets, but they're all pretty expensive, with the prices with shipping being pretty high. If at all possible, try to find arcade auctions local to you. That way, you can inspect the machine before purchase, test it out to make sure it works correctly, and save yourself some money on shipping. For example, there's an auction of used arcade machines in Dallas and other major cities every few months (www.superauctions.com). Every time I attended, several DDR machines went up for auction, but look to pay about $2500-$3000 for a doubles machine, plus the finder's fee paid to the guys who run the auction. Go to DDR message boards and ask there if anyone has a machine for sale. If there is a system local to you, check with the owner to see if they'll get rid of it. If there's a Tilt nearby, wait until Christmas when they put all of their cabinets up for sale and try and pick one up then. The last option, and the one that I really do not suggest, is that you order directly from Japan, but look to spend minimum $5000 for the machine and shipping, and don't expect it for several months after you order it.
What should I look for when purchasing a machine?
If you manage to find one local to you, the one thing I have to stress is condition, condition, condition! Try and find the best-conditioned cabinet you can. Questions to ask: Are the pads sticky or damaged? Is it clean? Is the cabinet in good shape? Is the screen bright and clear? Do all the speakers work? Does all of the lights/neon work like they should? If not, why not? Is there any visible damage to the cabinet itself? If the exterior is in the right condition, ask if you can run a system check. Have them open the coin door and press the top button, or the black button in the case of 2 player machines, which will take it into the system options. Any kind of test that is available on that screen, you should perform. Run a flash ROM test and make sure it all comes back OK. Run the CG test and make sure the screen works correctly. Degauss the screen (bottom black button solo, back of cabinet inside 2 player) and make sure all of the colors come back clear. Perform a switch test (top option on the option screen) and make sure each sensor on the pad is registering correctly. If all that passes and you want it, pay for it or put down a deposit.
What should come with the machine?
Aside from the machine itself and the extraordinarily heavy dance pad, the thing that absolutely must come with the machine is a round key for the coin door and a normal key for the coin box. Without those keys, your machine is wide open, or even worse, locked tight to where you can't get into it. If they don't have the keys, have them drill out and replace the locks so you have something that opens. Other items usually included would be a coin hopper, and, if possible, any documentation available (manuals/repair records).
What about upgrading to another mix?
If you can pick up a cheap third mix, you can buy a kit to upgrade the software to a higher mix. These kits normally run around $1000+ for a legitimate kit (estimated $3000 for a legit Extreme kit on release) and $300-600 for a bootleg kit from Taiwan. Legitimate kits come with the game CD, the side art, the top panel cardboard, all the decals, a circuit card, and a hologram from Konami that marks it as a real kit, but are very hard to find since they are only available in Japan and are produced to fill orders only. Bootlegs are just that, come with a bootleg security pass chip designed to fool the current card into thinking the upgrade is legit, a diagram on how to replace said chip, a burned copy of the game CD and sometimes a thin plastic marquee. I've found that they are usually pretty sturdy (all MAX2 machines in the USA are bootlegs), but sometimes don't work correctly. I suggest just buying the mix you want and not worrying about upgrades. The best supplier I've found to get upgrades are from the official Konami distributor list or from www.channelbeat.com. Remember, you're playing with a big hunk of expensive steel, so go with the best. Why put something into it that may work, but may not? Go with the real thing if you can. As far as which mixes can be upgraded to other mixes, some upgrade kits exist to upgrade 1st and 2nd mix to 7th mix, but those are hacked to allow the higher-level program to run on the inferior hardware inside the machine. Try these at your own risk. Pretty much any other upgrade kit can upgrade a 3rd or higher to any other mix later than that. You can also downgrade your mixes from newer mixes, but that requires the CD from the previous version and a legitimate security chip. There are also bootlegs available that upgrade Solo machines to 5th and even 7th mix, but fair warning, these are hacked versions that were never officially released. Try these at your own risk.
How do I "shop" my machine when I get it home for the first time?
Well, this is what I did when I got my machine as far as maintenance. The instructions are slightly different for doubles machines, but all advice given here is appropriate. Stuff you need:
2nd, go into the system and test all the lamps and the speakers again. In shipping, some wires may have shaken loose or a bulb may have broken. If anything doesn't work, make sure it's still connected and if it turns out to be broken, replace it.
3rd, take the dance pad completely apart. Keep a bin nearby to put the screws into. Some screws, mostly the ones on the middle plate, will be filled with dirt, and that's what the toothbrush, sharp-edged screwdriver, or dental pick is for. BE CAREFUL taking everything apart and remember where each part went. The last thing you want to do is reassemble and find you have some extra parts scattered around. Vacuum out the inside, and clean everything with a clean cloth. If you have some sawhorses or muscular friends, turn the entire pad upside down and bang it carefully against something and watch the dirt fall out of it like rain. Luckily the 2 player pad can be split into two parts for that.
A bit of an aside here on the internals of the DDR pads and what you'll see. The main difference between the two pads is the number of sensors per pad and the fact that one flashes when you step and the other does not. The solo version has 2 sensors per panel centered directly underneath a cushioned metal plate covered with a sheet of thick plastic. The pad presses against the plate, and the plate activates the sensors. The 2 player version has 4 sensors per panel, one on each edge, with two neon bulbs recessed inside the stage. The sensors are held in position by rubber holders with a white bracket going over the center of each of them. The panels press against the white brackets and activate the sensors. BE SURE TO TEST THE SENSORS BEFORE GOING ANY FURTHER. A few of my sensors were constantly on due to one of the white brackets being too tight, and by testing them before screwing everything down tightly, I was able to save myself some work.
4th, clean all of the parts that were inside the pad with Mr. Clean and hot water or run it through a dishwasher. A dishwasher is recommended. There's going to be a lot of dirt in there, so you want them sliding nicely with no interference. Each pad will have 4 brackets holding down the pad and the pad itself. Clean it all very well, and rinse them with water. If any soap is left on any of the parts, they'll stick and that's not a very good thing.
5th, after everything's nice and DRY, re-assemble it by starting with the back pad and working your way forward, lightly screwing everything down as you go. Some screws will have been stripped out when you removed them or totally filled with dirt, so that's when you replace them with the ones you bought. When you go and purchase the screws, make sure that they're about the same length and with the flattest head possible, otherwise your feet will catch when you move from pad to pad. The 4mm screws are for the outside edge around the pad and the 6mm screws are for the pad itself. Once the pads are reassembled, go back and make sure the screws are down as tight as you can get them without stripping out the screws. When you're done with that, give the pads a spray with some pledge to give them a nice smoothness and you're done. Your pad may squeak for a little while as it settles itself back into the grooves that it was used to, but this is normal and will go away on it's own in a couple of days.
How do I maintain my Machine once I get it?
Treat the DDR machine like you would treat your car. Keep it clean and it'll stay just fine no matter how long you use it. Sure, a bulb or so may burn out or, at worst, a speaker or sensor will blow, but you can replace this stuff. Keep the screen clean and free of fingerprints. Try to wipe down the pad with a damp cloth after every few uses. As far as storage, I keep my machine covered with a sheet when it's not in use so it doesn't accumulate dust and completely unplugged just in case there's some problem with the electricity. The surge protector should take care of that, but hey, better safe than sorry.
Greets and Thanks to:
The denizens of www.DDRFreak.com who asked the questions to get this FAQ started. Thanks to Bemani and Konami for bringing this game to our shores, and thanks to Jason Ko and Cynan de Leon for running the site.