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Silicon Valley News
Posted at 4:44 p.m. PDT Saturday, July 22, 2000

Hip-hop music sweeps arcades with `Dance Dance Revolution'

Mercury News

Jason Ko spins, swivels, slides and stomps his way across a floor lit up with red and blue flashing arrows, his feet moving to the rhythm of pulsating techno music.

Ko, 21, isn't showing off his fancy footwork at a local nightclub. The UC-Berkeley senior has never set foot in a club. ``I can't dance,'' he claims.

But Ko gets his groove on when he plays Dance Dance Revolution.

The arcade game Dance Dance Revolution, or DDR, is the days of disco dance parties reincarnated. By breaking with the tradition of joystick-controlled fighting games geared toward males, DDR lures new audiences into arcades as the dancing phenomenon glides across continents on the crest of the music-based video game wave.

DDR requires players to use their feet to press four arrows -- up, down, left, right -- on a dance pad. Hip hop, dance pop, rave or '70s songs blare as a sequence of arrows float to the top of the screen, prompting the player to step on the corresponding arrows to the music's beat.

The game is the latest pop revolution from the country that brought us karaoke.

Konami Co., a leading video game developer based in Tokyo, unleashed the dance simulation craze when it introduced DDR to arcades throughout Japan in October 1998. The game -- which comes in a video game format for the Japanese version of the Sony PlayStation and Sega Dreamcast consoles -- made its way throughout Asia shortly after and to America's shores last summer, but appearing only in arcades.

Even though DDR is relatively old by industry standards, it continues to command rave reviews. The fourth version of the popular game is scheduled to hit arcades in Asia next month.

In September, Konami plans to release a version for American arcades: DDR USA Mix, which will feature a new collection of songs drawn from the first three Japanese mixes.

Currently, gamers in the United States can only buy the dancing game for the Japanese models of PlayStation or Dreamcast -- hunting them down at import stores or asking friends who travel to Japan to bring it back. The lag time between a game's release in Japan and its arrival in the United States ranges from a month to a year, but Konami has hesitated even longer in introducing DDR for American home entertainment systems because other music games have not sold too well here, said Jason Enos, product marketing manager for Konami of America Inc. in Redwood City.

PlayStation's PaRappa the Rapper, the most successful game in this genre, sold only 250,000 units since emerging on the U.S. market in November 1997, according to The NPD Group, a market research firm based in New York. That isn't a screaming success considering there are more than 25 million households in America with a PlayStation.

But now that the game's arcade debut has players begging for an encore, Konami said it is considering releasing DDR for the American version of PlayStation in the near future.

``Since Dance Dance Revolution has made it to the American arcade, we have received hundreds of letters and e-mails from fans wondering why the home versions aren't out as they are in Japan,'' Enos said. ``We're definitely taking the feedback that we get from the fans.''

Fewer than a dozen states have an arcade with DDR, but the game has gathered a cult following, especially on the West Coast, where dance music and rave culture are all the rage, Enos said.

Dance Dance Revolution fans at UC-Berkeley and UCLA created Web sites for fellow enthusiasts, and video clips of impressive routines can be downloaded from the Internet. Gamers asked Playland Arcade at Santa Monica Pier to hold a DDR competition last month, attracting 50 entrants, including about a dozen players from Northern California.

The game is deceptively simple for beginners, especially for those whose agile feet are weighed down by the burden of self-consciousness. But even the flashiest DDR players admit to freezing with stage-fright when they experiment with the game in front of the crowds that undoubtedly form.

DDR is more than a video game -- it's a spectator sport. Dozens of people flock around the machine, often mesmerized by the creative flair and acrobatic stunts that spice up a seasoned player's dance routine.

The objective of Dance Dance Revolution is not only to earn a high score by methodically stepping on the correct arrows at precisely the right moments; this game is also about strutting your stuff.

Dancing duo Anthony Bui, 14, and his brother, Eric, 12, of San Jose, choreograph performances for the two-player mode of DDR. They throw in cartwheels, slam the floor panels with their hands and knees and continuously switch places -- all while hitting the arrows on cue in what arcade regulars call the brothers' ``trademark song.''

But you don't have to be a disco king to attract attention with DDR. Arcade managers note that even novices draw crowds. ``We've had an excess of 50 people watching. It looks like there's a line just to watch,'' said Heath Nielsen, senior manager of business operations at Sony Metreon in San Francisco.

Konami's line of music-based video games -- primarily DDR and Beatmania -- has sent the company's net income for the fiscal year ending March 31 soaring nearly 260 percent to 18.3 billion yen, or $173.6 billion, up from 5.1 billion yen, or $48.4 billion.

Now the music trend has swept up other game developers. Last month, Sega released Space Channel 5 for Dreamcast, a game requiring players to tap the given rhythm on a handheld controller. In the fall, Sega will introduce gamers to Sambadeamigo, a full-body interactive game like DDR -- except players shake maracas to Latin music.

So who plays Dance Dance Revolution?


``I've seen grandmothers and grandfathers on that thing,'' said Tim Robinson, a manager at Camelot Park, a family entertainment center in Fresno.

Some DDR gamers admit they started playing in hopes of learning how to dance. Others gave it a try because it looked easy.

``You don't have to be very coordinated. You just have to be dedicated,'' said 20-year-old Doreen Toy of Milpitas, confessing that she trips over her own feet.

Several players practice hip-hopping to DDR's songs on their home entertainment systems. But once they memorize the timing and sequence of arrows, they shove the game under their beds and head to the game center because nothing beats the arcade environment. Calvin Ling, 17, of San Jose, said he rarely plays at home anymore because the dance pad slips and the family room carpet absorbs every step.

Still, others view the household game as a reason to celebrate. A few weeks ago, Mayene de Leon, 12, and her brother Cynan, 22, of Antioch rounded up 20 of their closest friends for a DDR party in their garage. They boogied for 12 hours non-stop on PlayStation and Dreamcast.

But DDR isn't just fun and games. It's also an exercise regimen.

Nattie Saggie, owner of Network Video Inc., an import video game retailer in Burlingame, starts her day by playing DDR for at least 20 minutes.

``I've lost a good 10 pounds,'' said Saggie, 45, who got hooked on the game in March. ``It really tones up the body.''

Hard-core DDR players work up such a sweat during the eight-minute game that they're longing for a towel and a bottle of water when the workout ends.

After noticing this, game developers added a ``diet mode'' so players can keep track of how many calories they burn while mimicking the dance steps in the newly released DDR 3rd Mix for the Japanese version of PlayStation.

Because DDR is only available under its Japanese title, most video game retailers -- including Toys R Us, KB Toys and Electronics Boutique -- currently don't carry it.

However, die-hard DDR fans in the United States looking for the video game can get their hands on it at an import store or online. Many PlayStation and Dreamcast owners said they don't mind paying the $50 to $60 for the special chip required to adapt their entertainment systems for Japanese video games. Nor do they think twice about paying the pricey import costs for the $60 game and the $75 dance pad, which are sold separately. The trick is finding a retailer that has those items in stock.

Since DDR hit the Japanese home market last year, Network Video has sold 600 units of the game, in various editions, in the United States and more than 10,000 mats -- a discrepancy attributed to the high piracy rate of PlayStation CDs.

Toy said she bought a burned copy of Dance Dance Revolution on eBay a few weeks ago because the availability of originals is so low that ``you just take what you can get.'' The San Jose State University senior, who grew addicted to DDR with her daily fix of the game at the Milpitas Golfland since summer vacation began in May, now gets a second dose each night at home. ``I can't stop.''

Contact Nicole C. Wong at or (408) 920-5513.


  © 2000 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material. Mercury Center privacy policy
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