A Dream Come True

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Back in the summer of 2006, my friend Alex Barker coaxed me into downloading StepMania, a free, open-source dance simulator. It was one of his favourite games, and he wanted me to try it out too. Reluctantly, I gave in an downloaded StepMania with a couple song packs (DDRMAX, DDRMAX 2, and Pop Candy). I started playing the game using just my keyboard and ended up enjoying it a lot. I decided to buy a cheap, $20 dance pad off of eBay to get the "full" experience and within a few weeks I was rockin' out like I'd never done before.

In December of the same year, I started working at the local movie theatre. I noticed that the theatre had a dance arcade machine, "In The Groove 2" it was called. In The Groove was a franchise made by the same people who created StepMania as a competing game for Konami's Dance Dance Revolution. Some legal troubles happened and not long after In The Groove 2 was released, Konami opened a lawsuit against RoXoR Games and eventually In The Groove was handed over to Konami and killed. That aside, I decided to download the In The Groove song packs for StepMania to practice them at home. Once I felt confident enough, I started playing on the arcade machine and it was a completely different experience. Dancing around on a steel and polycarbonate dance floor that doesn't move was so different than my little foam pad that always slipped and slid around, I just couldn't play on the foam pad any more. I was hooked on the arcade.

I got a lot better while playing on the arcade machine and was able to play some of the very difficult songs despite having heart complications that make it difficult for me to exert a lot of physical energy at once. I pushed myself hard, and I was happy. But life moves forward and in the summer of 2008, I moved to a small town to work for the summer. I spent most of my free time browsing the StepMania forums and befriended several people in the community, including Colby (shakesoda), now the lead developer and project manager for StepMania and my partner in game development. Luckily there was an In The Groove machine in the local arcade and I also spent a lot of my free time playing there.

In late 2008, I dropped out of college for personal reasons that do not pertain to this story, eventually moving to the city I live in now. Sadly, this city does not have any dance machines and I sort of lost touch with the community. Whenever I'd visit my mother in my home town, I'd often take a trip to the theatre with my sister to play a few rounds of In The Groove.

On one such visit in 2014, I noticed that my beloved In The Groove game was acting funny. The game was very laggy and loading screens were very slow. I decided to call up the arcade company and let them know about the issues. I also added in that if they would consider selling the game at some point, I'd like first crack at buying it. They said they would keep my name on file. Sure.

But then something crazy happened. I got a phone call from an unknown number in July 2015. It was the arcade company! They said that the game had finally died and instead of trying to fix it, they were willing to sell it as-is. Now, during this time I was not exactly well off, financially. Preparing for the worst sort of tease I've ever known, I closed my eyes and asked "How much?"

"$500 plus tax, $575". What?! These arcade cabinets, brand new in 2005, sold for $10,000! They are somewhat rare these days and often sell for several thousands of dollars, even in rough condition. Now, this machine didn't work for unknown reasons, but the company send me several pictures of the machine and it looks almost brand new. For less than $600, I was freaking out.

Even in my financial condition, $600 wasn't completely out of the question. Probably not the smartest move, but this is a once in a lifetime shot at fulfilling a dream and I didn't want to pass it up. I told the guy that the price sounded reasonable and that I'd get back to him as soon as I found a location for the game. I hung up the phone and immediately called my brother. I laid it all out to him and asked that, assuming I could find a location to profit share, if he'd be willing to front the money for me. He agreed.

I spent the next few days contacting several locations in the city but no one seemed interested in giving up a 2x2 metre footprint for the game. Without that location, I wouldn't be getting a loan. In the mean time, I tried to cut back on what little expenses I could and save up money wherever it was available. I never did end up getting that loan, but I did manage, somehow, to save up the $600 needed. I called up the arcade company early October 2015 and asked if they game was still available. It was. I asked when I could pick it up, we set a date, and I started preparing.

My sister's Fiancée, Scott, borrowed a pickup truck from his father and we drove up to the company's warehouse. They invited us in to have a look around and oh man let me tell you, thousands of arcade machines. Everywhere. It was one of the coolest places I'd ever been. They showed us over to my game and we chatted about it for a few minutes before finalizing business. I was handed an invoice and in return handed over a large wad of cash. They helped us put the machine in the pickup, shook hands, and off we went.

Arriving back at my mother's house, we backed the truck up on the front lawn and prepared for a really bad time. I would like to note here that the game weighs a lot. Each dance pad weighs 91 kg (200 lbs). The cabinet weighs 220 kg (484 lbs). We were also working against time since the sky was about to burst open at any moment. Luckily, very luckily, Scott's father arrived just as were were preparing to move the pads. He wanted his truck back so decided to give us a hand. Shortly thereafter, one of the neighbours arrived home early from work, saw a pickup truck on mom's lawn, and decided to see what we were up to. We went from an impossible task for two, to a reasonable task for four.

With everyone's help, the task ended up being relatively simple. Scott and I unbolted the balance bars from the dance pads and he and his father carried them into the house. The were a little too wide to fit normally through the door, otherwise we could have just wheeled them in. However, the cabinet is just small enough to slip through a standard doorway so we took the door off and slowly removed the cabinet from the truck. As the first two wheels passed over the end of the truck and the cabinet tipped, the four of us quickly learned just how much 220 kg weighs. Everyone at once braced to stop the damned thing from crushing us.

We tipped the bed of the truck (what a cool feature!) up until the wheels of the cabinet were sitting on the porch. We were then able to slowly wheel the cabinet off the truck and sit it on the porch. The next problem was that we had a 20 cm (eight inch) step between the porch and the door. We solved this by grabbing a 4x4, an old fence post, and turning the step into two smaller steps. With sheer force of will, we managed to tip the cabinet up the makeshift step and into the house. Finally!

Not two minutes later did the sky open up and start to rain.

So you might be asking "Where the hell did you put the thing?!" Well I'll tell you. I stole a bedroom. Sort of.

For about an hour, I left the cabinet in the dining room much to my mother's annoyance. Scott and I went into the bedroom and reattached the balance bars to the pads and attached the pads together making the full dance platform. Now, the dance platform actually fits underneath the single bed that was in that bedroom, but it wasn't ideal since the pads would basically be inaccessible. After discussing it with dear mother, she agreed that I could remove the bed. Not to be an awful son, I wanted the bedroom to still function as a bedroom. I took out my trusty measuring tape and laughed as I came up with a great idea. What if I just turned the dance platform into a bed when I'm not using it?! And thus, #sleepmania was born.

The next day, I decided to do some tests to see just how badly the game was damaged. I opened up the service panels and took a look inside. Everything looked fine. It was time to plug it in. I held my breath and plugged it into the wall, closed my eyes, and hit the switch. The whole cabinet spun up. The CRT screen crackled, the speakers popped, even the computer made some noise. It works. Sort of.

There was no picture on screen and after 10 minutes, there was no audio either. The game wasn't loading. it was time to run some diagnostics.

With the help of Colby, the owner of his own Pump It Up arcade cabinet, I managed to figure out what wasn't broken. I plugged the screen into my laptop and forced it to detect the secondary monitor. If you aren't aware, arcade screens are often very picky about things like resolution and refresh rate. The screen inside In The Groove cabinets will basically only work at 640x480 @ 60 Hz, but Windows 10's display settings don't go below 800x600. I had to go into the display adapter menu and select the desired setting from the "List All Modes" menu. And it worked. Suddenly the desktop was extended to the screen in the cabinet. What a HUGE relief!

Next step was to test out the audio. I turned the cabinet off, unplugged the audio cable from the BoXoR (the official computer inside an In The Groove cabinet), plugged it into the laptop, and turned the cabinet back on. A quick visit to YouTube later and I was pumping out some sweet nightcore over a very powerful sound system. Awesome. Finally, Scott and I mounted the the marquee and it all came together. Lights work, speakers work, screen works... But the computer doesn't. Replacing the computer should allow the game to work again at a small cost of $250.

All-in-all, I am very happy with how things turned out. I finally got the arcade cabinet of my dreams in amazing condition for an investment of less than $1000. Completely insane.

I will make a second post once my new parts come in and I replace the computer. Hopefully this happens very soon!