The Slacker's Guide - Open Source Meets Soul Train: StepMania

by Chris Barylick
September 1st, 2006

Years after the event, I still remember it. Sixth grade had rolled around and my parents, having come to the conclusion that I need to learn to dance, signed me up for ballroom lessons, along with every other student in the local school system.

What happened next could have gone better. Some people are meant to dance. Rhythm flows through them, they can catch a beat within nanoseconds and respond accordingly, their movements complimenting the music.

Then there are those of us with all the grace, talent and movement of your pet rock on a bad day. Which isn't to say that the interest isn't there, but the ability comes less than naturally.

Enter StepMania, a free open source clone of Konami's best-selling Dance Dance Revolution game, and the perfect title for geeks who like music and video games. Available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux, StepMania provides as identical an experience as possible for free. Simply download and install the game, hook up a USB dance pad or two to your Mac and you have everything you'd have via the arcade or console versions of the game.

StepMania, a free open source Dance Dance Revolution clone for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux.

Granted, this might feel a bit ridiculous at first. Yes, you're dancing in front of your Mac. And with any luck, you've installed curtains over the windows so the neighbors won't have something to discuss over the next book club meeting. But start the game, ease through the training mode and see what you make of it.

Like the arcade and console versions, StepMania provides multiple game modes and difficulty settings. Players can warm up with a simple mode on one controller or opt for harder settings on faster songs. For the brave of heart, a dual pad mode can be activated which demands the players incorporate two dance pads into their movements to play through a level. Individual songs generally contain multiple difficulty levels and achieving a high enough score will unlock new sections of the game to explore.

Even though the game's a clone of an immensely successful franchise, the developers have done their homework and it shows. Great graphics, amazing sound and beautiful performance under Mac OS X 10.4.7 show an amazing loyalty to the game. Performance is top notch and even sudden commands such as quitting the game mid-song close the program out cleanly.

StepMania players have to keep pace with the music, no matter what the difficulty setting.

StepMania requires more hardware than the usual freeware or shareware game you might download and try out, but the additional investment proves worthwhile. A Playstation to USB adapter and a dance pad are available through individual retailers (the EMS USB 2 adapter runs beautifully through Mac OS X, which handles the driver tasks on its own and RedOctane makes a variety of great dance pads). In the short term, just play through a few songs with the arrow keys and get used to the game.

StepMania requires Mac OS X 10.2.7 or higher to run and is a 10.9 megabyte download courtesy of The game features a standard no muss, no fuss graphical installer. Due to copyright restrictions, the official songs from the Dance Dance Revolution games aren't available for free download. As a result, an enormous free music scene has emerged to provide the StepMania game with music that can be easily downloaded and installed into the Songs folder inside the StepMania folder (which installs into Applications). A full list of free song sites can be found via StepMania's home page.

For people looking to participate in the StepMania project in any way, the scene is open and welcoming. Add your two cents, comments, opinions, suggestions and bug reports to the forums and they'll be listened to. For an even more involved scene, visit and you can find additional projects to contribute on.

StepMania breaks typical video game bounds both by requiring a moderate investment to play the title as well as its incorporation of physical movement into gameplay, but the end result is extraordinarily fun, once self-consciousness has been thrown to the wind. The developers have worked hard to make this as close to the arcade and console versions as possible in a free version of the game and the effort shows.

With that, I'm off to a wedding in Denver. There shall be dancing. And as much as I'd like to believe StepMania has taught me well and made me debonair, I'd like to apologize in advance to anyone whose feet I happen to step on.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,