My Homemade, Arcade-Style DDR Pad

I started playing Dance Dance Revolution when I was a freshman in high school back in 2000. First, I played for about a month at home using a cheap softpad and a PlayStation. I quickly ran into problems with the pad sliding and bunching together as I moved to more difficult songs. To remedy this problem, I duck taped the pad to a piece of plywood. This worked for a while, but I soon found that home play on a console was inadequate and moved to the arcade.

I spent many weekends and nights playing DDR at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City. I also played at other arcades in the area, although not very often. I played DDR quite avidly at the arcade until I graduated from high school in 2004.

After moving on to college at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU), I basically quit playing DDR. Throughout the three years that I was at MU, I played DDR about once every other month. Since I quite playing DDR (and I also stopped playing soccer at the same time), the only exercise that I got was from walking to class.

During the summer of 2007, after graduating from MU, I decided to take up DDR again as a form of exercise. I did not like the prospect of paying lots of money to be a sweaty DDR player in a public arcade again, so I needed to find a good pad for home use. I was not impressed with foam pads like the Ignition pad. I also was not completely pleased with metal pads such as the Afterburner or a Cobal Flux. So I decided to build my own arcade-style DDR pad.

The Prototype

I started by scouring the internet for sensor and pad designs. I examined many different custom pads such as the Ultimate Dance Deck 1.0, Ultimate Dance Deck 2.0, Devout Stealth, ddrhomepad, Frosty555, Stoli's design, RipTide's design, and DJ3 Pad. I also took note of any best practices and advice found on the previously listed sites and watched all of RipTide's video instructions.

For the prototype, I settled on following RipTide's design. The only major modifications that I made to the design are that I used a different style of sensor and I created an external block to hold the start and exit buttons. After testing just about every type of sensor that you could possibly use for a DDR pad, I settled on using L-shaped mending brackets in each corner of each arrow. You can see some pictures of this sensor setup on my final pad at the bottom of this page.

Below are three pictures of the prototype pad. The silver box that is connected to the pad by the green cord houses the start and exit buttons. I wired the buttons and sensors to an old PlayStation softpad. So in order to play DDR on a computer you have to connect the pad to a PlayStation-to-USB converter.

Prototype Pad Image 1Prototype Pad Image 2Prototype Pad Image 3

The Final Design

The prototype pad was lacking on many fronts. First off, the pad was poorly constructed. Pieces are not straight, the plexiglass was cut irregularly and squeaks, and the pad has bare sheet metal ends along the border that can slice your fingers while you are moving it. The pad does not have any border, which makes it easy to twist your ankle while playing if you are not careful. Additionally, the free-floating start/exit button block is annoying because you have to pick it up after each song. Another annoying feature is that the arrows must be used, like most home pads, to navigate the menus. This can be annoying because you can easily overshoot selections and cause problems by not realizing that you are stepping ever so slightly on a particular arrow. Finally, since I run DDR on my computer there is really no point in using a PlayStation controller for wiring.

To remedy all of these issues, I designed my own pad. My pad has a border and a bar. The bar and its portion of the base is detachable so that the pad can fit in the trunk of my car. The bar has buttons for start and exit on the side associated with your left hand when you are facing the screen and buttons for up/down/left/right menu navigation on the right side. The pad is covered in white sheet metal and has perfectly cut plexiglass. I made my own version of the arrows to go along with the white sheet metal. The pad is wired using a USB controller and its bottom is covered with a sticky mat material to prevent any possible sliding, which was unlikely anyways because it weighs a TON. I do not have a scale, so I do not know exactly how much it weighs, but it is somewhere between 50 and 100 pounds.

I built the pad over a week using a bunch of tools from my own house and two neighbors' houses. I had no previous experience building anything like this aside from building the prototype. If you have JavaScript enabled, the pictures below contain comments describing different parts of the design.

The first image shows the base layout of the pad from an overhead view. The red line marks the separation between the main pad and the bar. The bottom layer, which is ply wood, is 35"-by-35" for the main pad and 35"-by-6" for the bar. All of the rectangles that are not obviously the 9 arrow wells are two-by-fours.

The 3.5" width boards are standard two-by-fours, while the two 2.75" boards on the left and right sides, three 2" boards on the top, and two 1.75" boards in the up and down arrow wells are ripped two-by-fours. The 2.5" board on the base is not actually a straight 2.5" board. You should see the second picture for a clear view of how the board is cut so that it fits into the main pad as an extra stabilizer. The blue bars are where large holes are drilled through the two-by-fours so that wires can be strung through. After securing these two-by-fours, an additional layer of plywood is placed on top. A 35"-by-6" piece again for the bar, a 35"-by-2" piece for the top of the main pad, and 1"-by-35" pieces for the left and right sides of the main pad.

Before gathering parts and building the pad, I created a simple 3D model of the design. The third and fourth pictures below show this design. The third picture shows the middle layer of the pad. The bottom layer (brown) is plywood. The middle layer contains the unmodified two-by-fours in yellow and the ripped two-by-fours in teal. The fourth picture shows how the top layer sits on top of the middle layer. The brown in the top layer is plywood for a border while the gray is plywood for the non-arrows and the transparent red is the plexiglass for the arrows.

After cutting all of the pieces and putting everything together except the non-arrows and arrows of the top layer and the bar, I wrapped everything with the white sheet metal. "Wrapped" is probably too light of a term to describe the process. The white sheet metal was actually signage metal and required a massive amount of scoring, grunting, and pounding to get right. I wrapped the sheet metal around the gray non-arrows, the three borders on the main pad, and the entire bar base (minus the front of it). For the borders, I extended the sheet metal all the way to the bottom of the pad and then covered the pad with sticky mat material so that no one would cut themselves on the sheet metal ends. In order to keep the sheet metal down I had to use tiny nails and a few small screws.

Drilling holes in the base, fixing the bars in the holes, placing the buttons in the bars, and wiring the buttons was an ordeal that I will not describe. Since the pole is detachable, the wiring needs to be easily detachable as well. Thus the wiring of the buttons on the bar uses simple clamps that allow you to disconnect the wires quickly.

The fifth image (8 of 20 in the slideshow) shows a side shot of the final pad in all of its glory. The sixth picture shows a similarly nice shot from the front. The seventh image shows the start and exit buttons on the left side of the bar. The next image shows the up/down/left/right buttons on the right side of the bar. They are conveniently placed so that using them while facing the screen is natural.

The ninth image (12 of 20 in the slideshow) shows a top-down view of the pad, while the tenth picture shows a close-up of the front right corner. You will notice in the tenth picture that there is some plastic in the crevices. This is the protective plastic that was on the white sheet metal. I forgot to take it off before taking the picture. Oops!

The 12th and 13th images show the extra mending brackets that work with the notched two-by-four in the bar base to stabilize the bar. I never hold on to the bar while playing, but it is always nice to know that the bar can handle it. =)

The last three images show an arrow well and how the sensor is wired. An L-shaped mending bracket kind of thing is attached to the plywood in each corner. I then superglued a few small pieces of a mousepad to each bracket. Then I superglued the top L-shaped mending bracket to the mousepad pieces. All of the top brackets are connected, and all of the bottom brackets are connected. Then either the top or the bottom is connected to ground, and the other is connected to the other connection on the controller. The controller is hidden in the top right non-arrow's well. The two layers of mending brackets have about 1 to 2 millimeters of space in-between them when the plexiglass is on the pad.

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