'Dance Dance Immolation': Burning up the dance floor, literally | The Download Blog - CNET Download.com

'Dance Dance Immolation': Burning up the dance floor, literally

Get a case of hot foot--literally--with 'Dance Dance Immolation,' a real-life parody of 'Dance Dance Revolution' with flamethrowers that's based on open-source StepMania.

(Credit: Interpretive Arson)

Those schools that are using Dance Dance Revolution to get their kids into shape aren't the only ones who've found a great use for the game, but it's doubtful Dance Dance Immolation will ever make it to a gymnasium near you.

Created by Interpretive Arson, a fire-art group from Oakland, Calif., Dance Dance Immolation uses a freeware version of DDR melded to pilot lights, gallons of propane, and heat-resistant proximity suits. Instead of losing points, though, a single misstep gets you shot in the face with fire.

Originally developed by three friends--Jonathan Shekter, Ian Baker, and Matt Blackwell--Crispix is the name for their hacked version of open-source StepMania (download for Windows or Mac), a freeware adaptation of Dance Dance Revolution that forms the brain of Dance Dance Immolation. StepMania is not only open source, it's also multiplatform. So why was it built on a Windows XP machine?

According to Rubin Abdi, another coder who's worked on developing Crispix from the StepMania source, it has everything to do with Burning Man, where DDI debuted in 2005. "The main point of using Windows was that it's really easy to rebuild a machine without Internet access, and when you're in the desert the outside world kind of doesn't exist."

What did exist was lots of propane, many willing participants, and the challenge of throwing the two together and emerging unscathed. Before they could get to that point, they needed to change StepMania to control the fire-shooting apparatus.

Abdi summarized the C++ and other code changes: "Crispix is StepMania with the player health bar replaced with a 'pressure' gauge. The more a player messes up, or the longer they can go before they mess up, the higher the gauge goes. Once it hits the top, depending on certain things in the game, such as where in the song the player is, it'll do something like shoot fire from the top of the screen or at the players."

The game has several physical components that serve not only to roast players, but also protect them. There's a control table, and a screen with top-mounted fire effects. There's also the flamethrowers aimed at the players, the player consoles with their "panic" buttons and the custom-built dance platforms. All participants wear DDI's main safety precaution: custom-altered silver-aluminized, aramid-fabric proximity suits that keep the players sweaty but otherwise unsinged.

Inside the helmets of the proximity suits are headphones so that players can hear the music as well as commands and derisive comments from the DDI crew. There's also an air mask and an air tube. Crispix manages them all, running on a Windows XP machine nicknamed Trogdor.

Trogdor--a cheap PC tower with a good graphics card--is connected to Svetlana, the main control panel that handles the safety checks and the flame effects. If the proximity suit's air pressure changes, a player hits the panic button, or some other safety measure gets triggered, Svetlana will shut down the game by killing the gas flow to the player-effect heads and forcing the remaining propane in the system to burn off safely in the screen effects.

(Credit: Seth Rosenblatt/CNET Networks)

Abdi pointed out that even the basic protocol for starting the game involves redundancies to ensure safety. The arming sequence won't work unless all safeties are clear, then the operator must then arm the game, and finally both players must individually arm the game. "When the game is [fully] armed, the area around the machine turns red with lights hooked up to Svetlana, and Trogdor plays a siren sound to notify everyone that the game is hot."

Despite all the fancy coding in Crispix, Svetlana is essentially a USB device. "The electronics, player pads and controls, flame effects, lights, pretty much everything can run through one USB port," said Abdi. Connected to Svetlana is The Lobster, another custom-built device that controls the complicated interface of the propane and pilot lights that create the billowing fireballs.

Privately funded by members of the DDI crew, Dance Dance Immolation has so far burned through about $14,000. It received one $1,000 grant from the Burning Man-funding splinter group Borg2, but DDI's emcee Chris Ory pointed out, "It was mostly in pennies." Ory estimated that the crew of 10 has spent nearly 4,000 hours building and perfecting the device.

Interpretive Arson's energetic mockery of mainstream culture has struck a chord with spectators and participants that hints at a primordial desire lying beyond the mess of moving parts or the 75 gallons of propane consumed during an average performance. The appeal, says co-creator Matt Blackwell, "seems to be fairly evenly divided between folks who assume we're contestants for the Darwin Awards, and people who want to play."

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