I was almost a world-famous game designer.
Well, world famous might be a bit of a stretch. "Certain-parts-of-the-Internet" famous might be more accurate. And I didn't really design a whole game, I just designed some files that modified an existing game. Also, none of my modifications were ever released to the public.
Like I said: "almost."
Maybe I should start at the beginning.
Like many budding game designers, I was driven by a deep dissatisfaction with an existing game. The game was Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and the dissatisfaction belonged to some of my friends. I was perfectly satisfied with the game, pulling out my thick foam dance mats and stomping to the beat every chance I got. I had even hooked some of my friends, pushing them past the "This looks totally stupid" stage to the beginning dancer's "the arrows are going too fast" stage and finally to the pre-acceptance stage of "I'm kind of getting the hang of this."
At this point, some of my friends rammed headlong into the "I just don't like this weird music" stage. Alas, some of my companions did not share my love for high-energy Japanese pop music. And while Konami has recently gotten better about including songs more palatable to American tastes, in the heady days of my youth (a.k.a. three years ago) playing Dance Dance Revolution meant dancing mainly to some truly saccharine Asian beats. "You know what would be cool?" my friends would ask rhetorically. "If you could put in your own music and make arrows for that."
So I was understandably excited to find Dance With Intesity (DWI), a freeware version of DDR for the PC that lets you design your own dance steps and, more importantly, use your own MP3 songs as the background for your flailing. No more complaints about the weird Japanese pop - now any song in my library could be part of my favorite dance game with just a little bit of work. How hard could it be?
The answer, it turned out, was "plenty hard." The first hurdle was simply getting the program to work, which required setting up a complicated hierarchy of folders and settings that tested my patience even before I got to any actual designing. This also required downloading a companion program called Xstep, which allowed me to edit steps without masochistically hacking around in gibberish-laden text files.
Once I actually put pen to paper, as it were, I realized that getting the beats in my head to show up on the screen was much harder than I had anticipated. I could tap out a decent, interesting rhythm as I listened to a song, but I was at a loss to transfer that timing to Xstep's simple static grid. It was a long process of trial and error to get the steps to show up exactly the way I had imagined them, and by that point I was usually dissatisfied with the results anyway.
After putzing around for a few days, I had pretty much given up my hopes of converting my friends to DDR through an improved song selection. The hours of work required to create even one halfway decent set of steps was too daunting, and producing songs en masse would require giving up large chunks of my free time. I was not very inclined to invest this time, especially given the bewildered looks I got when I told some people I was now creating DDR steps for my own songs (others were more supportive - a few of my friends became DWI tinkerers as well).
I was about ready to go back to being just another DDR fan when I happened to stumble upon Tournamix, a regular competition put on by a web site called DDR East Invasion. Tournamix allows people from around the world to submit their best step files for judging by a panel of DWI experts and the site's visitors. When I discovered it, they were taking entries for the fourth competition.
This was a dedicated community of step designers who had gotten way past the tinkering stage in which I was currently mired. They devoted a great deal of their own time and resources to the art of step creation with no reward other than the admiration of their fellow designers. I was inspired by their dedication (and by dreams of Internet stardom), to pick up my keyboard and try my hand.