How To Setup StepMania for Modern Dance Gaming

Dance games have come along way since Dance Dance Revolution was first introduced in 1998. New versions of DDR have been released, new games have been released, and finally the disappearance (and slow resurgence) of the American public arcade.

StepMania for Windows only is covered here.

This is meant to help new players get their head around the technology and vocabulary of an intimidating and often obtuse video game sub-genre/sub-culture. It’s confusing for sure, but the game is rewarding.

This is NOT meant to be entirely inclusive and cover everything. I’m not an expert.

The Setup

If you love DDR, and that’s all you want to play, then great! There are many options for you to get your fix! (most of you, regionally speaking) For many of us ITG and custom songs are the biggest draw. If a public ITG/Stepmania cabinet isn’t avialable, then we’ll need to figure out how to play at home.

You’ll need:

  • PC/Laptop
    High specs not required to run Stepmania, not really. More to come here.
  • Pads, Stages
    There are a few home stages you can use, or even modify an arcade pad to work with the PC. More to come here.
  • Audio System
    Definitely a good idea to add something here. A boombox, amplifier, anything at all. More to come here.

Stepmania Installation

Download the latest install from Stepmania and run the installation. This is version 5.

Stepmania Download

Test the game by running it for the first time. Plug in your pad as well to make sure it’s recognized as a game controller.

Theme Installation

There are many themes created for Stepmania, but the most common version used is Simply Love. Simply Love has a minimal design with maximum features. Note scrolling modifications, data visualizations, everything is at your finger tips. It can be more overwhelming for new players.

Download the latest theme version from Github here.

Copy the entire folder here:

%APPDATA%\StepMania 5\Themes\

Run Stepmania, and choose from this menu:
Options > Display Options > Appearance

I always forget where this menu is
Nice! Don’t forget to view the Credits and Acknowledgements!

Key-mapping and Button Configuration

Another important thing to setup early, and I often do this incorrectly, is mapping your keys to the correct buttons.

Initial Mapping

Options > Configure Keyboard/Pad Mappings

The options at the bottom double as your game’s cardinal inputs and menu inputs by default

There are multiple mappings for Player 1 and Player 2, and each player can have 3 different keys setup: Default (what it starts at), Primary, Secondary.

To setup your pad for arrows, select the options starting with Left MenuLeft and hit Enter. Next, press the button or pad that you wish to map to that input. If you hit a button that is in use somewhere else, it will be deleted from that input.

When you’re done, scroll down to the bottom and select Save To Disk.

Dedicated Buttons

This is a way to disable your dance pad from navigating the menus and allow an arcade cabinet, or other keyboard keys, to navigate those menus.

The first inputs, starting with MenuLeft, are for the dedicated buttons.

I like to set WASD as my menu buttons so I don’t accidentally change options when stepping on my pad. Don’t forget to set Start and Back buttons as well!

These are the dedicated menu buttons, don’t forget to set these!

Options > Input Options > Menu Buttons > Only Dedicated Buttons

WARNING: If you change this setting before mapping dedicated buttons, you won’t be able to navigate anywhere in StepMania!

As always the Simply Love devs provide useful info for every option!

Songs and Packs

Packs are collections of songs and charts for Stepmania. Packs are sorted together in the game based on the sub-folders they are copied to.

It works like this. Each folder in the Songs directory is a Pack of songs. Each sub-folder in that folder represents a song. The song folder contains the music file, a step data file (simfile), and banner image files.

%APPDATA%\StepMania 5\Songs

Note: Songs can be easily edited and changed, so the competitive scene relies on commonly known packs and an honor-system for scores.


Noteskins are the image files used for arrows in the game. You may prefer the classic Konami DDR style arrows, or the classic ITG metal arrows. You can download them and add them to Stepmania!

Note: Stepmania supports more than just 4 panel dance games, so be aware of where to put these files!

%APPDATA%\StepMania 5\NoteSkins\dance

Tuning and Synchronization

Depending on your monitors, audio setup, and dance pads, your audio/visual lag will be unique. It’s important to take some time now to synchronize your setup.

Offset is the time delay, positive or negative, from when the music begins to when the chart begins to scroll.

Song Offset: Every song will have its own offset value. This value is unique so the song and chart synchronized together.

Global Offset: This is additional offset applied to every song on your machine. This is what you want to change when calibrating your setup.

AutoSync Machine

One great way to set the Global Offset is to use the built-in Auto-Sync feature.

Pick a song you know extremely well, turn on Auto-Sync, and play the song. The system will calculate the correct timing based on a collection of sample-data from the notes.

When the song first starts, hit F6, then F6 again. It will cycle from AutoSync Song (don’t do that!) to AutoSync Machine (do this!)

This is what you want to see.
Data collection as you play
Be careful. It helps to save a backup Preferences.ini value

Manually Adjusting Global Offset

After using AutoSync Machine, you can fine-tune the global offset to your liking by using your own data and modifying the value directly in the game.

In SimplyLove, at the end of a song, take a look at your timing errors. Then you can apply those values, add or subtract, to the values in your game. I suggest doing this in little bits at a time.


During a song (helps to have fail, game-over turned off), use these shortcut keys to adjust the Global Offset.

  • Shift + F11 = Global Offset down (coarse)
  • Shift + Control + F11 = Global Offset down (fine)
  • Shift + F12 = Global offset up (coarse)
  • Shift + Control + F12 = Global Offset up (fine)

This value, along with nearly any value set in the game, can be manually changed in the preferences.ini file. This is in the Save folder of your AppData folder:

%APPDATA%\StepMania 5\Save\Preferences.ini

Simply Love gives you tons of options to customize your game and maximize your performance as a player. Admittedly it is overwhelming for anyone not used to ITG or Stepmania.

After selecting a song, hit the Enter button again to go to the menu options. Let’s familiarize ourselves with what I think are the highlights of the menu options.

Speed Modifiers

Type of Speed Mod
This is the scroll speed of notes on the screen

  • X : This is a value multiplied to the set BPM of the chart
  • C : Sets a constant BPM value for the entire chart, ignoring tempo changes
  • M : Sets a constant BPM to the maximum BPM value for the entire chart, keeping tempo changes

Music Rate BPM
This setting will modify the actual tempo of the song by adjusting the pitch. Make slow songs fast, fast songs slow. Use at your own risk >_<

Data Visualizations

These will not work in “Solo” mode, where the note field is in the center of the screen. Nor will these work in 2 player mode.

Target Score Graph
Shows how close you are different grades (A, S, Stars) as you play the game.

Step Statistics
Shows a note density graph on the right of the screen, along with how many notes you hit for each judgement.

Target Score

This will show a plus/minus to your percentage as you play the game aiming for a specific target score. For example, the the last time you played, or a perfect quad.

Action On Missed Target (nothing, fail, restart)
What happens if you miss the target? You can immediately have the song fail and go to menu, or you can have it immediately restart the song. Good for grinding the same song over and over. Not good for your sanity.

Gameplay Extras

Flash Column for Miss
Flashes a column (arrow) red when missed. Great for identifying a problem with your form, or a bad arrow.

Subtractive Scoring
Start the game at 100% and work your way down!

This is a score tracking system, similar to IIDX, where sliders move towards grades based on your performance.

Track Held Misses
After a song, Simply Love will show you judgments for each arrow. This will show you how many you Missed because the arrow was already held down. This is helpful to troubleshoot an arrow that is stuck.

Density Graph at Top
This takes away the score at the top of the note field, and replaces it with a small density graph. (helps the mental game for some) You can quickly glance at it to see when huge groups of notes are coming up.

Measure Counter
This looks ahead in the file, and will track how many measures of that particular note are coming up. Useful in stamina songs to know how long a stream of 16th notes is going to be.

Disable Timing Windows
This allows you to disable Way Offs and Decents from judgments in scoring. Colloquially known as “The Boys”. Because these judgments are just as wide before the note as they are after, they could be falsely triggered by over-sensitive pads. Turning these off, you would get a Miss instead, but less likely to break combo because of over sensitive pads.

Additional Notes on Timing Windows

Quote from someone more educated than me (Sujeet)

There is no timing window for the Miss judgement. A Miss is determined by a note not falling within any of the other timing windows.

When Decents and Way Offs are disabled, their windows are shrunk to the same as the Great window. If there is a pad misfire in what would have been a Decent/Way Off, it would just be disregarded by the game.

  • Great = 102ms
  • Decent = 135ms
  • Way Off = 180ms

By shrinking Decents and Way Offs to 102ms (disabling them) you lower the total size of the window where you can get a judgement by 144ms. (72ms on each side)

The green space is for Greats and higher.

I hope helps new players out! Please send any corrections to me in the comments, or to my email. If I missed anything important, I’ll make a new post. But if anything here is inaccurate, I’d like to change it.

Have fun and happy stomping!

9 thoughts on “How To Setup StepMania for Modern Dance Gaming

  1. Appreciate advice how to synchronise the Floor Game Mat and Control ? Mine is supposed to be wireless. A box comes with it. I do know that the Box + Floor Game Mat + Control are okay, because when i switch OFF the Box, both the Floor Game Mat and Control flashes. And when i switch the Box back ON, both the Floor Game Mat and Control stops flashing.

    My only problem is how to get the Control, Floor Game Mat synchronised with the Step Mania program on the PC?

    Thank you very much in advance


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