Part 1: Making your file r21 playable

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The r21 Simfile Making Guide v. 1.0

By Insane Steve

Starter’s Guide:
This part of my simfile making guide includes the following topics:
Part 1: Making your file r21 playable
I: Using Stepmania to design a simfile

II: Syncing your simfile

III: Making your simfile r21 compatible
Part 2: Basic pad file design

I: Basic patterns

II: Basic rhythms

III: Things that you should not do, ever

Part I: Making an r21 Playable File:

Step 1: Using Stepmania to make a simfile:

I assume you are at least familiar to Stepmania and its editor program enough to start making a simfile. I am also assuming you are running a Windows system; if you have a Mac or other OS you will need to change these directions accordingly. You will first need a music file, in either .mp3 or .ogg format. You will also need a .sm file. The best way to make a .sm file from scratch is to make a new .txt file (I’ll call it “file.txt”) in the folder with your song, and then opening it and use “save as” to save the file as “”. Make sure you set the “save as type” scroll down menu to “All Files”. Delete the text file if you want. You now have a song and a .sm file and can open up Stepmania.
Step 2: Syncing your file (at least passably well):
Now, I’ve always had a harder time syncing simfiles than making them. This section will be short, and I hope you will look elsewhere for even better advice. The short method I have listed should get you at most .01 seconds off-sync, which most people can’t pick up (although some very good players can tell if a file is even 1/100th of a second off).
There are two key parts to the sync of a file: the BPM (tempo) and the GAP (offset). The GAP should always be the first thing you try to find with your sync.
Before you sync, I recommend you slow the music down. This makes it much easier to tell, visually, if the file is early or late. To slow the music down, go into the “song options” on the menu opened by pressing escape and scroll down to the “song rate” option and set it to somewhere between .5x and .7x. This makes the music play slower.
To find the GAP, place an arrow on the first note of the first measure of the song. You are trying to line up the first beat of the music with the first arrow. If the first beat of the music is before the first arrow, the file is “late” and you can hit F12 to move the chart .02 seconds earlier. Conversely, if you find the first beat of the music is after the first arrow, the file is “early” and you hit F11 to make the file .02 second later.

Once the GAP is correct, you need to find the BPM. Assuming the file has a constant BPM (if you’re thinking of making a file to a variable BPM song, you shouldn’t need this guide!), you can use a music analyzer to find the BPM, or if you insist on doing it manually, place quarter notes on every beat of the song, and play your file with your best guess for the BPM. If you notice the notes are getting early as the song goes on, your BPM is too fast and you can hit F7 to slow the song down. Likewise, if you find the notes are getting late, the BPM is too slow and you hit F8 to speed it up. Do this until the notes match up. If you are having a hard time, find a music analyzer and use that instead.

Either way, try to sync your file before you start making it.
Step 3: Make your file!
Self explanatory.
…wait, you want to know how to make a good file? … I’ll be writing a LOT about this topic, two and a half whole parts, so… ya. Moving on…
Step 4: Set the File up for r21 Play
First of all, you need an .ogg file. If your song is .mp3, use a converter like Audacity (Google it, it isn’t hard to find, and it’s free). Load the song into Audacity, select “Export as Ogg Vorbis” from the file menu, and export it. That wasn’t so hard, was it? If your file is under 2:00, you’re set to go. If not, you need to download the following patch:
Extract it, and drag the .ogg file over the .exe file. There should be a brief flicker of the screen, and now Stepmania/ITG thinks your sound file is 1:45 long, even if it isn’t! And that’s pretty much it. You still have to place the file into the right folder of your USB drive, but there’s a lot of explanation of how to do that, so I’ll move on to the fun part: making your files better.
Back to Step 3: Making your file
Part 3.1: Basic arrow patterns (single)
Some arrow patterns just work better than others for pad chart making. If you’re making a chart with basic 8th note streams, you can afford to use double stepping and complicated crossovers. If you’re trying to make a chart with 155 BPM 16th streams, you DON’T want to have to double step, ever.
What is a double step? This occurs when you have an arrow pattern where stepping twice in a row with the same foot is less awkward than alternating feet. For example, if you have a pattern of LDRUL (a very common pattern I see in a lot of “first” files… well, you start with your left foot on left. Your right foot goes onto down… and now what? You can put your left foot on right (crossover) but right foot on up forces a spin… which is very awkward at fast speeds. Or, you can step for a second time with your left foot in a row, a double step. See what I mean?
This picture shows an example of a pattern that generally requires a double step, and also shows how you can see, without playing it, why it does.

In general, you want to be able to alternate feet in stream throughout the entire file. You can put double steps in for variety or to accent the song… but in the most basic file, you should try to avoid double stepping. I’ll get into crossovers in a later part of this guide – I’m trying to help you make the most basic streams that flow on pad.

The trick is to imagine which foot you are stepping on when choosing to make a note pattern. There are, in the most basic, no crossover or double step streams, 6 possible arrow/foot combinations to consider:
Left foot on left, left or right foot on up or down, right foot on right.
What this means, simply put, is that if you have a stream pattern that forces a left foot on right or right foot on left hit, you will either have to crossover or double step. Which, if you’re trying for very basic stream that flows, isn’t what you want, yet. Sure, the first couple times, you will have to think about your stream, but this gets much easier with practice.
Here’s a trick that helped me make simfiles. If you have a 10-key number pad on your computer, map the up, down, left, and right panels to 8, 2, 4, and 6 respectively. You are essentially making a mini-dance pad on your keyboard. You play with only your index fingers (ok, maybe middle fingers for hands) simulating your feet. It will be tricky and awkward at first, but with practice you’ll be able to simulate pad play on the keyboard. If you want to see if your stream works on pad, play your simfile with this key setup and your index fingers. If you find yourself hitting two keys with the same finger or getting tripped up trying to alternate fingers, your stream has double steps and probably needs to be changed.
In later parts of this guide, I’ll explain crossovers and how you can incorporate them into your streams.

Part 3.2: Note rhythms

Ok, now that you have your streams straightened out, you can focus on patterns. If you hear a very specific pattern in the song, step it. Don’t try to get fancy and add notes where they don’t belong. Try to hear the rhythms you want to step before the arrows are placed. A point of advice I like to take: make the difficulty of your steps depend on the song you choose. Don’t try to force the difficulty. If you want to make a 12 or 13, pick a song with the potential for a 12 or 13 chart. Don’t try to turn a bubblegum pop song into a 13. Step some techno with lots of 16th stream instead. If you must step a song, pick the difficulty according to what you hear in the song, not a number you have in your head.
Really, the other thing I need to accent here is when to use jumps. Jumps accent harder hits in the song. Please don’t place jumps randomly in the song because they look cool. As a rule, don’t put jumps to the bass hit every quarter beat in the middle of your 16th stream. I don’t want to pad your 14 with 16th note jump stream. It might work if you play spread keyboard, but spread keyboard charts are normally NOT paddable. That’s why they are called “keyboard” files, not pad files.
Freezes are also good for places where the note you are stepping to is held longer than a typical note. They’re generally more prominent in slower, drawn out sections of files. Another common thing you can do with a freeze is to hold a freeze with one foot, and hit arrows with the other foot. Be careful with this, though. You’re essentially “double stepping” every time you have a different note at the same time as a freeze, so you have to space out notes that you have to hit during your freeze a bit. Also, it’s much easier to, for example, hold left as a freeze and hit up, right, down (in that order) with your right foot than up, down, right. Your foot has to travel much farther moving from the up arrow to the down arrow than it does from the up arrow to the right arrow, so be careful not to force UDUD etc. patterns that go too quickly when you have to hold a freeze. The same idea is true for, say, holding a down freeze and having to step LRLRL etc. I’ll go more into detail on this later in the guide.
Note rhythms are more intuitive than note patterns. You just sort of have to feel what goes right to certain parts of a song.


I kind of got you started with the “don’t put jumps in 16th streams” part. I’ll expand on this: Don’t place jumps that you can’t react to in your charts. I see a lot of jumps at the end of 16th streams because there’s a drum hit or something at the end of them. Ok, it goes with the song… play Tell Expert. Most people don’t like this chart. A couple do, but most do not. If you have to put a jump there, cut off the last yellow 16th note before the jump so there’s an 8th beat of space between the last note and the jump. Or just remove the jump. Either works.
Also, if you plan to put several notes in a row on the same arrow, a jack, don’t do it at blazingly high speeds. As a guide, 16th note jacks are not fun unless the song is under, say, 120 BPM.
If you plan to use freezes in your chart (and you should when they fit) the, don’t “overlap” them so more than two are done at the same time. This forces a hand or a dropped hold. Also, don’t have a freeze hold with a 16th stream that you have to do with one foot. Seriously. It’s just not even possible, but I’ve seen it in pad files.
Another thing about freezes. Sometimes a step artist will use “unmissable” freezes or rolls (that is, if you hit the note, you can’t drop the freeze) as a sort of “advanced step rhetoric” way to accent the chart. I’ll describe when you can do this to look cool much much later. If you do this, make sure you know why you have this freeze. If you’re just using a freeze as an actual hold, but you can’t drop it, you generally shouldn’t have a freeze there.
Ummm… you did sync your file, right? This should go without saying, but don’t ever pick a random BPM and try to “guess” where the notes go in record mode. Actually… don’t use record mode, ever. It’s probably wrong, and files where all the arrows are different colors are generally not fun. Now, I figure you probably know this, and you aren’t doing this, right? I’ve seen so many files “synced” like this on BemaniStyle and FFR and it’s just gross.
*ok, I may have done these things once or twice. Just ignore that, ok?

Wrap Up:
Those are the very basics to making a playable file. Yes, you basically have a DDR chart right now, and it’s not all that interesting. The streams, while a bit bland, flow, and your chart is playable on pad. Now what? In the second part of this guide, I will explain how to place crossovers into your streams, how to use ITG exclusive concepts like mines, hands, and rolls to make your charts interesting and fun, and how to use stops and BPM changes to make the scroll of your file interesting. Essentially, this part helped you make a playable file. The next part will help you make an interesting file.
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