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ECGXpo 06: Building a Better Controller

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While gamers can identify most anything the East Coast Gaming Expo, the folks at Ransai and Desktop Arcade brought along a custom-made gaming accessory that many attendees didn’t recognize.

Both companies assemble custom Pop’n Music arcade replica controllers that bring the control of the Pop’n arcade cabinets to the comfort of home. When building the controllers, both companies use actual arcade parts and provide plenty of customization to ensure players get a one-of-a-kind controller.

Alex “Dewgy” Olah was present at the expo as a representative of Ransai and explained the controller making process began to give players of the game more of an arcade experience than what Konami, the developer of the Pop’n Music and Bemani series, offered players.

“Ransai began making controllers in early 2004,” he explained. “The goal was to make a cheaper alternative to (Konami’s) official controller. It was hard to import and get a hold of, it was $400-$500, made of plastic and different parts were used to construct it.”

Scott “Random” Trenda constructs the controllers as a side project and builds each unit on a made-to-order basis. Olah explained Trenda’s disdain with the official Konami controller lead to the construction of his own arcade-specified controller.

“He really wasn’t happy with it so he made his own,” he said. “He has family that is in carpentry and what he created is basically an indestructible wooden box.”

To make a point of the controller shell’s durability, the official Ransai site details a test conducted by Ransai’s first customer – he ran it over with a car and the shell remained completely intact. Durability is a main concern for a Pop’n Music controller especially on high difficulties where the sheer number of notes to hit requires a player to “basically beat the controller senseless” as the Ransai website puts it.

Trenda constructs about 50 controllers a year on an individual basis. The base controller with basic switches, wiring and design runs $250 with the price increasing as customers customize the controller how they want. Those who order can request custom paint jobs and even add lighting for the buttons.

Ransai sees more demand for the controllers as the release of a new version of the game approaches. Pop’n Music 13 Carnival is set to release for the Playstation 2 in Japan at the end of the month and while Olah noted the game is rising in popularity in the U.S., its fan base is still fairly limited.

“Many people just don’t know about it,” he explained. “A lot of people take one look at the box art and immediately dismiss it as a kid’s game. It’s for anybody and it stands on its own as a music game that doesn’t simulate anything. It’s not like playing a guitar or any other instrument; it’s just hitting buttons and making music. It’s irresistibly fun.”

Much of Pop’n Music’s allure to players is the wide number of music genres it covers, said Olah.

“It covers more genres of music than any other music game,” he said. “It has everything. You can play classical, rap, reggae, death metal, anything you can think of.”

Along with Pop’n Music controllers, both companies also offer arcade-style controllers for the Bemani game Beatmania IIDX. Unlike Pop’n Music, the DJ simulator has found its way into the U.S. market with a couple of limited arcade releases in the late ’90s (re-named HipHop Mania) as well as a home release, which launched in March.

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