By Insane Steve
Part 1: Making an r21 playable file
I: Using Stepmania to make a simfile
II: Syncing your simfile
III: Making your simfile
IV: Set your simfile up for r21 play
Part 2: Basic pad simfile design
I: Basic arrow patterns
II: Note rhythms
III: SERIOUSLY DON'T DO THESE THINGS
IV: Wrap up
Part 3: Making your simfiles more fun
I: Selecting appropriate music
II: Crossovers and how to use them
III: Facing "left" and "right"
IV: Stops and BPM changes
V: "Molding" steps to the song (the simple version)
Part 4: ITG exclusive chart concepts
I: Using mines
II: Using hands
III: Using rolls
IV: Wrap up
Part I: Making an r21 Playable File:
Part 1.1: Using Stepmania to make a simfile:
I assume you are at least familiar with Stepmania and its simfile editor program enough to at least START making a simfile. I am also assuming you are running a Windows operating system; if you have a Mac or other OS, you will need to change these directions accordingly.
In order to make a simfile, you will first need a music file (the song for your steps to go to), in either .mp3 or .ogg format. You will also need a .sm file (the file that holds the information for what steps show up). 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 "file.sm". 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.
Alternatively, an even easier way is to just "steal" a .sm file from another simfile you have. First, go to "\Program Files\Stepmania\Songs" on your computer (this may be different depending on the version of Stepmania you have and the operating system you are running). This is where all the songs in your Stepmania are located. This is also where you will need to put your own file if you want it to show up in Stepmania and be available to play.
Anyway, navigate to a song you like (or don't, it doesn't matter). Copy the .sm file located in its folder and paste it in your own song's folder (a folder that contains your .mp3 or .ogg file). Open up the .sm and delete everything below the sectionwhere everything starts with a "#" (or just delete evrything below "#BGCHANGES:;" or "#KEYSOUNDS:;"). Be sure to delete the stuff between the colon (:) and semicolon (;) in the #TITLE, #ARTIST, #OFFSET and #BPM sections too (and #STOPS if there's anything there). Fill in #TITLE and #ARTIST with your own song's info, but leave the rest blank for now.
Part 1.2: Syncing your simfile (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 (that means click the link in that sentence; go on now, it's better than anything I can tell you). The short method I have listed here 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 around .5x and .7x or so. 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 your song has a constant BPM (if you're thinking of making a file to a variable BPM song, you shouldn't need this guide, or you should really rethink stepping that song!), 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.
Alternatively, there is a somewhat easier way. Rather than finding the GAP first, you can find the BPM first too. How do you do that? Go here and download Mixmeister BPM Analyzer:
Trust me, it's worth the 10 seconds of your life that it will take to fill out the small form and download it. Once you've got it, open it up and drag and drop your .mp3 onto it (it doesn't understand .ogg files - see below for how to convert your .ogg to an .mp3 if you only have an .ogg). After a few seconds, it will give you the BPM for your song. This program is by no means flawless, but it is right more often than not. If your song has a decent and steady bass beat, then chances are it's correct. If nothing comes up or later you find out it's not the right BPM (and this is your first file), then find a new song. Ask for help in the forums here if you can't find a song that gives a steady BPM, we can help.
Now go back to your .sm and input the BPM that Mixmeister gave you between the colon (:) and semicolon (;) in the #BPM part. Now you're ready to open up your song in Stepmania's editor. Open Stepmania, go to Edit Mode, navigate to your song, and open it up. Now you need to find the GAP. One good way to do this is to just put a bunch of quarter notes (red notes) or 8th notes (blue notes and red notes) that start on where you think the first beat of the song takes place, then keep playing that part over and over again, moving the group of notes up and down until they are on-sync.
Press 1, 2, 3 or 4 to input arrows. If you press left and right on the arrow keys, you can change the arrows you input from quarter notes all the way to 128th notes (in some Stepmanias). If you press space bar and then scroll down and press it again, you can highlight a section. Once you've highlighted it, press Enter and go to Cut. Scroll up or down a bit (depending on if your arrows feel early or late) and then paste them up or down a bit more than they were (I recommend going in increments of 64ths). Once your arrows feel like they match the music, scroll up to your first arrow and look to the right where it says "Current Second". Put that value into your .sm file between the colon (:) and semicolon (;) in #OFFSET (as a negative number, since you're actually "deleting" those seconds before the arrow comes up. Save your .sm, press ESC in Stepmania and go to "Reload from Disk", and now your simfile should be onsync. No need for 64th and 128ths anymore, the normal red and blue arrows should be okay. If they feel off, then repeat.
Even more alternatively, you can just create a bunch of arrows and keep pressing F7/F8 until they feel like they're more or less onsync. It won't be as fine-tuned as the above methods, but it works okay sometimes.
Either way, try to sync your file before you start making it.
Step 1.3: Make your simfile!
…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 1.4: Set your simfile up for r21 Play
First of all, you need an .ogg file. If your song is .mp3, use a converter like Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/). Load your 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 (See the FAQ), so I'll move on to the fun part: making your files better.
Part 2: Basic pad simfile design (Back to Step 3!)
Part 2.1: Basic arrow patterns
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 that in a later part of this guide – I'm trying to help you make the most basic streams that flow on pad right now.
The trick is to imagine which foot you are stepping on when choosing to make a note pattern. There are, in the most basic (not taking into account 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 (an exception to this rule) and how you can incorporate them into your streams.
Part 2.2: 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're stepping a song, pick the difficulty according to what you hear in the song (or whatever the steps end up warranting when you're done), not a number you have in your head.
Really, the other thing I need to talk about here is when to use jumps. Jumps accent harder hits in the song (cymbals, big drum beats, explosions, whatever). 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 level difficulty simfile 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. The best way to do it is to make a lot of files and listen to people when they give you criticism.
Part 2.3: SERIOUSLY DON'T DO THESE THINGS*
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 fast 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, several 16th note jacks in a row are not fun unless the song is under or around, say, 120 BPM.
If you plan to use freezes in your chart (and you should when they fit), 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 too. Just ignore that, ok?
Part 2.4: 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.
Part 3: Making your simfiles more fun
Ok, from the first part of this guide, you should have some idea how to make a file r21 compatible, and some idea how to make a file playable on pad. You may be able to make a playable, fun file with just the advice I gave you in the first part of this guide. However, many players get bored if you make your files with nothing but straightforward patterns and the same rhythms over and over again. This part of the guide will show you things you can put in your simfiles to make them universally more fun to play. It's quite a bit longer than the last part, but it has quite a bit more information.
Part 3.1: Selecting appropriate music
The great thing about r21 is that it allows the player to play pretty much any song they want with a simfile on an arcade cabinet (within reason. Please don't abuse the .ogg patch and play the 2 hour long DDR Megamix when there's a line of people waiting to play). Some songs, however, are much easier to step, and will yield much more interesting files when you step them. For example, a song that switches up its rhythms frequently or has very interesting note patterns will be easier to make a fun simfile to than some generic trance song that repeats the same 8 measure pattern over and over and over again. For a good example of what not to try to step, find a simfile for the song "Inori" from IIDX.
A very good guideline that I like to use is that if I can't hear the exact pattern of a song I want to step, or if that pattern repeats itself for over half the song, I won't step it. There's something to be said for cutting your music, also. It's bad to step a 2 minute generic trance song, it's much worse to step a 7 and a half minute extended mix of this trance song. (By the way, I have nothing against trance, it just for the most part yields dull, repetitive simfiles.) That's about it, really. Just make sure you have ideas for the song; don't step a song just because you like it. Oh, and to re-iterate a point I made in the first part of the guide, don't force a difficulty onto a song. Make a chart that fits the song.
Part 3.2: Crossovers and how to use them
Ok, now that I wasted a page telling you what song to step, we can actually begin making the simfile. I explained how to make basic stream earlier in the first part of the guide. I did, however, tell you to avoid "crossover" steps. Here, I will show you how to add basic crossovers into your streams, and also where to add these crossovers.
Simply put, a crossover is any step pattern where, if the player chooses to alternate feet between every step, causes the player to step on the left panel with his right foot, or the right panel with his left foot. An example of this pattern is LDRDUR. See the picture for how you can cross this pattern over.
More common crossover patterns include LDRDL, or its mirror, RDLDR. In each, the third step is a crossover step, and the player is uncrossed over by the fifth step.
Recognizing crossover patterns is the first step to using them effectively in simfiles. When you play a file with crossovers, do you actually cross them over, or are you double stepping? Try to at least learn how to crossover, even if you can't yet pass songs with 8th note crossover stream. Not only will it help you make files, it will also help you when you do move up to charts with faster streams with crossovers.
Ok, so you knew what crossovers were before you read this, and instead want to know exactly where to place them. There are really no set rules to placing crossovers in your streams, honestly. One guideline I like to use is that a crossover is more "prominent" of a step pattern than a normal stream pattern, so I like to use them to "highlight" parts of music, although that in itself could mean almost anything. Here are some ideas to start:
I) To highlight a more intense section of a song. For example, let's say you have a part of a song which you stepped with a four measure long basic (crossoverless without double stepping) 8th note stream. If the music repeats itself, but with more things going on in the music, you may wish to place some crossovers in the stream if you want to step the same eighth note pattern. Or, if the same part of a song loops later in the song, put some crossovers in the stream to mix your file up a bit.
II) To accent an outstanding note or sound in a song. If you're stepping a part of a song and it seems to "stick out" somewhat, put a crossover to accent this note or sound.
III) As the major challenge of a file. Look at a chart like Soapy Bubble or Bloodrush Expert. The crossovers really don't accent anything because they're everywhere in the chart. If you think a song warrants itself to a crossover-filled chart, make a crossover-filled chart. Of course, make sure each crossover can be done without awkward stepping – there's a couple parts in even official charts (the end of Soapy Bubble has a couple crossovers that can't even be done correctly) that have this problem. Also remember that crossover steps are harder than regular stream, so rate your file accordingly. Also, what makes a chart like this interesting is that "crossover" and "normal" sections are inversed: "normal" sections can be used to accent different parts of the music since crossovers are now the norm.
IV) Really, anywhere else that a crossover seems to work. This is where practice helps out in making simfiles. While you can't just put crossovers anywhere, if it seems to work, it probably does. Make a lot of files and play a lot of files and you'll get a much better feel for them.
Overall, though, it's really up to you to decide where crossovers fit in a file.
Part 3.3: Facing "left" and "right"
Another complaint you see with a lot of playable but improvable simfiles is that "you're facing the same direction for too long". What is meant by this is that certain patterns of arrows will cause the player's body to be tilted towards the left corner of the pad, and others will cause the player to face the right corner of the pad. There are still others that cause the player to face straight forward, and patterns that allow the player to switch from these positions. Like most everything else discussed here, facing in one direction for too long can be manipulated to be fun and cool, but if you've only made a few files, then you're going to want to avoid doing it at all costs in your own files.
How can you tell if a section of your streams face left or face right? Try to imagine yourself actually standing on the pad, playing your file. If, say, your left foot is on the left panel, you are facing toward the left if your right foot s on the up panel, you are facing to the right if your right foot is on the down panel, and are facing forward if your right foot is on the right panel.
Here's a list of the positions that cause you to face each direction:
Left foot L, Right foot U
Left foot D, Right foot R or U.
Left foot L, Right foot D
Left foot U, Right foot R or D.
Can be either/facing forward:
Left foot L, Right foot R.
Note that the left L right R combination is just something that keeps you facing in the same direction as you were facing for most stream sections. If you look at your simfile and see that your feet positions result in you facing the same direction for a long time, you may want to change your step patterns. As an aside, you see a lot more files where you face right too long than files where you face left too long, mainly because right-facing patterns look like neat staircases in the Stepmania editor and are a lot easier to put down subconsciously than left-facing patterns.
How do you change direction? There's a few "transition" note patterns to change the direction you face; if you are facing left, a pattern like DRU or DRLD (start with left foot) or ULRU or ULD (start with right foot) will allow you to face right. If you are facing right, a pattern like DLU or DLRD (start with right foot) or URD or URLU (start with left foot) allows you to face to the right. In general, the "three note" shifts are harder to pad than the "four note" shifts because one foot has to travel across the entire pad (that is, it goes farther) for the three note shift patterns. So… if you have very fast 16th stream and you want to shift direction, use the four note patterns, not the three note patterns.
Alternatively, a pattern like DRLRU or URLRLRD (start both with left foot) also changes the direction you face without forcing a foot all the way across the pad at once.
This is one of those things that, the more you make simfiles, the easier you'll be able to "see" which way you face in a stream and can adjust. I know, I say this about everything you think about in making a simfile. It really is true though.
Part 3.4: Stops and BPM Changes
Another thing you can do to make your file interesting is to add a stop or change the BPM of the song. This is yet another (much more obvious) way to accent certain features of the music you are stepping.
Stops can be as simple as one place in the chart where everything in the song just completely stops, to multiple stops during short tics in the music. There's plenty of reasons to place a stop in a chart, but a couple of guidelines you should follow when placing stops in a chart.
I) First, you should figure out exactly how long you want your stop to be, in beats. When placing a stop into a chart, you generally want to make sure the player has enough time to react to when the chart starts again. I generally will place a beat of time between the end of the stop and the first step unless I want the challenge of the chart to partly be in tricky stops and BPM quirks, in which case I may justify only having a half a beat of adjustment time. As a general rule, though, try to give the player a full beat or more of reaction time in a typical, non-tricky chart.
II) Next, you need to figure out how long, in seconds, this stop is. You do this by finding the length of one beat, and multiplying that by the number of beats of your stop. To find the length of one, beat, set the note placement tool to place 4th (red) notes, and mark down the time (look in the top right corner of the screen) of two consecutive quarter note beats. Subtract the two and you have the length of one beat. For example, let's say you find two beats in a row to be on seconds 32.616 and 32.980. The length of one beat is 0.364 seconds, and the length of a 3 beat stop is 1.092 seconds. … Wait, you can't use F9 or F10 to get exactly that? There's an option in the escape menu, "Edit Stop", where you can type in the exact length of your stop. Unlike setting a BPM, only being able to add or subtract in .02 increments will REALLY likely mess up your file's sync.
III) About sync… stops should NEVER be used as a substitute for incorrect BPM or GAP. It's just… annoying. If you find your file gets off-sync, re-check the BPM – the song might not have a constant BPM. Again, sync is the one thing I'm not good at, so you'll need to find a sync guide for syncing variable BPM files.
BPM changes are one of those things which can make a file memorable… but can also ruin a file if you use them poorly. Assuming the actual BPM of the song remains constant, there are two major types of BPM changes: the slowdown (1/2 x BPM) and the speedup (2x BPM).
Slowdowns work best when a major part of the song just sort of suddenly drops out. It works well for the fancy lyrical breaks of electronica, or any part where there's suddenly no percussion at all, or… you get the idea. That said, slowdowns in parts where there's no really big major change to the tone of the song are generally awkward. Also make sure that you end the slowdown in a spot that makes sense (that is, whenever the musical stylistic thing that you put in the slowdown for stops). One other thing about slowdowns: generally, if the true BPM of a song does not change, you should not try to get fancy and slow the BPM to 3/4th the tempo and sync everything to orange notes. Except under VERY rare circumstances, keep your slowdowns to 1/2 BPM slowdowns.
My advice for BPM doubling is incredibly succinct and easy to follow. Don't. I don't care how intense or Max-sounding your song suddenly becomes, there's really no reason to give a 155 BPM song a 310 BPM section. It's obnoxious for the player (forcing the player to pick a much slower than normal speed mod) and often the song doesn't have enough going on to justify a BPM doubling. Konami's been doing this very often recently – look at Healing D-Vision, Trim, or that Insaner L.E.D. remix from Ultramix 4. Do any of those make sense? If used for small sections or on songs that already have a fairly slow BPM,it can be okay, but it generally should be avoided.
There's one other BPM change to discuss: the variable slowdown/speedup, where you slowly lower or increase the BPM to fit some sort of distortion in the song. You can have a slowdown to a sort of distorting of a song to sound slower, or a speedup to a "revving" up of the music. If you plan to use one of these, make sure your file stays on sync after you're done (if you can't get the file back on sync, just don't use the BPM change). Also, I'd recommend not placing any notes until the BPM is back to normal – your notes in the slowdown would be offbeat and probably very hard to sync, and notes in the speedups would just be too fast to hit.
Part 3.5: Molding note patterns to the music
Another very good way to make your note charts fun is to design the arrow patterns to go with the song you are stepping. I think the best way to describe what I mean is by example. Let's say you have a slower 16th note section with two alternating notes. It makes sense, then, to step to this alternating note section on two arrows, alternating back and forth between the two (a drill). Let's say you have a song pattern that goes back and forth between one pitch and a series of increasing pitches, in a sort of 121314151 pattern. You can step all the identical notes on the same arrow, and switch up the other notes. For example, this can be stepped as LULRLDLRL. If you have a section of five 8th notes in a row on the same pitch, maybe try stepping all of them on the same arrow (a jack). If you have a descending scale of notes in the song, you can step them as RUDLRUDL… to make a neat looking descending staircase with the arrows on the screen. The possibilities for this are endless, and [insert yet another comment about your steps getting better the more you practice step making here].
Part 4: ITG exclusive chart concepts
So, if you've actually read to this point and paid attention to what I've said, you have the knowledge to make a good, solid, fun DDR style simfile. But ITG has support for so many different types of charts that DDR does not. Three of the better known ITG exclusive chart concepts are mines, hands and rolls. Incorporating these into you r21 ready charts will give your charts the same (or better) feel as an ITG official chart if you use them well.
Part 4.1: Using mines
Mines are a part of ITG that, from my experience, yields mixed opinions from a lot of the players I've known. Some people find mines very fun to try to avoid and neat to look at, other people absolutely cannot stand mines and I've seen some turn off mines in charts. Most people are in between these extremes, so you should at least learn some places in charts where mines fit very well.
To put in a mine in your song in Stepmania, just hold "shift" and hit the arrow that you want it to appear on (1, 2, 3 or 4). It should work in all version of Stepmania 3.9 and above and ITGPC too.
For starters, there are a few things you should know before using mines. For one, don't place mines way too close to the arrows. If you do, it will be too easy to hit the mine (and subsequently, miss the note). I've seen files with mines that were literally impossible to miss if you try to hit the arrow. Try to keep between 3/8ths and 1/2 of a beat between the mine and the arrow depending on the BPM of the song. Also, don't put way too many mines in a small space. It can lag the game, and that many mines generally aren't even needed.
Now, where are good places to place mines? Here are a few ideas.
I) Directly after a note to force the player to remove his foot quickly after stepping on the arrow. These fit best when a sound cuts off more quickly than most sounds in a song, since you'll have to "pop" your foot off the pad before the mine hits. A variation of this is placing a mine after the end of a freeze to force the player to keep his foot down for a specific length of time; too long and you'll hit the mine, too short and the freeze drops. Another thing like this is if you have, say, a gallop pattern that goes LRRL, with a mine on the left arrow between the sections where you hit the left arrows. This forces the player to almost actually lean in one direction, making it a very powerful "pop" with some other cool accenting possibilities.
II) In lines or after notes to force the player to jump off the notes or back to the center of the pad. If there's a "line" of mines (that is, mines on all four arrows at the same time), the player will more than likely instinctively jump to the center of the pad instead of merely jumping over the mines. Or, if the song is fast enough, it might require the player to jump, which can be very cool too.
III) As decoration, or to look really cool. There's plenty of examples of charts with mines to "fill" empty space when the song becomes harsher in tone or more full. If there's a complete lull in the song, a minefield can help to fill the void created by the music. If you have an especially hard hit that you have a jump on, place mines in the free arrows. You can also spell messages with mines if you want. You can completely fill your chart with mines in a way similar to VerTex or the like to change the overall feel of a chart. There's several ways to decorate your chart with mines.
IV) You can use mines to make a player step in an unorthodox way, or show the player when he has to step in an unorthodox way. For example, in Hardcore of the North Hard, there's a section of 7 notes repeating near the beginning, and a row of 3 mines. At this row of mines, the player is supposed to "jump" the mines and switch feet even though two successive notes are on the same arrow. Other mines can be used to make the player step on multiple notes in a row with the same foot when alternating feet is more standard.
There's all kinds of ways to incorporate mines into your chart. It'd take another 12 pages just to list them, so I'll stop here and let you experiment.
Part 4.2: Using hands
Hands are a concept that I see a lot of people mess up. They make hands that are too fast to hit, or too weird to try and bend over to hit, or hands that just flat out don't work with the chart. I think the best way to begin to describe how to use hands is to describe how not to use hands.
I) Don't force the player to drop down and hit hands too quickly. A left-down freeze with an eighth note hand is almost always too fast to try to hit. Give the player enough time to drop down and set up for an upcoming hand, and also give the player enough time the get back up from your hands to continue playing the chart.
II) Don't use hand patterns that are obscenely awkward to try to hit. I seriously see far too many files that have hand patterns like left-up freeze, down-right hand, followed by placing the right foot onto right and hitting an up-down hand. Don't do this ever ever ever. Here's an easier to conceptualize example – you have a left-right freeze, facing forward. Which arrow is going to be easier to hit with your hands; the up arrow, which you're facing right now, or the down arrow, which you'd sort of have to bend backwards to hit? Up is easier to hit.
III) Don't place hands so close to the ends of freezes that you can hit them with your feet just as easily without dropping the holds. I see a lot of intended hands that are placed on the same beat a freeze ends, and it's just so much easier to hit it with your foot and not worry about going down to hit it with your hands. Try to leave at least a half a beat of freeze after you have a hand to make the player hit the note with his hand (or actually return to the freeze if he wants to cheat the hand).
So now you have an idea of what not to do with hands. Here's a few other pointers for hands.
I) As I said, it's better to try to keep the hands as not awkward as possible. There are also certain patterns of freezes that lend themselves better to not awkward hands. For example, it is much easier to drop down for hands if you are holding a down-right freeze than it is if you are holding an up-right freeze, since you have to bend back a bit to hit the hands in the latter, but you're facing the panels you can hit for hands in the former. I'm not saying to never use the up-right freeze for hands, I'm just saying it takes more time to set up for these hands and more effort to re-orient yourself afterwards. Maybe having just a hand on the left arrow with an up-right freeze (instead of on the left AND down) would be a better idea.
II) Also, make sure that you have a lot of time for more complex hands. A pattern I see a lot that of people use where the player almost never has enough time to set up for is the LR-freeze UD-hands or the UD-freeze LR-hands (See Monolith Expert). These can be fun if you use them right, but you will need a lot of time to drop down to hit them, and then to get back up for the rest of the chart. If you feel like using these patterns but think you may not have enough time to get ready for them, simplify the hand pattern to only needing to hit one arrow with your hands, not both.
III) Triples and quads are also somewhat hard to use properly. What you need for them is a lot of time to get ready for them (or, you need to be in a position where dropping for a triple or quad is not at all awkward), and a very pronounced hit or sound effect to step a triple or quad to that a jump wouldn't be better to use. If you're just starting placing hands in a file, I recommend you stay away from triples and quads for now.
IV) More isn't always better for hands, either. I've seen a lot people try to make Queen of Light II, but instead turn out something unplayable and awkward (I myself could be included in this camp, looking at some of my earlier edits). If you want to make hands the central theme of a chart, awesome. Just make sure they aren't awkward and bad. Which, to be honest, is a much harder task than you'd think.
Part 4.3: Using rolls
The ones at the top are freezes, the ones at the bottom are rolls.
The last (and often overlooked) ITG exclusive simfile tool is the roll, a note you have to hit repeatedly. A lot of file makers don't even know how to place a roll in a file. There's two ways to do it:
The easy way: Get a simfile editor that supports rolls, like Stepmania 3.95 CVS, 4.0, or mDaWg's ITGPC. Hold shift, and place your roll like you would any other typical freeze.
The hard way: If you don't have such a build of Stepmania and don't want to download one, replace the rolls with regular freezes in your original simfile. After exiting Stepmania, open the .sm file in a text editor and scroll to the measures where you want your freeze rolls. Find the "2"s in the columns of numbers (these denote the beginning of a standard freeze) and replace them with "4"s (these denote the beginning of rolls).
The most common place to put rolls in a file is when there's a very fast alternate trill of notes that you don't feel like or can't step individual notes to. There's really not a whole lot to say about when rolls work, because it's generally not obvious. There are a couple other things I should comment on about rolls:
Like freezes in general, if your rolls are so short that you only have to hit the initial note to complete the roll, you need to either lengthen the roll or remove it. There may be stylistic reasons to have such short rolls, but most of the time your rolls should require two or more taps to complete.
Also, for a pair of rolls, you should usually offset one of the two rolls by whatever amount of time the distance between the first two trills of the sound the rolls go to (This is usually a 16th note apart). You're going to be alternating steps with the rolls, and it's a lot harder to get this going if you have to get both rolls to start at the same time than if you start by alternating feet.
Part 4.4: Wrap Up
There's a very good reason that the 2nd part of this guide was so long. The transition from just starting to make pad playable files to consistently making fun files is one that takes a lot of time and practice. The information written in this part of the guide may take a lot of work to understand, but once you do, your files will become so much better.
In the 3rd and final installment of my guide, I'll give some examples of rarer, more interesting and unique things you can do with your simfiles that will make them outstanding.