Interview with Dan Dickinson, Founder of VJArmy and IIDXicon, Part One

A while back, I was fortunate enough to be able to get in contact with Dan Dickinson, the founder and former moderator of the site VJ Army. VJ Army was an online scoring community that now operates under the name . Dan agreed to an email interview for a website project I was working on for a class back in the fall. I am ashamed to say that it has only just now dawned on me that, uh, this would be the sort of thing that I should really post on this blog. You know, where people can actually see it.

Thanks again to Dan Dickinson for his time and thoughtful answers. Without further ado, onto part one:

How old are you?

I’m 30 now. When VJ Army first went live, I was 23.

What do you do for a living?

I’m an IT manager for a medical college in NYC, leading a team of software developers.

Where are you from/where do you live now?

We moved around a fair bit when I was young, but Ithaca, NY is the town I most identify as my hometown – lived in the area for a combined 13 years. I’ve been living in the NYC area for the last 7 years, though.

Photo provided courtesy of Dan Dickinson

How and when were you introduced to Beatmania IIDX?

I picked up my senior year of college. Because of the sort of obsessive-compulsive social nerd I am, I dove into the community and ended up talking to a lot of people from around the country on a regular basis. A lot of this community was in California and played IIDX in the arcades pretty regularly. I was interested, but there has never been a plethora of IIDX machines in the northeast.

A few months later, I started playing 5-key Beatmania, which I imported a IIDX controller for. A year after that, I had a PS2 and decided to flip-top mod it and import my first IIDX title, 6th Style. Most of the rest fell into place from there.

What is your favorite style from the series? I won’t ask for a favorite song since it’s such a rough question, but feel free to include one if you’d like.

I have to go with two styles: 6th was my first, and it’s hard to not have sentimentality for where you started with the series. It felt very exciting and polished compared to the 5-key games I had been playing, and had a pretty fantastic song list.

But past that, I’ve always loved 9th. Coming from a 5-key background means the remixes had extra value for me, and most of the rest of the song list was pretty solid too. And the interface was gorgeous! Oddly, 9th was the first arcade style I played.

The song question is not actually so bad – one of the reasons I got drawn to IIDX was the array of music. You’ve got some great, fun hip-hop next to hardcore trance next to piano jazz. It’s definitely not an easy pick, but to go by “eras” (which I’m making up)…

  • “Early Era” (1st-4th):
  • “Middle Era” (5th-8th):
  • “Renaissance Era” (9th-Happy Sky):
  • “Modern Era” (DistorteD-Empress):

What is it about the games that drew you in at first?

Mostly the music. Some great stuff is scattered across every style, and it’s a far wider range than something like DDR provided.

What do you like about the games?

Again, the music played a big part in my love of it, and it wouldn’t have stuck with me as long as it did without some fantastic tunes.

I’ve also always loved the series visually. Konami has a great art team who makes each game feel unique. It took until this year for me to find another music game with the same level of visual flair that the IIDX series has had. ().

One last point of enjoyment is that it’s very easy to play hours upon hours of IIDX because it’s not a physically demanding game. The equipment and noise footprint is fairly small in comparison to other music games.

What about the games do you dislike?

I’ve been fairly fed up with the push towards more and more insane difficulties over the last handful of styles. I have tried multiple times over the years to break in new players, but when there aren’t any low difficulty songs on Normal to break them in on, it’s not the easiest series to get someone hooked on. Beginner mode is a travesty.

As a primarily home player, I’ve also been miffed about the stagnant feature set the games have had. I realize there’s not a ton of evolution that needs to be done for the game from style to style, but everything from 10th Style on has been pretty much the same engine with different skins. I miss some of the stuff from 6th, like Drill Mode or Tatsujin Mode.

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