Dance Dance Fail

So, to explain this morning’s angry tweet.

My ASD 6-year-old son has a few obsessions, one of which is the Dance Dance Revolution series of video games. In the car, the DDR soundtracks are pretty much the only thing he wants to listen to, and he’s reasonably competent at the Beginner and even Basic skill levels when he wants to clear them (he’ll sometimes fail songs on purpose too, which is really not a lot of fun for me when he’s at the arcade and spending real money).

Last month, he was trying to play Dance Dance Revolution Extreme and I could hear him screaming. I went to the PS2 and saw he was getting the message “System Data is corrupt”. In other words, the settings and progress on the memory card couldn’t be read, and all our unlocks had been lost. It took a long time to talk him off the ledge and get him to switch to another game. Over the course of the next two weeks, I played Extreme every morning and many nights to earn back all the unlocks… all the more annoying because the US version of Extreme is easily the worst of the series: terrible UI, terrible music, and a useless workout mode (strangely, the Japanese version, which we have and could play on our old “fat” PS2, was one of the best, meant as a possible “last hurrah” for the series).

I bought a second memory card and copied over the data from all our essential games to it, including all the other DDRs we own, which is every DDR released for PS2.

So wouldn’t you know it, this morning he goes to play Dance Dance Revolution Supernova and gets the “System data corrupted” message again. OK, calm down, I say… I’ll just copy over the data from the backup card. Except that doesn’t work. So I move the backup card over to slot 1… and that doesn’t work.

OK, WTF? Since the timestamp on the file is from three weeks ago, I’m looking at two unlikely scenarios: either I managed to back up the file right after it became corrupted (not knowing it was corrupted, since we would have found out before then) and he hasn’t played it since then, or the hardware is failing to read from and/or write to the memory cards consistently.

What can I do? I pick option #2 and buy a new PS2 this morning. Thank goodness they’ve dropped to $100.

Except this doesn’t work either, so I’ve bought a PS2 I don’t need. Guess the old one goes up to my parents’ place at Torch Lake.

The lucky thing is that by digging through memory cards, I found a DDR Supernova save from two years ago that seems to have most of our unlocks, so I copied that over to our main memory card and it works. So at least I’ve defused Keagan for now.

But seriously, what the hell? Two file corruptions in a month? From the same series of games?

So here’s something to chew on. I searched for “corruption” and found lots of threads with other users complaining about data corruption. Many of the others on the boards lectured the posters about the usual thing: don’t turn off your power or remove a card when saving… the kind of patronizing BS you’d expect from tech support.

But it doesn’t wash for me. I’ve owned PlayStations since 1997 and I’ve never had data loss except for these two games. And here’s something else. I searched the forums of two Final Fantasy sites (Eyes on FF and Final Fantasy Forums), to look for threads about data corruption. After all, if the rates of hardware failure or user incompetence is consistent, then we should see many more complaints on the FF boards, as that series is far more popular than DDR. And yet, there seem to be no complaints of lost memory card data on those boards.

So maybe it’s time to stop assuming that the corruption in this case is media failure. What if the problem is that DDR gets into a state in which it writes data that it can’t read? What if it corrupts its own data? As far as I can tell, this hypothesis is most consistent with the evidence.

And, as you might expect, it pisses me off. It might sound like a reckless boast for a developer to make, but I think that software should never lose user data. In 2009, with automated backups, redundancy, and simple common sense, there’s just no damn excuse for it. Software that’s known to inadvertently destroy user data should be pulled from the market, rated F by reviewers, and deleted en masse from hard drives and download servers until such a time as the people behind it can get their act together.

It’s quietly acknowledged among developers that software engineering does not aspire to the level of dependability and quality of other engineering disciplines. We think it’s too hard. This despite the fact that we galavant in a fantasy world of total unreality, while other engineers have to deal with real physics, real chemistry, real biology. Our standards, practiced in other fields, would be unconscionably negligent, if not criminal.

And yet, somehow we get a pass.

I don’t get it. And yet, I’ll probably buy the next DDR for Keagan when it comes out. Even though the series, and seemingly only this series, has proven its inability to take care of my data. And even though the manufacturer, Konami, can’t even get physical media together — a chunk broke off our Supernova 2 disc while putting it back in the case (center ring near ESRB rating logo):


…and even though we were in the 90-day warranty period, Konami refused to replace it. It’s pretty amazing to see a company with such contempt for customers (well, outside of the US airline industry, anyways) but there you have it.

Still pissed, but I think I’ve said enough about this.

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