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Use an Arduino to get game-controlled lights in StepMania 5/Project Outfox!

What's it do?

StepMania 5/Project Outfox can be set up to control lights you hook up to an Arduino as if they were lights on an Arcade cabinet.

This Arduino code will help you do that!


To set this up, all you need is:

  • StepMania 5.x (tested on StepMania 5.3/Project Outfox, free download at
  • Windows or Linux
  • An Arduino (Nearly any model should work, like the Uno, Mega, Micro, etc)
  • Lights to control (LEDs? Dance pad lights? Neons? Anything goes!)

Step 1: Wiring setup

First, you'll want to decide how you want to wire up your lights:

Wire single lights to single Arduino pins (easier, recommended)

By default, the code is set up so you can wire a single light to each Arduino pin, already set up for a DDR/ITG-style 4-panel setup.

If you go this route, you don't need to modify the code! Just wire up your Arduino as shown below and upload the code as-is to your Arduino:

Direct wiring diagram

Nearly all lights for a complete DDR/ITG-style setup are controlled in this mode - 4 arrow panel and start/menu button lights for each player, 4 marquee lights, and a bass neon light.

To change what pin each light is on, find the section near the top with a ton of #define PIN_<something>_<something> lines - you can change these numbers to any Arduino pin, even the analog input pins.

Wire up tons of lights to shift registers

StepMania can control a lot more lights than your Arduino has pins, which is a problem if you want to wire up all the lights StepMania can control. Ahhh!!

To wire up more lights, you can use Shift Registers to get more output pins on your Arduino.

Adafruit has a great tutorial on them here thats well worth a read. TL;DR: Wire up your Arduino like this, and you're off to the races:

Shift register wiring diagram

This StepMania Wiki page has the game-specific mappings for the Player gameplay lights, as well as more info on what other lights in SM can be mapped to LEDs via this code.

By default, the code outputs data to 4 shift registers: 1 per player for gameplay buttons (like arrow panel lights on a DDR cab), 1 for cabinet lighting, and 1 for the bass light (with tons of extra pins if you want to mod the code to control even more lights).

To use Shift Registers, go into the code and find this line near the top:


Remove the two slashes to uncomment this line, and the code will output to shift registers instead of single LEDs.

To change what pins the shift registers connect to, find the section near the top with the #define PIN_SHIFT_CLOCK, LATCH and DATA lines - You can change these numbers to any Arduino pin.

To change what lights are mapped to what shift registers, you can easily modify the function void readSerialLightingData() for what you need. See the comments near that function for more info.

Step 1.5: Wiring High-Power Lights

The above schematics are all good and fun if all you want to control is a small LED on a breadboard... but what if you have bigger dreams?

If you want to control bigger lights, like 12V LED modules, an N-Channel MOSFET (like this or this) will be your best friend as long as you keep the light's voltage/current under the MOSFET's maximum specs.

Want more convenient wiring than bare MOSFETs on a breadboard? I've seen another community member on the Rhythm Game Cabs Discord have good luck with MOSFET modules from Amazon, that you wire via screw terminals.

I'd highly recommend checking out this site for a brief guide on how to properly hook up/use a MOSFET.

Just wire a MOSFET up to each Arduino/Shift Register pin you want to have control a light, as below:

MOSFET wiring diagram

And if you want to go even BIGGER than that? Look into using a Solid State Relay (SSR) to control high voltages - this is the tech some old DDR cabs use to turn on/off the neon sign transformers for the bass neons.

Step 2: Software Setup

There's two methods that'll work to set up StepMania to output lights data to an Arduino:


On Windows, the Win32Serial Lights Driver is used. As far as I can tell, this driver is only available in StepMania 5.3 and on the driver author's StepMania fork.

  1. In Preferences.ini, set LightsDriver=Win32Serial and LightsComPort= to whatever COM port your Arduino is on
    • Tip: The port is the one you choose in the Arduino IDE to upload code, along the lines of COM2, etc).
  2. Start Stepmania. It may take a tad longer than normal to start, but if you don't get an error message you're done! :D


On Linux (potentially Mac as well), the SextetStreamToFile Lights Driver is used. This is available in most versions of StepMania 5 (including 5.3), and requires a bit more setup than Win32Serial.

With SextetStreamToFile, Stepmania will write all the lighting data to a file you specify. Any other program can read this file, and do anything with the data in real-time. In this case, we'll send whatever Stepmania writes to the file to the Arduino!

Step 1: Set up lighting output

  1. In Preferences.ini, set LightsDriver=SextetStreamToFile.

  2. Note what SextetStreamOutputFilename= is set to (by default: Data/StepMania-Lights-SextetStream.out. You can change this if you want.)

  3. Open a terminal inside your Stepmania installation's folder. Run mkfifo ./ and the filename you put down in step 2. This is the file Stepmania will write lighting data to, and the file you'll read from to send data to the Arduino.

    • (So in the above example, run mkfifo ./Data/StepMania-Lights-SextetStream.out)
  4. Run StepMania - it'll hang on the loading window. This is normal, I swear!

  5. Run cat and your filename, Stepmania should now start. If you see a jumble of characters fly by, SextetStream is working!

    • (With the above example, this command is cat ./Data/StepMania-Lights-SextetStream.out)

Step 2: Set up Arduino output

  1. If you haven't in the past, you may need to run sudo usermod -a -G dialout <your username> to add yourself to the dialout group. This gives you permission to actually talk to the Arduino over USB serial.
  2. Run cat <sextet filename/path> > <arduino device name>
    • Tip: Use the same device name as shown in the Arduino IDE, usually starting with /dev/ttyACM
    • Socat should work here too: socat <sextet filename/path> <arduino device name>

Step 3: Enjoy!

SM5-Arduino-Lighting (2021), by 48productions. Feel free to ping me with any questions/comments on this project, either here or through Discord. I'm in a number of rhythm game-related servers, like Project Outfox's official discord.


Arduino code for game-controlled pad/cab lights in StepMania 5







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