UltraStar: An Introduction

If you already know what UltraStar is, then there’s no real need to read the rest of this entry, which will serve as a general introduction.

If you know what SingStar is, and hate the Playstation game to its very core, then this article may not be for you.

If you don’t know what SingStar is, but hate karaoke, then go home and await a visit from the ghost of Christmas past. Or, perhaps, simply keep an open mind.

Karaoke isn’t about singing. That’s a bi-product, as is the fact that the songs are invariably butchered. Primarily, it’s about having a good time with friends. The SingStar games for the Playstation 2 & 3, if you didn’t already know, take this aspect and turn it into a computer game, enhancing the experience with music videos, different modes of play, and scoring the players depending on how well they sing. It’s brilliant fun, but has its drawbacks. First of all, not everyone owns a PlayStation. This may sound presumptuous, but I’d say that love of karaoke tends to negatively correlate with love of the more serious ‘curtains drawn on a beautiful sunny day’ computer games. Granted, PlayStation 2s don’t cost much these days (and games like Buzz also make for great party antics), but the PlayStation 3 (now being marketed for its party gaming aspects) costs… well, a lot, to some people. That’s not to mention money for equipment and the games themselves.

This brings me to my next point. The PlayStation 2 SingStar titles are somewhat limited. Only one game may be played at a time, and within that game, you have but a pool of 30 songs. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great fun in the past, but it’s rapidly exhausted, and you’ll soon be wanting to buy another one to add some variety. Plus, within a given group of people, you’ll be lucky to pick up a game containing a songpool that caters for everyone. Switching between different games can work, but then the brilliant ‘party mode,’ in which the game is played in teams and carries on over several rounds, is not possible to play.

SingStar for the PlayStation 3 works differently. Songs may be downloaded (at a price) and can all be used in the same songpool. This overcomes some major drawbacks with the PlayStation 2 experience: the limited number of songs, the limited variety of songs, and the inability to play with a massive selection of songs for party mode. I also understand that it has many new amazing features all round. However, that’s still a fair amount of money, plus more and more expense every time you want to add some songs. You also may be left waiting on that particular song you really want, which may not even be possible given disputes between Sony and the record label, or something. You’re limited to what they tell you is possible, and that’s that.

Finally, to the point. UltraStar is a piece of open-source PC software that simulates the format of SingStar. It’s not like the cheap imitations for the X-Box or the Wii, and it’s completely free. I discovered it about a year ago when I was going to buy a PlayStation 2 and a couple of the SingStar games to give my family something to do at Christmas. I stumbled across its Wikipedia article, and did a bit more research. Initially, it was a German game, and so many fansites are in Deutsch. As a result, I think it manages to stay under the radar somewhat.

When I say it’s a German game, don’t let that put you off. It’s been translated into English, and the vast majority of the songs available are in English, as well as many of the websites (including the official one). The best part about this game is the sheer number of songs you can have in the songpool (I currently have about 1,500, and it could be so much more!), so it matches the PS3 experience in that respect. What’s more, all songs available on the PS2 SingStar titles can be downloaded for it, in exactly the same format. Christmas with my family in 2009 was a blast.

But that’s just the surface. Anyone can create songs for UltraStar. When I say make songs, I mean they can create the necessary files to go with songs that already exist and display the correct notes and lyrics at the correct times. And when I say anyone, I mean that lots of people do make an incredible number of songs available to download for the game, free of charge. These songs range from very recent chart hits to the most obscure songs known only to the geekiest of nerds:

There is definitely something available for everyone. There are some drawbacks to this, however. First of all, not all the song files (written in .txt format… Notepad, that is) are perfect, and some are far from it (you can avoid such dud jobs, though, which I’ll explain at another time). Amateur versions of songs also need to be added carefully, and tied with an mp3 of that song and/or a video file. Using UltraStar therefore requires some patience, and lacks the ‘plug and play’ aspects of SingStar. However, once you get the hang of it, this part is very straightforward – I’m planning on doing extensive guides for this aspect, too, which might help. Adding the songs ripped directly from SingStar games is easy enough, too, so it’s still a great option – it depends on how far you want to go with it. For me, it’s become a hobby, but I really enjoy that sort of thing. I intend to use this blog to publicise updates for the UltraStar software and anything else noteworthy to report. I also plan to make various guides for more advanced users (such as how to create songs, though I’m definitely no expert in that respect). Firstly, however, I’d recommend downloading the software from the official site to get yourself started. Go on, have a play. It comes with songs already on it, so you may see how it works. I’m going to update with beginner guides on how to get started with the game over the next week.


One Response to “UltraStar: An Introduction”

  1. […] I briefly outlined in my introduction to UltraStar, there are a few different ways to play the game. This can depend on the version of UltraStar that […]

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