Archive for December, 2010

The X-Ploitation Factor 2010: The Final

Posted in The X Factor on December 16, 2010 by kokairu

So that’s over for another year, thank God. What was the final like again? It feels like ages ago now. I remember it was drawn out and slightly boring… the only good bits being the eliminations (One Direction’s, in particular, was highly amusing). As much as I don’t get behind particular acts anymore, it was good to see someone like Rebecca get as far as she did. Almost like the voting public actually have taste.

Though this aspect’s been introduced 7 years too late, it was a very good move to have a different winner’s song lined up for each finalist. I actually like Matt’s, but then I’m not of the OriginalFansOfTheSongGoApeShit clan. And my acquiring of it didn’t contribute towards its chart position, of course.

The best thing about the final is the publication of the voting percentages shortly afterwards. Of course, the show is now being perceived by more and more people for what it really is. The hyperdrama was annoying at first, but even I’ve been left quite astonished at the transparent way that they’ve used the programme to showcase potential recording artists. Yes, the public haven’t got a great track record for voting for the contestant that will sell the most records, but week after week they urged people to vote in order to keep a given act safe, knowing full well that strings would be pulled left, right and centre to manipulate the overall outcome. Poor, poor Mary.

Let’s highlight some examples:

TreyC vs. Katie – So Cheryl pissed about with her vote, I don’t really care about that. Maybe she genuinely did want to send it to deadlock, but that was never going to happen, with Katie having less votes than TreyC. So the rules were twisted.

Paije vs Cher – Not a particularly controversial one, poor Mr Richardson was bound to leave sooner rather than later, but I do maintain that, aside from his “own” acts, Louis was supposed to maintain the role as Paije’s advocate. Couldn’t do with it going to deadlock, of course, with Cher having less votes.

Cher vs Mary – oh, this one’s been done to death, but definitely the most irritating of the lot.

New Year’s Resolution for 2011? No more X Factor. Just look at this entry. I’m actually bothered by the controversy for the sake of people that do vote. The X Factor’s worst enemy is indifference, and it’s time I put that into practice.

The X-Ploitation Factor 2010: Live Shows Episode 9.2

Posted in The X Factor on December 8, 2010 by kokairu

Oh God let this series end. Seriously.

I was a little out last week. Apparently an all-judge represented final is so 2005. It will not surprise me if it turns out Cher had the least votes on Sunday, and you don’t need me to tell you why it was so bad for them to change it to a sing-off elimination at the last minute. Mary hasn’t been a serious contender since the first couple of live shows – they shat bricks when she began to turn on the waterworks on Saturday – a proven technique to get one through the semi-final, as Ray demonstrated in 2006 and Sarah from Same Difference did in 2007. They successfully dismissed it and yet persistently talked in a pessimistic tone, told her that she’d had a good run and that she should be proud. Sorry folks, voting for Mary isn’t an option because she doesn’t have a long enough shelf life.

So, we’re left with the kerching line-up: Matt, Rebecca, One Direction, and Cher. As unbothered as I am by the manipulations involved in this show (well, losing my £5 bet on Cher to go wasn’t ideal, to be honest, but it’ll serve me right for gambling), I have to say that they’ve really outdone themselves now. It wouldn’t surprise me if they announced, in the final next weekend, that the younger contestants would be awarded a bonus percentage of the vote to give them a fair advantage to compensate for their lack of life experience, or something. Whilst they’ve at least partially honoured the public vote in previous years, it just doesn’t seem to come into it this year. Whatever they want, they will get. It’s that simple. Any of these 4 could win it, especially given rumours that Cher will duet with Cheryl Cole in the final (wow, I want to be on the DS forums when THAT happens!). Rebecca supposedly topped the votes this week, Matt has consistently been the favourite, and there’s no doubt that all the stops will be pulled out for One Direction. There’s a chance, I think, that Matt will be stitched up. Of the remaining contestants, the gap in the market for an artist like him is the narrowest. This time next week, the voting figures for each week will be available… it’ll be interesting.

UltraStar: Playing the Game

Posted in UltraStar on December 5, 2010 by kokairu

Please note: my UltraStar guides now have their own dedicated website on UltraGuide.net. An updated version of this article can be found here

As 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 you’re playing; I’ll go over the normal version first, but there is also another version called the ‘ChallengeMod.’ This isn’t quite as stable as the former, nor is it as smooth, but it still runs very well and has a lot of features that aren’t available on the normal version, which I will explain later in this article.

UltraStar Deluxe

‘Normal’ Play

On the current, ‘regular’ version of UltraStar Deluxe, you can select ‘Play’ on the initial menu; when it produces the players, you can rename them to you and your friends’ names, using the left and right keys to highlight a given player, backspace to remove the existing ‘Player 1’/’Player 2’ etc, and simply type in your real names instead.

By doing this, you’ll be able to identify players on the high scores menu. Remember, to change the number of players, you can go into ‘Options’ and then ‘Game.’

UltraStar also gives you the option of selecting a difficulty. You may notice that on the ‘Hard’ level, the notes displayed are much thinner than those in the ‘Easy’ level:

Easy
null

Hard
null

This is because the game tolerates less difference between the notes you’re singing and the actual notes you’re supposed to sing (a difference of two semitones is  tolerated in Easy, 1 semitone in Medium, and no difference is tolerated in Hard). Given that I can’t sing very well, I usually go with Easy, and I think your fellow players might find it a bit more fun if they’re under the impression they’re doing well…! Each to their own, though. If you’re playing this with the Operatic Society, the players may want more of a challenge…

Once you’ve set up the game options, you can scroll through the songs and select one to sing. To search for a particular song, press ‘J’: a search box will appear, and you can type in the artist or song title (it will also bring up a particular folder that the songs are saved in, if you so wish). The number of songs on the screen will then be limited to those that meet your search critera. Select the song you want, and play it as per normal. Another keyboard shortcut that you may wish to use on the song selection screen is ‘R’: this will bring up a song at random. You can press this multiple times until something comes up that you want to sing.

Regarding the general gameplay (the following applies to nearly all modes), beyond, of course, the idea to sing the lyrics at the point in which they’re highlighted, there are a number of quirks: Firstly, if you hadn’t noticed/didn’t know already, the notes take the form of a sort of piano scroll. It’s a bit hard to read it as sheet music, but you can judge, at the very least, whether the note should be higher or lower than the last one! The aim is to fill the colour of the notes by hitting them correctly. The more you do this, the higher your score. Not all of the lyrics, however, count towards your score. If they appear in Italics, no notes will appear on the screen – this is usually because they are not sung, but instead, rapped or simply spoken. These are called ‘free’ notes, and you’re welcome to talk/rap along if you wish, though it’s not necessary. There are also ‘golden’ notes, which are distinguishable (see the screenshot above for ‘Easy’ mode) by their shining appearance. Hitting these notes will be worth double the usual amount of points.

Party Mode

In my personal experience, unless you and your friends are dying to do a particular song and therefore have one in mind, the process of choosing a song can be faffy (“Let’s do that one!”/”I don’t really know that one…”/”OK, how about this one?”/”Mmmm…”/”What do you want to sing?”/”What’ve you got?”/”A lot of songs, what do you like?”/”Have you got anything by Anonymous Socks?”/”No, how about The Beatles?”/”No, I don’t really like The Beatles…”/*Drops microphone* “Screw you guys, I’m going home”). It is much more fun, in my opinion at least, to play ‘Party Mode.’ This mode takes place over several rounds, with different modes of play. Players form up to 3 teams (this depends on how many microphones you have set up: 3 microphones=3 teams), and each team can have a number of players. For each round, the game ‘calls up’ certain players to sing (for this reason, it’s advisable to actually name each of the players here, so you don’t lose track of who’s who), one from each team grabs a mic, and UltraStar will choose a song (either from the entire pool of songs, a playlist, or a chosen folder in the song directory) at random. This narrows down the faff considerably – if one of the players really protests, then each team is allowed 5 ‘passes’ (or ‘jokers’) that will force the game to pick a new song; however, only 5 passes are available across all of the rounds, so they need to be used sparingly! At any rate, trying to sing a song you don’t know is just… well, hilarious.

Party mode, then, wipes away your inhibitions and gets people going! Before going into more detail with Party Mode, it is worth mentioning ‘playlists’ at this stage. Whilst it can be amusing to try and sing a song you don’t know, it is more preferable to try one you can at least recall the chorus of. It may be a good idea to tailor the pool of songs used to that particular group of people. Playlists can be created by going to the normal song selection screen, finding the songs you want, pressing ‘P’ on each one, and adding it to a given playlist. It is easier, however, to download a program called UltraStar Manager. This is a great tool for many reasons that I daresay I will come back to in later entries. Using this software, you can drag and drop multiple songs at a time into a playlist. UltraStar Deluxe will recognise it when you next load the program. Failing this method, you can organise your song directory into folders, and you can choose one folder to use in the party mode. In each of the rounds in Party Mode, (2-7), there is the added element of the differing styles of play. The game will assign these modes to each round at random.

Duel mode: Quite simply, the player/team with the highest score at the end of the song wins the round

Team duel (AKA “pass the mic”): Everyone gets involved, not just the players who are called up for that round. As the players are singing, the game will inform each team whom they must pass the mic onto at given points. The team with the most points at the end of the song wins the round

Blind mode: The notes are not displayed onscreen; again, the person with the highest score at the end of the song wins

Until 5000: A race to 5000 points – the first player to achieve this wins, and the song finishes

Hold the line: There is a bar onscreen with a mark halfway across it. You basically need to keep your singing standard above this mark – if you falter, and it drops behind, then you automatically lose. The team who manages to keep their line above the mark will win. The song will end when there is only one player left standing.

For each win, a given team is assigned 1 point. The team with the most points at the end of all of the rounds wins the game.

ChallengeMod

If the types of gameplay described above float your boat, then the regular version of UltraStar will be just fine. What I particularly like about the newer versions of the normal UltraStar game is the fact that you can set visualizations to play when there is no video available – it’s also faster and more stable. The ChallengeMod version, however, is certainly improving with every release. I’m hoping that, at some stage, the two versions will be combined, but it may be a while before that happens. At any rate, I have both versions on my computer: the normal version for Party Mode or normal play, and the ChallengeMod for medley mode and duet mode.

Medley Mode

Medley Mode, available in the ChallengeMod version, is a very interesting addition to UltraStar. On the normal song selection screen, press shift + D. The game will then pick 5 songs at random, and play, in a row, the choruses from those 5 particular songs. The players build up a score across the medley, and the winner is the one with the most points at the end. For each song, the game eases you in, by initially playing the lyrics in italics (no points are available) so that the players can familiarise themselves with the song. It counts down to when the chorus begins, and then the players can start to sing if they haven’t already. It’s definitely a fun one – in this case, if someone doesn’t know the song, it doesn’t matter too much!

Duet Mode

I was very pleased when this aspect was added – it’s one of the main things that SingStar had over UltraStar in the past. This mode requires a certain type of .txt file that divides a song into two parts: one for Player 1, and one for Player 2. When this is successfully in place, lyrics that are for Player 1 to sing are displayed at top of the screen, Player 2 at the bottom. For songs that are duets themselves (usually with a male and a female part, though it may also be divided into ‘lead’ and ‘backing’), this mode works very well – the lyrics can ‘overlap’ each other, so that Players 1 & 2 can sing different things at the same time. Many of the SingStar games contain duet songs, and most of these are available for UltraStar. USDB contains a number of duet songs, and the admins have nicely classed these songs under a specific edition: ‘[DUET] Songs.’

There is one particular thing you need to do when you download these files, however. All of Player 1’s part is listed at the top of these files, and Player 2’s underneath it. All you need to do is place ‘P1’ just before the notes start, but after the #tags, as demonstrated below:

#TITLE:A Whole New World (Duet)

#ARTIST:Aladdin

#LANGUAGE:

#EDITION:SS Disney

MP3:Aladdin – A Whole New World.mp3

#COVER:Aladdin – A Whole New World [CO].jpg

#VIDEO:Aladdin – A Whole New World [VD#0].avi

#BPM:240

#GAP:8125

P1

: 0 7 66 I

: 8 3 64  can

: 12 8 67  show

: 20 3 66  you

: 25 5 62  the

: 31 17 57  world

You also need to tell the game where Player 2’s part begins. This is easy to find… scroll down the .txt file, and you’ll notice that the numbers on the left are ever increasing (these are the beats into the song… I’ll get around to explaining .txt files properly at some point!). At some point, these numbers should suddenly revert to something lower. If you know the song well, you should be able to identify player 2’s lines, too. In between the high number and the low number, you should add ‘P2,’ as demonstrated below:

– 1897 1920

: 1940 13 60 You

: 1953 6 58  and

: 1959 12 57 ~

* 1972 109 57 me

P2

: 693 2 66 A

: 697 6 67  whole

: 704 6 71  new

* 711 33 69  world

I hope this makes sense. At some point, maybe this won’t be necessary, it’s just that USDB automatically removes these when a .txt is uploaded.

When this is done, and you’ve loaded up UltraStar ChallengeMod, you can edit these songs in the usual way. Whatever you set the #GAP to indicates when the first player will start, usually Player 1. You can press shift + tab to switch to player 2 and ensure that their part fits, too – though the #GAP will still refer to Player 1.

Because of the nature of duet songs, I’ve got two copies of ChallengeMod on my computer (as well as 1 copy of normal UltraStar) – one that links to the normal song directory (for Medley Mode), and one that links purely to a folder of duet songs. That way, if someone fancies doing a duet, I can just boot up that version. Duet songs won’t appear in Party mode, anyway, but it makes things a bit more organised. If you’ve already got some .txt files that you would like to turn into duets, this is easily done. Open the .txt file for the song, and for each of player 1’s lines, add P1 above it. For each of player 2’s lines, add P2. If you come across a line that both parts sing, add P3 in front of it.

The X-ploitation Factor 2010: Live Shows Episode 8.2

Posted in The X Factor on December 4, 2010 by kokairu

I had this entry ready on Tuesday but managed to get side tracked, what with the snow and shit.

 
Well, after stretching my imagination to try and conceive the next big shock, what happened last weekend could’ve been predicted by a tape worm.

To be honest, viewing The X Factor is making me more uncomfortable every year. As aware as I am that the whole programme is contrived, it does successfully manage to irritate me, such as when Simon blames the public for Wagner being there. That’s not to mention that it’s a cancer on people’s perception of music.

Anyway, though my know-it-all Sunday entries seem to have died a death, I might as well keep up the remaining know-it-all post-result entries.

First and foremost, with a semi final of 5 people coming up, I can plainly see that the producers are trying to manipulate a final in which one contestant from each judge is going to partake. They’ve set themselves up for this nicely – the question is, how will they go about ensuring that it’s one of Cheryl’s that goes this week? And which of the two will it be? In my opinion, they’d want it to be Rebecca, but they’d have an easier time getting rid of Cher. She’s had her rebound vote following her bottom two saga – all it’ll take is some “bad” song choices and the first slot in the programme. She’s had enough exposure on the programme to sell records anyway.

Normally, when it’s down to 5 contestants, the elimination comes purely comes down to the act with the least votes. But seeing as they’re making it up as they go along this year, an extra round of judges’ voting would probably go unnoticed. This extra element of control will help things along even more (Since writing this, it is heavily rumoured that there won’t be a judges’ vote tonight).

The rundown

Wagner – The ease with which they got rid of him over the weekend was actually quite remarkable. I’ve maintained that they evidently hadn’t wanted to lose him, because he always got a cushy slot, but as soon as his name was called out first on Saturday, their intentions became clear. Enough is enough, let’s ditch him now. Mission successful. I’m just glad he went when he did, or even more money would’ve been pissed away on those stupid campaigns.

Mary – Bottom three… rebound… fourth place (exactly where Nikki placed 3 years ago).

Matt – Now, I think, I can see him being the winner.

Rebecca – Slight chance of elimination this week, as I explained earlier. Failing that, third place.

Cher – Fifth place.

One Direction – If there’s a bottom two this weekend, I can see their being in it. This would work out pretty well – they would get a rebound vote at the most crucial point. Not that I’m an expert, but One Direction are the most marketable contestant remaining. Whilst I think Matt is more popular overall, there’s nothing they won’t do to try and get these guys to win it.