UltraStar: .Txt Files in More Depth

Posted in UltraStar on January 27, 2011 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

By now I think I’ve covered the main ins and outs of UltraStar, so guides from hereon are more likely to be bonus materials.

Whilst I’ve talked about the primary aspects of .txt files, it may be of interest to some people to understand exactly what the finer details of the files mean. They’re actually very straightforward files and aren’t difficult to get your head round. This is one of the many things that make the game work; I guess it encourages people to create songs for the game. Sadly, I won’t be able to produce an extensive guide on how to do this. I’ve made a handful of .txt files using the MIDI conversion tool within UltraStar itself, and I will talk about this at some point. However, this method does have its flaws and I think it is falling out of popularity with the more ‘professional’ song makers out there.

So, as I’ve mentioned before, each song file starts with a series of #tags. Those highlighted in red are necessary for gameplay. Those highlighted in green are not necessary.

#TITLE: Title of the song
#ARTIST: Artist behind the song
#MP3: The name of the MP3 being used for this song. Must have a .mp3 extension included here
#GAP: The amount of time, in milliseconds, before the lyrics start. This allows for any instrumental (or other type of) introduction to the song. It is important to note the number of the first note below. If it is not 0 (which is rare) then the #GAP will be less straightforward. If the lyrics aren’t set to start until 8 beats into the song, but the singing starts straight away, then the #GAP may need to be set to a negative number, to force the lyrics to start early.
#BPM: Beats per minute. This signifies the rate at which the text should display. Put simply, fast songs have a higher BPM, slow songs have a lower BPM. To complicate it slightly, the BPM can be upped for slower songs as long as more beats are added in the main body of the song below. If the BPM of a song is high then it generally means a good, smooth .txt file with more attention to subtle changes in tone. But if that means nothing to you, then you don’t need to worry about this tag. If it is a good .txt file, then it won’t need changing.
#GENRE: The genre of the song. As UltraStar has a ‘sort by genre’ option, it’s a useful tag to use. That, and the search option uses the word(s) in the #GENRE tag when you’re on the song selection screen, so you can automatically find all ‘rock’ songs, for example, if you use this tag.
#EDITION: Typically refers to the SingStar edition, if applicable, that the .txt file is taken from. For organisational purposes, it’s good to leave this tag in.
#COVER: Typically the single/album art appropriate for the song, to be displayed on the song selection screen. This is not necessary but it does brighten up the look of the game (and makes certain songs identifiable when not selected). This must be in .jpg format and the .jpg extension must be displayed here.
#VIDEO: The name of the video file used for this song. Must have the file extension included out of the many types of video file that UltraStar accepts.
#BACKGROUND: If you don’t have a video file, then you may prefer to have a background image displayed instead of a plain background or visualization. This must be in .jpg format and should have the .jpg extension attached. If the song is set to have a #VIDEO file and is linked in properly, then this tag is disregarded. If the .txt is set to have a #VIDEO but the video is not linked in properly for whatever reason, then the game will automatically display the background image.
#RELATIVE: This is an unusual tag that I will talk about later. It is simply set to YES or NO. If it is set to YES, then it specifies a particular format of .txt file that functions in a different way to a typical .txt file. If the tag is absent, or is set to NO, then the .txt file functions as the others do. It is essential for this tag to be applied on a relative .txt file (these are rare. If you find one on USDB then the tag will be readily applied anyway).

When the tags finish, then the main data for displaying the lyrics and notes, at the appropriate times and for the appropriate lengths of time, begins. That is, unless the song is a duet song, which I touched on briefly in my last entry. If it is a duet, then the file should start with P1, with P2 appearing somewhere in the middle.

As you will see, the .txt is sort of divided into 5 columns from hereon, with spaces separating each one. Take the first line of the .txt below, for example. The first column is :, the second is 0, the third is 2, the fourth is 12, and the fifth is Tee. Each row of .txt applies to a different syllable or note. Multiple syllables should not be included on the same line; in the example below, “Teenage” takes up two separate lines. The exception to the rule is when the note is a freestyle one, because no points are available then anyway.

Sometimes people do add more than one syllable to a line, but it technically shouldn’t be done and means that the .txt is imperfect. It’s not really possible to sing two syllables without breaking up the note. There are some exceptions, though, as you’ll see below: where it reads ‘family’ below, it is set to 2 syllables, rather than 3. This is because Mika sings ‘fam-lee,’ rather than ‘fam-il-ee.’

: 0 2 12 Tee
: 2 2 12 nage
: 6 6 12 dreams
– 12
: 12 2 9 in
: 14 2 7 a
: 16 3 12 tee
: 20 3 12 nage
: 24 4 16 cir
: 28 3 14 cus
– 32
: 32 2 16 Run
: 34 1 16 ning
: 36 2 16 a
: 38 4 17 round
– 42
: 42 2 16 like
: 44 2 14 ~
: 46 2 12 a
: 48 2 12 clown
: 50 2 14 ~
: 52 4 16 on
: 56 3 11 pur
: 60 3 12 pose
– 64
: 64 1 12 Who
: 66 2 12 gives
: 68 2 9 a
: 70 4 12 damn
– 74
: 74 2 9 a
: 76 2 12 bout
: 78 2 9 the
: 80 1 12 fa
: 82 1 12 mily
: 84 4 12 you
: 88 4 16 come
: 92 3 14 from?
– 96
: 96 1 16 No
: 98 2 16 gi
: 100 2 16 ving
: 102 4 17 up
– 106
: 106 2 16 when
: 108 2 14 you’re
: 110 1 12 ~
: 112 2 12 young
: 114 2 14 and
: 116 4 16 you
: 120 4 11 want
: 124 3 12 some

The first column

This can be one of 4 things: :, *, F, or -. Here’s a rundown of what they mean…

: Regular note
* Golden note
F Freestyle syllable
– Line break (separates lyrics into suitable lines).
Line breaks are different to other types of row, in that they consist of a hyphen ( – ) and either one or two numbers. If it contains one number, it determines the beat at which the previous line will disappear. For example, in the first line of the song above, the ‘Teenage dreams’ line disappears as soon as it’s been sung, on beat 12. If the line break contains 2 numbers, the first number determines when the first line disappears, and the second determines when the next line will appear. There is no example of this type of line above, as it’s a fast moving song with no proper breaks from singing – line breaks containing two numbers are generally for songs with a large instrumental break in them. Two numbers aren’t at all necessary, however, as the game automatically puts the next line up when it is approaching – it’s only if you want to control when it happens that you need to worry about the ‘second’ number.

So, effectively, the first column states the nature of the note, or if it’s a line break. It’s pretty straightforward.

The second column

This specifies the number of beats into the song at which point this syllable appears. The higher the BPM, the sooner the beat will appear. This isn’t something you can really adjust without an image representation of the notes, but it’s the way that the game understands it.

The third column

This states the number of beats that the note goes on for. The longer the note, the larger the number. Technically, the length of the note in question should finish before the next beat starts. ‘Tee,’ for example, in the first line of the example, goes on for exactly 2 beats, and the ‘nage’ syllable picks up on beat 2, immediately after ‘Tee’ finishes. If they overlap, then scoring full points for the song is rendered impossible, as you can’t sing 2 notes at the same time, even if they only overlap fleetingly.

The fourth column

This contains a number code for the pitch of the syllable. Unfortunately, I don’t have a list of which numbers correspond to which notes, though I believe that ‘0’ is C1, so I guess you work either up or down from there (negative numbers are accepted).

The fifth column

Contains the text to be sung at that very syllable. As I’ve touched on, this should specifically refer to one portion of text for any words that are over 1 syllable long. In many cases, singers extend the syllable that they sing to show off their vocal range, and as you may have noticed, the standard format to represent this is to use ‘~’ to show that you are extending the syllable to a different pitch. In the example above, ‘you’re’ would normally be a single syllable, but Mika sings that first part and drops his voice slightly towards the end, so it will read as ‘you’re~’ on the game itself.

One of the most important things to bear in mind with this column is that UltraStar will automatically join the words together. You therefore need to include spaces at the end of each word, but do not include spaces for syllables in the beginning or middle of a word.

So, in the first example, if no spaces were included after each word, the song would read like this in-game:

Teenagedreams
Inateenagecircus
Runningaround
Like~aclown~onpurpose

If you copy and paste the text in the first example, you will see that spaces appear at the appropriate points to stop this from happening, such as after ‘age,’ and ‘ing.’ Spaces are not necessary just before line breaks, but you can still use them.

Conversely, if you put a space after every syllable, it would read like this:

Tee nage dreams
In a tee nage cir cus
Run ning a round
Like ~ a clown ~ on pur pose
Perhaps this error isn’t quite as bad as the first one, but it should still be avoided as it looks… stupid. Remember only to include spaces at the end of a word, not at the end of a syllable.

Finally, it is very important to include ‘E’ at the end of the song, to tell the game when it finishes, or it will not work:

: 1602 2 12 We
: 1605 2 12 are
: 1608 2 12 not
– 1611
: 1611 2 12 what
: 1614 3 12 you
: 1618 2 12 think
: 1621 2 12 we
: 1624 3 12 are
– 1628
: 1628 1 12 We
: 1630 2 12 are
* 1632 5 12 gol
* 1638 3 12 den
– 1642
: 1642 2 12 We
: 1645 2 12 are
* 1648 5 12 gol
* 1654 9 12 den
E

Do not include anything after the E, such as an extra line break, or the song may crash the game. Also, avoid putting a line break just before the E – this can confuse the game, too.

Relative .txt Files

As I mentioned earlier, .txt files with a #RELATIVE:YES tag included are of a different nature to normal .txt files. To be perfectly honest, I hate them. If they contain errors, they’re difficult to track down and fix. However, given how different they are to normal ones, it wouldn’t be as extensive a guide if I overlooked them.

#ARTIST:Beyonce
#TITLE:Crazy In Love
#MP3:Beyonce – Crazy In Love.mp3
#BPM:198,4
#GAP:15500
#VIDEO:Beyonce feat. Jay-Z – Crazy In Love [VD#0,0].mpg
#RELATIVE:YES
: 0 2 62 Uh
: 4 4 57 oh
: 8 2 62 uh
: 12 3 57 oh
– 15 16
: 0 2 62 Uh
: 2 2 57 oh
: 6 2 57 oh
: 8 2 58 no
: 10 2 57 no
– 14 16
: 0 2 62 Uh
: 4 4 57 oh
: 8 2 62 uh
: 12 3 57 oh
– 15 16
: 0 2 62 Uh
: 2 2 57 oh
: 6 2 57 oh
: 8 2 58 no
: 10 2 57 no

As you’ll see, each line in the song counts from 0, rather from the very start of the song. These types of files are fewer and far between now, but there are still odds ones that you may come across.

I think I’ve covered the various aspects of .txt files now – most of it, of course, you’ll never have to understand, though it may be useful to know a little more about them for troubleshooting purposes, and if you fancy making your own songs, this will serve as a good starting point. Like I said, I can’t help much there, but I will do an entry soon sharing what I do know about song creation that may help to get you going.

Glee was good, then it went shit

Posted in TV with tags on January 11, 2011 by kokairu

I think Glee is often seen as a Marmite programme. As someone who very much enjoyed it when it was first aired on E4 this time last year, I think I’ve been lumbered with the label as a lover of the show. You could be forgiven for thinking that, since I obsessively watched those first 13 episodes and listened to the soundtrack non-stop. It was so fresh and inviting, amusing, had a clear idea of where it wanted to go, and I never found it predictable. It did a wonderful job of parodying the clichés of after-school specials whilst rarely falling into the same trap. The episodes were all well themed and the storylines taking place all inter-weaved at the right points. I didn’t continue to watch at E4 pace – I was so hooked, I downloaded the remaining episodes.

As you can well imagine, I was excited about the continuation of series 1 (episodes 14-26). The first two episodes were quite promising. Suddenly, a lot of new storylines sprung up out of nowhere, but in my opinion, they were necessary. So many things had been wrapped up in episode 13, on the basis that the series may not have been renewed and so needed a suitable ‘finishing place’ should the worst happen: Will and Emma finally embraced their feelings for one another, Finn found out he wasn’t the father of Quinn’s baby, Rachel and Finn were in the position to pursue a relationship, Sue was suspended for all of her misdeeds, Will found out that his wife was not pregnant after all, and New Directions came first place in Sectionals. Thus, the series needed to unleash some new ideas to continue – the only ongoing one being Quinn’s pregnancy. To me, it didn’t really matter if the storylines were launched quickly… as long as they continued at a smooth pace afterwards. In episode 14, Rachel and Finn were together, then they weren’t, then Rachel started up a romance with that lad from Vocal Adrenaline (and was heavily criticised by fellow Glee Club members for doing so), Will and Emma tried and failed at a relationship, Will canoodled with the coach from Vocal Adrenaline, and Sue was reinstated after blackmailing the principal. It was a lot to take in, but they needed something to work with.

The Madonna episode followed, and I was still hooked. I don’t like Madonna much, but the performances were some of the best of the series, and though the ‘artist-themed’ episodes would quickly become tiresome, it wasn’t a bad idea as a one-off. Everything followed on nicely from the 14th episode, though it wasn’t without its problems. As much as Glee gets away with unexpected twists, I couldn’t help but feel that it was getting to the stage of less trope subversion and more in the way of last minute, half-arsed, convenient changes to the story. Jesse moved schools very suddenly, Artie is a dick to Tina for no reason, Emma quickly decided she should sleep with Will despite being deeply afraid in the last episode, Finn lost his virginity to Santana for no reason, and Rachel’s build-up to losing hers came from out of nowhere and wasn’t picked up since. Primarily, the fact that Sue was obsessed with Madonna made little sense given her usual prudish attitude, and paved the way for the programme’s later habit of changing any given character’s personality to suit whatever ridiculous storyline was being cooked up.

At episode 16, it was near impossible to ignore the cracks that had started to appear in the show’s format. The Kurt/Finn storyline was decent, but it launched from out of nowhere. The Mercedes storyline was one massive cliché that definitely would not have been seen in its initial run of 13 episodes. Her line at the beginning of the episode is a perfect two fingers up to this sort of plotline: when Kurt assures her that she shouldn’t feel embarrassed about her body, she confidently says that she is just afraid of ‘showing too much flesh and causing a sex riot.’ But after saying that, the story slumps to the age-old plot about female body issues. Quinn has her first foreground moment of the second run of episodes so far (despite being featured prominently before), and she patronises the fuck out of Mercedes by highlighting the idea that someone that big needs to be told they’re beautiful. And the episode actually ends with Mercedes singing ‘Beautiful’ in front of the entire school… no comment.

Episode 17, ‘Bad Reputation,’ for me, showed how the programme was using the right tools from the first run of episodes and implementing them badly. Yes, the episode was given a theme under which all its storylines would fall, but it felt very forced. At the end of the episode, they attempt to make it believable that Will’s sudden reputation as a man-whore is somehow on a par with becoming pregnant as a young and frightened schoolgirl. This is supposed to be a heart-warming and touching moment within the pair, but it’s a truly terrible idea. What’s more, their use of Sue as a convenient plot device to get Emma to find out about Will’s flings with Shelby and April is just plain lazy writing. She just happens to know about it, and they don’t need to explain why or how except vaguely suggest that she’s obsessively spying on him. The show tries to pass this off as quirky and humorous rather than dragging out the secrecy of Will’s misdeeds, which is fine, but I can’t help but feel like there was very little planning taking place to sustain a decent plotline across the 13 later episodes. It felt made up as it went along: Rachel is suddenly upset about not having a mother, her mother is revealed (‘Dream On’ is the single worst episode of Glee in my opinion), Rachel and her mother are united and then go her separate ways in two consecutive episodes. Jesse suddenly turns on Rachel and goes back to Vocal Adrenaline for no reason. Quinn’s pregnancy is shoved into the background, despite everything from her financial difficulties to her parents’ reaction playing a massive part in the first run of episodes; we are only offhandedly told where she is even residing.

The season finale was admittedly rather good; I particularly liked the mashed-up Bohemian Rhapsody/birth scene. The fact that Sue voted for New Directions was a nice twist without being completely unbelievable (they’d actually given her a motive to do so), plus the fact that the group actually placed last was very unexpected. It was just the means to which it got there that bothered me. Fine, we needed to include a bit of Shelby’s back story to have it make sense that she would end up adopting Quinn’s baby, but we’ve still not seen enough of her to care that much. Quinn’s background status made the birth feel very unimportant. All in all, I felt like I’d had to invest more in watching the show (cringing, frustration, etc) than I actually got out of it.

I watched two episodes of season 2 and, after seeing no sign of improvement, officially bowed out. The same problems were reinstated in the first episode: far too much was going on and the story and characters leapt about at their own convenience. Then came the God awful Britney episode, and I’d seen enough. From the overexcited, understated yet amusing reaction to the ‘Push it’ assembly performance in series 1, the audience got into an actual sex riot over a simple performance of Toxic. It was absolutely dire, and the majority of the songs were just video re-enactments. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

So what went wrong? I think the show’s popularity was its own downfall. After the first 13 episodes, the things that went down well and the things that didn’t go down well had been vividly highlighted. Sue Sylvester was the star, and upping the character’s screen time did her no favours. The more obsessed she seemed with bringing Glee Club down, the less she was perceived as powerful and vindictive, and by the end of it, just plain pathetic. The songs were a very big part of Glee originally, but they had previously been used sparingly. Naturally, they were popular, and so more were crammed into the episodes when they just weren’t needed. Characters that were previously background material yet provided some great quirks here and there were brought to the foreground: Brittany, I’m looking in your direction.

Given the above (long) rant, I’m never really sure whether to stick up for Glee or not. I do believe that many people who criticise it have never really watched it properly: saying that it’s High School Musical in TV form, for example. But based on the majority of the episodes, I can’t say with any confidence that I think it is a good show. I am, quite simply, disappointed that it had to go downhill so quickly when it could’ve been so easily avoided. I just feel no need to make the effort to watch a programme that is putting in no effort to entertain me.

The Pokéwalker: On Reflection

Posted in Pokémon on January 7, 2011 by kokairu

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and a happy new year. Well, the start of the new year is never happy… Christmas is over and being in the midst of winter usually means illness and general melancholy. Plus everything just seems to go wrong this time of year, for me anyway.

I hope you’re dealing with the horrible new year effectively, and have things to look forward to when the weather starts to pick up.

One thing I managed to achieve over Christmas was finally unlocking the last route on my Pokéwalker: Quiet Cave. The Pokéwalker is a simple yet amusing device: a pedometer that synchronises with the Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver games, and, put simply, generates bigger and better rewards the more steps that you do. It certainly motivated me to walk more – every time I had to drag myself anywhere there was always some consolation that my physical efforts would contribute more towards my game. The number of steps taken generates a revenue known as watts, which enable you to find items on the device (3 watts) or catch pokemon (10 watts), which can later be sent to your game. The items and pokemon available depend on the ‘route’ that you’ve selected to go on – this is determined when you send a pokemon to the Pokéwalker. Routes can be unlocked by gaining a certain number of watts (this starts off at something small and winds up being 20,000 watts between the penultimate and final routes). With 20 steps needing to be taken to gain a single watt, it’s a lot of effort. I was walking 2 miles a day with the Pokéwalker since early April, and finally unlocked the last route on 29th December! Naturally, the final route contains the best rewards: rare pokemon Feebas and Spiritomb. Very difficult to obtain in-game, so I deliberately abstained from trying to catch them until this point. Once Feebas has received enough massages, it will evolve into Milotic and I will complete my non-event Pokédex on Soul Silver!

Overall, this was an ingenious idea on Game Freak’s part. Not only did it make me want to buy the game (the Pokéwalker will only work with a genuine cartridge, as it sends and receives information via an infrared slot on the cartridge itself), it sort of made me feel like I was still playing it while I was out and about getting exercise. Sad, I know, but like I said before, it was fantastic motivation to take as many steps as possible. Not that I never took shortcuts – the vibrations on my car worked nicely in tricking the pedometer into thinking I was taking steps, as did sitting it next to the fan in the hot weather (I found this one out by accident!). But I can say that most of my achievement was accomplished the old fashioned and intended way.

This meta element of Pokémon is something that, I think, a lot of game manufacturers could take into account. Yes, the contrast between the hard core exerciser and the computer game-playing couch potato is not quite as vivid as it once was, what with motion technology being applied to the major consoles now. However, in my experience at least, those games only have novelty value. The fact that the whole game revolves around exercise can put a lot of people off, too. I’ve spoken to an alarming number of people that bought a Wii Fit only to play it a handful of times and then abandon it in that handy place underneath the TV cabinet. It’s a fantastic idea, don’t get me wrong, but I found that the more entertaining activities on it were the ones that involved balance rather than actually burning calories and getting fit. Put simply, most gamers want to chill out when they play games, not exercise.

Pokémon, for those of you that haven’t played it, is a game full of rewarding activities and one that you can never really finish. There are so many reinforcing aspects of the game, from the satisfying noise that’s made from landing a super effective move on the opponent to the amount the non-player characters admire you as you make your way through the story. It always draws me back in for these very reasons, and I get the impression that other RPGs have the same effect on people: World of Warcraft, for instance. I haven’t played this game myself (it’s not that I have a life, I just don’t want to have even less of one than I do now), but it seems to fall under the same category. There is no end to the game, and as your character gets stronger by defeating opponents, the rewards come thick and fast. To introduce something similar to these types of game could work incredibly well – after gaining 10000,0000 watts, for example, players could obtain the Sword of a Thousand Truths. If a pedometer that was sensitive to faster strides and uphill walking/running was applied (the Pokéwalker, sadly, did not have this feature), then not only would addicts perhaps feel the need to get a bit of exercise, then they might actually feel better about being dragged away from the computer for a day out. Worth a try, maybe?

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.