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Microsoft Weekly: Trying Edge, FPS Boost, and Windows 10 21H1
by Florin Bodnarescu
An FPS boost for Backwards Compatible titles on console, an acknowledgement of 21H1, and even some Edge updates at the forefront. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of February 14 – 20.
Unlike previous columns, in which Edge news was relegated to the final section, this time we’re switching things around a little.
We’ll start with the Canary channel, which now allows testers to open Office files directly in the browser – similar to how you would open PDFs -, as well as introducing a Kids Mode (perhaps not too dissimilar to Kid’s Corner from the Windows Phone 8 days). The latter is aimed at children between the ages of 5-8 and 9-12, and allows the browser to make sure the little ones receive “friendly content” via Bing SafeSearch, among other protections that are put in place.
Over in the Dev channel, build 90.0.796.0 made its way to testers, adding SSO (Single Sign-On) support on the Mac, the ability to start typing to search as soon as the favorites and history menus are open, and suggestions from local browsing history when clicking on an empty address bar, to name but three.
Also in plan but not exactly tied to a specific version is a scoring system for websites to prevent annoying notifications, and a not to subtle nudge from Microsoft for Edge desktop users. The latter sees the Redmond giant suggest that folks download the mobile version of the browser on their non-desktop devices.
Although there were plenty of gaming-related announcements this week, one that is sure to please fans of backwards compatibility is something Microsoft is calling FPS Boost.
In short, its Xbox Series line of consoles (Series S and Series X) now has the ability to effectively double the frame rate of supported Backwards Compatible games with no extra work required from developers. Benefiting from this currently are five titles, - FarCry 4, Sniper Elite 4, Watch Dogs 2, UFC 4, and New Super Lucky’s Tale -, with more on the way. Of the five, New Super Lucky’s Tale goes all the way up to 120FPS, with the other tiles supporting 60FPS.
Staying a little bit longer on the software side, screenshots of Xbox game streaming on the web have leaked, Dandara and Lost Planet 2 are now free to claim as part of the Games with Gold program, Dirt 5, Pillars of Eternity 2, Code Vein, and others have arrived on Game Pass, and there are myriad Deals with Gold for you to peruse, including ones for Shenmue and Star Wars: Squadrons.
As far as first-party titles are concerned, Sea of Thieves now has Steam friends support, Japanese localization, and more, while Flight Simulator has received its third World Update with enhancements for the UK and Ireland.
Microsoft has also gone ahead and updated its Xbox Accessibility Guidelines, and released a $99.99 Xbox Wireless Headset with spatial audio support. Somewhat similar in design to the Surface Headphones, the accessory will be available starting March 16.
And finally, for those that were waiting, or indeed just curious, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout will be making its debut across the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S consoles this summer.
Windows 10 21H1
Among the other bits of news that this week brought, we also found that Microsoft indirectly confirmed the existence of the spring update for Windows 10, otherwise known under its 21H1 codename. The acknowledgement came by way of a Tech Community forum post detailing the fact that hardware certification will remain identical between 20H2 and 21H1, meaning the latter is likely to be a smaller update.
Microsoft did also release a 21H1 build, namely 19043.844 if you’re in the Beta channel or 19042.844 in the Release Preview channel. If you want to start testing this forthcoming version, here’s a short rundown of what settings you need to change.
But if you thought the company would release builds tied to a specific version only, you’d be mistaken, as the firm additionally pushed out build 21318 - from its ever-nebulous vNext branch -, which landed in the Dev channel. After being burned with Sets – which was definitely going to be in Redstone 5, until it definitely wasn’t -, the company is a lot more careful about which features it declares will ship with which variant of Windows 10. However, this build does bring in the ability to paste as plain text in clipboard history, as well as a sizeable array of fixes.
In other operating system news, the Windows 10 Team 2020 Update is now starting its rollout in Germany and The Netherlands, Microsoft has announced the latest version of its standalone Office product, Office 2021 – can’t have Office 2022, otherwise that would be much too consistent with the previous naming scheme -, and a couple of optional updates for Windows 10 version 1909 and 1809 have also showed up.
For those interested, the Surface Duo can be had for just $10/month on AT&T if you trade in a phone, and the device just got its February Android security patch. Microsoft stated no customer data was accessed during the Solorigate cyberattack. There’s now an app called Journal from the Microsoft Garage. Microsoft Launcher also started out in life as a Garage project. The unified Office app is now available for iPadOS devices. Logging off
We wrap up this week, and indeed the column, with a selection of dev-related news.
For one, arguably the biggest news this week was the arrival of .NET 6 Preview 1. Released as the next step in the company’s goal of unifying the various and disparate developer solutions, we’ve essentially reached the midway point of the unification that’s set to be complete with .NET 7.
Among its new features, .NET 6 has a multi-platform App UI that’s built on top of Xamarin, with the focus being on “faster developer experiences”, control themes, and of course, performance. ARM64 support, WinForms and WPF support are also key targets, with initial support already being added for Apple Silicon ARM64 chips.
Moving on to app samples, there’s now one called TwoNote for the company’s Surface Duo emulator, with the Redmond giant also eyeing easier development for its Power Platform.
Regarding the latter, this will be done via what the company is allegedly working on, the low-code language dubbed Power Fx. Due to the naming scheme, ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley stated that this may just be targeted at Excel users.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout hits Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One this summer
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
The battle royale game that has people platforming to win instead of shooting each other, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, today revealed it is getting an Xbox platform launch this summer. Developer Mediatonic did not give out an exact release date but Xbox fans now at least have a time frame to look forward to.
The humorous title throws 60 players into maps that feature various chaotic obstacle courses and mini-games. Much like battle royale experiences, the last player (or team) standing after multiple rounds of these elimination courses is declared the winner in the end.
"The rest of the team and myself at Mediatonic have been hard at work concocting more and more elaborate schemes for future content and I really feel Xbox players will be joining the Fall Guys shenanigans at a particularly exciting time," said Mediatonic lead game designer Joe Walsh regarding the upcoming release. "There’s a delicious selection of dapper costumes, imaginative rounds, features and improvements in the pipeline and I can’t wait to share them all with our lovely new Xbox audience this Summer."
The game released on PlayStation 4 and PC in August last year and went on to become a smash hit across both platforms with millions of players. Since launch, there has also been a steady stream of new content in the form of new courses and cosmetic items being added to the game.
The studio just yesterday revealed a Nintendo Switch version of Fall Guys as well, and interestingly, that also sports a summer 2021 launch window. This may turn out to be an August 2021 launch across both new platforms if that's when any exiting one-year-long console exclusivity deals expire.
Xbox Series X|S can now give an FPS Boost to backward compatible games
by João Carrasqueira
With the Xbox Series X|S, Microsoft always promised the new consoles would not only allow you to enjoy games from every Xbox generation but also that they would be the best way to do so. The consoles are much more powerful than previous hardware, and developers can leverage that power to run backward-compatible games with improvements like adding HDR support.
One of the improvements Microsoft mentioned was the ability to play games at higher frame rates than they were originally designed for, and now, that's happening. Microsoft has announced FPS Boost, a feature of backward compatible games on Xbox Series X|S that does just that, and it also revealed the first games to support it.
There are five games in the first batch of games with FPS Boost support, which is rolling out today - Far Cry 4, New Super Lucky's Tale, Sniper Elite 4, UFC 4, and Watch Dogs 2 - but Microsoft promises more are being added soon. In this first batch, you'll notice that New Super Lucky's Tale can now run at 120 frames per second, and UFC 4 will now support 60 frames per second specifically on the Xbox Series S, though it's only logical that the Series X supports it as well. Some of the titles on this list, and upcoming games as well, are part of the Xbox Game Pass library, and you'll get access to the upgrades all the same if you play the games that way.
With an upcoming system update this spring, Xbox Series X|S users will also have new settings to enable or disable these features. In the Manage Game page, there will be a section called Compatibility Options where it will be possible to turn FPS Boost and Auto HDR on or off for supported titles.
By Rich Woods
Microsoft updates its Xbox Accessibility Guidelines
by Rich Woods
In a blog post called The Future of Game Accessibility on Xbox, Microsoft announced some changes that it's making to its Xbox Accessibility Guidelines (XAGs). The XAGs were first launched in January 2020 as a way for developers to go down a checklist and make sure that their games are accessible. Of course, the team listened to feedback, and that's why there are some changes happening today.
A lot of it is about making the XAGs simpler. Language is going to be simplified, using fewer technical terms, and every XAG is getting a goal statement. Now, every developer can read through the list and see the clear goal as to why an XAG exists. That goes along with a better overview for each XAG, which is a summary of how it will affect gamers.
Also being added are scoping questions, and these are going to be yes or no questions that help the developer decide if an XAG is particularly important to their game. Other things being improved are key areas to target, background and foundational info, implementation guideline examples, and more.
But that's not all, because now, developers can actually ship their game off to Microsoft and have it tested against the XAGs. This is, of course, for both PC and Xbox games, and once Microsoft validates it against the recommendations in the XAGs, it will give notes on the issues, along with repro steps, screenshots, and more. Microsoft says that it's going to be using gamers with disabilities for the testing too, so developers will be getting their insights.
Microsoft introduces the $99.99 Xbox Wireless Headset with spatial audio and more
by João Carrasqueira
Microsoft is launching an Xbox-branded headset for gaming next month. Simply called the Xbox Wireless Headset, it's one of the few times Microsoft actually designs its own Xbox accessories, and it's a pretty interesting product because of it.
It's built on the same Xbox wireless technology as the controllers, so Microsoft promises low latency lossless audio, and on top of that, you get support for multiple spatial audio technology. Dolby Atmos DTS Heaphone: X, and Windows Sonic are all supported. If you want to, you can also use it with PCs and smartphones with a Bluetooth connection.
Like most gaming headsets, this one has a microphone, and it's actually pretty smart. It has two beamforming microphones that help with voice isolation, helping elevate the user's voice over background noise. The mic also automatically mutes when you're not talking (though you can disable that), and there's a dedicated mute button if you need it. There's also a light indicator on the microphone when it's being used.
Microsoft also promises a "fine-tuned and configurable auditory experience like no Xbox headset before". You can customize the headset's settings in the Xbox Accessories app, including adjusting the audio equalizer, adjust the sensitivity of auto-mute for the microphone, and more.
The headset's design is unique in its own right, featuring rotating dials on each earcup, somewhat similar to Microsoft's Surface Headphones. Here, one of the dials adjusts the volume, while the other adjusts the balance between game and chat audio, so you can prioritize hearing your friends or the game as needed. In terms of looks, it should fit right in with the latest Xbox consoles with a fairly minimalistic design.
The Xbox Wireless Headset will be available on March 16, with pre-orders starting today on the Microsoft Store. It costs $99.99.