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Microsoft Weekly: A round of Windows leaks, Xbox mini fridges, and hybrid work
by Florin Bodnarescu
In the last seven days we’ve seen the set of E3 2021 announcements from Microsoft – including the Xbox Mini Fridge -, the leaking of a Windows 11 ISO, and a number of other bits of news. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of June 13 - 19.
A round of Windows leaks
The week started in what the Redmond firm could call not ideal conditions, since screenshots of the yet-to-be announced Windows 11 emerged. A little later that same day, the situation got even more interesting as an ISO of build 21996.1 made its way onto the web.
Naturally, we got our hands on it and have chosen to highlight a number of the OS’s new features – like the Windows 10X-esque centered taskbar icons, rounded corners, or the translucent UI (in some places) – via either screenshots of the desktop UI, the OOBE, the new window snapping UI, the new set of wallpapers, and more.
It does seem that out of all, the Home version requires an internet connection to complete setup, but luckily there’s a workaround. In case you want to test this out yourself, you might want to be quick as Microsoft is already issuing DMCA complaints to take down the leaked ISO.
We won’t have long to wait until an official announcement though, with the dedicated set of events scheduled for June 24 at 11AM ET and June 24 at 3PM ET (the latter of which is aimed at developers). On that day we might also see the performance boots that the OS brings, especially for big.LITTLE x86 CPUs – as shown in a set of tests.
Xbox mini fridges
As is tradition, Microsoft held its annual E3 event on the Sunday just before the event’s kickoff, and on this occasion, it was joined by the Bethesda folks (the parent company of which it finalized the acquisition of this year).
To further emphasize the above, the showcase even started with Starfield, Bethesda’s first new IP in years. Powered by the Creation Engine 2, the title showcased an in-game cinematic sequence and perhaps more surprisingly, a release date as well.
The sci-fi game is coming November 11, 2022 (exactly 11 years after the release of Skyrim) and yes, it will be exclusive to Microsoft platforms.
While we’re on the subject of Bethesda, there was also some new ESO and Fallout 76 content announced, along with the fact that Game Pass is getting a number of the missing titles from the publisher, alongside titles like the entire Yakuza series, and even Turtle Rock’s Back 4 Blood on day one. Also in the Bethesda camp was a new IP from Arkane Austin, dubbed Redfall. The co-op vampire hunting game is coming summer 2022, unsurprisingly also to Game Pass day one.
We’ll touch on the fact that Injustice: Gods Among Us and Shadows Awakening are now free to claim, and that there’s in fact a rather good selection of Deals with Gold to peruse, while also mentioning that game stories is now a supported feature in the Xbox app and that the June update for the console has brought party chat accessibility options, among other things.
Speaking of other things, Battlefield 2042 gameplay was shown off during the game showcase, as was an interspersed story / gameplay trailer for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl (which lands April 28 next year, also in Game Pass), a cinematic announce trailer for co-op Xbox exclusive Contraband from Avalanche Studios, a cheeky meta cinematic announce trailer for The Outer Worlds 2, and more.
Alternate-universe sci-fi RPG Atomic Heart got yet another trailer at the event – sans release date -, Diablo II: Resurrected made an appearance too – showcasing its launch day of September 23 -, and Age of Empires IV got its long overdue launch date of October 28, available across PC and Game Pass.
In additional unexpected news, Sea of Thieves got a Pirates of the Caribbean crossover, bringing Jack Sparrow, Davy Jones and crew to the game thanks to a new original story dubbed A Pirate’s Life, which is coming for free to the tile on June 22.
Another game that got a release date was Flight Simulator, which lands on Series X|S consoles on July 27 – and has just gotten its World Update V, with a free Top Gun expansion coming this fall -, as well as Forza Horizon 5. The latter is set in Mexico and rather unexpectedly, lands on November 9 this year.
Of course, after the advent of Craig memes from last year, it was expected that 343 would show an updated look at Halo Infinite, complete with Joseph Staten on stage, a highlight of the game’s story and multiplayer, and an announcement that they will launch together this holiday. Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer is also adding personal AIs for players, among other things.
Finally, the option to make your controllers more personal is now back, as Microsoft has relaunched the Xbox Design Lab with support for the new controller. That said, it’s not the only hardware announcement that the company made at this event.
After rumors of a streaming stick started circulating, folks assumed that the ‘one more thing’ at the end would be this. However, the Redmond giant leaned heavily into the memes and has announced it’ll make an Xbox Mini Fridge (shaped like the Series X).
Yes, it’s real, and yes, it’s coming holiday 2021 – even outside the United States.
Slotting just between the Xbox E3 showcase and the Windows event next week was a virtual presentation focused on hybrid work.
At this event, Microsoft has announced new Teams Rooms features like a “front row” layout for meetings, improved video layouts across multiple screens, new Together Mode scenes on the Surface Hub, and much, much more. Naturally, these features will be rolled out to Insiders first.
On the subject of Teams, the firm has additionally integrated Headspace for mindfulness exercises and to boost personal wellbeing in remote work situations. Worthy of mention is also the fact that inline chat message translation is now available for Teams on Android.
Last but not least, Whiteboard has received a redesign, which aims to help folks collaborate better in hybrid environments.
Edge Dev build 93.0.916.1 is now out, with a number of bug fixes. Better sharing and file picking were among the enhancements that arrived to OneDrive in May. Microsoft has elected Satya Nadella as chairman of its board of directors. Visual Studio 2022 Preview 1 is now available for Windows. Logging off
We end with a bit of an interesting bug related to the newly added News and Interests taskbar widget.
For folks running one of the various flavors of Windows 10 that have this feature, (1909 and up), there are instances in which the News and Interests text and icon appear blurry.
The issue has now been acknowledged by the firm as occurring on “certain display configurations”. Of course, which ones these are is set to remain a mystery. What’s also going to remain a mystery is when Microsoft plans to fix it, as the only time frame indication given was that it’ll happen in an “upcoming release”.
If you couldn’t care less about the widget, it can thankfully be turned off.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.
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By Jay Bonggolto
Microsoft announces game stories in the Xbox app
by Jay Bonggolto
Microsoft announced today a new feature in the Xbox app for Android and iOS that's inspired by a popular feature from various social networking apps. The Xbox app is adding stories from various game brands such as Forza, Halo, and Sea of Thieves.
The new stories feature has been showcased on Xbox's official Twitter account, and it has a similar interface that you can find on social networking platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Unlike stories from those services, however, the Xbox app's version displays the buttons for likes, shares, and comments at the bottom of the screen as well as their corresponding numbers.
Stories can be found below the cards of game titles and are labeled "official posts from games" instead of "stories". This means the content you will see are coming only from game brands you follow instead of from your friends like you can with most social media apps. There's no word on whether Microsoft will give users the ability to post stories on the app.
The new experience should be a welcome development for those who want to receive updates from their favorite game brands or studios. It also expands the app's capabilities after Microsoft added support for remote play last year along with a new UI that debuted on Xbox consoles with the October 2020 update.
Halo Infinite multiplayer detailed, brings in personal AIs for players
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
It was only yesterday that 343 Industries unveiled the first gameplay of Halo Infinite multiplayer, and already, another information drop has landed. The studio today gave an overview of the free-to-play venture's updated sandbox, the new Academy training system, bots, Spartan customization, battle pass, and other elements.
The Academy will be an onboarding experience for new players to Halo multiplayer, providing tutorials, weapon drills, and even a training mode with bots for those looking for a warmup before matchmaking.
The grappling hook that has gotten a lot of focus is a piece of equipment you pick up in multiplayer, letting you swing around maps while pulling in weapons and other equipment as well as zipping towards players and vehicles. Powerups like overshield and camouflage are now user activated after picking up, and dying before getting to activate means they drop on the ground for someone else to use.
Meanwhile, vehicles now have a damage system, letting wheels and various parts break off in combat affecting their maneuverability. Speaking of vehicles, 343 is introducing the Razorback as a more spacious and robust version of the Warthog, and alongside troops, it can also carry detached turrets, power weapons, fusion coils, and even objective items in a storage compartment on its back.
The new Personal AI system lets Spartans choose a helpful companion in multiplayer, complete with appearance and personality customization. These will give you "moment to moment updates" such as instructions to go back to base after picking up an enemy flag. Don't worry, the Halo announcer is still there for jumping in with quips for the big moments.
Moving on to customization, your super soldier's body type, voice, optional prosthetics, individual armor pieces, weapons, vehicles, and more can all be tinkered with heavily. Moreover, it's not just in-game this can be done, as both the HaloWaypoint website and app will allow the capability from the outside.
The studio reiterated that there won't be any loot boxes in Halo Infinite, and all content that can be unlocked via progression, the battle passes, or purchased on the shop will be cosmetic in nature. Battle passes will also remain in the game after a season ends so players could go back and earn something they missed out on later.
Halo Infinite's campaign and the free multiplayer portion is coming to PC via the Microsoft Store and Steam, as well as Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S consoles this holiday. Head here to sign up for upcoming flights. The title will have cross-progression across all platforms, and while crossplay will also be a feature, it's unclear if this is only for certain modes or if it will be enabled across everything.
The meme is real: Xbox Mini Fridge, launching holiday 2021
by Florin Bodnarescu
Back when Microsoft unveiled the Series X at The Game Awards in 2019, some said it looked like a fridge. The monolithic design in fact spawned several memes, and the company gave in, creating a real-life Series X fridge, which it sent to influencers.
Some folks expressed their wish for a smaller, mini fridge form factor of the meme, to which Aaron Greenberg, Xbox's GM of Marketing, responded:
Unsurprisingly, Xbox won the voting poll on Twitter and, true to the promise, to cap off today's Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase, Microsoft unveiled a small surprise: the Xbox Mini Fridge.
Powered by the latest in cooling architecture - not to be confused with the Velocity Architecture -, the little appliance mimics the design of its console counterpart, down to the green design of the cooling holes at the top.
The Xbox Mini Fridge is launching holiday 2021 for an as of yet undisclosed price. This will probably come day one to Game Pass as well.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl lands April 28, 2022, gameplay trailer released
by Florin Bodnarescu
It was March of last year when developer GSC Game World shared the first in-engine screenshot of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, its first foray into this world since 2010's S.TA.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat. Then, during last year's Xbox Games Showcase in July, we saw an in-engine trailer for the game. Now, the developer has offered folks an official gameplay look (see above) at the upcoming title, as well as a release date.
The sequel to the first trilogy of games, now dubbed S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl, is described as such:
via S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 Beyond the details above, the developer has also released the minimum, as well as recommended system requirements. They are:
Minimum system requirements Recommended system requirements OS Windows 10 (no version specified) CPU AMD Ryzen 5 1600X / Intel Core i5-7600K AMD Ryzen 7 3700X / Intel Core i7-9700K RAM 8GB 16GB GPU AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB / NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB / NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER 8GB / NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB Storage 150GB S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl is coming April 28, 2022 to Steam, Epic Games Store, Xbox Series X|S, and will also launch day one in Game Pass.
It's available in a number of variants, with the digital versions coming in Standard ($59.99), Deluxe ($79.99), and Ultimate ($109.99) flavors.
The retails variants come in Standard ($59.99), Limited ($79.99), Collector's ($179.99) and Ultimate ($339.99) flavors, the latter of which contains an Artefact Container Lamp and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. backpack, beyond the artbook and Stalker figurine present in the Collector's edition.