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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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Sudden Battlefield 4 popularity surge after 2042 reveal has EA increasing server capacity
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
Battlefield 2042 was finally unveiled earlier this month showcasing the massive 128-player arenas and their game altering natural disasters. While the game is months away from launch, many fans looking to get their dose of a modern era-set Battlefield have now turned their attention to the 2013-released Battlefield 4.
EA Community Manager Straatford confirmed the sudden surge in popularity in the official EA help forums. "We were absolutely blown away by your excitement and reactions to the recent Battlefield 2042 reveal," the representative said. "Since then, many of you have jumped back into Battlefield 4 to already get a taste of the return to all-out-warfare." The ongoing Battlefield 4 giveaway for Amazon Prime members should also be lending a hand to the spike.
With the classic game's servers getting hammered, EA has now increased server capacity to remedy the congestion. Specifically, those queuing for servers in US West region should see much lower waiting times before getting in.
"We’ll continue monitoring queue times and will make further adjustments as necessary," Straatford added.
Thankfully for these excited fans, the wait for Battlefield 2042 isn't an awfully long one. The game comes out on October 22 across PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.
Weekend PC Game Deals: Immerse in demos till the summer sales
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
Weekend PC Game Deals is where the hottest gaming deals from all over the internet are gathered into one place, every week, for your consumption. So kick back, relax, and hold on to your wallets.
The Epic Games Store finished off its mystery freebies this week with Control being the final one, and returning to its regular giveaways, it is now offering Overcooked 2 and Hell is Other Demons.
The popular party game Overcooked 2 builds upon the original hectic cooking experience by adding online multiplayer. You will be cutting ingredients, dashing around unstable kitchens, and trying to complete dishes to satisfy all sorts of customers while losing your friends. Meanwhile, Hell is Other Demons is a bullet hell, rogue lite platformer, where you explore a retro arcade landscape filled with demons and bosses to take out.
The two games are free to claim on the Epic Store through June 24, and coming up next as the replacement freebies on that date will be Sonic Mania and Horizon Chase Turbo. For another giveaway, but one that's ending very soon, head on over to the DRM-free section below to check out the freebie from GOG.
The gaming bundle space expanded this week with Humble's new UK Games Collective Bundle, bringing in five games and a bonus item in its tiers.
It is not a very populated bundle. The first tier has Her Majesty's SPIFFING available for $1, and then it's straight to the second and last games rung where Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach, Lumino City, Master Reboot, and The Ship - Complete Pack are available for the average price, which is currently at $4.48.
The third tier of the bundle only adds one more item, and it's an odd one: a one-month membership code for Old School RuneScape.
Don't forget this isn't the only gaming bundle in play right now, as last week's Out in the Open World collection with open world games and the Humble Choice selection with Civilization VI Platinum Edition as the headliner are still available.
It is time for another Steam demo festival, and that means hundreds of playable slices of upcoming indie games for you to try out.
Titled Steam Next Fest, this time the promotion will last through June 22. Over 700 games are available to try out during this period from genres all over. The Steam hub page, linked earlier, for the event has personalized recommendations, handy sorting systems, developer livestreams, and more.
That doesn't mean regular free events for released games have gone anywhere though. You can try out the Ubisoft tactical shooter Rainbow Six Siege until June 20 via Uplay. Adding to that, the WW1-set atmospheric shooter duo Verdun and Tannenberg, cooperative tower defense title Orcs Must Die 2, and the golfing experience PGA TOUR 2K21, are free-to-play this weekend on Steam.
The Steam Summer Sale is right around the corner, with it slated to open its doors on June 24 and run for two weeks straight. Usually, sales are a bit lacking due to its proximity, but that's not the case this time.
Meanwhile, this is also the final weekend you have left to use Ubisoft's $10 off coupon that applies across all games and DLC on its store. Use the code FORWARD at checkout to get the offer. With all that out of the way, finally we arrive at the handpicked big deals of this weekend:
GTFO – $27.99 on Steam Dark Pictures: Little Hope & Man of Medan – $23.14 on Steam Football Manager 2021 – $20.99 on Fanatical DORAEMON STORY OF SEASONS – $19.99 on Steam DARK SOULS Remastered – $19.99 on Humble Store PGA TOUR 2K21 – $19.79 on Steam DRAGON BALL Z: KAKAROT – $19.79 on Steam TEKKEN 7 - Ultimate Edition – $17.99 on Steam Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands – $15 on Ubisoft Store MY HERO ONE'S JUSTICE 2 – $14.99 on Steam ACE COMBAT 7: SKIES UNKNOWN – $14.99 on Steam DARK SOULS III – $14.99 on Steam SpongeBob: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated – $14.99 on Steam F1 2020 – $14.99 on Steam CODE VEIN – $14.99 on Steam BlazBlue Collection – $13.46 on Steam Insurgency: Sandstorm – $12.99 on GamesPlanet rFactor 2 – $12.79 on Steam JUMP FORCE – $11.99 on Steam Genesis Noir – $10.49 on Steam Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion – $10.49 on Steam Katamari Damacy REROLL – $9.89 on Steam DRAGON BALL FighterZ – $8.99 on Steam Röki – $8.99 on Steam Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts – $8.99 on Steam Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom – $8.99 on Steam Verdun – $7.99 on Steam Tannenberg – $7.99 on Steam Desolate – $7.49 on Steam NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: Ultimate Ninja STORM 4 – $6.89 on Steam Yuppie Psycho: Executive Edition – $6.66 on Steam Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition – $5.99 on Steam GRIS – $5.99 on GamesPlanet Plague Inc: Evolved – $5.09 on Humble Store Titan Quest Anniversary Edition – $4.99 on Steam The Red Strings Club – $4.94 on Steam theHunter: Call of the Wild – $4.79 on Steam The Gardens Between – $4.59 on Steam Amnesia: The Dark Descent – $3.99 on Steam Conarium – $3.99 on Steam Pacify – $3.49 on Steam Game Dev Tycoon – $2.99 on Steam Orcs Must Die! 2 – $2.99 on Steam Dragon Cliff – $2.99 on Steam Old Man's Journey – $1.99 on Steam Phoning Home – $0.99 on Steam Museum of Other Realities VR – $0 on Steam Hell is Other Demons – $0 on Epic Store Overcooked! 2 – $0 on Epic Store DRM-free Goodness
GOG also has a giveaway running right now, and it is for the popular top-down drifting centered racing game Absolute Drift: Zen Edition. The title has open-ended free roaming maps with three game modes alongside challenges, replays, and more, all to get your perfect corner slides in order.
You only have a few hours left on the giveaway though, as the promotion is ending at 6AM PT.
The summer sale GOG store kicked off last week is still marching strong too, and new deals have joined in since then. Here's another highlights list of the DRM-free specials available:
Cyberpunk 2077 - $39.99 on GOG Wasteland 3 - $38.99 on GOG The Outer Worlds - $29.99 on GOG Art of Rally - $17.49 on GOG Cuphead - $14.99 on GOG Kingdom Come: Deliverance Royal Edition - $13.59 on GOG The Surge 2 - $11.99 on GOG Batman: Arkham Knight Premium Edition - $7.99 on GOG MOTHERGUNSHIP - $7.49 on GOG GRIP - $4.99 on GOG Terraria - $4.99 on GOG The Saboteur - $4.99 on GOG Transistor - $3.99 on GOG STAR WARS Episode I: Racer - $3.49 on GOG Evil Genius - $2.99 on GOG Bastion - $2.99 on GOG Carmageddon Max Pack - $2.49 on GOG Driver: Parallel Lines - $2.49 on GOG Hitman 2: Silent Assassin - $2.49 on GOG Myst Masterpiece Edition - $2.39 on GOG Empire Earth Gold Edition - $2.03 on GOG Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000 - $2.03 on GOG MegaRace 1+2 - $0.59 on GOG Moto Racer - $0.59 on GOG Absolute Drift - $0 on GOG Keep in mind that availability and pricing for some deals could vary depending on the region.
That's it for our pick of this weekend's PC game deals, and hopefully, some of you have enough self-restraint not to keep adding to your ever-growing backlogs. As always, there's an enormous amount of other deals ready and waiting all over the interwebs as well as in services you may already subscribe to if you comb through them, so keep your eyes open for those, and have a great weekend.
Alan Wake Remastered and Final Fantasy VII Remake strings found on the Epic Games Store
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
A leak on the Epic Games Store may have revealed a couple of upcoming game announcements for the PC platform. Strings found in the store's backend, tracked by EpicData, clearly lists Alan Wake Remastered and Final Fantasy VII Remake, the former being an unannounced title while the latter is currently a PlayStation exclusive.
The strings are found under the Pineapple QA and HeronStaging entries, where both games' names are listed in the customAttributes > CloudSaveFolder > value sections:
While Remedy Entertainment has not revealed any plans for an official Alan Wake remake, considering the IP and publishing rights are now with the developer, there is a possibility of the project existing. Alan Wake kicked off the studio's connected universe of games, of which Control is the latest entry.
Meanwhile, it would also not be a huge surprise to see the massively well-received Final Fantasy VII remake arrive to PC either. The new and upgraded Intergrade version's PlayStation exclusivity deal is only for six months after launch, making a 2021 holiday window release on PC feasible.
These are leaks and not official announcements, so as usual keep expectations in check until Remedy, Square Enix, or Epic Games reveals something solid. If the projects are true though, Epic exclusivity for the games are likely. Remedy is already involved with the company — it is Epic Games that will be publishing at least two of its future games. Also, earlier this year another popular Square Enix series, Kingdom Hearts, landed on the platform as an exclusive.
Sources: EpicData 1, 2 via Wario64
Xbox Design Lab returns with support for the new Xbox controller
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
Xbox Design Lab, the controller customization service Microsoft began five years ago, is back in action. It temporarily went offline late last year to update the design and manufacturing processes for supporting the new Xbox Wireless Controller, but the popular service is now back, and with improvements.
As a refresher, the service provides almost complete freedom over customizing a standard Xbox controller, from the color of its base, back, bumpers, and triggers, to the styles of buttons and sticks. An engraving option is also available for adding a personal touch, though it involves an extra charge.
Aside from supporting the latest Xbox controller iteration, the Design Lab has also brought three new color options – Shock Blue, Pulse Red, and Electric Volt – increasing the total to 18. The ABXY button options are updated with a new black-on-color variant, while a new black-on-white color option is here for the View, Menu, and Share buttons.
Microsoft says it is using 30% post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials in the plastics used for most of the color options, and it has plans to increase the company's PCR usage even further. More controller customization options are in the works too, but no details were shared today.
"We have a bold vision for customization through Xbox Design Lab, and this update is just the beginning," Xbox senior director of strategy and business James Hunter says. "Our team is hard at work developing new processes, testing new materials, and innovating so that we can continue to evolve the Xbox Design Lab experience."
Much like regular Xbox Wireless Controllers, these can be used on the Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Windows 10 systems, as well as Android and iOS devices. Xbox Design Lab is available for use across the U.S., Canada, and most countries in Western Europe. A customized controller comes in at $69.99, with the optional engraving option adding another $9.99 to the price tag.