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Sonic Frontiers elicits promise and concerns



Sonic Frontiers elicits promise and concerns

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Sonic Frontiers is planning to come out this holiday season for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. But fans have been debating if it should.

Most are reacting to trailers, but I had a chance to actually play some of Sonic Frontiers during the Summer Game Fest Play Days event last week. And what I tried has promise. Running around an open environment with Sonic can feel freeing and fun. I also enjoyed the combat, which manages to mix Sonic’s speed with modern action game basics like combos and dodging.

But there’s also room for concern. While running, grinding and dashing through the world feels good, movement gets more awkward when you slow down. At one point, I wanted to jump to the roof of a ruined temple. Maneuvering Sonic during tighter platforming like this can feel rough, especially when objects feel like they have random hit detection.

Speaking of hit detection, I also fell through the ground and died after beating a boss. These kinds of bugs aren’t unusual for a game that is still in development, but Sonic has a history with these kinds of problems. It’s concerning. Basically, what I played was promising but unpolished.

While at the Summer Game Fest Play Days, I also had a chance to talk with Sonic Frontiers creative officer and longtime Sonic series shepherd Takashi Iizuka. I asked him about taking Sonic in this new direction and if he thinks Frontiers will hit its holiday launch target.

Enemies can be surprisingly fun to fight.
Enemies can be surprisingly fun to fight.

GamesBeat: What was most difficult when it came to translating Sonic to this more open world design?

Takashi Iizuka: This is really speaking to the difficulties in making these games. But both the classic Sonic games, and even the more modern Sonic games, they all had a start and a goal. We put Sonic somewhere. We know where he’s going to go. In between we fill that space with a lot of platform action. Through that design, we’re able to encapsulate the high speed action and get Sonic to the goal while you have a fun time.

But the challenge that we have now, now that we have this huge 3D open area, the open zone gameplay we need to create has to encapsulate that same high speed platform action we experienced up to now in every Sonic game, but in this wide, expansive 3D format. It was a lot of making sure that the open zones still featured the high speed platforming and the action, all in this brand new format.

GamesBeat: Is it hard judging just how fast Sonic should be in this kind of open game?

Iizuka: If you slow down Sonic, you’re missing some of the essence of Sonic. We couldn’t really slow him down. In fact, we kept him at the same high speed. We even have a boost feature. It’s very much the same speed for Sonic, the feel of Sonic. We wanted to make sure that remained in the game. The only way we could make sure to keep that was the expansion of the island. That’s really where we had the biggest challenge. We had to make this really massive island, because Sonic has to be fast, but he can’t just run all the way around the island super quickly. So how big could we make the island? That became the challenge.

GamesBeat: We’ve seen this grassy area of the island so far. Are there going to be other different-looking locations?

Iizuka: Sonic Frontiers takes place on the Starfall Islands, that whole world. We’re just showing the first island right now. On that first island we do have these grassy, rolling hills. We also have a waterfall area, a cliff, mountains and other areas on that island. But yes, on the Starfall Islands, yes, there will be other islands. We can’t talk about it right now, but there will be islands that look and feel differently.

Don't climb towers, fight them!
Don’t climb towers, fight them!

GamesBeat: Does Sonic Team look at a lot of other open world games for ideas or inspiration.

Iizuka: Open world games are very popular. I play a lot of them myself, and so do a lot of people on the team. But the open zone game that we’re creating, actually, it’s not open world. It comes from a different kind of world design. We wanted to take that linear platform action format and expand it. Instead of being a start to finish goal in a linear format, we wanted to make this huge expansive island and allow you to freely go wherever you want, while you were doing action platforming. Instead of trying to create a world, create people in that world, create all these world details, we wanted to expand on action platforming and make open zones in the island where 3D action platforming could take place.

We know a lot of people look at the videos and think, oh, this is an open world game, but the whole design element, the starting point and the idea behind the island that we created, was really the linear platform action, not building an open world.

GamesBeat: Some Sonic games have a lot of story elements, and some not so much. Where does Frontier land?

Iizuka: In a lot of the previous games, the storytelling was very direct to the player. It would always be, Eggman has arrived, Eggman has done something wrong, now I have to do something to make Eggman do something. It was this direct storytelling where you would passively accept all these things happening and then go out and do something about it.

The storytelling techniques we’re using for Frontiers are a little bit different. We wanted to have you experience things as Sonic would experience them, in a very mysterious format. You show up on the island, but why are you here on the island? What even are these islands? That’s the mystery we wanted to set up, and have you figure that out as you explore the islands. You’re going around and figuring out more of the mysteries. You’re learning more about what’s going on in the story. Because you’re going out and experiencing it while playing as Sonic. We’re advancing the storytelling, and that’s what I think is going to be different about the storytelling in Frontiers compared to previous Sonic games.

Grinding away.
Grinding away.

GamesBeat: The music also seems different in an interesting way. Usually Sonic music is loud and energetic. This is almost sort of … soft and pretty? Why the change for this game?

Iizuka: It kind of ties into the story. We have Tomoya Ohtani, who’s been a music composer on many Sonic games previously, and a lot of his music is that really heavy rock, meant to get you excited, pump you up, go out and have a fun time. He’s done that kind of music before. When he heard about the story, and the kind of mystery and intrigue that’s going to be conveyed on the islands, he went and made music that would be a great fit for that feel. If you have this mysterious music alongside the mysterious story, it really fits. We think he did a great job of making sure you could feel that bit of anxiety, the sense that you’re not sure what’s going on, that mystery. That’s all part of the music that matches along with the game.

GamesBeat: Sonic fans can be pretty intense, pretty passionate. Is it scary showing a new game sometimes, especially one like this that’s a bit different?

Iizuka: I’m always interested in how the fans react to the things we announce, the things we show them. They are, as you say, a very passionate group. When we look at the previous games, the first generation was side-scrolling, that classic Sonic gameplay. The second generation was the more modern gameplay, from Sonic Adventure on. What we’re doing now is taking the next step. This is the third generation, almost. We know we’re showing fans something new that maybe doesn’t make sense to them yet.

But we really wanted to think about where we need to take Sonic for the next 10 years. What kind of gameplay do we need to start building out to keep people excited for the future? Sonic Frontiers is that next step for the next 10 years. We hope that fans believe in us and that they enjoy what we’re showing them. We’re looking forward to when they get to play it and really understand what it’s about.

GamesBeat: We’ve been seeing a lot of gameplay already, and you’re still targeting this year for release. Are you feeling confident about that release window still?

Iizuka: Everyone’s working very hard to keep everything moving forward to release this year. We’re having a good time sitting here, but the team in Tokyo is really putting in long hours to make sure we can deliver something amazing for the fans this year. Game development is always so tough. We want to put more in. We want to do better. We want to make sure the fans are impressed. Everyone in Tokyo is working hard to make that happen.

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Learn more about membership.

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Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance




Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance
Four people in a meeting room video conferencing with four remote participants.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

One of the most irritating (and slightly painful) parts of joining a Microsoft Teams call could soon be fixed by a new update.

The video conferencing service is a popular choice for many companies, meaning calls with large numbers of participants joining at the same time, and from the same location (such as a meeting room) are a common occurrence. 

However, often when multiple people join a meeting in the same room, a feedback loop is created, which causes echo, which in most cases quickly escalates to howling – with Microsoft likening the noise to when a musician holds the mic too close to a loudspeaker.

Teams’ howling

Fortunately, a new fix is coming for Microsoft Teams users. In its entry in the official Microsoft 365 roadmap (opens in new tab), the new “Ultrasound Howling Detection” describes how it aims to prevent this noise for users on Windows and Mac across the world.

Microsoft says that the update should mean if multiple users on laptops join from the same location, it will share with the user that another Teams Device is detected in their vicinity and is already joined with audio to the current meeting. 

If a user has already joined with their audio on, Microsoft Teams will automatically mute the mic and speakers of any new the person who then joins the call, hopefully putting an end to the howling and screeching feedback.

Thankfully, the update is already listed as being in development, with an expected general availability date of March 2023, so users shouldn’t have to wait too long to enjoy.

The news follows a number of recent updates largely aimed around improving the audio quality on Microsoft Teams calls using AI and machine learning.

The new updates are the result of using a machine learning model trained on 30,000 hours of speech samples, and include echo cancellation, better adjusting audio in poor acoustic environments, and allowing users to speak and hear at the same time without interruptions.

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Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK’s leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he’s not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.

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Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed




Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed
Shazam points at someone off camera in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam! Fury of the Gods lands in theaters on March 17.
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The final trailer for Shazam! Fury of the Gods has debuted online – and it looks even more charming, funnier, frenetic, and darker than its predecessor.

Shazam’s sequel flick arrives in theaters worldwide on March 17, so it’s about time we were given another look at the forthcoming DC Extended Universe movie (read our DC movies in order guide to find out where it’ll fit in that timeline). Luckily, Warner Bros. has duly obliged. Check it out below:

Okay, there’s some messy CGI and a slightly corny vibe about Shazam 2. But hey, the first problem can be ironed out before the superhero film takes flight, while the latter is part of what makes this movie series spellbinding (see what we did there?).

But we digress – you’re here because you want to find out what you missed from Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ new trailer. Below, we’ve pointed out six things you might have overlooked. So, what are you waiting for? Shout “Shazam!” and let’s dive in.

1. Who are the Daughters of Atlas?

Kalypso hands Hespera the wizard's staff in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

New movie, new villains. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

For a film centered around Shazam, we don’t actually see the titular superhero appear in the official trailer for the first 20 seconds.

Instead, we get another glimpse at Fury of the Gods‘ villains, aka the Daughters of Atlas. The powerful trio comprises the power-hungry Hespera (Helen Millen), dragon-riding Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Athena (Rachel Zegler), the latter of whom seems particularly torn about how the sisters are going about their business.

So, why are they gunning for Shazam and his superpowered foster siblings? Essentially, when Billy Batson was gifted his abilities by Djimon Hounsou’s wizard in the film film (available now on HBO Max), one of those powers was the Stamina of Atlas. The Daughters of Atlas aren’t too happy about their father’s ability being passed down to a child, so they want to take back what is theirs – and they’ll do it so by any means necessary.

2. Mythological monsters

A dragon prepares to breathe fire at one of Shazam's fellow heroes in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam isn’t the only person taking flight in Fury of the Gods. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam’s first DCEU outing featured some horror-imbued creatures in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins. How, then, do you go about topping (or, at the very least) matching what came before? Throw in a bunch of myth-based monsters, of course.

Kalypso’s imposing dragon is the most notable inclusion. It feature prominently throughout the trailer, and we even get an amusing Game of Thrones reference from Shazam – “Hey, Khaleesi!” – in the movie. Hey, Warner Bros. loves to mention its suite of IPs in as many of its films as possible.

But Kalypso’s wyvern isn’t the only fairy-tale-based beast we see. Minotaurs, griffons, and demonic unicorns are just three of the other monsters who’ll turn up in Fury of the Gods. Basically, don’t expect this to be an easy fight for Shazam and company to save the world.

3. You can’t get the staff these days

Hespera uses the wizard's staff as Kalypso looks on in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

“So I just point it and then what?” (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Saving earth from a new titanic threat will be even harder when Shazam’s adoptive family are stripped of their powers, too. And it seems that the staff, which was wielded by Hounsou’s wizard in the first movie, is the key to giving and taking those abilities away.

In 2019’s Shazam!, the titular hero gave powers to his foster siblings to help him combat the Seven Deadly Sins and Doctor Sivana. They’ve still got those power in Fury of the Gods, too, but they won’t have them for long, based by what the trailer suggests.

The footage shows Freddy Freeman and Mary Bromfield being drained of their abilities by the Daughters of Atlas at various points. The trio are using the wizard’s staff to rob the teens of their powers, so it’s clearly of major importance to the movie’s main players. 

Later, we see Shazam wielding it – not before he asks the wizard to take his powers back, mind you, when he becomes convinced he can’t defeat the Daughters of Atlas. Anyway, Shazam’s brandishing of the staff suggests he needs it to boost his own abilities if he’s going to defeat the movie’s antagonists and give his siblings their powers back. Expect the staff to play a vital role in Fury of the Gods‘ plot, then.

4. Prison break

Djimon Hounsou's wizard blows som magic dust out of a prison window in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Time to break out, Mr. Wizard. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In order to get the wizard’s staff, it seems the Daughters of Atlas go after Hounsou’s magic wielder to obtain it.

We see Hounsou’s character imprisoned at various points, including a shot of Hespera chastising him for giving the power of the gods to Billy, Freddy, and company. “You ripped it from our father’s core,” she tells him, which implies Hounsou’s wizard might not be as mighty and heroic as we were led to believe.

Anyway, Hounsou’s wizard interacts with Shazam later in the trailer, so he clearly escapes captivity. Whether he does so alone, or he enlists Shazam’s help – does that magic-infused dust, which he sends through his prison cell window, have something to do with it? – is unclear. Regardless, we’ll see Hounsou’s character break out at some stage.

5. Is that you, Doctor Strange?

Shazam flies past some rotating buildings in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Where have we seen this kind of aesthetic before? (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Remember when we said Zegler’s Athena doesn’t seem as keen to destroy earth as her sisters? That’s because, at the 1: 14 mark, we see her use her powers with a uncertain look on her face. You wouldn’t look like that if you were convinced you were doing the right thing, would you? 

Based on the fact she’s pushed away by Kalypso (using the staff no less), seconds later, it seems she’ll be swapping sides at some stage.

Interestingly, it seems the wizard’s staff can do more than give or take a person’s powers away. One perceived ability certainly has an air of the Doctor Strange/Marvel-based mystic arts about them. Just look at the Escher-style nature of how the scenery bends and folds in on itself when Athena is pushed back, and when Shazam evades numerous buildings at the 1: 44 mark. We’d be very surprised if DC and Warner Bros. didn’t take a leaf out of the MCU’s book with such an aesthetic.

6. Light the way

Shazam prepares to fight Kalypso and her dragon in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

A yellow bolt out of the blue. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam and his fellow superheroes get a costume upgrade in Fury of the Gods. The group’s threads are more streamlined and less plastic-looking this time around, which is pleasing to see.

Fans had been worried, though, that these suits wouldn’t feature one of the first movie’s most underrated (if somewhat tacky) aspects: the glowing lightning bolt on Shazam’s chest. Shazam’s costume in the 2019 movie was manufactured in a way that allowed the bolt to physically light up, avoiding the problem of having to add awkward lighting effects during the post-production phase.

Thankfully, Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ official trailer confirms that Shazam’s lightning bolt will glow. However, given the sleeker look of the costumes this time around, it appears that the illumination effect has been added in post. Regardless of how it’s been implemented, we’re just glad it’s a feature that’s been retained.

For more DCEU-based coverage, find out where we placed 2019’s Shazam! in our DC movies ranked article. Additionally, read up on the best superhero films of all-time or check out how to watch the Batman movies in order.

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As TechRadar’s entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You’ll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot (opens in new tab).

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.

Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.

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You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!




You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!

Chrome logo on a phone with a lock image over it

Image: Deepanker Verma / Pexels

Author: Alaina Yee
, Senior Editor

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

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