Assassin’s Creed Unity Teaser Trailer

Following rumors and leaked screenshots, Ubisoft has officially confirmed the existence of Assassin’s Creed Unity with a brief teaser trailer for the upcoming game. Set in 18th century France, the game is the first Assassin’s Creed installment to be developed exclusively for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – a separate game, codenamed Assassin’s Creed Comet, is rumored to be making its way to the PlayStation 3and Xbox 360 – features a brand new black-clad assassin, and is rumored to employ a modified take on the series’ signature parkour-like navigation system. Check out the brief glimpse of the game above and stay tuned for additional looks ahead of its Holiday 2014 release.

full story: http://hypebeast.com/2014/3/assassins-creed-unity-teaser-trailer

‘Titanfall’ Review (Xbox One): The Iron Giant

by Paul Tassi, Contributor

Speed. It’s been missing from the competitive FPS genre since the days of Quake. Call of Duty lets you sprint for mere seconds at a time. Gears of War has you run only when it leads to hiding behind a wall. Halo allows more mobility in the form of a power-armor assisted vertical leap, but often getting from one side of the map to the other is a daunting, plodding journey.

Enter Titanfall, Respawn’s new bit of multiplayer mayhem which puts mobility and speed front and center to the point where it often feels like the reinvention of the genre it’s trying to be. Sprint is unlimited, and far faster than its counterpart in other shooters. A jetpack allows for double jumps, edge grabbing and wallrunning, making nearly every part of every map landmark accessible on foot.

The speed is required, of course, to stay out from underfoot of the massive Titans that make up the other half of gameplay. Kills allow faster access to the machines, and once a pilot is inside, it takes enough firepower to destroy a small country to bring them down.

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Titanfall is an Xbox One and PC exclusive from Respawn’s Jason West and Vince Zampella, the minds who brought Call of Duty out of World War II and shaped it into the powerhouse shooter franchise it is today. Now with their new title, Titanfall, they build on the existing concepts of their older games. Gunplay feels similar, but the speed, mech play and scope of Titanfall make it feel like it’s leagues past a simple evolution of Call of Duty.

The game is multiplayer only, for better or worse. It allowed the team to focus on making the most refined multiplayer experience possible, but also means that Titanfall is painfully short on anything like lore, story or iconic heroes. I wondered in a previous post if Titanfall would suffer without its own public face, be it Captain Price, Marcus Fenix, or Master Chief. Is a compelling multiplayer experience be enough to offset a nearly non-existent story? Yes, but it’s still easy to wish there was more mythology to this newly created universe.

The game does attempt to inject at least some bit of story into the game with an almost comically anemic “Campaign” mode. It’s simply a string of predetermined multiplayer matches, the only difference being a sixty second introductory voiceover explaining why exactly we have to hold points A, B and C on a map, and a fifteen second “drop-in” cutscene that’s barely more than what you see in regular multiplayer. Plot-related things actually happen during the match, but it’s impossible to have any idea what’s going on as you attempt to listen to radio communications while in the middle of a never-ending firefight.

It’s a lot like the much-derided Brink’s attempt at a campaign made up entirely of multiplayer levels, but even that game had more cutscenes explaining some vague semblance of story. It wasn’t a good idea then, and it isn’t a good idea now. It seems like the mode only exists so the game doesn’t feel quite so flimsy, but it adds practically nothing to the experience, and I did find myself wishing there was more to learn about the Titanfall universe than what we’re given. Perhaps a traditional, linear campaign isn’t the answer, but the game needed something more than this.

Fortunately, multiplayer is so engaging that the lack of a story will be quickly forgiven by most, especially since a great many players have take to skipping campaigns altogether in recent shooter releases in favor of diving right into deathmatches. Not a practice I partake in, but it is somewhat commonplace.

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At long last, we get to see the full scope of the maps in Titanfall, rather than the two many of us played in the beta on repeat for a week. While it will likely take a while to learn them all, there are none that stand out to me as either empirically awful or fan favorites, at least not in these limited first few days of play. There doesn’t seem to be as much of a size disparity in the maps as there is in other games which have both tiny and sprawling levels, namely because no matter what mode you pick, it’s the same amount of players.

Similarly, the design is restricted by the fact that levels have to both accommodate massive Titans and tiny mobile pilots. That means that most levels are a mix of open spaces and smaller, corridored buildings. As a result, your preferred playstyle can work in any map, but it can also make many of them feel a bit too similar to one another.

It’s impressive how Respawn managed to make playing as both a jump-happy pilot and a locked-to-the-ground Titan equally fun modes of play, and entirely different than one another. Being a pilot on foot allows for much more diversity of play as you bound all around the map, killing pilots, AI bots and Titans alike. The shooting isn’t quite as tight as Call of Duty. The guns feel a bit softer in the way the connect with targets and may take some getting used to. There are far less gun and attachment options to choose from than other shooters, but there are many more than the limited selection we saw in the beta. The amount seems to be just right, as at a certain point, nine assault rifle variants with twenty attachments each seems to be a bit excessive. There are enough unlocks to instill a sense of progress, but not so many where the entire game is driven by XP collection.

Controlling a Titan is a different story than sprinting around as a pilot. They are locked into specific open tracks on the map, as jumping isn’t an option. You can swat and blast pilots like flies if your aim is good enough, but mostly you’ll spend your time battling other Titans. Those fights aren’t the twitch reflex “who shoots first” matchups of ground warfare, they’re often battles of attrition and strategy. You should always try to engage with a friend, and if you find yourself outnumbered or without a shield, you probably want to run. Switching between guns, missiles, shields and other abilities means there’s a lot to keep track of, but it’s not overly technical to the point where it’s cumbersome and annoying.

I believe many players will find themselves drawn to one form of combat over the other. Some may love the freedom of freerunning to the point where they’re content to let their Titan roam around in auto-mode, while others may never leave the safety of their metal nest, locked into the mech for as long as humanly possible. The game allows a mix of both, and the most fun moments are found when you hop in and out of your Titan, depending on the landscape and the foes you’re trying to fight.

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I prefer Titan combat simply because I appear to be better at it. While I’m lucky if I break half a dozen pilot kills a game, I always rack up 4-5 Titan kills, which are much harder to come by. Many games, after I get my first Titan, I manage fight my way to the end of the match without dying, which is always a gratifying experience.

In general, it’s refreshing to die a lot, lot less in Titanfall than in other multiplayer shooters. While only the elite in other games will die 1-3 times in a match, in Titanfall that can happen frequently even to average players like me. It allows for far less frustration as you almost never get trapped in “spawn death” loops where you live for only a few seconds at a time, and get killed by unseen enemies before you have a chance to do anything. Rather, Titanfall’s universally large levels allow you to spawn a safe distance away from enemies most of the time, and as such you’ll likely only die a handful of times. Lives last minutes, not seconds, and that’s refreshing for the genre.

Of course fewer deaths means less killing. As nice as it is not to die every ten seconds, it comes at the price of a reduced amount of kills. To counter this and give players at least something to shoot at, the game is flooded with AI bots which dramatically outnumber the six players on each team. The bots pepper you with bullets that appear to be made out of Nerf foam, and serve as cannon fodder while you seek out an enemy that can actually fight back. The addition of bots is a mixed bag. It fills up the sprawling levels and creates a proper “battle” atmosphere that enhances the matches. But there’s a little pang of sadness every time you kill an AI thinking it was a human. As I said in the beta, ” I’m not sure it’s even possible for an AI soldier to kill you, and half the time it feels like you’re slaughtering defenseless, dumb animals that just happen to look like humans or warbots.”

The problem is that if all the AI were replaced with humans and we had something like crazy 16 vs. 16 matches, death and kill totals would skyrocket, making Titanfall just like other games in that regard. And since the game can’t handle that many players anyway, removing them would make for some very dull matches. Right now they seem necessary, whether we actually want them there or not.

Burn cards are another interesting aspect of multiplayer, though I’m not quite sure how impactful they are. Each player has three slots a game to use the consumable cards which can do things like shave seconds of a Titan drop, give the player an upgraded weapon, or allow them a special ability like unlimited grenades or invisibility. Most only last until the end of the player’s life, so when you have one active, you want to be especially careful to make the most out of it. In my eyes, they don’t really affect gameplay all that much one way or the other. They’re just fun little additions to make a minute or two of the game more interesting than it would have been otherwise. Perhaps I haven’t seen them all yet and a few could dramatically unbalance the game in some way, but that doesn’t seem to be the case yet.

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For as much focus as Respawn devoted to making Titanfall a purely multiplayer title, it’s fairly disappointing that there are only five modes in which to play the game. All of them are 6 vs. 6 with the requisite swarm of bots, and include Attrition (Deathmatch), Hardpoint (Domination), Last Titan Standing, Pilot Hunter and Capture the Flag.

The first two are standard fare for every shooter, so it’s no surprise to see them here. Last Titan Standing should be right up my alley, as it’s a fun bit of search and destroy with Titans, but the matches are exceptionally long and snowball rapidly, making the mode rather unappealing. Pilot Hunter is just a stripped down version of deathmatch where nothing but killing pilots actually scores points. Capture the Flag is probably the most fun non-deathmatch game, as in the world of Titanfall, the action is five times as intense as it normally is for the mode. With Titans guarding flags and wallrunning and jetpack jumping as a means to avoid enemies, it’s easily the most pulse-pounding the game gets. The only problem is that if you’re an active flag pursuer, you’ll tank your overall K/D ratio as during Capture the Flag you canrack up 15-20 deaths rather than the usual 2-5.

But, that’s it. Five modes, most entirely traditional, one seemingly pointless, and all with the exact same player count. It seems like there could have been a lot more done with mode variety, and something like a custom game creator would go a long way. I’m picturing games that use permanent burn cards to shake up the action. Maybe Titans with special weaponry that drop randomly from the sky and can be controlled by both players. A mode where the rarely seen monsters from the variety of planets actually stumble into the map and influence gameplay. And at the very least, they need a ranked mode.

All of this seems possible through future patches, but it does make this initial release of Titanfall feel like something of a blueprint for the future rather than a final product in and of itself. While the multiplayer combat is absolutely excellent, and all Respawn’s hard work shows, the actual content of the game is relatively sparse compared others in the genre, given its almost complete lack of a campaign, an incredibly limited selection of modes, and no “third pillar” of co-op gameplay like Zombies, Firefight, or Spec Ops.

Finally, I have to praise the game from a technical perspective, at least so far. The launch has been flawless from my initial downloading of the game to the fact that I haven’t been booted out of a match due to server issues yet. I’m waiting for players to come home from school and work and start playing to make a final judgement call about stability, however. (Update: Annnnd the game probably killed Xbox Live). And for all the controversy about resolution at launch, the game looks just fine to me. It’s not the most visually impressive title I’ve seen in this new generation, but it didn’t need to be, and there’s certainly nothing to complain about. Besides, further resolution patches are coming, according to Respawn.

Titanfall is a great game and an incredible amount of fun. Combat is creative, exciting and never, ever static. It lacks depth past its core concept however, and hopefully that’s something that can be rectified well ahead of the inevitable Titanfall 2. But right now, this is the game the Xbox One needs, and it’s the first true must-have of the new console generation.

Platform: Xbox One, PC

Developer: Respawn

Publisher: EA

Released: March 11th, 2014

Price: $59.99

Score: 9/10

Follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my Forbes blog, and pick up a copy of my sci-fi novel, The Last Exodus, and its sequel, The Exiled Earthborn.

full story: http://www.forbes.com/sites/games/2014/03/11/titanfall-review-xbox-one-the-iron-giant/

Xbox Live Down On ‘Titanfall’ Launch Day

by Paul Tassi, Contributor

Well, that didn’t last long.

It seemed like a smooth launch for Titanfall so far, but just hours after I published my review praising Microsoft and EA for a release free from technical hiccups, Xbox Live has gone down.

Though there’s no official confirmation that the outage is tied to the Titanfall launch, it would be a fairly obvious culprit as millions of players try to access the game on launch day. Titanfall relies heavily on Microsoft’s Azure cloud servers which were going to be used to ensure something like this didn’thappen, but it appears things have gone wrong, as many expected they might.

The service outage has lasted for the better part of an hour now, and Xbox Support says that service is “Limited” right now. “Unable to sign in to Xbox Live on Xbox One?” they say, “We’re on the case to get this issue fixed as soon as possible!”

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I thought I was taking crazy pills as when I was unable to play Titanfall (because there’s no offline mode, naturally), I turned to boot up Hearthstone, which has just dropped its beta badge to go officially live as of today. Now it seems Battle.net is alsodown, and the result was me resetting my internet for about twenty minutes until I figured out what was going on. I’m not sure why Hearthstone would pick today of all days to go live, nor do I know what their issue is, though I assume it’s 100% unrelated to Microsoft’s plight.

This is the problem with launching a 100% online multiplayer title like Titanfall. A game with a campaign would at least have something for players to do as they waited for Live to return, but the entire game is locked behind the online wall.

And now we see a problem with EA and Titanfall relying on Microsoft directly for server support. Now if the servers melt down, it’s not just Titanfall that’s inaccessible, it’s the entirety of Xbox Live. A problem for not only Titanfall, but Xbox One as a whole. The One is failing the digital test I talked about yesterday if this keeps up.

I suspect the server load is just too great as players are now getting home from work or school and trying to play. It’s 5PM EST, and with most schools out at 3 or 4, the service kicking out about an hour or so ago makes sense.

Nothing other than boilerplate “we’re fixing it” responses from Microsoft yet, so we’ll have to keep an eye on the situation. At least EA has someone to share the blame with this time.

Keep checking back here for updates, and I’ll post information as soon as I find it.

Update: From Respawn’s Vince Zampella: “Looks like Xbox live sign in is down currently. I hope that isn’t our fault!” Keep hoping, Vince.

Update #2: I’m hearing reports of people that have been playing through this entire outage. I guess that explains the “Limited” service interruption rather than whatever it would say otherwise. “Offline,” maybe. I’m trying to figure out if this is location-based.

Update #3: I’ve asked Microsoft PR for an ETA on service restoration, but nothing yet. As for how widespread this is, I’m not sure how to gauge it other than noting that “tweets per minute” about the outage appear to be extremely high.

Update #4: From Microsoft’s Major Nelson, who says this isn’t a Titanfall problem: “If you are having issues signing into Xbox Live, we are aware of it and actively working on the issue. This is not a #Titanfall issue.” Well that officially makes this the world’s worst coincidence, if that’s actually the case. I have my doubts their luck would be that poor, but I’ll take him at his word. Still, it’s the biggest launch of the year and Live was killed at the beginning of a peak traffic time in the US. Hardly a stretch to imagine the two are related.

Update #5 (7:50 PM EST): Well, the only update I have now is that Live is still down, and Microsoft PR said that Nelson’s tweet is the official word on the situation. I still cannot process how this is not Titanfall related, but that information will have to be sorted out when this crisis ends.

Update #6 (10:53 PM EST): Alright, it appears you can restore service using this process:

  1. While the console is on, press and hold the console’s Xbox button for 5 seconds.
  2. The console will power down.
  3. Wait 30 seconds, and then turn your console back on by again pressing the Xbox button.

It worked for me, and appears to be fixing the problem for many others as well. Hopefully we all can get in a few games of Titanfall before bed (lucky West Coasters). Anyway, more on this tomorrow as hopefully Microsoft will offer some sort of concrete explanation on what exactly happened here, and how it could have possibly not been Titanfall-related.

Follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my Forbes blog, and pick up a copy of my sci-fi novel, The Last Exodus, and its sequel, The Exiled Earthborn.

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full story: http://www.forbes.com/sites/games/2014/03/11/titanfall-review-xbox-one-the-iron-giant/

Apple has Siri, and Microsoft is about to get Cortana

By Tom Warren

Windows Phone Cortana

Microsoft has been in a state of “shut up and ship” with Windows Phone for more than a year now. While the company has released a few minor updates to Windows Phone 8, its feature set hasn’t changed significantly from when Microsoft first introduced the mobile OS in October 2012. The software giant refuses to discuss or acknowledge an upcoming update, Windows Phone 8.1, but a recent software development kit leak has highlighted the huge number of feature changes that will arrive in the coming months and put Windows Phone more on par with iOS and Android. One of the main feature additions is Cortana, a personal digital assistant named after Microsoft’s Halo game series.

Cortana first emerged after a Microsoft employee lost a phone running Windows Phone 8.1 last year. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s Windows Phone work have revealed to The Verge that Cortana will replace the built-in Bing search feature, which is currently launched through a dedicated hardware key, and acts as a digital assistant with a mix of Siri and Google Now functionality. We’re told that Cortana will take the form of a circular animated icon with the hue of your selected Windows Phone accent color, and will have a personality not dissimilar from Apple’s Siri. Cortana will animate when it’s speaking or thinking, and bounce around or frown with “emotion” depending on the queries involved. Cortana will be backed by data from services like Bing, Foursquare, and others to give it some of the contextual power of Google Now.

CORTANA NOTEBOOK IS MICROSOFT’S PRIVACY CONTROL

Central to Microsoft’s vision for Cortana is a Notebook feature that will allow Windows Phone users to control exactly what information is shared with the digital assistant. Notebook will allow the Cortana digital assistant to access information such as location data, behaviors, personal information, reminders, and contact information. We’re told it’s designed as a privacy feature to ensure Cortana doesn’t freely access information without a level of user control. While Cortana will learn things about users, it won’t store them in the Notebook without asking you, and any information that’s stored can be edited or deleted. Cortana will then use this information to provide answers to search queries by voice or text, and provide suggestions, alerts, and reminders. Cortana could greet you by name and ask if you need help or answer questions, much like Siri.

Through search queries and just general phone usage, Cortana will learn more about a user and offer to store personal data like home and work locations and general interests in its Notebook. Cortana will also react to messages or emails that contain phrases like “let’s meet tomorrow at 8PM” and ask if you’d like to set up reminders or calendar entries. Cortana can also provide guidance on weather, stocks, directions, appointments, and music that’s contextual based on location and other data. As Cortana is a digital assistant, it will also be able to manage a do-not-disturb feature, similar to iOS, that’s designed to mute notifications. An “inner circle” of contacts will allow Cortana to manage notifications and phone calls during “quiet hours” when notifications are muted.

Although the initial Cortana digital assistant that will ship in Windows Phone 8.1 will have a lot of capabilities, Microsoft will need to extend it to third-party apps and its Windows and Xbox devices to improve its functionality in the future. The real test of Cortana will be how well it works with voice commands and its ability to understand natural phrases and questions. Microsoft’s recent voice work with Xbox One is impressive, but it also requires that you follow a strict pattern of commands for it to work successfully. Microsoft will have to ensure Cortana is at least as good as Siri for the company to position this as a full personal digital assistant.

full story: http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/20/5430188/microsoft-cortana-personal-digital-assistant-windows-phone-8-1

 

Microsoft Tweaking Xbox One Controller For ‘Titanfall’

by Dave Thier, Contributor

Microsoft it would seem, is all in on Titanfall. Respawn entertainment’s upcoming mech-shooter is, arguably, the centerpiece of the Xbox One’s first few months, and the company is making sure that the console is good and ready for it when it arrives. We’re meant to be getting a software update shortly before launch that will address issues surrounding online multiplayer, and according to The Verge, Microsoft even worked with Respawn to tweak how the controller operates.

“It’s just fixing the controller input, really,” Lead designer Justin Hendry told The Verge. “It wasn’t really where we felt it should be; it was a little overly twitchy with the current controls. Now it’s fixed. We’re happy with it.”

The fix will make the outer limits of the analog sticks more sensitive.

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Titanfall enters beta on Friday, and from everything I’ve seen, we have reason to be optimistic. The game is fast, frenetic and genuinely new feeling. It borrows influence not just from the multiplayer shooters that dominated last generation, but also from MOBA’s like League of Legends, and even collectible trading card games. Matches have scope and progression, something that was sorely lacking in the lightning-quick death and respawn cycles that characterize games like Call of Duty. The only thing that gives me pause is the total lack of a single-player mode.  While players overwhelmingly spend their time on multiplayer with games like this, a story mode still serves to ground the fiction in which the game takes place. Witness Call of Duty, which dominated the shooter landscape last generation by updating little more than the story mode in each iteration.

One thing is for certain — the Titanfall launch must be perfect. As ED Kain notes, there is very little room for error for either the Xbox One or publisher EA. The latter company saw catastrophic launches for both SimCity and Battlefield 4, and it needs to prove to the gaming public that it can make a title that actually works as intended. As far as the Xbox One goes, Titanfall is meant to show off the company’s extensive cloud services, so any launch hiccups would undermine some of the console’s fairly basic selling points. The console has a $700 million server farm in Iowa dubbed “Project Mountain” in Iowa backing it up, so here’s hoping that can keep the launch stable.

Titanfall marks the first major next-gen release outside of launch. Xbox One is trailing PS4 in total sales, so it will be interesting to see if this gamble can galvanize sales and re-establish Xbox as a preeminent shooter brand.

full story: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2014/02/13/microsoft-tweaking-xbox-one-controller-for-titanfall/

Bill Gates will reportedly focus more on products at Microsoft, after stepping down from chairman role

by Devindra Hardawar

Bill Gates will reportedly focus more on products at Microsoft, after stepping down from chairman role

Microsoft isn’t just settling on a new chief executive — founder Bill Gates may also be taking on a new role.

Gates, who stepped away from day-to-day operations at Microsoft in 2008 and currently serves as chairman of the board, will reportedly step down as chairman and take on a new advisory role for products, Bloomberg reports.

While it’s unclear what Gates would focus on exactly in his new position, it would likely be yet another way for him to step back from helping to run Microsoft and focus more on philanthropy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundaton. Bloomberg notes that Gates would work at Microsoft at least one day a week — not enough time to do substantive product reviews, but perhaps enough to help advise the direction of key products.

Multiple reports claim Microsoft is prepping its current cloud head, Satya Nadella, to replace Steve Ballmer as the company’s CEO. While Nadella has helped to make the cloud and enterprise services a bigger part of Microsoft’s business, he doesn’t have as much experience with other aspects of the firm, which is where advisers like Gates could be helpful.

Bloomberg notes that John Thompson, a Microsoft board member who is also leading the CEO search, will likely replace Gates as Chairman. Gates will also remain on Microsoft’s board as a director.

full story: http://venturebeat.com/2014/02/03/bill-gates-will-reportedly-focus-more-on-products-at-microsoft-after-stepping-down-from-chairman-role/

Windows 8.1 Update 1 leaks on the web ahead of its March release

By Tom Warren

Gallery Photo: Windows 8.1 Update 1 screenshots

Microsoft’s first update to Windows 8.1 has leaked today on various file sharing websites ahead of its March debut. The early build includes a number of changes that Microsoft is making to improve the keyboard and mouse experience in Windows 8.1. The most obvious change is a new title bar for Microsoft’s Windows 8-style apps, allowing you to close, minimize, and snap apps side-by-side with a mouse. It occupies a small amount of space at the top of all “Metro” apps, and it appears to be included as more of a helpful option for mouse users to quickly navigate apps.

Similar improvements have also been made to the Start Screen, where right clicking on Live Tiles now produces a context menu with options to resize, unpin, and more. Microsoft is also bringing the search button and a shutdown option straight onto the Windows 8.1 Start Screen with update 1. Search simply brings you to the regular sidebar interface, while the shutdown option provides a simple drop-down list for restart, shutdown, and sleep. Both options are what you’d expect, but there’s still no sign of the time and date being drawn directly onto the Start Screen or within the new tile bar for “Metro” apps.

Elsewhere, Microsoft has added a control panel link into its PC settings section, and the company is also making some minor desktop tweaks. A new option in the desktop taskbar settings lets you show Store apps in the taskbar. It simply lists all Metro apps and provides the usual window preview when you hover over the apps. Interestingly, if you activate a Metro app from the desktop then the taskbar remains on top of the app until you start interacting with it. It’s not clear if this is by design or a bug, but you can’t activate the taskbar by hovering at the bottom of a Metro app.

There’s no other significant changes in Update 1, and the version that has leaked was compiled around three weeks ago on January 14th. Microsoft is expected to release the final version of Windows 8.1 Update 1 on March 11th, ahead of the company’s Build developers conference in April.

full story: http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/2/5372662/windows-8-1-update-1-leaks-ahead-of-release