Categories
Game

Forza Horizon 5 First Impressions: Viva Mexico

After being revealed at E3 2021, Forza Horizon 5 is here, and it’s taking us to Mexico. Forza Horizon 5 is one of Microsoft’s biggest launches of the year, and in fact, were it not for Halo Infinite, it would probably be the single biggest release for the big M in 2021. I’ve been spending some time with Forza Horizon 5 over the past few days, and while I’m not ready to write a full review about it just yet, I have played enough to give my first impressions of it.

Instantly Engaging

For context, I’m something of a latecomer to the Forza Horizon series. I started with Forza Horizon 3 on Xbox One, then eventually graduated to Forza Horizon 4 on the same platform and, after a while, PC. I loved both titles and said both were among the best games of their respective release years.

While Forza Horizon 4 was an excellent game and I loved England, it didn’t quite have the same impact as a setting as Forza Horizon 3‘s Australia did. The shifting seasons introduced in Forza Horizon 4 were great, and those are returning for Forza Horizon 5, but even though Forza Horizon 4‘s take on England was beautiful, the setting sort of took a backseat in that entry for me.

The same is not true for Forza Horizon 5. Mexico is instantly engaging as the setting for this game. This is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, and even in my short time with Forza Horizon 5 so far, I’ve seen enough of Mexico to feel compelled to explore more. From the jungles and deserts to the coast and the volcano that dominates the map, Forza Horizon 5‘s version of Mexico is a sight to behold.

It’s so pretty that I’ve ruined leads in multiple races because I was distracted by the scenery, and the images I’ve included in this article (captured with FH5‘s Photo Mode) capture just a few of the more striking places I’ve visited. In a series where the gameplay is a known quantity already, Forza Horizon 5‘s setting and map become the stars of the show, and Mexico definitely doesn’t disappoint.

A new setting with a familiar friend

Even though Forza Horizon 5 is immediately impressive because of its setting, I am slightly concerned that it feels mostly the same as past entries. Perhaps I need to spend some time with Forza Horizon 4 before my full review so I can make a fresh comparison between the two games, but Forza Horizon 5 feels very similar to the Forza Horizon games of the past.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing because Forza Horizon has always offered stellar gameplay. The structure of Forza Horizon 5 isn’t exactly the same as past entries either, as it splits different event types into sub-stories that can be progressed individually. I like that a lot, but the core narrative of building the Horizon festival in a new location remains.

Maybe things will change as I progress further into the game, but for now, Forza Horizon 5 feels more like an iteration than a unique experience. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and that applies to video games as much as anything else. However, I do worry that the Forza Horizon series may not be doing enough to innovate from entry to entry, which may cause it to start losing players before long.

Still, for now, there isn’t a lot of indication that Forza Horizon 5 is the straw that will break the camel’s back – early reception to the game seems good, and as long as the gameplay remains fun, players may not have an issue with Playground Games and Microsoft erring on the side of familiarity. Unfortunately, I haven’t played enough of the game to determine just how similar it is to Forza Horizon 4, but at this early stage, it feels very similar to what I’ve played in the past.

PC version performance

I’ve been playing Forza Horizon 5 on PC, and I’ve been impressed so far. There have been some issues, but they’ve been mostly minor. I’ve noticed some problems with pop-in, and texture streaming for some far-off scenery seems like it can lag when it’s quickly brought into the foreground (such as during races). There was also an issue where I couldn’t find an online session for a few days, but that issue seems to be fixed at the time of this writing.

Obviously, this isn’t console gaming we’re talking about here. PC gaming can often be a mixed bag, so my experience may not necessarily be the experience that others have. For what it may be worth, playing Forza Horizon 5 on PC has been pretty smooth, though with reports of Forza Horizon 5 crashing on startup for some users, I may be one of the lucky ones.

So far, I’ve really been enjoying my time with Forza Horizon 5, even if it is a little too similar to past entries in the series. I’ll be publishing a full review of the game in the coming days, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.

Repost: Original Source and Author Link

Categories
AI

Microsoft unwraps Viva updates and makes suite available for purchase

In February, Microsoft launched Viva, an AI-powered information hub for enterprises. Nearly a year in, the company is enhancing Viva with new premium features to “help individuals and managers collaborate more effectively,” according to Microsoft 365 corporate VP, Jared Spataro.

“The employee experience is no longer defined by or tethered to a physical location. We need new ways to keep employees engaged and informed, all in the flow of work,” Spataro said in a blog post published during Microsoft’s Ignite 2021 conference. “That’s where Microsoft Viva comes in.”

Microsoft Viva is now available for purchase as a suite, Spataro added, optionally with an add-on for Microsoft’s Glint HR platform.

Viva Insights

Viva Insights is one of the four modules that make up the Viva platform — the other three being Viva Learning, Viva Connections, and Viva Topics. It draws on data and signals from Teams, Outlook, and other Microsoft 365 apps in addition to Zoom, Slack, Workday, and SAP SuccessFactors to attempt to find patterns in data that might affect work outcomes. For example, Insights’ Stay Connected pane gives employees a way to prioritize time for regular one-on-one meetings and keep up with tasks across emails, chats, and shared documents. On the managerial side, Insights provides admins visibility into work patterns that can lead to burnout and stress, such as meeting overload, too little focus time, or time worked outside employees’ chosen work hours.

Now, Insights will deliver tools by way of the Viva Insights app, a daily briefing, and monthly digest emails to help managers “improve personal habits while fostering team culture.” The tools will be joined by a new “effective meetings experience” that’ll let meeting organizers view personalized insights and suggestions to help improve their meeting habits, Microsoft says. Users will also be able to create and share meeting plans to set team meeting norms, such as shorter meetings by default and always including Teams links. In addition, they’ll be able to take advantage of guided meditations and mindfulness exercises in additional languages (French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish) from Headspace in the Viva Insights app in Teams.

Employee analytics software like Viva can veer into controversial territory. In a survey of remote or hybrid workers, ExpressVPN found that 59% felt stress or anxiety as a result of their employer monitoring them with technology, while another 43% said that any surveillance felt like a violation of trust.

Microsoft asserts that Insights is deidentified and leverages safeguards like data aggregation and minimum sharing thresholds to preserve privacy. In an interview with Fortune in September, Microsoft’s general manager of Viva Insights, Kamal Janardhan said that individual worker data on productivity is provided only to that worker — rather than to their boss — and that managers may receive general productivity scores for their entire team but “[only as] a tool … to see how [people] work and improve their work/life balance and their performance.”

Viva Learning

Viva Learning brings together a company’s communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights — serving as a hub where employees can discover, share, assign, and learn from content libraries across LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, and third-party content providers. For instance, thanks to integrations with apps like Teams, people can search for and share training from Learning in a chat as they would other types of content. Learning also shows the learning assignments a manager has made, when they’re due, and employees’ reported completion status.

After launching with a few customers and partners earlier this year, Learning is now generally available. Microsoft says that in the coming year, Ally.io — which it recently acquired — will join Viva as a new module to complement Learning and “help people and teams come together to build alignment and achieve better business outcomes.”

Viva Topics

Viva Topics leverages AI (including Alexandria) to reason over an organization’s data and automatically organize content and expertise across different systems and teams. The module funnels data into related subjects like projects, products, processes, and customers, so that when employees see an unfamiliar acronym or project in email or chat, they’re able to hover on the word and pop out a topic card with a description and related experts, documents, and videos.

Topics is expanding with updates that’ll become generally available in the coming months. Soon, the module will search across Outlook email and Yammer communities and offer additional ways for managers to oversee knowledge domains, including automatic grouping of related topics into segments, feedback workflows, and usage analytics. Beyond this, Microsoft says that Topics will gain support to crawl knowledge from content written in French, German, and Spanish and create topics built by the taxonomy services of Syntex, Microsoft’s SharePoint-hosted, AI-powered content processing product.

In related news, Syntex is gaining a content assembly feature that uses AI models to turn existing documents into templates, creatable contracts, invoices, spreadsheets, more. A new contract management capability offers standard clause libraries, workflow-driven approvals, automatic classification, and lifecycle management. And Snytex’s natural language searches for documents based on the automatic metadata and extended columns created by Syntex.

New services

Rounding out the Viva updates are new partner integrations in general availability (see below for the list). In addition, admins can now leverage the Microsoft admin center to access setup guides for deploying Viva modules.

  • Viva Learning: SAP SuccessFactors, Cornerstone OnDemand, Saba, Coursera, Skillsoft, Pluralsight, edX, Udemy, Go1, Infosec, Josh Bersin Academy, Udacity, Harvard Business Review,  OpenSesame, and EdCast
  • Viva Connections: Qualtrics, ServiceNow, UKG, Talentsoft,  StandOut by ADP,  Adobe Sign,  Moveworks, Lifeworks, Limeade, Tribute, Blue Yonder, Zebra-Reflexis, Workday,  DocuSign, EdCast, and Espressive
  • Viva Insights: Headspace, Qualtrics, and Glint

VentureBeat

VentureBeat’s mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative technology and transact.

Our site delivers essential information on data technologies and strategies to guide you as you lead your organizations. We invite you to become a member of our community, to access:

  • up-to-date information on the subjects of interest to you
  • our newsletters
  • gated thought-leader content and discounted access to our prized events, such as Transform 2021: Learn More
  • networking features, and more

Become a member

Repost: Original Source and Author Link

Categories
AI

Microsoft launches Viva, an AI-powered information hub for enterprises

Microsoft today unveiled Microsoft Viva, an employee experience platform that aims to deliver first- and third-party products across learning, wellness, insights, knowledge, and engagement. As a part of this, the company debuted Viva Topics, Viva Connections, Viva Insights, and Viva Learning, modules stemming from Project Cortex.

Most enterprises have to wrangle countless data buckets, some of which inevitably become underused or forgotten. A Forrester survey found that between 60% and 73% of all data within corporations is never analyzed for insights or larger trends. The opportunity cost of this unused data is substantial, with a Veritas report pegging it at $3.3 trillion by 2020 if the current trend holds. That’s perhaps why the corporate sector has taken an interest in cognitive search and robotic process automation products that ingest, understand, organize, and act on digital content from multiple digital sources.

“This fall, we saw the daily active users number in Microsoft Teams climb to 115 million, while Microsoft 365 users around the world generated more than 30 billion collaboration minutes in a single day as people communicated, collaborated, and coauthored content … But to truly empower people to feel connected, supported, and able to bring their best selves to work we need to do more,” Microsoft 365 CVP Jared Spataro said.

Spataro added that consulting partners including Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst & Young will provide services to bring customers onboard with Viva. “Viva brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights into an integrated experience that empowers people and teams to be their best, from anywhere,” he added.

Viva Topics

In September, Project Cortex — a Microsoft 365 offering that analyzes documents, conversations, meetings, and videos to identify domain experts and populate a knowledge database while surfacing info in Office apps, Outlook, and Microsoft Teams — exited preview. But rather than launch Cortex as a single platform, Microsoft said it would make its capabilities available as “a set of unique innovations” starting with SharePoint Syntex, which taps AI to automate the capture, ingestion, and classification of content, building on SharePoint’s existing content features.

Viva Topics is the second such innovation. According to Microsoft, it uses AI to reason over an organization’s data and automatically organize content and expertise across systems and teams. Topics funnels data into related subjects like projects, products, processes, and customers. When employees see an unfamiliar acronym or project in email or chat, for example, they’re able to hover on the word and pop out a topic card with a description and related experts, documents, and videos.

Microsoft Viva Topics

Above: Knowledge discovery in Viva Topics.

Image Credit: Microsoft

The AI system that powers Viva learns from signals, or behavioral data derived from inputs. These come from the pages that employees visit, the videos they watch, and the support tickets they submit. That’s not to mention detailed information it collects about users, including job titles, locations, departments, coworkers, and potentially all of the documents, emails, and other correspondences they author. Each signal informs the AI system’s decision-making so that it self-improves continuously, automatically learning how various resources are relevant to each person and ranking those resources accordingly.

Within Topics, clicking on a “card” calls up a knowledge page curated by AI and experts with information like diagrams that map contextual relationships between each different topic. This page also connects topics to recommended subject experts, with expertise added to individual users profiles and extended into people cards throughout Microsoft 365. Topics plays nicely with Microsoft apps including SharePoint and Microsoft Search, Microsoft says, and highlights will be integrated into the hub from Microsoft Teams, Outlook, and other Microsoft 365 apps throughout 2021.

Viva Connections

Complementing Topics is Viva Connections, which brings together news, conversations, and other resources in devices and apps like Microsoft Teams. It’s designed to deliver a personalized feed in which employees can explore news and contribute to internal conversations.

Using Connections, companies can publish content from Microsoft 365 apps including SharePoint, Yammer, or Microsoft Stream to a single feed. Alternatively, they can post external news and content they want employees to see, reaching specific departments, regions, or job roles by using audience targeting. Admins can also bring employees’ attention to feed items based on properties like “always on top,” “until read,” and “X number of impressions.”

Microsoft Viva Connections

Within Connections, employees can share feedback and participate in conversations about news and announcements with Yammer communities. Moreover, Connections provides employees with a dashboard where they can discover resources and complete tasks. Managers can create cards for existing Teams app or use low-code solutions like Microsoft Power Apps, custom solutions that employ SharePoint Framework and Adaptative Cards, and third-party partner services.

Microsoft says that Connections will be available for desktop in the first half of 2021 and for mobile in summer 2021. Additional features will roll out over the course of 2022.

Viva Insights

Viva Insights, the third pillar of Viva, aims to bring together Microsoft Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics under the new Viva brand. Its introduction comes after Microsoft received criticism for ostensibly enabling surveillance via Productivity Score, which allowed managers to use Microsoft 365 to track employees’ activity at an individual level.

Microsoft claims that Insights is private, deidentified, and leverages safeguards like data aggregation and minimum sharing thresholds. Drawing on data and signals from Teams, Outlook, and other Microsoft 365 apps as well as Zoom, Slack, Workday, and SAP SuccessFactors, Insights attempts to find patterns in data that might affect work outcomes.

Microsoft Viva Insights

Above: Productivity and well-being experiences in Viva Insights.

Image Credit: Microsoft

For example, Insights’ Stay Connected pane gives employees a way to prioritize time for regular one-on-one meetings and keep up with tasks across emails, chats, and shared documents. The Protected Time experience lets employees schedule focus time so that they can work uninterrupted during the workday. And Insights’ daily Briefing email — delivered in English via Cortana, with a Spanish-language option on the way — highlights opportunities to connect, meetings to prep for, and commitments to follow up on.

On the managerial side, Microsoft says that Insights gives admins visibility into work patterns that can lead to burnout and stress, such as meeting overload, too little focus time, or time worked outside employees’ chosen work hours. Insights offers opportunities to create team action plans, providing employees recommendations and practices to prioritize well-being and potentially boost productivity.

Microsoft Viva Insights

Above: New dashboard featuring data from Glint and Viva Insights.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Debuting alongside Insights is the Glint Microsoft Power BI dashboard. In public preview to joint Glint-Workplace Analytics customers as part of Insights, it’s designed to find where teams might be struggling, proactively adjust work norms, and quantify the impact of those changes over time. Separately, new Workplace Analytics integrations in the Glint platform as a part of a pilot allow users to analyze engagement data including comment data based on metrics like weekly collaboration hours, workweek span, and manager-employee one-on-one time.

As of today, an Insights app for Teams is available in public preview for Microsoft 365 users with Exchange Online. (Manager and leader insights are available for licensed Workplace Analytics customers.) Microsoft says that in the coming months, updates to Insights will bring additional experiences including a “virtual commute” to wrap up the workday, check-ins for pause and reflection, an integration with Headspace, and actionable insights in Teams like recommended time for learning and courses from LinkedIn Learning.

Viva Learning

Viva Learning, the fourth and final component of Microsoft’s Viva platform, brings together a company’s communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights. It’s a hub where employees can discover, share, assign, and learn from content libraries across LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, third-party content providers, and custom content.

In Teams, people can search for and share training from Learning in a chat as they would other types of content. Teams and groups of people can also organize their own learning tab with customized, specific learning content. Learning displays recommended content in a personalized view, and Topics offers learning suggestions within the topic center, along with other knowledge resources.

Microsoft Viva Learning

Above: Learning resources in Microsoft Viva Learning.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Learning shows the learning assignments a manager has made, when they’re due, and employees’ reported completion status. Employees can see the learning assigned to them along with due dates and other important information or engage with LinkedIn Learning directly through Teams via an embedded player.

On the content side of the equation, Microsoft says it’s collaborating with platforms including Skillsoft, Coursera, Pluralsight, EdX, Cornerstone OnDemand, Saba, and SAP SuccessFactors. Organizations that license those libraries will be able to access content within Learning later this year, and Microsoft says it plans to make APIs available so additional customers and partners can integrate with Learning.

Starting in February, Microsoft will preview the Learning app for Teams with a small number of customers and partners. It expects to make it generally available later this year.

VentureBeat

VentureBeat’s mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative technology and transact.

Our site delivers essential information on data technologies and strategies to guide you as you lead your organizations. We invite you to become a member of our community, to access:

  • up-to-date information on the subjects of interest to you
  • our newsletters
  • gated thought-leader content and discounted access to our prized events, such as Transform
  • networking features, and more

Become a member

Repost: Original Source and Author Link