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Tuesday August 5, 2014 1:58 pm

How Cortana made the leap from Halo to Windows Phone


Posted by Andru Edwards - Categories: Cell Phones, Features, Microsoft


Microsoft Cortana

Curious about how Cortana made her way from assisting Master Chief in Halo over to helping you out on Windows Phone? During a sit-down with Microsoft's Marcus Ash, he spoke to us about what it took to get Cortana just right on Windows Phone and to be seen as a legitimate competitor to Apple's Siri.

First, the Cortana logo was the first thing Microsoft has to get right. Originally, they didn't want a physical representation. The thought was that people could think it was creepy if it is "too human." They also didn't want it to be like Clippy, the infamous character from Microsoft Office that was hated by many. It was also decided that Cortana couldn't be just a voice, since it wouldn't feel the same.

Initially, Microsoft tried to use the Xbox Live avatar idea, but that was odd due to everyone having the female Cortana voice. Then they started playing around with the circle. A circle can stretch, bounce, and transform. They also tried triangles, diamonds, hearts, and the ability of letter the user choose any of these. At the end of the day, the circle next to Metro on the start screen looked good, so that was what Microsoft decided on. The next issue was that a simple circle isn't iconic, and is hard to brand. That's when the Windows Phone team met with the Halo team at 343 Industries.


Windows Phone Cortana Joe Belfiore

The Windows Phone team talked about hitting a wall and wanting to use the idea of Cortana. 343 told them about how they see AI systems in gaming, and showed them the Superintendent from Halo 1 as an example. That was a circle with eyes, but they thought even getting eyes right would be too hard. Then the team decided to just use design elements that would feel like they're from the Halo world. Glowing, shadowing, etc. Character animators were hired to turn the circle into something that can be happy, sad, confused, embarrassed, etc. without eyes but with a Halo-like look and feel.

To extend the notion of personality, they have to think globally. In China, they want it to be more avatar-ish and more expressive, so Microsoft is studying emoji and they'll test something different in China and other similar markets.

So, there you have it! The brief story of how Microsoft went from wanting to do a Siri competitor, to bringing in Cortana from the Halo world.

If you missed it, we also talked with Marcus Ash about the possibility of Cortana coming to iOS and Android.

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