Google Santa Tracker


Since 2012, Google has teamed up with Upperquad to bring Santa Tracker to life. The result is an advent calendar of holiday-themed games, all leading up to December 24th when Google tracks Santa's trip around the world in real time. 


Featured as an FWA Site of the Day and Awwwards Site of the Day


Santa Tracker has developed quite a following over the years, and every year the team tries to finesse old games and come up with new ideas and surprises. For this season, the Google team asked us to bring more educational games to the stage. We wanted to be careful not to lose the whimsy while leveraging some great Google products to create fun interactive learning experiences. 

While tons of fun, the scope+deadline is always intense with this project. Creating and/or refining 23 games, each with custom illustrations, music, & animations before December 1st... not an easy feat! Luckily we had a dream team from across the globe to pull it off. I was pumped to work with Ueno (illustration, SF), Aranja (development, Iceland), 14 Islands (animation, Sweden), Plan8 (sound design, Sweden) and of course Upperquad (creative direction & illustration, SF) & Google to make it happen!  


As Interactive Art Director at Upperquad, I worked with the team to brainstorm ideas for new games for the upcoming holiday season. With the charge to create educational games and impactful experiences, we explored everything from geography lessons to sleigh-flying lessons and beyond.

Google supports so many great causes, we struggled to even narrow down the scope. It ultimately came down to what games were the easiest to learn and most fun to play. Once we determind what games would be included, we storyboarded each one and then divided up the games evenly across the teams. 


The new games allowed users to 

  • navigate a jet-pack wearing elf

  • give Santa a makeover in the barbershop
  • compose jams with an elf band
  • complete a geography puzzle
  • learn holiday traditions in other cultures
  • learn the basics of coding

      (Just to name a few!) 

One of my favorite ideas that didn't make the cut was this "save the polar bear cubs" illustration, shown below. 


One of the new games I designed was called "Codelab," where kids (and adults, who are we kidding) could learn the basics of coding. Now, I'm not a developer beyond basic HTML/CSS, so this was a fun challenge for me. The experience I designed gives users a chance to direct an elf through the woods in search of lost presents. Inspired by Made with Code, it starts out with very basic blocks that fit together like puzzle pieces, and with each level completed becomes more complex. Users can also peek "under the hood" and see the actual code they are writing.

Codelab (above) with scrolling levels (right)


In addition to Codelab, I worked on the airport game, marketing concepts for Google Maps, and updates to Santa's village. I'm not sure what I loved more -- working with such an amazing team, or making Google-y illustrations for weeks on end. 

Be sure to check out Santa Tracker next December 1st!