Doodling for China
Published: Aug 23, 2013 05:03 AM Updated: Aug 23, 2013 08:11 PM

Google introduced its first Doodle with Chinese elements featuring the popular Havoc in Heaven animation in 2012. Photo: Courtesy of Google China

The "Li Shizhen" Doodle was launched in China in July. Photo: Courtesy of Google China

It's weeks after Qixi Festival, or Chinese Valentine's Day, but Feng Feng a 27-year-old "sensitive guy-type" IT engineer, who wished to be identified under a pseudonym, still visits Google Doodle's site in his spare time, searching for the game that the California-based company designed for Chinese Net users on that special day earlier this month.

The day that saw men rushing home with bouquets of flowers under their arms, Google gave Chinese couples a present of their own - a Qixi Festival-inspired Doodle with Chinese characteristics. It was the company's fourth interactive Doodle with Chinese elements.

Google first introduced the original "Burning Man Festival" Doodle to US Net users in 1998, which was made several years before Google's very first interactive "Pac-man" Doodle was created in 2010. 

Like Feng, Net users who logged onto Google with domains for the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong or Taiwan that day, were greeted with a mini game based on the traditional Chinese legend of lovers Niulang and Zhinü. It replaced the typical company logo that is usually seen on the US search engine's website.

"I played it for hours that day - I think it even made my girlfriend a bit jealous," he laughed. "I like it so much that I still go online to play the game every now and then to improve my score."

Making the game

According to the story, the lovers up in heaven were forbidden to fall in love. The Milky Way separated them, and they could only meet on one night of each year, the seventh day of the seventh month on the Lunar Calendar, where the Qixi Festival's name is derived from (qi means seven in Chinese, and xi means night). On this particular evening, all the magpies in the world would fly up into heaven and form a bridge so the two could cross the Milky Way to be with each other.

Yuan Feng, designer of the Qixi Doodle, said that they did their best to play off this tale when creating the game for users - but added their own "twist" to it.

"In the legend, the birds are always there to help, but in the game, there are good birds, and then there are bad birds, who fly off on their own, making it hard for them to be caught and made to fall in line with the good birds," he told the Global Times. "The faster you can manage to build the bridge of birds to let the couple be together, the higher your score will be."

Yuan said that the point is to give Net users "an experience that will make them feel good." 

After playing the game, many Net users raved about it on Chinese social networks Sina Weibo and WeChat. Net user Gao Yan said, "Today's Google Doodle is full of fun. I felt touched saving Niulang and Zhinü from the river by helping them be together on such a romantic day."

But some players took a more light-hearted approach, purposely failing to laugh at the couple falling into the water, while others were more competitive, refusing to quit until they had achieved a high score - and an even higher one.

Many were also drawn to the game for its well thought-out Chinese elements. The traditional music in the background added a nice touch, Net user hayeen wrote on Weibo.

The process of creating an interactive Doodle comprises three stages: the ideas first come from Google's global marketing staff who seek user-feedback; then a special team of Googlers narrow down the ideas; and after that, illustrators, mostly based in the US, work with engineers around the world, including in China, to complete the design.

Specifically, for the interactive Qixi Festival Doodle, it was a creative effort that took months of work, much of which rested on the shoulders of Chinese designer or "doodler" Yuan Feng - but that could not have been accomplished without a very capable team in the US, he said.

"We worked very hard to develop this game, which saw so many changes from the point of brainstorming until the end," Yuan told the Global Times. "Actually, we changed it 11 times before we were happy with the final version."

New and fun 

Some two years after Google introduced the interactive Doodle to the world, it launched its first interactive Doodle with Chinese elements in China on January 18, 2012. It marked the birthdays of two of the three Wan brothers, who together created the famous Havoc in Heaven animation - based on the early chapters of classic story Journey to the West - in the 1960s.

"Celebrating memorable dates of important figures is something that Google Doodle set out to do," said Wang Yonggang, leader of China's Doodle team. "Not long ago, on July 3, we also had a Doodle to celebrate the 495th anniversary of Li Shizhen (one of China's greatest doctors and herbalists, 1518-1593), which featured his well-known work Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica).

Feng said that he hopes Google's China Doodle team can come up with more fun and interactive Doodles with Chinese elements for other significant Chinese events and holidays in the future.

"I can't wait to see what else they come up with," said Feng. "A game for Spring Festival would be really great, plus I'd have more free time to play it during the holiday."

Though Wang would not say what his team is working on next, wanting to keep the project a surprise for Net users in China, he said that it would definitely be something meant for people to enjoy.

"Everything we do for Doodle is about making users feel happy," he said. "It's really all about just having some fun."