Google's Valentine's Day doodle tries to save the pangolin

Think of Valentine's Day, and the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't wildlife conservation.

But that's one of the themes of Google's Valentine's Day doodle, which premiered on the search giant's homepage early Monday. It's one of the most in-depth Google Doodles the company has ever created and includes an interactive video game. It took about a year to develop and involved a six-person team of animators and engineers.

The doodle stars two lovestruck pangolins, scaly mammals native to Asia and Africa that look like a cross between armadillos and anteaters. Google notes in the game that pangolins are the most poached and trafficked mammals in the world. The game also includes a link to a World Wildlife Fund page, which invites people to donate to protecting them.

"If they're endangered, they really have to meet," Helene Leroux, the head artist for the doodle, said during an interview at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California. "So it was a perfect theme for Valentine's Day."

Step foot in the Google Doodle office and you might think you're at Pixar. A large blow-up version of Baymax, the health care robot from Disney's "Big Hero 6," greets you in the hallway. Desks are lined with Star Wars and Batman toys. There are tiny drawers full of sticker versions of past doodles. And most of the desks have Cintiqs, giant tablets artists use for digital drawings.

The artwork that stands in for Google's logo has also become a big deal for the company. It's pretty obvious why: For lots of people, Google's search engine is the internet. It's the first place they go online, and that makes the homepage some of the choicest real estate on the web. The first doodle, in 1998, was a glorified "out of office" message -- a Burning Man stick figure that indicated co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were away at the annual festival. Now the Doodle team has 30 people, including animators, engineers and designers.

But unlike animated movies and other creative projects, Google Doodles are fleeting. They go live on the homepage for a day, then are gone. (Actually, all the doodles are archived, but most people don't know that.)

Doodles have also become a de facto avenue for the company to react to news. When Prince died last April, Doodlers scrambled to create a Purple Rain design in an hour to honor the singer, the fastest a doodle has ever been made. And on January 30, two days after President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the Google Doodle celebrated the 98th birthday of Fred Korematsu, an activist who spoke out against the internment of Japanese Americans. Some saw it as a political statement.

Google declined to comment on the Korematsu doodle -- or any potential political motivations -- beyond the blog post that originally accompanied the artwork.

The ecological bent in this year's Valentine's Day doodle was at first unintentional. It began as a design decision for the video game: find an animal that rolls. Runners-up included pill bugs and salamanders. The team originally settled on armadillos for the two main characters. But they wanted the game to feel more global, and worried armadillos might just invoke images of Texas and the Southwest.

So the pangolin it was.

The game is a side-scroller, like Super Mario brothers or Sonic the Hedgehog (in fact the game has striking similarities to Sonic, though the game's lead engineer said he's never played the Sega classic). In the game, available on iPhones, Android phones and desktop computers, you're a pangolin trying to woo your mate. You need to travel to four different countries, including Ghana and the Philippines, and collect various things to help you with your budding romance. In one level, for example, you collect flowers for a bouquet. In another, you gather music notes to write a song. They're like coins in Super Mario and rings in Sonic.

So after almost a year of work, how does it feel for a doodle to finally premiere, and then vanish from the homepage a day later?

"It's all this excitement, and then, nothing," said Jordan Thompson, head engineer for the doodle's video game, standing at his desk in the studio. A few feet away from him is a poster of a doodle inspired by artist Salvador Dali's painting "The Persistence of Memory," with two melting clocks standing in for the O's in Google.

"It's both exciting and terrifying because you have to get it right," he added. "The first time."

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What is a pangolin and how do you play the Google Valentine’s Day 2017 doodle game? All you need to know

What is Google’s Valentine’s Day doodle game?

Google has created a games series for Valentine’s Day around endangered animals looking for love, with Monday’s one being dedicated to the pangolin.

The fun four-level game centres on a pangolin rolling to China to meet its mate face-to-face on the big day.

For the Doodle, Google worked with the World Wildlife Fund to help spread awareness about the pangolin, and included a link so players can donate to the cause.

The game took a six-person team of animators and engineers a year to develop, and is one of the company’s most in-depth Doodles ever, according to cnet.

What is a pangolin?

A pangolin is a cute animal found across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which is sadly the most trafficked mammal in the world.

It is often known as a “scaly anteater” thanks to its tough scales that protect it from predators.

When it is threatened it is able to quickly curl up into a tight ball.

The solitary mammals burrow for ants and termites using their long, sticky tongues, and are able to swim and use their keen sense of smell to find food.

These once widespread animals are now a protected species, with over a million being taken from their natural habitat to be used in traditional Chinese medicine or eaten.

There are eight species of pangolin and all face threat from trafficking.

In July 2011 two tonnes of pangolins were seized by customs officers at Indonesian capital Jakarta airport.

How do you play Google’s Valentine’s Day doodle game?

Users can play the game on Google’s homepage on iPhones, Androids and desktop computers where they quest to help a love-struck pangolin reach its mate.

Game players help the creature roll to four different countries, including the Philippines and Ghana, jumping over obstacles and collecting love-themed items.

Movement is done using the left and right arrow keys for direction, with the space bar enabling the pangolin to jump.

There are four levels in total, with three minutes allowed for each level.

Items along the way,  items are collected to help make love-themed presents for the pangolin’s beau.

These include:
  • Level One – cocoa beans for a cake
  • Level Two – musical notes for a song
  • Level Three – ribbons for lanterns
  • Level Four – flowers for a bouquet

You need 150 of each item to make the present, and you can attempt the game again if you do not succeed.

How long will Google’s Valentine’s Day Doodle game run for?

The game will run until Valentine’s Day, and you can play it as many times as you wish to help the pangolin reach its mate.

Good luck!

Why does Google change its Doodles?

Google Doodles has become a popular feature over the years but when did it start and what is the history behind it?

In 1998, the search engine founders Larry and Sergey drew a stick figure behind the second ‘o’ of Google as a message to that they were out of office at the Burning Man festival and with that, Google Doodles were born.

The company decided that they should decorate the logo to mark cultural moments and it soon became clear that users really enjoyed the change to the Google homepage.

Google is celebrating Valentine's Day with a pangolin-themed doodle game

Google is hoping to raise awareness for the endangered pangolin this Valentine's Day. The search giant made the animals the theme of its latest doodle.

Pangolins are the most poached and trafficked mammal in the world. They resemble scaly anteaters, and are found in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Google's latest doodle features two pangolins in a long-distance relationship. Users play a game where the pangolins travel to different countries learning about different romantic gestures around the world. The game ends when all of the gifts are delivered.

Google is also encouraging users to learn more about pangolins and efforts to conserve them by visiting the World Wildlife Fund.

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