Inside Google’s Halloween Doodle, inspired by Splatoon and LoL


When people open, the tech company’s Doodle team has a few seconds to hook a visitor into engaging with their games, illustrations or historical facts. This Halloween, Google is inviting people to play an online multiplayer game akin to arcade and classic phone game “Snake.”

Like “Snake,” the new Google Doodle lets players move across a map, amassing pixels that follow their character and grow longer. To join, anyone can click on the Doodle to form two teams of four players with other internet strangers and attempt to collect as many “spirit flames” as possible, using a mouse to move a little ghost around. As a twist, teams can steal flames from each other. After a two-minute time limit, the team with the most flames wins.

It’s a version of a 2018 Doodle called “The Great Ghoul Duel” that was one of Google’s most popular. This time, Google has added new maps, new characters and a new power-up. Players can earn little hats for their characters as achievements, too. The original plan was to bring back the Google Doodle in 2021, but it ended up getting delayed for a year. Googlers cited issues supporting the amount of people it expected to visit the site and play its multiplayer game.

“It was just making sure that the servers were going to be reliable enough to launch for the huge amount of interest,” said Jacob Howcroft, lead engineer on the Google Doodle, in an interview with The Washington Post.

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Making a Halloween Google Doodle for the internet posed challenges besides server issues: Children use Google, too, so the Doodle couldn’t be too spooky or scary.

“You want it to stay very strictly in the fun zone,” said Nate Swineheart, creative lead on the Google Doodle. “One of the initial proposals for a new level was to do an abandoned amusement park. The art for it was so cool and it was so fun, but it was a little on the line. And then we’re also kind of coming off of the pandemic and the idea of abandoned things is maybe not the most fun tone.”

The Google Doodle team added a level set in a museum at night, instead.

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Despite the resemblances to older arcade games like “Snake” and “Pac-Man,” Google Doodle employees insisted that they were inspired by popular, more elaborate multiplayer games like Nintendo’s “Splatoon,” online battle arena game “League of Legends,” and indie adventure game “Journey.”

“The unlikely inspiration was ‘Journey,’ which does a really great job of having a multiplayer aspect that rewarded you for being with other people,” Swineheart said. “So we added this buddy bonus that if you travel with someone else, they’ll reward you with more spirit flames to encourage cooperation.”

Googlers also learned from how “League of Legends” has a powerup system, where players get stronger over time, and from the fast-paced team strategy of Splatoon.

Swineheart said Google’s Halloween Doodle mimics the far more complex progression system in “League” where players level up their champions, earn gold and buy items over time.

“When you collect 50 flames, you can go faster, then you can go through walls,” Swineheart said. “You get power boosted as you play, as a reward.”

Swineheart said that having the chain of spirit flames grow longer and follow players around — making it easier for the opponent to steal them — was a mechanic inspired by the battle mode in “Splatoon 3,” where players can be followed around by a trail of clams. He said the “high risk, high reward” gameplay “balanced really well.”

“But it did not come from ‘Snake’ at all. I would never,” he said.

The Google Doodle runs from Oct. 30 to October 31.