Every year Google gets into the holiday spirit by rolling out a new version of its Santa Tracker, a fun tool that lets those who celebrate Christmas follow the character known as Santa Claus on his gift-giving route around the globe.
This year the team behind the project has taken things a step further, delivering a full site full of games and interesting Easter Eggs designed to entertain users during the week leading up to the holiday.
The 2012 version of the Santa Tracker project comes with an fully interactive website that shows us a virtual village in the North Pole that serves as Santa Claus's headquarters, presented in such a manner as to evoke images of Google's own research-focused campus. Illustrated in Google's now familiar 2D, primary colour-centric style, elves are shown waiting for buses and prepping for the upcoming holiday. When Christmas Eve does arrive, users will be able to track a virtual Santa in real time using Google Maps and Google Earth.
In the meantime, visitors to the site can click around the village and discover hidden rooms that display what appear to be Santa's research and development labs, including aerodynamic reindeer testing, and even a strategy briefing from Mrs. Claus. But the most impressive hidden treats on the new Santa Tracker site are the well-designed games. Google created three games called Jetpack, Racer, and Present Drop that users can play in their browsers using a keyboard as a controller.
And, lest anyone think this is all just fun and games, apparently, tracking Santa is now serious business. The increasingly contentious search engine wars took a new turn last week when it was revealed that the missile tracking organisation known as the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was switching its annual Santa tracking partnership from Google to Bing.
Officials told Search Engine Land, "This year, NTS and Google mutually agreed to go in new directions, and we are excited to welcome a number of new contributors, to include Microsoft, Windows Azure, Bing, and iLink-systems, among others, to help us in our mission of tracking Santa."