mozilla-gdc14-01On the heels of the game-changing announcement from Epic Games earlier today, I headed out to Mozilla’s booth at GDC14 to get a demo of their progress in running the Unreal and Unity engines in the browser. you may have seen Unity web containers in the past, but this is totally different since Unity has added support for a web/Javascript target. Now, two of the most popular game engines can export games to be run directly inside a browser and draw into an HTML5 canvas.

"THE WEB WILL BECOME A MUCH BETTER GAMING PLATFORM"This is the continuation of the work that was done and demonstrated last year by running Unreal Engine in the browser by compiling C++ code into Javascript. That’s a pretty impressive achievement, and makes life so much easier for engine developers because they can continue coding in the tools and languages that they are most comfortable with.

Now, this is ready for production, and I believe that UE4 will also export to a browser platform. Of course, Unity will do it too, and hopefully more middleware tools will follow. I’ve looked at Dead Trigger 2 (Unity game) which looked just like the iOS/Android version from which it was ported from. I’m not sure what kind of performance hit the Javascript conversion brings, but it didn’t matter so much since laptops and desktops should have ample room to absorb the overhead since the games were developed for mobiles to start with.

I have personally dreaded the idea of re-building a game engine from scratch in Javascript and I know many developers who would share that view, especially since so much C++ basic building blocks of code such as scene management, math, animation, physics etc already exist in C++. I think that this will raise the quality of web games by a mile, and one day we may forget the awful experience of Flash games hosted by shoddy sites that are full of ads.

mozilla-gdc14-02This effort also extends to mobile devices. As you know, Mozilla also build the Firefox OS which powers a number of entry-level phones. At the moment, this is mainly popular in emerging markets, but this is where the growth is. The nice thing about web games is that they are easy to update and deploy, although the developer still incurs some hosting cost. In return, they are in full control and it’s much easier to promote a web game than a native game.

Firefox OS is also able to games compiled to Javascript, but is limited to the speed of its hardware platform. Entry level phones are OK with running 2D games, but aren’t so hot for running the latest 3D game. It’s true for all OSes, but with an additional performance hit from running in Javascript, it’s tough. for example, the popular Cut the Rope game was running at 25 to 30FPS in the mobile browser of an entry-level phone, while it easily runs at 60FPS on most mid-range smartphones sold under contract in the U.S.


Martin Best and Vladimir Vukicevic from Mozilla

Yet, this is great progress and opens a whole new world to developers who previously only served native platforms. For users, it’s an additional convenience and one more option to choose from.

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