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Making the Move to HTML5, Part 1

February 7, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

In this first of a three-part series, seasoned console developers, formerly of Criterion, describe the process of moving to HTML5 development, discussing the differences between working in C and JavaScript, and explaining dealing with the difficult environment of the browser.

Like any platform, HTML5 receives its share of criticism, some valid and some based on rumor or outdated information. However, HTML5 is keenly supported by some of the most successful business leaders in the space, and the games available right now on turbulenz.com are proof that HTML5 is viable for high quality gaming today. We hope the below will help explain why we have backed, and continue to back, HTML5.

HTML5 and related standards are fast making the web a viable platform for high quality games. Games written to target such web standards can run in a variety of contexts while taking advantage of the power of the underlying hardware, as well as the connectivity enjoyed by modern devices.

Turbulenz has invested a significant amount of research and engineering manpower creating a high-performance games platform for the web. With a background in game technology development on consoles, we have approached HTML5 and related technologies from a game developer's perspective with fidelity and performance in mind.

This series of articles describes some of our experience transitioning from consoles to the web: what works well, when to use it, optimization strategies and workarounds for ongoing problems.

Some of the games built using Turbulenz can be played on the turbulenz.com game network, which uses our HTML5 platform and infrastructure to instantly deliver high quality 3D games to gamers online. The company was founded in early 2009 by a group of directors and lead programmers from Electronic Arts, and the team has grown to include developers and business professionals from some of the world's leading entertainment companies.

In this first article we talk about the current state of HTML5 and related technologies for games, and give an overview of the development environment and workflow that game developers can expect.

The Browser as a Game Platform

The browser has become the new OS, bringing with it a host of problems as well as opportunities. In the past, games traditionally ran in isolation, consuming as many resources as possible to extract the full performance from the machine. Game code running in the browser will be competing with the rest of the browser’s processes, including other games running in other tabs or windows (as well as whatever else may be running on the machine).

In some ways, each browser must be treated as a different platform: some interfaces are common across all browsers and some resources are always available, but for more advanced functionality, the developer must often check for features at runtime and provide multiple code paths and workarounds.

The test matrix covering Browser, Browser version, OS, OS version, and Hardware is large. Furthermore, although hardware resources cannot be accessed as directly as with native applications, developers still have to deal with graphics driver bugs as well as bugs in the browser layers that now interface with those drivers.

With the fast pace of browser updates and the fact that some browsers update themselves automatically, it can be difficult to maintain a specific list of supported versions to test against. At Turbulenz we always work with the latest version of each browser and also a list of well-known popular browser versions. At the time of writing, this includes Internet Explorer 8, 9 and 10, Firefox 3.6 and latest, Safari 5.1 and latest (on Mac OS X) and the latest version of Chrome. We test on a range of hardware from slow netbooks to high-end desktops using a selection of popular video cards from Nvidia, AMD, and Intel.

The relative market share of the browsers is always in motion and is usually not consistent across demographics. We recommend finding your target market and studying the browser stats for sites with a similar audience.

As a development platform, the browser has several advantages compared to other platforms. In general, iteration is extremely fast (JavaScript requires no compile step during normal development and refreshing the page immediately loads and runs the latest version of the code). Web developers have long enjoyed access to a range of tools for debugging and profiling, and these make up a very effective development environment. More details are given later in this article.

In general, when coding for the browser we recommend that developers code defensively, test with a range of browsers and regularly monitor the state of new versions.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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