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The unlikely fusion of eSports and HTML5
The unlikely fusion of eSports and HTML5
September 20, 2013 | By Kris Ligman




Earlier this month, Silicon Valley-based startup Artillery announced a collaboration with eSports star Sean "Day[9]" Plott, to bring a high-quality competitive real-time strategy experience to web browsers in HTML5.

It sounds like a hefty -- and unusual -- undertaking, but Artillery CEO Ankur Pansari says it has actually afforded the company faster, lighter way of making games.

"We chose HTML5 because we believed it could give us the broadest audience while also achieving our development goals the quickest," says Pansari. "We started from scratch on our first title last November [and] based on the metrics of the industry and what we looked at for other platforms, we think it saved us about 50 percent in development time."

Part of the reason Artillery has been able to move so expeditiously is that multiplayer is more or less "baked in" to HTML5 web game development.

"Traditionally a company would have to write client code -- let's say they'd have to do it in Flash -- and then they have a C++ server language to get the game state running on the server. But in our case it's all done by Javascript on both the client and the server side, so we don't have to write two different code bases."

The company's first title, codenamed Project Atlas, is up and running as an early alpha, with plans for a private beta later this year. Working in browsers like Chrome or Firefox, the team and its testers are able to run through sessions and tweak the code on the fly, seeing the changes in near-realtime with a quick refresh. With all sessions run off the server, there is no possibility of offline play, even for single-player matches against an AI -- however, the competition-minded Plott considers this a feature of skill-building, by having players hone their response times under networked play conditions.

It's an interesting business move, bringing aboard someone like Plott to lead game design on something like Project Atlas. However it's clear that development experience notwithstanding, Plott has a good sense of what makes a good RTS.

"Stepping into this after 15 years of playing and having all the ideas and thoughts of what could make those games even better, and also being embedded in the community, it's been really cool to work on a game and let all those ideas out," says Plott.

Plott says the team has drawn inspiration from a multitude of sources, not just computer games. Magic: The Gathering and Settlers of Catan get a namecheck as readily as StarCraft, the game for which Plott is best known. Most interestingly, Plott maintains that an eSports angle will, at best, be incidental to Project Atlas's development.

"While we're developing our first title, the one thing we're really focusing on is making a really fun game," says Plott. "If eSports winds up falling out of that -- great. If not -- also great."

"We're not just creating technology in a void here, at our core we're gamers and we want to build really iconic games," adds Pansari. "It's necessary but not sufficient to have great technology. You also need to have great games."


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