Today, Mozilla and Unity announced that the two companies have been collaborating for two years on technology that will allow the popular game engine to build games directly for web browsers -- no plugin required.
This new technology will be part of the upcoming Unity 5.0 release, and while we shared some details
of it earlier today, we were able to speak to Mozilla and Unity engineers to find out more about it.
The project kicked off because of Mozilla's commitment to high-performance web applications, says Vlad Vukicevic, engineering director at Mozilla and creator of the WebGL standard. "One of the missions of Mozilla is to make sure that the web is a platform for all kinds of applications, but lately specifically high-performance applications -- not second-rate or second-tier."
The goal is that "games on the web can be high quaity and high performance and really competitive with native experiences," Vukicevic says. At GDC, Unity is showing demos of 3D shooter Dead Trigger 2
running "plugin-free" in Chrome and Firefox, which demonstrates the potential of this technology.
"It's basically pushing the build button like any other add-on that we have, or platform we support," says Unity senior developer Ralph Hauwert. "For us, the way we looked at this platform and the way we want to approach it, and the way we want to build it, is that the platform is like any other."
To that end the two companies have been closely collaborating, Hauwert says. "Basically, we took all the technology that Mozilla has done over the last two years working with us, but also put in our own technology."
"We're actually really excited to have Unity working alongside us, as they have really pushed us to do optimization work at Firefox and produce new web capabilities," Vukicevic says. "The things that are the limitations of the web... currently, we are working to remove those."
You worry, of course, about performance. In just one year, says Martin Best, Mozilla's game platform strategist, apps built using asm.js have gone from 2x slower than native to 1.5x slower than native -- "you can see us pushing that closer and closer to native speeds."
And look at the bigger picture, this work, says Vukicevic, means that the very nature of the web as a platform to deliver high-performance content will improve:
"All of the technologies involved are already interoperable with other browsers, and all of the specific work we will be doing for some of the future missing pieces we are doing in the open and in a very standards-based way," Vukicevic says. "If something cannot become part of the web, it is very hard for us to push a single-browser solution out there."
Hauwert acknowledges that it'll be awhile before building to WebGL takes the place of the Unity Web Player, but he also thinks that's the ultimate goal of this project: "Very long-term, yes, I think so."
"It's not up to par with our Web Player today, but the future is to get it up to par... But that's exactly why we want to work on this now -- we're looking at the future with this," Hauwert says. "One reason we're excited about asm.js is exactly that --what we see as part of the future."
The hardest part for Unity developers is the waiting, then. Unity 5.0 is due out sometime in the future, but the engine provider has not yet determined its release timing. Mozilla has posted its own take on the announcement
on its official blog.
For more details about its other features, you can read our interview
with CEO David Helgason.